The MLB looks to Sprint to the Finish Line

Photo courtesy of Sterling G. (chainstogains.com)

Here we are at the beginning of July, and the United States is cautiously taking steps to resume some sense of normalcy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Restaurants and stores are opening up with limited capacity.  Schools are discussing how best to have students return for the fall semester.  And Major League Baseball is coming back, though it will look a little different than we’re used to.  Unlike the usual 162-game marathon of a season we get year after year, in 2020, we get a 60-game sprint to the finish.

This is going to be a wild and unpredictable ride, to say the least.  And that’s an exciting prospect.

The MLB season was originally slated to start on March 26th, and the league has been trying to find a safe way to implement a season since the pandemic began.

In early April, the MLB first proposed a schedule that would allow the league to come back as soon as it was safe.  Under that plan, every team would play in Phoenix, using a handful of different stadiums to host the games without spectators.  Eventually, the plan fell through in favor of one which had teams playing in their own stadiums (still empty) and only play teams a certain distance away.

On June 23rd, MLB agreed to proceed with a 60-game season after a months-long set of negotiations between the players and owners. Players were set to report to a modified Spring Training on July 1st (held out of teams’ home ballparks).  The season will officially start on July 23rd.  Baseball is back and the schedule is soon to be finalized.

A 60-game season will be fascinating to watch.  Every game will matter in determining the playoffs 1, especially since two-thirds of the season is spent playing the other teams in the division.  Teams that were on the brink of breaking out, like the White Sox, my favorites who have been rebuilding since 2016, have a new chance to make a push.  In such a short season, the best teams may not make the playoffs (as routinely happens in a 162-game season).  

The uncertainty of such a short season is what will make this season fascinating to watch.  Teams will primarily play intra-divisional games and will not directly know the strengths or weaknesses of teams from other divisions when they reach the postseason, making the October games more unpredictable than usual.  Anything can happen, and that at least gives me some hope.

With the state of the world, we could use some hope.  Our lives feel unpredictable, and pandemic statistics can toy with our emotions.  But when it comes to baseball, unpredictability isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  This season is filled with possibility.  Will we see someone hit .400 for the first time since Ted Williams in 1941?  Will a starter have a sub-1.50 ERA?  Will a few underdogs make it to the playoffs and maybe win it all?  With a short season, everything becomes more variable, and something peculiar is bound to happen.

Baseball will be competing with the NBA and NHL in July and the NFL in September.  And though many may have been discouraged by the two-and-a-half-month delay between the first season proposal and the final decision to play ball, the added tension of each game will be palpable and keep more people engaged.  And you can be sure that I will be watching.

  1. Which are set to include the normal 5 teams from each league.

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