CODNP Day 127: Playing Pepper With the AL West

We continue running around the majors by checking in with our American League friends out West.  I imagine they, more than any other group, will be glad of the limited time zone changes for their TV watching this season.

Team Writer Site Twitter
Houston James Yasko Astros County AstrosCounty 2020 Pepper
Los Angeles Rahul Setty Crashing the Pearly Gates RahulSetty_ 2020 Pepper
Oakland Nico Pemantle Athletics Nation 2020 Pepper
Seattle Colby Patnode Control The Zone CPat11 2020 Pepper
Texas Christopher Fittz Lone Star Ball apoplecticfittz 2020 Pepper

C70: Does the shortened season work for or against your team?

James: I think it works for the Astros. Obviously, not having fans at road games is probably better than getting booed and hearing banging noises from start to finish, but the extremely-delayed start to the season has allowed what seems to have been a fairly-significant injury to Justin Verlander to heal. Also, it’s easy to imagine that the innings limit on the Tommy John-rehabbing Lance McCullers, Jr. is off the table now. The Astros already had some minor rotation questions coming in (especially with Verlander on the shelf) but those would appear to not be as big.

Rahul: The Angels have a bevy of durability questions with their staff, so the short season benefits them disproportionately compared to other teams.

Nico: I think ultimately the short season works against the A’s simply because they are poised to be an elite team this year and the long season is what ensure that the cream rises to the top. In a fluky 60-game season the best teams won’t all reveal themselves, which helps the second-tier clubs try to ‘catch lightning in a bottle’ for two months and ride it to a division title. The A’s won 97 games last year, but I am boldly predicting they will win fewer in 2020.

Colby: The shortened season is a blow to the Mariners rebuild efforts. 2020 was expected to be the first step forward. In a full season, Seattle would likely have gotten significant MLB sample size seasons from top prospects Jarred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert, Kyle Lewis, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Shed Long, and help make decisions on the future of J.P. Crawford, Kyle Seager, Daniel Vogelbach, etc.

While all the names mentioned above are certainly going to get MLB time this year, their development was put on hold for 4 months. With original plans to be competitive by the second half of next year, the shortened season likely pushes their rebuild back an entire year.

Christopher: With the season set at 60 games the Rangers have a better shot at making a run at a spot in the postseason simply because, well, there are fewer chances for them to lose games! If baseball is no longer a marathon, the sprint favors whichever team gets hot and that can be the Rangers with a formidable starting rotation. However, it should be noted that the Rangers take a couple of hits with the way the season has been laid out in front of them. Namely, they no longer get to play weaker NL East and AL Central teams and will see the Dodgers, A’s and Astros on the docket for more than they would like. The overall strength of schedule for the Rangers went up compared to the original 162 game calendar. In a time when peace of mind will come at a premium, the Rangers also go into this tenuous season knowing that they will accumulate more miles traveled than any other team in the league as a centrally located franchise forced to make long trips out west.

In the end, I think the odds will tell you that the Rangers have a better chance but the extenuating circumstances might push them back into the realm of extreme longshots.

C70: What are you most looking forward to seeing?

James: First and foremost I’m looking forward to seeing baseball played safely. I don’t think that’s possible in 2020, but what do I know (other than, you know, history)? Otherwise, it would be nice to see the Astros win a lot of games without the shadow of trash cans and buzzers around them, but I don’t think that will ever really go away.

Rahul: Seeing the best player in baseball, arguably the most underrated player, a two-way fireball masher, an up-and-coming superutility player, and one of the greatest players in baseball history all on one field. They’ll be one of the most watchable teams in baseball, and that’s worth celebrating.

Nico: For me, just the familiar sight of the center field camera angle, players I have grown to regard as my ‘second family’, the flow of the game. I won’t put nearly as much stock in the results this season, but will just be grateful if there is a season — something I am still very skeptical about, given MLB’s/MLBPA’s head-scratching decision to let young athletes manage their own off-field decisions with regard to spending time with family and friends.

Colby: Well while we won’t get to see as much of Kelenic, Lewis, Dunn, Sheffield, etc., I’m still excited to see them as much as we can. But the player I am most excited to watch this season is actually Yusei Kikuchi. The big name free agent signing from 2019, Kikuchi struggled in his rookie season, but flashed crazy good stuff and made a few dominant starts against some good lineups like the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Cleveland.

