Some questions that are begging for answers as MLB Opening Day gets underway.
Q: What's new?
A: The most drastic change hinges on the Houston Astros, who are relocating from the formerly overcrowded Natonal League Central (which had six teams) to the once underpopulated American League West (which had four), thus giving each league three five-team divisions.
Q: So everybody's happy, right?
A: Of course not. In order to accommodate the Astros' move, interleague play will be spread out over the entire schedule instead of crammed into May and June. Fans who aren't sold on the concept of AL teams playing NL teams during the regular season -- and there's at least one opponent in every household -- are bemoaning the ubiquity of interleague competition.
What should be noted, though, is that more interleague games won't be played in 2013. It'll just seem that way.
Q: Why are the Yankees appearing for only a single, three-game series at Safeco Field?
A: Welcome to the revised schedule. Each team gets 19 games against each of its divisional opponents, 20 interleague games, and 66 games against the rest of the league. For the Mariners, as an example, that pencils out to six dates with the Yankees: three at home, three in New York.
It can be argued 19 games against the Athletics -- and 19 against the Rangers, Angels and Astros -- is too repetitive. But during the old days (the really old days, before the AL expanded in 1961 and the NL followed suit in 1962), when there were eight teams in each league, opponents played each other 22 times.
I don't recall Pittsburgh fans grumbling about having to watch the Pirates play, say, the Phillies 22 times a season. Then again, I don't recall much of anything about eight-team leagues. I do know that old-school fans remember it as baseball's "Golden Era."
Q: Any rules changes this season?
A: Unlike the NFL, whose competition committee relishes any chance to revise its league's ever-evolving rulebook, MLB owners are reluctant to meddle and tweak. But, yes, a few changes are in store.
Pitchers looking at baserunners on first and third no longer will be allowed to fake a throw to third before attempting a genuine pickoff throw to first. According to one unofficial estimation -- mine -- the fake-throw-to-third-followed-by-the-pickoff-throw-to-first routine has worked three times in 1.7 trillion attempts.
Anyway, the next pitcher to use the ruse will be charged with a balk, meaning: the baserunner on third scores, and the baserunner on first advances to second. Personally, I'd like to see a $150,000 delay-of-game fine also imposed on the pitcher, but the balk penalty is a start.
Another rules change applies to the number of coaches a team can put in uniform. It used to be six, now it's seven, allowing for the trend of the hitting-coach job shared by a duo.
Finally, an interpreter can accompany a pitching coach or manager to the mound to assist a pitcher who isn't fluent in English. But there's a caveat: the interpreter must be a full-time employee, and almost all of MLB's full-time interpreters are steeped in Asian languages rather than Spanish.
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