Baseball is back. The home runs are back. The blazing fastballs blurring across our TV screens are back. The bat flips, the doubles in the gap, the “how did he do that?” defensive plays, the box scores, the exit velocities, the hot takes, the debates, the hopeful late-game rallies, the walk-off hits, the beautiful background noise of summer, it’s all back.
If you watched Thursday night’s two games, however, you noticed that quarantine baseball is not exactly the same. Before we preview all 14 of Friday’s Opening Day games, here are nine ways the weirdest baseball season ever will be different in 2020:
1. No fans in the stands. Some teams will use cardboard cutouts of fans in the seats behind home plate. Fox announced it would include computer-generated fans on its broadcasts, starting with the three games it is televising Saturday. In watching these early games, there is no doubt the empty ballparks create an unusual viewing experience, kind of like watching a game from the Kingdome in 1983. The games might sound relatively normal though, as stadium engineers will pump a variety of crowd noises through the ballpark sound systems.
2. Social distancing, no spitting, no sunflower seeds, no high-fives or fist bumps, no arguments and definitely no brawls. At least, that’s the plan, although I saw some high-fives and fist bumps during exhibition games. Managers and coaches will wear masks and several players have been wearing them during games as well. Not sure about mascots.
3. Social justice initiatives. We’ve seen several players kneeling during the national anthem during exhibition games — and at least one manager, Giants skipper Gabe Kapler — and players can wear “Black Lives Matter” or “United For Change” patches as well BLM T-shirts during batting practice. All of the Nationals and Yankees took a knee before the anthem during pregame ceremonies Thursday night. Further, MLB has eliminated its cleat restrictions for 2020, so expect some players to include social justice messages on their shoes.
4. Regional schedule. The 60-game schedule will feature 40 total games against division opponents (10 matchups with each other team) and 20 games against teams from the corresponding regional division. So we’ll get Dodgers-Astros and Yankees-Mets, but no Yankees-Astros or Dodgers-Nationals. At least until the playoffs.
5. Designated hitter in the National League. Which means a few more runs, assuming the ball remains as “lively” as it was in 2019. American League teams averaged 4.88 runs per game in 2019 compared to 4.78 for National League teams. The gap was a little bigger in 2018, when the AL averaged 4.53 to 4.37 for the NL. For now, this is just a temporary rule for 2020 and as controversial as it is, it might not be the most contentious of the season …
6. … because extra-inning games will now start with a runner on second base. This will create an interesting strategic decision for managers. Does the visiting manager automatically attempt to bunt the runner over to third base? I don’t think so, given the lack of bunting in today’s game and the propensity of strikeouts that could leave the runner stranded on third. Rather than play for one run, look for teams to play for a big inning. The other major rule change: Relievers must face a minimum of three batters (unless the inning ends), a change that was already in place before quarantine baseball.
7. Roster size. Teams will start with 30 players on the active roster, trim down to 28 on the 15th day of the season and then to 26 players on the 29th day. There will be no expanded rosters for September. There will be one trade deadline date, Aug. 31.
8. Shiny new stuff! The Rangers open a new ballpark with a retractable roof and also have a new uniform set, including powder blues that they were originally scheduled to wear for Sunday home games. The Twins and Blue Jays are also unveiling the 1980s-style powder blues look, and the Diamondbacks have gone back to a cleaner style including traditional road grays instead of the dark slate that many fans despised. The Brewers have finally brought back the ball-in-glove logo to go with a new uniform set that features the Robin Yount/Paul Molitor-era block lettering. The biggest change, however, goes to the Padres, who are going back to their original brown and gold color scheme that looks terrific on the home pinstripes.
9. Expanded playoffs. The league and players’ union agreed to a plan that would send 16 teams to the playoffs. Get ready for that World Series between the 28-32 Mariners and 29-31 Rockies!
What to watch for: DeGrom had some back tightness in summer camp but said Tuesday that is “totally in the past.” He’s aiming for his third straight Cy Young Award and hopes to pick up where he left off in 2019, when he had a 1.44 ERA in the second half. Soroka, last year’s runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year after posting a 2.68 ERA, will be the youngest Opening Day starter in franchise history at 22.
You might not realize he’s here: The Mets just signed Brian Dozier, and while he’ll start out at the team’s alternate team training site, with Jed Lowrie on the IL because of knee discomfort and 37-year-old Robinson Cano coming off his worst season, Dozier could get a chance at second base if Cano struggles.
Fun bet: Not including two short starts of less than five innings, deGrom has had six starts over the past two seasons when he gave up no runs and didn’t get a win. Will he give up no runs in this game and come away with another no-decision?
What to watch for: Reds center fielder Nick Senzel said he shed 20 pounds while in quarantine and wants “to be the best center fielder in the league.” He says he feels faster and is more comfortable in center after moving there as a rookie from the infield. The No. 2 overall pick in 2016 also looks to improve at the plate after hitting .256/.315/.427.
