Pal of the blog – old pro – had suggested writing a post about how teams might address this shortened season. The thought here was to wait until it appeared that a season might actually occur before writing about this. So, here you go.
There are still a few things left to figure out, but it appears that MLB will be back with a 60-game season and non-expanded playoffs with the normal five teams per league. The players will be paid their pro-rata salaries, about 37% of their salaries. The owners will not get the expanded playoffs (and expanded $$) they wanted, though they will end the playoffs in October. The players will not get the 70 to 100+ games they were hoping for.
So it’s a real compromise. Everyone is hacked off.
What does this very short sample season mean? Well, last season after 60 games the Astros at 40-20 were in great shape. In fact, the AL playoff slate was exactly the same as the end of the season, except the Rangers were in and the A’s were out. Over in the NL the biggest anomaly? The World Champion Washington Nationals were below .500 (27-33) and the Cardinals (31-29) were out of the playoffs after 60 games. The Phillies and Cubs would have been in their place.
And that demonstrates the risk for some of the better teams. You can’t slowly get out of the box. You better be like Hunter Pence running out ground balls with your hair on fire every game. And you better hope you don’t get hit by a slew of nagging injuries – a month out is almost half the season.
How does this late starting short season play out for the Astros?
- This late start helps with their most questionable area – the starting rotation. First, it allows Justin Verlander to recover from his lat injury. Second, it allows Lance McCullers Jr. even more time to recover from his Tommy John injury, about 1 year and 8 months since his surgery. Third, it means that guys who might have hit an innings wall taking over a starting spot (McCullers, Jose Urquidy, Brad Peacock, not to mention Josh James, Forrest Whitley, Bryan Abreu….) will not be expected to pitch too many innings this season.
- A big concern is that the Astros have run into portions of their seasons the last few years where they just had a flurry of injuries all at one time. If one of these fits of ouchies happens at the wrong time, there just may be no time to recover.
- Since it is likely that all teams will end up playing in their division and against the other league’s similar division (for the Astros AL West and NL West) the Astros will be at a travel disadvantage – having to play a high percentage of their games in the mountain and western time zones. One current suggestion was to play 10 games against each of their 4 division foes and 4 games against each of the other league 5 division teams.
- Unfortunately, there can be a good bit of luck involved in the scheduling for so few games. Would you rather be the Twins or Indians playing half your schedule against the White Sox (72-89), Royals (59-103), and Tigers (47-114) or be the Nationals playing half your schedule against the Braves (97-65), Mets (86-76) and Phillies (81-81). The Astros will likely be up against 2 very good to excellent clubs in the Dodgers (106-56) and the A’s (97-65) who have been a tough opponent for Houston lately. The D’Backs were solid last season (87-75) but the other six potential opponents between the AL West and NL West were all under .500. But of course, someone (Angels? Rangers? Padres?) could be a surprise team.
- The 60 game season means that the pennant race begins immediately. There is minimal ramp up time. A 10 game winning streak could put a surprise team in the playoffs. A 10 game losing streak could drop a top-notch team out of the playoffs. A team like the Astros, who have played so many high-stress games over the last three seasons has a great shot at handling that stress. However, there are going to be a number of teams, who will surprise themselves and be in a race they could not sustain for 162 games. The Astros will have to handle not only the stress but also handle the teams that have nothing to lose.
- The big wild card here is what will happen when one, two, ten players from a team test positive for the virus. There is obviously some luck involved here in avoiding that, but it also ties into whether a team has enough players with maturity to be more careful than their opponents. This might be the biggest challenge for new manager Dusty Baker. It seems ironic that many of us liked the Baker hiring from the point of view that he’s seen everything. Well, he’s never seen this….
So, what do you think are the keys for this Astro team in facing a potential 60 game season?