How to survive a 60-game season

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?

39 comments on “How to survive a 60-game season

  1. Dan, there are so many different directions this can go. The 2020 season is fraught with a full range of fear, concerns and uncertainty. Unfortunately, we may not yet have met the most significant changes in the game we have loved. If you are a purist, you can forget it. We have already crossed the bridge and, while the new horizon is yet incomplete, we face a weird future for baseball.

    For example, the DH is here to stay. I tremble to think of putting a runner at second base to start extra innings or a 30-man roster for years beyond much less what the minor league system will look like going forward.

    The game has changed, but 2020 will be more than just a blip on the screen. Circle the season in red. 2020 is when the game changed for good.

    You are right though about the shortened season. The teams with fewer slumps and fewer lumps will rise to the top. Then again, if 15 teams make the playoffs, you may find organizations holding back players to ensure they’re healthy.

    Lots of questions and still lots of “hacked off” people as you said. The bigger “season” may come after the World Series when the MLBPA, commissioner and owners start to map out 2021 and beyond. The horse has left the barn, and we now know with certainty that it’s all about the $$$$.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chip – yes I did not even get into the DH in the NL or the bigger rosters or whatever. Perhaps it is the team that has the most solid starting pitchers, the team that has 6 or 7 guys who can go 5+ innings. We don’t know what we are staring at, but we are sure it is not the same game we grew up on.

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      • Dan, I suppose my comment was more looking to the future and the changes that will come rather than this season in particular. A 60-game season, though, will bring many uncertainties and many ups and downs. Pitchers often dominate early in a season, but hitters generally catch up. This year, hitters will have to be ready on Day 1.

        You are probably correct: The staff with the deeper pitching staff may prove to be the best this year. With every game being meaningful, you may also see more tandem options as well, especially given the deeper rosters.

        One thing is for sure! It will be great to see live baseball again — in any form — rather than watching the 1995 World Series again!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What can we expect?
    * Fewer bunts and fewer intentional walks than anytime in MLB history.
    * Higher team batting averages for NL teams.
    * Griping relievers who gave up no hits, no walks and no earned runs but took the loss in extra innings because he allowed two ground ball outs.
    * More platooning of players who might not be able to hit same sided pitching, because of more players on the team.
    * Lots of pitchers coming out after five innings.
    * Cleaner dugouts. No spitting or seeds.
    * More bubble gum.
    * With no crowds, it will be much easier to hear things from the field and the dugout. Be ready for that.
    * Less souvenir baseballs.
    * More commercials between innings. Got to make up lost revenue somehow.
    * Less time for a player to get out of a slump. It’s a short season and players who cost a team wins won’t be able to keep playing.

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    • Astronut, it’s good horse sense. I wrote this on Dec 4, 2019, in anticipation of the attrition going on in today’s pitching arms (vs 350+ IP’s of yesteryear, and so on), and with the make up of our staff throughout the minors.

      “While we’re on the subject. Last season, the Astros took a funky route with two guys who were supposed to be SP’s; James, and Valdez. Similar to Abreu, who started in the minors, then used only sparingly in the ‘pen. The back and forth of Peacock and McHugh over the years, as swingmen.

      I contend Kevin Cash was genius in his outside-the-bounds use of his arms. It is almost unthinkable to use Whitley as anything but a Starter. But when the team only has 5 slots in the conventional sense, it precludes an opening for the likes of Armenteros, Emanuel, Javier, Ivey, Bielak, Sneed, etc. Who, by the way, would all love to take the ball for 3 clean innings someday.

      In phases of the season, I’d like to see the Astros utilize their depth with 3 of the ‘Bulk Starter’ slots, and use the last two for ‘Floater Reps’ with guys who are more likely to pitch effectively in shorter stints. We ran into innings count on Urquidy last season. We should scrap what we think we know about Third Time Through, and take a death by a 1000 cuts approach to giving the opposition different looks.

      In some ways, we tried this in Corpus last year, and led the league in lost Holds. There’s definitely an art to it, [italics] a defined pulse the coaching needs to have on the real-time status of their arms (Hinch Bjornson departs), the potential of which is not exactly getting unlocked yet.”

      -On, “Is Forrest Whitley Ready”

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      • Most would say that having a solid 3rd, and 4th pitch are necessary to get over that “5 innings max” reputation. A few of those types going into the season are; Abreu, Javier, Valdez.

        If you look at game logs for Framber, seeing those huge discrepancies btwn FIP and xFIP. He’s earned the rep of being all over the place. We’ll get to see this year if he’s harnassed his bread & butter, and can somehow mix in some change of speeds. Mike Trout said he has the best curve in the game, we’ve got to bridle it and use it strategically if command is suspect.

        Click’s words have been all along that the philosophy is still to get full QS out of the rotation, it’s just I believe we’ve brought in an awareness of where the leakage begins. The mini-Stros have led baseball in pitching for 4 years, and those young studs are coming to roost. hard to ever breakthrough a rotation we put together from 2017-2019. The drop off won’t be as bad as some have said, in terms of rebuild.

        The overall depth of this team will prove to be an excellent sprint power for a 60-gm season. Every position is fortified.

