MLB opens 2020 with Covid challenge

I realize that it isn’t Saturday…but with the holiday this weekend….I thought that today would be a better day for you to squeeze in the read. Well, the curtain is about to go up on the 2020 pre-season. There are many different angles on this opening while Covid-19 is still roaming around from one age sector, one geographical area, one person to another without many…if any…boundaries. The MLB will try to plow through their season with a constant, new opponent to face each day of the season.
…..Despite “working out” only in their own facilities, the Philadelphia Phillies have found 12 (7 players & 5 staff) members test positive for the virus. Shortly after the Phillies announcement, the Blue Jays closed their spring training facility after a player exhibited covid-19 symtoms. This player had spent time in the Phillies minor league system. Had he received it while playing baseball? Visiting with his buddies? Or from an entirely different place? This example is EXACTLY what the MLB fears the most—that one of the teams would have a wide number of players test positive. At their age and with their athletic bodies, one would not expect many extremely severe reactions ….but….they could spread it easily to others.
….the MLB is faced with multiple challenges in fighting the virus on many different levels. The underlying factor is that each player is responsible for their exposure. Of course the team faces many hurdles to jump in that regard—locker room exposure before & after the game; traveling from city to city and within a city; team meetings; receiving medical attention and care; food after the games; treating injuries in an structured manner; meetings with and between the coaching staff.
….sure players can arrive at different times…..game-day players, subs, starting pitchers (the piggy-back system proposed in this column previously—starter & 1st reliever go 3-4 innings), then field reserves, bullpen & non-starting pitchers could all arrive at different scheduled times.
….this directly leads a player to guarding their own self interests….team camaraderie will be a challenge to maintain with each player watching through a tight scope to “protect” themselves individually. It may also lead to players…..especially if the team begins poorly….really striving to take care of #1 (themselves) more so than usual.
…more actual changes demanded by MLB….
…managers must argue with the umpires from “social distancing” measures. Now…How can you yell in their face from 6 feet away? You may as well call him on a cell phone  I can hear it now….”we’re having the ATT cell argument now between..yada-yada!
…the schedule itself will be different. 2020 will be the shortest season since American League entered the MLB in 1901. You’d have to go back to 1877 & 1878 to find 60 game seasons in the NL.
….Clubs must expand dugouts & bullpens to provide for more space with the expanded rosters. Hey..why not use the 1st row of the OF seats? That sure beats expanding the bullpen into the field. Dugouts-II will be the locker room. Also….maybe the previous day or days starting pitchers just don’t come to the ballpark that day or don’t dress out?!
…Pitchers may now carry a small wet rag in their back pocket to be used for moisture in lieu of licking their fingers. You don’t think that any pitchers would be dastardly enough to put other ingredients in that wet rag to make the ball “move more”, do you? Gaylord Perry would be heaven 
Often in the first 60 games of the year (April-May) strange things happen. Sometimes an average team puts together some strong winning streaks. Or….some starting pitchers are far better in their first 2 months than over 6 months…same with hitters. Injuries have not struck down many players in the first 60 days so even the weaker teams with fewer stars can shine. Heat, fatigue, frustration have not yet set in for most players. In some cases, no-names shine brilliantly for 60 games then often fade back to mediocrity. Here’s a list of some of the unusual events over the first 60 days of the season…
….in 2018, the NY Yankees & the Boston Red Sox EACH went 41-19 in their first 60 games. Boston ultimately pulled away with 108 wins.
…in 2008, Chipper Jones batted .409 for the first 60 games. Amazingly, Jones was 36 years old and played in 55 of the first 60 games. He had 85 hits and a batting line of .409/.492/.649, 13 HR. He held onto that .400 level until game 73 on June 18. He completed the season with a .364 average.
…Under the category of “60 game Wonders”—in 2004, Cincy pitcher Danny Graves registered 26 SAVES in the first 60 games! The Reds went 34-26 in those first 60 games with Graves saving 76.5% of the wins!! This was really a one-shot wonder for Graves—he pitched 11 years, saved a total of 182 games. The previous year he had been used as a starter –without success (5.33 ERA)
…Another no-name, LA Angel, Darin Erstad was incredible in the first 60 games in 2000. Erstad punched out 99 hits in the first 60 games of the season. He was batting .384 at the 60 game mark. He finished the season with a .355 average & 240 hits. He was never on my radar…..he didn’t bang out many home runs as a shortstop in his 14 year career but held a lifetime .282 avg! However, he never had more than 177 hits in any other year of his career!
…In 2009, Raul Ibanez poked out 22 round trippers in the first 60 games. This was his 1st year in the NL after spending 13 years in the AL. Now this isn’t the most over a 60 game stretch. Sluggers like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Albert Pujols, Sammy Sosa exceeded the 22HR total for 30 games but….THEY WERE ALL REAL SLUGGERS! You can’t say that about Ibanez! He finished the entire season with 34 home runs but it earned him his only All-Star game of his career.
….in 2010, Ubaldo Jimenez was spectacular for the first 60 games. It clearly was the pinnacle of his career. IN his first 12 starts, his ERA was 0.93. Amazingly he was a Colorado Rockies pitcher in 2010 but luckily he made 8 of his 12 starts on the road. In his ERA for those first 12 starts his ERA only Dutch Leonard of the 1914 Red Sox had held a lower ERA! He started the All-Star game that and finished 3rd in the league in ERA with a 2.88 ERA…again…he was pitching in Colorado!
Then…on the other side of the coin, there are some All-Time records to be broken THIS year….
….Albert Pujols can climb up to some extremely rarified air batting records….He has 656 HR just 4 HR behind Willie Mays who currently holds the 5th spot in HR. Alex Rodriguez is 40 HR ahead in Pujols in 4th place so that won’t happen this year. Pujols is also looking to move up the All-Time RBI list. He has 2,075 (3rd place), he’s only 11 ribbies behind #2 Alex Rodriguez . The All-Time RBI leader-Hank Aaron has 2,297 so Albert needs 222 RBI’s to tie Hammering Hank for the RBI king…not this year! Albert currently has 3,202 hits and sits in the 14th spot. The Next 3 spots–Nap Lajoie(3,252), Eddie Murray (3,255) and Willie Mays (3,283)—are only 81 hits away.
…Miguel Cabrera is plowing his way towards the 500-3000 marks. He has 477 HR as he closes in on 500 but banged out only 12 last year. In a normal season, it “may” have been possible. Cabrera looks like he’ll be the next batter to reach 3000 hits with his 2, 815 hits. He won’t do it this year. Will he become the 33rd MLB player to make it in 2021?
The teams are opening up their abbreviated, highly modified spring training now, or shortly. There will be real baseball in 2020 but it’ll have an entirely different look, feel and spirit about it. The Covidvirus continues to present a real challenge. Wishing you all an enjoyable Holiday weekend and hoping that many of you will share YOUR thoughts on any part of the blog. You may do that on my Facebook page under the article. If you’d like to see some of the past blogs….check out http://www.bobryansportsblog.com .Happy 4th!!

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