Have A Cold One To Cool Off, Tanner; Top Up That Glass, Fans

It’s hard to believe but we’re heading into the homestretch of the very shortened 2020 season. The Jays host the Mets this weekend (in Buffalo of course) and after that series is done, there are a mere two weeks left before it’s a wrap and the hefty post-season sched begins. The good news is that Las Vegas oddsmakers now have Toronto at 90% likely to be a part of those festivities. So will that come true? Can the Blue Jays surprise and make it into the playoffs, perhaps even hold off the mighty Yankees for second place in the AL East? Chances are decent but which half of the glass you look at will make your choice.

There’s lots for the Glass Half Full crowd to like right now. Start with the standings. Sure they change from day to day but the fact is, here we are on Sep. 11 and the Jays are in second place in the division, fifth overall in the AL, trailing the ever-surprising Rays by 4 but two games ahead of the quick-falling Yankees who only three weeks back seemed a lock for one of the top two posts.

Toronto is 24-19 and the story gets better. Because of the problems with immigration due to Covid preventing the team from playing in Toronto, a plan to play in Pittsburgh which fell through and a few issues at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, the Jays have played only 16 home games compared to 27 road ones. While it’s not fair, those issues will result in the team playing an unbalanced schedule with more road games than home ones this season, but still, 11 of their remaining 17 games are home ones, and yes, they’re playing better in Buffalo than on the road, having a .625 winning percentage there.

That’s a plus, so too is the schedule. They won’t face an opponent with a better record than them (currently) for the rest of the year. No more games against Tampa, or Atlanta. The statistically toughest opponent coming up is Philadelphia, currently at 21-18. As expected, Toronto do better against teams at or below .500 (13-8, .618) than teams above .500. One could speculate using purely mathematical terms, that given the opponents and home games left, Toronto could realistically win 36 this year , which would give them a shot at catching Tampa and certainly a strong berth in the playoffs.

Adding to that optimism is the fact that the hitting (which, yes we raked over the coals earlier this year) is starting to come around and what’s more, that seems to be translating to a renewed sense of determination on the field not seen since 2015. In their first ten games this year, the Jays scored a mere 31 runs. In the last ten, they’ve scored 57 (including an awesome 10 in one inning against a stunned New York crew) By now their 212 runs scored is only one behind Tampa for tops in the division and their run differential is a nice +20, due to pretty good pitching. The staff ERA of 3.90 is eighth best in the majors and behind only those pesky Rays among the ten “eastern” squads.

Other pluses are expected returns. Bo Bichette’s shaping up to be possibly the best of the crop of young players to have premiered in the last couple of seasons and Bo could be back in the lineup tonight after missing about a month – which is a huge chunk when dealing with a 60-game sched. In the last four games before he injured his knee, he was 9 for 16 with 7 RBI, and one of those games was a five-hit one. On the season he’s knocking out a .361 average with a .672 slugging percentage and 13 RBI in 14 games. Needless to say, his return would be huge both with the bat and (if his knee allows) in the field where trade deadline acquisition Jonathan Villar has struggled, to put it kindly, unexpectedly.

Likewise, last year’s closer Ken Giles is pitching in simulated games in Rochester and should be back to bolster the bullpen within days.

So that part of the equation is rosy. But let’s not get too arrogant. The Glass Half Empty crowd see other shadows lurking. To begin with, injuries. Granted New York’s season has been nearly derailed by injuries (big boppers Stantion and Judge both out right now, last year’s unexpected hero Gio Urshela having a bad elbow; stud pitchers Luis Severino and now James Paxton out for the year) but again… they’ve been falling hard because of all that. Toronto’s hold on health – and a good playoff spot – seems to be precarious due to that.

Remember just in the last week Teoscar Hernandez went out with a ribcage injury (hopefully back in time for the post-season but not likely before) when he was tied for the league lead in homers at 14. Now lefty Rowdy Tellez, getting hot for the first time in his career really, has hurt his knee and could be done for 2020. Ouch. In 35 games so far, Tellez is hitting .283 with 8 HR and 23 RBI . His average in up nearly 60 points from last year and his slugging percentage, up 100. Two of his past four games were three-hit affairs. It will be hard to replace those two, even if Bo is back and picks up where he left off.

And one of the elephants in the room decided to bellow on Wednesday night. A few think manager Charlie Montoyo a baseball-Einstein baptised by the holy waters of Tampa Bay, where he got his coaching skills. More feel Toronto is winning in spite of him, not because of him or his whimsical pitching choices.

When it comes to pitchers, Montoyo seems to manage like a grade two teacher would kids at recess: “let everyone have a turn.” Toronto at times have carried 14 pitchers this year and Charlie seems determined to let every one get a few batters in every night. No starting pitcher has pitched in the seventh yet this year, nor come close to let alone exceeded 100 pitches. The team, good ERA and all, have had 211 appearances to the mound over 43 games, or 5 pitchers a game on average. Cleveland pitchers have delivered 30 “quality starts” this year. Toronto’s, seven. Are the Indians that much better? Perhaps, but more likely, that disparity comes from Montoyo getting bored seeing the same arm on the mound after three innings. Poor Roy Halladay is turning in his grave.

The situation came to a head in the team’s last game, a 7-2 loss to the Yanks. Starter Tanner Roark wasn’t allowed back out to start the fifth inning, after going 4 innings, and 68 pitches. He’d given up just two hits, but as they were both solo homers, hence two runs.

By all reports, he was steaming after the bullpen (and shoddy “D”) cost the team the game after he was pulled. He led off an online press scrum after the game saying “I was taken out too soon” and calling Montoyo’s managing something akin to “cow crap”… several different translations were printed in various sources to fit differing sensibilities, i presume.

“I’m what you would call a diesel… I start off slow, then get better as you go on throughout the game.” He added, “now I’ve got six days to sit on that, which doesn’t sit well with me. I’m old school. They signed me here for a reason, not to go three or four innings.” That part is clearly true. when he was signed as a free agent, GM Ross Atkins clearly said one of his main appeals was his ability to pitch deep into the game and give innings that spared an overworked bullpen.

Is he right though? We looked at the numbers and found… they were inconclusive. By today’s standards, he does pitch a good number of innings, or has. Last year, he hurled 165 1/3 in 31 starts; the year before 180 1/3 in 30. In his banner year of 2016, he logged 210 innings. So clearly he can go beyond four innings easily. But should he?

Here’s where it gets a little gray. Roark’s not been getting better with age. Opponents slugging percentage against him have risen – .422 in ’18, .467 last year, .593 this year. and his ERA reflects that, entering this year with a career number of 3.71 but being over 4.3 the past two seasons and an inflated 5.60 this year. Perhaps Charlie was right in not wanting batters to see him too many times in a night.

