Going into this season, it was a near-certainty that there was going to be some weird stuff going on. Sure enough, chaos has reigned supreme in baseball. While the Braves haven’t experienced a major outbreak like what Marlins are currently dealing with, they haven’t had any games postponed like the Yankees and the Phillies have had, and they haven’t been marooned in a foreign country like the Blue Jays have, they’ve still experienced an incredibly weird season already. After tonight, the Braves will have only played a handful of games and yet they will have experienced enough drama to last for an entire season.
Four Braves players test positive for COVID-19
So naturally, this all started earlier this month at the very beginning of training camp when it was announced that four Braves players had tested positive for COVID-19. This included Touki Toussaint, Pete Kozma, Will Smith and Freddie Freeman. Of course, there was always going to be plenty of trepidation among players (and fans) as to whether or not even having a baseball season in the first place. This led to players opting out, such as:
Felix Hernandez and Nick Markakis opt out of 2020 season
If you’re a veteran who’s got plenty of years under your belt, have made your money, and aren’t even guaranteed of getting plenty of playing time, there’s little reason to take the risk of playing baseball this season. Shortly after the positive cases for the Braves were announced, Felix Hernandez decided to spend this season looking after his family. Subsequently, Nick Markakis had a phone call with a seriously-ill Freddie Freeman that basically ended up spooking him to the point where he decided to opt out as well. Just like that, the Braves were down six players and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic had already had a major impact on the Braves in just 72 hours.
The Yasiel Puig saga
There was actually a brief lull in drama for nearly two weeks after the three days of flux. That all changed when rumors started swirling that Yasiel Puig was spotted at The Battery. As it turned out, he was there on business with the Braves and then it was confirmed that the Braves had come to an agreement to sign the Cuban slugger to a deal. However, details of the deal were scarce at the time and that was mostly due to the assumption that Puig still had to clear the hurdle of passing a COVID-19 test. That ended up being a hurdle that Puig was unable to clear — just a few days after the agreement, Puig tested positive and the deal was off right then and there. The Braves once again had to look for options to bolster their lineup just one week away from Opening Day.
Braves narrowly escape Marlins
Despite this, things were still coming together pretty nicely for the Braves when it came to getting their roster ready for Opening Day. After a brief period of summer camp, the Braves wrapped things up by hosting the Miami Marlins for a couple of games. While the two games came and went with the goal being to make it to the start of the regular season unscathed, it turns out that the Braves may have dodged a major bullet when it came to the Marlins. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, “a couple” of Marlins players decided to go out and enjoy what Atlanta had to offer while they were in town.
That may just be some speculation from Nightengale, but it really wouldn’t be surprising to see the initial Marlins outbreak end up getting traced back to a couple of players catching it in the Atlanta metro area. While I’ll leave the epidemiology to the experts and I won’t even attempt to be an amateur epidemiologist here, I’ll say that the Braves are real fortunate that they didn’t get wrapped up in Miami’s outbreak. The Phillies may not be as lucky, and that could have huge ramifications on the rest of the entire MLB regular season — or whatever’s left of it if cases continue to spread across baseball.
Mike Foltynewicz gets Designated for Assignment
For once, we finally got to see some baseball-related drama that wasn’t related to COVID-19 at all. Instead, it was just the apparent end of an era for one of the faces of Atlanta’s most recent rebuild. Mike Foltynewicz had a massive stumble out of the gates this season and even during his exhibition outing against Miami, there seemed like something was off. Folty’s velocity was way down and he blamed that on the radar gun at Truist Park being on the fritz. He had no such excuse when his velocity was the same at Tropicana Field. Both teams had no mercy on Folty, as the balls went flying over the fence at an alarming rate. I won’t get into speculation as to what prompted the Braves to designate Folty for assignment, but the timing of it still came as a huge shock. The one thing that’s for certain is that the Braves had run out of patience with Mike Foltynewicz and weren’t willing to give him time in this short season to figure himself out for a second year in a row.
In an equally shocking moment, Mike Foltynewicz actually went through waivers without being claimed and ended up being assigned to Gwinnett. So while Folty and the Braves may not be completely done with each other at this point, it’s clear that the mercurial enigma Mike Foltynewicz is skating on very, very thin ice with the Braves organization at the moment.
Nick Markakis opts back in for 2020 season
Meanwhile, the Braves were doing a good job of avoiding the virus in the early stages of the season. This is despite a scare with Tyler Flowers and Travis d’Arnaud where both catchers came down ill (with something other than COVID-19) right before Opening Day — prompting the Braves to have to roll with Alex Jackson as their Opening Day catcher and William Contreras as a second option. The most encouraging sign was the fact that Freddie Freeman had recovered from his illness just in time to be ready for Opening Day. Proving once again that he is the inspiration for Wolverine himself, Freeman went from claiming that he was praying for his life while laid up in bed during his illness to having a four-hit night in a Major League Baseball game — all within the span of one month.
The Braves got some better news once Nick Markakis announced that he was going to opt back in for playing in 2020. While having Markakis back should be a net positive for the Braves (if he’s utilized correctly and Brian Snitker doesn’t drive him into the ground as an everyday outfielder batting in the middle of the lineup), hearing his reasoning for coming back was a bit odd.
Markakis very candid & going as far as to say “I bailed on them.” It didn’t sit right watching them all be out there taking risks in order to play. He plans to talk to the entire team & apologize. “We all make mistakes.” #Braves— Kelly Crull (@Kelly_Crull) July 29, 2020
Nick Markakis shouldn’t feel compelled to apologize to his baseball teammates for quitting baseball for a season to make sure your family is okay during a global pandemic. With that being said, that probably went over extremely well with the players who are currently in the clubhouse and it’ll be a huge boost to morale just having him in there. In a baseball sense, this is good news for the Braves and I’m sure that Alex Anthopoulos will be thrilled that he was able to help convince Markakis to return to the team — especially after the Puig situation didn’t work out the way that they wanted it to.
Who knows what happens next?
So here we are. The Braves at this point have only played a few game and yet the story of this season has already taken twists and turns in all sorts of directions. Due to all of the uncertainty that comes with trying to pull off a massive travelling operation like Major League Baseball games in the midst of a pandemic, it’s almost guaranteed that there will be more twists and turns to come as the season (hopefully) progresses. So while things are likely to get weirder, here’s hoping that the Braves aren’t in store for anything crazier than what they’ve already had to deal with. The Braves could either be moving out of the storm and into whatever normal looks like during this current moment in time, or this could just be the beginning of the craziness. Who really knows right now? This season is weird!