Never before has the Major League Baseball schedule been more important to the outcome of a season than right now. Each team plays only 60 games, which means fast starts are imperative, and each team plays only teams within its division and the corresponding division of the other league. Fairness in scheduling had to be compromised by the protocols necessary to play at all during a pandemic.
MLB announced the full schedule today. Keep in mind that this is the best-case scenario. COVID-19 will determine if the season starts on July 23 and if it ends Sept. 27.
But now that we have a schedule, let’s examine the winners, the losers and the highlights from the shortest season in MLB history.
Many teams competing for wild card spots will not play one another and have zero common opponents. Moreover, the strength of their schedules will be wildly different. Take as an example two likely NL wild card contenders, the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Phillies have a much tougher schedule–and they finish with five games on the road against Washington and Tampa Bay, two playoff teams from last year with superior pitching. Arizona plays only eight games all season on the road against last year's winning teams. Philadelphia has 20 such tests.
vs. 2019 Winning Teams
vs. 2019 Winning Teams on Road
Most Likely to Have a Good Start
You better start well in a 60-game season. Just 15 games in you’ve already played a quarter of your season. Two teams are best positioned to leverage the schedule for a quick start:
1. Cincinnati Reds
They play 14 of their first 25 against the Tigers, Royals and Pirates.
2. Texas Rangers
They play 17 of first 22 against losing teams from 2019.
Most in Danger of a Slow Start
A slow start in a pandemic season with no fans in the ballpark drains much of the already depleted energy out of the season–and then what?
1. Boston Red Sox
They will know quickly where they stand in the AL East. They play 13 of their first 23 against the Rays and Yankees.
2. Baltimore Orioles
Actually, their entire schedule is a bear. Not once all season do they get back-to-back series against losing teams from last year. In one stretch they play 15 straight games against the Rays, Yankees, Nationals and Phillies, and in another they face 21 straight against the Mets, Yankees, Braves, Rays and Red Sox.
Easiest Path Down The Stretch
1. New York Yankees
Good luck trying to catch the Yankees if they are in first place when September rolls around. They play 20 of their final 23 games against the Blue Jays, Orioles and Marlins–teams that lost 95 or more games last year.
2. San Diego Padres
The Padres should not be a tired team down the stretch. They play almost the entire final month as if playing in the California League.
Padres in September
Toughest Path Down the Stretch
1. New York Mets
They will see some nasty pitching to close out the season. The Mets play their final 10 games against 2019 playoff teams: Braves (3), Rays (3) and Nationals (4).
2. Houston Astros
They play 16 of their final 22 on the road.
1. Dodgers & Giants
The entire rivalry is front-loaded. They play 10 times in first 33 games. They don’t play each other in September.
2. Chicago Cubs vs. The NL Central
When you are chasing division rivals you always want a crack at deciding things head to head. The Cubs won’t go head-to-head with division contenders down the stretch. Their final 12 games are against AL Central teams (Indians, Twins, White Sox) and the Pirates.
1. Yankees at Nationals July 23: Opening Day. Cole vs. Scherzer. Raising of the 2019 World Series championship banner. The first MLB game in 267 days. How’s that for a start to the season?
2. Rockies at Rangers, July 24: The opening of Globe Life Field
3. Angels at A’s, July 26: It could be the first start on the mound for Shohei Ohtani since Sept. 2, 2018–almost 23 months.
4. Cardinals at White Sox in Dyersville, Iowa, Aug. 13: The Field of Dreams game.
5. Dodgers at Angels, Aug. 14-16: The stars are out. Five MVPs who have won nine of the awards: Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw.
6. All Games, Aug. 16: Honoring the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues.
7. Diamondbacks vs. Giants, Aug. 21-23: Madison Bumgarner back in San Francisco–facing Buster Posey, not throwing to him. Bumgarner has thrown to Posey in 79% of his career games.
8. All Games, Aug. 28, Jackie Robinson Day: The traditional April 15 honor is moved to the anniversary of two events of enormous social importance: the March on Washington in 1963 and the conversation between Branch Rickey and Robinson in 1945 that set into motion the breaking of the color barrier.
9. White Sox at Pirates, Sept. 9: The feature game of Roberto Clemente Day, which is celebrated across MLB.
10. Astros at Dodgers Sept. 12 & 13: Will there be fans in the stands for the 2017 World Series rematch to remind the Astros of their sign-stealing scandal?
We have not seen a crazy finish ever since MLB established a universal start time for the last day of the season a few years ago. This year the short schedule almost guarantees tight races with multiple playoff spots on the line on the last day–as happened in 2011, “The Night of 162.”
All games on Sept. 27 start around 3:05 p.m. EST. Here are a few of the most intriguing matchups on the last day of the season:
1. White Sox at Cubs
2. Mets at Nationals
3. Angels at Dodgers
4. Astros at Rangers
5. Brewers at Cardinals