The baseball year is starting to look like two possibilities: no season or an extremely short one. Let’s take the optimistic route and go with the extremely short one, in which players will need three to four weeks of training to prepare for games and clubs can play in their home ballparks–with fans.
To reduce travel in a world recovering from a pandemic, teams will play division rivals in home-and-home series (seven games vs. each, including one doubleheader) and a three-game series against opponents in the like division of the opposite league (NL East vs. AL East, etc.).
That gives you a 43-game “season.” As an example, the Yankees would play 29 of their 43 games in the Acela corridor: New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and Washington–kind of like 1927. The Dodgers would play 26 of their 43 games in California.
You get true division champions because intra-division teams will have played the same schedule.
Now you expand the playoffs. It’s a perfect opportunity to try the proposed expanded playoffs MLB presented to the union earlier this year.
The top seven teams in each league make the playoffs. (You want to complain that teams are seeded without playing the same schedule? Stuff it. If we ever get around to playing any kind of baseball this year, I don’t want hear any complaints about schedule inequities. I’ll take any baseball. I’ll take a 30-team bracket tournament. We’ll be in scramble mode. Anything goes.)
The top seed gets a first-round bye. The second seed chooses on live TV what team it wants to play from among the five, six and seven seeds in the Wild Card Series. The third seed gets to pick its opponent from the two remaining lower seeds. The fourth seed plays the remaining lower seed.
The Wild Card Series is best two-out-of-three. The higher seed hosts all games in that round.
Winners advance to the best-of-five Division Series. The No. 1 seed plays the lowest remaining seed. Winners advance to the best-of-seven LCS. Those winners advance to the best-of-seven World Series.
My scenario requires about 80 days from Opening Day to World Series Game 7. What would a 43-game season look like? Let’s imagine we started my postseason after the first 43 games of last year. This is what you would get–including a whole lot of tiebreakers:
Houston (1 seed; tiebreaker over Minnesota) gets a bye.
Minnesota (2) chooses Boston (5; tiebreaker over Cleveland), Cleveland (6), or Seattle (7, tiebreaker over Texas and the Angels).
The Yankees (3; tiebreaker over Tampa Bay) choose next. Tampa Bay (4) plays remaining lower seed.
Changes to actual AL 2019 postseason: Oakland out; Boston, Cleveland, Seattle in.
Dodgers (1 seed)
Cubs (2) choose Pittsburgh (5, tiebreaker over St. Louis); St. Louis (6), or Atlanta (7, tiebreaker over San Diego).
Milwaukee (3, tiebreaker over Philadelphia) chooses next. Philadelphia (4) plays remaining lower seed.
Changes to actual 2019 postseason: Washington out; Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Arizona in.