Play ball: The start of the MLB season
The first weekend of the 2023 Major League Baseball season has been played, and it looks a bit different this year.
Did anyone notice that Major League Baseball games went by faster this past weekend? Well, that’s because it actually did. This season, the league is showcasing new rule changes in an attempt to speed up the play in response to a dip in viewership and interest. Baseball, a sport historically labeled “America’s pastime” is rebranding itself to appeal to younger viewers. Games have been getting much longer over the years; therefore, interest in the sport has faltered. In fact, since 2012, every season has averaged more than three hours per game. Though quite a small sample size, as of April 3, this season has seen a major drop to two hours and 38 minutes per game — the shortest game time since 1981.
What are the changes that have sparked this rapid decrease? Perhaps the biggest is the introduction of the pitch timer. Previously, pitchers had as long as they wanted to set up their pitch, get in the zone, and ice the hitter. Now, there is a 30-second timer between the end of the previous at-bat and the first pitch to the next batter. In the middle of an at-bat, the pitcher has 15 seconds in between pitches with no runners on and 20 seconds with runners on base. If players do not follow this rule, they will be charged with an automatic ball to the hitter. On the other end, the batters must be ready to hit by the eight second mark or they will be charged with a strike. Some other time-reducing efforts have also been made — speeding up the process of reviewing replays, regulating position players pitching, reinforcing the automatic runners at second base in extra innings, and adding PitchCom.
While useful for time-saving purposes, the additions of these rules could affect player performance; it could hurt their natural rhythm or build a more consistent pace for them. Based on limited data, the pitch clock looks like it helped the pitching staffs, as it is the lowest average runs per game since 2014. No matter the result, fans are starting to enjoy baseball again — meshing the traditional values of the game with the pace of today's society.
On the field, we have seen some high intensity and great storylines. There are three undefeated teams remaining — the Tampa Bay Rays, the Minnesota Twins, and the Texas Rangers. The Boston Red Sox have been one of the most exciting teams so far, playing three electrifying games with the Baltimore Orioles. In the first game, the O’s led 10-4 in the seventh inning, only for the Red Sox to climb back into it, making it 10-8 in the ninth. Masataka Yoshida grounded into a seemingly routine double-play to end the game, only for the throw to first to get away, bringing it to 10-9. The Orioles were able to close out the game for Opening Day but faced an eerily similar fate the next day. Leading 7-1 in the third inning, the tides changed, and Baltimore barely held onto a 8-7 lead with two outs in the ninth. A routine pop-up from Yoshida again was inexplicably dropped by left fielder Ryan McKenna to extend the game. This set up Adam Duvall, who raked his second home run and fourth hit of the game over the Green Monster, shocking the Birds 9-8. The third game of the series was high scoring as well, with the Red Sox coming out on top 9-5. They scored nine runs in each game, boasting an underrated offense with a very sluggish starting rotation. The Orioles scored a lot but were overshadowed by their five errors. Executioner
Meanwhile, former Red Sox star Xander Bogaerts has wasted no time getting comfortable in San Diego — fitting right in with two home runs and six hits. New York Yankees captain Aaron Judge has picked up where he left off last season with the exact same stats as his former rival Bogaerts. Tampa Bay Rays prodigy Wander Franco is batting an outrageous .636 with a homerun to his name. Los Angeles Angels star and World Baseball Classic hero Shohei Ohtani is doing Ohtani things: is 4-12 with a homerun at the plate, had an impressive six scoreless innings, and ten strikeouts on the mound on Opening Day.
On the other side of town, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Trayce Thompson, Colorado Rockies’ CJ Cron, and Duvall have been the league's most outstanding players after the conclusion of the first week. Thompson has three home runs and eight RBIs in two games; Cron has three home runs with a .467 batting average and seven RBIs; and Duvall has two home runs, eight RBIs, and a .571 batting average.
Overall, this has been a unique first series of the MLB season. The drama already existed, but new rule changes will alter the course of baseball as we know it. The league is projected to have one of its highest rated seasons with higher game attendance and television viewership.