The Ten: Top 10 Storylines to Follow This Week

All the stories you need to follow this week in the MLB.

While we may have gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, baseball has made its triumphant return to our lives. 2020 has presented the league with a litany of unique and difficult challenges and the mettle of both MLB and the MLBPA are being tested daily. Let’s get into what we can look forward to in the coming days.


1. Another Breakout


Leading with COVID-19 again, aren’t we? While it may not be the most original idea, the league’s grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic is most definitely a story to follow week in and week out. After last week’s debacle with the Marlins, it was revealed this past week that the St. Louis Cardinals had multiple positive tests as well. Their matchup with the Brewers was almost immediately postponed until safety could be more possibly guaranteed.

So, in 10 days we have now had two teams report a team-wide breakout of COVID-19. Call me pessimistic, but what we’ve seen so far from the health and safety protocols doesn’t make me entirely hopeful that the season will play out as planned. Teams were already on such a tight schedule for the 60-game season and will now have even more double-headers and fewer off days. Even if we do make it to the postseason, what happens if there is an outbreak and an expanded playoff game needs to be postponed? Are we going to end up playing deep into the fall because the players couldn’t help but become infected? As the pandemic slowly branches out across the league, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before another team-wide strike will happen. The only question is, “who?”


2. Looking Ahead to the CBA


The last several years have really been testing the goodwill between the Players’ Association and the MLB. Between obvious service time manipulation tactics and the never-ending back and forth between the organizations during attempts to get the 2020 season started, relations are icy to say the least.

So why is this important? Well, the current CBA expires on December 1, 2021. Even if we do manage to get a full, normal season next year, that still doesn’t leave a whole lot of time between now and the new negotiations. The MLBPA has a lot of grievances I’m sure they would like to air and rectify, while the league has proven itself to be astronomically rigid in not capitulating to the union. A labor strike would be both incredibly disheartening to baseball fans, but would also be another nail in the coffin for a sport that is already struggling to stay relevant to casual fans on the national stage. The MLBPA and MLB can not allow that to happen. How they interact and, more importantly, work together over the coming weeks and months to weather the storm of the pandemic will be crucial to future negotiations.


3. Casey Mize Time?


With the Tigers set to play a double-header on Sunday, it was rumored that top pitching prospect Casey Mize would get the nod to start one of the two games. Mize was the first overall pick in 2018, and his top prospect pedigree and performance have placed him in the upper echelon of young starting pitchers.

But Tigers fans will have to wait a little bit longer for their knight in shining armor. After some cryptic statements from manager Ron Gardenhire, the team did not in fact promote Mize, and instead handed the ball to Daniel Norris, who looked a bit off his game after returning from a positive COVID-19 test. But there is still hope Mize will be on the bump sooner than later. The Tigers have a scheduled off day on Monday before returning for a three-game set against the … oh dear, St. Louis Cardinals. While that game is questionable to happen at best, I think I speak for all prospect-huggers when I say I can’t wait to see what Mize can do on a major league mound. But maybe it can wait until they play a lower risk team.

4. Astro Ball


It didn’t take long for the Astros to receive a bit of vigilante justice in 2020. Following the league’s investigation of Houston’s electronic sign stealing operation in 2017, suspensions were handed out to the Astros’ manager and GM, along with Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, who were now managing other teams. The team was also fined and docked some draft picks. And the players were all let off with a slap on the wrist. No suspensions, no bans, nothing. Yes, the investigation offered the players immunity from punishment in exchange for honest testimony. But therein lies the problem.

The MLB has always had a way of policing itself. While I’m not saying I totally agree with how it is done, that is the way it is. Players on multiple teams expressed their issues with the Astros players receiving no punishment, and the ill will towards Houston has festered over the past several months. It was only a matter of time until an Astros batter was getting plunked in an act of pseudo “revenge.” And we saw it this past week as they faced off against their 2017 WS opponents, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Joe Kelly, a reliever well-known to have very poor control, let loose a fastball that nearly hit Alex Bregman. Later in the game, he buzzed Carlos Correa high and tight with a spun-out curveball before striking him out. Glares and words and comical faces were exchanged, and the benches ended up emptying for our first ever socially-distanced (kind of) altercation. Kelly was suspended 8 games for his actions.

8! In a 60-game season? And he didn’t actually hit anyone? Headhunting in the MLB is an archaic, draconian practice that should be eradicated from the league. But talk about a harsh punishment. In a regular season, that amounts to about a 22-game suspension. When is the last time you saw someone suspended for 22 games for something like that? And this all could have been solved had the league simply punished the players who cheated their way to win the World Series. I don’t think that was asking a lot of them. Now, they are left to simply apply a band aid to each situation where a team feels the need to punish the Astros. Will they simply suspend everyone who hits an Astros batter, even accidentally? Houston is lining up for a three-game set against the Diamondbacks starting on Tuesday. But on Friday they’ll take on the A’s, home to the original whistleblower of the scandal in Mike Fiers.


5. Joe Kelly’s Appeal Results


So while we did get a player finally suspended from the 2017 Astros scandal, it wasn’t an Astro facing the hammer of justice. As previously stated, Kelly was slapped with an eight-game suspension that he immediately appealed, because of course he did. Manager Dave Roberts was also suspended for one game for some reason. Kelly has appealed and will be available to play while the league decides his fate.

