A huge issue will be how many games MLB can pack into a shortened schedule, and in a bid to get as close to the traditional 162 as possible, fans could be treated to more doubleheaders.
Limiting each game of those doubleheaders to just seven innings might also be on the table. At the very least, the outside-the-box idea could be “something we have to consider,” Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins said Wednesday in a conference call.
“If you’re playing multiple doubleheaders, and suppose they are nine innings each, the demands on a pitching staff would be extremely significant,” Atkins said (via the Associated Press). He added that he wasn’t completely sold on the seven-innings idea himself, but said, “What we need to do is get ideas out where people feel safe mentioning them and then work through what’s practical, what makes sense, what are the downsides — because there’s going to be downsides — and try to weigh those appropriately.”
Thursday was supposed to be Opening Day, but having shut down spring training this month in response to increasingly restrictive governmental recommendations on limiting public gatherings, MLB won’t start its season until mid-May at the earliest. ESPN reported Wednesday that MLB and the players union are hoping to begin play by early June and that a number of players have signaled their willingness to play a large amount of doubleheaders.
As for the possibility of truncated twin bills, which are the norm in the minor leagues and college baseball, New York Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said he was open to it.
“I think there’s probably some interesting, creative ways to potentially [modify the schedule],” Boone said in a conference call Wednesday (via ESPN). “Talk of doubleheaders and whatnot. If you go that route and end up doing a lot of doubleheaders, do you do it the minor league way where you’re doing seven-inning doubleheaders? Those kinds of things.
“It is an opportunity probably to be creative or to try some things that people think could stick a little bit or be a segue to something different down the line. It is certainly probably an opportunity to try some things that you wouldn’t otherwise try in a normal 162-game setting where everything is going off according to plan.”
Speaking on ESPN late Wednesday night, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “This year is a unique circumstance — there’s a lot of ideas on the table and we really are open to all of them.”
Manfred didn’t dismiss 7-inning doubleheaders.— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) March 26, 2020
Other scheduling tweaks this year might include extending the entire season, including playoffs, into December and possibly staging postseason games in neutral sites with domes or in warm-weather locales.
“I think all of us want to try to play as many games as possible to keep the integrity of winning a championship or getting into the playoffs,” Colorado Rockies Manager Bud Black said Tuesday (via NBC Sports Washington). “I’m not sure what the right number would be and I’m not so sure we’d have to split them … but I’ve even heard there might be talk of being creative and making [doubleheaders] two sevens.”
“It’s going to be interesting to see how that all works out,” Detroit Tigers Manager Ron Gardenhire said Thursday (via MLive). “[We’re going to play] as many games as we can possibly play when we get back to it, and go from there. Just roll with it as best we can. I’m sure there will be roster decisions. If you’re going to play a ton of doubleheaders, there’s going to be roster decisions.”
Atkins also pointed to the strain on rosters that a steady slate of doubleheaders would cause, although he suggested that limiting games on those days to seven innings apiece could help. One downside to such an arrangement, the general manager noted, was that teams would then be “not playing the game that is written in the rule books.”
“It’s not the regulation game, it’s a different game,” Atkins continued. “Bullpens and teams are built in a way to play nine innings. I’m sure there are people that would challenge that, and I’m not so sure it’s something we should do.”