Rumors have been flying around hot and heavy over the last couple of days that Major League Baseball is beginning to lay out plans to open their 2020 season in late June or early July. What would follow is a roughly 100-game regular season through October, followed by a postseason that might be held at warm weather and/or domed neutral sites.
The actual announcement of a concrete plan on getting underway this season is likely still weeks away. MLB will want to see how things play out as states begin to re-open for business. They will also be watching to see how play develops in the Chinese (Taiwan) and Korean professional leagues. And, of course, Major League Baseball will have to come to agreements on any specifics with the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Let’s take a look at this latest and to date most plausible proposal.
Per Bob Nightengale at USA Today, Major League Baseball would split the 30 big-league teams into three divisions based largely on geography for this one season only:
“MLB is considering a three-division, 10-team plan in which teams play only within their division – a concept gaining support among owners and executives. It would abolish the traditional American and National Leagues, and realign the divisions based on geography…The divisions would keep many of the natural rivals together, while playing one another before an expanded playoff format.”
Assuming that this is the actual format under which Major League Baseball attempts to play the season, how might more specifics break out? I have a few ideas.
First, if you have 10 teams in each division, want to restrict competition to only those 10 teams during the regular season, and want to stay roughly around 100 games, then the length of schedule would appear to be pretty simple. Play each opponent eleven times, making for a 99-game season. This would eliminate the need for any playoff tie-breakers. Those would be based on whichever team won at least six of the eleven regular season match-ups.
Teams would be playing in their home ballparks with no fans allowed. Considering that you would want to limit movement of as many individuals as possible, I would propose that, rather than traveling with each team, broadcast crews and support staff remain at the home ballpark for all games. Whichever is the home team, those are the broadcasters fans of both teams would hear – or all teams on a national broadcast. No more than two in a booth at any one game with one emergency “rover” who could move about the ballpark during the game and relieve each of the primary crew members when needed or desired.
Umpire crews and any other MLB officials could be rotated as to allow as little travel as necessary, including remaining in a particular city for more than one series. The highest-rated minor league umpires based on 2019 evaluations could be used as alternate crews, used to plug-in for gaps in scheduling, to give regular crews a break, and to take those regulars places should any need to be quarantined at any point.
Let’s say we get underway on Monday, June 29. Based on the original 2020 MLB schedule, the Phillies would have played 83 games by that point, leaving them with 79 to go. So, beginning our 99-game schedule at that time would mean the regular season extends from the original September 27 end date until three weeks later, ending on Sunday, October 18.
Now, to the postseason. This is where MLB would be trying to generate serious interest and excitement after such a wildly altered and constricted season. The playoffs would also be held in November, likely pitting baseball directly up against all three of the other major American pro sports, who would each be theoretically in the midst of making their own returns.
I would enter 12 of the 30 teams into a playoff bracket. Each division winner and runner-up would receive a first-round playoff bye. The third and fourth place teams would meet in a one-game Wildcard playoff. Three games on one day – Tuesday, October 20.
Winners would advance to face the second place finishers in a best-of-three with all games played at the home of that second place team over two days. The openers would be scheduled for Thursday and Friday, October 22-23, with games 2 and 3 scheduled for the following day in a day-night doubleheader format.
Those winners would then match-up with the division champs in a best-of-five series in a two-three format, with the division champs hosting the final three. Those series would begin on Monday, October 26 and end on Sunday, November 1. This would yield three teams advancing to the playoff semi-finals.
The fourth semi-finalist would come from a round-robin played by the three series losers, with tie-breakers to be determined based on such things as regular season records, run differentials, etc. That would take place at a neutral location on three straight days, Monday November 2 through Wednesday November 4.
The four remaining teams would then be seeded based on their overall regular and postseason winning percentage to that point. One plays four, two plays three, best-of-seven beginning on Friday, November 6. The winners of those advance to the best-of-seven World Series, which would begin following a one-day break after the latest-ending semi-final match-up.
Quite obviously there is a lot that can happen to torpedo this plan. A bad turn in the national health situation would likely scuttle the whole season. Assuming things continue progressing in a positive direction, MLB might decide to go with the “Arizona plan” that was discussed a couple of weeks back, where all 30 teams were housed in one location. They could decide also to split into the Grapefruit and Cactus League spring training groupings, which was another possibility discussed early on.