Oakland A’s Clinch the West While the Tampa Bay Rays are One Win Away from Clinching the East

The shortened 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) regular season is heading into the final innings.

This means teams are jockeying for postseason positioning in the expanded playoffs that promise to look like nothing that has been witnessed before; based on among other things neutral site fan free bubble games played in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans.

From the beginning, I have held firm that I do not believe that a 2020 MLB season has any business occurring during a global COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing that could happen this season will change that opinion.

However, since a 2020 MLB season is being played, there are some things that have made me smile during the 2020 COVID-19 season.

During this year of pandemics, wildfires, hurricanes, murder hornets, rare mosquito borne illnesses, coin shortages, and rudderless federal leadership, it is important to remember to smile now and then and enjoy the sweet, sweet irony when it rolls around.

Such was the case when I read that the Oakland A’s captured the American League West Division title and the Tampa Bay Rays are a win away from capturing the American East Division title.

While I am more excited about the prospect of the Rays winning a World Series, I have to admit the A’s taking the division title away from the Houston Astros sounded about as sweet as a Louisville Slugger playing a dugout trash can like an 808 drum in the club.

While I am more excited about the prospect of the Rays winning a World Series, I have to admit the A’s taking the division title away from the Houston Astros sounded about as sweet as a Louisville Slugger playing a dugout trash can like an 808 drum in the club.

Although the Astros will likely still make the playoffs, I take great solace that in a season where their cheating was revealed, they did not capture a division title.

For anyone who may have forgotten, right before the start of Spring Training 1.0, the MLB Commissioner’s office announced that the Astros had been caught cheating during the 2017 season. The cheating scheme came to light when former player, Mike Fiers, outlined the plan to a pair of journalists after leaving the Astros.

Watergate had Woodward, Bernstein and Deep Throat. Trashcangate had Rosenthal, Drelich, and Fiers.

The fact that the person who blew the trash can lid off of the cheating happens to play for the Oakland A’s makes the situation even sweeter.

Although three managers and a general manager were fired, many people, including myself, feel that the Houston Astros players got off too lightly for their roles in the cheating that occurred during the 2017 season. So, since no players were suspended or fined, the next best punishment would be for the Astros season to end as quickly as possible and without any postseason victories.

In another sweet dose of irony, Minute Maid Park was chosen as one of the four neutral site bubbles for the postseason and will host two of the four National League Division Series. The World Series will take place in the Texas Rangers brand new Ballpark in Arlington, TX.

Assuming the Astros make the playoffs, they will play in either San Diego or Los Angeles. Fingers crossed that they play in Los Angeles and some snarky clubhouse manager leaves them some welcoming messages in their lockers from the Dodgers.

Assuming the Astros make the playoffs, they will play in either San Diego or Los Angeles. Fingers crossed that they play in Los Angeles and some snarky clubhouse manager leaves them some welcoming messages from the Dodgers.
Photo R. Anderson

The Dodgers were most likely cheated out of a World Series title against the Astros in 2017. Based on the bad blood that has boiled during the match ups between the teams this year I am sure any messages left in the clubhouse would be illuminating.

Now, some people may think that I am being too harsh on the Astros. Perhaps 2019 me would have agreed with that statement. But, 2020 me has no patience for rewarding cheaters like the Astros.

That is not to say that the Oakland A’s are totally in the clear in terms of cheating in their history. One need only look at the Bash Brothers of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire who were teammates on the Athletics for seven seasons; which included a World Series title in 1989.

Both McGwire and Canseco were tied to statistic enhancing steroid use that has kept them out of the Baseball Hall of Fame; along with many other players tied to the MLB steroid era.

As I have noted before, although a player enhanced with steroids is likely to hit more home runs, they still have to be able to recognize the pitch and know when to swing at the ball. A player who is tipped off on what pitch is coming, is a whole other level of cheating, especially when an entire lineup is taking part.

So, I contend that the team that brought the baseball world sabermetrics, Moneyball, and the Bash Brothers is not without their own past controversies. However, I will take the Oakland Athletics alleged indiscretions and crimes against baseball over the acts of the 2017 Houston Astros any day of the week.

Austin Meadows started the 2020 season in COVID-19 quarantine. He may end the season on the injured list. While Meadows may not be in the lineup, the Rays have the roster that could lead them deep into the postseason.
Photo R. Anderson

But enough about the American League West and the Astros. I grew up a fan of the American League East and that is where my true allegiance resides.

