Well – here we are. Roughly a third of the way into the abbreviated 2020 MLB season. While a few teams have barely seen the field as a result of dealing with COVID outbreaks, the majority of the league has managed to play about 20 of their games (give or take). This seems like a good time to start reflecting on what has been, and what may be. After all – the playoffs are right around the corner in this most unique of seasons. Every few weeks we’ll be checking in on each team as they navigate this 60 game race to the postseason. While there’s plenty to talk about off the field, this series will focus primarily on the games and how the season is shaking out. So, let’s dive in, shall we?
Where do we start with the fish? Perennial basement dwellers in this division of late, their season was off to a fairly promising start. They took two of three from the rival Phillies and then the wheels came off.
Fresh off that series it was announced that several players on the team and staff had tested positive for COVID-19. MLB promptly postponed their next few series and the team was quarantined in an effort to contain the outbreak. After their 11-6 win against the Phillies on July 26th, they didn’t take the field again until August 4th, when they took on the Baltimore Orioles. They would go on to be road warriors, playing their first 12 games over 23 days on the road. They returned home with a record of 8-4, on top of the division (thanks to winning percentage given that they’re several games behind the rest of the teams).
All told – roughly half their Opening Day roster was sidelined during the COVID outbreak. There were very few recognizable names on this roster to begin with, but they’ve had to dig deep into their farm system to field a full squad. Over their first 12 games, they’ve used 9 different starters, and 27 pitchers in all. Still – the arms have held their own thus far, posting a staff ERA of 4.22 through 12 games.
The offense has been anchored by a mix of veterans like Jesus Aguilar, Jonathan Villar, and Francisco Cervelli and relative youngsters Brian Anderson and John Berti. It’s hard to really get an idea of how the offense rates given the disparity in games played, but this team poses a threat every time they take the field, especially in this truncated sprint of a season.
Like the Marlins, the Phils were shelved for a few games early on this season. They were the Marlins’ opponents when their outbreak happened, so they were taken off the field for a time as well.
Since returning, it’s been a mixed bag of results. By all accounts, the rotation has performed solidly. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Jake Arrieta have all pitched to a sub 3.00 ERA over their first three starts each. That’s great, considering manager Joe Girardi believes that the rotation will be the key to making a run to the postseason. However, the problems currently lie elsewhere.
The bullpen is historically bad. Sure, it’s only a handful of games in perhaps the most bizarre season ever, but still. The numbers are pretty painful to look at:
For all the good work out of the starting rotation, the bullpen has been dreadful. I have a feeling fellow Turf writer and Phillies superfan Ellen Adair may have more to say on the matter, so keep your eyes peeled for that – it promises to be riveting reading I’m sure.
The pen isn’t the only problem, however. There are some big-name bats that are in a funk. Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery are both batting below the Mendoza Line. So is Andrew McCutchen. Jean Segura is sitting at .209, which isn’t much better. Thankfully for them, guys like Bryce Harper, Didi Gregorius, and J.T. Realmuto are picking up (most of) the slack. Realmuto is batting .292 with 7 HR and 17 RBI. Harper’s line reads .356/4/10 and Gregorius is currently at .265/3/11. In an abbreviated season, teams can’t afford for their big bats to suffer long slumps, so they’ll need to wake up soon. Of course, if the bullpen doesn’t turn it around completely, it may all be for naught.
Unlike the Phillies, the rotation in Atlanta is in shambles, though for vastly different reasons. Their starters have been utterly decimated since Opening Day. Mike Soroka tore his right Achilles. Cole Hamels hit the IL before the season even started. Mike Foltynewicz was DFA’d after a rough start. Sean Newcomb has been less than impressive. That has left Max Fried virtually on his own. To his credit, he’s risen to the occasion and posted stellar numbers. In 4 starts, he’s 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA. He’s got a WHIP of 0.838 and has yet to give up a single HR this season. Of course, he’s just one arm. It’ll be interesting to see how long the Braves will compete if they don’t shore up the rotation.