You might not realize he’s here: Looking to boost last year’s league-worst offense, the Tigers brought in veterans C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Cameron Maybin — all of whom could become trade bait at the Aug. 31 deadline.
Fun bet: Will Nicholas Castellanos hit a double? Castellanos hit 58 of them last year for the Tigers and Cubs, the most since Todd Helton had 59 in 2000.
What to watch for:Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette will make their first Opening Day starts for the Blue Jays. This is also one of the best pitching matchups of the day. Ryu, who led the NL with a 2.32 ERA, makes his Blue Jays debut after signing a four-year contract, while Morton is coming off a third-place finish in the Cy Young voting.
You might not realize he’s here: Guerrero is moving to first base as the Blue Jays give Travis Shaw a shot at third base. Shaw hit 63 home runs for the Brewers in 2017-18 but slumped to a .157 average in 2019.
Fun bet: The Rays experimented with a four-man outfield in spring training after using the formation a couple of times in 2019. Will they unveil it in the opener?
What to watch for:Bryce Harper has traditionally been a hot starter. He didn’t homer in his Phillies debut last year, but he did homer in his next three games, he homered three times in his first five games in 2018, he homered on Opening Day three straight years from 2015 to 2017 and he homered twice on Opening Day in 2013.
What to watch for:Jose Ramirez finished third in the MVP voting in 2017 and 2018, then got off to a horrendous start in 2019, hitting under .200 through his first 66 games. He then figured it out and hit .327/.365/.739 in the second half. Cleveland needs second-half Ramirez from the get-go.
You might not realize he’s here:Domingo Santana was brought in to provide outfield and DH depth for Cleveland, but with Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen on the initial roster, that could push Franmil Reyes to a DH role and leave Santana as a role player.
Fun bet: Bieber ranked 12th among qualified starters in swing-and-miss rate in 2019 (tied with Stephen Strasburg). He averaged just under 15 per game. Over/under on 15 swings-and-misses?
What to watch for: A great contrast in styles between Woodruff and Hendricks, two of the more underrated starters in the majors. Out of 130 pitchers with at least 100 innings in 2019, Woodruff ranked seventh in average fastball velocity while Hendricks ranked 128th.
Fun bet: Will Christian Yelich hit a home run? Yelich hit .315 with five home runs against the Cubs last season — but .213 with no home runs during his MVP season in 2018. He’s 6-for-24 lifetime against Hendricks with one home run and eight strikeouts.
What to watch for: This is more about what not to watch for. No Mookie Betts in right field. No Chris Sale on the mound. No David Price in the dugout. But Xander Bogaerts (.309, 33 HRs), Rafael Devers (.311, 32 HRs) and J.D. Martinez (.304, 36 HRs) still give the Red Sox one of the best offensive trios in the league.
You might not realize he’s here: How about Milone? He was a non-roster invitee to spring training and draws the opening assignment for the Orioles as 2019 All-Star John Means is sidelined because of a tired arm. Milone went 4-10 with a 4.76 ERA for Seattle last year.
Fun bet: Can you name five players in the Orioles’ starting lineup without looking at their roster?
What to watch for: The Rangers have a shiny new ballpark in Globe Life Field — not to be confused with that ancient relic Globe Life Park. While the running joke is the outside looks like a Costco, the inside has a lot to offer. The upper decks are much lower and closer to the field than in other new parks and the distance from home plate to the backstop is just 42 feet, the shortest in the majors.
You might not realize he’s here:Matt Kemp hit .200 in 20 games with the Reds last season, including 19 strikeouts and one walk, but the Rockies are apparently giving him a shot at DH duties.
Fun bet: Will a baserunner get thrown out trying to advance on a wild pitch when the ball rebounds off the backstop right back to the catcher?
What to watch for: White Sox rookie center fielder Luis Robert already signed a long-term extension, so no need for the team to manipulate his service time. With his power/speed combo — he hit .328 with 32 home runs and 36 steals in the minors — he has a chance to become one of the most exciting players in the majors.
You might not realize he’s here:Sergio Romo came over to the Twins late last season, then re-signed with them as a free agent. He should be a top setup guy to closer Taylor Rogers.
Fun bet: The Twins averaged 1.90 home runs per game in 2019. Over or under two home runs in the opener?
What to watch for: Flaherty’s second half last season wasn’t just the best in the majors, but one of the best of all time. Over his final 16 starts, he had a 0.93 ERA and held batters to a .139 average. Based on that performance, he enters 2020 as a top Cy Young contender.
You might not realize he’s here:Jarrod Dyson will be Pittsburgh’s center fielder after spending the past two seasons with the Diamondbacks.
What to watch for: This is a fun matchup with Bumgarner in his new uniform — which the Diamondbacks have tweaked for 2020 — and Paddack coming off a terrific rookie season and wearing the Padres’ nice new pinstripes with the throwback brown and gold color scheme.
