NEW YORK — One-tenth of baseball’s shortest season ever has been completed and other than the fact Rob Manfred wakes up every morning holding his breath that another team hasn’t been hit with a rash of COVID-19 positive tests, there have already been some telling signs about what to expect to see come October.
Assuming, of course, there is baseball come October.
If you’re the Mets, you have to be more than concerned about Edwin Diaz’s continuing failures as closer. You have be pretty much resigned to the trade that brought him to New York along with Robinson Cano and his bloated contract for uber prospect Jarred Kelenic as being a total disaster. There’s not much the Mets can do with Diaz other than shifting him over to low pressure middle relief in hopes of better performances that would hopefully enhance his trade value.
This much is certain: If the Mets somehow don’t qualify for the postseason, Brodie Van Wagenen is going to have a lot of explaining to do to the new owner about this trade, as well as the $20 million he threw away on perpetually hurt Jed Lowrie.
You have to wonder too if the Yankees aren’t privately getting similarly exasperated with Gary Sanchez. You will probably never hear Brian Cashman — Sanchez’s biggest booster from the time he signed the two-two time All-Star catcher as a 16-year old out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 — concede a failure of expectations here. Cashman has repeatedly dismissed critics who have said the Yankees will never win a world championship with the defensively challenged Sanchez as their catcher, to the point where he said he wouldn’t even consider trading him to the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto two years ago. Then last winter Cashman let Austin Romine leave as a free agent to the Tigers, a further boost of confidence for Sanchez in that it left the Yankees with only Kyle Higashioka as protection behind the plate.
All the passed balls aside, Sanchez’s power bat was always what enthralled Cashman, even if injuries so often deprived the Yankees of that the last couple of years. It’s too soon to tell how much (if at all) Sanchez’s work behind the plate has improved under new catching coach Tanner Swanson, but now even his hitting is looking very suspect. Sanchez went into the weekend 0 for 15 with 10 strikeouts, the worst start of any hitter in baseball.
One of Cashman’s signature offseason moves was bringing in Matt Blake from the Indians as the new Yankee pitching coach. In Cleveland, where the Indians’ starting pitching has been positively dominant, we are seeing the fruits of Blake’s labors. Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Mike Clevenger, Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Civale, and Adam Plutko, all of whom were tutored by Blake, may well be the best starting rotation in baseball — and Cleveland’s ticket to a long run in the postseason. With 27 strikeouts in his first two starts of the season, Bieber tied the record by the Dodgers’ Karl Spooner in 1954, and the Indians’ staff as a whole led the majors in ERA (1.83), strikeouts (86 in 64 innings) and fewest walks entering the weekend.
Meanwhile, the most important early trend to watch has nothing to do with performance on the field. It’s the daily toll the coronavirus is taking on the schedule. After two Cardinals players tested positive Friday, leading to the postponement of their game in Milwaukee with the Brewers, there had already been more than a dozen postponements and scheduling changes affecting eight different teams. One more Cardinals player and multiple members of the staff tested positive Saturday, leading to another postponement. Nobody knows how the Marlins are going to get through the season. When last seen they were boarding multiple buses in Philly on Friday to take their 18 infected players back to Miami. Manfred & Co. are scrambling to keep the season going; they got the Players Association to agree to seven-inning doubleheaders to help make up these lost games. But every time a team announces new positive tests, like the Cardinals’, there is immediate fear with the team they just played and whether this is going to be a continuous domino effect.
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