The Rundown: Strategy Key to Short Season, Rizzo Sits with Back Stiffness, Hoyer Emphasizes Seriousness of COVID-19
Though I’m not a fan of the saying “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” nobody can say the 2020 season is anything but a quarter-mile burner. As such, how teams strategize to earn a postseason berth is going to matter almost as much as the talent of their rosters.
"If they're passing out a trophy, I want it."#WhereStoriesPlay pic.twitter.com/A4Gwpo0VIZ
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 3, 2020
The first key to the season is making sure your roster is healthy, not the easiest thing to do when you are playing your season while a pandemic is spiking. Some of the top stars in the game are at least considering exercising their rights to opt out of playing. It can’t help the Dodgers that David Price is sitting out the truncated season, but even bigger names continue to waver. If Mike Trout opts out, expect a surge in conscientious objectors with star power to follow suit.
How managers handle their pitching staffs will also be key to the season. Some teams are considering tiering their starters like they do for Spring Training games, limiting them by innings or pitch counts. That’s not a bad concept, considering it gives hitters fewer looks at opposing pitchers.
Bullpen strategy will be a big factor, too. We may see closers deployed to get the most important outs rather than the final three because there are no throwaway contests in a 60-game season. If the game is on the line in the 7th inning, an analytics-forward manager may want to hand the ball to his best reliever rather than saving him for the 9th.
With a limited exhibition schedule, teams will likely be a little rusty and sloppy to start the season. That favors teams that tend to be strong finishers. The Brewers went 19-7 (.731) last September and they were 19-6 (.760) during the final month of 2018. This year, Milwaukee will play nine games in a row at Miller Park from September 11-20, with three each against the Cubs, Cardinals, and Royals. That stretch could give the Brewers the division title, so say getting off to an incredibly fast start is imperative for the Cubs is a huge understatement.
The trade deadline will be interesting as well. Come August 31, it’s probably safe to assume that at least 20 of 30 teams will still have playoff aspirations. Executing a trade will take some big stones in a season where most fans consider a championship meaningless. Let’s say the Dodgers are out of it at the deadline and the Cubs are sensing a World Series berth is within reach? Does Theo Epstein trade Brennen Davis for Mookie Betts? I would hope not, but then again, he traded Gleyber Torres for a month of Aroldis Chapman and a championship ring.
Finally, what happens if the season is abruptly canceled because of the pandemic? There are so many subplots to the upcoming season that it is probably best to just sit back and enjoy the ride no matter the outcome. The 2020 season will be one that will certainly be talked about for the rest of our lives.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs are the early favorite to win the NL Central, though the margin is incredibly small and anybody can win the division. Except maybe the Pirates.
- The Cubs experimented with fake crowd noise yesterday. I think stadiums should use the laugh tracks from Seinfeld instead.
- Anthony Rizzo is suffering from lower back tightness and was held out of yesterday’s activities.
- One of the oddities of the 2020 schedule is that Cubs will have no Friday afternoon home games. Does it really matter if there will be no fans in attendance and they’re considering canned crowd noise?
- CBS Sports summed up the Cubs roster as a high-powered offense with an uncertain bullpen. I think we’d all agree. They predict a 33-27 record in the team’s inaugural campaign under David Ross.
- Craig Kimbrel struck out two batters yesterday and Ross said the closer has looked good in camp so far, but he also allowed a two-run homer to Willson Contreras.
- The team delayed the start of yesterday’s workout so they could get results from previous COVID-19 tests and complete a new round of testing.
- It would be fantastic if the Cubs and Kris Bryant can come to an agreement on a contract extension ahead the trade deadline.
- Davis, who has been included on the team’s 60-man roster, could be the Cubs’ next homegrown star.
- Jed Hoyer continues to stress the seriousness of the pandemic and hopes the team and the rest of the organization treats the potential spread of the infection with similar urgency.
Odds & Sods
Maybe if Sammy Sosa had simply gone to one of the rooftops when he left during the final game of the 1994 season he wouldn’t be the pariah that some Cubs fans have made him.
OTD in 1993 Cincinnati Reds pitcher Tom Browning left the Reds dugout at Wrigley Field, walked across the street, and sat with a group of Cubs fans on the roof of an apartment building behind the right field bleachers. Reds Manager Davey Johnson fined him $500 for doing so ? pic.twitter.com/KHiV7T5Vfc
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) July 7, 2020
MLB News & Notes
Former Cubs and Phillies outfielder Doug Glanville has some thoughts on racial diversity, diplomacy, and baseball’s role in helping to eliminate systemic racism.
Major League Baseball issued a statement assuring teams and players that intake testing and results would be up to speed following last weekend’s delays.
The circumstances of the 2020 season have the name of new Angels skipper Joe Maddon written all over them.
New Yankees starter Gerrit Cole was in midseason form during yesterday’s intrasquad game, striking out six of his teammates in five innings of work.
Though most everybody is happy that baseball is back, for many minor league players and all affiliate franchises there’s really nothing to smile about.
Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani is pitching again.
Highly regarded rookie starter Jesús Luzardo of the A’s has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Off-field behavior by the players and coaching staffs will be the determining factor in baseball’s attempt to play the 2020 season.
Though the Yankees lost the Field of Dreams Game, this is a pretty cool substitute.
The Yankees will be playing the Mets in Queens on Sept. 11, 2021, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11: https://t.co/umnG0ObQID
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) July 8, 2020
Sliding Into Home
The Chicago Blackhawks have issued a statement indicating they will not consider changing their team name or replacing their Indian Head logo, but will instead commit to expanding social awareness of Native Americans.
They Said It
- “Do I have any concerns of [our players] opting out? No, but that could change within a day. That’s where we’re at in the world, and in the world of baseball. I just try to take it day-to-day and let these guys come in, try to make them feel safe as much as we can, continue to communicate [with] them, and try to try to handle any concerns they might have.” – David Ross
- “I think that’s one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views [COVID-19] the same way, because we can’t have a subset of people within our group that don’t view it with the same severity. That’s not gonna work. We’re not gonna be successful.” – Jed Hoyer
- “You look at things differently. Just things that really mattered to me before don’t matter to me as much. You value people in your life that bring value to you. And certainly, this organization has brought value to me and my life, and hopefully I’ve returned the favor. But yeah, you want to be around people that want you and care for you and I’ve certainly felt that being a Chicago Cub.” – Kris Bryant
Wednesday Walk Up Song
Here’s Where the Story Ends by The Sundays – Only days into baseball’s novel experiment, the season already seems doomed.