With DH now in NL, MLB needs realignment to ease Mariners’ travel
Major League Baseball has long had quirks that made it stand out from the other major sports leagues in North America.
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Extra innings had the ability to go on longer than all the other overtimes, resulting a few times per year in exciting sudden-death scenarios that went so late into the night they ended on the next day of the calendar. That was, until the rule of starting extra innings with a runner on second base was instituted in 2020, resulting in an easier path to runs and less ties after 10 or 11 innings.
Then there’s the way the American League and National League used to be separated until interleague play was instituted in 1997. It made spring training and the World Series special because those were the only ways to see teams from the AL and NL face off – a completely foreign concept even in the NFL, which has a similar alignment with the AFC and NFC but has always had interconference matchups during the regular season.
And now this year comes a devastating blow to what made baseball unique – the designated hitter in both leagues. After the NL tried out the DH during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, it now joins the AL in permanently implementing the position, meaning both leagues have the same set of rules. Another quirk gone.
While all these changes have watered down MLB, it also presents an opportunity for a needed change, and one that the Seattle Mariners should be pushing for. And that is a realignment to ease the travel of baseball’s most out-of-the-way team.
The Mariners have long had the most grueling travel schedule of any MLB team. For starters, the closest teams to them geographically are the two in the Bay Area, which is about 700 miles away from Seattle. They also share the AL West division with two teams in Texas, meaning several teams that play in baseball’s two Central Divisions – Kansas City, Minnesota and Milwaukee – are closer to Seattle than two of the Mariners’ division rivals.
It was one thing to keep the status quo when the DH was exclusive to the AL, but now that it isn’t, baseball should get serious about lightening the Mariners’ travel load. The M’s typically lead the majors in miles traveled, and according to a 2016 MLB.com article, from 2009 to 2015 they flew a total of 334,928 miles, which was 161,768 more than the Cincinnati Reds – a difference that is “roughly equivalent to circling Earth’s equator 6 1/2 times.”
There are several ways realignment could happen, and proposals have been popping up all over the place now that people are catching on to how little the differences between the AL and NL will be going forward. That will only be more obvious in 2023, too, when MLB starts having teams play five fewer games against division opponents in order for everyone to have one series against each team in the other league.
A simple fix that would cut the Mariners’ travel down significantly is sending them to the NL West, with either the Colorado Rockies or Arizona Diamondbacks (both 1990s expansion teams, therefore with less history in the NL than the other teams) taking their place in the AL. Instead of multiple trips to Houston and Arlington, Texas, each year, the most frequent opponents for the M’s would be in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and either Denver or Phoenix.
Baseball could also return the Astros back to their original league, the NL, and again send either Colorado or Arizona to the AL West.
Or maybe it’s time to take the NBA approach by ditching the leagues altogether and separating everything by geography. The M’s would fit well into a North Division with Colorado, Minnesota, Milwaukee and maybe even Kansas City – so long as you avoid division games in the first two months of the season (*brr*).
Something else to consider is that expansion is very possible for baseball in the near future, so realignment may be coming regardless if two new teams are to be added. The Athletics also seem primed to follow their former neighbors in Oakland, the NFL’s Raiders, to Las Vegas, which would only add to Seattle’s travel woes as their closest rival in the AL West would become Anaheim, almost 1,000 miles through the air. Additionally, an A’s move to Vegas would centralize the rest of the AL West more, making it even more palatable to trade Seattle for one NL West team.
With the longest playoff drought in major North American pro sports, the Mariners’ travel should be looked at as at least a small factor. After all, they’ve gone into the last day or two of the season with their postseason chances still alive multiple times during the 20-year drought, including last season. Fatigue has to be more of a concern for the M’s than any other team in the league, and that could have made all the difference between winning and not winning a wild card berth.
Baseball is entering an era of change, one that is doing away with a lot of the game’s traditions and eccentricities. So if that’s the case, MLB should prioritize giving their most isolated franchise a necessary break with realignment.
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