Now that the trade deadline is officially over, we’ve entered the home stretch of the MLB season with only division battles and playoff spots to settle now that the rosters are set in stone; those that bought and are making a run for it know who they are, and those that sold off and are pivoting their hopes towards 2024 are well-aware.
That also means that we’re in “schedule watching” season as the games have never mattered more than they do now- the Angels, for example, decided not to trade the most valuable player in MLB history and bought, going “all in” by instead acquiring Lucas Giolito, CJ Cron, and Randal Grichuk. Well, since the deadline, they started 1-7, gave up a game-tying grand slam in the 9th inning to a Mariners’ player who used to be on the Savannah Bananas (who they’re competing against), and followed that up with games against the playoff-pushing Giants, the Astros, Rangers, Rays, and Reds.
These are the games that are going to matter, and someone in the Angels’ internship program in the office maybe should have advised Arte Moreno to take a look at that calendar before potentially ruining the franchise’s future!
What’s been an interesting wrinkle in this season is that with the new rules came new scheduling- now, every single team plays everyone at some point during the 162-game run as opposed to having limited interleague matchups.
There will always be an opportunity to see Shohei play in person, even if you’re a fan of the Pirates living in Pennsylvania, as weird as it is to see the Pirates play the Angels. It grows the game to get eyes on every team nationwide but leads to odd matchups throughout.
When’s the last time you vividly remembered the heated Rockies-A rivalry?
However, as we get to “schedule-watching” season, these are the moments where it’s only fair in the division playoff pushes through the end of the season to have those traditional matchups. For example, the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers are two NL Central rivals that are neck-and-neck, fighting for their lives against one another with the Cubs for that playoff spot. They’ve already played every single game against one another this year! We will see matchups like Brewers-Yankees and Reds-Twins in mid-September when these rivals can do nothing but hope their opponent loses when the stakes are the highest.
So, how do we fix it so that we still have both access to every team playing every team and a model where the division rivalries are preserved with high-stakes, blood-boiling animosity?
There’s been a plethora of schedule realignment throughout sports- from college athletics blowing itself up to the NBA adding an in-season tournament to the NFL adding a 17th game. Still, the MLB can adopt something from college basketball to capitalize on the stakes of the regular season schedule.
In college basketball, usually, the format of the season is that universities frontload the first month of the season with their non-conference opponents to get a feel for playing together at the beginning of the year, to have time to travel to neutral sites before school breaks, and when the stakes aren’t near as high as it would be in January through March when they’re trying to make a tournament run.
The Duke-North Carolina rivalry isn’t going to mean near as much in November as it would before the tournament.
Baseball could adopt something similar to that this proposal:
Baseball takes around 6 months between April to September to get 162 games in before the postseason.
The First 1.5-2 Months: In-Division Opponents
You should want to see the traditional matchups to start off the year! Aside from a few spring training injuries, the teams are going to be the healthiest they’ve been, a hot start can make you really believe in something, and the eyes on the sport and the importance of the division rivalries will be increased with that animosity.
Having a sold-out Yankee Stadium on opening day was bizarre as they matched up against San Francisco instead of Tampa Bay or Boston.
The Middle Months: Interleague Play Opponents
These are a bit of the dog days of the season right before the all-star break- teams are trying to get healthy, and the stakes aren’t near as high in the marathon of the year, so this would be the optimal time for teams to go buck wild with the weird matchups.
Summer vacations are also kicking up in schools, so the audiences that DO want to see the players from teams that they normally don’t have access to will now have all their eyes and ears on trying to get to a ballpark or television because suddenly Juan Soto and the Padres are in Cleveland.
Marketing it as a window, kind of like international soccer has “friendlies” or in-season tournaments, could be another part of building the brand and growing the game,
Final Months: Back to In-Division Opponents
The battle royales that we would see to heighten the stakes of playoff spots and create animosity between fan bases and players when the regular season games matter the most are optimal here.
There’s no bickering over who has an easier schedule, as they’re all trying to kill one another for that playoff spot. If there were any possible weather delays in the midwest that likely canceled a ton of games in the April and May months at the beginning of the year, they could be made up during this window.
Where we’re at right now matters the most. Baseball has made strides in creatively and actively trying to maximize the eyes on the game, and that’s what we want here before football, basketball, and hockey kick up in the fall and winter.
Heated rivalries and raised stakes are a part of growing the game in the schedule-watching season.