Curveballs and Changeups: A Look at the New MLB Schedule and Rules
Major League Baseball (MLB) is making a few changes for the 2023 season: Apart from a new schedule format and a pitch clock, all 30 teams will play each other for the first time. Keep reading to learn about all the major updates MLB is making ahead of what should be an exciting and unprecedented season.
How Does the New Balanced MLB Schedule Work?
To begin, there are 30 MLB teams between two leagues (American League and National League), and each league has 15 total teams. Each league has three divisions (East, Central and West) for a total of six MLB divisions, and each division has a total of five teams. The regular MLB season consists of each team playing a total of 162 games between the spring and the fall.
With the newly-balanced 2023 MLB schedule, there will be fewer games played between divisional opponents and more games between interleague teams. In 2023, each team will now play their divisional opponents in only 52 games, decreased from 76 games from the previous schedule format. This means each team will play their divisional opponents in 13 games across four series with seven games at home and six games away (or vice versa) for a total of 26 divisional games at home and 26 away.
The MLB interleague play will be shortened to 64 games, down from 66 games, with 32 home games and 32 away games. These interleague games are played between non-divisional league opponents and will consist of six games against six interleague teams and seven games against the other four teams.
The biggest change for the 2023 MLB season is with interleague games. Each team will now play 46 games, up from 20 last year, against teams from the opposite league. Each team will play a home-and-home series totaling four games against their “natural rivals” (i.e. Cubs vs. Sox, Mets vs. Yankees, Dodgers vs. Angels) and a single three-game series against the other 14 interleague teams, with seven series at home and seven away.
The other natural rivalries in the league include: Astros vs. Rockies; Athletics vs. Giants; Blue Jays vs. Phillies; Guardians vs. Reds; Mariners vs.Padres; Orioles vs. Nationals; Rangers vs. Diamondbacks; Rays vs. Marlins; Red Sox vs. Braves; Royals vs. Cardinals; Tigers vs. Pirates, and Twins vs. Brewers.
The most important thing to note with this new MLB season format is the variety of games for fans to attend. For the first time in modern baseball history, all 30 MLB teams will play each other in the regular season. This is a result of MLB’s decision to put less of an emphasis on divisional play. Last season, MLB teams played their divisional opponents in 19 games each, totaling 76 divisional games. Since almost half of the season was against only four teams, MLB decided to expand the playing field for a more “balanced” schedule. However, that doesn’t mean that the season schedule will be perfectly balanced. In the 2023 season, 52 games will be played against divisional opponents and 64 against interleague opponents, totaling 116 games played. In order to be perfectly balanced, the MLB schedule would split the 162 total games down the middle to play 81 against their league and 81 against the other league.
Another unique aspect of the 2023 MLB season is the emphasis on interleague play. Before the 2023 season, teams would play 20 interleague games against their natural rivals and only one other division in the opposing league. Since all teams will now play each other, it gives MLB teams more opportunity to play for a wild card spot in the postseason, and it provides fans with more opportunities to see their favorite teams compete. As Chris Marinak, MLB chief operations and strategy officer said, “This new format creates more consistent opponent matchups as clubs compete for postseason berths, particularly in the recently expanded wild card round.”
This is the first drastic change to the MLB schedule since the “unbalanced” schedule was implemented in 2001. With the previous schedule, teams would play between 16-20 games a season against their divisional opponents.
How Do the MLB Playoffs Work?
The MLB Postseason is separated by the two leagues, the National League and the American League. In each league, MLB Postseason spots are given to the winner of each division, as well as three wild card spots for the teams who didn’t win the division but have the best winning percentage. After a best-of-three Wild Card series, teams play in a best-of-five Divisional Round Series followed by a League Championship, which is a best-of-seven series. The winner of the American League and National League Championship series compete in a best-of-seven series known as the World Series.
What Else is New for MLB in 2023?
MLB Opening Day was on March 30, 2023, marking the first time since 1968 that every MLB team played their Opening Day game on the same date. The Cubs and Cardinals will also play a two-game series in London as part of the newly founded MLB World Tour, which will see MLB teams play around the world over the next four seasons.
End of the Shift
As most MLB fans know, defensive players have previously been allowed to “shift” throughout the field for specific offensive players depending on where they were most likely to hit the ball. Thanks to modern analytics, this shift has led MLB to have the lowest league-wide batting average (.243) since 1968. Now, there must be two infielders on either side of second base with two feet in the dirt when the pitcher releases the ball. If a defensive player breaks this rule, the offensive team will have the choice to decline the penalty and let the play stand or accept the penalty, which would reset the play and add a ball to the batter’s count.
As an attempt to speed up the game, MLB has made one of the biggest rule changes in the history of baseball — pitchers will now have a pitch clock. Pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw the ball when the bases are empty and 20 seconds when there is at least one player on. The pitcher must have started the “motion to deliver the pitch” when the pitch clock strikes 0. The Batters will also have to pay attention, as they must be in the batter’s box with at least 8 seconds on the pitch clock. Also, the batter is now only allowed one time-out per plate appearance.
To prevent pitchers from abusing their responsibilities with the pitch clock, pitchers will only be allowed two “disengagements” (pickoffs and step-offs) per batter. A third disengagement will be enforced as a balk. If a runner advances on the basepath during the same plate appearance, the disengagement rule is reset.
The size of bases will be increased from 15″ square to 18″ square. This will increase the closeness of the bases as well as the safety of the players. Due to the increased bases, home plate to first base and home plate to third base will now be 3″ closer, and first base to second base and second base to third base will be 4.5″ closer.
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