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A Shortened MLB Season? Bring It On!

Posted by SD Buhr , 02 July 2020 · 548 views

It may be because I’ve spent years enjoying Class A Midwest League baseball, which routinely splits its season into two halves with every team’s record resetting to 0-0 by mid-to-late June, but I find myself embracing the plans for big leaguers to sprint through a 60-game Major League season in 2020.

I am not only embracing it, I’m excited about it!

(This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com)

In fact, the only thing tempering my enthusiasm is the concern we all (I would hope) have about potential COVID-related health issues for players, coaches and other people necessary to field teams and put on the games. I’m an unapologetic, mask-wearing believer in just how serious this pandemic is, and I’m concerned that we’re all moving way too fast to re-open everything.

I wasn’t in charge of deciding to try to have some kind of MLB season and if I had been, I’m not sure we all wouldn’t be throwing in the towel on 2020 and crossing our fingers while we hope to have some sort of normal 2021. But since the owners and players mutually decided to give this a shot, I’m trying to focus on what “is,” rather than what I personally think “should be.”

And what “is” is a season unlike anything any of us has ever seen Major League Baseball do. The old cliché is that baseball (at least at the Major League level) is a marathon, not a sprint. But when you slice 102 games off the normal 162-game schedule, that cliché goes into the scrapheap. Make no mistake, the 2020 MLB regular season will at least seem like a sprint to many of the people involved.

A lot of people, including some fans and writers I respect, maintain that a 60-game season is a farce – that mediocre teams (or worse) will find a way to slip into the postseason at the expense of good teams who simply have the misfortune of suffering too many losing streaks caused by injuries, illnesses and bad hops. And those people are right.

While it’s not like mediocre teams have never unexpectedly found themselves in the postseason or even winning a World Series (anyone remember the 1987 Twins?), the likelihood of pretenders crashing the postseason party at the expense of contenders this year is admitedly greater.

But I have an answer for that. I simply do not care.

I’ve watched the Cedar Rapids Kernels play what is essentially a pair of 70-game seasons every summer for years. And guess what… yes, getting hot or turning cold at some point makes a ton of difference, but I’ve never heard a single fan complain about it.

The minor leagues that play split seasons do so for a couple of reasons. First, rosters (particularly at the lower MiLB levels) see significant turnover as parent clubs move players up and down (and out of) the organizational ladder throughout the season, so the rosters teams finish the season with seldom closely resemble the Opening Day rosters.

But just as important (at least to the MiLB affiliate front offices trying to at least break even financially), it makes it more likely that every team in the league will at least be in contention for a postseason spot during much (if not most) of July and August, perhaps the two most important months in MiLB baseball in terms of retaining fan engagement.

So, in this bizarre summer, Major League Baseball is going to take a page out of the MiLB playbook and, as a result, fans in Kansas City and Detroit will be tuning in to watch their teams play ball in August in greater numbers than would have been likely in a normal season.

I fail to understand why that’s a bad thing. Is it because it’s possible the Yankees or Dodgers might have a bad stretch and not make the postseason? Cry me a river.

I realize that the team I’m a fan of, the Minnesota Twins, are now one of those teams that were built to compete over 162 games. They arguably have more depth than almost any other team in the American League and that advantage could be negated by the shortened regular season (though that pesky pandemic thing could certainly still make depth a critical factor).

If the Twins have one too many rough stretches and find themselves on the outside of the postseason looking in, so be it. They’re still almost certainly going to be playing meaningful baseball right to the wire, so I’ll be watching (and if you care enough about baseball that you’re reading this, I’d bet you will be watching, too).

Could MLB have played 100 games if owners and players had been able to come to an agreement sooner? Maybe. But even if they had, would that have made the season any more legitimate than what we’re dealing with now? There simply was no way that MLB was going to play anything close to a normal number of regular season games in 2020, so I’m not sure why anyone is even still complaining about the legitimacy issue. That issue is moot, so let’s move on.

The beat writers covering the American League Central Division teams for The Athletic posted a piece where they discussed each AL Central team’s outlook going into a 60-game season and those writers each made a compelling case for why fans in each of the five markets should have genuine interest in what transpires over the shortened season.

Even as a Twins fan, it got me excited about following the fortunes of the other four Divisional rivals, as well. (I admit, this may have been influenced some by Tigers beat writer Cody Stavenhagen answering the question “Is there a player on your team who could rise to prominence during this shortened season?” by suggesting we “keep an eye on” Niko Goodrum, one of my personal favorite Kernels alums.)

I’m not even worked up about the plans to use the minor league rule that places a runner on second base to start each extra inning. I didn’t like it when it was adopted for MiLB games, but I understood it was intended to reduce the chances that valuable young pitching arms would be over-worked in extended extra-inning games.

But that’s only part of why MLB is using it in 2020. Sure, it will reduce some wear and tear on relief pitching in a season where each team’s pool of potential roster replacements could be limited due to the minor league seasons being cancelled entirely.

More importantly though, it could help reduce the chances of players, coaches and other personnel contracting the COVID virus by keeping game times for extra-inning games to a minimum. It’s hard for me to object to that and it’s preferable to simply allowing games to end in a tie after nine innings.

If you are upset that a 60-game season just won’t be what a 162-game season would have been, you’re right. It won’t be.

But as a fan who typically watches a local minor league team essentially play two short seasons every summer, I can assure you that if you embrace it, a 60-game season has the potential to cram a lot of excitement into a couple of months of baseball.

And, by the way, if you want to do your part to make sure the players and coaches stay healthy, maybe consider wearing a mask whenever you’re out and about.

If we all do that, we can be more certain that the people we come into contact with who then come into contact with someone who comes into contact with a player or coach won’t pass something onto that guy that would keep him from getting through this season safe, healthy and productive.

We’ve never seen a MLB season like what’s happening in 2020 and, God willing, we will never see another one like it. I’m praying that all involved get through this season healthy and if prayer is your thing, too, please join me. If not, then… I dunno… cross your fingers and toes or something and just hope for the best.

A 60-game season is certainly not ideal. But it’s what we have. And it is has the potential to be very exciting. I’m embracing that and I hope you’ll eventually join me. It could be one heck of a ride.

  • Doctor Gast likes this

Doctor Gast
Jul 02 2020 06:37 PM

Thank you for that spark of encouragement!