When MLB and the rest of the sports world shut down operations due to the spread of COVID-19 in March, few knew how important their season would become. After bickering between the MLBPA and MLB owners forced commissioner Rob Manfred to mandate a 60-game season, few in society thought MLB could manage the epidemic, player’s health, and what’s best for the fans.
Despite the minuscule sample size, Opening Day around MLB proved therapeutic. While it’s a small step for Aaron Judge, it’s a massive step for humankind’s mental health. New rules, faces in new places, and avoiding lengthy games entertained fans. Starting with Giancarlo Stanton’s mammoth blast off Max Scherzer on Thursday, and ending with Matt Olson’s walk-off grand slam early Saturday morning, MLB’s best was on display.
Here are some factoids from Opening Day
In Flushing, Queens NY, the Mets improved to 39-12 in their last 51 season openers (the franchise lost their first eight games on Opening Day) with a 1-0 win over the Atlanta Braves. New York won for the 22nd time in their last 25 home openers to start the season.
The Mets recorded their ninth shutout on Opening Day, and their third 1-0 victory. Yoenis Cespedes homered in the 7th inning for the Mets only run. It was Cespedes first HR since July 20, 2018.
The Mets are 5-1 against the Braves on Opening Day (won five straight). The Mets pitching staff has recorded 35 consecutive scoreless innings against Atlanta on Opening Day. The last player to score for Atlanta was Marcus Giles, won hit a two-run HR off Tom Glavine in the first inning of the 2004 season opener in Atlanta.
Despite not earning a win, Jacob deGrom extended his consecutive inning streak without allowing a run to 28. deGrom, Seth Lugo, Justin Wilson & Edwin Diaz, combined for 15 K for the Mets, the most for an Opening Day shutout since 1901.
Shane Bieber struck out 14 Royals in six innings, becoming the first pitcher to strike out 14 on Opening Day since Randy Johnson struck out 14 White Sox for the Mariners in 1996.
Shane Bieber, Nick Wittgren, and Brad Hand combined to strike out 18 batters for Cleveland, the most for a nine-inning game on Opening Day since 1901.
Sonny Gray held the Tigers to three hits in six innings in the Reds 7-1 win over the Tigers. Gray has gone 34 consecutive starts allowing six hits or fewer, setting an MLB record.
Toronto defeated Tampa 6-4, while the Jays top four batters, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, and Travis Shaw (all sons of former MLB players, each recorded a hit and scored a run.
The Red Sox 13-2 win over the Orioles marked their most significant margin of victory on Opening Day in franchise history.
Kyle Hendricks threw 103 pitches and going the distance in the Cubs 3-0 win over the Brewers. Hendricks was the first Cubs pitcher since Bill Bonham in 1974 to record a shutout on Opening Day.
Lance Lynn recorded six shutout innings while striking out nine Rockies in the Rangers 1-0 win. Lynn joined Jon Matlack (1980) and Charlie Hough (1989) in team history to record six shutout innings on Opening Day.
Texas won its inaugural game at Globe Life Field, marking the second time they were victorious in three home park openings (lost to Milwaukee Brewers in the first game at The Ballpark in Arlington in 1994 and defeated California at Arlington Stadium in 1972).
Max Kepler hit the first pitch from Lucas Giolito for a home run. He joined Ian Happ (Cubs in 2018 off Juan Urena), Kaz Matsui (Mets in 2004 off Russ Ortiz) and Dwight Evans (Red Sox in 1986 off Jack Morris) as the only players in MLB history to hit his team’s first pitch of the season for an HR.
Kepler also homered in his second AB, becoming the first Twins player since Jacque Jones (2002) and the fourth in team history (Gary Gaetti in 1982 and Brant Alyea in 1970)to homer twice on Opening Day.
