How To Baseball: 2020 Edition

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As Covid-19 raged across the world and sports and other forms of entertainment were put on hold, many were left to wonder what "normal" may look like if they returned. We clung to hope as plans were unveiled and negotiated. Unfortunately, many of those hopes soured as it became clear that the MiLB season would be a casualty, and turned even more bitter as we watched billionaires publicly engage in a pissing contest with millionaires over how to divvy money.

In the end, MLB settled on a solution. A 60-game schedule, to be completed in 66 days, followed by a postseason involving 16 of the league's 30 teams. Traditionalists balked yet mostly came to some sort of acceptance; it is what it is. This season wouldn't be like others. Rather than the marathon of the everyday grind and the war of attrition that separates the truly good teams from the bad, this would be a sprint. A sprint in which over half the participants are allowed to continue after crossing the finish line. It is what it is.

To make that happen, MLB had to radically alter a schedule that had been worked on for decades to try to provide competitive balance. In this sprint of a 60-game season, fairness and balance went out the window in favor of limiting air travel as much as possible. Teams were assigned a 40/20 schedule: 40 games against the opponents within their division, and 20 games of interleague play vs. the geographic division in the other league.

In an attempt to further reduce travel, the idea of playing an equal number of games home and away against division opponents was also scrapped. The Cubs, for instance, play each of their NL Central opponents 10 times. However, it's not a 5/5 split. We play St. Louis and Milwaukee 3 games away, and 7 at Wrigley. Cincy and Pittsburgh is flipped, with 3 home games and 7 on the road.

I mention this now because it will certainly come into play later. In years past, teams insisted that makeup games be played in the location they were postponed from, mainly for gate receipts and the accompanying revenue streams. That's probably out the window in 2020 as well.

We've all wondered what would happen with the inevitable positive tests of players and coaches throughout the season. MLB supposedly took this into consideration when they allowed for an expanded MLB roster and the creation of a 60-man "player pool" from which to draw replacement players in the event of an outbreak. So far, for whatever reason, this backup plan hasn't been of much use. Games are being postponed.

The Cubs have been a model of success, through some luck but mostly due to an adherence to protocol, veteran leadership, and personal responsibility. I believe we are the only team without a positive case among players and staff since intake testing began, although coaches Tommy Hottovy and Mike Napoli battled illness before the beginning of Summer Camp. Rumor has it that the Cubs, and Yankees, have been so successful that MLB inquired into their team models to help adjust league requirements following the initial outbreak within the Marlins organization. In a marathon season already compressed to a two-month sprint involving 60 games in 66 days, every advantage could loom large. Things were going swimmingly on the North Side, with the exception of a single rain-out in Cincy.

Then we travelled to the Lou.

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

The DirtyBirds were battling the second major Covid outbreak in MLB, following the Marlins. They had several players and staff test positive, forcing the cancellation of a 4-game series with the Brewers and a 4-game interleague set against the Tigers. After a couple days of relative calmness, they were cleared to resume baseball activities and play the Cubs for a 3-game set in St. Louis before another positive test on Friday forced the postponement of the weekend series. The Cubs headed back to Chicago for an extended period of relaxation and rust collection, and the DirtyBirds are now facing playing 55 games in 49 days. With no further delays, mind you.

Good luck with that.

There has been much discussion of punishment for teams that suffer outbreaks and force hardship upon those who are left to scramble through no fault of their own. Suggested penalties range from fines and loss of service time for players found to be reckless to team forfeiture of games. Some more advanced ideas include the reduction of draft position and IFA money, with the thought being that offending teams may actually benefit from reckless behavior by way of a more advantageous (lower) position in the final standings.

I just can't see it.

In order to assess punishment, I think there would have to be clear intent. There have been reports of players from certain teams indulging in casino gambling and taverns that employ the clothing-averse, but launching an investigation, proving intent, and assessing appropriate punishment is a task I don't think MLB wants to take on. The punishment would have to fit the crime. Is a trip to an "adult" club worthy of stripping (pun intended) a 2nd-round pick? A fine for an unauthorized voyage to a carry-out restaurant? We can see how this could be a nightmare, even before the inevitable appeals.

If games continue to be postponed, to the point they can't be made up (are we already there?), I can see the forfeiture of games. Teams that are having their schedules radically altered, including the addition of double-headers and the increased risk of injury, cannot be penalized for circumstances beyond their control.

The Cubs are now off until next Tuesday when they return to Cleveland to battle the Indians. Players were informed that Saturday was basically optional, show and work if you want, but not required. They will play an intrasquad game on Sunday in an attempt to not resemble the Tin Man following a hard rain.

