With hope on the horizon, the Philadelphia Phillies could be days away from televised exhibition contests, but can the stars align with the baseball gods for 60 games? Yes, but the 20-contest schedule against the American League East will be one four-game series, and --location-wise-- it might benefit a National League East rival.
After seemingly non-stop pandemic coverage competed with binge-watching for the eyeballs of the Phillies faithful, 60 contests won't be 2020’s top baseball issue. No, the national pastime will be a welcomed relief from this appearingly endless factor.
IN OTHER WORDS:
"Human destiny is bound to remain a gamble because at some unpredictable time and in some unforeseeable manner nature will strike back." - Rene Dubos
- 60 games: 10 each against four NL East teams and four apiece versus five AL East clubs.
For the lords of baseball, the 1994 campaign was their attempt at initiating a salary cap to reduce spending and limit free agency. But the players went on strike and refused to accede even if there would be no 1995 games. Translation: no way!
In ‘94, the Fightins played 115 contests with a 54-61 record on August 11 for fourth place. They were 20.5 games behind the first-place Montreal Expos (74-40), who had a six-game advantage over the Atlanta Braves (68-46). So, the Phils missed 47 contests in an October with no World Series.
Even though the ‘95 red pinstripes finished in second place after the campaign had begun on April 26, they were 21 games behind the Braves. Atlanta had a 90-54 mark to the 69-75 Phillies who tied the New York Mets for second place. Ergo, missing 21 contests did not affect the Fightins.
The MLB and the MLBPA demonstrated their positions through orchestrated leaks. Occupation-wise, unions and management are confrontational by nature, and the majors are no exception. But although these tensions and strategies exist elsewhere, here the timing and publicity were brutal.
Needing an escape, fans instead received a preview of the debate over the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) expiring after the 2021 season. Hopefully, ‘21 won’t be another abbreviated campaign with unpopular rules for traditionalists, but fate will be in the government’s hands: federal, state and local.
For now, MLB’s COVID-19 rules involve players being in a bubble. To illustrate, they pertain to more than air high fives and other celebrations: locker spacing, no after-game showers, and no hanging around after the contest. Yeah, totally different!
Because the situation is fluid, locations, rosters, and plans can change between now and July’s Opening Day. Presently, each organization will have 30 active players reduced to 28 after two weeks and 26 after another two weeks. But each team will also have a 30-man taxi squad with three men available due to an in-game injury.
While some franchises may use two facilities before game one, 60 players will require training in staggered shifts regardless. And the Fightins will carry one catcher on their taxi squad with J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Knapp on the active roster. Ergo, the extra receiver will always be available for an emergency.
Some minor league facilities could have games for players who don’t even make a 30-man taxi squad, and Nashvillie has already been floating their city as a possible destination. Plus if Arizona and Florida can solve their current infection rate by the fall, they could have leagues for some youngsters missing MiLB action.
Teams to Beat:
With a shortened camp and a two-month schedule, players will be fresh. And it won’t be a marathon, it’ll be a sprint to October. Meanwhile, firemen like David Robertson will be ready for the stretch drive in late July, and Joe Girardi may signal for him against the New York Yankees.
The Phillies will have one four-contest series versus the Yankees. However, starter Luis Severino is out for the year, and slugger Aaron Judge has recovered from his injuries. But one was a collapsed lung, and the coronavirus is primarily a respiratory illness: He could opt out. Nah, he won’t!
After 96 victories in 2019, the Tampa Bay Rays annually find a way to be competitive, and they’ve benefitted by some trades and free agent signings. Unfortunately, you won’t be familiar with many uniformed regulars and starters, but don’t take them lightly because they frequently discover a winning path.
The Boston Red Sox have a cautionary tale for the Phils faithful because their president had paid top dollar for free-agent talent and captured the 2018 Fall Classic. Problem-wise, Boston had exceeded the CBT (competitive-balance threshold) of $197 million by over $40 million for ‘18 and then missed the postseason in ‘19.
Despite not re-upping Craig Kimbrel, they were still $35.5 million over the $206 million CBT in 2019. But their supporters had expected more victories even with the tax penalties: They were none too happy. Well, the owner moved free-agent-to-be Mookie Betts after firing the president, and now ace Chris Sale is out for 2020.
Compared to the Red Sox not being as dangerous, the Toronto Blue Jays will be interesting to watch from a surname perspective: Biggio, Guerrero and Bichette. Yes, the sons of stars will be fun to eye if they don’t imitate their famous fathers in the games, but they’ll have growing pains.
And, lastly, the Baltimore Orioles will be without right fielder Trey Mancini: .291, 35 bombs, 97 RBIs, a 132 wRC+ and a 3.6 fWAR. Last summer, they suffered 108 defeats with his bat and power in the heart of the order. But don’t sleep on these youngsters because they have nothing to lose and a lot to prove.
For social distancing, some players will be in the stands, and there will be no cheering or booing from fans. Plus the regulars will hear their home team’s broadcasters praising and criticizing them. In fact, those players could be aware of a mistake due to a friendly critique.
According to Charles Barkley, the crowd propelled him with energy he was unaware of. However, that will be missing even if some fans are in the stands eventually.
Charlie Manuel stated the game is 40 percent luck, but ‘20 must have a higher percentage: 50-60 percent? Unfortunately, I can only wonder what the former skipper thinks regarding the COVID-19 X factor.
At any time, the virus or an injury --including unreported ones-- can claim a victim and change the season’s course if luck isn’t on your side. Favorably, though, the playoffs will mostly have NL and AL clubs who have not played each other since 2019 and a potential World Series with the same possibility.
The old adage is you’ll see something in baseball you’ve never seen before, and it happens a handful of times during the standard 162. In 2020, though, when do I believe you’ll experience this phenomenon from Opening Day through October? Twice in July!