With little more than a month remaining in the 2022 season, candidates for end-of-year awards are stating their cases, playoff races are intensifying and the 2023 Major League Baseball schedule is out.
There is a case to be made that releasing the schedule mid-season cheapens what is already happening on the field — other major pro sports do it in the offseason for a reason — but no one has ever accused MLB of marketing its product as well as it could.
In MLB’s defense, the 2023 season comes with some new twists based on the new collective bargaining agreement. Here is the CliffNotes version of those changes:
- Every team will play at least one series against every other team.
- Every team will play 52 divisional games (13 against each divisional opponent), down from 76 (19 against each divisional opponent).
- Every team will play 46 interleague games, up from 20 previously, including four against their “natural rival” (more on that later).
- Every team will play 64 intraleague games, down from 66.
According to MLB, the newly expanded playoff format was among several motivations for these changes. With three wild card teams in each league instead of two, ensuring schedules are balanced across divisional lines became more important. After all, a direct comparison from the Brewers — who are currently playing the Cubs, Reds and Pirates 57 times a year — to the Padres — whose worst divisional opponent is arguably better than all three of those teams — is clearly unfair.
The majority of fans appear to be on board with the increased variety brought by the new setup.
“This fan-friendly format provides fans with the opportunity to see more opponent matchups, with a particular focus on dramatically expanding our most exciting Interleague matchups, and offers more national exposure to the star players throughout our game,” MLB Chief Operations & Strategy Officer Chris Marinak said in a press release.
As far as the Diamondbacks are concerned, the new schedule means fewer games against one of the best divisions in baseball — a clear benefit — and eight American League teams paying visits to Chase Field all in the same year.
From the Diamondbacks’ Twitter account, this graphic shows all 162 games for the 2023 season.
Here are six observations.
1. A tough start…
The most difficult stretch of the Diamondbacks’ 2023 season will happen right at the beginning — and it is going to be brutal. They open the year with arguably the most difficult assignment: a four-game series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. They follow that with a pair of games in San Diego, an off day and then four more games against the Dodgers at Chase Field.
The last time the Diamondbacks opened their season in Los Angeles was 2019, and it was one of their worst series of the year. They dropped three of four and were outscored 42-22.
The Diamondbacks have had a relatively tough Opening Day assignment every year since 2017, when they faced a San Francisco Giants team that went on to lose 98 games.
After playing eight of their first 10 games against LA, the Diamondbacks will play the Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals and one more series against the San Diego Padres. Six of the first seven series of the season are against teams that are currently above .500.
Opening the season with a tough few weeks may sound familiar. Six of their first seven opponents this April were also against above-.500 teams.
2. …Followed by one of the franchise’s easiest stretches in recent memory
From April 24 to May 21, 2023, the Diamondbacks will not play a team that is currently above .500. That is almost a full month of games against teams below .500, including the Royals, Rockies, Rangers, Nationals, Marlins, Giants, Athletics and Pirates.
As the club works through its onerous start to the year, it will be important to remember that this much-needed respite is on the other side. It is actually one series longer than the monstrosity that precedes it.
After the stark contrast that exists between those first two stretches, the Diamondbacks schedule continues with a healthy degree of balance. There are still difficult parts — a 15-game stretch in July that includes the Blue Jays, Braves, Cardinals and Mariners comes to mind — but nothing that compares to what the Diamondbacks will face at the beginning of the year.
It is worth mentioning the end of the season will be tough, too. More on that later.
3. Trouble in Toronto?
The Diamondbacks will travel to Toronto to face the Blue Jays for the first time since 2019. A lot has changed since 2019 — namely, a pandemic called COVID-19.
As of now, Canada still requires MLB players to be vaccinated to play games on the other side of the border. It is unknown how many unvaccinated players the Diamondbacks currently have, but the team may have to do some shuffling to put a full 26-man roster together if the vaccination requirement is still in place. Of course, the road trip is still nearly a year away, so there is plenty of time for those laws to change.
In a related note, Diamondbacks shortstop prospect Jordan Lawlar has been sent out from Single-A Hillsboro both times his team traveled north of the border. In July, he was sent down to Single-A Visalia reportedly because of Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions. When the Hops traveled to Vancouver again earlier this week, Lawlar was promoted to Double-A Amarillo.
4. Robbie Ray returns to Chase Field
The Mariners are coming to Arizona in 2023, and that means former Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray should make his first visit to Chase Field since leaving the Diamondbacks via trade in 2020.
Ray signed a five-year, $115 million contract with the Mariners this past winter after winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2021 with the Blue Jays. So far in his Mariners career, Ray has a 3.75 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and .221 batting average against in 25 starts. Entering Thursday, he was tied for fifth in the American League in innings pitched.
The series spans three games from July 28 to July 30. Ray may or may not pitch. Nonetheless, with the Diamondbacks set to play the Mariners every year for the foreseeable future, it is probably only a matter of time before they will go toe to toe with the hard-throwing lefty.
5. Diamondbacks rival Texas Rangers?
Ask any Diamondbacks fan to name their most hated foe, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that will say the Texas Rangers. Nonetheless, it appears the Rangers are the Diamondbacks’ “natural rival” under the revamped scheduling system.
Accordingly, the two teams will face off in a pair of two-game series, one in Texas at the beginning of May and the other in Arizona in late August.
In addition to the Mariners and the Rangers, the Diamondbacks will welcome six other AL opponents, including the Royals, Red Sox, Guardians, Rays, Orioles and Astros to Chase Field in 2023. In total, they have 23 interleague home games, compared to 10 this season.
6. A tough finish
The Diamondbacks’ schedule ends in nearly as difficult of fashion as it starts, with a pair of series on the road against the Yankees and White Sox, followed by a three-game home series against the Astros to finish the year.
For a team that has shot at contending for a wild card spot in 2023, that is not ideal. On the flip side, the Yankees and Astros in particular are likely favorites as division winners in 2023. That means there is at least an outside chance they could be resting guys for the playoffs at that point. If the White Sox turn things around next year, it is not impossible to envision a similar outcome from them.
Regardless of the end result, simply being in a wild card frenzy that late in the year would mean wonders for a franchise that hasn’t lasted that long in a playoff race since 2017. If they find themselves there in 2023, a lot will have gone right.