Fingers crossed, Major League Baseball returns next week, albeit in a pandemic shortened 60-game season instead of the usual when-will-this-thing-finally-end, 162-game marathon.

As fans prepare to return to the recliner to take-in the action - fans will be allowed into stadiums to watch the games - there will be several new rules you'll want to be aware of:

  1. Remember there was talk of a temporary divisional realignment, putting geographically closer clubs in the same division to cut down on travel? That's gone. While it would have been interesting to have a season with the Mets and Yankees in the same division, that plan was scrapped. The Mets and Yanks will play one another six times, though: August 21-23 at Citi Field, and again August 28-30 in the Bronx. (They will also play a pair of exhibition games against one another this weekend).
  2. For this season only (so they say), both the American and National leagues will use the designated hitter - marking the first time the NL will have a permanent DH in place. As you are surely aware, NL teams have used the DH in previous seasons when they faced American League teams in American League parks.
  3. If a game goes to extra innings, the batter who made the final out in the inning prior will automatically be placed on second base. It's being done to stir some action and induce run scoring. It is NOT a sudden death type of situation, so even if the road team pushes across the go-ahead run in the top half of an inning, the home team will get an opportunity to tie or win in the bottom half. Also, for those scoring at home, if the runner placed on second base does score, that run will not be charged against the opposing pitcher's ERA.
  4. Speaking of relief pitchers, in most cases, you will no longer see multiple pitching changes in a half-inning. A reliever brought into the game to start a new inning or during an inning MUST face at least three batters. However, if a pitcher is brought into an inning and retires the side before facing the minimum three hitters, that pitcher is NOT forced to come out and start the next inning.
  5. The final changes you should keep an eye out for fall under new health and safety guidelines which are being implemented because of the coronavirus pandemic. Among them: No spitting! Can't spit saliva, sunflower seeds, tobacco, or anything else for that matter. However, chewing gum is allowed, but you can't spit it. Also, pitchers are permitted to carry a small damp rag with them on the mound. This is being allowed because the licking of fingers to get a better grip on the ball is prohibited. And, a significant change, players and managers are not allowed to leave ''their position'' and come within six feet of an umpire or opposing manager to argue calls. Doing so will leave the player/manager subject to immediate ejection from the game, along with possible fines or suspensions afterward. Finally, not that it has an impact on gameplay, but the old exchange of the batting lineups between managers and umps for the game is out. Now, managers will be provided with an App (yes, an App!), serving as the official mechanism for submitting a team's starters and lineup for the game.

Major League Baseball officially begins its shortened 2020 campaign on Thursday, July 23, with just two games: Yankees @ Nationals (7:08 p.m.) and Giants @ Dodgers (10:08 p.m.). The remaining teams kick-off their season openers the following day.

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