Curveballs and Changeups: A Look at the New MLB Schedule and Rules

Major League Baseball (MLB) made a few changes as of the 2023 season: Apart from a new schedule format and a pitch clock, all 30 teams will play each other for the first time. Here are all the major updates MLB has made that are continuing into the 2024 season.

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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 MLB schedule, there are fewer games played between divisional opponents and more games between interleague teams. Each team now plays 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.

MLB intraleague play was also shortened to 64 games, down from 66 games, with 32 home games and 32 away games. These intraleague games are played between non-divisional league opponents and will consist of six games against six intraleague teams and seven games against the other four teams.

The biggest change is regarding interleague games. Each team now plays 46 games, up from 20, against teams from the opposite league. Each team plays 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 newer MLB schedule format is the variety of games for fans to attend; all 30 MLB teams now play each other in the regular season. This is a result of MLB’s decision to put less of an emphasis on divisional play. Previously, MLB teams played their divisional opponents in 19 games each, totaling 76 divisional games. MLB decided to expand the playing field for a more “balanced” schedule with the new format.

Another unique update 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 in the entire league now play each other, it provides fans with more opportunities to see their favorite teams compete against different opponents. 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.”

The balanced schedule change in 2023 was the first drastic change to MLB’s regular season 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, until the World Series. 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.

Learn more about the MLB Postseason here.

What Else is New for MLB?

Opening Day

Opening Day for the 2024 season is March 28, 2024. In 2023, MLB Opening Day marked the first time since 1968 that every team played their Opening Day game on the same date. The Cubs and Cardinals also played a two-game series in London as part of the newly-founded MLB World Tour, which will see MLB teams play around the world through 2026.

End of the Shift

As most MLB fans know, defensive players previously had been allowed to “shift” throughout the field for specific offensive players depending on where they were most likely to hit the ball. The shift had led MLB to have the lowest league-wide batting average (.243) since 1968. But with a new rule starting in 2023, 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 has the choice to decline the penalty and let the play stand or accept the penalty, which add a ball to the batter’s count.

Pitch Clock

As an attempt to speed up the game, MLB has made one of the biggest rule changes in the history of baseball in 2023 — pitchers now have to abide by a pitch clock. Pitchers have 15 seconds to throw the ball when the bases are empty and 20 seconds when there is at least one player on base. The pitcher must have started the “motion to deliver the pitch” when the pitch clock strikes 0. Batters also have to pay attention, as they must be in the batter’s box with at least eight seconds on the pitch clock. Also, the batter is now only allowed one time-out per plate appearance.

Pickoffs

To prevent pitchers from abusing their responsibilities with the pitch clock, as of 2023 pitchers are only allowed two “disengagements” (pickoffs and step-offs) per batter. A third disengagement can be enforced as a balk. If a runner advances on the basepaths during the same plate appearance, the disengagement rule is reset.

Bigger Bases

The size of bases was increased from 15″ square to 18″ square in 2023. This increased 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 is now 3″ closer, and first base to second base and second base to third base is 4.5″ closer.

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