Game On…with Rob Kriete
Judging from what I have seen in the first few weeks of Major League Baseball, the 60-game season is going to be filled with intrigue, drama, and a few great “mini” seasons from players like the Yankees Aaron Judge. We have already seen the league pivot from best record to best winning percentage in terms of defining playoff teams. Quarantined teams will most likely create uneven numbers of games played, so the default determiner is winning percentage. This is a baseball traditionalist’s worst nightmare (beyond universal DH.) Although not unprecedented, it creates seemingly unfair advantages. The fact that the Marlins of Miami were in the first place for the whole week they were quarantined with a 2 – 1 record speaks to an uneven way of using winning percentages. But, I would argue that this is still better than no baseball at all.
“Put your left foot in, take your left foot out. Put your left foot and shake it all about. You do the hokey-pokey…” and players are opting out and even opting back into the MLB season due to Covid-19. We have seen a clearly disgruntled star, Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Metropolitans, opt out of the season due to Covid fears (or fear of being on the bench against right-handed starters) while the Atlanta Braves outfielder, Nick Markakis, opt to join his team after originally opting out. Markakis, whose Covid fears seems to have evaporated, promptly hit a walk-off HR upon his return. To deter the cancellation of games due to COvid outbreaks, MLB has instituted stricter policies for players on the protocols put in place. Without naming players or teams, MLB surely saw a breach of their protocols creating cancellations across the league schedule.
Seven-inning games for doubleheaders are a dramatic rule change to this season, and one implemented once the season began. I find this rule to be a dangerous precedent. I understand the importance of speeding up and completing games, but nine-inning games are a foundational rule in baseball. Begrudgingly, I see how this affects game outcomes and playoff races. Bullpens have become more important to teams in recent years, but are we now at the point where managers will work their relievers starting in the third inning? Count on it.
Even in this small, tournament-like season, we will have the chance to see some special moments. Aaron Judge, a solid hitter beyond his long-ball prowess, has begun with 17 R.B.I. already with his .300 average and 7 homers. While Shane Bieber, with his ability to hide the ball from hitters throughout his delivery, is looking like a whiffle-ball magician in the early going. I am soaking it all up as this MLB short-season is already uniquely fun and riveting. Finally, we are getting more and more of our Game On! Be safe, everyone.