MLB’s shortened season could be wild, so let’s embrace the possibilities
We want to watch baseball.
Personally, I don’t want to think about baseball-related things that aren’t actual baseball. I no longer want to speculate about baseball, or wonder about when it might return.
BASEBALL. IS. BACK. ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/q5oDtXYkQoArticle continues below ...
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) June 24, 2020
I don’t want baseball news, baseball deals, or baseball scenarios. I just want baseball. And I feel like I’m not alone.
Thankfully, we are finally going to get baseball. On Tuesday, an impasse that at times looked like it was going nowhere ended with commissioner Rob Manfred imposing a schedule.
Months of frustration closed with the following solution: 60 games, with a start date of either July 23 or 24. Mostly divisional play, with the remainder of the slate being against opponents of close geographical proximity. And though there won’t be fans, there will be baseball.
Hey baseball fans…
🎶We are backkkkkkk🎶 pic.twitter.com/QLA3QSSLWv
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) June 24, 2020
“Major League Baseball is thrilled to announce that the 2020 season is on the horizon,” Manfred said in a statement. “We have provided the Players Association with a schedule to play 60 games and are excited to provide our great fans with baseball again soon.”
It means we don’t have to hear any more about the give and take, about offers being made and rejected and countered. Baseball is about to once again take the form of actual games played out on diamonds across America — and the result should be thrilling, in every sense of the word.
“We’ve got a pennant race from jump street, from day one of the season,” FOX Sports MLB reporter Tom Verducci said on Speak For Yourself. “There are no meaningless games now. It’s going to be a scramble to see who gets into the playoffs. I think you’re talking about a September where virtually every game on any given night has playoff implications. Once baseball gets back on the field, the narrative changes. Players and pennant races become the narrative.”
A truncated campaign brings all kinds of things into play. Could we see a .400 hitter? Statistical batting excellence becomes more likely when it only needs to be sustained over a tighter time window, and as ESPN’s David Schoenfield points out, we have seen a player hit. 400 over the first 60 games of a season recently — Chipper Jones, in 2008. (However, bear in mind that any slugger who goes on such a tear will have to do so against pitching arms that are fresher than normal towards the end of summer.)
What will it take to win a division, or even make the playoffs? Remember that teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians have had incredible bursts. In 2017, the Dodgers had a run of 43-7, while Cleveland went 42-8.
Can a team get hot and rack up an absurd winning percentage? Will we see a 45 or even 50-game winner?
One player since 2000 has hit .400 over the first 60 games of a season: Chipper Jones, .408 in 2008. Highest in past 10 was Cody Bellinger last year (.376).
— David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield) June 23, 2020
What about on the flip side? The average winning percentage for the worst playoff team in each league in the last five seasons, according to Schoenfield, was .549, which would translate to a 33-27 record in a 60-game season. In a tight race, could a team squeak into the playoffs by winning as few as, say, 31 games?
There will be some weird little foibles like that, but forget about the bitter concept that this will all somehow mean less than a normal season. At FiveThirtyEight, statistics wizard Neil Paine estimates that in a 162-game season, the best team has a 22% chance of winning the World Series; in a 60-game campaign, that number is still 15% — less likely, yes, but not markedly so.
I have gotten into this before, when talking about other sports. It is a different year, but let’s not hurt ourselves and our own viewing pleasure by attaching an asterisk because the number of games is shorter and there are no fans and because life has changed a lot.
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Besides, if there was any doubt that the players were up for it, those were swiftly put to rest with an immediate array of social media messages.
“Baseball is back baby!” exclaimed the New York Mets’ Pete Alonso, accompanied by an excited mnemonic not appropriate for family viewing.
Bryce Harper even interrupted new dad duties – his wife gave birth a day earlier – to voice his pleasure with a simple yet powerful statement – “we’re finally coming home.”
— Bryce Harper (@bryceharper3) June 24, 2020
It will be a season, a genuine one, fought out by players and teams at full speed. Think of it as a soup being boiled down to optimal thickness, to the point where each taste packs more of a punch. Losing a nail-biter in Game 15 of a normal season wouldn’t seem like much of a deal typically. It will sting more now and each defeat has potential consequences.
The stars have had time to rest up and work on things, to get busy getting even better. The quality of play should be first-rate.
“A slow start now is basically your season,” Verducci added. “You can’t afford a slow start here. One group of players that it really helps – veteran pitchers. They have been able to rest, regather, and weren’t putting miles on the pitching odometer over the last four months. They can get to the most important months of the year, August and September, relatively fresh.”
"It'll be a shocker if the @Yankees don't get to the World Series."
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) June 24, 2020
There are new things to see: Mookie Betts in Dodger blue and Gerrit Cole in Yankees pinstripes, and whether baseballs are going to keep zinging out of ballparks or fly with a little less explosiveness.
There are labor issues in the sport that have been put on hold, not solved, but that is for another time. There are future deals to be cut, there are moves to be made. But for now — there is, well, “summer training” to soon be had.
There are predictions to be made, theories about a shorter season to be tested, bets to be placed, reputations to be dented or upheld.
But, most important of all, there is baseball to be played, and because of it, a sigh of release to be finally released.