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Look at the San Diego Padres go.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
After a four-month delay, Major League Baseball finally began its 2020 season July 23 and is now one week into its 60-game schedule.
It’s been wild, so let’s break down the early winners and losers.
We’re not strictly referring to which teams have the best and worst records, though teams on both ends of the spectrum stand out. This is also about specific players who’ve landed in the spotlight for reasons both good and bad, as well as other headline-worthy stories.
In any case, we have five winners and five losers to get to.
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Daniel BardAssociated Press
For the first time in over eight years, Daniel Bard was literally a winner in the Colorado Rockies’ victory over the Texas Rangers on Saturday.
For that matter, the occasion marked his first major league appearance of any kind since April 27, 2013. He pitched 1.1 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out one to earn his first W since May 29, 2012.
Bard began his career with the Boston Red Sox in 2009 and served them as a live-armed setup man through 2011. When the team tried him out as a starter in 2012, however, he developed a case of the yips that eventually led to his retirement in 2017.
But while working as a mental skills coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, the 35-year-old found himself reinvigorated upon realizing he could play catch without “without throwing the ball 10 feet over the guy’s head.”
Now it’s as if Bard never left, as his long-awaited victory was achieved with the help of a vintage fastball that touched 99 mph.
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Justin VerlanderAssociated Press
It’s early yet, but Major League Baseball can’t be thrilled that dozens of pitchers are already on the injured list.
What’s more, there are some big names among them.
Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (hand) developed injuries before they could make their 2020 debuts. Justin Verlander (forearm) and Corey Kluber (shoulder), who have four Cy Young Awards between them, subsequently joined them after making just one appearance apiece.
It may be a coincidence that all these injuries have happened in such a tight window of time. After all, pitchers were known to break down with little to no warning well before this year began.
However, Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker surely isn’t the only one who’s wondering if baseball’s long layoff and quick ramp-up to the regular season have “a lot to do” with all the pitching injuries. If there is indeed causation at work, depleted pitching staffs may be an unfortunate new normal.
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Giancarlo StantonAssociated Press
Giancarlo Stanton’s presence was hardly felt on the 2019 New York Yankees, as injuries limited him to 18 games and three home runs all season.
But in the Yankees’ season-opening series against the Washington Nationals, there was Stanton in the middle of everything.
He took three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer deep for a 459-foot blast July 23. Two days later, the 2017 National League MVP connected off Erick Fedde for a home run that left his bat at 121.3 mph and was projected at 483 feet.
“It’s a good couple of nights,” the 30-year-old told reporters. “I feel locked in and have a good approach. I’ve got to continue that.”
Because Stanton has already had to come back from a strained calf this year, the Yankees must keep their fingers crossed that he can stay on the field through the end of the season. But if he does stay healthy and keeps swinging like, well, that, then he’ll more than make up for the time he lost last season.
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Khris DavisJeff Chiu/Associated Press
Because the league’s batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage are all down relative to 2019, it’s perhaps mean-spirited to single out one struggling hitter.
But in Oakland Athletics slugger Khris Davis, we pretty much see the anti-Stanton.
Though the 32-year-old has taken 17 plate appearances while playing in four of Oakland’s first five games, he’s mustered only two walks and zero hits. He’s struck out seven times and grounded into two double plays.
The bright side, such as it is, is that Davis seems healthy after playing through injuries and hitting only 23 home runs—i.e., 25 fewer than he hit in 2018—last season. To hear A’s manager Bob Melvin say it, Davis is “pressing some.”
Be that as it may, the A’s need Davis to get back on track soon. The last thing they need is a designated hitter who can’t hit, especially amid an abbreviated season in which each game basically counts as three games.
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Shane BieberTony Dejak/Associated Press
Contrary to what’s going on with other clubs’ pitching staffs, you’d never know Cleveland’s hurlers were coming off a long layoff.
Through Wednesday, Cleveland’s starters are sitting on a 1.85 ERA with 54 strikeouts and only three walks in 39 innings. All six of them lasted at least six innings in their respective debuts, highlighted by Shane Bieber’s 14-strikeout shutdown of the Kansas City Royals on Friday.
“When I say he makes the glass look half full, that would be the biggest understatement,” manager Terry Francona said of Bieber. “He’s really something.”