Theoretically, the 3 games cancelled vs. the DirtyBirds will need to made up. As of Tuesday's game in Cleveland, with the rainout in Cincy and the postponement of the 3-game series in St. Louis, the Cubs will be scheduled for 47 games in 48 days. We are not scheduled to return to St. Louis during this "regular" season. The DirtyBirds visit Wrigley for 3 games from August 17-19, then again for a 4-game set from September 4-7. If these postponed games are to be made up, it would likely be double-headers while they are in Chicago.

I'm sure the DirtyBirds organization and TBFIB are going to throw a fit over that scenario, with all 10 games in the season series being played at the Friendly Confines, but I don't see any other way. Honestly, I don't see all 10 games being played, but we'll get to that in a minute. This might be one instance when the DirtyBirds and Bill DeWitt don't get their way. It isn't our fault.

Here is when we insert the obligatory "the Cards will somehow finagle this into an extra compensatory draft pick for their suffering" joke.

ABACUS VS. CALCULUS

As we see, games are getting postponed, makeups are piling up, and an already-compressed and somewhat meaningless regular season is further compromised. The Marlins and DirtyBirds have had outbreaks, so far. Who knows what team is next?

I can't see teams being expected to play more games than there are days left in the season. It is especially unfair to those who have had no outbreaks but just the misfortune of timing against an opponent. Simply, I don't see teams playing the same number of games at the end of the season. Then what?

There has been talk of figuring final standings and postseason positioning not on traditional standings, but by winning percentage. Like nearly everything else in 2020, this situation is fluid and subject to change. I don't like it, but I don't know what else to do.

Hardcore baseball fans have always known to follow the "loss" column down the stretch. No matter the official number of games back, your team always had a chance as long as you weren't too far back in the loss column. The theory has always held that as long as you had a chance to win a game, you still had a chance. Sort of like "a chip and a chair" in poker.

It will really, really stink if a team that showed a lack of self-discipline wins a division race playing less games than a superior team. We may see that. This is just another potential reality in a fully surreal situation.

CASTLES MADE OF SAND

Of course, this may all be for naught. We could have another outbreak or two and the whole thing gets cancelled. I'm even more concerned about what happens when one contaminated team infects another. I think that will really raise alarms.

As far as the reluctance to call up players to replace those who test positive, I wonder if they just don't want to introduce more bodies into a known contagious atmosphere. That makes a little sense to me.

There's no other way to say this: this is an experiment during an uncertain time. The games are being played for our amusement, and a way to take our money and distribute it to those involved. It's always been that way, but now it's just more blatant. At least in the past there was a sense that it was legitimate, that they were playing for something. Now it's just pure gluttony and semi-clad semi-transparency, which like the possible cause of some of these outbreaks, may end up being the death of the season.

It is what it is.

*I have to add a little edit here in addition to the original article:

I made a couple subtle music references, but I feel the need to be more obvious. Here is one of my all-time favorite lyrics, and I think it fits well with the topic at hand. It is also a lyric I use as a trivia question: why? The answers are usually along the lines of "because he's an alcoholic" or "because he drinks too much", but the answer to that question, like everything in this baseball season, lies in the very next line of the song:

 
"Well, I woke up this morning, I got myself a beer.
Well, I woke up this morning, and I got myself a beer."

 

 

 

 

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    Well written sir! What do we do? We continue to play ball the best way we know how and let the big man upstairs sort it out! Let's hope for a Yankees Cubs WS!

  • In reply to Scott Tomkiewicz:

    Thanks, Scott. I think we can complain and moan, and it won't do a bit of good. I suggest we enjoy the entertainment for what it is.

  • In reply to Mike Pilbean:

    I don’t think some of your playoff and make up oddities will occur since I expect MLB to hang it up and cancel the season sometime by mid September at the latest. By that time the NFL will have to cancel or move their season to next spring. If something like .1% of the tests being positive can cancel as many games as it has for safety purposes, just imagine what a slight increase will do.

  • In reply to stix:

    That's certainly a possibility, and a reason I haven't allowed myself to get fully emotionally involved in this season. It can all go away in an instant.

    Enjoy it while it lasts.

  • It's a mess.

  • In reply to Cubs09:

    I should have read your comment first. I would have saved me about 1400 words.

  • Isn’t it amazing the comfort we all get from the anticipation and then the arrival of a full baseball season every year? I’m not the same, I know that.

  • Nice job, Barley.

    Whoever is determined to be the “super spreader” should be suspended immediately without pay for the season. The makeup games should be played without the players who also contracted Covid. If a coach or front office exec is the spreader, then the team loses its highest-salary player.