As to his claim of building up as the game goes on… well, again, the numbers are inconclusive. Last year in the third inning, he limits opponents to a 2.90 ERA. Int he fourth, 3.10. By the fifth, that skyrocketed to 6.00 and wasn’t much better in the sixth at 5.68. However, 2018 Tanner showed he was good early, had trouble in the fifth (6.58) but could usually steady the ship afterwards if he was still there, posting 2.95 and 2.25 ERA in the sixth and seventh.

Bottom line – it might have gone either way. No guarantees Roark would have shut them down had he gone back out for the fifth, but his arm was up to it and the bullpen didn’t do a bonzo job of keeping the team in the game as it happened. However, the overall issue is real . Montoyo’s lack of confidence in his starters is annoying them and putting a lot of pressure on those bullpen arms, including some very good ones and some entirely redoubtable ones like Wilmer Font and the just-released Sam Gaviglio. If it doesn’t bite him in the butt this season, it could this winter when Toronto will have a harder time luring in a free agent pitcher or two if the reputation for dissing them gets much more play.

So bring on the final 17 games, look through that liquid and while you’re at it, why not top it up? Cheers, Blue Jays.

August 28 – Jays Try To Fly A Little Higher In Standings

I’m not a fan of many things this season, including the Rob Manfred super-sized playoffs which manages to give the owners and TV more playoff games despite playing fewer regular games than ever before. That said, it is what it is and as a Toronto fan, it seems to be working out to our benefit (and, logic would dictate five other teams as well given that six more teams will be in the post-season than years past.) As it stands now, Toronto are sitting at 15-14, in third place in the AL East but most importantly, hanging on to the final AL playoff spot. Detroit trail us by four games for that with a month left on the schedule (illness and player strikes allowing. Someone correctly noted that the tired old sports cliche “if the season ended today” is not meaningless rhetoric this year).

Toronto has some reason for at least restrained optimism. They’re slowly moving up in the standings despite missing some key players. Closer Ken Giles is pitching again in practices, perhaps to return for the first time since the opening series, and Bo Bichette, hitting .361 with an OPS over 1.0 when he hurt his knee two weeks ago, is expected back any day now. That should give the offense a huge boost, for while the team’s hitting has been getting better, it’s not been because of Bo’s absence. Santiago Espinal and Joe Panik, the two backups who’ve been filling in for him, while OK with the glove are hitting a measly collective .229 with all of 1 RBI in 83 at bats. Panik hasn’t yet got an extra base hit in 17 games.

That considered, it’s very encouraging that the team acquired pitcher Taijuan Walker yesterday from Seattle for cash and a “player to be named later.” The media were told the reason the player will be named later is that he’s not one of the current members of the “60 man roster” with Toronto or the alternate training site. Ergo, we’re getting a certified major league starter for a low-level minor leaguer , although of course there are no “minor leagues” this weird year. Even though Walker will be a free agent after the season, that seems like a steal.

Perhaps Seattle (languishing at 13-20) just wanted to dump salary, although that would only amount to about $1M left on his contract, or maybe they have some young arms they want to give a shot while there’s no pressure on them. Either way, it’s a shot in the sore arm for Toronto who lost Trent Thornton for the remainder of the season to an elbow injury, have Matt Shoemaker nursing a bad shoulder and phenom Nate Pearson out with a mystery injury they’ve not quite specified yet.

To be sure,Walker’s name arguably carries more weight than performance merits. When he came up in 2013, with the Mariners, he was one of the game’s top “can’t miss” prospects. He didn’t exactly miss but didn’t exactly become a “hit” either. He has a career 33-33 record with 3.95 ERA through 102 games, sporting a good 3:1 strikeout : walk ratio. His best season was spent with Arizona in 2017, when he was 9-9 but had a good 3.49 ERA (35% better than league average) through 28 starts and 157 innings. He logged only 14 innings in the two intermediate years due to elbow injuries, but he’s back this year and looking OK with a 2-2 record. Encouragingly, his last outing was a 7 inning start against the Dodgers, striking out 8 and allowing 4 hits, 3 runs. That followed six innings without any earned runs against Texas a week before. That’s noteworthy given that the one universal complaint so far about Blue Jays starting is a lack of innings given by the starters so far, meaning quite a burden on the bullpen. Toronto would happily take some 7 inning, 3 run, 8K outings against good teams from him.

GM Ross Atkins says Walker is looking smarter this year, relying less on his fastball (a good but not stellar 93 mph one) and using his cutter more, and also possessing “Average to a bit above” curve ball and sliders. In a year when there are relatively few “stud” starters coming up for free agency, you can bet Walker will be going all out to impress prospective employers for 2021 – which might include Toronto.

Walker’s not going to be 2009-era Halladay or mid-’80s Stieb,nor the second coming of Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander. But he does have the potential to be a solid #3 type starter who can give the Jays a few wins and also prevent us from seeing debacles like Wilmer Font coming in in the fourth inning to blow a four-run lead and having six or seven more pitchers follow him out to the mound.

More importantly, it shows that the team is actually interested in taking the steps needed to try to win. It’s the first time they’ve done so since 2016, when they picked up Francisco Liriano (who pitched well) and BJ Melvin Upton (who hit like garbage, but c’est le vie) at the trade deadline. A crazy year like this is when anything can happen, and if the Jays are in the post-season, it will only take a couple of hitters getting hot in October and a standout start or two from an unexpected pitcher to put that coveted World Series within reach. The next seven or so weeks should be fun.

Players Should Try. In Defense of Tatis.

When did trying to win become a bad thing in baseball? Well, according to some the answer is “since forever.” Thus we have the weird spectacle this week of the sport’s hottest young star being in hot water for doing what he’s paid to do – entertain the home fans (even if they’re at home not in the stands this season) and most of all, help his team win.

The subject of course is Fernando Tatis Jr., the 21 year old phenom for San Diego in his sophomore season. He was the third place finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting last year after playing only half a season and has picked up where he left off this year… and then some. After hitting an impressive .317 with 22 homers (and 16 stolen bases to boot) in just 84 games last year, he’s still clipping along with the same .317 average this year but he’s already knocked 12 out of the ballpark in only 26 games. His OPS has risen from a very good .969 to an extraordinary 1.124. If there’s a knock against him – “if” – it’s that he struck out 110 times in only 334 at bats last year. He’s rather a free swinger.

The problem came a couple of nights ago in Arlington, with the Padres playing Texas. San Diego had racked up a good 10-3 lead in the eighth with Rangers’ pitcher Ian Gibaud loading the bases. Gibaud, in case you don’t know him (and you very likely don’t) came up through Tampa’s system, and after one unspectacular two inning outing from him there, the Rays were impressed enough to give him to Texas. Technically, they traded him for a “player to be named later”; they’re still waiting for Texas to name that player and send him Florida-bound over a year later. In nine games with the Rangers last year, he had an ERA of over 5, walking 8 in just 12 innings. Texas didn’t offer him a contract over the winter, making him a free agent, but for whatever reason they invited him back to their summer training camp and he made the team.

