It’s crazy out there right now. A lot is going on in the world; a lot is going on in the world of sports, too. So many questions remain as we move closer to organized sports starting again. Need a recap of all the strangeness? Here ya go!
Major League Baseball
The plan to start the season has finally been set. Players will be tested every other day unless their temperature exceeds 100.4. Then they'll be tested -- no matter the day -- and sent home. They also will be required to take their own temperatures before coming to the ballpark. Anyone with a fever will be told to stay away.
As was expected, several players have already decided to sit out this season. So far, Ian Desmond of the Rockies and Mike Leake of the Diamondbacks, along with Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross of the Nationals, have all decided to opt out of the 2020 season—without pay. Each has his own reasons, which could include a family member who is high risk or a pregnant wife. Rumors persist that there will be more players who opt out. Stay tuned.
On the field, there are some significant rules changes, aside from the coronavirus protocols (such as no spitting or pitchers being allowed to carry a wet rag in their back pocket to use for moisture instead of licking their fingers):
- All National League games will include the designated hitter.
- In extra innings, each team will begin with a runner on second base. The runner will be the player in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning's leadoff hitter (or a pinch runner).
- As previously planned, all relief pitchers must face a minimum of three batters (unless the inning ends).
- Opening Day rosters will feature 30 active players culled from each team's 60-man player pool. The active roster will be trimmed to 28 players on the 15th day of the season and then to 26 players on the 29th day. There will be no limitations on the number of pitchers (as previously required in a new rule change). Teams will be permitted to carry three players from their taxi squads on road trips, one of whom must be a catcher.
- The trade deadline is Aug. 31; Sept. 15 is the postseason eligibility deadline.
- The standard injured lists will be 10 and 45 days and there will be a separate COVID-19 injured list for players who test positive, have a confirmed exposure to COVID-19 or exhibit symptoms requiring self-isolation.
- The schedule will be regionally based, with teams playing 40 games within the division and 20 interleague games against the corresponding geographical division.
As for on-field strategies, some things we might see:
- Due to the short summer camp training session, starters will likely pitch fewer innings the first two or three times through the rotation. You could see things like tandem starters -- two starters throwing three innings in the same game -- and several teams have already announced they plan to go with a six-man rotation.
- In general, with the expanded rosters for the first month, expect to see more bullpen usage (although the three-batter rule will eliminate some of the churn). The short season and importance of every game means managers may rely more heavily on their best relievers as they won't have to worry as much about having to keep them fresh for six months and then the playoffs.
- The extra roster spots at the start of the season means we could see more pinch-running/defensive-replacement types used as bench players, a class of player that has largely disappeared in the past couple of decades. The extra-inning baserunner rule in particular means having a speed player on the bench would be of value.
What’s NOT included...
- *No microphones on players...is it a mistake?
- Instead of expanded postseason of 16 teams...there will still be just 10 teams in the playoffs.
As we gear up for the season, here is how the MLB looked through 60 games last year (Playoff teams)
- Astros 40-20
- Twins 40-20
- Yankees 38-22
- WILD: Rays 37-23
- WILD: Rangers 32-28
- Dodgers 41-19
- Brewers 34-26
- Braves 33-27
- WILD: Cubs 34-26
- WILD: Phillies 33-27
- (Nats 27-33)
Are you a bettor? Here is how the Caesars Sportsbook is shaping up:
*Odds to win the World Series*
- Dodgers 7-2
- Yankees 7-2
- Astros 11-1
- Braves 15-1
- Twins 15-1
- Nationals 18-1
- Rays 18-1
- Cubs 20-1
Who are you taking?
To close the book on MLB talk (and transition into college football), let’s throw a couple fun combo questions:
- *Question 1
Which total will be greater: Ian Book TD passes or Baez/Bryant/Rizzo combined regular season HR's
- *Question 2
Which total will be greater = Cubs+White Sox win total or Kyle Hamilton tackles.