The Tampa Bay Rays have done what the Tampa Bay Rays do. Not only have the Rays survived one of the toughest divisions in baseball, they have thrived with the best record in the American League.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.

Hopefully if the Rays do end up winning it all this year the world will open in time for me to travel to the Trop next season to watch the celebration as they kick off the defense of their title.

Back to back wins by the Washington Nationals and the Tampa Bay Rays would certainly make this Maryland born, and Florida raised writer extra happy.

Watching the Astros implode down the stretch would be another source of happiness. There may come a day when I cheer for the Astros again but that day will not be in 2020, nor do I think that day will be in 2021.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

The sad fact is the Astros would have been a good team even if they hadn’t cheated, but they got greedy and took shortcuts to be even better.

There are no shortcuts in life, baseball, or pandemic responses.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely in denial, or running for reelection from an echo chamber in a bunker beneath a large white house near the Potomac River.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Rays playoff baseball to prepare for.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Verlander Shut Down with Forearm Strain as Injuries Pile up in Shortened MLB Season

The Houston Astros were dealt a major setback in their quest to return to the World Series for the third time in four years when it was announced Sunday that pitcher Justin Verlander has a forearm strain and will be shut down “for a couple of weeks,” according to manager Dusty Baker.

Verlander, the team’s ace, pitched for the Astros on Friday and experienced “tenderness,” which resulted in an MRI on Saturday according to Baker.

The news of Verlander getting shut down likely echoed through the Astros dugout like a well-placed swing with a Louisville Slugger to the side of a trash can.

In a normal season, a 14-day stint on the injured list (IL) is no big deal. However, in this 60-games in 66 days COIVD-19 inspired season, two weeks represents close to a third of the regular season. Plus, there is no guarantee that Verlander will be ready when the two weeks is up.

This is not Verlander’s first flirtation with injury this year. Verlander, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, was expected to begin the season on the IL back in March after having groin surgery and experiencing muscle soreness in the back of his shoulder.

With pitchers falling like Jenga towers, the MLB might want to look into using t-shirt cannons, or mascot sling shots as a means to prevent injuries to pitchers during the shortened 2020 MLB season.
Photo R. Anderson

The delayed start to the regular season created enough time for Verlander’s groin and shoulder to heal allowing the 37-year-old to take the mound for opening day.

Unfortunately for Verlander, and the Astros, a new injury popped up.

During Saturday’s Tampa Bay Rays versus Toronto Blue Jays broadcast, Rays broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson, mentioned that the shortened amount of time players had to get ready for the season would likely lead to many injuries as players tried to get up to speed in half the time of a traditional Spring Training.

Viewers did not need to wait long to see the prophecy from the broadcast booth come true. In the sixth inning, Toronto center fielder Randal Grichuk left the game after experiencing discomfort in his right sacroiliac joint while tracking down a ball at the outfield wall.

Three innings later, Blue Jays closer Ken Giles, a former teammate of Verlander, left with right elbow soreness after struggling with pitch velocity that allowed the Rays to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Due in part to Giles’ struggles, the Rays managed to tie the game from two runs down and ultimately won in walk off fashion in the 10th inning.

Toronto Blue Jays closer, Ken Giles, shown during 2016 when he was a member of the Houston Astros, became the latest pitcher to leave a game early as a result of an arm injury when he left the ninth inning of a game between the Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. Giles’ former Astros teammate Justin Verlander is out for a minimum of two weeks following arm tenderness during his Opening Day start.
Photo R. Anderson

While I am ecstatic that the Rays won, I never want to see anyone get injured on the field.

No timetable has been announced for the return of Giles and Grichuk to the Blue Jays lineup. Much like the Astros with Verlander, the Blue Jays will just have to wait and see how long they are without their teammates.

Back when the rumblings of playing baseball in 2020 were percolating, I mentioned that it was asinine to rush players back to play a shortened season that would not only expose them to a deadly virus, but would also lead to the possibility of increased injuries, all in the name of saying that baseball was played in the middles of a COVID-19 pandemic.

I take no joy in saying that just a few games into the season it appears my prediction was correct.

Verlander, Giles and Grichuk are just three of the players already injured. Texas Rangers pitcher Corey Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, left his start in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies after one inning due to tightness in his pitching shoulder. Also on Sunday, pitcher Reynaldo López, of the Chicago White Sox, left the game in the first inning mid-batter due to right shoulder tightness.