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  3. I may have missed it – but has anyone seen what the plan is for spring training games? Are they just going to play intra squad games or are they going to make road trips for a few days, since everyone is scattered to the winds?

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  4. I conducted a half-hearted attempt to see whether the Blue Jays would be able to play in their home park, or any park in Canada, this season. I know, earlier, Toronto had said no but that was some time ago. If the club still cannot play in Canada, anyone surmising where they would play? I saw one article suggesting San Antonio of all places.

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  5. I hate the putting of a runner on second. This is the worst rule I have ever seen. It truly makes a basic change to the structure of the game and violates the basic fundamentals of having a run score thru the actual playing of baseball.
    The DH does change the rules of baseball but that DH actually has to get on base and then score to make a difference in the game. The artificial adding of a runner in scoring position is a rule that violates the playing of baseball.
    It is like adding pinball to a baseball game.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I know they want to prevent 18 inning games, but it really changes the whole dynamic of an extra inning game. Similarly, I have never liked the rule in football OT that a team could take the ball first and score first would win. Even when they moved it to the team having to score a TD I did not agree with it.
      It is kind of like the college football rule where you receive the ball at the opponents 25 yard line in OT. It is a bastardization of the rules and the way the game is played.
      But no one is asking us….

      Liked by 3 people

    • 1OP, did not initially see your guy on second rule comments. I feel exactly the same way. It’s like playing whiffle ball in a new drive way and making the rules on the go. Teams will have to avoid extra innings at all costs.

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  6. I read where players who live with someone at risk (such as a pregnant spouse) can opt out of the season and still get paid.
    You don’t suppose there is some procreation going on about now?

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  7. There are a couple implications of the short season and rostering rules. First, without a trade deadline the only incentive for teams not to go all out in an attempt to win is the draft order next year. Basically, as long as a team is within striking distance of a playoff spot it is in their best interests to try to win all games. That will be a huge change from the recent seasons where half the teams are trying to avoid winning games by July. Second, there must be some sort of impact on service time granted to players but I didn’t see it outlined yet. Instead of holding a guy back until June/July you could see a team giving prospects a shot right away. Third, a player who goes down with an injury might not be able to return or work his way back in time for the playoffs. Think about 2015 when Springer broke his wrist. He came back, but obviously couldn’t swing a bat with both hands in September and October.

    The efforts in the playoff games are generally far more intense. I hope we’re about to see real effort in the regular season from these guys, but my gut tells me there are a large number who will kind of go through the motions once their team isn’t in first place and just try to collect the prorated salary without getting injured.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. How to survive a 60-game season?
    – My first thought is to make sure Myles Straw is on the team. You will need him.
    – Make sure that you have three catchers on the team. Pinch hitting for a weak hitting, slow running #9 hitter, such as a catcher, late in games will be a good tactic with the top of the order the Astros will present.
    – Make sure you have a good LH relief pitcher in that bullpen. If you don’t have one, go get one. A 60 game regular season is no time to say “we’ll see how it goes”. By the time you see how it goes, it might have went!
    – Your new manager is thrown into a wildfire, what with the shortened season. Give him everything he asks for and then offer more.
    – Any player who is hurt needs to let the team know about it. The entire season is playoff baseball. Don’t let an injured player cost the team wins.
    – Use the entire training camp to get the players in tip top shape. Practice fundamentals over and over. Drill them on the little things that will make a difference. Let players practice playing different positions in practice and then determine where they can’t play and don’t press them to play out of position once the season starts. Playing out of position will cost you regular season games and there ain’t 162 of them this year.
    – I know this won’t be popular, but you might want to look at leading off your lineup with Alex Bregman. He is a great hitter, strikes out less than anyone on the team, except maybe Brantley and you have Yordan to hit cleanup anyway. One might say that Springer has been leadoff for years and that is the way it is supposed to be, but if you compare the two players, Bregman is better at everything at the plate. Oh, and if tradition is your thought about this, I say that 1.) this season is anything but traditional, and 2.) what will you do next season, if your traditional leadoff hitter has left you and gone somewhere else.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. How to survive a 60-game season? Don’t get into fights if the opposing pitcher hits you. You will be suspended from playing some games and are not likely to win any appeals.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. For some who might not know, the Astros will submit a list of 60 players from their system that they will want to have available to play and evaluate for the remainder of the season. The list is to be given to the league by Sunday.
    New players can be added to the list by trades or signings, but the team would have to subtract players from the list to make room for the new player or players.
    When the new season begins the Astros will have 30 players on the roster and the 30 other players will continue working out at the University of Houston baseball facility on the U of H campus. That arrangement was worked out yesterday.
    Expect a number of players who are in the Astros Top 30 prospects to be among the extra 30 players, including pitchers like Whitley and Bielak who aren’t on the ctual 40-man roster, but who the Astros might want to be available if needed.
    This arrangement also gives the Astros a chance to further develop and coach those players at a facility no more than 15 minutes away from MMP.
    One further note: there is no limit as to how many pitchers can be carried by a club on the season opening roster. They could carry 16 pitchers and 14 position players, if they care to, or any combination of 30 players in total.

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  11. Oh game 7. Oh. How many times do we replay that in our minds. Greinke to finish 7. Cole to pitch 8 and 9. It was there for the taking. This is THE MOST painful what if.

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