Which brings us to young Tatis. Gibaud threw three straight balls, leaving him a pitch away from walking in a run. But instead he finally tossed one right down the middle… and Fernando clobbered it right over the fence for a grand slam home run. Free swinging power hitter sees fastball in his wheelhouse, that’s what he’s going to do. As Franchise Sports said, “young star hitting a grand slam = awesome!…Well, apparently not.”

Of course, instead of being a thrilling moment Texas went beserk. To be fair, they had a lot of people supporting them outside their clubhouse. Even San Diego’s manager, Jay Tingler!

The thinking was of course that Tatis shouldn’t have swung at a pitch in a hitter’s count when his team had a seven-run lead. He should stand like a statue and let the balls fly by, taking a walk if Gibaud threw another out of the strike zone , or letting him strike him out should he piece together three strikes. The “unwritten rule” says you don’t “show up” an opponent, don’t bother trying once you have a “comfortable lead.” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said “I didn’t like it personally. You’re up by seven in the 8th , it’s typically not a good time to swing.”

More surprisingly, Tatis’ own manager, Tingler, chastised him too saying he shouldn’t have tried to hit and that “it’s a learning opportunity…he’ll grow from it.”

A learning opportunity to do what? To not bother giving it his all? Is that what fans and even his own team want from a young budding superstar?

Of course, Texas took matters into their own hands, firing one directly at Manny Machado, the batter up after Tatis. Gibaud and Woodward both earned suspensions from MLB offices for that.

I’ll again agree with Franchise Sports on it. “If you want to walk him, intentionally put him on base.” I’d add if you don’t want him to hit a home run, pitch him better or bring in a pitcher who can.

Blue Jays fans might remember Aug. 12. They were playing the Marlins and trailing 11-4. They answered back with 7-straight runs to tie the game (only to lose in extra innings, but the point remains the weak hitting team overcame a 7-run deficit.) That type of comeback has happened several times around baseball this season. Imagine the Padres clubhouse – and fanbase – had Tatis merely played Pokemon on his phone and let pitches glide by and the Rangers had caught up in the bottom of the inning.

A seven run lead is not insurmountable. Even a ten run one isn’t all the time. Teams are supposed to try, and that means trying every inning. Now I will grant two things. If you embarass a team – like totally humiliate them, 35-0 or so – they will probably be very mad and very, very motivated to make beating you Job One next time out, so there might be a point to “let sleeping dogs lie”. An 11-4 game is no sleeping dog though.

Likewise, if I was a manager and had a blowout lead… say 20-4 in the eighth, I would look down the lineup and perhaps take out some regulars. It would be dumb to have a 38 year old veteran outfielder blow out his knee running down a flyball with a lead like that, if there was a young, under-utlized 22 year old on the bench crying for a few at bats and fielding chances. But I’d still tell my guys out there to keep going and try to win, not give away any outs.

Tatis did nothing wrong. His manager did if he seriously thinks the kid was at fault for merely trying his best. It might be understandable for the Rangers to complain but if you think about it, wasn’t Fernando Tatis treating them with respect? Really, if he couldn’t be bothered to even try in the eighth inning the message he’d be sending the Arlington squad would be “you’re such crappy players, I don’t have to try because you simply don’t have a chance against us.” By hitting a hitable pitch, he in fact sent a message or two. One, that he is a formidable young player. But also two – he didn’t feel comfortable with seven runs with the Texas squad coming up to bat at least twice more. Maybe they should tip their caps to him. That’s more respect than Texas’ sportswriters have been giving the home club this season.

Jays A Quarter Way In – Not A Big Hit

It’s strange to realize it but yesterday the Blue Jays hit the one-quarter mark of this very strange baseball season. And unless they get a lot better quickly, it will be that, one-quarter of the entire amount of games to be played in 2020 because as it stands now, any post-season berth – even in this year of vastly expanded playoffs set against dramatically shortened regular season – seems out of the question.

A weird thing about writing about baseball or any other sport is that things can change quickly… I had this column mostly done yesterday but waited to finish it up and edit and in the meantime, they played a game for the record books last night. They hit seven homers, got 18 hits,overcame an 8-run deficit… but still lost anyway, 14-11 to the Marlins. That game gave us a taste of the Jays 1-through-9 lineup we perhaps expected and hoped for this year, but not the pitching.

Even considering last night, the overall takeaway for this season’s Blue Jays squad is one of unfulfilled potential and, yes, I’ll say it, a need for changes in the coaching staff. Although they were pretty awful last night, in general the team’s pitching has been good. Starting has generally been reliable (if not eating up too many innings yet), Hyun-Jin Ryu’s been very good back to back after a couple of shaky starts to begin his Toronto career and for the most part, the bullpen’s been solid even without closer Ken Giles (on the IL.)

The rest of the game is something else though. Fielding has been shoddy at best. Although the official scorers have only charged them with 8 errors so far, leading to a .985 fielding percentage (pretty much spot on the norm for the MLB), their 13 double plays turned is barely half the number pulled off by “bad” teams such as Kansas City and Boston and the “Rdrs” number is -3. Yeah, I have very little idea what that is or how it’s calculated, but it stands for “defensive runs saved” and when it’s in the negatives, you know your defense is costing you runs and costing you games compared to an ordinary average crew. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. seems to be having a tough time adjusting to his supposedly easier new position of first base, making errors on throws and not being able to track down routine pop-ups, but the whole young infield seems shaky and the last time we saw a Blue Jays outfielder make a highlight reel catch was whenever we last saw Kevin Pillar in a Toronto uniform.

What’s killing the team’s chances though, last night’s home run derby notwithstanding, is not popups in foul territory falling out of range of our gloves. It’s hitting. Or a lack thereof. Going into last night’s game, the team’s offensive numbers were shockingly bad. A .218 batting average. Even though pitcher’s are having a good run of it so far this season (with the MLB average being a mere .235, about 25 points off the average over recent years and more surprising given that the NL is now using full-time DHs) , a .218 average is worst of any of the 10 teams in East divisions… which is to say the ones Toronto plays this year. Likewise, a dreadful .279 OBS. Their cumulative 20 doubles is half of what Atlanta’s hitters have produced. Although they clipped 16 HR before last night (now 23) only two of those weren’t solo dingers. Which leads to another issue- their .172 average with runners in scoring position. No wonder they are leaving an average of 7 men on base per game, despite their low averages yielding not many base runners. No wonder they are swinging at more first pitches than any other team in baseball, leading to fewer good pitches to hit. Bottom line – before last night’s game, they were scoring fewer runs per game than any other team. When you only average 3.14 runs a game, you’re demanding your pitchers have their absolute A-game every night to give you an outside chance of winning.

It’s much a continuation of the disappointment we felt last year when Toronto was dead last in the majors in batting average (.236) and 12th best in the AL in runs, at just under 4.5 per game. Only they’ve gotten worse in fact.

