The official 2020 MLB schedule was released Monday.
The season kicks off on Thursday, July 23 with a 7pm, 10pm doubleheader (eastern time). The early game features the defending champion Washington Nationals hosting the New York Yankees at an empty Nationals Park.
The Yankees are a World Series favorite for 2020 and Bovada already lists the Yankees as -135 moneyline favorites for the Scherzer-Cole opener with a total of 7.5 runs.
The opening evening of baseball continues with a west coast battle – Giants at Dodgers. All other teams begin play the following day – July 24. The season concludes on Sunday, September 27, with the following Monday available for any makeup games.
Why Do Teams in the Central Have An Advantage?
So now to my main point – why teams playing in both the AL and NL Central have distinct advantages over their outlying counterparts.
Central teams won the lottery with both the easiest travel schedule and the weakest strength of schedule. Let’s talk travel first.
2020 MLB Travel Schedule
With player safety the main priority in this shortened 2020 season, the MLB elected to go with a regional approach to scheduling. Teams in the AL East, for example, only play teams from the NL East and their own division. Same thing for the West. Same for the Central.
Director of Research and Development for the MLB Daren Willman put out this awesome map graphic on Twitter illustrating the travel schedules for each region.
— Daren Willman (@darenw) July 6, 2020
Right off the bat, you can see that Western teams are the most spread out. It’s a hike to get up to Seattle and also very out of the way to go down to Houston and Arlington. Even Denver is isolated.
Now look out East. Heading up to Toronto is quite a trek, especially for the southern-most teams. Those Florida trips for teams in the northeast are also some of the longest in baseball this year.
It’s not difficult to see that the Central gets the nicest setup here. The longest trip in the Central is Pittsburgh to Minneapolis, which is less than half the distance of some of the aforementioned trips. Flying Minneapolis to Pittsburgh is a 740-mile trip. Each team will only make this flight once.
Compare this to Seattle-Houston – an 1890-mile trip. Seattle must make this trip twice. How about Toronto-Miami? It’s a 1235-mile trip. The Blue Jays must travel to Florida 3 times (twice against the Rays and once against the Marlins). The Jays also play the Braves, which is quite a trip compared to the sub-1-hour flights some Central teams enjoy.
Don’t Forget About Time Zones
You may be thinking that these distances don’t matter. What’s the difference between a 4-hour flight and a 1-hour flight when you’re on a private team jet, right?
Having 3 extra hours at home after a road trip is beneficial. Over a 2 month grind, it adds up. This extra time is not even the main perk of shorter travel distances. Time zones are.
All of the Eastern teams are in the same time zone. All Central teams are in 1 of 2 time zones. The Western teams are the only region split into 3 different time zones.
There will be a 2-hour time difference when the California teams, the Dbacks, or the Mariners play the Astros or Rangers. This is something that Central and Eastern teams will never have to deal with.
In a 60-game sprint, the margin for error narrows. The race for the 2 Wild Card spots in each league will be hotly contested. The fact that only Western teams will have to deal with jet lag seems too big to ignore.
Why Weak Strength of Schedule Matters in 2020
Each contest becomes magnified in a 60-game sprint. Teams with easier schedules have 2 distinct advantages: higher chance of clinching a Wild Card berth and higher chance of home field advantage in the playoffs.
That latter benefit might not matter a ton with empty stadiums, but it is worth something to get the last at-bats.
The increased Wild Card chances … that’s real and it’s huge!
Think about a team that projects to be mediocre this year – like the San Diego Padres. 9 of the Padres 60 games are against the NL-favorite Dodgers. San Diego also plays the Diamondbacks and Rockies – who are both decent. SD’s weakest division opponent is San Fran, and the Giants are no pushover.
Compare San Diego to a team with a similar win–loss projection in a weaker division – like the Chicago White Sox.
The White Sox get to beat up on the lowly Tigers and Royals for a huge chunk of their 2020 schedule. The Sox toughest division games are against a Cleveland squad that is nowhere near elite and a Minnesota squad with good hitting but weak pitching.
The White Sox’s Wild Card chances automatically improve because they can pad their record with a few extra wins against the bottom of their division.
There Are No Elite Teams in the Central Divisions
There are no teams to fear in the Central divisions – making these schedules much easier. Here is a quick rundown:
As a lifelong Tigers fan, I know more than anyone that this team is not set to win in 2020. Vegas predicts the only team worse than Detroit this year will be Baltimore – and even that might be a little generous for the Tigers.
I can’t even talk about my team to the casual baseball fan because the only player they’ve heard of is Miguel Cabrera – and he is a shell of his former self.
The Indians ran the Central through the latter half of the 2010s, but their roster is now getting pretty old. Position player wise Cleveland is solid, but their pitching has fallen back to Earth and is not capable of carrying them deep into the playoffs. Even at their peak, the Indians were never a serious World Series contender.
Minnesota looks pretty good but they do not seem like a team built for a deep playoff run, either. The Twins set baseball on fire in 2019 by setting the single-season team home run record, but my high school team has better pitching.
The White Sox are a young, exciting team and might have the best chance of making a deep run of any team in the AL Central. I’m not sure how much of my optimism in Chicago is because they are good and how much is because they are surrounded by middling franchises. Put the White Sox in the AL East and their 2020 outlook suddenly looks quite bleak.
The Royals have some young, exciting players, but their time has not yet arrived. They are much like the Tigers – in rebuild mode.
The Brewers have one of baseball’s bonafide stars in Christian Yelich but have struggled to reach the postseason even with Yelly at his best. Pitching is the main concern in Milwaukee.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in rebuild mode and figure to not be very competitive this season. The Cardinals are right there with them but are trending in the opposite direction. The Cardinals are aging and should begin a rebuild soon.
The Cincinnati Reds are pretty exciting but that is only because they are in the weak NL Central. Plop Cincinnati out in the West and they are a fourth-place team.
This leaves the Chicago Cubs – the class of the NL Central for several years running. Since their World Series run in 2016, the Cubbies have been good but not great. Chicago would be projected as the third best team in the NL East and are far far behind the Dodgers in terms of on-paper talent.
Final Thoughts on 2020 MLB Schedule Release
Do you see what I mean now? There is nothing else the MLB could have done, but this schedule could not favor the Central any more heavily.
These teams have the shortest travel distances – ensuring they will be fresh for every game – and at most, they only have to move 1 time zone over.
The Cental’s biggest advantage in the shortened season is a very weak schedule. Think about baseball’s top teams from a season ago: the Dodgers, the Braves, the Nationals, the Astros, the A’s, the Yankees, the Rays. None of these teams are in the Central divisions.
Central teams get the Cubs and Twins at the top instead of the Yankees and Dodgers. Central teams get to beat up on the Tigers, Royals, and Pirates at the bottom – true bottom feeders.
There is nothing else the MLB could have done. Both Central divisions happen to be weak right now. Regardless, if the Indians beat out the Rays by a game for the second Wild Card spot – expect to hear some shade thrown at the schedule makers.
See you on top!