MLB has been exploring ways to play as many games as possible in 2020 after losing a chunk of the season to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Extreme ideas have included a 140-game slate with lots of doubleheaders and playoffs extending into late autumn.
A much more modest idea reached the rumor stage Wednesday. A source told Chicago sports radio host Matt Speigel that MLB is discussing a 100-game regular season that would begin July 1, include no All-Star Game and end with a November World Series at Dodger Stadium.
Implementation isn't close because there's still no telling whether there will be a season. The pandemic needs to subside first, and there's no timetable for that.
Still, there was enough information in Spiegel's tweets to form three thoughts on the supposed proposal.
A 100-game season can produce a legitimate playoff field
Last season's standings offer the guidance. Through last July 25, all MLB clubs had played at least 100 games. The teams in the 10 playoff spots at that point were the Yankees, Twins, Astros, Indians and A's in the American League, and the Braves, Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals and Cardinals in the National League.
Eight of those teams made the playoffs; the only changes were the Rays replacing the Indians in the AL and the Brewers replacing the Cubs in the NL. The NL Central and wild-card races were tight and the Cardinals moved from a wild-card berth to a division title, but the field remained 80 percent intact.
That's evidence that, in a pinch, a truncated regular season can decide the best teams almost as well as a 162-game slate, which many fans and media consider to be too long.
A split season should be avoided
The tweets didn't make mention of such a setup, but it would be wise for baseball to learn from what happened in 1981.
That year, a midseason players strike wiped out slightly more than a third of the schedule. When play resumed in July, the prestrike standings were used to determine the "first-half" division winners and the poststrike standings determined the "second-half" division winners.
That produced bad outcomes. The Reds and Cardinals had the two best overall winning percentages in the NL but neither team made the expanded playoffs because they finished second in both halves. The proto-Division Series pitted the Phillies against the Expos and the Dodgers against the Astros.
In the AL, the Royals got in with an overall losing record because they won the second-half West title. They faced the A's in the West Division Series while the Yankees and Brewers met in the East.
A 50-50 split this year would roughly match the '81 breakdown. The current playoff format would help to prevent inequities like the ones suffered by Cincinnati and St. Louis, but there's still a chance a team with the best overall record in its league would have to play in some type of wild-card game.
A neutral-site World Series might not be necessary
Spiegel's tweeted report said the revised regular season would end Thursday, Oct. 15. If there are no changes to the playoff format (i.e., additional teams), then the World Series would wrap up around mid-November, or about two weeks later than usual. The report also said that moving the Series to LA is a way for MLB to compensate for the city losing an All-Star Game.
(In case you're wondering, Spiegel reported that the Dodgers would have to play "road" games in this hypothetical Fall Classic in barely neutral Anaheim or San Diego if they were to make it.)
The kneejerk reaction to a Chavez Ravine Series is to say, "Duh, can't play in mid-November up north." Yes, a Twins-Cubs or White Sox-Rockies Fall Classic would be dicey, but the majority of Eastern cities won't be Arctic at that point. A better reason to go west would be that MLB wants to protect itself and its fans against a return of the coronavirus to colder climates.
Since this is a breakdown of a hypothetical, let's wrap this by saying MLB could, in theory, guard against the weather threat by playing a couple of Series games in the daytime. That's one thing baseball got right in '81 — when Games 4 and 5 were afternoon starts at . . . Dodger Stadium.
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