Anthony Santander Popped Out To End Baltimore's Eighteenth Loss to Tampa This Year
Rebuilding may force a tear down in an important topic in Major League Baseball, its increasingly problematic unbalanced schedule. While the idea of playing three times more games against your divisional foes seemed like a good move, the past two full seasons have shown its ugly downside.
In the current scheduling format, teams play each divisional opponent nineteen times, usually three home series and three away. Those multitude of intra-division games limits the games against other teams in the league, resulting in one home series and another as visitor.
Such scheduling may have sounded appealing when introduced nearly two decades ago, since it envisioned tight races for division crowns to be decided in head to head contests. The reality, however, has become an ugly stain on America's pastime, as the past weekend so blatatntly exposed.
Tampa Bay reliever Collin McHugh induced a pop up from Baltimore catcher Anthony Santander to seal a win for the Rays, who beat the Orioles for the eighteenth time this season. Baltimore's lone win in nineteen tries against Tampa came way back on July 19, when the visiting team managed to get six runs against Tamps starter Ryan Yarbrough.
In the eight games before that, as well as the ten afterward, Tampa swept the last place team in the American League East. It marked just the third time that a club won eighteen of nineteen from an opponent, so it seemed like an anomoly.
However, the only other two cases came in 2019, the last season with a full 162 game schedule. Cleveland that year went 18-1 against the lowly Detroit Tigers, while the Houston Astros lost just on e of the nineteen games they played against last place Seattle.
Both Cleveland and Houston, like Tampa Bay in 2021, were champions of their division. Both Detroit and Kansas City, like Baltimore in 2021, were smack in the middle of a tortuous rebuilding process.
These ugly scenarios would not be possible were it not for baseball's insistence on the unbalanced schedule, which explains why such lopsided matchups never occurred in the first one hundred fifty years of the sport.
In an era when nearly half the teams are rebuilding during any given year, having them face the division winner almost two dozen times would be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Except for one fact: it is certainly cruel but, unfortunately, it is no longer unusual, having happened three times in the past two full seasons.
No one wants to see a division champion play a rebuilding club nineteen times during a season, not even the fans of the dominant team. Cleveland and Tampa, already among the lowest in attendance every year, draw even fewer fans when the visitors post lineups with mostly minor league players.
Even Houston, usually one of the top in attendance, experienced a notable drop when last place Seattle visited Minute Maid Park ten times in 2019. The reverse would have been true had the Astros hosted a second series against the Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees, which would be possible with a mere tweak in the current schedule.
Baseball needs to reduce the inter-division matchups by six games, resulting in two series at home and a two on the road against each opponent. That would leave about a hundred games, ten against each team outside of the division and a couple of series against the geographic rivals.
Reducing the number of matchups would also greatly benefit the traditional intra-division rivals, intensifying games bewteen the Red Sox-Yankees or the Giants-Dodgers. Because the meetings would be fewer, they would gain in importance and increase the demand for tickets.
A more balanced schedule is a win-win idea, unlike the current setup which enables one team to win 18 and the opponent to win just once.