NEW YORK — Back in the day, when all in the world was relatively normal, everyone in baseball — from general managers, managers to the players themselves — was pretty much agreed that the postseason, especially the wild-card games and the division series, was a crapshoot. Well, ladies and gentlemen, in this COVID-19 “new normal,” welcome to the entire season being a crapshoot.
For one thing, we don’t even know if there will even be an entire season, at 60 games — or, for that matter, any season at all. Players do not report to spring training 2.0 until next Wednesday and already seven Phillies players, three Rockies, including one of their best players, Charlie Blackmon, and multiple Blue Jays, Diamondbacks and Twins players have tested positive for the virus, prompting the shutdowns of their spring training and practice facilities. And Friday, Texas Rangers employees, saying they were “terrified” after several members of the team’s family tested positive for COVID-19, asked team officials if they could work from home until further notice rather than at the new Globe Life Field where the Rangers will be playing and working out.
What’s going to happen when the camps open and players begin getting tested every other day? That is only the first of the great unknowns for this daring experiment the owners and the players took three infuriatingly agonizing months to agree upon. Considering what’s happening with the dramatically increased testing all over the country, it will be a minor miracle if there aren’t hundreds of players testing positive.
And then what? For sure, clubs will be making liberal use of their 20-25-player taxi squads, long before the season even starts. And when or if the season does start, it could just be the coronavirus will be the deciding factor as to which teams will prevail to the World Series. Survival of the fittest. There is just no telling how many players on any given team could wind up being infected.
It’s too bad for the most part there won’t be any fans in the stands because clubs would be selling records of numbers of scorecards, such is the likelihood of a plethora of rookies dotting the major league rosters. In a 60-game schedule anything can happen. A team with three or four rookies, all excelling beyond their true abilities, could conceivably steal a playoff spot before opposing pitchers have time to figure them out.
Not surprisingly, the Las Vegas oddsmakers have tabbed the Dodgers and Yankees as favorites to match off in the 2020 World Series. The Dodgers have had the best and deepest overall roster in the National League for the past three years and should’ve won at least one World Series were it not for bad October managing. They’re even better now after acquiring Mookie Betts and David Price from the Red Sox, and it would seem the only thing preventing them from dominating in the National League would be an outbreak of the coronavirus — which is every team’s worry.
For all their own depth, the Yankees are not nearly the sure thing as the Dodgers. Just too many ifs. We don’t know when or if Aaron Judge is going to get back on the field again, just as we don’t know if Gleyber Torres can handle shortstop on an everyday basis. (Hard to believe but right now it looks as if there’s a far better chance of Yoenis Cespedes being in the Mets’ opening day lineup than Judge in the Yankees’.) Aaron Hicks says he’s healthy and ready for Opening Day after Tommy John surgery, but isn’t that what he always says? Ditto Giancarlo Stanton. In the American League, it may be the Rays, with all their inter-changeable lineup parts and depth of relievers, who have the roster most conducive for a 60-game schedule.
At this point, however, with opening day a month away, nobody should get too far ahead of themselves when it comes to baseball season analyses and prognostications. We are likely hundreds of cases of test positives before then. Sometime before the end of July the baseball poohbahs will probably have to have another re-assessment as to the viability of plowing forward with the season in hopes of making it all the way to October and a pot of playoff TV gold to help re-stock their coffers.
What’s a little scary in that regard are tone deaf owners like Houston’s Jim Crane who said Wednesday he wants to start selling tickets and put people in the seats as soon as possible. “The only thing we have to do that can counter (the millions of dollars of lost revenue) is to get some people in the building and sell some tickets and some merchandise and some cold beer or whatever they let us have,” said Crane, at the same time Texas governor Greg Abbott acknowledged a “massive outbreak” of coronavirus cases in the state in which hospitalizations surpassed 4,000 for the second straight day.
One can certainly understand Crane’s anxiousness. There’s going to be a big demand for those “Cheating Astros” T-shirts.
In the meantime, we’ll just have to see what develops over the next three weeks — while waiting with great anticipation for the introduction of runners at second base at the start of extra innings and wondering what happened to the robot home plate umpires.