Kikuchi came into this year with a simplified delivery and came out pumping gas in his first couple of cactus League appearances, sitting 94-96 MPH, a 2-3 MPH bump over his 2019 heater. Kikuchi reaching his ceiling as a legitimate #3 starter would be a fantastic development and I think he can get there so I’ll anxiously watch all of his starts.

Christopher: For me, I’m certainly looking forward to seeing if Joey Gallo can have one of those boom periods at the plate for a couple of months and carry an underdog Rangers to a playoff spot or how Corey Kluber looks while joining Mike Minor and Lance Lynn atop the rotation. But, in truth, it’s still all about trying to figure out how the new ballpark will play and what it will look like when baseball is played there. It was supposed to be a grand opening in 2020 for the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field but COVID has guaranteed that if baseball does indeed get played this season, the Rangers will debut their new park to nothing more than crickets. It’s a legacy that I’m not sure is deserved by the fans of the team, but perhaps one that has a bit of fitting irony for a publicly funded, practically unnecessary home to civic peer pressure opulence. If the air conditioner is running, but no one is there to cool off, does a ballpark make a sound?

C70: Do you believe the season will be fully completed? How about the playoffs?

James: I don’t. Just the way that cases are skyrocketing here in Texas, for instance, I don’t know that you can create a bubble secure enough to keep everyone safe and healthy. I can absolutely see MLB and the owners saying, “Forget y’all, as long as I’m not personally impacted, then COVID is just something by which one has to be mildly inconvenienced” (sort of like the rest of society) and forging ahead for as long as possible. I don’t think the season actually finishes, much less the playoffs. But if it does, I would appreciate the Astros’ winning it all, if only because it would make everyone lose their minds and the franchise name would be replaced with “The Houston Asterisks” for fans of the other 29 teams for all of eternity.

Rahul: Yes; not because it should, but because that is the predetermined timeline, no matter what. Everything’s a statistic until it personally affects one individually, and no one gets a raincheck on their health. Based on how things are trending, we’ll see players missing chunks of the season with more opt-outs on the way, so it’s hard to take 2020 results at face value.

Nico: I think it’s entirely unrealistic to think that a group of over 3,000 people, the vast majority of whom are young and so many of whom come from communities that scoff at mask-wearing and a pesky thing called ‘science’, are going to collectively make the choices necessary to keep COVID-19 out of the so-called ‘bubble’ that is supposed to be MLB for 3 months.

I certainly think it could work, if you had every player report and test/quarantine first, then spend time only with each other and only at the ballpark or hotel. And for all of 3 months — only 2 months for the 20 teams who miss out on the post-season — that is a reasonable set of parameters. But the way they’re doing it? (“Hey, young and dumb athlete. Don’t party or anything, ok? And we trust that the thousands of family members in MLB will all happen to be uninfected.”)

We already saw what happened just in the workout complexes and how players across 19 teams reported to ‘summer camp’ testing positive for COVID-19. The way they’re doing it is a recipe for failure, but I hope somehow it works out.

Colby: Baseball probably has the best chance of the 4 major sports to play their full schedule. Unlike football, basketball, and hockey, the game is naturally set up to encourage social distancing. The early testing results have been positive. I’m cautiously optimistic a full season gets in so long as the players stay disciplined in their safety procedures and the owners don’t chase nickels and dimes by letting fans in the stands this season. Gut feeling is they complete the entire season, but a shut down in September or October is a strong possibility. 

Christopher: I, like everyone who might read this, would enjoy having some real baseball to watch. I want to feel hopeful that the season gets played. Baseball in 2020 is what I would like to see happen, even if I’m not entirely sure it’s even prudent to try and understand that there are risks at play. And, if it does happen, I hope it is done with people’s safety in mind and not just as an attempt to get as many playoff bucks back into the owner’s pockets at all costs. I am cautiously optimistic that baseball will keep its insular edge just enough to continue going if they are able to start. However, considering the missteps that the country itself has made in pruning the virus, I am wary about the chances of baseball making it all the way to the finish line, and my doubts stem not just from current society and national leadership but the near malpractice levels of decision-making the league showed throughout the spring during talks of returning to the field.

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