There appears to be no end in sight to the disagreement between owners and players, and the longer the petty squabbling continues, the larger the prospect of no baseball looms. The two sides are not close when it comes to items like player compensation and the length of the regular season, however there are some compromises where it appears they have reached preliminary agreements.
The two most important areas in which both sides seem to be on common ground are an expanded playoff format and a regional regular season plan. Last week I wrote about the benefits the Yankees could reap playing in an expanded playoff format, and it is an idea the league has been weighing for some time now. The biggest changes include an expansion from ten teams to fourteen teams and an additional three-game series Wild Card round at the start of the playoffs.
I’d like to focus on the other area of accord. Five days ago, it was reported that the owners and union were on the same page discussing the proposal of a regional schedule. This proposal would see a partitioning of the league to limit travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. This would result in strictly intra-divisional and interleague play during the regular season along regional lines (AL East teams would only play against AL East and NL East opponents, etc.) Each division would remain intact for the purpose of determining postseason participants.
This is a huge departure from the regular season as we know it, and provides the opportunity for some intriguing storylines. Yesterday, Evan detailed one such storyline: the opening of a new chapter in the subway series rivalry. I would like to take a broader look at the benefits and drawbacks for the Yankees of this regional schedule proposal.
The good news first. Playing all of their games on the East Coast significantly shortens the grueling travel schedule for the Yankees. Being in the extreme northeast of the country, the Yankees have to travel far more than say a Central Division team, so this plan increases players’ rest and reduces their stress. It also goes without saying that cutting down on travel limits the chance of exposure to the ongoing health crisis.
The Yankees can also capitalize on having a smaller field of opponents during the regular season. Playing games against the same teams will build greater familiarity as the season goes on, allowing them to more finely tune their strategy in those games. While familiarity is a two-way street, the Yankees seem best positioned to reap the greatest reward from such knowledge of their opponents.
And now for the bad news. Of all the top World Series contender for this season, the Yankees would see the difficulty of their regular season increase the most under this plan. Take a team like the Astros. Sure, having a handful of series against the Dodgers is far from ideal, but let’s face it, adding series against teams like the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Giants, and Padres is a blessing.
Now look at the Yankees. In addition to the normally scheduled games against the Red Sox and Rays, the Bombers now would have to face the likes of the Nationals, Braves, and Phillies multiple times. I shudder at the thought of going up against Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg every series New York would play against them.
The Braves are a potent combination of stud young star hitters and starting pitchers, supplemented by tried-and-true veterans, and are an intimidating opponent any given day. The Phillies have put together an offensive juggernaut that could trouble even the top of the Yankees rotation. Even the Mets turn up their performance when facing their crosstown rivals, and that’s without mentioning the fact that they employ the best pitcher in baseball.
It is reassuring to know that the owners and the players are not completely at odds. Perhaps the agreement they have found with a regional schedule plan can help guide them to more common ground in the coming days. For the Yankees, the road to another championship gets a little rockier playing this restructured format. However, I invite the challenge head on, for that would mean that baseball would be back.