After months of deliberation and rejected proposals; baseball is officially back. Major League Baseball has announced a 60 game season that will start on July 23rd, with teams scheduled to report for training by July 1st, which will be held at the team’s respective facilities.
MLB has given some insight to the abbreviated season’s structure per a press release shortly after the announcement: “The proposed schedule will largely feature divisional play, with the remaining portion of each club’s games against their opposite league’s corresponding geographical division,” In so many words, this would cut down on the travel for each team, effectively keeping them in the same time zone throughout their season.
This along with other temporary changes (universal DH, extra inning format) sets an interesting backdrop for the league as a whole. In the Nationals’ case they will be making their title defense with these variables in play. While no schedule has officially been set, we can make a few assumptions and analyze from the information handed down from Major League Baseball.
As per the guidelines provided earlier this week the gist of the schedule is this: 40 divisional games (10 games against each opponent in the division) and the remaining 20 to involve interleague opponents while staying in the same region. The “opposite league’s corresponding geographical division” in the Nationals’ case will be the AL East. It is also reported that 6 of those interleague games will be against the “interleague rivals”; the Baltimore Orioles. That leaves roughly 3-4 games each against the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays.
A series with the Yankees was announced on Saturday as the Nationals’ home and season opener. From what we know at this point this would be the last time the Yankees and Nationals play for the remainder of the season, fulfilling the 3-4 game interleague requirement between the two teams.
It is clear that this scheduling decision was made to mitigate travel and rate of COVID-19 transmission, to which I applaud MLB. In fact, while we are still short 102 games, fans of the Nationals will experience a crash course in regionally focused matchups to pair with the already compelling race for the NL East.
As for the NL East, the same power struggle will take form yet again; with the Braves, Phillies, and Mets vying to knock their division rival off it’s championship perch. The Marlins will be looking to improve and may show some more immediate improvement with this smaller sample size. However, the prevailing storylines will be those series against the Braves, Phillies, and Mets. With only 10 games each against these division opponents, every series will bring intense pressure and scrutiny to get a result.
The inclusion of AL East scheduling could prove an advantage for the reigning champs. Not to downplay the AL East or the sheer firepower of the New York Yankees, or the promise shown by the Tampa Bay Rays, the division is more top heavy than it has been in recent years. The Red Sox, after moving Price and Betts, may be in store for a trademark transitional year. Toronto is a team brimming with young talent, but is a team for the future, not necessarily this year. The Orioles, whom the Nationals will face 6 times, has been at the basement of the division recently and projects to do the same in this shorter season.
Of course, there is no telling what this season will bring us with it’s myriad of format changes. 2020 will introduce a new side of baseball to both lifelong fans and the casual observer alike. Those regional and divisional rivalries coupled with the shortened season will be a powder keg resulting in high intensity, high stakes regular season baseball that is sure to compel. As for Nats’ fans, they will see their team endure a 60 game title defense consisting of heated series with their most bitter rivals. What could be a better continuation of the thrilling 2019 postseason?