Youth is what we’re seeing,” says GM Ross Atkins. “Hitters need to make adjustments.” They do, and they aren’t. For example, it’s quickly becoming cliched to point out that the difference between minor league Guerrero Jr – the prodigy – and major league Guerrero Jr. – the average, so-so hitter – is that in the minors he was hitting the ball hard and in the air. Now he’s hitting softer groundballs. I’m not a big fan of all the Sabermatics type stats now in vogue, but his “launch angle” is telling. Most power hitters launch the ball upwards by about 20-25 degrees. Last year Vlad upped it by 6.7 degrees. Hitting it nearly flat, parallel to the turf. This year, he’s launching it at… 6.7 degrees. Hard to hit home runs or even drill doubles into the corners when it’s a ground ball and the player is a slow runner to boot. 6.7 last year, 6.7 this year. Textbook example of not making adjustments.

And while Bo Bichette was hot last year in a limited showing and clipped 5 hits last night, staying hot this year, it’s difficult to find examples of any of the team’s young staff making adjustments and progressing forward in their hitting. Sorry to say it, but it’s time to change hitting coaches.

Guillermo Martinez might be a wonderful guy. I don’t know him. He’s only 35 so he can probably relate to some of the young players on the roster. But as a player, he was a decent glove who couldn’t hit, even in the minors where his career stalled. In fact he hit all of .201 in three years in the minor leagues, with a slugging percentage of .269. In 65 games at AA or AAA, he hit all of five extra base hits – all doubles.

Granted, there’s the old adage about “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” You don’t need to be Elton John to teach piano or Ansel Adams to instruct others on how to use a camera. But it doesn’t hurt. And as another adage says, “the proof is in the pudding.” Martinez  couldn’t hit well as a player, but others who couldn’t turned into fine coaches. Guillermo though has had a year and change to get some results from the team’s hitters and hasn’t succeeded in any measurable way.

It’s time to try someone new on for size. It might be too late to salvage a real shot at the World Series this year but with 45 games left, it’s not too late to get a feel for if a new coach had the ability to coach and get results. If he can,look out AL East in 2021. If he can’t, at least they have a long winter to find someone who could.

Updated Preview…About A Week In

Five days in, time for some slight revisions to last week’s predictions already… and a look at the cloudy crystal ball for the post-season.

Well, we’ve seen so far it looks like Boston’s lack of pitching might be worse than most suspected and last year’s 19-game winner Eduardo Rodriguez’s Covid problems more severe than anticipated, so we’ll knock them down a little in the standings. Our Blue Jays on the other hand, are off to a pretty good start even without Vladdy hitting his stride yet and with closer Ken Giles injured. We’ll give them an optimistic bump, and a doleful “could contend with New York” if they didn’t have so many issues with the schedule and no fewer than three “home” stadiums… none of which are in Toronto. (as an addendum after I wrote this yesterday, a pretty stellar debut from Nate Pearson last night gives extra reason for confidence)

In the Central, the White Sox might be coming along a wee bit faster than expected; in the West, Texas is a team which lives and dies by its hitting. So far that’s looking weak, which puts a lot of strain on an aging pitching staff that did magic last year. Down below .500 they go.

In the National, this week’s games with the Nats show they aren’t your daddy’s – or last year’s – Nationals, now lacking both Bryce Harper of two years back and Anthony Rendon of last year. Their road to a division title for them will be tougher than I first thought. And Marlins … well what can we say? I keep them in the tallies, a little worse than first guess but 15 players down with Covid, six games postponed… it’ll be a surprise if they finish out a 60-game sched. Which I might add, unfortunately shoots down my first prediction from the last column” “Covid won’t run wild.” Not happy to be wrong about that one, but not surprised either.

Those things in mind, my new updated predictions for the season:

AL

East

New York 35-25

Toronto 33-27

Tampa Bay 31-29

Boston 30-30

Baltimore 18-42

Central

Minnesota 36-24

Cleveland 34-26

Chicago 31-29

Kansas City 22-38

Detroit 20-40

West

Houston 35-25

Oakland 33-27

Texas 29-31

LA Anaheim 29-31

Seattle 24-36

NL

East

Atlanta 35-25

Washington 33-27

Philadelphia 31-29

New York 27-33

Miami 23-37

Central

Chicago 34-26

Cincinnati 34-26

Milwaukee 34-26

St. Louis 29-31

Pittsburgh 26-34

West

L.A. 38-22

San Diego 32-28

San Fran. 28-32

Arizona 27-33

Colorado 24-36

So, as we can see from my predictions, we have some clear cut post-season entrants. Keeping in mind Rob Manfred’s new, last-minute Big Bonanza Bonus-sized Playoffs, the top two in each division are in plus the next two overall from each league. Thus we clearly see the Yanks, Twins and Astros in the AL taking their divisions as well as the Braves and Dodgers in the NL. Likewise, we have the Blue Jays, Indians and A’s plus the Nationals and Padres in as second-places. Where it gets interesting is the NL Central where I still see a reasonable shot of a three-way tie. The Reds, Cubs and Brewers would all qualify, but how they get seeded becomes a coin toss more or less. Add in the Rays and White Sox in the AL and Phils in the NL and you have some unexpected playoff teams ahead…should common sense prevail in clubhouses enough to keep the pandemic from writing the whole year off.

But with so many potential ties, it’s difficult to even gauge what the first couple of rounds will be like. That said, by the end of October, I think the National will be whittled down to

L.A. vs Atlanta

while in the American it will likely be the

Yankees and Indians;

outside chance of the Astros. (I will explain that while I don’t know that New York pitching is right now strong enough, I expect the Yankees to be active at the trade deadline as they usually are when they can sniff a championship.)

My pick for the World Series — Yankees vs Dodgers; flip a coin to pick a winner. Besides Fox TV, which would surely count a New York- L.A. finale as a win.

Let The Games Begin – A 2020 Preview

On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again..” Ol’ Willie might be offering up the theme for this year’s (Toronto) Blue Jays. Since the last post, the Jays were offered shared facilities at Pittsburgh’s PNC park by the Pirates, reached some sort of agreement despite having a few conflicting dates scheduled for home games… and had that quashed by the state of Pennsylvania. The state doesn’t want more risk of Covid for their residents, which having Toronto and nine other clubs beyond the Pirates and their opponents visiting the park could represent.

I commend the Pirates club for making the offer. Even though I’m sure there would have been a financial incentive for them, it was a decent offer that really showed the meaning of sportsmanship. A rival – even if not a direct divisional one – was lacking a home park through no fault of their own, so they opened up their doors. It’s what good sports is about.

But, that said, it’s back to the drawing board for the Jays company, with three or four fewer days left to doodle out a plan. My bet is still on Buffalo being home this season.

*** ***

All that covered, it’s time to give a little preview of the season ahead as I see it. It’s an abbreviated season & I’ll be giving an abbreviated forecast. Back in February, I was preparing in depth looks at every team and the season, but in 2020, turns out everything is out the window and besides… it’s hard to even remember all the roster changes that occurred last winter. But here are my predictions for 2020:

AL

East:

Yankees are the cream of the crop but pitching beyond newcomer Gerritt Cole might be spotty, given Luis Severino being out for year and JA Happ looking every bit his advanced age last year. Plus Stanton is good, yes, but is he really the nearly half-billion dollar man they thought they were getting from Miami ? Methinks not. And which is the real Gio Urshela- the expendable bench player Cleveland and Toronto knew or the seemingly Cooperstown-bound one NYC saw last year?