- *Question 3
Which total will be greater - Giolitto/Hendricks win total or Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah sacks
- *Question 4
Which total will be greater - Notre Dame win total or Eloy Jimenez HR total
Speaking of college football, the hot topic recently is “Herd Immunity.” Never heard of it? Me either. Not until Boomer Esiason’s comments last week. Essentially, it means that college football teams, most with 100 plus players and then staff members contract COVID-19 so they recover now and won’t be at risk during the season. Say what??? Crazy right.
Would it be possible, or make sense, to intentionally create team-wide herd immunity? It’s a question that has been lurking for weeks now. It gains steam as Clemson rolls on despite 37 positive COVID-19 tests. Most college athletes who contract the virus, the thought goes, will be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. They’ll recover and become immune, or so they think. They’ll be free to live life and compete.
And while coaches clearly want players to be healthy, now and throughout the season, teams with large early summer outbreaks could be at a competitive advantage come September.
In a recent article, Yahoo Sports presented the concept to a dozen health experts, some of whom have advised Power 5 conferences or the NCAA. A few acknowledged the superficial logic. “I can see why people are thinking about that,” says Bill Schaffner, a renowned infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.
Ron Waldman, an epidemiologist at George Washington University, says of the “competitive advantage” concept: “It’s a strange way of putting it, but the statement itself is probably correct.”
They and other experts, however, say there are several reasons the presumed advantage might not be nearly as significant as it appears. Many pinpointed sustainability of immunity and long-lasting complications as two massive unknowns. And besides, Waldman says: “It seems somewhat perverse to be talking about [COVID-19] in those terms.”
Furthermore, acknowledging competitive advantage and creating it by purposely contracting a potentially deadly disease are two different things. When asked whether intentional infection is a valid strategy, experts give the same answer that members of the Pac-12’s medical advisory committee gave on Friday. Unequivocally.
“No,” says Matt Turnbull, a virologist at Clemson.
“There's absolutely no validity,” says Paul Pottinger, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Washington. “It's a terrible idea, and under no circumstances should anybody think about it.”
I’ve got to say, I know quarantine has people going nuts, but wow, I don’t even know what to say about this idea. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a program give it a try. Possible legal issues if someone gets severely sick?
National Basketball Association
The NBA is planning to resume a fragment of its regular season, and then the playoffs, in a custom-tailored “bubble” in Orlando, Florida, on July 30. The games will be played only among the top teams in a single complex, with regular testing and tight regulations governing the entry of outsiders. The league is going to the maximum lengths possible to ensure a safe reopening
There’s only one problem: An increasing number of players do not seem very interested in being guinea pigs in this experiment. At first the secessions were a trickle. Now they are picking up steam.
Davis Bertrans, arguably the second-best active player on my home team the Washington Wizards, will not play because he doesn’t want to risk injury and endanger his prospects as a free agent next season. That’s an entirely reasonable excuse, and more and more players are finding them.
The Brooklyn Nets may be going into the bubble without the services of DeAndre Jordan and possibly Spencer Dinwiddie, one of their most important players. Both tested positive for Covid-19, and again that seems like a reasonable excuse for not playing.
Portland Trail Blazer veteran Trevor Ariza is not showing up so he can spend time with his son, as part of a custody arrangement. On the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the favorites to win the championship, starting point guard Avery Bradley will not appear for fear of endangering the health of his son, who has respiratory issues.
These players will still be paid, but they are lowering their future market value by expressing less than a full commitment to the team. And it is hard to imagine that many other workplace environments can be made much safer than the planned NBA bubble.
The ones who want to play most are the superstars, especially on those teams that might win a title. That is typically a small number of squads, usually less than half a dozen (the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks would be three obvious picks this time around).
You can notice a similar skew toward the winners in other American sports. Minor league baseball recently was cancelled for the year, but the major leagues, which have a much higher profile and a lucrative television contract, are planning to resume in a few weeks.
Now compare the evolution of the NBA bubble with the reopening of U.S. offices and schools. For virtually all American workers, the stakes are much lower than for NBA players. And compared to Orlando, the safety and security precautions will be far less rigorous.
If so many NBA players are pondering non-participation, how keen do you think those workers — none of whom are millionaire professional athletes — are about returning to the office? Are you back? I am!
Happy Fourth of July! Be safe, wash your hands, and STAY SHARP!