    Those would be a pretty severe penalties to get some of these players to takes this seriously. The main culprit is gone and the others do not get to play. It is completely unacceptable and inexcusable given the protocols and information in the world.

    And, of course, it was the Cardinals.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Thanks. Something needs to be done regarding future outbreaks, as it has become clear the 60-man player pool is basically useless. Again, I wonder if it's just a matter of not wanting to add additional players into a possibility contagious environment.

    I do want to clarify something, and you'd think I could have done that in the course of an entire article: I think punishment is unlikely retroactively, i.e. the Marlins and DirtyBirds outbreaks. Following the Marlins situation, MLB tightened protocols, placing more restrictions regarding players' actions while in hotels, upgrading mask requirements during team travel, and adding two "compliance offices" to travel with every ballclub.

    There's a lot of money involved, and that's the beginning and end of everything happening here. There could be stiff penalties for those players caught acting irresponsibly in the future and costing everyone else money.

    That's probably the only reason they try to tighten things up.

  • Here’s the thing, this season was built on a bad idea. Not saying I don’t understand why they did it or that there was an easy choice, but it was a plan that depended on almost nothing going wrong. The virus had other ideas. A bubble season held in say New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Missouri or Texas, similar time the NHL, probably made the most sense but I also understand why they didn’t do that. Instead we’re left with a train wreck of a season that means nothing, tells us nothing and could end at anytime. It’s only by completely ignoring reality and taking these games as pure entertainment, not the complex almost hobby most of us take baseball for, that we can enjoy them. I was actually doing just that quite well until this weekend. Now I’m back to the doubt that this thing ever gets to October but such is life in the time of the ‘Rona.

  • I'm going to refine the season down to fight or surrender. Baseball must fight. This is America. We can do this. We can have the best possible season and s champion or cower under the kitchen sink. It is unrelated to to money. It's about courage.

  • Notes from Sunday's intrasquad game at Wrigley, since the Birds are so Dirty we can't play:

    Mills: 5 IP, 6 H, 3R/2ER, 3 K, 0 BB

    Underwood: 1 IP, 11 Pitches

    Sadler: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 HR (Nico)

    Rea: 1 IP, 1 H, 3 K

    Brothers (taxi squad): 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 K

    Aaaannnnddddd:

    Kimbrel: 1 IP, 1 H, 2 K, 11 Pitches

    Ross said that Kimbrel looked good, because he's his manager and of course he did. But he also said that Craig was working on his fastball, "to clean that up", and really didn't even try to throw a curve.

    Translation: Kimbrel is having serious mechanical issues, and we're kinda starting from scratch on his mechanics.

    The rotation is set for when we resume play Tuesday in Cleveland:

    Lester
    Hendricks
    Darvish
    Chatwood
    Mills

    And another bit of juicy news: Happ went 3-3 with 2 doubles and an RBI in today's scrimmage. Ross was asked about it, and said Happ is "the real deal". Said there isn't a position battle, that CF is his.

    Again, no mention of Almora, good or bad. Just crickets when discussing CF.

    I don't think I have to translate that coach-speak for anyone.

  • The 3-game series between the DirtyBirds and Pirates, scheduled for Monday-Wednesday, has just been postponed. No word as to why, but the DirtyBirds are having positive tests since the initial outbreak.

    "Well, I woke up this morning, I got myself a beer.
    Well, I woke up this morning, and I got myself a beer."

    Anyone know the rest of this thought process?

  • In reply to Mike Pilbean:

    From what I’ve gathered, it can take on average, up to 5 days (even longer for some) for a newly infected person to show positive on a test. That’s why the taxi squad and remaining 27 players in a remote location are pointless. It’s just not safe to assume nobody else is carrying it and been infected by the last person who tested positive. I think that’s why since another Cardinal’s test came back as positive, that they have to suspend their series with the Pirates. It is the right call. Unfortunately that doesn’t help untangle the big mess of questions that your article raises. But that’s why the subsequent cancellations of series has happened because it would be irresponsible to just throw the replacement players on the field and put both teams at risk. If that’s how they would’ve gone about it, I think we’d see more players already opting out and the season would be cancelled right about now.

  • On the topic of punishment for bad behavior, Indians pitcher Zach Plesac was just sent to his bedroom (sent home to Cleveland) after he and friends were spotted hitting the town in Chicago on Saturday night.

    With billions of dollars at stake, maybe they will crack down. But it will probably take more than a "time out", or "go to your room!".

  • In reply to Mike Pilbean:

    You sound like Cindy Brady Give it a rest

  • In reply to Oldno7:

    "He hails hailstorms by habitual hereditary hierarchy".

    How's that for a Cindy Brady tongue- twister to explain how a couple idiots can ruin the fun for millions of people?

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