If there is a Braves season, the advantage of playing before a lively crowd at now Truist Park - where the team has thrived the last two seasons - would be eliminated.
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/apointer@ajc.com
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/apointer@ajc.com

Rethinking the Braves’ schedule, if there is a season 

MLB’s return isn’t guaranteed, but for the first time in weeks, negotiations seem to be moving in a positive direction. The owners and the players union are talking, and while we don’t know where they’ll settle, we have some idea of how the season will look.

The league’s latest proposal, reportedly sent to the players Wednesday, is for a 60-game season with an expanded playoff field of 16 teams. The players reportedly still want more games.

» MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM: It could be wild, random season

We’ll assume they settle in that 60-to-70 range. It’ll be a unique season that obviously requires a schedule unlike any before it. Under a new geographical format, teams would face their division opponents and the other league’s equivalent. In this case, the Braves would play the National League East and the American League East.

One idea, suggested by the ESPN’s Jayson Stark, could be a 66-game season. The schedule would feature 12 games each against four division opponents, three games each against four interleague opponents and six games (home and home) against an interleague rival.

The owners may opt against that many games, but the logic is sound. However it happens — if it happens — this season would be unlike any in MLB history.

New facets of the Braves’ schedule, regardless of the finer points:

We’ll start with the opponent element. The Braves’ regular-season competitors will be restricted to the Eastern divisions. Their usual division foes plus the AL East, which includes the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles.

While a bad series against, say, the Yankees or Rays normally wouldn’t matter much in the grand scheme of a 162-game season, its importance grows in a trimmed campaign. The good news is that those successful meetings with the Marlins and Orioles would matter the same.

Under Stark’s concept, the Braves’ schedule would include 12 games each against the Mets, Phillies, Nationals and Marlins (six home, six away). They would face the Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles three times each. They would oppose the Red Sox, who are considered the Braves’ interleague rival, six times. (The Braves had the Red Sox on their schedule this season, while the Phillies had the Blue Jays. Yankees-Mets, Rays-Marlins and Orioles-Nationals are more natural rivalries.)

Whatever overall number the league and players agree on, 12 games against each divisional foe seems the likeliest way to go.

Certainly, the Eastern divisions will create for extremely competitive play. The expanded playoff field, however, helps in the event the Braves have a rough week. Still, a 3-7 stretch is felt much more should the finale come in Game 60 instead of 162.

 When the pandemic forced MLB to stop operations, it didn’t take long to realize the schedule was going to have to be redone. That erased the Braves’ appetizing slate against the AL West, which was disappointing for several reasons.

Mike Trout and the Angels would’ve played at Truist Park for the first time in July. It would’ve also been the first time Ronald Acuna shared a field with Trout (excluding the All-Star game). The Angels have several former Braves, too, including Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, Justin Upton and Tommy La Stella.

The Braves would’ve faced the Rangers at their new ballpark. It will be a while before the Braves return to Arlington again (they last faced the Rangers on the road in 2014). It also canceled what would’ve been the Braves’ fourth trip to Seattle.

And then there’s the Astros, whom the Braves would’ve hosted to end the regular season. Aside from the everyone-hates-the-Astros factor, both clubs presumably would’ve been in the playoff hunt. That compelling storyline is long gone. 

 The Braves won’t have a regular-season rematch with the Cardinals, who eliminated them in the NL Division Series in October. They won’t face the Dodgers, a team deemed the NL’s measuring stick and a potential budding rival.

Perhaps that will generate even more anticipation for possible postseason meetings. Nonetheless, no Braves-Cardinals or Braves-Dodgers is a loss for fans.

 On the subject of fans: there won’t be any in the stands. That probably won’t change by the postseason, when MLB already is fearful that the coronavirus’ second wave could prevent the completion of the season.

Empty stadiums wipe out an important home-field advantage aspect. It especially hurts teams such as the Braves, who’ve benefited greatly from their enthusiastic crowds. 

The Braves went 50-31 at home last season, which put them in a three-way tie for the third-best mark in the NL with the Nationals and Cardinals (the Cubs had 51 home wins, the Dodgers had 59).

Now, at least for 2020, the playing field would be even. It’s not as if the Braves weren’t an excellent road team either. They’ve gone 47-34 away from home in each of the past two seasons.

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