It was great to see baseball back on TV, even if the whole experiment winds up being short-lived due to the nonstop life complications presented by the coronavirus.
Major League Baseball returned to the diamond on Thursday and carried on into the weekend as the 30 teams opened up their 2020 shortened schedules. Results were mixed – some teams saw poor pitching but great offensive work, while others struggled with the bat but pitched well. Errors and bad base running made their guest appearances, too. All were to be expected as teams kicked off four months of rust that was impossible to get rid of over a couple of weeks of Summer Camp.
With three games in the books, here’s a look back at some of the talking points of the first series of the season.
PITCHING CARRYING THE LOAD ALREADY
Shocker – the Cleveland Indians rotation is still good.
While there was some expectation around the league that starters would not be pitching deep into ball games in the early going, that did not apply to Terry Francona’s three hurlers this weekend, as Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, and Carlos Carrasco all provided quality starts. The three pitchers threw 19 innings, tops in the league and 3.2 innings more than the second closest rotation, the Houston Astros.
Indians starters combined for a 2-0 record with a 1.89 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP with a .188 batting average against over those 19 innings, recording 30 strikeouts and issuing just two walks along the way. They were touched up for just four runs in the three games on 13 hits. Their two walks surrendered were fewest in the American League and tied for the fewest in baseball. Their AL-leading 30 strikeouts were 14 more than the total compiled by second-place Texas on the leaderboard and were just three fewer than the total posted by the Cincinnati Reds.
The bullpen will remain the part of the staff to watch with closest eyes this season. They were not tested by the Royals, but that is expected to change this week against the Sox.
STILL COOKIE STRONG
Tribe fan or not, how could you not be excited for what Carrasco did on the mound on Saturday?
He wasn’t shut down with some mild sprain or strain or other ailment last June. He had cancer. The big C. That’s a real world game changer. He fought through the fatigue, he fought through the treatments, he continued to give back and be the father that he is away from the game, and he became the face of triumph.
No one knew heading into the season if Carrasco would ever take a Major League mound again as a bona fide starting pitcher. Obviously with the physical limitations that he had a year ago, his return in September was strictly as a reliever based on his physical conditioning alone. But Saturday’s results were all the more encouraging, especially after some ups and downs in camp. He kept his velocity throughout the game. His pitches were sharp and his command strong. He returned to the mound for a seventh inning with ten strikeouts under his belt, looking like the pitcher who just a few years ago was a Cy Young contender.
His return should serve as inspiration to plenty and for those Indians players who watched his struggle, rehab, and recovery a season ago, that should be one helluva shot in the arm to find passion and motivation to be the best that they can be, both on and off of the field.
DO YOU EVEN WORK, BRO?
Francona accomplished one significant goal for the early portion of the season and that was to get as many players onto the mound or the field at some point.
To an extent, that was tough in the first two games of the season, a 2-0 shutout victory on Friday night and a 3-2 defeat in ten innings on Saturday. But Sunday’s lopsided 9-2 win gave Francona the opportunity to get 17 of the 30 players on the roster onto the lineup card somewhere.
Of the 14 pitchers on the active 30-man roster, the only ones yet to pitch are Civale (scheduled Monday), Plesac (scheduled Tuesday), reliever Phil Maton, and long-man Adam Plutko. All defensive players have taken the field, with Sandy Leon, Christian Arroyo, Yu Chang, and Mike Freeman all debuting on Sunday afternoon. Tyler Naquin, who was on the roster to open the campaign, did not take the field before being placed on the injured list on Saturday.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW
Naquin’s replacement, Daniel Johnson, was a tough cut for the club at the end of Summer Camp, but the team opted for the likes of Bradley Zimmer, Greg Allen, and Domingo Santana as early outfield options.
Naquin injured his right big toe last Monday during the club’s exhibition game with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After having fluid drained from the swollen toe, it was discovered that he had suffered a hairline fracture in the toe, which has delayed his return to the lineup. Rather than to force him back into action quicker or to thin out the excessive depth already in place with the expanded 30-man rosters, the team opted for a back-dated injured list placement and hope to have him back around August 1.
Johnson got the start on Saturday in right field, drawing a ninth inning walk in four plate appearances in his Major League debut while wearing his new number 23. He entered Sunday’s game as a pinch-runner for D. Santana.
Cam Hill also got his big league debut out of the way early, coming on with a comfortable 9-2 lead in the top of the ninth against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. He worked a 1-2-3 inning, striking out the final batter of the game for his first MLB strikeout. The 26-year-old right-hander was one of the more surprising adds to the 30-man roster at the end of camp, coming off of a pair of injury shortened seasons due to Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2018.
SIGNS OF LIFE
After scoring just a pair of runs in each of their first two games of the season, splitting the end results, the bats erupted in a bullpen battle with the Royals on Sunday.