Toronto’s season would be more promising if they had a real “home” to work from. For about the last five years, I’ve always figured Tampa looks crappy on paper but seem to excel anyway. They still look crappy on paper but most pundits have them as a World Series contender this year. I think this year they’ll live up to my paper assessment of them. Baltimore might be a tad better than last year. But their schedule got infinitely harder, so they’re still going to stink.

New York 35-25

Boston 31-29

Toronto 31-29

Tampa Bay 30-30

Baltimore 17-43

Central:

Minnesota’s hitting will win them quite a few, especially with Josh Donaldson in the mix. Indians are aging and shedding star power but still have pitching enough to contend. White Sox are improving but still a year or two away. Dallas Keuchel’s years of being in the Cy Young mix are as far gone as politicians speaking to each other civilly.

Minnesota 36-24

Cleveland 34-26

Chicago 30-30

Kansas C. 22-38

Detroit 20-40

West:

Astros are still the Evil Empire to many thanks to their ’17 cheating scandal, and after Justin Verlander, their starting pitching might be a tad thin, especially if Zach Greinke ages a little more. Roberto Osuna is a no-show apparently for unknown reasons. But they still have the talent to win the division. Ask Alanis if it’s ironic the Rangers would tear down a very nice, fairly modern stadium to replace it with a billion dollar baby just in time for… no fans to see it. Jose Bautista’s laughing somewhere!

Houston 35-25

Oakland 33-27

Texas 31-29

LA Anaheim 29-31

Seattle 24-36

NL

East

Marcus Stroman and Aubrey Huff will win as many games as each other and hit as many home runs. (That’s right, Huff retired about eight years ago). But will keep very active til the end of September throwing bombs at each other on Twitter. Bryce Harper will be OK. But when you’re a $300 million dollar man in a tough sports city, OK doesn’t cut it. No one’s built a statue for a .250 hitting, 14 homer (in 60 games) man in cheesesteak city. Ronald Acuna will post numbers that would make him the best player in the game, but scribes will still insist Mike Trout is the best of all-time.

Washington 36-24

Atlanta 35-25

Philadelphia 31-29

NY Mets 27-33

Miami 25-35

Central:

Pirates have my respect and a nice view, but not the pitching they need. St. Louis isn’t the big red machine, western edition, it was a few years ago, but there’s not a lot to separate the other three. Reds will do very well with the introduction of the DH into the NL…no longer worries about Nick Castellanos lead glove negating his hitting prowess.

Cincinnati 34-26

Milwaukee 34-26

Chicago 34-26

St. Louis 30-30

Pittsburgh 26-34

West:

Dodgers fans (looking at you, Badfinger!) must be breathing a sigh of relief knowing they’ll have more than 60 games to appreciate Mookie Betts now. Not many holes on their roster, even without Cy Young contender Ryu (in Toronto), or Price (sitting out) around . San Diego will vie for most improved team, but not the big trophy. Anyone remember what seems like a lifetime ago when colorado wanted to trade Nolan Arrenado before spring? It’ll give people in Denver something to talk about in August when he dons a red hat on the banks of the Ohio or Big Apple pinstripes.

LA Dodgers 38-22

San Diego 32-28

San Francisco 28-32

Arizona 26-34

Colorado 24-36

We’ll look at playoff possibilities in a few days. But before that, a few more random predictions for the 2020 season:

1) thankfully Covid won’t run wild. I expect we’ll see a few more positive tests and some players, perhaps even a star or two shut down for a big chunk of the season due to the pandemic, but I think – and pray – there won’t be a huge epidemic in the clubhouses interfering with the season’s completion

2) there will be at least one breakout team and one unexpected bomb. I know, my predictions above seem like it should be pretty conventional and predictable, but I predict we’ll see some elements of the unpredictable. Some team will get unexpectedly hot for a few weeks and win 40 or more, some team will fall apart and struggle to win 20 out of 60 (not including Baltimore which would take that as a gift). The big question is which ones?

3) No .400 hitter. Not that it matters much anyway; no sports historian is going to put a player who ends up 70 for 170 next to Ted Williams. But many think there’ll be a .400 hitter for the first time in over seven decades. Not me. I figure the over/under for the best in the game will be around .355 this season. ForbesForbes of all people – looked at it and put Jose Altuve as the best bet of hitting .400. I agree with that and agree with their assessment his chance is 1 in 130. Cody Bellinger of L.A. hit .376 over a 60 game stretch last year, the best any player has in ten years. No player with over 100 at bats will hit the magic number this year.

4) Houston aren’t forgiven yet in the eyes of their competitors. At least they won’t hear the boos of the crowds, but an exhbition this week in which KC managed to plunk three straight Astros batters shows their opponents haven’t forgotten. Theyll be hit by pitches routinely for the first two weeks of the year and end up in at least one bench clearing brawl, Rob Manfred’s rules be damned. How he’ll respond, nobody knows.

5) Mike Trout will be good – that’s a given – and his team won’t be. He’ll get MVP votes because, not that he’s supposed to be the “face” of the game but because voters feel sorry for him wasting his talent in a second-rate environment. Someone will make a 2009 Roy Halladay comparison.

6) For our Blue Jays...Hyun Jin Ryu won’t match his 2.32 ERA from last year, but will be good enough to win fans aplenty in the Great White North and perhaps a Cy Young vote or two. But Matt Shomaker will be the staff ace. Nate Pearson will make his debut in August and.. be Vladimir 2.0. Oh, he’ll pitch well and post impressive numbers for a rookie but, given fans expectations, will disappoint many. 5-3, 3.60, 55 strikeouts in 50 innings would be a nice entry to the big leagues… unless you were supposed to be Nolan Ryan crossed with 1972 Steve Carlton. VG2 and Bo Bichette will impress but Danny Jansen sill be the sophomore to get people talking. He was hitting up not just a storm, but a tornado,in spring, and look at his record. He came up with the rep of being a hot hitting, but defensively-challenged catcher. He decided to work hard on his catching… and got a Gold Glove nomination. This year he’s decided to work on his hitting. If he gets into a hot streak, he will be hands down the best hitting catcher in the league and arguably in the team’s history.

7) Things will be tight in several divisions and 60 games won’t finish it. It will be a year of tie-breakers and extra games to determine wild cards and division champs. Four NL Central teams winning 33 each, tying second-place teams in East and West doing the same anyone? Probably not, but the mind reels thinking about the “what if?”

Then again, the mind reels with the “what ifs” about almost everything in 2020. It’s a year we’re not soon going to forget. Let’s hope come November, we’ll say that about the baseball season too… and for only the best of reasons.

