MLB has whispered to their writers that they want to have games played this year and want to be starting by no later than July 2nd. They have even publicized having playoff games going as late as Thanksgiving in warm weather neutral sites to accommodate playing more regular season games. While nothing has been said about how playoffs would work, wanting an odd number (in this case, three) of divisions would bring some form of round-robin or bracket system.
Their current plan is to play games in three states that have many baseball parks available to minimize travel, have few COVID-19 cases and are in warm climates. The states expected to host games are Florida, Texas and Arizona, and each state will feature a ten team division. Teams will only play other teams in their own state until the playoffs and the MLB parks in those states are expected to host more than one game a day, with very few team off-days in the scheduling and teams playing double headers every week. Since there will not be any fans, seating capacity of the spring training sites to be used are not a problem. Lastly, there is an emphasis on having closed stadiums to minimize rainouts and avoid sweltering heat. Florida has two MLB parks that are closed, Texas has two, and although Arizona only has one, rainouts in Arizona are rare and the humidity is low. An additional perk to Arizona is the parks available are so close to each other that teams will have a very easy travel schedule. This realignment will undoubtedly bring a universal DH as there will be one set of rules for these divisions consisting of both NL and AL teams.
The division breakup offered by Joel Sherman, Bob Nightengale, and several baseball outlets is as follows:
In Florida: Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Nationals, Phillies, Pirates, Blue Jays, Rays, Marlins.
In Texas: Brewers, Cardinals, Indians, Braves, Tigers, Reds, White Sox, Cubs, Royals, Twins.
In Arizona: Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Rangers, Astros, Athletics, Rockies, Angels, Padres. Pretty ironic that neither Texas team will get to play in their home state but their ballparks will be used very extensively. Since there isn’t any travel for teams or fans anyway, it isn’t really fair to let the Rays, Marlins and Diamondbacks be in their home states and parks but make the Texas teams move out. But, that a personal editorial.
These new divisions seem to break very well for the Mets as well as the universal DH. As a team that planned to rely on several defensively flawed players, the DH will provide enough opportunities to both rest these players and lessen their exposure to defense. Also, the Mets will have five rebuilding teams in their division and the additional bonus of extracting one of the better teams in the NL East, the Braves, who are now in the Texas division. Of the four other teams that fancy themselves as potential playoff contenders in the Florida division – the Phillies, Nationals, Yankees and Rays – none of them are without holes. In fact, this division may be the weakest of the three.
The Texas division seems to be the strongest of the three divisions having the Twins, Braves and Cardinals, vastly improved teams like the Indians, Reds, and White Sox and the still dangerous Cubs and Brewers. It will be tougher for teams looking to get into the playoffs in Texas. Only the Royals and Tigers are in no shape to compete.
The Arizona division may be the most interesting from a pure baseball fan’s view in that it features the powerhouse Dodgers and Astros in the same division, and the head to head matchups of Mookie Betts and Mike Trout. Also in the playoff picture are the up and coming Diamondbacks, A’s, Padres and Angels, with the Rockies, Rangers, Mariners and Giants likely in the bottom half of the standings.
Back to the Florida division. We all know the Mets have flaws, but they have the best balance of potentially strong offense and – if you squint a little – potentially enough pitching if the pitchers all pitch to their reputations. With how the other four contenders shape up, Yankees are tough but pitching flawed this year, the Phillies are also pitching flawed, the Rays are offensively flawed and the Nationals are probably the team with the least obvious holes and best overall balance, but having lost the NL MVP should bring their production down a few notches. As a Mets fan, I look forward to this alignment and realize this gives the Mets an improved chance at the postseason.