Major League Baseball returned this month and is now well underway. All 30 teams were in action on opening day, April 1. And, when it comes to returning to a state of normalcy, it’s been as good as it gets.
The regular season did not start until late July in 2020, with teams playing just 60 games as the league eliminated long-distance traveling. Now, fans can expect a full 162-game slate, as well as the normal range of competition between the different teams. Clubs are also allowing varying percentages of fans back into stadiums after playing in empty parks most of last season. The Texas Rangers announced they’d have a sell-out crowd of 40,518 spectators for the April 5 home opener vs the Toronto Blue Jays.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are letting 1,275 fans into their spring-training stadium in Dunedin, Florida. Like the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, the Canadian baseball outfit has relocated to The Sunshine State for this season but could return to Toronto should Canada decide to take an approach to travel that is less strict than what currently obtains. If that isn’t the case, they could move to Buffalo in a few months when it gets too hot in Florida.
The regular season is as normal as it could be given the circumstances but the format for the playoffs hadn’t been decided when the campaign kicked off. It could go back to the system that was in place before last year in which five teams qualify in each league, meaning the three division winners and two wild cards who will face each other in a one-off playoff game that will decide who gets to move forward.
The MLB is still keen on agreeing on a deal with the players’ union that would see to an extended postseason; time is of the essence in that regard.
There are also a few rule changes to take note of, per MLB.com:
– The universal DH also is out for 2021 after debuting last year. That means the DH will only be used in AL ballparks, while pitchers are back to hitting in NL ballparks. On Opening Day, Arizona’s Madison Bumgarner — perhaps the most accomplished hitting pitcher of his generation — celebrated with a long double.
– Two other rules that were implemented in 2020 in an effort to minimize the time spent at the ballpark will return in 2021. First, doubleheaders will once again feature seven-inning games. Also, MLB’s extra-innings rule is back, meaning that beginning in the 10th, a runner will be placed on second base to begin each half-inning.
– Rosters once again feature 26 players, after expanding in 2020. The roster size will increase to 28 players in September. There will not be a limit to how many pitchers can be on a team’s roster.
– Clubs may bring a “Taxi Squad” of up to five players on all road trips, in order to have reinforcements available in the event of injuries or COVID-related issues.
The reigning champion Los Angeles Dodgers are still thought to be the team to beat this year. The Dodgers had the best record in the league at the time of writing, boasting an NL West-leading 15-7, having won eight consecutive NL West titles. The team has sent a clear message to the rest of the MLB, making known its intentions to compete for what would be their first back-to-back championship terms in team history. They won 71.7 percent of their regular-season games last year, which marks one of the best win rates of all time, and don’t appear to be slowing down. A look at the latest MLB Odds will show that the Dodgers are the outright favorites to win the World Series at 11/4.
The New York Yankees are tipped to reach the World Series for the first time in 12 years and the bookmakers have them down as the second favorites to win it all, with 6/1 odds currently attached. How far they go could be contingent on the fitness of sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The oft-injured duo is crucial to the Yankees’ ambitions yet the team also boasts last year’s batting average leader DJ LeMahieu and home run leader Luke Voit. The San Diego Padres, New York Mets, and Chicago White Sox are also thought to be legitimate contenders.