Matt Olson ended Opening Day with a walk-off grand slam against the Angels. Olson joined Jim Presley (Seattle in 1986 vs. Angels) and Sixto Lezcano (Brewers in 1980 vs. Red Sox) to record a walk-off Grand Slam on Opening Day.
While most of the United States is preparing to introduce the business world back to society, my focus is on sports. Here is a preview of the 2020 New York Yankees.
2019: 103–59 1st in AL East. Lost in ALCS to Houston Astros, 4–2.
FIVE QUESTIONS PLAGUING THE YANKEES FOR 2020.
5. Can Aaron Judge & Giancarlo Stanton stay healthy?
While Stanton only played in 18 games last season, he averaged 130 games and 479 AB from 2011–18. Is he starting to break down, or was last season an aberration? Judge rocked the MLB world by hitting a record 52 HR (broken by Pete Alonso in 2019) while driving in 114 in his rookie season of 2017. However, the last two seasons saw him average just 27 HR and 64 RBI.
COVID provided ample time for both players spring training injuries to heal and they should be ready to pound in the shortened 60-game format.
4. Can Gerrit Cole lead the pitching staff?
While there is no doubt Cole is the free-agent prize of the offseason, will his success over the last few seasons continue in the Bronx? Two things point to a big season for Cole in NY.
– He is an innings eater — Cole has thrown 200 or more innings in four of his last five seasons. Leading this staff, I project him to throw at least 210 innings.
– His strikeout total has increased significantly over the previous two seasons (avg. 13.1 K per 9), while his WHIP has evaporated (0.962).
One slight concern is for Cole is his inexperience at Yankee Stadium. He only has one career start during the regular season in the Bronx but did throw seven shutout innings in his only postseason appearance (Game 3 of 2019 ALCS).
3. Can they stay healthy or will depth again save them?
The Yankees lost an incredible 2,336 man-games to injury, 253 more than the second team on that list, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Despite that, the Yankees still won 101 games.
With the shortened season of 60 games, and availability of 60 players, it’s impossible to reach those numbers in 2020. However, the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus will make this interesting.
A direct result of all those injuries saw contributions from unexpected players. Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, Cameron Maybin, and Mike Ford combined for a .880 OPS. Such results repeated in 2020 are unlikely.
2. Will they miss Didi Gregorius?
While Didi played in only 82 games last season, his presence took a lot of pressure off a position that replaced a Hall of Famer, which will be inducted into Cooperstown this season. Gregorius averaged 20 HR, 75 RBI, and .765 OPS the previous four seasons.
Didi also came to play when it mattered. Over the last three postseasons, only Aaron Judge has more hits (26 to 25) and RBI (17 to 16) than Gregorius among the Yankees.
Can Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar handle the pressure now that Didi is gone?
1. Can Chapman and bullpen be consistent enough in big spots?
While the Yankees bullpen numbers in 2019 were magnificent, (finished second to the Rays in WAR and were one of three MLB teams to record over 10 K per 9 innings) Loaisiga, Ottavino, and Chapman struggled in the postseason. With Chapman missing most of the early part of the season with COVID, how will bullpen perform getting more work and shorter periods of rest?
Yankees should continue to ring the bell
The Yankees led the majors in runs scored (943), and their 306 HR were one shy of the Minnesota Twins who set an MLB record in 2019. With the same cast of players returning, they should continue to post impressive offensive numbers.
Unequaled success in the wild-card era
Since the MLB went to the wild-card format in 1995, no team can equal the success of the Yankees in playing beyond the regular season. Last season saw the Yankees make their 21st postseason appearance over that span (next closest is Atlanta with 16). Their 12 LCS appearances and seven World Series appearances are also the most over that era.
While society is still trying to understand how to survive until a vaccine is made available, the sports world also is adjusting.
However, many regular folks are now facing real questions about how to survive in the upside-down world of COVID-19.
The last time we saw professional sports, most fans could find something they can identify with each player and team. Unemployment was at record lows, the stock market was soaring, and the fear of what we are currently suffering through was utterly foreign.
