Opening Day is here
July 24, 2020
Whether it's a good idea or not, opening day is happening, and it's happening today. Empty stadiums, masks in the dugout, broadcasters working from home, it's the weird and wacky 2020 mini-season, for as long as it lasts.
Will we get all 60 games? Will the free-for-all playoff tournament even come to pass? Or will the coronavirus rear up and stomp all this down again? Check back in a couple of weeks, we'll see how it's going.
Meanwhile, there were two games yesterday to kick things off (to mix sports metaphors).The Yankees beat the defending champions in DC in a contest shortened—appropriately—by a torrential downpour that flooded the dugouts in shin-deep Noah's Ark-like rainfall, and the Dodgers began their reign of terror by clobbering the Giants in Los Angeles. Everybody else starts today.
That includes Your Seattle Mariners, who are in the COVID-rampant city of Houston, Texas, hoping to survive a four-game series against the highly-favored and much-loathed Astros; they'd also like to maybe win a game or two.
Even with the extra players on the opening day roster—teams have a complement of 30 for the first two weeks of the season, after which it'll drop to 28, then after another two weeks down to the regulation 26—the M's managed to come up short with personnel when they broke camp. Left behind was rookie Jake Fraley, a player expected to grab an everyday spot in the outfield, for reasons defying sense. Fraley did have to come out of a preseason intrasquad game late in camp after being hit in the head with a pitch, but he cleared concussion protocols and was back on the field in short order, so that doesn't appear to have been a factor; no, he was dropped because Scott Servais and company prefer to carry eleven relief pitchers.
It's standard operating procedure under Servais to carry a huge bullpen and roll the dice with a minimal bench, so this wasn't a surprise move. Nevertheless, it's a bad one. It's assumed starting pitchers will be limited to fewer innings in the early few weeks thanks to the long layoff and brief training camp, so bullpens will see some extra work, but eleven relievers? Six is adequate in a normal season, seven has become the norm, Servais has gone with eight more often than not. Overstaffing of bullpens had gotten to the point that the commissioner felt the need to step in and enact a new rule that capped the number of pitchers a team could carry (that rule would have applied had this year begin normally, but will not apply in this mini-campaign), but we're just going to push the envelope anyway.
Regardless, we look forward to watching Marco Gonzales take the hill against those hated cheaters, the Astros a few hours from now. It won't be a season of high expectations or grand plans, just a long tryout process for 2021, but it'll be fun to watch anyway.
Around the league
- The Blue Jays have decided to renovate their Triple-A affiliate's ballpark in Buffalo, NY, and call that home for 2020. The Canadian government won't let them avoid coronavirus quarantine procedures; they aren't allowed to share PNC Park with the Pirates; and even though the Orioles would let them share Camden Yards, neither the Jays nor their opponents would have been allowed to use the home clubhouse, meaning a new clubhouse-type setup would have to have been created on the Oriole Park grounds (seems doable since the stadium would be otherwise empty, but still a bit of work). So after all that wrangling, it was back to the options previously rejected. Rather than use their spring complex in Florida or be a perpetual road team, the Jays opted to spend the money to bring the lighting at the Buffalo park up to TV standards and renovate the clubhouses to better accommodate distancing needs. Of course, that will take time, so they will, in fact, start the campaign as a road team; their first home series, against the Nationals, will be played in Washington, and perhaps subsequent series as well, as long as is needed to complete the work in Buffalo. Outstanding planning, MLB! Way to think ahead.
- Citing frustrations among players who have tested positive for COVID-19 but have recovered or been asymptomatic, MLB is relaxing its protocols on when infected players may return to action. This is based on research into the virus that has suggested that symptomatic patients that fight the virus off can continue to test positive beyond the point at which they're no longer contagious. “The general consensus even in some health-care facilities is yes, you can test positive for the virus and not be infectious,” said Dr. Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University’s Oxford College. “There can be either dead virus or just genetic fragments of the virus that are still picked up by a test.” Of course, they key words in Dr. Binney's statement are "general," "even," and "some." We still know very little about the nature of this disease and MLB altering its approach to be even more cavalier about it seems risky. The revised protocol says that a player who repeatedly tests positive might not require back-to-back negative tests at least 24 hours apart if a joint panel of experts from the league and union, relying on an extensive set of criteria, clears him to play. So it's still a bit vague.