You all know that baseball is realigning next season, with the Astros moving to the AL West, and with two odd-numbered leagues of 15 teams each, MLB will need to change the way it creates team schedules.
About a month ago, I wrote on this topic, laying out some of the proposals and noting:
Sources cautioned that the 2013 Major League Baseball schedule, and the precise new configurations, are still being discussed.
This doesn't appear to have changed in the intervening time. Wednesday, Rob Neyer weighed in on this topic, wondering if proposals to make the schedule more balanced are misguided, and writing that perhaps a more unbalanced schedule wouldn't be so bad.
There's a reasonable way to do both, I think. There's a simple and elegant way to design a schedule that would both weight divisional play highly (thus making winning your division an achievement worth striving for) and provide a method for almost every team to play almost every other team every single year.
Here it is (and you might have seen a variation of this elsewhere, too):
Every team plays 18 games against everyone in its own division: 72 games
Every team plays six games against everyone else in its league: 60 games
Every team plays three games against everyone in two divisions in the other league: 30 games
That neatly keeps the 162-game schedule intact; you could split up the six-game regimes against other teams in a club's own league into some four- and two-game series so that not every series would be a three-gamer, to facilitate scheduling off days.
Further, this schedule would mean that every MLB team would play 25 of the other 29 teams every single year. It's about as "balanced" a schedule as you can get, while still keeping the importance of defeating the teams in your own division.
The only thing you'd lose in a scheme like this is the home-and-home series between the "rivalry" teams (the single-city tandems of Yankees/Mets, Cubs/White Sox, Giants/Athletics, Dodgers/Angels and perhaps a handful of others that have some meaning). While Bud Selig and others reportedly want to protect those pairs of three-game sets, I can tell you that at least in Chicago, fans could take them or leave them; one Cubs/White Sox series a year, alternating parks, would be enough. If the "rivalry" matchup didn't fall into the "two divisions in the other league" format in a certain year, you could simply swap one three-game series with another team to create that matchup; teams would still play the same number of teams in the other league, 10 of 15.
It increases interleague play from 12-18 games (the current setup) to 30, but we really don't have "leagues" any more, do we? MLB is now more like the NFL, with the original leagues being more like the AFC and NFC. The fact that interleague play will now be year-round makes a small increase -- still less than 20 percent of the schedule -- something that should be fair for everyone.
This is fair, but also somewhat unbalanced, skewing games into your own division, where presumably rivalries exist and could be heightened. TV networks would be happy to still have 18 Yankees/Red Sox games every year.
It probably can't happen, because it makes too much sense. But I'd like to see MLB try this schedule. They just might find it would work.