PHOENIX – The Red Sox are coming.
MLB’s regular-season format is undergoing a major makeover for next season, and the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and fanbase have good reason to smile after last week’s 2023 schedule release. The wide-ranging changes include every MLB team facing each other in at least one regular-season series, fewer division contests (52, down from 76) and more interleague play (46 games, up from 20).
As a result of the new balanced schedule, the Diamondbacks will welcome a franchise-record 22 teams to Chase Field next season in a welcome change of pace not only for the team, but for their fans.
“I think it’s pretty cool. You get to play all the teams in the league,” Diamondbacks outfielder Stone Garrett said. “You can see other guys that you wouldn’t see on a normal schedule or the past schedule. I think it’s good for the fans in baseball.”
Interleague play will no longer rotate divisions with the new regular-season format. The Diamondbacks will welcome a record eight American League teams to Chase Field in 2023, including the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles. The Diamondbacks last played the Red Sox, Rays and Orioles during the 2019 season.
Arizona’s new schedule creates more competition with fewer National League West games and deviates from the monotonous regularity of the current regular-season schedule.
“I love it, you get to go to cities that you might not have been able to go to just because they’re outside the division, so yeah, I love it,” Garrett said about playing non-division opponents.
D-backs centerfielder Alek Thomas echoed a similar sentiment and believes the change of playing division foes less often will be refreshing.
“Just to do that, travel and go to different places and play at different stadiums and play different teams–I think it’s gonna be really cool,” Thomas said. “And then also to get out of our division a little bit would be nice too. So yeah, that’s when we don’t have to play the Dodgers or Padres all the time.”
Diamondbacks pitcher Luis Frias says he’s more excited about being able to “face some of my old teammates” rather than playing new teams.
“Some of (my former teammates) are not up with the big club yet, but if I run into them and different teams, that’d be something I’m really looking forward to,” Frias said through an interpreter.
Although teams will still face their divisional opponents the most, the balanced schedule will provide better competition across the league and cater to the expanded playoff system starting this postseason.
The new postseason schedule will feature three wild-card teams and three division winners from each league for a total of 12 teams. MLB will also move from single-elimination games to a best-of-three series in the Wild Card round.
“One (game) was probably a little bit more exciting, but I think three, you know, would give teams a better chance,” Thomas said. “Not just one pitcher taking over the game, and now you have to use either two or three would be pretty cool.”
Interleague play had never been a balanced concept in MLB before the American and National Leagues discarded the format in 2000. In the years since, teams have played natural rivals in a four-game series, two at home and two away. Outside of games against natural rivals—like the Mets and Yankees, Dodgers and Angels, Orioles and Nationals and Cubs and White Sox— teams only faced opponents from a single division.
Next season, each team will host or go on the road for a three-game series against every team from the opposite league. The Diamondbacks will be paired with the Texas Rangers in what may seem like an unnatural rival, but, in reality, is more of a return to when the two teams played each other as a non-geographic interleague rival from 1998-2000.
This new schedule will allow Diamondbacks fans to experience matchups that they may not have seen before and encourage higher fan attendance at home games, Thomas believes. So far this season, the Diamondbacks have welcomed an average of 19,583 fans to Chase Field per game. The Dodgers, who rank No. 1 overall in MLB attendance, currently average 48,213 fans per game.
“I think Arizona has a lot of different fan bases here and they all love different teams, not just only Arizona,” Thomas said. “So I think us playing different teams will definitely bring a lot more people to the ballpark.”
While the season will be an exciting opportunity for fans and players alike, it’ll hopefully serve as a more fair system for teams to equally compete for a chance at making the postseason.