Will Buffalo Celebrate A World Series Sooner Than A Stanley Cup?

Well, how excited are we Blue Jays fans? The weird MLB season is poised to start later this week and our Jays are set to have their home opener next Wednesday, facing the reigning World Champions, Washington. Only thing is, no one knows where the game will be played! We do know that it won’t be where it was scheduled, Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto.

That because the Canadian government has denied the team the right to play there this summer due to the pandemic. Although the team was given an exemption to allow a training camp take place there (by way of the entire team and staff being quarantined in the hotel attached to the ballpark) they deem it too unsafe to allow teams to come in from the U.S. and potentially bring in a fresh batch of Covid to Ontario, where the illness has been contained reasonably well.

Which leads to two quick reactions. First, “that sucks!”. As do many things about 2020 as it turns out. Second though, the Canadian government is correct. There are things much more important than sports, and public health is one of those things. To whit, most people in and out of the club seem to be in agreement.

The safety of the broader community, our fans and the team remained the priorities,” Jays president Mark Shapiro said. “The club completely respects the federal government’s decision,” adding “we cannot wait until the day comes we can play in front of our fans again on Canadian soil.”

Team manager Charlie Montoyo added “”the Canadian government and Canadian people have done a great job with the virus. I understand and I’m grateful they gave us a chance to work out here because we’re healthy now because we trained here.” Pitcher Anthony Bass understands and is a bit bummed out by it too, noting “we don’t want to be in a place that’s a hot spot. We want to be where it’s safe.” Even the usually quick-to-take-offense Twitterverse has seemed to recognize it was the right decision for the government to make and hasn’t shown much anger about it.

The numbers speak for themselves. They don’t paint a pretty picture for the U.S. To begin with, remember the U.S. has about 8 times as many people as Canada. Close to nine times even perhaps . Yet to date, the U.S. has had 143 300 deaths due to Covid. Canada, 8800 according to the same source, Worldometer, using WHO numbers. That’s a lot more than 8 or 9 times more! Worse, there have been 3, 900, 000 cases in the States compared to 110 340 in Canada. That’s about 36X more. And it’s getting worse. Of late, the U.S. is averaging 65 000 or more new cases a day. Canada hasn’t had 1000 in a day since early-June. Toronto has recorded a total of 15 037 cases through Thursday. Houston, a city smaller than Toronto, had 14 900 new cases on Friday alone. And we could go on and on. Clearly, the Canadian public had a few skeptics and a fair bit of grumbling about masks, about social distancing, about parks being closed on long weekends, about walking the same direction through stores which had limits on capacity…but they complied and brought the disease under control. Who can blame them for not risking a bunch of young dudes from another country coming back with it?

So now the search is on for a new home. Buffalo Blue Bisons anyone? Right now, Buffalo, NY seems the most likely destination for the ’20 Blue Jays, since it’s the home of the team’s AAA club and not too far away. And as a bonus, New York State, once a disaster zone for Covid, has been healthier than most states of late. However, the stadium, while good by minor league standards, apparently is lacking when it comes to lighting and clubhouse facilities and might have to have some very fast renovations to bring it to code. There are probably also some concerns about finding enough adequate hotel space on quick notice for the whole team and incoming visiting squads to stay quarantined in. Mind you, with travel almost a thing of the past now, they probably should be able to accommodate that within the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area.

Another suggestion has been Dunedin, a suburb of Tampa. It’s where the Jays have their spring training and they just upgraded the whole facility last year. It would work but… Florida’s one of the worst places for the illness right now. And, while Florida gulf weather is wonderful for spring baseball or a winter visit, summer games outside there would mean a lot of 92 degree and humid games and a lot of rain delays. As anyone who’s spent time in the Sunshine State knows, late afternoon or evening thunderstorms are as representative of the Gulf coast as pelicans and palm trees. It would make road trips to Tampa literally a short road trip not even requiring crossing the bay, and Miami close by. But would make the trips to New York, Boston and Philadelphia – yes, we have games against the Phillies – much longer.

Either way, it’s going to put the team at a disadvantage. As Montoyo says, “guys like a routine.” They like going home after the home games and hanging out with their family or going out to their favorite spots. That’s going to be difficult to accommodate anywhere this season for any team, but will be doubly difficult if the “home” is a hotel room in a city they don’t know. At least with a young staff, many of the projected stars – Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Nate Pearson, etc – have played games on the Buffalo turf as recently as last year, and they all worked out a little in Dunedin, months back. But after playing mock games on Toronto’s artificial turf, any stadium will be an adjustment to get used to and effectively make their home games “road” ones. It’s a disadvantage. but it reminds us, there are things more important than sports. Even baseball.

The feds in Ottawa do say they will revisit the issue should Toronto make the post-season and they might be allowed back home in October… if they play October games. And if the situation changes south of the border.

This is not a failure for the Blue Jays. It is not a failure for MLB or even Rob Manfred, as much as he does many things which need calling out. This is a failure of the governments of Florida, Texas, Georgia, Arizona and most of all the U.S. federal government. It’s hard to imagine people might still think America’s been made “great again” when their pro athletes – once the shining international ambassadors for the nation – aren’t allowed across the border because they’re considered too great a risk for others to accept.

’20 Winners And Losers

With MLB determined to try to put together a 2020 season and training camps – aka, “Spring training, the sequel” now beginning in most team’s home cities, it’s time to dust the old cap off and look at this truly bizarre season ahead, complete with 60-game schedule and cardboard cutout fans promised to fill the Oakland stadium.

Considering that normally, we’d be readying for the All Star Break right around now and would be half way through the season, there must be some winners and losers from this condensed, Readers Digest-version of a season. Some come to my mind:

WINNERS

Minnesotamost had them picked as the AL Central favorites when we first began talking 2020 baseball, back around Valentine’s Day. The Twins were the reigning division winners and had added Josh Donaldson to an already powerful hitting lineup. No one benefits more than Minny with the reduced sched that features only games again divisional rivals and the corresponding division in the other league. That is to say, they are slated to play 40 games against the AL Central and 20 against the NL’s, with no games against eastern or western teams. I grudgingly admit the Twins were good last year, I just don’t think they were that good. 101 wins? Come on! Well, Minnesota got fat last year playing their division with weaklings Detroit and KC, and a mediocre at very best Chicago. They went 50-26 against them in ’19. They went just 8-12 in interleague play, mostly against NL East teams. They were 1-2 against each of Philly, Atlanta and Washington. All things combined they went 52-28 against teams they will play this year – a .650 winning percentage – but 49-33 against teams they won’t see. A .597 percentage… good, but not nearly as good obviously. The White Sox are a bit better in the AL Central this year but the Tigers and Royals are not, and the Indians are looking more like ‘last year’s team’ by the year. And the NL Central opponents they’ll face this year aren’t terrible… but aren’t as good as the Braves and Nats they faced last year. Minnesota could win 40 games against this weak lineup of opponents and ensure a nice home advantage throughout the playoffs in so doing.