Jose Ramirez had the breakout game of the day, going 3-for-5 while reaching base a fourth time on a first inning error. His first official hit of the day came his next time up when his single to right skipped past right fielder Franchy Cordero and went all the way to the wall, allowing a run to score and Ramirez to scamper to third. He added a three-run homer from the left side of the plate and a solo shot off of the left field foul pole from the right side later in the contest to give him four runs scored and four runs batted in.
D. Santana had singles in all three of his plate appearances on Sunday, ditching the highly aggressive approach he had taken in his season debut. He was thrown out trying to stretch one of those singles into two bases and was lifted late for a pinch-runner, but otherwise provided a good spark.
The team had struggled in runners in scoring position and especially with two outs, but they were a productive 4-for-9 on Sunday with runners at second or third.
The team got its first taste of the now labeled “designated runner” rule on Saturday, and the takeaway was generally negative.
I have hated the notion since it first began being tested in the minor leagues as it seemed more a part of commissioner Rob Manfred’s unpleasant rule changes to make baseball games shorter. While extra inning games prove costly to teams, baseball is one of the pure games that is not dictated by a clock. Each team gets its fair turn to score and that has been the protocol since getting away from tied games. I would almost rather see standings with ties on them than some artificially forced outcome that comes exactly the way it did on Saturday night between the Royals and Indians when Kansas City used a sacrifice bunt to move the runner-on-second to third and drove him in with a sacrifice fly. To be fair, the Indians could have used the exact same approach in the bottom of the tenth, but Francona opted to swing away and none of those batters were able to advance the runner across home plate.
“This isn’t travel ball, man. This is a perfect game,” Clevinger, the day’s starter, said after the game. “You know how hard it is to get a runner on second base on the back end of any bullpen? How incredibly hard that is? And now all of a sudden you just get someone on second base with a guy like [James] Karinchak on the mound.
“I’m not happy about it. I’m sure when other teams face the situation and this happens to them, you’re going to get similar reactions.”
I’d almost rather a home run derby approach for extra innings, a la the NHL shootout, to decide a game than to leave it up to a tough situation for relievers that is more beneficial for teams depending upon where their lineup was at when extra frames began. A tie, decided after a particular cutoff point of a few extra innings, is still probably preferable to an outcome generated by a designated runner.
Monday morning brought to light some of the biggest risks to the game today that comes about from teams travelling from or hosting at potential hot-spot cities.
The Marlins game with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday was postponed early in the day as the Miami roster has been ransacked by positive COVID-19 tests. As many as eleven players out of their 30-man roster and three-player taxi squad have reported tested positive, including a starting pitcher for the series and several key starting position players. As the Marlins had visited Philadelphia for their season-opening series, it has now caused the Phillies and New York Yankees to cancel their contest on Monday out of an abundance of caution for both clubs – the Phillies who came into contact with the illness-stricken fish, and the Yankees which would have been using the same clubhouse occupied the last three days by the club run by their former star player, Derek Jeter.
The Marlins are self-quarantining in their hotel in Philadelphia, delaying their return to Miami.
This was, of course, the greatest potential problem that could cause the infant 2020 season to come to a crashing halt. It certainly is a situation to watch moving forward…
A personal note from the writers of Did The Tribe Win Last Night. As opposed to making an entire story about this, I opted for a mention in today’s story. As the 2020 season began on Friday, DidTheTribeWinLastNight.com officially surpassed 10,000 published stories, an incredible milestone for us as a whole and certainly me personally as the managing editor for nearly five years now.
The site has undergone quite a few changes over the years, including seeing dozens of different writers and quite a few ups and downs in the Indians organization since officially launching on July 1, 2011. Under the guidance of managing editor Mike Brandyberry and site owner Ryan Hohman, the writers on board tackled the question of “did the Tribe win last night?” every day, posting recaps, various historical features, profiles, and more. Over the years, the site continued to post daily and was even selected by Cleveland Magazine as the Best Local Blog in their “Best of Cleveland” issue in 2012. That year and since, the site has been credentialed with the Indians and their various minor league affiliates in Ohio and Virginia. This is the first season since the inaugural year that the site will not be represented behind-the-scenes at some of the team’s minor league parks.
Best known at the time for the smiling or crying Chief Wahoo atop the website following a win or loss, the removal of the chief is one of many changes over the years. I have been in the position of running the site since late in the 2015 season and have tried to maintain the creativity and consistency provided by the blog from its outset. Writers have come and gone, but the mission remains the same, to answer “Did the Tribe Win Last Night?” while sharing stories encompassing the 120-year history of the Cleveland Indians organization.
Thank you for the opportunity to share 10,000 stories with you and for coming back time and time again to take it the results of our hard work. There will be plenty of stories to tell as we move through the 2020 season and the 100-year anniversary of the first championship in Tribe history. – BT
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images