Currently, Major League Baseball is scheduled to begin the 2021 season on Thursday, April 1. Of course, this date was determined and publicized prior to the start of last year’s abbreviated season, so the uncertainty of this year’s campaign is still looming.
While a COVID-19 vaccine has been developed, the pandemic is far from over. We’ve already seen how the virus has impacted the NBA and NHL, but what does the current health crisis mean for MLB?
Here are three questions we feel must be answered concerning the 2021 season.
Will the Season Proceed As Scheduled?
According to MLB front office members, some teams are already anticipating another postponed start to the year. This stems from owners who want the season to be delayed until all players can receive the vaccine.
One team executive suggested an alternative timeline in which Spring Training would begin in April, with Opening Day pushed back to May.
A National League owner told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale there’s not a “snowball’s chance in hell that spring training can start with protocols in place.”
Delaying the start of the 2021 season would allow more time for widespread distribution of the vaccine. This would make the season safer for all involved, including potential fans whose absence cost the league approximately $640K per game.
How Many Games Will Be Played?
This question will more than likely be answered once a start date has been established. There is reason to believe the 2021 season will not feature the full 162-game schedule. Many are projecting this year’s campaign will land somewhere south of 120 games.
If play were to begin on May 15, for example, this would allow for approximately 120 games if MLB wanted to start the playoffs at the beginning of October as normal. There’s even a possibility of scheduling a number of double-headers to stretch the total to 130 games.
To the contrary, Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo doesn’t see an issue with playing a full 162-game schedule.
“Knowing what I know about last season, I feel that the 2021 season can be played in full. I’m hopeful for that,” Lovullo explained.
“I’m just proud of everyone in the industry, from top to bottom, that made that adjustment and made it work. We got to the finish line, there was a world champion for the 2020 season.”
What 2020 Rule Changes Will Stick Around?
Accompanying the abbreviated 2020 season, were three major rule changes: the universal DH, a runner on second to begin extra innings, and expanded playoffs.
While allowing extra teams into the postseason made sense, the other two rules were more or less experiments to “enhance” the game.
While the permanent inclusion of these rules is yet to be determined, reports indicate most managers are surprisingly in favor of keeping the extra-innings rule.
Similarly, the universal designated hitter would be an easy addition as it would generate more offense — something the sport desperately needs. It’s hard to imagine the league tossing these rules into the Astros’ trash can.
Last season, MLB sent 16 teams to the playoffs, eight from each league. The top two teams from each division along with two wild card teams were eligible for the postseason.
While there’s no hard evidence of this specific rule’s positive impact on the game, expect some form of expanded playoffs in 2021.