When Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg saw the 2013 MLB schedule, released yesterday, he had one thought.
“It’s terrible,” he said, according to Danny Knobler.
Sternberg’s gripe about the schedule is the increase in intradivisional games. His Rays now face the others in their own division 19 times. That means more Yankees, more Red Sox, more (increasingly better) Orioles, and more (should be quite good at some point) Blue Jays.
Sternberg isn’t talking about the difficult of winning the AL East, you’ll note, which would be present however the schedule was configured. His issue is the Wild Card race. While teams in the AL West and AL Central will be playing more games against their relatively weaker division-mates, the Rays will have to put together wins against a tougher schedule if they want to beat out a team like the Tigers or the Angels or the Rangers for a Wild Card spot. It is a somewhat hidden unfairness in the unbalanced schedule, which is designed to be more fair than ever.
Then again, teams previously faced their division-mates 18 times, so this isn’t much of an increase. Sternberg was actually hoping for less unbalancing in the new schedule, playing the division-mates just 12 to 15 times per year. The thing is, with the increased importance placed on winning your division (and the increased value in doing so), I can’t say I have a beef with teams playing each other more within the division. But Sternberg is quite right: his team’s path to a Wild Card just got more difficult.
What does this mean for the Cubs, conceptually?
Well, it depends on your opinion, long-term, of the NL Central, relative to the other NL divisions. If you think the NL Central, long-term, is the weakest NL division (I do), then the increased unbalancing is good news for the Cubs. In theory, their financial advantage over the other NL Central teams will start to show in the next 10 years, which will not only afford them a slightly increased chance of winning the NL Central, but also a Wild Card – because they’ll be playing NL Central opponents more than teams in other divisions, against whom the Cubs would be competing for a Wild Card slot. The latter is true of the other NL Central teams, of course, but the Cubs’ financial advantage theoretically puts them back on top.
In other words, there’s an argument to be made that the increasingly unbalanced schedule benefits the Cubs more than any other team in baseball.
It’s incremental and theoretical, resting on an assumption that the Cubs will exercise a financial advantage in the coming years (something slightly more difficult to do effectively in the wake of the CBA’s amateur spending restrictions). But, if you had to pick a singular team that the new schedule benefits over every other team, I’d have trouble coming up with a bigger benefactor than the Cubs. The Tigers and Dodgers, maybe? If they keep outspending their division-mates by a significant amount, then sure. They’d fall in step with the Cubs.