Everything can change at a moment’s notice, but for now, the Mariners may find themselves temporarily in an all-new division for the 2020 regular season.
Per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Major League Baseball’s plan to play all regular season games in Arizona has shifted towards a schedule that falls more in line with the nature of Spring Training. The league’s 30 teams would be split in half, per usual, but not under the association of the American League and National League; rather, like Spring Training, 15 teams would play in the Cactus League in Arizona while the other half would play in Florida’s Grapefruit League.
The teams that play in each league every February and March would then be assigned to their respective leagues, meaning certain traditionally American League teams will play in the same league as traditionally National League teams and vice-versa. With that, a temporary realignment of the league is an inevitability.
As Nightengale reported, MLB would stick to three divisions per league, based on the geography of each team’s Spring Training facility, including the Northwest Division of the Cactus League—potentially the Mariners’ temporary home for the upcoming season. The Mariners would share that division with last year’s second NL wild card Milwaukee Brewers, familiar AL West foe Texas Rangers, Vedder Cup ‘rival’ San Diego Padres, and the Kansas City Royals.
It’s a solid divisional lineup, but one that pales in comparison to Seattle’s permanent division in the AL West. The Brewers have been a World Series contender over the past few years, but are far from the juggernaut of the Houston Astros; the Rangers were arguably the third or fourth best team in the AL West coming out of this past offseason; the Padres are an up-and-coming team with one of the best farm systems in baseball, brimming with talent close to the MLB level, but are coming off a last-place finish in the NL West; and the Royals finished with the league’s fourth-worst record last year, following a second-worst placement the year before, and are deep into a rebuild.
While certainly debatable, one takeaway from all of this is that, if a realignment were to happen, the Mariners may not be the worst team in their division, something that couldn’t be said under normal circumstances in the AL West. And the Rangers and Padres may be closer to the Mariners than they are the Brewers where things currently sit.
This realignment would cause for an entirely new schedule to be made on a whim, possibly pinning divisional opponents against one another 12 times in the season with four games against every other team in their respective league, giving us a 108-game season. This also seems like as good of a time as any to test the viability of Major League Baseball’s 14-team playoff extension idea that was floated around earlier in the offseason, which would be made up of three division winners and four wild cards.
With both the realignment and playoff extension in place, things could get wild. And why not? Everything in the world is backwards right now. Let’s get weird.
That brings us to the most important question of all: does all of this now give the Mariners a better shot to end the longest current playoff drought in major professional American sports? The short answer is yes, but that isn’t saying much. The Mariners’ chances jump up just for the sole fact that they would no longer have to compete in the same league as the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, and Minnesota Twins. That’s a realistic American League playoff bracket right there.
The Cactus League has a lot of good-not-great teams and one giant in the Los Angeles Dodgers. Still, only seven of the league’s 15 teams would earn a playoff berth at the end of the season, and there are arguably well more than seven Cactus League clubs that are better than the Mariners. It’s just that the gap between Seattle and its peers has closed a bit, but is still very apparent.
But, let’s say the Mariners start out as hot as they did in 2019. At that point, you may have to start taking notice because of the limited amount of games and what steady, .500 ball the rest of the way could do for their chances. And while, yes, as mentioned, there are several teams in this proposed league that are clearly better than them, but it’s far from the yearly challenge they face of 19 games against the Astros, and six or seven against the rest of the American League’s upper echelon.
And let’s face it: this would be the year Seattle finally breaks their drought, under these circumstances, where their entire league shifts and falls perfectly in their favor. It’d be the most Mariners thing the Mariners have ever Mariner’d.
It’s probably not going to happen, and MLB’s current proposal may not happen, and the season may not even happen. But if it were to, the M’s are certainly one of the teams who may benefit most from it. What a way this could be to cap off one of the strangest years in history.