Astros: MLB could start season in June with new divisions

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 30: A bag of baseballs is seen on the field before Game Seven of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Minute Maid Park on October 30, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 30: A bag of baseballs is seen on the field before Game Seven of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Minute Maid Park on October 30, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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The latest report indicates MLB could start a radically realigned season in late June. What does this mean for the Houston Astros?

Hold on to your butts, baseball fans. Nothing is set in stone yet, but the latest report from USA Today indicates MLB officials are optimistic about the 2020 season starting in late June or possibly early July, and that games could be played in teams’ home ballparks. But there are some wrinkles, which will affect the Houston Astros greatly.

In this discussed plan, MLB would abandon its current divisions and even the American and National league divide. Instead, the 30 teams would be grouped into three 10-team divisions based on geography in order to limit travel, and they would only play the other teams within their division. The Astros, of course, would be grouped in the West division.

The proposed West division would include the AL West and NL West teams — the Astros, Rangers, Mariners, A’s, Angels, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Diamondbacks and Rockies. The East and Central divisions would follow suit, with one exception: the Pirates would play in the East and the Braves would play in the Central.

There would also be an expanded playoff format, though the report offers no details as to how that’ll work. There’s an expectation that teams would have two and a half to three weeks worth of Spring Training before the regular season would start as well, with players being quarantined during that time.

The regular season games would be played without fans, at least initially. The hope is that some fans could be present for the postseason, but it’s much too soon to say for certain how that will play out. What it does mean, though, is players can be with their families just as much as they would during a typical regular season and play in their home ballparks, which is a distinct advantage over the previously floated ideas of playing all games in Arizona or Florida.

As for the season’s length, the thinking right now is around 100 to 110 games. This plan is yet to be approved by medical experts, and could depend on the availability of COVID-19 testing. It’s steadily increasing in availability, but it’s not yet to a satisfactory level. But if all personnel can get tested, there would be no need to quarantine players during this proposed regular season.

Questions to be Answered

For one, there are revenue questions that stem from the ramifications of playing in empty stadiums, since owners will really feel the sting of the missing gate revenue. There are talks of coming to some kind of agreement with the players on financial relief, but those negotiations could easily devolve into madness if either side isn’t willing to give up a good amount of ground.

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Another question not addressed by the USA Today report is the issue of the DH. With the teams no longer separated by league, will they continue to operate with or without the DH as they were before? Or should every team play by the same rules since they’re now intermingled in the same divisions?

This would be an issue for the Astros if the NL teams continue to operate without the DH. Under this proposed plan, five out of the nine teams the Astros will face in the regular season are NL teams, meaning more than half of their road games will be in NL parks. This team is built to play in the AL, with Yordan Alvarez needing to stay at DH as much as possible due to his knees. The Astros, as well as other AL teams, would be at a distinct disadvantage here.

I believe the parties involved will have to agree to the universal DH if this plan has any legs. If you’re getting rid of the AL/NL dichotomy, then every team needs to play by the same rules. You can’t reasonably ask AL teams to forfeit the DH, so the NL teams will have to adopt it, if only for this season.

There’s another wrinkle this could add for the Astros: being in the same division as the Dodgers. After the sign stealing scandal and all the whiny bloviating done by some of the Dodgers players, could being in the same division increase the likelihood of retaliation? Let’s hope MLB can get a handle on that before someone gets seriously hurt.

But officials appear to be optimistic that this plan could come together, even though there are still issues to be worked out. Some of these details could change in the final deal, and there are still some roadblocks to get through. But things seem to be moving closer and closer toward an actual MLB season being played.

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