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Baseball is coming back and it’s going to be weird

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The National Pastime is officially set to get underway for 2020. It’s not going to be a normal season at all, but it’s still baseball!

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

For the first time in a long time, we finally got some undisputed good news from the baseball world. Even though the MLBPA and MLB didn’t come to a final agreement, the 2020 season will start soon. There will be regular season Major League Baseball this year, and that is a huge relief after what seemed liked an endless stream of contentious debate between the two parties at hand.

At the very least, this means that baseball’s story won’t be dominated by labor talks — that will be saved for this offseason, which is probably going to make the recent negotiations seem like child’s play. Instead, we’ll finally get to talk about the main reasons why we’re all fans of baseball today:

Oh yeah. That’s the stuff. Unfortunately, we’re not going to see a huge crowd going crazy for a Ronald Acuña Jr. moonshot until we’re in a year not known as “2020” but we’re still going to get to see Acuña hit baseballs a very long way this year and that’s very good news. This upcoming season is going to be extremely weird, but I’ll take a weird season over a lost season every single time.

When I say that this season is going to be weird, it’s a near-guarantee. Even if we didn’t have all of the new proposed changes like a Universal DH, the extra-innings “Runner-On-Second” rule or that weird “wet rag” deal (which has trouble written all over it when it comes to a sport that’s already had to deal with massive cheating scandals in recent years), the fact that the season’s only going to be 60 games is enough to ensure that this is going to be one of the strangest seasons in the history of baseball. The compressed season has basically made it so that nearly every team in the bigs is going to have a fighting chance if they have a hot streak. It’s still extremely hard to imagine that teams with a roster that’s designed for punting on the 2020 season could get off to a hot start or finish strong to ride a wave into what’s surely going to be a weird postseason, but it’s definitely more likely now than in a pre-COVID-19 world when baseball would be business as usual.

That’s why it’s going to be extremely important for the teams who were among the favorites to contend this season during “normal” times to play at a high level at all times. This will be the only time in baseball history where panicking over results during July could be seen as reasonable. There’s no time for teams to have to have an extended period of gelling before getting on a roll once the season is well-underway. There has to be a sense of urgency from the first pitch of Opening Day and that’s going to result in a level of intensity that is almost foreign from regular season baseball — especially regular season games in the middle of the summer.

Divisional Series - Atlanta Braves v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three
Baseball’s coming back!
Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

That means that the Braves themselves (and every other team) aren’t really going to have the margin of error to mess around with lineups, rotations and bullpen deployment as the season progresses. Ideally, you’d want the Braves to have all of this figured out very early on so that things are going as planned and they’re regularly beating the teams that they’re supposed to beat and also taking games off of the bigger teams as well. As I mentioned last week, the Braves should actually be in a good position to capitalize off of the DH coming to the National League. If Brian Snitker can smartly utilize this new tool, the Braves could end up being one of the teams that could be primed to come out of the gates doing well. A good start is going to be absolutely crucial, so it’s key to have everything rolling as soon as possible and there’s not really too much time to try to figure things out on the fly.

To be quite honest, this type of scenario is uncharted water for everybody involved and it’s going to be intriguing to see how everyone handles it. We could see teams who are good on-paper end up struggling because of the format and the exact opposite could happen with seemingly bad teams who are suddenly energized due to the short season. There’s going to be a pennant chase-level of intensity but there’s also going to be a bit of luck involved with who comes out on top this season. We’re going to be in for a ton of surprises — most of them could end up being flukes in the long run and honestly, that’s fine. At this point, I’m just happy to have baseball back and I’m especially happy to have the Braves back.

The main thing I’d advise everybody to do is to really enjoy things and cherish the game while we can this year. COVID-19 is still running rampant across the country and we’ve already seen at least 40 players and staff test positive for coronavirus just last week. While this season is guaranteed to be chaotic, there’s no guarantee as to whether or not the season will even be finished if the pandemic gets worse from here. Players, coaches, umpires, staff, and everybody else involved with making baseball games possible are going to be putting themselves at risk in order to make this happen, so the very least thing that we can do as fans is to be understanding if high-risk players opt out or if this all gets shut down again in the future.

Then even if the 2020 season comes and goes without any type of stoppage, the aforementioned labor negotiations during the offseason could make it so that the last bit of baseball that we all get to watch for another extended dead period is this weird version with the Runner-On-Second rule. These negotiations between the players and owners didn’t end with the two sides in harmony — there’s going to be a fight this offseason and it could get ugly. With that being said, let’s hope that there’s no type of work stoppage or pandemic that keeps things from being normal in the future.

For now, this weird version of baseball is what we’re going to have to go with. It’s going to be strange, it’s going to feel weird, and it’s debatable that it’s the morally right thing to do with the way things are going with the ongoing pandemic here in the United States. These are all factors that we’ll all have to reckon with as fans during baseball’s return, but it’s still going to be wonderful to be able to watch the Atlanta Braves play in real-live baseball games here in 2020.