Stephen Strasburg, of the Washington Nationals, has yet to make a start in the 2020 season after being scratched due to arm soreness.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from players leaving games early due to injuries, Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, both were scratched from their Opening Day starts due to injuries.

John Means and Hunter Harvey of the Baltimore Orioles are both on the IL for arm fatigue. The list goes on and on with more players likely to be added daily.

Additionally, players with the Nationals, Rays, Reds, and others have yet to take the field due to being in the COVID-19 quarantine protocol.

While I admit that I am enjoying watching baseball on TV, it is not like I am unable to find things to do with my time if a 2020 MLB season did not happen. Providing fans a few hours of entertainment still does not seem worth the risk to players health both from COVID-19, as well as freak injuries like the ones that are running through the MLB with the same reckless abandon that COVID-19 is spreading across America.

An athlete’s career is short, and skills usually diminish with age. So, I understand the competitive nature of players wanting to take the field as often as possible. In that way, a 2020 season of any length, even one that allows over half of the teams in the league to make the playoffs, makes sense.

However, when one considers that this season is taking place amidst a global public health crisis, the optics get a little murkier.

As far as the Astros go, even without Verlander on the mound, they are likely to be one of the 16-best teams this year and should make the playoffs. Assuming they do make the playoffs, and Verlander’s injury is healed by then, that should help them in the postseason.

Of course, there is no guarantee that they won’t have other players joining Verlander on the IL.

The 2020 MLB season will be one for the ages. Hopefully it is a one-time only thing, and normalcy returns to the diamond, as well as the world in general, by the time Spring Training 2021 rolls around.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to give myself another quarantine haircut.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Lightning on MLB Opening Day Reminds us That We are Still in the Middle of a Storm

After months of negotiations, Major League Baseball (MLB) started the 2020 season that they were bound and determined to have despite cases of COVID-19 surging from coast to coast, and more specifically surging within several cities that have MLB teams.

While I was watching the Opening Day game Thursday night, between the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees, an eerie sight of potential foretelling took place to remind us all that this is not a season like the others.

No, I am not talking about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s “just a bit outside” first pitch. I can only hope that I am in as good of shape as he is when I turn 79. While, Dr. Fauci is not the best at throwing pitches, thank goodness for all of us that he is adapt at not sugar-coating things and giving us the facts we need in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic.

The eerie moment occurred during an on-air interview with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred when the Washington D.C. skyline was filled with lightning. Manfred was unaware of the light show since it happened behind him, but he became aware of it when the thunder reached his ears.

Lightning, and related rain, led to the first game of the 2020 MLB season being called three innings early. At the time, I thought that it was fitting that a long-delayed season would have its first game end that way.
Photo R. Anderson

The lightning, and related rain, led to the first game of the 2020 MLB season being called three innings early. At the time, I thought that it was fitting that a long-delayed season would have its first game end that way.

By the time I was watching the Los Angeles Dodgers game, I had forgotten about the lightning. Instead, I was making preparations to write about the wayward Toronto Blue Jays finally finding safe harbor after being told that they could not play in Toronto or Pittsburgh due to concerns related to COVID-19 spread.

While the Baltimore Orioles offered to share their nest at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a Triple A Ballpark within the Blue Jays organization in Buffalo, New York was chosen as their home for the 60 game in 66 days season; despite the players noting their desire to only play in an MLB Ballpark.

With my sights set on chronicling the plight of the Blue Jays in mind, I sat down at my computer in the Gigaplex and was ready to let the words fly from my fingers onto the screen. That was until the giant thunder clap briefly knocked out the power, and took out the Wi-Fi and cable connections.

The storm lasted all of 60 seconds, and included only that single bolt of lightning and related thunder. As quickly as the sky turned dark as night, the sun returned. It was as if the storm had never even been there aside from the lack of Wi-Fi and cable to remind me.

As I was resetting all of the Gigaplex clocks, suddenly the lightning in Washington, D.C. the night before was back in my mind. I realized that the lightning was a metaphor for the season of baseball in the middle of COVID-19. Much like Commissioner Rob Manfred, I did not see the lightning because my back was turned, but I heard the thunder.

The Texas Gulf Coast was under a Tropical Storm watch for much of the day, but when the storm track shifted south of me it became an out of sight out of mind event. I went about my day as if there was not a storm churning in the Gulf of Mexico with the possibility of rain bands stretching to my side of Texas.

