Has it sunk in yet? Major sports are coming back. At least, that's what they keep telling us. Basketball and soccer think they are going to keep their players in a 'bubble', yet they are going to play their games in Florida, which is one of the worst states in the nation for Covid-19 right now. Baseball players report to their various home ball parks Wednesday, but some are opting not to play, while others who plan to play are testing positive. It's a wacky world out there, folks.
Hockey was the first sport to announce a format for how it would return, but are the last to implement it. Football, only by dumb luck and the fortune of the calendar, has only been mildly affected by the coronavirus shutdown, but has canceled their first preseason game and delayed their Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. There is still plenty that can derail this train, and many people, from fans to players to broadcasters to exectutives, have to be asking themselves and others if this is worth it. Some may say we need sports to return to normalcy, while others are starting to think it would be better to skip the whole thing this year, and let the nation literally heal.
So now that we have the dire prologue out of the way, let's assume for the moment that Major League Baseball will be arriving at an empty ball park near you on July 23 or 24. MLB has not announced their schedule yet, but it is reportedly been done, and sent to the Players Association for review. A 60-game season will mean teans will play each division opponent ten times each for a total of 40 games, plus each team in their corresponding division in the other league (AL West vs. NL West, etc.) four times each. Doing the math, that's 20 interleague games plus 40 division games equals 60. The idea is to minimize travel, which in theory would maximize safety.
The schedule has not been released, but it has been leaked that the World Series champion Washington Nationals will open at home against the New York Yankees. If baseball has gotten everything else wrong to date, they've gotten this one right, and what a matchup it is, and we have to assume national television. Appointment viewing, even if by curiosity alone. Set that aside for the moment, and let's get back to the math.
If teams are playing opponents in their division ten times, that would (likely) mean five games at home and five on the road, which means a three-game series and a two-game series in each park. In interleague play, playing a team four times would either mean four games in one park, or two games in each stadium. I believe it will be both, with series like Dodgers-Angels and Giants-A's split 2-2, with the other series being four games in one stadium. So let's say the Dodgers play four games in Oakland and Texas, but host Seattle and Houston for four each, and then split the two with the Angels. Are you with me so far?
This is where I'm going with this. Baseball has said that the season will begin on July 23 or 24. Maybe the three interleague series (there will always be a minimum of three at one time because of the odd number of teams in a divison) will begin on July 23, while the other teams, in divisional play, will open on the 24th. So how about an Opening Day tripleheader on Thursday July, with three headline-grabbing matchups to wet your whistle? The following suggestion, and it's only that, is my audition to be Director of Programming for ESPN...
10am PT, Cleveland Indians at Chicago Cubs: Likely pitching matchup—Mike Clevinger vs. Jon Lester. This is just a warmup, the undercard if you will. Neither team made the playoffs last year but the Indians won 93 games and the Cubs were in the wild card picture until about a week to go. You've got the affable Terry Francona as the Cleveland manager against David Ross, who is now at the helm of the Cubbies after winning the World Series in 2016. There are probably better choices out of the Central, but I'm trying to think like ESPN here. You've got Wrigley Field, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and a rematch of the 2016 World Series. We'll also find out in a hurry what baseball with no fans is like, and oh yeah, the DH in a National League park (yuck). Alternate choice: Minnesota at St. Louis. It would be a battle of the two Central Division winners from last year, but let's leave something for September.
1pm PT, Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers: Likely pitching matchup—Justin Verlander vs. Clayton Kershaw. Let's get the booing out of the way early (at home of course) and bring the cheating Astros to Dodger Stadium in a rematch of the 2017 World Series. The Dodgers are considered the best team in baseball on paper, so let's see whatcha got. Mookie Betts in a Dodger uniform, and David Price on the mound for the Saturday game. It's doubtful that Kershaw's first pitch to Jose Altuve would be under his chin or in his ribcage anyway, but remember, fights aren't allowed. Maybe that means a free shot? Alternate choice: Oakland at LA Dodgers. I guarantee you if MLB and ESPN go with this three-game format, the Dodgers will be the middle game. They always are. The A's were wild cards last year and would be an attractive matchup. Texas or Seattle? Not so much.
5pm PT, New York Yankees at Washington Nationals: Likely pitching matchup—Gerrit Cole vs. Max Scherzer. We out here in California hate ESPN and Fox's east coast bias, but you can't argue with this one. The champs deserve to open at home (something guaranteed this year with the schedule not being released before the previous season is complete), and what better opponent than the team that's considered the best in the American League? Cole was the most sought-after free agent, and Scherzer is an elite arm, along with Cole. Would the Nationals raise a championship banner with no fans there? How would a ring ceremony work? Ryan Zimmerman, who has been a National since the team moved from Montreal in 2005 has opted out of playing this season, so maybe they could put a space suit on him and have him throw out the first pitch. Maybe Howie Kendrick will hit a grand slam off of Aroldis Chapman like he did to Joe Kelly and the Dodgers. You gotta believe even baseball fans who are angry about negotiations and the late start to the season would check out this one. Alternate choice: none. Since sports is now officially a made-for-TV event anyway, here you go.