While it might be hard for the millionaires that play and run MLB to identify with regular folks that cannot pay their bills anymore, common sense has yet to register.
The MLB Players Union, aided by agent Scott Boras, who represents three of the eight players on the MLBPA’s eight-player executive subcommittee, advised them not to “bailout” the owners. The player agent argued the owners made poor financial decisions outside of baseball.
The players further separate themselves from fans when players like Max Scherzer and Blake Snell claim they will not take a pay cut or play at all if the MLBPA compromises. According to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, the owners, claiming lost receipts on ticket prices, will take as high as a $4 billion loss.
Most of the players understand the situation with COVID-19 and want to play. Trevor Bauer’s comments on twitter endured some criticism (see Kyle Lohse), but I’m sure it represents many players.
While on the surface, it looks like the MLBPA is the primary source of greed, that is exactly how the owners want the argument framed. In today’s society, very few understand the importance of vetting both sides of a dispute before pushing their perspective. Such is the reason why politics create viral responses to issues.
The owners would also want their uniform deal with NIKE, and broadcasting deal with FOX Sports ($5.1 Billion through 2028), to stay on the lowdown. MLB is currently re-negotiating its broadcasting agreement with ESPN, which expires at the end of 2021 (total value of $5.6 billion over eight-years). ESPN is MLB’s longest-tenured national rights partner, having broadcast games since 1990.
My message to MLBPA and MLB is to drop the massive greed that will undoubtedly destroy your sport if it doesn’t get with this new reality.
Baseball is my first love. I played it until cancer took it from me in my junior year of high school. Currently, diseases (Crohn’s, Lymphedema) resulting from the long-lasting side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, I consistently worry about how I will survive with the issues I face on a daily basis. Sadly, many other Americans are worrying about this same fate. That is a new reality.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- Millionaires fighting billionaires. Most of us just roll our eyes as we’d all love to have those problems. When the haggling of money occurs in the arena of sports, we usually side with the billionaire owners and want the player to sign a deal quickly in order to get back on the field. The stakes, though, are very different in this feud. Players want a reasonable salary for 2020 while the owners are desperate to stop hemorrhaging cash. Baseball’s long-term future is very much in peril if a deal isn’t reached. While we normally side with ownership when contract disputes arise, there are a few reasons why it’s time we flip our allegiance to the players side and root for them to get properly compensated for the risk they are taking in resuming play.
In this pandemic, it’s not unreasonable and almost mandatory that sacrifices be made by everyone. Baseball is no different. The players have already done their share of sacrificing as back in March, the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to prorate their salary commensurate to the number of games played. Owners are now asking the players to take a second pay cut because of the fact that most likely, no fans will be allowed stadiums at all during this shortened season. It’s tough to criticize and fault the players for not wanting another salary reduction because the owners misjudged the climate in which games would be played and now are frantically trying to hold onto every dollar they have. Why should the players have to pay for a miscalculation by the owners?
The form of the pay cut is also very controversial because it would come in the form of a 50/50 split of the 2020 revenue between the owners and players, a practice never before enforced. The players association, as they should, strongly disagrees with this proposal because it would serve as a de facto salary cap, as baseball is the only of the four major sports without one. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark had some strong words when speaking to The Athletic last Monday about the idea of a 50/50 split.
“A system that restricts player pay based on revenues is a salary cap, period,” Clark said. “That the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they’ve failed to achieve in the past – and to anonymously negotiate through the media for the last several days – suggests they know exactly how this will be received.”
From the players perspective, it’s tough to trust the owners to act in good faith. They’ve accused them in the past of colluding together to suppress wages and destroy the free agent market. Now with the CBA set to expire after the 2021 season, the players worry that their leverage could be lost if they cave and agree to a second pay reduction. This agreement could have devastating impacts that last a lot longer than just this season.
