This Spring Training is a good time to review and update the Baseball Basics for Brits series, both from a visual point of view (adding in the current site logo and colour scheme) and the content itself.
The first volume is about the MLB structure in respect of how the competition is set up into leagues and divisions and how the schedule is constructed.
The 162-game schedule is a good thing to stop and think about because it is a fairly complicated set-up for anyone new to the sport. The sheer number of games takes many newcomers by surprise for a start and then you have to get your head around the fact that the schedule doesn’t conform to the usual logic that a British sports fan would expect.
Two teams competing against each other for a division title, never mind a play-off spot, don’t play the exact same schedule as each other because the desired character of the schedule (playing your division teams most frequently, in part to reduce travel, and then also factoring in 20 games against teams from the other league) don’t make that possible.
MLB increased the regular season from 154 games per team to 162 in 1962. The number of teams and league/division structure has changed multiple times since then, but instead of working out a logical (perhaps ‘fair’ is the best word to use) schedule and then arriving at a total number of games, 162 has held steady and a schedule is concocted as best as possible from there.
Making the schedule so that you play against teams in your own division most frequently (19 times each currently) makes sense; however, you can’t do that and then fit in games against the other 10 teams in your league, plus interleague games, and make it all add up by all playing each other an equal number of times.
If we do get to the point when the National League adopts the Designated Hitter role then the logical step would be to do away with the two league structure and that would give you some further options on how to reconfigure the schedule. Whilst the DH argument is live and could result in a change in the not-too-distant future, scrapping the two leagues publicly hasn’t been on anyone’s agenda and that’s likely a long way off if it happens at all.
So we’re left with the current situation, which isn’t perfect but does make some sort of sense so long as you accept the inevitable impact of two teams competing for a play-off spot without facing the same teams the same number of times. Some times a team will benefit from playing a slightly weaker schedule than a rival and in MLB the managers just have to get on with it and win the games they need with the schedule they’ve been dealt.
Try explaining that to Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini next time they start moaning about the football fixture list.