Naturally, we are all thrilled that MLB is coming back. Maybe we’re not all thrilled that it’ll be a 60-game season, but 2020 clearly is a year in which we have to accept what we can get.
But, there is one thing which concerns me as we move forward with this season. In sum, I’m worried that the 2020 MLB season will resemble a typical NFL season in one very concerning way: the war of attrition that football, as a sport, has largely become. Winning the Super Bowl requires good health, as we simply expect that football players will drop along the way. Watching a football game, requires acceptance of an injury time-out every third or fourth play. It’s just the way it is. Baseball, fortunately, isn’t like that. Injuries happen, of course, and each team typically loses a player or several along the way, but unlike the NFL, we typically don’t talk about baseball teams staying healthy in quite the same way.
It’ll also be true, of course, that with 60 games, rather than 162, each game will carry with it far more importance. Blowing a late-inning lead or two usually bothers us only until the next game, but this year, it may mean the difference between making the post-season or sitting it out entirely. Getting off to a hot start isn’t just important in a 60-game season, it’s critical to success. It’s already been pointed out by many that the Twins were 40-20 last year after 60 games, and conversely the ultimate World Series winning Washington Nationals were 27-33. They wouldn’t have won the World Series, and they’d be highly unlikely to make the play-offs at all. Like football teams, who start 1-3 and who find themselves all but buried with only a quarter of the season finished, baseball teams who start 4-11 or 5-10 might be all but finished after fifteen games.
That will be different. Hope that springs eternal, may be gone even sooner than it often is. But, of course, those that start hot will have a serious leg up on the competition. It’s not a marathon this year, it’s a sprint. It’s more like the NFL, and perhaps some of the intense popularity of the NFL may rub off on MLB, since every game will be so meaningful. Those of us with short attention spans…what was my point….anyway, those of us with short attention spans (most of us) may benefit from a shorter season. But beyond those of us already committed baseball fans, maybe the short and intense season will appeal to those with short attention spans who aren’t presently fans of the sport.
With Covid-19 testing requiring, understandably of course, that players who test positive be quarantined and removed from the line-up, it means that this year’s baseball season will resemble a typical NFL season more than ever. The teams that keep their players healthy and on the field, will, obviously, have a tremendous advantage. If a team favored to win it all, like the Twins, for example, lose a few key players to quarantine, they will no longer be favored to win it all. Conversely, some teams that would have been considered “also-rans” if all players were healthy, may rise to the top, if they can keep their front-line players on the field.
We’ve always largely taken the medical staff for granted as we watch our favorites on the field, but this year, more than ever, whichever team ultimately wins it all, should most definitely provide some world series rings for their extended medical staff and all of those who do their best to keep the players free from Covid-19. Like football, the winner this year, may well be the last team standing, in an intensely fought war of attrition.
May the best team win, might give way to “may the healthiest team win.” Here’s hoping that very few MLB players test positive and/or choose not to play for family reasons, but the reality is that some will need to stay away, and some will be sent away, and that will mean, that the team that hoists the World Series trophy might share more in common with the team that hosts the Lombardi trophy than ever before.