Five ways 2020 MLB schedule will impact Red Sox, not all of them good
Now that Major League Baseball has imposed a schedule that should last about 60 games and start in late July, we can turn our attention to how the plan to play ball will impact the Red Sox.
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Bad news: it looks like it will hurt more than help. Here are five areas to watch.
1. No expanded playoffs
The Red Sox need all the help they can get if they want to play in October, and under MLB's 60-game proposal that the players rejected on Monday, 16 teams would've qualified for the postseason.
The players didn't want to give the owners the extra revenue, however, so there will once again be only 10 playoff teams. While baseball will play a regional schedule, regional divisions will not be created. The AL East will play the NL East, but each division will remain separate and intact, leaving us with the same playoff format as before: three division winners plus two wild cards.
The Red Sox missed the playoffs last year after going 84-78. Had there been eight AL playoff teams instead of five, they would've qualified as the No. 7 seed, between the 93-win Indians and 78-win Rangers. They'll instead once again be competing with the Yankees, Rays, Twins, Indians, Astros, and A's, with the Blue Jays and White Sox also improved. But that's only the start of their problems.
2. Unbalanced schedule
With the AL and NL Easts squaring off, the Red Sox will play a wildly unbalanced schedule. Nearly half their games will come against the Yankees, Rays, Braves, and Nationals. All four squads reached the postseason last year, and the Nationals won it all.
Of the 10 teams in the East, only three posted losing records in 2019. Compare that to West, which features three returning playoff teams and only four clubs that compiled winning records.
With the Blue Jays energized by an exciting young core, the Phillies built around Bryce Harper, and the Mets coming off a strong finish behind Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso, the Red Sox will have very few easy outs in a truncated schedule, even acknowledging the presence of the woeful Orioles and Marlins.
3. No universal DH in 2021
This one mostly impacts the payroll, but it at least helps ensure that slugging DH J.D. Martinez remains in a Red Sox uniform.
Under MLB's final proposal, the universal DH would've been added in 2020 and 2021. It will remain in place this season for safety reasons, so pitchers won't have hit after a rushed spring training, but it's no longer in play for 2021. That greatly increases the likelihood that Martinez will once again have no suitors if he opts out of the final two years of his contract.
With a DH in the NL next year, Martinez would've had 15 new possible landing spots. Now it looks like his options will once again be limited. Combined with what projects to be a nonexistent free agent market, and it's pretty safe to say that Martinez will just take the $19.35 million he's due in 2021 and remain in Boston.
4. Slow starts will be devastating
Many have noted that if last season ended after 60 games, the eventual champion Nationals wouldn't have made the playoffs. A 60-game season will benefit teams with a history of fast starts. The Red Sox aren't always one of them.
They were 31-29 through 60 games last year, 7.5 games behind the Yankees and Rays in the AL East. The year before, they were 41-19, a game-and-a-half up in first place. They won the division title in 2017, but started 33-27, which left them three games out in second place. Same goes for 2016, when their 35-25 record placed them a game out of first during a year that would end with a division title, too.
On the positive side, in seven of the last 10 seasons, the Red Sox have delivered a higher winning percentage in the first 60 games of the season than overall. They've averaged a .545 winning percentage in that opening span and .534 thereafter.
5. No pitching depth
In a normal season, a starting pitcher might make 10-12 starts in a two-month stretch. Finding someone an extra turn in a 162-game season doesn't mean a lot on a marginal basis, but in a 60-game season, every extra start Eduardo Rodriguez can make at the expense of Martin Perez or an opener becomes incredibly valuable.
If a five-man rotation stays on turn for 60 games, that works out to 12 starts each. There may be ways for the Red Sox to finagle extra starts for E-Rod, however, since pitchers won't be asked to hold up for 200 innings. While there's certainly risk — both Rodriguez and No. 2 starter Nathan Eovaldi have injury histories — the fewer starts the Red Sox can give to the uncertain parts of their rotation, the better their odds of sneaking into the postseason.