A 162-game season separates the great teams from the good teams, the good teams from the average teams, the average teams from the bad teams, the bad teams from the truly wretched teams.
A 60-game season in which everybody’s playing different schedules? Probably not.
As foolish as it may be right now to look ahead three months and try to deduce how a season as tenuous as this one is might play out, it’s worth at least a little bit of examination. Because even though Major League Baseball will declare six division champions and four more wild cards in 2020, it probably won’t be an accurate reflection of the best teams in the sport this year.
Teams have never played truly equal schedules. Everyone plays far more games against division opponents (19) than against other league opponents (six to seven) or interleague opponents (three to six).
So it’s always possible for teams from weaker divisions to enjoy a slight advantage over teams from tougher divisions.
But never before have we experienced a season in which teams will only face division rivals and opponents from the other league’s comparable geographic division. And that could have a profound impact on the pennant race.
Forty of every team’s 60 games (66.6 percent) this year will come in division. In a normal season, it’s 76 of 162 (46.9 percent).
More importantly, in a normal season a team plays 66 games against non-division opponents within its own league. This season, that number will be zero.
The Nationals will not play anyone from the National League Central or NL West. The Cardinals will not play anyone from the NL East or NL West. The Dodgers will not play anyone from the NL East or NL Central.
It may not matter that much when it comes to the races for division titles. Though the fact teams aren’t even playing balanced division schedules - some may face one opponent seven times at home but only three times on the road, while facing another opponent four times at home but six times on the road - could have an effect on the final outcome.
But it definitely will matter when it comes to the wild card race.
Second- and third-place teams from each division are going to be battling each other for those two coveted spots in the winner-take-all game that opens the postseason. At the end of 60 games, they’ll be judged against each other. Even though they won’t have played any common opponents.
Say the Nationals end up in a tight race with the Cubs, Brewers and Diamondbacks for a spot in the wild card game. Will it be fair to judge their final record against the others? No chance.
Look, it’s not worth it to get upset about the fairness of an unprecedented 60-game schedule under the current circumstances. If they’re actually able to play 60 games this year, it’ll be a remarkable achievement.
But for those who already are questioning the legitimacy of the results of this ultra-short 2020 MLB season, the final design of the schedule only bolsters the argument that we’ll never be able to look at this year’s outcome without at least a little bit of skepticism.