The most notable change, of course, is that it now consists of only 60 games per team. But there are other differences, too. In order to limit travel, teams will play only opponents within their own division, as well as teams in the matching division in the other league (East vs. East, Central vs. Central and West vs. West).
That necessary restructuring does mean losing some enticing matchups that had been on the original 2020 schedule. Annual pairings such as Cardinals-Dodgers will have to wait for the postseason (or even 2021), as will some Interleague combos that were slated for this year, such as the World Series rematch between the Astros and Nationals.
The silver lining here is that some other appealing matchups that were not on the 162-game schedule now appear on the revised version. Division foes were going to face each other plenty of times anyway. And some Interleague opponents from matching divisions were, too. (Think of regional rivals such as Cubs-White Sox or Yankees-Mets, who clash on a yearly basis).
But here is a look at six of the most intriguing matchups that are new on the 60-game schedule, including two from each of the three regions. All six last occurred in 2018.
Three games (July 23, 25-26, at WSH)
What a way to start the season. Opening Night might be coming nearly four months late, but at least it will feature a battle between these two behemoths, broadcast nationally on ESPN. Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole could go head to head in a meeting of two of baseball’s elite pitchers, who also faced off in last fall’s World Series opener. How about that for Cole’s Yankees debut? Now imagine Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg taking on the likes of Aaron Judge (if healthy) and Giancarlo Stanton, or Cole and Aroldis Chapman trying to blaze fastballs past Juan Soto. Sign us up.
Four games (July 27-28 at TB; July 29-30 at ATL)
These are just two extremely talented teams, featuring no shortage of exciting young players. Both have won at least 90 games in back-to-back seasons, and both are expected to be in the postseason mix again, with the Braves and Rays ranking fifth and sixth, respectively, in MLB.com’s initial power rankings. The potential pitching matchups here are tantalizing, including any combination among elite young arms Mike Soroka and Max Fried of Atlanta, and Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow of Tampa Bay. (And don’t forget decorated veteran pitchers such as Charlie Morton and Cole Hamels.) It should be fun to watch the Rays’ parade of talented and diverse arms attack Ronald Acuña Jr., and to see elite defenders Kevin Kiermaier and Ender Inciarte patrol center field.
Four games (Aug. 11-12 at CLE; Sept. 15-16 at CHC)
This is, of course, a rematch of the 2016 World Series. Many of the key participants on both sides remain, although their numbers are starting to dwindle. The past year has seen the departures of Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer from Cleveland (with Jason Kipnis going from the Tribe to the Cubs), plus Ben Zobrist and manager Joe Maddon from Chicago. That brings up the question of whether the windows are closing on these clubs as contenders. Both returned to the playoffs in 2017 and ‘18, but both fell short in ‘19. Yet plenty of stars remain on both sides. Shortstops Javier Báez and Francisco Lindor are two of the most exciting and engaging players in the sport. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are a dangerous Chicago combo at the plate, while Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger are Cleveland’s rising Cy Young Award contenders on the mound. So will one of these teams recapture its 2016 glory?
Three games (Sept. 18-20 at CIN)
It’s true that the Reds have not been over .500 since 2013, while the White Sox last had a winning record in ‘12. But there is a great deal of hope in both cities that those trends could change as soon as this year, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them still in the mix when they meet late in the season. Certainly, these two clubs were among the most active over the winter. Cincinnati acquired sluggers Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas, while Chicago brought in Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación and Dallas Keuchel. It’s no wonder that when MLB.com national writer Richard Justice ranked the offseason winners back in January, the Sox were first and the Reds third. Add in the established talent, plus high-ceiling youngsters such as Nick Senzel and Luis Robert, and it’s reasonable to think this could be a breakthrough season for either club -- especially with the shortened schedule.
Four games (July 28-29 at HOU; Sept. 12-13 at LAD)
Here we have another World Series rematch, this one from 2017, when Houston scraped by Los Angeles in a hotly contested seven games. While they met again the following season, this past offseason’s sign-stealing investigation that led to MLB disciplining the Astros could add some more fuel to the fire here. But even beyond any lingering hard feelings, these are two of the very best rosters in the sport. You have future Hall of Fame pitchers (Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke), MVP-winning position players (Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, José Altuve), established young stars (Walker Buehler, Alex Bregman, George Springer) and emerging talent (Gavin Lux, Will Smith, Yordan Alvarez). And that only scratches the surface of what these two heavyweights will bring to the table when they collide.
Four games (Sept. 2-3 at LAA; Sept. 22-23 at SD)
In the spirit of Reds-White Sox, here we have two teams that are lacking recent success but feature no shortage of exciting talent, and that have shown a willingness to go for it. Plus, the shortened schedule certainly presents an opportunity for them to make some noise in their respective divisions. Both teams have made big financial commitments to superstar third basemen (Manny Machado, Anthony Rendon) and worked to bolster their pitching staffs (former Angel Garrett Richards, if healthy, is now an intriguing rotation piece in San Diego). But just think of the possibilities here: Andrelton Simmons and Fernando Tatis Jr. trading impossible highlights at shortstop; Chris Paddack going right after Mike Trout; Shohei Ohtani -- back to two-way status -- throwing 100-mph heat in a matchup with Machado, or taking a high-leverage at-bat against the Padres’ scary late-inning bullpen (Emilio Pagán, Drew Pomeranz, Kirby Yates). All eyes could be on Southern California in late September.