I’m reticent to even take the very air I breathe for granted in 2020, but Major League Baseball is scheduled to begin a modified season en masse Friday. The Yankees will take on the Nationals and the Giants will battle the Dodgers to kick things off Thursday evening, while everyone else follows suit the next day. There will be no fans in the stands. I don’t care! The announcers may do the games from remote locations. I don’t care! It’s only going to be a 60-game season. I DON’T CARE! I’m so desperate for a mere scintilla of normalcy right now I’ll take anything at this point.
Baseball may no longer truly be “America’s pastime,” but it could definitely be what America needs in this particular moment. I long for an opportunity to simply be entertained by one of my favorite sports for three hours. I could certainly use a break from all the other stuff.
The Atlanta Braves open the year with a three-game series in New York against the Metropolitans. Mike Soroka has been named the opening-day starter for Atlanta after his terrific 2019 campaign going 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA. He’ll be matching up against New York’s ace Jacob deGrom, who finished 2019 with a misleading 11-8 record and a brilliant 2.43 ERA. Obviously, the shortened season increases the importance of every series by a factor of 10. The Braves and Mets both reside in the NL East and play each other eight times in the first 11 games. It’s always important to get off to a good start, but this season is an absolute must. Sloppy fielding and cold bats right out of the gate could bury a team before the infield dust even has a chance to settle.
Manager Brian Snitker and pitching coach Rick Kranitz have decided to go with a five-man rotation. The aforementioned Soroka will be followed by Max Fried, who was a breakout star last year winning 17 games. On-again, off-again starter Sean Newcomb will get another chance to find the consistency that has eluded him so far in his young career. Veteran Mike Foltynewicz is running out of time to prove he can be a legitimate major league starter. He’s got the stuff, but again, consistency has been a major issue. Finally, the promising young prospect Kyle Wright has earned his opportunity to round out the pitching rotation. Whether or not he takes advantage of his opportunity remains to be seen.
After a bout with COVID-19, Freddie Freeman is back with the team and appears to be on track to make the opening-day start at first base. That is obviously great news. The middle infield remains the same with All-Star caliber SS Dansby Swanson and 2B Ozzie Albies. Austin Riley will most likely take over the duties at third base with Johan Camargo splitting time. Nick Markakis has opted out, so the outfield will look a little different. Ender Inciarte and (superstar in the making) Ronald Acuna Jr. will now be joined by free-agent pickup Marcel Ozuna from the Cardinals. Another acquisition, Yasiel Puig, would have been a factor, but tested positive for COVID-19 this week. I don’t have time to go into the bullpen and bench, but, all in all, the Braves definitely have a roster worthy of contending for the Pennant. Of course, in a bizarre year like this who knows what to expect.
Andy Graham is a weekly columnist for The Outlook.