So, when that lone lightning bolt did arrive, and leave as quickly as it popped up, there was no one more surprised than me. I have lived through many storms, and as far as I can recall I have never seen a storm of a single lightning bolt but as my mother said, “it only takes one.”

COVID-19 is a lot like lightning. We can try to turn our backs on it and play baseball, or go out to eat, or do whatever else we used to do when the world was open, but even if we have our backs turned and ignore it, the thunder will remind us of its presence.

While we cannot fully control the strength and ferocity of lightning, there are some pretty easy steps that we can take to starve the COVID-19 virus of the fuel it needs to spread. Thinking of these mitigation steps as medical lightning rods if you will.

Wearing masks, washing hands, socially distancing, and avoiding large gatherings are such simple steps to stop the spread. Sadly, despite the simplicity of these things, there are still people who feel they are immune to the CVOID-19 virus, or that they would rather die free than be forced to wear a freedom stealing mask.

I have said it before, and it bears saying again, you know what steals a person’s freedom? Being dead from the COVID-19 virus because they refused to wear a mask, and just had to go to that house party, or whatever other gathering was deemed so important.

The Baltimore Orioles offered to share their nest at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with the Toronto Blue Jays. Ultimately, a Triple A Ballpark in Buffalo, New York was chosen as their home for the 60 game in 66 days season Time will tell whether the Blue Jays, and the other 29-MLB teams, are able to get through a season played in the middle of a global health crisis.
Photo R. Anderson

There are a growing number of stories of younger people infecting their grandparents, and in some cases leading to the death of their loved ones.

That is certainly something you would not want to put in the annual Christmas letter, “Hello friends, this year I was selfish and went to a house party in the middle of a pandemic, and as a result Grandpa is dead.”

Personally, I do not want to risk the guilt of thinking that my actions of needing to socialize led to someone else’s death. But if someone feels that they absolutely have to go out, I hope they remember how thunder and lightning work. By the time you hear the thunder, the damage has already been done by the lightning.

The MLB season was greeted by lightning on Opening Night. Time will tell whether the pandemic’s lightning of cases among the players, or hot spots where games are to be played, allow for the full season to take place.

MLB really wants to be able to unfurl the proverbial “Mission Accomplished” banner after crowning a 2020 World Series Champion.

I just hope when the dust settles it was all worth it, and they aren’t having to write about anyone dying as a result of being hellbent on playing baseball in a time of COVID-19. From where I am sitting right now, the risks of trying to crisscross the country far outweigh any benefits.

That is not to say all is doom and gloom. The COVID-19 storm will pass and there can be joy in Mudville once again. One of the best things about a thunder storm, is the double rainbow that is left behind to remind us that storms are temporary and there are better days ahead.

Of course, those better days will only come if we all do our part. So just wear a mask, and practice social distancing. Laying off an off speed pitch is hard, wearing a mask is easy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to ponder why there are so many songs about rainbows.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

As We Peer Deeper Through the Looking Glass, MLB is Proposing Pumping Fake Crowd Noise into Empty Ballparks

Just when I think 2020 can’t get any crazier, someone ups the ante and takes us further through the proverbial looking glass.

Or, as the Cheshire Cat would say, “When the day becomes the night and the sky becomes the sea, When the clock strikes heavy and there’s no time for tea. And in our darkest hour, before my final rhyme, she will come back home to Wonderland and turn back the hands of time.”

The latest attempt at fake normalcy and turning back the hands of time in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic, comes courtesy of a report by the Associated Press that Major League Baseball (MLB) wants to pump fake crowd noise into empty ballparks during their shortened season to give the players and viewers an authentic game experience.

I get that athletes are used to crowd noise, and viewers are used to hearing noise when they watch a game, but using fake noise in empty Ballparks is something that even the Mad Hatter would call crazy.

The crowd noise will come courtesy of the video game MLB The Show. According to MLB, sound engineers will have around 75 different effects and reactions to choose from as they try to set the mood like a Ballpark Barry White.

MLB wants to pump fake crowd noise from a video game into empty ballparks during their shortened 2020 season to give the players and viewers an authentic game experience.
Photo R. Anderson

To use a television analogy for the completely made for TV event that the 2020 MLB season has become, instead of filming games in front of a live studio audience, MLB is going to use the equivalent of a laugh track.

Come to think of it, a laugh track is exactly what the 2020 MLB season needs since it is completely laughable that the season is taking place to begin with.