Offensively, the Braves have also been bitten by injury. Ozzie Albies has been battling a wrist issue and is currently on the IL. Fellow OF stud Ronald Acuña Jr. will take the weekend off against Miami to rest an ailing wrist of his own. Perennial All-Star Freddie Freeman, while still producing, isn’t up to his usual level after his own battle with COVID. Thankfully though, role players like Travis d’Arnaud and Marcell Ozuna have contributed regularly. Despite all of the bumps along the way, the Braves find themselves with the most wins in the division. If they can weather the storm, they should find themselves battling for the division, as usual.
The American League has a guy playing in the Bronx who is absolutely ON FIRE. Well, in the National League, that guy would be Juan Soto. The youngster was sidelined to start the season thanks to COVID, but since he’s been back on the field, he’s been tearing the cover off the ball. In 8 games, he has 5 HR, 10 RBI, and is batting .414 with an OPS of 1.034! Oh, and he did THIS the other day:
While Soto has been the standout for the team since his return, they did miss him early on. They’re also still in search of the production they lost when Anthony Rendon headed west. If they can find that, and the rest of the lineup starts firing on all cylinders, they’ll be a force for sure.
From the mound, they need to address the back of the rotation. Up top is “old reliable”, Max Scherzer. Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg can usually be counted on (though Strasburg did have some nerve issues early), but after that, who knows? Anibal Sanchez is off to a sluggish start but Austin Voth has shown some promise. They’ll need to get some consistency out of the back end. If they can put all the pieces together quickly, I fully expect them to be right in the thick of it when we get down to the end of the regular season.
I saved these guys for last because, well, they’re MY guys. This is the team I could go on and on about – so by putting them last it’ll force me to be concise in my analysis (in theory).
There are so many different storylines that have come out of Queens in these first few weeks. There was Stroman getting hurt right before the season, then deciding to opt-out due to COVID. Then there was the Céspedes saga that began with him going AWOL in Atlanta before announcing that he was packing it in for the season as well – walking away without any notice to the club or his teammates. And then there’s the stuff that has transpired ON the field so far.
What was supposed to be a promising rotation coming into the season has pretty much evaporated. It was supposed to be some version of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Michael Wacha, and Rick Porcello. So far only deGrom has delivered consistently. He’s in mid-season form already, even when battling a blister in his last start. Beyond him though, things are dicey. Stroman is done for the year, Wacha is on the shelf, Matz and Porcello have been up and down. They’ll need to get into a rhythm for an extended period of time if they hope to keep up with the rest of the division.
The bullpen has also been in flux – particularly the closer. Edwin Diaz picked up in 2020 where he left off in 2019 – which is not good. Jeurys Familia, Brad Brach, Dellin Betances, and Seth Lugo have all been playing musical chairs as new manager Luis Rojas tries to define roles for all of them. Thankfully, at least they’re all healthy, which has allowed the team to move Robert Gsellman into the rotation for the first time in years. In a 60 game season, they’ll need to figure things out fast.
When it comes to the offense, there is a lot to be excited about. Pete Alonso is finally starting to heat up. Michael Conforto just matched the longest hit-streak of his career. Andres Gimenez is flying out of the gate. Brandon Nimmo has reached base in more than 30 straight games. Guys are contributing all over the place. They have the second best team batting average in the NL (behind the Colorado Charlie Blackmons), and are leading the NL in hits with 179.
Their biggest problem, however, has been driving in runs. They’re only batting .221 with runners in scoring position – which has definitely cost them games already. They need to start cashing more of those runs in. Hopefully they’ll then be able to string some wins together. Every time they look like they’re righting the ship, they take a step back. The final two games against the Nationals this week were encouraging. They battled in both of those games and managed to prevail, ultimately splitting the four game set. Let’s see what they can do with that momentum moving forward.
The Weeks Ahead
Given the unusual setup of this entire season, it’s virtually impossible to feel confident in making any predictions. All of these teams will be seeing a lot of each other in the coming weeks (provided there are no more scheduling surprises caused by everyone’s favorite virus). I’m excited to see how things start to shake out by the time we hit the “home stretch”. See you then!
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