Houston – remember last winter? Seems a lifetime ago, I know, but back then the Astros were the super-villains, the Jokers in a game of Batmen, thanks to their cheating scandal. Well, about six months has passed, the Yankees now have a shadow of guilt hanging over them too and frankly, most people seem to have forgotten about the Houston hijinks of 2017. You can bet if it had been a normal year they would have faced a wall of jeers and boos every time they took an opponents field in April or May, and would have probably needed to duck out of the way of many a bean ball. By now, other teams are cooled off and there will be no fans in the stands to jeer anyway. Bonus for them, Justin Verlander was going to miss a month or so to open the year, but is now in mid-season form.

Winner? Loser?

Toronto – in most respects, the Jays chances seem far grimmer than they did in March. After all, the Yankees seem unstoppable in the East, and have the healthiest roster they’ve seen in a couple of years. Toronto had to hope for a stellar year from some of the sophomores propelling them into the Wild Card race. The way to do that would be to fatten up on wins against easy opponents like Detroit, KC and Seattle… all teams we no longer will see this year. Instead we get a heavier diet of games against the Yanks, Sox and Rays and more games against solid NL teams like Washington than ever before. Seems like a big loss. One silver lining though… the team’s best pitching prospect in several years, Nate Pearson seems ready to hit the big league lineup with his 102 MPH fastball. He dominated in a brief showing in spring but the team had serious reason to wonder where and how to use him this year, given that he’d never pitched more than 105 innings in a season and missed almost all of ’18 with injuries. He looked likely to begin in the minors and then maybe move to Toronto’s bullpen mid-season to limit his workload. Now, the potential is there for him to join an already much-improved starting rotation (with NL Cy Young runner-up Hyun Jin Ryu and a healthy Matt Shoemaker featured) and even if he’s used as a starter all year, probably end up with an arm-saving inning tally of under 100. He could shift the momentum in Toronto’s favor in a short run.

Losers-

Philadelphia, New York Mets – much like the Blue Jays in that they’re decent teams in a strong division, but no match for Washington or Atlanta. They no doubt hoped for a solid year that could scratch out a Wild Card, but now their schedule too is much tougher against their divisional rivals and missing easy bets like Pittsburgh and Colorado.

Fans – yeah, there’s not much to like about all this. Some of it is absolutely unavoidable given that we’re living through a serious crisis the likes of which most of us have never experienced. I think one would have to be a bit daft to want to go out to sit in a crowd watching a game this year, even if we were allowed. so we can’t fault MLB on that, but a season that’s less than half the normal length, has no All Star Game, no fans in the stands to add excitement and no minor league games for the small city fans to go out and enjoy seems lacking at best. And with the spectre of doom hanging over the nation, we’ve already seen stars like Ian Desmond and Mike Leake announce they’re sitting out the year due to health concerns and Mike Trout is expressing doubts as to whether or not he’ll bother. The rosters will be bigger than before, but perhaps full of fewer stars.

Worse yet, it could get worse.Rob Manfred admitted this week he never intended to allow a season of more than 60 games take place, adding to the idea the owners were bargaining in bad faith, and as the Marlins’ Derek Jeter says, there’s no trust on either side in the game right now. We’re bound to see a hostile off-season this winter, with free agents largely being ignored and the union getting hot under the collar, which seems more than likely to result in a massive Players vs Owners war breaking out when it’s time for them to come to a new agreement in 2022. Turns out the virus isn’t the only thing making the game sick this year.

Bad Year, Great Draft

Well, the Blue Jays may have won one in this year that may not even have any games to win. They actually did very well in the (abbreviated) draft that ran earlier this week. Despite picking fifth, by most accounts they got the second-best player available then followed up in the second round with another player whom everyone expected would go sooner.

The first round surprise was Vanderbilt U.’s Austin Martin. You can call him a shortstop, or you can call him an outfielder or you can call him a third baseman or a second. Just be sure to call him a “budding future star.” Martin had the sixth best average in college ball last year, .392 and according to the Jays’ Ross Atkins, the “consistency of his at bats, the discipline within those at bats, the contact rates with power” have the team excited. Makes sense since many in MLB had him ranked as the second-best college player around.

Street and Smith concurred with their 2020 outlook (which now seems half a lifetime back although it was in fact only the start of spring training). they picked him as the #2 talent available overall and the best position player. They figure he can “play all over the field…most likely second base or center field though” and describe him as an “offensive force, with a high level combination of power, speed, and plate discipline.” Athlon Sports ranked him third overall saying it wasn’t clear where he’d play but his “hitting ability is clear.” One can only wonder why Baltimore, KC or Miami didn’t grab him when they had the chance (not to mention first picking Detroit) but perhaps the fact that Scott Boras is already Austin’s agent explains that. Already rumors are he’s holding out for $6M to sign.

With his athleticism and work ethic (said to be very strong), it’s possible he could be seeing the Rogers’ Centre by some point in 2022… playing alongside Bo Bichette, with whom he played ball as a kid in Florida. While he made the All-American first team of college stars as the third baseman, there’s already a buzz around the possibility of him taking on the CF role, rather a “black hole” for the team currently since they traded Kevin Pillar.

For their second pick, and 34th overall (thank you Houston for cheating and thus giving up your selection as a penalty) they went with right-handed pitcher CJ Van Eyk. Van Eyk is already 6’1” and has accumulated 225 strikeouts over 176 college innings. Last year he was third among all collegians with 129 in just under 100 innings and he went 10-4 but with a slightly elevated 3.81 ERA. While he has a solid 93-95 mph fastball, the thing scouts seem to be excited about is his “12-6” curveball, one Street and Smith call the best in college baseball. He made the All-American second team pitching staff and was ranked #21 overall by Athlon (10th best as a pitcher) and 24th by Street and Smith, so it’s a small wonder the team was able to pick him in the second round. The Jays call him “impressive.”

With last year’s Alex Manoah and the previous year’s Nate Pearson, it’s possible – not a done deal but possible – that Toronto might have a trio of homegrown star starters to anchor the rotation by 2023 or so, which would bode well for post-season appearances in the middle of this decade.

All that’s missing now is baseball to be played. Unfortunately, even if the majors somehow manage to salvage a 2020 season, it seems like minor leaguers will be “SOL” if you will.There are no plans for a minor league season so they can advance their skills by playing video games in their basement this year it would seem.  Trevor Bauer making sense, Toronto getting the second-best unsigned talent around and telling him basically “stay home and do nothing to next year”… strange days indeed.

2020 Shows A Lack Of Collective 20/20 Vision For Baseball

Some weeks back I suggested June 1 should be a deadline for MLB to decide if a 2020 season was “to be or not to be.” My reasoning was that by that time it should be possible to decide if the pandemic was fading away or still an imminent threat to all. If the former, it would allow for a semblence of a reasonable season. If on June 1 they’d given it a green light, they could have had players in place – somewhere – by this weekend to begin getting back into game shape and had games underway by the start of July. That in turn would allow for a season of 90 or so games without having the travesty of watching the World Series while singing Christmas Carols.

