Friends, it is Opening Day (maybe). The forecast in DC is abysmal, which means we might have to wait another 24 hours before watching pandemic baseball. Could it be any other way? I don’t think so. While you get prepared, check out Derek’s great series preview from earlier this morning.
In any case, the game is still going ahead as scheduled for now. We’ll be back with game threads, news updates, and our takeaways from the game later on today. Until then, here’s what’s on my mind on the latest – and weirdest –Opening Day in MLB history.
1. Gerrit Cole, Gerrit Cole, Gerrit Cole: It’s hard to think of a bigger Yankee-specific storyline than Gerrit Cole’s first real start for the organization. We all know the story by now. He was Brian Cashman’s “white whale.” He elected to go to UCLA instead of signing with the Yankees out of high school, then was shipped to Houston from Pittsburgh instead of the Bronx. Tonight, in other words, is a decade in the making. (This is why the fact that the game might get rained out is almost poetic.)
Regardless, though, tonight is the start of a new era in the Bronx. Cole will be a Yankee for the next ten years and he is one of the best pitchers the Yankees have employed in decades. As Cole goes, so too will the Yankees over the next few years. I feel pretty good about that prospect. Really, I’m just excited to watch him do what he does. I don’t think any of us need a real reminder of just how damn dominant the 29-year-old flame-throwing righty actually is. But, just in case, check out the below video from Pitching Ninja for a reminder:
Yeesh. You can look at his stats all day – 39.9% strikeout rate in 2019, a .166 batting average against his fastball, eye-popping spin rates, and on and on – but there’s something about seeing it in action, isn’t there? I can’t wait to see him pitch for the Yankees. I really cant.
Neither can Cole, actually. As he told the New York Times, if Cole signed anywhere else, he “would’ve been banging on the [Yankees’] door: ‘Please give me a job'” once the contract expired. Fortunately for us, Cole didn’t have to beg – and tonight is the official start of what will be a decade-long relationship. In the process, Cole joins some good company by making his debut on Opening Day:
Sure, it’s very basic, but it’s hard for me to think about anything else from a Yankee point-of-view right now. The future is now.
2. Short Season Sprint: It is going to be a sprint from start to finish this year. It’ll be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Assuming the Yankees play tonight – which is far from a safe assumption right now – here is how the schedule shakes out over the first third:
- Opening Day is tonight. The Yanks are off tomorrow. (Obviously, if tonight is rained out, Opening Day is tomorrow instead.)
- Beginning on Saturday, the Yankees will play 16 consecutive games before their next off-day on August 10. (17 consecutive if the season starts tomorrow.)
- They’ll then play two straight against Atlanta before another off-day on August 13.
That’s the first third of the season. After that, there are just four off-days all year – August 24 & 27 and then September 3 & 14. It’s going to be a wild ride. It’s a pennant race from day one of the season, giving each game an additional weight and importance.
Remember, the first third of the season is the toughest stretch. I really, really hope the Yanks can get off to a hot start. Not only would it be nice to avoid the drama and online meltdowns, but it would give the Yankees a much-needed boost. Nobody wants to start slow even in a normal year. In a 60-game sprint to October, it’s more important than ever before. If I were the Yankees, I would simply get off to a torrid start to avoid worrying about it. Easy enough, right?
3. Expanded Playoffs: On that note, MLB and the MLBPA are (hilariously) still considering expanding the playoffs to 16 teams for the 2020 season. They have until first pitch to hammer out a deal. I guess that would be fine in a short season where everything is bizarre and broken, but the operating assumption for me is that any 2020 rule changes will extend into 2021 and beyond.
Personally, I don’t like the expanded playoff idea at all. I think it cheapens the regular season – even in 2020, I would argue that the 60-game format is a playoff in its own right, particularly if the standings are close in the last two weeks – to an absurd degree. If more than half the league makes the playoffs every year, why play 162 games? It’s ridiculous.
Then again, I also hated the second Wild Card format a few years ago and that worked out just fine. I even like it now! So maybe this is me just being a crotchety fan for no reason. (It’s also worth noting that injecting short-series variance into the playoffs necessarily hurts annual juggernauts like the Yankees, so that may play a role in my crankiness.)
Separate from that, though, the fact that this is even still a consideration right now is INSANE. First pitch is in a few hours, for crying out loud. Apparently it’s not enough that one team doesn’t even have a home stadium right now. We also don’t know how many teams will make the playoffs. It’s absolutely classic stuff from MLB, but even from a jaded cynic, this one still managed to surprise me. Stay tuned for more, I guess!
4. Will It Feel Right: All of this raises a pretty basic question: is this all going to feel right? I am not so sure. I mean, I’m pumped about the season and would be a liar if I said otherwise. Thinking about lineup construction, the prospect of 500-foot home runs, and the ineptitude of the Red Sox (more on that below) is making me feel better than I have felt in months. Even watching the intrasquad games felt like a relief.
I got used to the fake crowd noise and even the cutouts basically immediately. There is no doubt I’ll get used to the bizarre, dystopian nature of this season after about a week, too. Perhaps I’ll even adjust to FOX’s Sims-esque digital crowds:
I am not in the business of saying whether or not this season is a good idea or if it’s safe for it to proceed, so I’ll refrain from that. (There are no shortage of actual experts who can do that for you. Listen to them.) All I know is that it’s going to be a very weird, surreal season both for the above on-field reasons and everything happening off the field. I think we’ll be grappling with this question all year long. How we all respond to it will vary on a person-by-person basis. In the end, whether or not this season feels right or wrong is for you to decide.
In terms of the legitimacy of the actual on-field play, though, just remember this simple rule: if the Yankees win the World Series, it was a legitimate season. If anyone else does, well, it was a sham and a farce. It makes things really easy.
5. Mookie Betts, Dodger: I’ll be quick on this one, but I just have to say it: LOL at the Red Sox. Of course, the Sox traded perhaps their best player since Ted Williams to the Dodgers in February. All we heard was that Boston made a savvy move by trading a player away who had no intention of signing a long term extension. Then, yesterday, Betts signed a 12-year, $365 million contract extension with the Dodgers. [Chef kiss]
There are a ton of contextual factors here – the potential cratering of the market with the state of the economy being the biggest one – so it’s not exactly fair to say that Betts would have agreed to this deal if Boston offers it back in December. I bet he would have at least strongly considered it, as he was always more flexible than portrayed, but that’s neither here nor there.
The most important thing here is that one of the best players in baseball is now off the Yankees biggest rival and out of the American League entirely for the next 12 years. From the Yankees’ perspective, that is a major win – and us getting to laugh at the Red Sox is just the delicious cherry on top.
With Opening Day tonight, I wanted to focus exclusively on the MLB team and the oddness of this season. I’ll have more thoughts in the coming few days about the MiLB situation and the Yankees’ prospect development. That is a huge topic and deserves its own in-depth look. Still, I’d be remiss not to mention this: holy crap, Jasson Dominguez is a freaking beast. I mean, check video out, courtesy the 17-year-old’s Instagram:
The sound of the bat (audible in the subsequent videos on the thread) is just delightful. I know it’s Opening Day today and the Yankees are a legitimate contender, but a fundamental aspect of baseball is dreaming about tomorrow. After seeing that video, it’s hard not to get really, really excited about Dominguez wearing pinstripes – and soon.