By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010; 12:06 AM
On the same night Major League Baseball released its preliminary 2011 master schedule, featuring an earlier start and finish to the season, the Minnesota Twins beat the Chicago White Sox to increase their lead in the American League Central race to seven games.
Why the link between these two events? Because the Twins' crucial victory Tuesday night brought them one step closer to securing a playoff berth (up seven games with 18 to play) - and brought baseball one step closer to the chilling possibility of November baseball in Minneapolis, where the Twins now play in a new stadium, Target Field, without a roof. It is exactly the sort of scenario the Special Committee for On-Field Matters was seeking to avoid when it recommended the schedule shift.
"I think there's a real issue with the weather," said Los Angeles Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, who serves on the special committee, told reporters Tuesday night. "You can get bad weather in October, but. . . . the chance of good weather is much better than if you have a cold spell in the first week of November."
Thus, the 2011 season will start at the end of March (with the Twins playing their first six games on the road), and will be completed by the end of September, with the World Series wrapping up before Halloween. This year, by contrast, the regular season ends on Oct. 3, with Game 7 of the World Series scheduled for Nov. 4.
For the Washington Nationals, the 2011 schedule will concentrate home games during April and September, with fewer home games during the summer months. In addition, the Nationals are one of two NL teams (the Pirates being the other) with only six home interleague dates (three each against the Orioles and Mariners in June). The Nationals will play interleague away games at the Orioles, Angels and White Sox.
The Nationals open at home for the second straight year, hosting the Braves on March 31, April 2 and April 3. They close the season Sept. 28 at Florida.
It isn't just Minneapolis that MLB was worried about in terms of World Series weather. Dicey weather in Philadelphia wreaked havoc upon the 2008 World Series, to name one recent example. But the Twins' decision to forego a roof at their new yard may have increased the baseball's urgency for making a change.
Because of the National League's victory in the All-Star Game, the latest date for a World Series game in an AL park this fall would be Nov. 1 (Game 5). An online weather almanac shows an average high temperature of 47 degrees and average lows of 31 in Minneapolis for that date. Using Oct. 25 (a week earlier) instead, the averages are 51 and 35 degrees, respectively.
The shifting of the schedule, along with a slight shortening of spring training, leaves the door open to further, more substantial changes - most notably the possibility of expanding the Division Series from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven format, something MLB will discuss with the union during the next round of collective bargaining. The current labor agreement expires in December 2011.
This will all feel a little weird at first next spring, to be sure, with most teams starting their seasons on a Thursday or Friday, and ending on a Wednesday. The last time the regular season schedule ended on a day other than Sunday was 1990.
In regards to interleague play, much of the focus, understandably, is on the Chicago Cubs' first-ever regular season visit to Boston's Fenway Park, where the two franchises last met in the 1918 World Series.
The Baltimore Orioles will welcome the St. Louis Cardinals to Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the first time.
firstname.lastname@example.org Staff writer Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.