Cleveland’s bullpen has also done well, posting a 2.81 ERA with 18 strikeouts through 16 innings.
Including a respectable offensive effort paced by Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana, there are indeed other reasons Francona’s club has won four of its first five games. Cleveland’s arms have nonetheless led the way, and the proverbial sky is the limit as long as they can keep it up.
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Jeffrey Springs and the Boston Red SoxCharles Krupa/Associated Press
The Boston Red Sox began their 2020 season on a high note with a 13-2 beatdown of the lowly Baltimore Orioles on Friday.
Then the Red Sox promptly became the lowly ones with a four-game losing streak.
Their skid was primarily marked by not good bad frankly terrible pitching. Over 36 innings, Red Sox hurlers served up 29 runs on 41 hits and 16 walks.
Then again, such a dismal performance could’ve been expected. As Eduardo Rodriguez continues to recover from a heart condition that arose from having the coronavirus, there’s shockingly little upside to be found among the pitchers on Boston’s active roster.
Though it’s understandable if they’re pressing to make up for all the runs their mates are giving up, Boston’s hitters haven’t been much better since the opener. J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, in particular, must do better if the club is to have any shot at turning things around.
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Fernando Tatis Jr. (C) and teammatesJeff Chiu/Associated Press
Out of the handful of teams that have gotten off to hot starts in 2020, perhaps none has opened eyes as much as the San Diego Padres.
This team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006 and hasn’t even had a winning season since 2010. The Padres definitely want to snap these streaks in 2020, and their early 4-2 record has them on track to do exactly that.
San Diego’s new-look offense has tallied 32 runs through its first six games. Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers and Fernando Tatis Jr.—the latter of whom looks like an early MVP candidate—lead the way with a combined 1.139 OPS and 18 runs batted in.
Padres pitchers have been plenty solid in their own right. They boast a 3.06 ERA, in part thanks to standout efforts from live-armed starters Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards.
In short, San Diego has by no means stumbled to its encouraging early record.
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Sean Doolittle and Dave MartinezAlex Brandon/Associated Press
The Nationals are off to a slow start, eh? Well, they went through the same thing in 2019 and still ended up winning their first World Series championship.
They might be in a little more trouble this around.
After tallying 5.4 runs per game in 2019, the Nats haven’t looked the same on offense in the process of scoring 18 runs through their first six games. Juan Soto’s return after testing positive for the coronavirus will give them a boost, but Anthony Rendon isn’t walking back through that door after leaving as a free agent.
If Washington’s offense is slow to shape up, Nats pitchers may be able to handle only so much slack. Strasburg’s pending return will help, but the depth after him, Scherzer and Patrick Corbin is suspect.
The defending champs better hope whatever mojo they tapped into last season is still there. If their early play is any indication, they’re going to need it.
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Trevor Story and the Colorado RockiesLouis DeLuca/Associated Press
Moments before the first pitch of the 2020 season was tossed, MLB and the MLB Players Association threw a bone to the potential also-rans of the league.
In lieu of a normal 10-team field, this year’s postseason will consist of 16 teams. There will be eight each in the American and National League, including six automatic spots for the top two teams in each division.
Naturally, this is a means for clubs to recoup some of the gate revenue they’re losing with fans barred from games. For the players, it means at least a $50 million bonus.
But if the other big idea in expanding the playoffs was to stir things up, it might already be working. For the first time since 1954, no team opened with a 3-0 record. Through Wednesday, even the Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins have winning records.
There’s obviously a lot of baseball still to be played, but for now, something the Joker once said is ringing true: “Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos.”
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Rob ManfredJohn Raoux/Associated Press
Regarding Major League Baseball’s efforts to keep the coronavirus pandemic at bay, there’s good news and bad news.
The good is that there have been relatively few positive tests in the weeks since MLB returned from its absence. Per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, only 0.3 percent of 32,640 tests through July 23 were positive. Since July 24, only one team has yielded any positive tests.
The bad, of course, is that the one exception is the full-on breakout that is afflicting the Miami Marlins. Half of the club’s 30-man roster has tested positive just since Friday, and the club’s season has put on hold until at least Monday.
For his part, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday he still believes the league’s health and safety protocols are “adequate.” If he’s right, the Marlins situation will turn out to be the only real scare the league gets this year.
If he’s wrong, baseball’s reboot will be in serious peril.