A Guide To The 2021 MLB Season (www.mlb.com)

Last Oct. 27 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías froze the Rays’ Willy Adames for strike three,

and igniting a joyous Los Angeles celebration. The Dodgers had won their first championship since 1988, officially closing the book on the 2020 season.

It also began the countdown to Opening Day, which is now fast approaching.

That also brings up many questions for fans, such as, “Is baseball coming back in 2021?” and “Will MLB allow fans in stadiums?” among other things. To help with that, here is a complete guide to everything you need to know about the 2021 MLB season.

MLB and COVID-19
Last year, the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic shut down Spring Training in mid-March and delayed Opening Day. Ultimately, the 2020 season did not begin until late July, and teams played a 60-game schedule, adhering to MLB’s strict COVID rules. They then embarked upon an expanded postseason, with the field widened from 10 teams to 16.

Nearly a year later, the pandemic persists, although ongoing vaccinations — including many at Major League ballparks — are providing hope. However, COVID-19 will continue to affect the MLB schedule in 2021, especially throughout Spring Training and early in the regular season. That will extend to both fans (in terms of how many are allowed to attend games) and players (who once again will have to abide by health and safety protocols, throughout Spring Training, the regular season and the postseason).

Free agency
While the offseason got off to a slow start, many of the top free agents have now signed. That includes reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer (Dodgers), center fielder George Springer (Blue Jays), catcher J.T. Realmuto (Phillies), second baseman DJ LeMahieu (Yankees) and left fielder Marcell Ozuna (Braves). There also have been some blockbuster trades, including the Padres’ deals for pitchers Yu Darvish (Cubs), Blake Snell (Rays) and Joe Musgrove (Pirates), the Mets’ acquisition of shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco (Indians), and the Cardinals swap for third baseman Nolan Arenado (Rockies).

Spring Training
On Feb. 1, Major League Baseball issued a statement saying, in part, that after the league and the MLB Players Association did not come to an agreement on a delay to the 2021 season, that it was instructing clubs to report on time to Spring Training. As such, teams have begun loading up trucks with all the essentials — equipment, apparel, food, etc. — and sending them on the road to Arizona and Florida. (For example, see the Royals or the Rays).

A limited number of fans are expected to be able to attend at least some Spring Training games, but the specifics will depend on the state (Arizona or Florida), the team, and the constantly evolving nature of the pandemic. For more details, select a team here, or go to its website.

Opening Day
Opening Day 2021 is scheduled for Thursday, April 1, as originally planned. All 30 teams are slated to be in action. The Dodgers will begin their title defense at Coors Field against the Rockies, one of several divisional matchups on the calendar, along with Blue Jays-Yankees, Braves-Phillies, Cardinals-Reds, Mets-Nationals, Astros-A’s and more.

The regular season, All-Star Game and postseason
Until last year, there were 162 games in an MLB season. The plan is for that to be true again in 2021, with the league sticking to its previously released schedule, which runs from April 1 through October 3. Unlike during the abbreviated 2020 campaign, clubs will not be limited to playing opponents from the same region (West, Central, East).

Plans to have fans attend games during the regular season have not been made official. While allowing fans in stadiums will be an evolving process, with varied policies dependent on team and local rules, there is optimism about fans being able to enjoy games in person in 2021. Stay tuned to MLB.com and each club’s site for more details.

The 2021 All-Star Game remains scheduled for July 13 at Atlanta’s Truist Park, as part of a baseball celebration that also will include, for the first time, the MLB Draft. The Braves had previously been chosen to host the 2020 All-Star Game, but that was canceled due to the pandemic. The Dodgers, previously scheduled to host this year’s event, will do so in 2022 instead.

The 2021 postseason schedule is not yet official. While the playoffs were expanded from 10 to 16 teams for 2020, that agreement was for one year only. The league and the players’ union have not yet reached a new agreement regarding expanded playoffs for this year. In the absence of such a pact, the playoffs would revert to both the AL and NL fields featuring five teams and beginning with a win-or-go-home Wild Card Game.

The rules
As mentioned, the expanded postseason we saw in 2020 is not currently slated to return in 2021. But what about other rules changes?

• The universal DH also is not currently in line to return after debuting in 2020, although it’s still possible that MLB and the Players Association could reach a deal in that regard prior to Opening Day. If they don’t, then the DH will only be used in AL ballparks, while pitchers will hit in NL parks.

• Two other rules that were implemented in 2020 in an effort to minimize the time spent at the ballpark will return in 2021. Doubleheaders will feature seven-inning games, and when any game goes to extra innings, a runner will be placed on second base to begin each half-inning.

• Rosters will once again feature 26 players, after expanding in 2020. Roster size will increase to 28 players in September. There will not be a limit to how many pitchers can be on a team’s roster.

• Clubs may bring a “Taxi Squad” of up to five players on all road trips, in order to have reinforcements available in the event of injuries or COVID-related issues.

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