Major League Baseball has finally announced its abbreviated 60-game schedule for 2020, and while there is a significant debate about whether it should be played at all, you can make a compelling case for an entertaining season. That is, if the coronavirus cooperates, and social distancing, constant hand washing, face masks, and baseball can all co-exist. It's a pretty tall order, but owners, television networks, and most players are ready to give it a try.
The season will open on Thursday July 23 with two nationally televised games. Four teams, not six as I fantasized about in this space last week will have the Thursday stage to themselves, with the rest of the teams beginning the next day. ESPN will have the Yankees at the Nationals at 4pm Pacific Time, but instead of that being the nightcap, it will be the opener. The Dodgers will host the Giants at 7pm instead of what would likely have been a 1pm start if there were actually fans in the stands. Remember, we have televised games, but in empty ball parks.
The schedule has a weird breakdown to it. Teams will face opponents in the same division ten times each, but it will not be five at home and five on the road. For example, seven of the ten games between the Dodgers and Giants will be at Dodger Stadium. Teams will play 20 interleague games against teams in their corresponding geographical division (NL West vs. AL West), but they won't play each of the five teams four times each. Instead, they'll play their 'natural rival' (Dodgers-Angels, Giants-A's, etc. ) six times (three home, three away), two teams four times (two home, two away), one three-game home series against one team, and a three-game road series against the other. We're not sure how they came up with that setup, but it does work out mathematically.
If you are eager to watch a bunch of games early, the networks are just as eager, if not more, to show them to you. ESPN will have seven games in the first four days (two July 24, three July 25, and two July 27), the MLB Network has two July 24 games (overlapping with ESPN's tripleheader), Fox has three games on July 26, followed by a game on FS1 late. TBS has a Sunday morning game July 27. That's 14 games in about 78 hours. You might feel feverish just trying to watch.
ESPN looks at the Thursday games as a special event, and then goes into Opening Day on Friday with Braves-Mets, Brewers-Cubs, and Angels-A's at 1pm, 4pm, and 7pm. Just for fun, I guess, MLBN sneaks in Detroit-Cincinnati at 3pm and Seattle-Houston at 6. Fox, yes the big over-the-air local affiliate Fox network will actually have a live tripleheader Saturday. They are not regionalizing three games—they've got Brewers-Cubs, Giants-Dodgers, and Yankees-Nationals at 10am, 1pm, and 4pm. Diamondbacks-Padres is on FS1 at 6pm. TBS will do Sunday day games, and begin with Yankees-Nationals at 10am. ESPN Sunday Night Baseball will open the season with two games. Braves-Mets at 4pm, and Giants-Dodgers at 7pm. Yes, 7pm PT is a very late start for a Sunday, but there won't be anyone at the ball park anyway, so who cares, right? We're told there will be a lot more night games than usual during this unusual season.
With five long paragraphs just attempting to break down the first weekend, we'll spare you further in-depth schedule analysis, but the idea of this cockamamie layout was to minimize travel. That mostly works, especially in the central divisions. Houston and Texas, though, which both play in the AL West, will have a brutal schedule, with Phoenix really being the closest trip, except when the Astros and Rangers are playing each other. There are five teams in California, flights to Seattle, which aren't short for anyone, and roadies to Denver and Phoenix. St. Louis and Kansas City, which are much closer to Texas than any of those western teams, are not on their schedule.
Back to math and numbers again, with only 60 games on the schedule, teams aren't going to really be able to run away with anything, The Dodgers were 106-56 last year. That would translate to only 39 wins in 2020. Oddsmakers have them at 37, which doesn't sound like a lot of wins. A record of 37-23 seems decent, but not elite. If the Dodgers win 37, the NL Central winner might win only 32, which is barely above .500. Expect some close races, and not a lot of room from top to bottom. It seems kinda stupid to say a great start is key, but an 0-7 month of July could have you out of contention—at least for the division.
All of this hinges, of course, on players staying healthy. The NBA is going to try to put their players in a 'bubble', meaning entering a secured area in Orlando and theoretically not being allowed to leave. Players are thinking twice about that. The NHL is going to have 'hub cities', both in Canada, where all games will be played. That league was the first to come up with an idea of how to resume a season, but won't do it until August. Major League Soccer is going to have a World Cup-like tournament (also in Orlando), but one team has already withdrawn because of positive Covid-19 cases. The same has happened in women's soccer. The NFL has canceled their preseason, but plan to kick off in September, and college football has no idea what its going to do. Baseball now has a schedule, and a slew of games on a bunch of TV networks only two-and-a-half weeks away. Even with no baseball in almost four months, this is starting to seem a little too soon. If baseball can pull this off, play 60 games, go through a month of playoffs, and crown a champion, a short season may still seem like a joke, but getting through it would be quite an accomplishment.
Preseason games: Teams are allowed to schedule three exhibition games before the season gets underway. According to the Dodgers website, they will play two games against Arizona and one against the Angels, all at home, July 19-21. The Angels will be at San Diego, at the Dodgers, and home against the Padres July 20-22. There are no preseason games currently listed for the Giants or A's.
The Price is too high: Expect more bombshells in the coming days, but so far Dodgers pitcher David Price is the biggest name to opt out of the 2020 season. Players can choose not to play for health reasons and face no repercussions, although they are not paid. Price is reportedly walking away from about 11 million dollars. Giants catcher Buster Posey and Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whose wife is expecting their first child in August, have both said they are thinking about not playing. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman is sick with Covid-19 but plans to play when healthy. His illness, though, convinced teammate Nick Markakis to opt out. Atlanta pitcher Felix Hernandez also has elected to skip this season.
It was one year ago today that Cameron Boyce passed away suddenly at the age of 20. He was known by many as a child actor, but to me he was the son of my cousin Libby. Cameron's parents Libby and Victor have been promoting epilepsy awareness, including appearing on TV shows. I have not spoken to them in awhile, but I think about them and Cameron often.