Just over four months ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers were crowned MLB champions. This past Sunday, Major League Baseball started the 2021 spring training schedule. While only lasting a month, spring training allows many new players to vie for roster spots and provides the more experienced players a sense of competition. Due to health and safety concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic, all participating clubs — two of the 30 clubs are not participating — will be playing in localized bubbles either in Florida or Arizona.
Over the 30 days that spring training encompasses, starting on Feb. 28 and ending on March 30, teams will play between 24 and 28 games. The Cactus League, which is playing in Arizona, will play 28 total games with two days off. The Grapefruit League, consisting of the remaining MLB teams, is playing in Florida. However, the Grapefruit League has been split, with teams that have spring facilities on the eastern half of the state only playing 24 games with six days off, while the teams with facilities on the western half of Florida play 28 games. The two divisions will not play each other except for two teams, the Orioles and Pirates, who will play teams from both areas.
Along with each group playing each other in the bubble, on March 28 and 30, certain spring training games will be played in regular MLB stadiums. These games will also allow a limited number of fans in attendance, similar to what the NFL did last season and what the MLB is currently doing for spring training games. New COVID-19 protocols will be initiated, according to mlb.com, to ensure that fans remain socially distanced and that the venue provides a safe way for them to spectate.
COVID-19 protocols aren’t the only changes that have been happening in the MLB. Two recent decisions have made news for how they have affected the game, particularly in spring training. The first rule was seen in a recent game between the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves, a game in which Atlanta won 5-2. The new rule, dubbed by some in the media as a “mercy rule,” is intended for use only in spring training. This rule allows managers to end an inning as long as a pitcher has thrown at least 20 pitches in the inning. This was used in the first inning of the game, when pitcher Garrett Richards threw 23 pitches, resulting in three hits, two walks and two runs before the Red Sox manager asked for the inning to be stopped.
The second decision that has been made recently affects the regular season more, as it allows players to review video in the middle of a game. While the in-game review has long been something that players have done in baseball, it has been restricted and even banned over the past few years due to reports of cheating and sign stealing, especially within the Houston Astros’ 2017 and 2018 seasons. The new rule brings back in-game video review, albeit in a new fashion. Previously players would retire to the clubhouse to review footage, but now the league is supporting the use of iPads in the dugout. This is done in consideration of potential cheating and COVID-19 concerns, as it limits player mobility within the stadium. Several managers have praised the rule change, stating that it will help keep the players invested in the game.
As of Tuesday evening, every team except for the St. Louis Cardinals had played at least one game, with 14 teams playing three games since Sunday. Of the 28 teams that are participating in spring training, only four remain unbeaten. The Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins remain unbeaten, with each team having played two games. Six teams are winless so far, although four teams have only played one game. The other three teams have all played more games, with Baltimore and Philadelphia losing two games and Arizona being the lone three-loss team. Every other team hovers at or around .500 after three days of games.