The risk the players are taking by stepping onto the field in the midst of a pandemic is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Without a vaccine available, there’s still a chance of infection despite the numerous precautions the league office is taking. Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell’s viral rant brought to light how divisive this proposal is to the players. Snell was speaking on his personal Twitch stream last week when he let loose on why taking another pay cut was not an option.
“The risk is way the hell higher and the amount of money I’m making is way lower. Why would I think about doing that?” Snell said. “If I’m gonna play, I should be getting the money I signed to be getting paid. I should not be getting half of what I’m getting paid because the season’s cut in half, on top of a 33% cut of the half that’s already there — so I’m really getting, like, 25%.”
He’s right. After all, the owners aren’t the ones out on the field risking their health to play the game. It’s a matter of when a player will contract the virus, not if, so why should the players be exposed as well as have their pay significantly slashed? The risk versus reward debate right now is an easy one because the players are facing a health risk while getting compensated very poorly. The scales have to be tipped in favor of the reward far outweighing the risks involved, a balance that at the moment favors the risk being too high. There needs to be some sort of incentive because right now, all of the signs point to it not making a whole lot of sense for players to return to the field this season.
Snell isn’t alone in this thinking, as some of baseball’s superstars came out to defends the Rays pitcher. Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper is glad those comments were put out in the open.
“He ain’t lying, he’s speaking the truth bro,” Harper told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Somebody’s gotta say it, at least he manned up and said it.”
Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado also chimed in and backed up Snell when talking with The Athletic.
“He made a lot of good points,” Arenado said. “A lot of it gets misperceived. Trying to get the public to understand us, it’s not going to work very well in our favor…”
Arenado brings up a very important point that can’t be lost in this entire battle. With the owners floating out the 50/50 revenue split idea, this public frustration from the labor is exactly what they wanted. Social media was buzzing with tons of “Just get out there and play” takes after Snell’s rant went viral. Let’s also not forget what the players are actually asking for. They aren’t demanding a pay raise, but instead just asking to keep their already halved salary. It’s easy for the public to get frustrated about millionaires complaining about salary, but you can’t overlook the billionaires selfishly trying to keep their pockets filled.
Looking at the landscape of the country right now, there’s a serious void that we are so used to sports filling. If the NBA and NHL can’t or choose not to return, baseball will be at the forefront of the nation. This is a unique opportunity that could allow baseball to jump back into national relevancy and with that increased attention, allow owners to make up for lost revenue in this pandemic stricken season. MLB has the chance to be the first and quite possibly the only league to return for a long time.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has focused a lot of his efforts on changing the game to make it more appealing to the younger audience. There’s no better way to bring new fans in than being the main sport played during an otherwise bleak time in history. The short-term losses could be made up down the line by tapping into a fanbase that baseball has never had access to before. The growth of the sport will increase stadium and television revenues, creating a new stable stream of money coming in. Considering the potential loss of four-billion-dollars if baseball isn’t played in 2020, it’s advantageous for the owners to cater to the needs of the players.
If anything, the coronavirus has put us all on the same playing field. No matter the job we have or the industry we work in, we’re all inconvenienced and more importantly, we’re all in this together. We’ve sacrificed and now hope springs eternal that the summer can bring about some semblance of normalcy. Part of that return to normalcy is watching baseball on the television every night. In a time when we’re all sacrificing for the greater good, baseball needs to do the same. The players have made their sacrifice. It’s time for the owners to make theirs.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- The sun shone bright on a gorgeous Thursday afternoon, the perfect setting for what was supposed to be a celebration of the start of the Major League Baseball season. Instead, the perfect day for baseball was more of a tease. A “what could have been” if the world wasn’t ravaged by the Coronavirus pandemic. There is hope, though, that a baseball season will be played in 2020, either as normal or as close to normal as possible given the circumstances. The big question from a baseball perspective is how will the season play out if and when play resumes?