But, if the MLB season must take place in the middle of a pandemic, silent grandstands would be a much better approach to show that this is not just any other season.

Just picture getting to hear the sound of the pitch hitting the back of the catcher’s glove along with the communication between players on the field. That would be so much better than hoping the Ballpark sound engineer selects the correct sound out of the 75 they can choose from.

By choosing the route of fake noise, MLB is missing the chance to allow viewers to hear the action in a way they have never heard before, and hopefully never will again. Ballparks so silent you can hear a trash can bang would truly be something magical.

Sadly, MLB is not the only sports league using video game soundtracks to set the scene. England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga returned to the pitch with crowd sounds from EA Sports’ FIFA video game franchise.

The NBA is also considering pumping in the Jock Jams crowd noise when it resumes play in the Walt Disney World ESPN Wide World of Sports Bubble.

Pumping in canned noise gives the appearance of, “move along, nothing to see here” instead of allowing the silence of the event to show that we are in uncharted territory. I mean, are they going to fill the stands with stuffed animals, or cardboard cutouts, as well, like the KBO League in South Korea is doing to avoid the look of empty seats on television?

It is almost like the sports leagues pumping in the fake noise are afraid that if the games included silence people would realize that there are more important things to focus on right now.

One cannot just pump in crowd noise, and fill the seats with life sized Hello Kitty dolls, and pretend that we are not in the middle of one of the biggest crises in over a century. I am not saying that we all need to run around in misery with ash on our bodies like the biblical story of Job, but this rush to reopen everything, and just wish a virus away is not working.

One cannot just pump in crowd noise, and fill the seats with life sized Hello Kitty dolls, and pretend that we are not in the middle of one of the biggest crises in over a century.
Photo R. Anderson

Also, from a journalistic ethics perspective, using fake noise on the broadcasts is right up there with the disturbing trend of broadcasters super imposing advertising on Ballpark elements to get more revenue.

Real life does not happen in front of a green screen. A sports broadcast should give the viewer the exact look that a person in the venue would see and hear. Fake sounds and ads blur the lines, and could lead to a point where reality is distorted in the name of making a buck.

While I know that a sports broadcast falls under “entertainment” and does not always adhere to the same high ethical standards that a news broadcast would, ethics still need to be maintained so that the audience can have confidence that what they are seeing is reality and not a revenue stream centered alternative reality.

To take the through the looking glass analogy further, we are becoming a nation that is not only deeply divided on political issues, but the very response to COVID-19 is divided between those who are taking the virus seriously, and those who have gone through the looking glass and are playing chess with the Queen of Hearts while saying, “Off with their heads, and try the beans they’re delicious.”

COVID-19 does not give a hill of beans about people ignoring it, and trying to hope it away. The only thing that is going to defeat this virus is to starve it of fuel in the form of people it can infect. That involves closing things down, and to use the video game analogy, hitting the reset button.

COVID-19 is spreading like a nationwide wildfire. Some people are putting water on it and controlling it by wearing masks and socially distancing to starve it of fuel.

As MLB plows full speed ahead with trying to have a 2020 season like someone trying to win a perverse bet, Austin Meadows of the Tampa Bay Rays became the latest player to test positive for COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

Other people are saying, “look at the pretty flames,” or worse saying “fake flames” as they play their fiddle and call the virus a hoax.

The entire MLB season falls into the look at the pretty flames category. There is zero reason that an MLB season needs to be played this year aside from owner’s greed, and a misguided desire to make everything seem normal as the world burns.

It would be great for MLB to show that the season is not a giant cash grab by donating all revenue to essential workers who are the real heroes in the middle of this pandemic.

I highly doubt that MLB would do that, but if they did, that would be something I would support in terms of pushing forward with the season. I will not support pumping in fake crowd noise, however.

As 2020 continues to roll forward, one can take some solace in the fact that the year is closer to the end than it is to the beginning. However, based on the lack of coordinated action to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, there is little solace that 2021 will be any better than 2020 if we stay on our current course.

I say that not as a fatalist with my head stuck in the sand, or as someone detached from the reality while standing behind a podium between two trucks.

Instead, I say it as an optimist who sees a path to turning things around and still believes that Americans will realize we are in this together and that masks and social distancing save lives. And, that is not just pumping in fake noise, that is the reality.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to ask Alice if she can make any sense of this at all.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson