Major League Baseball’s work stoppage is now two months and one week old. There are no signs that suggest a resolution is remotely close to happening. The lack of progress indicates that the owner-imposed lockout is likely to prolong into the coming weeks, which would delay the start of spring training, which could subsequently result in lost regular season games.
FanGraphs writer and ex-Astros executive Kevin Goldstein believes the point of no return has already been breached in regard to spring training, with camps tentatively scheduled to open on Feb. 16, a mere week away:
It's fine to say how many days it is before spring training starts when relaying labor news. It's correct information and provides context. It's also silly to suggest that at this point there is anything other than a zero percent chance of spring training starting on time.— Kevin Goldstein (@Kevin_Goldstein) February 7, 2022
The complexities and nuances of the continued labor standstill notwithstanding, what could be a key takeaway from it at this juncture is the possibility of a shortened season. As it now stands, regular-season games are not yet a casualty of the league’s lockout, but based on the status quo, it’s becoming a more realistic notion.
Evan Drellich of The Athletic reported on Jan. 24 that MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem informed the Players Association that the league is willing to lose games, presumably in an effort to eventually strike a favorable deal with the players akin to the collective bargaining agreement of 2016, a CBA the owners heavily benefited from.
Missed games would be bad for both sides from numerous standpoints, but putting the business aspect aside and viewing this game of chicken purely through a baseball lens, the fewer games there are in the 2022 season, the worse it could be for contending teams such as the Astros.
While there’s no reason to believe a shortened season would feature substantially fewer games than the standard 162, every game lost could be meaningful when it comes to reaching the postseason.
Though the Astros ended up securing the AL West crown by a decent margin of five games in 2021, there were concerns in the final weeks that the Mariners and, at one point, the A’s, could steal it. Simply put, more games means more chances for superior teams to win and more chances for less talented ones to lose.
Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs recently published “The Lockout Projected ZiPS Standings” for the AL, which has the Astros again winning the AL West, and by a healthy margin as well at 10 games (without Carlos Correa).
Just by comparing the rosters of all five teams , it’s rather apparent that the division is likely to go through Houston this year. What ZiPS projects is little more than confirmation. But perhaps that notable gap between the Astros and their division rivals wouldn’t be quite as pronounced with say, 145 games instead of 162.
Would the Astros still be the favorite in a 145-game season, or even one as short as the 2020 campaign (60 games)? Yes. But to varying degrees. And that’s the point.
In a 162-game season, the reigning AL champions seem to be a relatively safe bet to win the AL West. But as CBA negotiations continue to stagnate, and as spring training continues to be pushed back, the more likely it becomes that the ultimate cost will be missed regular-season games. And that could directly impact the Astros’ chances of winning another division title, and, more importantly, playing in the postseason.