There have already been some intriguing suggestions,
including holding the World Series during Christmas and seven-inning
doubleheaders. Those suggestions can’t be implemented before the most basic
question is answered: how many games will be played? 162? 125? 81? All of these
suggestions and questions circle around the sport, as a solution can only be
thought about once the world can return to some sort of normality. With that
said though, let’s have some fun and discuss the best way MLB and commissioner
Rob Manfred can go about scheduling their season that would be beneficial for
Major League Baseball is still hoping for the season to kick off in early June, as Manfred spoke with Scott Van Pelt earlier this week and hoped that spring training can resume again in early May, setting the stage for a June start. So, the start date I am going to use here is June 1st. The season would start as scheduled for that day, as every team’s current opponent for the first day of June would be their Opening Day opposition. By picking up the schedule from that point, many exciting matchups are still preserved, including: Red Sox-Cubs, Astros-Nationals, Yankees-White Sox at the Field of Dreams and Red Sox-Orioles in Williamsport.
I would institute doubleheaders every other Sunday, so extra
games are fit in while not draining the players. Many teams and players have
expressed the want to play as many games as possible, as Rockies manager Bud
Black supported the idea of doubleheaders every week and Blue Jays general
manager Ross Atkins is in favor of seven-inning doubleheaders to ease the toll
on the players while still squeezing in as many games as possible. Let’s not
forget, the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. Despite the shortened
season days wise, trying to fit a grueling schedule into a shorter time period
will only wear down players and cause more injuries and sloppy play. The extra
game every other week helps to give players, and more importantly pitchers, a
chance to recover while still making up for lost time.
I would also extend the end of the season two extra weeks,
moving the end of the regular season from September 27th to October
11th. This will allow for the addition of roughly 13 games, so teams
can get as close to the 162-game schedule as possible. All-Star week would also
be pushed back from July to August, so Los Angeles will still get to host the event
and players will have enough time to prove their worthiness of an All-Star nod.
All of these conditions add up to the playing of 126 games from June 1st through early October. That equates to about 77% of the season being played, which is just behind the NBA’s rough estimate of 80% of their schedule being completed for some teams. With both the NBA and NHL considering going right to the playoffs if play resumes, my schedule proposal would put MLB in the same spot in terms of the percent of their regular season completed.
The playoffs are where it gets a little interesting. Pushing
the season back an extra two weeks should still allow teams in bad weather
cities to host playoff games in their home ballparks. There have been proposals
and discussions of neutral site playoff games, with agent Scott Boras wanting
the entire playoffs and World Series to be played at neutral sites. With so
much baseball already taken away from fans, my scheduling goal is to allow
teams that play in cold weather cities to still be able to host playoff games to
reward their fans. After all, playoff baseball’s allure is due in part to the
raucous environments that the fans provide, as anticipation is palpable on
every single pitch.
I would still keep the World Series format the same, as the
team with the better record will get home field advantage. I would try my
hardest to keep the World Series in the cities that are playing in them because
air travel might not return to normal by November and with so many companies laying
off employees, fans might not be able to afford to fly to a neutral site to
watch their team. A contingency plan would be put in place to have a few
different stadiums on call to host the World Series if the weather doesn’t
allow for playing in a certain city, but that would be the last resort. Currently,
there are options being floated around like expanding the postseason and moving
the World Series to a neutral site, options that make sense from a financial
perspective to make up for lost revenue but ideas that I would stay away from
because they take even more baseball away from the fans and dampen the playoff
This is obviously an unprecedented situation not just in
sports, but in the world. MLB has done a good job so far in recognizing this
and have entertained many different ways for how baseball could get their season
on track. Trying to play 162 games is unrealistic at this point, which is why 126
games is Major League Baseball’s best way to get the most out of a shortened
season while also keeping the schedule as normal as possible. That last phrase
is critical, because in these times of uncertainty, a sense of normality is the
biggest thing that fans need right now.
