The Major League Baseball (MLB) season starts Thursday as the world champion Washington Nationals play the New York Yankees. The 2020 season will be different because of the novel coronavirus crisis, but it may still be a lot of fun. Let’s take a look.
The first big difference is that the games will be played in stadiums with no fans in the spectator seats. No chants of “Let’s Go Nats” or “We want a hit.” Foul balls will bounce on empty seats. That will definitely be strange.
The second difference is that the 30 MLB teams will play a two-month, 60-game schedule instead of the usual 162-game season spread out over six months. This season will be more of a sprint than a marathon.
The long MLB season usually means that the strongest teams rise to the top and make the playoffs. It’s hard for a team to hide weak starting pitchers or a so-so lineup over 162 games.
The shorter season could mean that some weaker teams that play well for a month or two may sneak into the playoffs. Or a strong team that gets off to a slow start may miss out.
For example, if the 2019 MLB season had been only 60 games, the Washington Nationals would not have made the playoffs and won the World Series. The Nats had a record of 27-33 (27 wins, 33 losses) after 60 games in 2019.
The playoffs setup changed in a last-minute agreement between the players and owners. There will be spots for 16 teams — eight from the American League and eight from the National League. Each division’s first- and second-place teams will earn spots as will two teams with the next best records. With a shortened season, there should be some close playoff races with lots of teams contending in late September.
The schedule will be different, so teams will not have to travel long distances. The Nats will play 40 games — 10 each — against the four teams in their own National League East Division. They will play 20 more games against teams in the American League East.
And you know how teams say, “We have a chance if we stay healthy.” Staying healthy is going to be super important during a shortened season. Not only will teams and players have to stay safe and avoid the novel coronavirus, but any regular injury may cause a player to miss a big part of the season.
Last year, Nats’ shortstop Trea Turner was hit by a pitch and missed 39 games with a broken finger. Turner still played more than 120 games. An injury like that would sideline Turner for almost two-thirds of the 2020 season.
The 2020 MLB season will be shorter, but that means every game, every play and every pitch will be more important and more exciting.
That is if the pandemic doesn’t keep them from playing ball.
This story has been updated to reflect a change in the MLB playoffs.