2021 Minor League Baseball Schedules Released To Teams
With the release of the 2021 minor league schedules, teams have inched closer to returning to the field for the first time in a year and a half.
Normally the release of a season’s schedule would have come in August of an ongoing season. The significance of the schedule would have been spread over the course of a six-month offseason.
Due to the delay caused by an offseason spent finalizing MLB’s massive restructuring of the minors, this year’s minor league schedules are being released after MLB pitchers and catchers have already reported to spring training and less than seven weeks before Triple-A teams are scheduled to begin play. The two Triple-A leagues open April 6 and April 8, respectively, while Double-A, High-A and Low-A will begin May 4.
Across the minors, there is some muted praise for the new schedules. A sampling of minor league operators at all levels say these schedules seem like a good attempt in a difficult year.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t issues.
Teams would have liked to have had these schedules months ago. Teams wish they had the ability to block out some dates and request others, something that was not done for 2021, but is scheduled to resume in 2022.
Traditionalists will not be thrilled to see that some teams in the same league will never play each other while others will play each other a lot.
No one is going to particularly enjoy the occasional two-week homestand, where teams play 12 home games in 13 days—the schedule was crafted to try to ensure those back-to-backs are infrequent. In addition to being a grind for the staff, scarcity helps sell advance tickets. With that many games back-to-back, teams worry that sales will suffer.
But the biggest adjustment will likely come around July 4. In the past, minor league schedules were crafted to ensure that every team had July 3, July 4 or July 5 at home for a fireworks game that was pretty much a guaranteed sellout wherever you go.
Now with the new schedules, half of the teams will have to settle for a July 6 fireworks show in the first game of a homestand.
But overall, this is a schedule that meets many of the desires of multiple groups. MLB teams, which wanted to reduce the amount of travel for players and coaches, have a schedule that cuts the number of bus or plane trips across the board and gives them more off days.
The 2021 schedule has been adapted due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning that there has been an added emphasis on playing regional opponents. For instance, in the 20-team Triple-A East League, six teams in the Northeast (Worcester, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Lehigh Valley) only play each other all season.
Triple-A is slated to play 142 games—23 six-game series plus one four-game series because of the MLB all-star game—with the 20-team East League beginning on April 6 and finishing on Sept. 19. The 10-team West League will begin on April 8 and finish on Sept. 21. Double-A and both Class A levels will play 120-game seasons—20 six-game series—that finish on Sept. 19.
The emphasis on regionalization does mean some teams will likely get sick of each other. Rome and Bowling Green, for instance, will play each other 36 times over the course of the 120-game season.
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This year, all leagues have switched to six-game series with a standard off day every week. Around the minors, all but one league will have Monday off every week. Triple-A West has opted to use Wednesday as its weekly off day, instead.
For players, the switch means they will have gone from having one off day a month a few years ago to one per week now. The six-game series will also mean less time on buses or airplanes because teams will stay in one place all week on road trips.
While not every team will benefit, MLB says that travel across the board has been significantly reduced by the new scheduling. By MLB’s calculations, total mileage traveled has been reduced from 27 to 57 percent across the leagues.
“This schedule is designed to reduce the travel burden on players and coaches during the season, manage the risks created by Covid-19 and to create a marketable product for minor league teams in their efforts to engage their fans in 2021,” said Morgan Sword, MLB's executive vice president of operations.