Friday was again not a good day for the Yankees, as the team found out the problem that’s been bugging their face of the franchise. It was revealed that Aaron Judge’s injury is a stress fracture in his rib that he suffered back in September at Yankee Stadium on a diving play in the outfield against the Los Angeles Angels. Manager Aaron Boone said they will shut down Judge for two weeks, and then reevaluate him. While the Yankees will certainly hope for the best, Boone did not rule out Judge getting surgery.
Judge’s rib injury is the latest in a slew of injuries over the course of Spring Training for New York with little over two weeks to go until the start of the regular season. Along with Judge, the Yankees will not have Giancarlo Stanton for opening day and maybe a bit longer with a grade 1 calf strain, Aaron Hicks won’t be back until August off of Tommy John surgery, Luis Severino will miss the whole year due to Tommy John, and James Paxton will be out the first few months of the season after getting back surgery. All these injuries are reminding the Yankees faithful of the 2019 campaign.
Last year, the Yankees lost Judge and Luke Voit for a few months, Stanton, Hicks, and Severino for most of the season, Miguel Andujar missed the rest of the year after undergoing shoulder surgery, Dellin Betances pitched one game in September coming off a bone spur but tore his Achilles during that outing, Didi Gregorius was out until June after he had to get Tommy John surgery in the offseason, and New York signed Troy Tulowitzki to a one-year deal but he only played five games before suffering a calf strain and subsequently retiring after being placed on the 60-day injured list. Through it all, the Yankees persevered and still won 103 games in 2019 and winning the AL East by seven games over the Tampa Bay Rays, thanks in part to guys such as Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman, and Gio Urshela stepping up.
A lot of questions were asked about Boone as a manager when New York first hired him, but he answered those questions after doing a fantastic job in 2019 by leading the Yankees to the American League Championship series, and you could certainly make the case he should’ve won AL Manager of the Year. Now, Boone and the Yankees will have to do a repeat of that performance from a year ago.
With the talent and depth the Yankees have on the roster, they have the capability to overcome these injuries again. On offense, the team still has Gary Sanchez, a returning Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela and Voit to be big contributors with the absence of Stanton, Judge, and Hicks. Torres continued to develop into a real good player in 2019, LeMahieu had an MVP caliber season, and Urshela stepped up big in the absence of Andujar. New York will also have to count on Tauchman and Ford again. The biggest factor in all of this might fall on the starting pitching staff.
The Yankees starting pitching in 2020 was expected to be one of the best in baseball and it looked to be the kind of rotation Brian Cashman had been looking for to win another World Series, especially with the prized signing of Gerrit Cole. With Severino out for the year, and Paxton out for the first part of the season, there are two spots open in the rotation for guys like Jordan Montgomery and Jonathan Losiaga to step up. For Cole, the onus now falls even more on him to live up to his massive contract the Yankees gave him. The pressure is really on J.A. Happ now to have a bounce back season. The Yankees can always at least count on Masahiro Tanaka to give solid outings when he takes the mound. The Yankees have shown they are in the market for help in the rotation by calling the New York Mets about Steven Matz, but the Mets asked for Andujar in return to which the Yankees declined.
In the AL East, the Rays look to be the only threat to the Yankees with the Boston Red Sox in transition, the Toronto Blue Jays still being young and developing, and the Baltimore Orioles in the midst of a big rebuild and being one of the worst teams in baseball. The Rays won 96 games last year and had a golden opportunity to take advantage of the Yankees injury woes and win the division, but the New York kept persevering and ended up going 12-7 against Tampa Bay in 2019. With the injuries hurting the Yankees again, the Rays have another chance to gain an early lead in the division.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility the Yankees overcome these injuries again and continue to win because of the roster they’ve built. It is, however, extremely hard to repeat that performance and count on guys like Tauchman to contribute in a big way again. Just like last year, Boone has his work cut out for him, and he’s going to have to work his same magic again.