August 20th will be an important day in the American league. On that date the AL East leading Red Sox will play the AL Central leading Indians at Fenway Park. What makes it so special is that it will be the first time this season that these teams will have played each other. Four months into the season and two of the best teams in the AL are finally meeting.
We have heard a lot recently about baseball not marketing itself properly. Baseball needs to appeal to younger fans and try to recapture some of the lost interest. One way to at least attempt to do this would be to eliminate the ridiculous unbalanced schedule that exists. Do teams really need to play 19 games against divisional opponents every year?
The unbalanced schedule has never been fair. Divions have never been fair for that matter. There have been many instances where teams that have finished in second place missed the playoffs despite having a better record than other division winners. The wild card has almost eliminated this but it has created a new problem...unbalanced schedules.
Teams in both leagues are competing for playoff spots, three division winners and two wild card teams to play a one game playoff. Essentially all of the teams are comperting for the same spots yet not all of the teams play the same schedule. Lets take a look at the American league East. Boston is having an amazing season. They are on pace to win well over 100 games and they look to be a legitimate World Series contender. What can not be overlooked is the fact that Boston plays almost a quarter of their schedule against Baltimore and Toronto, two teams that are well below .500.
Cleveland in the Central division has a 66-51 record and they have the biggest divion lead in all of baseball. Almost fifty percent of their schedule is played against the Twins, Tigers, White Sox, and Royals. Those teams have a combined winning percentage of .385. We have good baseball teams who probably have records slightly inflated due to the number of games they play against really bad clubs.
This isn't new. Unbalanced schedules have been around since the 2001 season. Prior to that teams played 13 games within their division. Now we don't know from year to year which divions are going to be weak. We don't know which teams are going to have historically rotten seasons. Balancing out the schedule would eliminate having to know that.
The goal is to try and have compelling baseball games, baseball games that fans want to watch and pay attention to. Wouldn't fans of the White Sox or the Royals like to see the Yankees or Red Sox come in an extra time each year? Wouldn't it be better for baseball to have the stars of the game visiting more cities each year? Watching the Yankees -White Sox game the other night the Sox announcers stated that some fans were dissapointed that they weren't going to see Aaron Judge play. Judge was on the disabled list for the Yankees only trip in the Chicago this season. How is that good for baseball?
Imagine you are a fan of Tampa. How do you have any optimism going into a season knowing that you are playing Boston and New York for roughly a quarter of your schedule? Baseball has a lot of problems. Some of these problems may not be fixable. The problems of competitive balance and getting it's stars into more stadiums is an easy one to fix. In the end however it's all about money. How much money will MLB lose not being able to market six extra Yankee-Red Sox games or six extra Cubs-Cardinals games? There would also be more travel involved if the schedule was balanced.
The goal should be to put the best most competitive product on the field as much as possible. If I had my way divions would be completely trashed and just have two leagues again. Take the top five records with four and five playing a two out of three to make the divisional round. If excitement is what the game needs then changing it's schedule may help.