Major League Baseball Returns as New Rules Are Set to Change the Game

The 2023 Major League Baseball season kicked off on Thursday, March 30, with fans eager to see their favorite teams take the field once again. With some significant changes in store, this season promises to be an exciting year for baseball fans. Before looking at some of the playoff contenders, let’s look at the rule changes that will affect baseball the most.

The most notable game changes are the implementation of a pitch clock in between pitches and the banning of defensive shifts. The bases have also been enlarged by three inches from the traditional 15-inch square to 18 inches to keep fielders out of the baserunner’s path. 

The new pitch clock is intended to speed up the pace of play. There will be a 30-second timer between batters, a 15-second timer with empty bases, and a 20-second timer with runners on base. Throughout Spring Training, games have been shorter, with an average game being about two and a half hours rather than over three hours. Also, timing violations can result in strikes and balls, which have affected the outcomes of some Spring Training games.

Defensive shifts are also now eliminated after the players’ union voiced their displeasure with the rising shift totals, as baseball has turned increasingly towards analytics. Infielders must now stay on their side of second base and remain in the infield dirt during pitches.

While 2023 is a new baseball season, the perennial powerhouses are still projected to sit at the top of their respective divisions, with a few new teams also hoping to break through to October.

In the National League, the star-studded and well-paid New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies headline the East. Both teams made significant free agency acquisitions, as the Mets signed a number of high-priced players, including reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander.  Not to be outdone, the Phils signed All-Star shortstop Trea Turner as their highlight free agent. The two clubs are joined by the 2021 World Series champion Atlanta Braves, who still boast a talented lineup despite the loss of shortstop Dansby Swanson. The East should be a season-long dogfight once again. 

The NL Central may lack the same star power as the East but does boast the St. Louis Cardinals’ reigning NL MVP in Paul Goldschmidt. The Cardinals are the odds-on favorites to win the division. However, the Cubs, backed by ex-Brave All-Star Swanson, could pose a threat in the weakest National League division. While the Brewers continue to fall from their recent peak, Christian Yelich could start a renaissance in Wisconsin in a shaky division. 

The wild NL West will again be a dogfight between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. The Padres signed All-Star Shortstop Xander Bogarts to a multi-year deal, adding to their impressive lineup led by Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. Tatis will miss most of April as he finishes his 80-game PED suspension, but assuming he stays healthy, he will contend for an All-Star appearance. The Padres may have a slight edge due to their stellar rotation. However, it should be a close race throughout. The Diamondbacks, Giants, and Rockies should not threaten the division. Nevertheless, one of them could make a surprise run like the Giants did in 2021. 

The American League may have less on-paper talent throughout the league than its counterpart, but nevertheless will have some tight divisional battles. 

The AL East in 2022 was dominated by reigning MVP Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees monster roster. They controlled the division since April and eventually won by seven games. 2023 should lead to another division title for the Yanks. However, the Toronto Blue Jays will pose a significant threat as their competitive window peaks. The Rays always find a way to contend in the East, and 2023 should be no different. Watch out for the young Orioles, headlined by catcher Adley Rutschman, who appears ready to become a perennial All-Star.

 The AL Central has been a mess in recent years, and it may continue in 2023. The Cleveland Guardians seem to always do more with less, while the White Sox’s competitive window has been a disappointment three years in. Both squads should be at the top of the division, followed by the Minnesota Twins, who need to stay healthy to see success. The Tigers and Royals are young teams with talented middle-infields and may threaten the top teams if they catch fire. 

The AL West headlines the defending champion Houston Astros, who are heavy favorites to maintain their grasp on the West. Though former MVP Jose Altuve is sidelined until around mid-May due to a broken hand suffered in the World Baseball Classic, Yordan Alverez and ex-White Sox Jose Abreu are expected to pick up the slack and lead the Astros to the playoffs again. The Seattle Mariners, fresh off a Wild Card berth in 2022, are expected to finish second in the division and reach the playoffs again. They can threaten the Astros division dynasty if their young core continues to develop. The Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers rosters’ are filled with generational talents like Mike Trout, two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, and ex-Met Jacob DeGrom, but are expected to finish below the Mariners and Astros. Both teams can make runs behind their stars. The Astros should continue their dominance over the division, but watch out for possible runs by the Mariners and Angels. The Athletics’ payroll issues will likely have them bringing up the rear.

“America’s pastime” is back, and there is potential for it to be a groundbreaking year for the game. The new rule changes are expected to energize the sport and highlight its superstar athletes. If nothing else, games will be shorter and beer sales will be brisk. All in all, the summer will be full of entertainment as clubs will battle for the most exclusive playoffs in American professional sports.