Be grumpy. Be cynical. Be an asterisk-promoting puritan.
But if you are truly a baseball fan? Be overjoyed.
Seriously, if you can’t get excited about a 60-game sprint of a regular season than you’re taking the game too seriously. Yes, you can be angry that players and owners squandered a chance to play 80 or more games. And yes, you can be concerned about this blip in baseball’s long tradition of comparable stats.
But think of the benefits:
Every team in contention in August, and nearly every night with something on the line. This could be a pennant race unlike anything we’ve seen, even if we recognize that it was somewhat artificially induced. And even if we are aware that the coronarvirus pandemic could interrupt this plan at any moment.
We’ve already gone through the hard part. We’ve seen April and May disappear without a single hanging curve, or called third strike. Now we have a chance to see spring training, opening day and wild card standings all within a few weeks of each other.
And, if you think about it, one of the best baseball summers in Tampa Bay history didn’t really begin until late July. The Rays had been treading water for more than 100 days and were 10.5 games behind Boston and 8.5 games behind New York on July 26, 2011.
Then, playing 60 games in the next 64 days, the Rays went 38-22, finally clinching the American League wild card with Evan Longoria’s home run in the 12th inning of Game 162.
And, yes, I realize some of the beauty of a baseball season is the sweat equity involved in those 162 games. Nearly everything we cherish about baseball is predicated on seasons that have lasted more than double what this season will produce.
So, of course, there will be unexpected caveats. Ichiro Suzuki once hit .457 over a 60-game span in Seattle in 2004. That means it’s at least remotely possible baseball could see its first .400 season since 1941. Now you could scream that MLB is inviting that level of sacrilege with a shortened season, or you could accept that it’s simply a far lesser version of something pretty cool.
To me, the most important part of the current proposal is that baseball did not mess around with the postseason. A 60-game season is already giving lesser teams an advantage. Had MLB expanded the postseason to include 16 teams, it would have felt like an invitation to mediocrity.
And that’s important if you’re a Rays fan.
The hardest part of any baseball season, even one limited to 60 games, is surviving the regular season. The postseason is more like a crapshoot. So giving too many invitations to the playoffs would have significantly increased the chances of a fluke team winning the World Series.
For a franchise such as the Rays, who were already expected to be a playoff contender in 2020, a more limited playoff field means a better shot at winning the pennant.
Will there be drawbacks for the Rays?
Absolutely. Playing against nothing but American League and National League East opponents will be a challenge. Depending on how the schedule breaks down, the Rays could play as many as half of their games against teams with 10 of the largest payrolls in MLB.
But there could also be an advantage if it takes several weeks into the season for pitchers to be completely stretched out. Few teams are as flexible as Tampa Bay when it comes to pulling starting pitchers before the fifth or sixth inning.
Imagine that? The second version of spring training has not even begun, and already we’re considering schedules, strategies, favorites and wild cards. Almost like a real baseball season, huh?
Perhaps it’s best to think of it this way:
For roughly two-dozen teams, this will forever be known as the season that was too short.
And yet, for one team, it will be the season that lasts forever.