MLB looks a lot different in 2023. The average game time has decreased 27 minutes. Stolen bases have increased 37%. Batting average is up four points. For the most part, the rule changes have worked as intended, with a faster pace and more action on the bases.
The most impactful change, however, has been the one least discussed: the new schedule, which has each team playing the other 29 in at least one series a season for the first time in MLB history. The biggest lesson so far from the schedule? The American League East is absolutely destroying the competition, with all five teams over .500.
Check the out-of-division record for each division:
- AL East: 93-48 (.660)
- NL West: 69-64 (.519)
- NL East: 74-72 (.507)
- NL Central: 76-84 (.475)
- AL West: 64-74 (.464)
- AL Central: 60-94 (.390)
The entire AL East, when not playing one another, is playing at a 107-win pace over 162 games. Pretty incredible, although maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Last season, the AL East was 248-182 against non-division teams, a 93-win pace. Even the Boston Red Sox, who finished 78-84, were 52-34 when not playing their division rivals. The change in the schedule from 19 games against division opponents to 13 means 24 additional games outside the division — creating the possibility that, for the first time, every team in the same division finishes over .500.
Elsewhere in the AL, the central division is playing at a deplorable 99-loss pace. Even the first-place Twins are just .500 outside the division. So the AL East is really good, the AL Central is really bad, and how teams navigate the difficult and soft portions of their schedules will be a deciding factor in the playoff races.
Now, not everyone loves the new schedule. The argument goes that if you're going to break teams up into divisions and award an automatic playoff berth to the division winner then you should have more games within the division. More division games also decreases travel and, in theory, fosters division rivalries, although I'm not sure many fans have been itching for more Kansas City Royals-Detroit Tigers or Colorado Rockies-Arizona Diamondbacks games. In the old schedule, teams played 76 division games (47% of the schedule); the new format allots just 52 division games (32%).
The best thing about the new schedule is that it now guarantees teams will visit every city at least every other season. This upcoming weekend, for example, the New York Yankees will play in Cincinnati. Even though interleague play began in 1997, the Yankees have played just three series in the Queen City: in 2003, 2011 and 2017. The Los Angeles Angels will play at Citi Field in August for the first time since 2017, giving New York Mets fans a firsthand look at Shohei Ohtani — a player owner Steve Cohen will no doubt be pursuing in the offseason. Miami Marlins fans are surely eagerly anticipating that visit from the Oakland Athletics in early June, just the fourth time the A's have played in Miami.
Whether you're for or against more division games, we can all agree: There is no perfect schedule. The last time that happened was 1968, the pre-division era, when each league had 10 teams and played one another 18 times with the league winner advancing directly to the World Series. When the American League had 14 teams and two divisions from 1977 to 1993, it did play a relatively balanced schedule in all but the first two years, with 13 games against division opponents and 12 games against the other division's teams. The AL East was usually the stronger division in those years, and the balanced schedule produced some awkward results, such as in 1987 when the Minnesota Twins won the AL West with just 85 wins while four AL East teams won at least 89 games. The Twins took advantage of their automatic spot in the ALCS, beat the Tigers and then won the World Series.
The split into three divisions in 1994 and then the introduction of interleague play only complicated the schedule. The Houston Astros' move to the AL in 2013 at least created six five-team divisions, instead of the National League Central with six and the AL West with four.