Well, needless to say, June 1 has come and gone and we’re not much further ahead. Corona virus is still killing off over 1000 people per day in the States, even though it’s been bumped from the headlines by other disasters happening almost nightly in many of the Major League cities – which brings up yet another problem we’ll get to.

Anyway, one thing both parties – the owners and the players – agree to, by and large, is that a season could be salvaged. Yes, it would probably require playing games in stadiums empty except for staff and a handful of media. Yes it would require a re-jigging of the schedule and basic concepts of it (ie. there’d likely be no trips to the “other coast” for teams).Yes, unfortunately for the Blue Jays, because of stricter quarantine orders still in place in Canada, it might well necessitate them playing home games in Florida (Dunedin) or maybe Buffalo. Not that it would matter very much since fans wouldn’t be going to the games anyway! But they agree that they could work it out.

This of course doesn’t mean that they will. Or are even close to doing so. To recap the past month’s actions, the owners made one proposal to players involving scrapping their contracts entirely this year and instead offering a form of revenue sharing. When that went over like a plutonium balloon with the players’ union, they essentially told them “we’re just kidding” and made a new offer. That one, we hear (because it hasn’t officially been released to the public) calls for an 82 game season beginning on July 4…and would require all players to take a pay cut even when the pay was pro-rated. Some of the bigger name players would have to take not only about half a year’s pay (82 games out of 162) but then a 75% cut per game! Umm, yes, let’s say that was as popular with the union as a rabid porcupine at a nudist camp.

The players pointed out that the owners signed an agreement, at the end of March when the virus was already raging and games had been canceled, promising them their regular salary but pro-rated for the number of games played. They proposed to the owners a 114 game season, beginning around June 30, with them receiving the pro-rated amounts per the agreement from March. They are OK with the owners suggestion of an expanded playoffs.

While the owners haven’t officially reacted, the buzz is that they took the proposal and used it to save themselves a trip to the store for toilet paper, shall we say. The owner of the Chicago Cubs, Thomas Ricketts – with an estimated personal wealth of over $4 billion – railed out against them saying the owners losses are “Biblical” in scope. Maybe it’s just me, but I think Jesus wouldn’t be too worried about losing a few pieces of gold when he had over four billion of them and might in fact reflect on things like a camel in the eye of a needle, but that’s just me. Either way, it seems the clubs aren’t willing to “play ball” with the players on that.

It’s rumored, but not confirmed, that the owners have countered back with an idea of a 50 game season (or “season-ette”) but paying the players the pro-rated rate. The union has already given that a big thumbs down. Or perhaps another finger up, instead.

All of this, we might add is against a backdrop where some teams like Oakland and Arizona have already basically fired almost their whole minor league roster rather than pay each player about $400 per week to be ready to play. Make no mistake about it, while most major league players are very well off, and the owners far more so, minor leaguers are essentially blue collar workers scraping to pay the bills in most cases. And many of them have been shown the door by the front office, seemingly oblivious to the need for backup players should the season actually take place.

Outside of the financial realm, the two sides don’t appear too far apart. The league proposal had an extensive section (over 60 pages by some reports) of safety precautions for playing in a pandemic ranging from restrictions on players going out after games and not showering at the park, to how they’d sit in the stadium and what they could or could not chew. Despite a few protests (Charlie Blackmon of Colorado says he’ll spit whenever and wherever he wants of he’ll take his ball and go home, for example), and perhaps a few tweaks needed, there doesn’t seem to be disagreement on this. The player’s proposal apparently has an “opt out” clause in it which would allow players who feel their health is at risk , or who live with people who have compromised immune systems to not play without penalty, but not be paid. It seems a workable compromise.

But the question really is even if an agreement can be reached, should it? There are a number of landmines in the road ahead should they choose to travel it. Unfortunately, the virus is still out there and still killing. Although the pandemic has slowed from a month back, according to the CDC, there’ve been over 116 000 new cases confirmed and over 6500 deaths in the country from it in the last week alone. One can only worry what the recent protests and riots, with so many people huddled together, will do to those rates. The job of testing all the personnel (from players through bus drivers) regularly will be daunting. The job of keeping everyone safe and healthy more so.

Even if an agreement is reached limiting player (and other staff) exposure to the public and potential virus contact is reached, actually enforcing that would be tricky. I mean, they know the rules about PEDs and drug testing yet not a year goes by that one or two fools don’t get caught breaking them. It would seem like enforcing a rule stopping them from going out to restaurants or bars or shopping would be even more open to violation, and it would only take one careless individual to infect an entire clubhouse quickly. What would be the contingency plan? What happens if four or five players on one team come down with it? Are they all “disabled” and replaced on the roster? What if that number swells to ten? Fifteen? At some point some teams might have to stop taking part. How far could the situation go before the league would have to shut down yet again?

Finally, even as the corona virus begins to fade a little both in overall risk and in the news, we’ve seen a new problem take its place – the state of unrest and protests throughout the country. Riots and curfews would probably have prevented games taking place of late in cities including New York, Kansas City, L.A., Minneapolis and Washington to name a few. Even without fans being in the equation, it would likely have been impossible to get players,media and other staff to the stadiums in those places over the past eight days. Obviously, the hope is that things will cool off as the actual temperatures rise, and our cities will be peaceful enough to travel freely through very soon. But that’s merely a wish, not a guaranteed state of affairs. If the situation stays as it has been, let alone gets worse, we might have to see large numbers of games in a shortened season cut. Few things would have worse optics for baseball than to finally begin a short season and see half a dozen opening day games canceled because it was unsafe for the players to approach the stadium.

It all brings us to ask if its worth trying at this point. As much as it would be nice to have baseball to watch and distract us again, we’re fast approaching a point where it’s going to be nonsensical to try. A new round of the virus flaring up mid-summer that would result in the season being shut down a few weeks in would be worse than nothing at all, and should people in the game (be they players or associated staff) end up dying from exposure to a disease that could have been prevented, it would be hard for anyone to argue that it was worth it.

Besides which, just how little can there be for people to really consider it a 2020 “season.” My guess, at very least 82 games (half a season plus one.) The new proposal of a 50 game season is in the words of Dan Wetzel,“a total farce.” And he was writing in favor of it! Imagine what purists would say. A player could end up hitting .420 and be remembered only in trivia questions rather than the record book in such an abbreviated season; it would be hard to imagine St. Louis proudly raising a “NL Central Champion” banner on opening day, 2021 for a campaign that resulted in say, 28 wins.

No one in the sport is responsible for the disaster this year has been so far, with its rampant disease and coast-to-coast civil unrest. But a measure of greatness is how one responds to a crisis. From Blake Snell’s “I want mine, bro” to the Cubs’ owner who feels tormented by God when he looks at his fat wallet, the word that comes to mind in Major League Baseball’s case is “inept.”