Ultimately, I think Kelly’s suspension will be shortened to three games or so. But I certainly don’t think that will assuage fans and players alike who are out for vengeance against Houston. While the league will want to deter players from throwing at Astros batters, making a sacrificial lamb of the first player to do so may only embolden the players who want to see justice served. The league really shot themselves in the foot with this one. Look for Kelly’s appeal results to be announced sometime this week.


6. Postponements and Fantasy Baseball


With the surge of COVID-19 related postponements across the league, it has become more crucial than ever to be constantly monitoring fantasy lineups to make sure you have the edge. Especially those of us who play in multiple leagues, extreme diligence is a must if you want to succeed.

Just this past week, we saw the Nationals, Cardinals, Marlins, and Brewers among others all face postponements due to COVID-19. Couple that with regular old rainouts, and this season is looking like a headache, especially for leagues with shorter benches. 2020 has been a weird year, and fantasy baseball has not been spared from it. If you are having trouble keeping up with all of the rescheduled games, or just feel that fantasy is a bit hollow this season, I would tell you try out DFS. Typically, most platforms give you the option to switch out players who have been postponed or rained out. Make a quick swap instead of dealing with your league’s waiver wire. I love the fantasy baseball community and would do all I can to make sure it remains in good health. Set those lineups!


7. The Mets Really Need to Do Something About Their Bullpen


Death, taxes, and the Mets bullpen blowing winnable games.

The Mets have picked up where they left off from last year, not only still refusing to score runs when bona-fide ace Jacob deGrom is starting, but also watching games slip through their fingers as the bullpen melts down. To be fair, they did bolster their relief squad this winter by adding Dellin Betances and Chasen Shreve, but so far it has not proven helpful. Seth Lugo, who showed he was quite the capable reliever in 2019, has also struggled mightily. And who could forget Edwin Diaz? The trade that brought Diaz and Cano over from Seattle has yielded disastrous results for New York, and stings all the more as the prospect they traded in Jarred Kelenic is poised to be an excellent outfielder.

Jacob deGrom is not getting any younger. He is still one of, if not the best pitcher in baseball, and he is languishing on the Mets. For his sake, I truly hope that the Mets get their ducks in a row after their 3-7 start.


8.  Opt Outs and Opt … ins?


One of the biggest questions that comes along with more and more teams becoming exposed to infection is if players will opt out. I completely support any player who wishes to opt out, especially those with children, or who live with or are themselves someone who is immuno-compromised. Health comes before work one million percent of the time.

So with that being said, when will some players simply deem that enough is enough and simply walk away? We saw several players take the opt out before the season even began, and since then a slow trickle of more players opting to stay home has begun. Most interestingly, Yoenis Cespedes of the Mets decided to no longer play in 2020, but he did it in a strange, yet very on-brand Cespedes type of way. Cespedes was notably absent from Sunday’s lineup, and it was mentioned on the broadcast that the team did not know where he was. Concerning to say the least. Instantly your mind goes to several different places, and you can’t help but think the player’s safety could possibly be in jeopardy. Turns out, Cespedes up and left his hotel room and didn’t inform the team he was taking the opt out. Will more players follow suit? I can’t help but think with more and more teams returning positive cases, that many players will simply not see the point in risking their health.

There was one player, however, who had the opposite feeling. Nick Markakis, outfielder for the Atlanta Braves, reversed his decision of opting out and will return to the team. While Markakis’ reasoning isn’t fully known, it was surprising to the say the least that a player deemed the league safe enough to return.


9. Sample Sizes


The shortened 2020 is definitely going to lead to some strange statistical noise at the year’s end. 60 games isn’t quite enough to fully characterize a player’s performance. But it’s also not a minuscule sample. The leaderboard at the conclusion of the season is not going to look like any you’ve seen lately.

Let’s take home runs, for example. Aaron Judge currently leads the league with six. No surprise there: Judge is an elite power bat when healthy. But right on his heels is, yes, you guessed it, Colin Moran of the Pirates with five. There are four players tied with four homers each, including Christian Vazquez and Teoscar Hernandez. Just what you all expected.

Now I don’t mean to insult the talent of these players, and, yes, most teams have only played roughly 10 games. But before you know it, 60 games will be done with and players like them could be sniffing an MVP award.


10. Mike Trout returns, now with Dad strength


Somehow, Mike Trout will be even better. After a tenuous debate on whether or not the arguably best player in the league would participate in the 2020 season, he decided he would in fact play. This weekend, Trout and his wife celebrated the birth of their first child, a boy they named Beckham.

Trout should be returning tonight and Joe Maddon has said as much, claiming he’ll be writing Trout’s name in the lineup card for their Tuesday matchup against Seattle. It’s no secret that the Halos are clamoring for the return of their best player. They have only recently gotten Anthony Rendon back from his oblique injury, and the pitching side of the team has been a disaster. Two-way star Shohei Ohtani is suffering arm discomfort, and the team’s bullpen has been blowing saves left and right. The Angels have lost four of their last five games and are now in last place in the AL West at 3-7. Trout’s return is just what they need to get back on track.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Liam Casey

Liam is a lifelong Yankee fan currently residing in Long Island, NY with his fiancee and their 2 dogs.

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