On interleague play and interstate realities...
2023 marks a distinct revolution in MLB scheduling. For the first time, the Minnesota Twins will play every MLB team during the regular season.
In the ever evolving nature of sport, some changes can fly under the radar. This scheduling change will impact the entire league in both extreme and subtle ways, and I'm not sure the Twins will be on the winning end of any of them. Here are a few of the main changes that I'm noticing as I plan the All 81 trip.
1. In-Division games are reduced from 19 to 12 per team. For the Twins, this means that feasting on KC or Detroit gets portion-controlled. One might also argue that since our Guardians head-to-head record was so ratty, this will help the Twins stay in the running within the division. Pundits are arguing that for teams in "weak" divisions, the new balance of schedule does not help. Time will tell.
2. At the very least, it amplifies the 12 games that we do have within the division. A 3-game series in April gets magnified in the new revised standard schedule system. Series tended to get lost in the shuffle when conceptually there were 5 others waiting down the road. Now, a 3 day rough patch in KC could make or break division hopes.
3. There are the same amount of road series, but little replication. Why does this matter? In baseball, routine matters. In the next few years, finding a way to adapt to new travel and surroundings on a week to week basis will replace almost a month of traveling to the same AL Central destinations. Keeping rhythms now that interleague travel and new ballpark navigation becomes the norm rather than the exception will be vital to success.
4. Now, you could argue that every team has to deal with these same issues, so nobody will really benefit from the switch in scheduling. Yet, because of their unique and isolated geography, the Twins gain no benefits from an expanded list of destinations each season. Everywhere they go is definitely "away." Think Cleveland as a counter-example. Adding stops in Pittsburgh or Cincinnati or Washington mean less in terms of travel and time than it does for Minnesota. Again you could argue that taking one trip to Chicago or Cleveland or Detroit out of the Twins' annual travel schedule provides room for this change. But because of how the geography and divisional alignment work, those new interleague journeys will always be further away for the Twins.
5. If you think the Twins have it rough...try being Seattle, or Miami. Losing those 4 in-division trips up and down the coast inevitably ends up with more 3 series road trips, thousands of more miles of travel, and the inevitable time-travel through time zones that can mess with a player's focus.
6. What is gained with the new scheduling? Potentially more parity. In most recent history, a team could convince its fanbase that playing to the ability of your division resulted in "success." Now, every team will be increasingly exposed for how they stack up across the entire MLB. Good teams will rise to the top regardless of division. Teams will have live-action experience with every MLB roster every season for scouting and analysis purposes. Trades to teams in the other league now have the chance of biting you each year, not just every three.
7. On the positive, to the members of Twins Territory scattered across this country (and Toronto!) the new schedule opens up far more opportunities to experience your favorite squad live and in person. Transplanted Twins fans in San Diego know that they get 3 games every other year in their backyard. South Beach influencers who cut their teeth on Kirby Puckett's heroics will get a guaranteed chance every two years to wave their homer hankies in Miami. If attending a Twins game live is the practice that strengthens the relationship, then Twins Territory is prime for expansion and growth.
In summary, I'm pretty sure that the new schedule will not help the Twins reach their playoff goals this season, or any season. But if the schedule benefits the ability of Twins fans to engage with their club and their passion for MLB baseball, then its a move worth making. And if there is even the slightest chance for bringing some element of parity into the MLB conversation, then such a change is long overdue.
What are you most interested in seeing with regards to how the new MLB interleague scheduling shakes out?
Grace and peace,