Baseball 2020: the first weekend
For the first time in several decades (I think the headline said 66 years, but I couldn't find it), no major league baseball team has won their first three games of the season. On Saturday, nearly every team that had lost of Friday won, including the Nationals, who had lost on Thursday.
Among the surprises from the first weekend series, the Marlins prevailed over the Phillies, the Orioles bested the Red Sox, and the Giants pulled even with the Dodgers after losing the first two games. Two big-name pitchers were placed on the Injured List: Corey Kluber, now with the Texas Rangers, and Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros.
In Washington, Stephen Strasburg was supposed to pitch, but had a pinched nerve in his right hand, and Erick Fedde took his place. He exited the game with a 3-2 lead after four innings, so Tanner Rainey got credit for the win even though he only pitched one inning. Victor Robles had a huge day, with a two-run double in the second inning, and a two-run homer in the 4th inning. Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael A. Taylor also hit home runs later in the game, as the Nats won it easily, 9-2.
On Sunday, the Nats had a 2-0 lead going into the seventh inning, as Patrick Corbin was having a superb day with eight strikeouts and only two hits allowed. But Davey Martinez immediately yanked him after Gleyber Torres hit a solo home run even though Corbin had only thrown 75 pitches. Why such a short leash? The reliever, Will Harris, soon gave up a home run to Luke Voit, and the game was tied. An inning later Torres hit a bases-loaded RBI single to give the Yankees the lead, and the visitors held on to win, 3-2. It wasn't Sean Doolittle's best day on the mound, as the Nationals' bullpen crumpled in their first big test of the year. But the Nats could have done better offensively, wasting run-scoring opportunities in the final two innings.
Tonight the Nationals begin a four-game series against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays, but the visitors will bat last as the "home team" in the latter two games, since Canada refused to allow American players across their border, forcing the Blue Jays to scramble to find an alternate venue. As mentioned last week, they will play most or all of the rest of their home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York this year. Time is needed to upgrade the lights and facilities there, so the first "home-away-from-home" game is set for August 11.
Marlins, Phillies postpone games
After several of their players tested positive for covid-19, the Miami Marlins were forced to postpone their game at home against the Baltimore Orioles today, pending further tests. Because those players were in Citizens Bank Park over the weekend, tonight's Philadelphia Phillies - New York Yankees game has been postponed as well. With a razor tight schedule, the possibility of playing at a later date cannot be guaranteed. MLB officials are having to constantly reassess the situation, and if more teams find themselves in such a situation, the 2020 baseball season may once again be put in jeopardy.
Postseason format: wi-i-ide open!
Last Thursday MLB announced the the format of the 2020 postseason, and as expected, it's a thinly-veiled attempt to make up for some of the revenue loss from canceling the first 102 games of the regular season. It begins with a first round series from September 29 through October 2, including the six division leaders, the second-place teams in each division, and four additional wild card teams. In other words, a majority of MLB teams (16 out of 30) will qualify for the postseason. It took me a while to figure out exactly how the matchups will be structured, but I think I've got it now. The higher-seeded team will host all three games of the first-round series, which means that four teams in each league will be guaranteed at least one postseason game at home, the same as has been the case since the postseason first included three division winners plus a wild card team in 1995. Division winners don't get a "bye," and it's entirely possible that a heavily-favored team could get eliminated by losing two of the first three games. That would suck. I sure hope MLB isn't plotting to continue such an expanded playoff format in the years to come. I despise the way other pro sports (especially the NBA and NHL) allow so many teams into their playoffs, causing their seasons to stretch well into the summer. (Both those leagues are about to begin their 2020 playoff seasons under tightly-restricted "bubble" arrangements.) Anyone who needs help understanding what's ahead (hopefully) for October baseball this year can see brackets for 2020 on the Postseason scores page. (I usually wait until the playoffs are about to begin before updating that page, but I figured that doing so early would serve a useful purpose this year.)