You might not realize he’s here: The Padres have two-thirds of a new outfield with Tommy Pham in left and Trent Grisham in center, both acquired via trades to help give the Padres two hitters with some on-base skills, a problem area last season.
Fun bet: Over/under 1.5 on the number of spectacular things Fernando Tatis Jr. does — a home run, a great throw, a mad dash on the bases, a bat flip, etc.
What to watch for: Verlander would have missed the start of the season back in April after having surgery for a groin issue, but now he’s ready, making his 12th career Opening Day start. With Roberto Osuna not yet ready for game action, look for Ryan Pressly to serve as the Astros’ closer.
You might not realize he’s here: The Astros traded for Martin Maldonado late in the season in both 2018 and 2019, and now he’s with Houston from the start after signing as a free agent. He replaces the departed Robinson Chirinos as the regular catcher.
Fun bet: Will the Mariners get a hit? I kid, Mariners fans, I kid! But good luck beating Verlander. Since joining the Astros, Verlander has started eight times against Seattle and the Astros are 7-1. Then again, good luck just beating Houston. The Astros went 18-1 against the Mariners last year, outscoring them 123-62.
What to watch for: Stripling draws the start for the Dodgers because Walker Buehler is behind schedule and won’t pitch until next week. After missing much of 2018, Samardzija had a solid 2019, making 32 starts with a 3.52 ERA.
You might not realize he’s here: The Dodgers signed Blake Treinen as a free agent. He was great for the A’s in 2018 and not great in 2019, but if he finds the strike zone again and Kenley Jansen falters out of the gate with a couple of blown saves, Dave Roberts might not hesitate to make Treinen the closer.
Fun bet: The Giants averaged a meager 2.36 runs per game against the Dodgers last year. Let’s set an over/under of 2.5 runs for them in this game.
What to watch for:Mike Trout! The BPITG had raised some doubts about his desire to play in 2020 — his wife is due to give birth Aug. 3 to their first child — but he told reporters on Wednesday, “I’m playing.” That’s all Angels fans needed to hear. Unfortunately, Anthony Rendon won’t be in the lineup as he’s out because of an oblique injury. The Angels are hoping he misses just a couple of games.
You might not realize he’s here:Jason Castro takes over as the catcher for the Angels after their backstops struggled at the plate in 2019.
Opener Saif Hassan, who tested positive for Covid-19 twice in the last two weeks, has been kept in the squad with another test pending later this week. All the selected players will be subjected to several Covid-19 tests during the coming week while residing at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in central Dhaka, from where they will commute daily to the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium for training. This comprises the BCB’s biosecure bubble.
Mahmudullah hasn’t made a fifty in his last four Tests, while Hossain was picked for the Rawalpindi Test against Pakistan earlier this year – his first Test in one-and-a-half years – before being dropped for the next Test at home. Hossain has the worst bowling average among those who have bowled at least 4000 deliveries in Test cricket. Al-Amin Hossain and Soumya Sarkar have also been brought back. They were also dropped for the one-off Test against Zimbabwe.
Nine more players have been called up from outside the last squad. Among the first-time picks in a preliminary squad for the Test side are allrounders Mohammad Saifuddin and Mahedi Hasan. Saifuddin has been impressive in ODIs and T20Is in the last couple of years but the jury is still out on Hasan at the highest level, despite his superb numbers in domestic first-class competitions.
The selectors have also called up middle-order batsman Mosaddek Hossain, openers Imrul Kayes and Shadman Islam, left-arm spinner Sunzamul Islam, pacer Shafiul Islam and wicketkeeper Nurul Hasan.
Rangers Rally Falls Short in 6-2 loss to LA Angels
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Albert Pujols needed nearly five weeks to tie Willie Mays for fifth place on the career home run list. It took only five days for the Los Angeles Angels slugger to pass him.
Pujols hit No. 661 in the fifth inning on Friday night against the Texas Rangers to break the tie with Mays, then connected again in his next at-bat in the 6-2 victory.
“I knew that whenever it happens, whether it was going to be this year or next year, it was going to happen,” he said. “I definitely wasn’t thinking about trying to hit one out. It happened tonight and look how perfect it worked out. I not only got one, but two on the night.”
The 40-year-old Pujols now trails only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Alex Rodriguez (696).
Pujols said that he received a text and email from Mays after he tied the Hall of Famer on Sunday in Colorado. Pujols added that he had not checked his phone after Friday’s game to see how many congratulatory messages he had received.
“It is pretty special when you are talking about Willie Mays. What he did on the field is amazing,” Pujols said. “He’s a legend, pretty smart and he knows how to give good advice.”
Pujols had hit just four home runs this season before posting the 60th multi-HR game of his career and first since May 11 last year at Baltimore. He finished with three hits on the night.
Pujols passed Mays with a solo drive to left. Pujols sent a 1-2 fastball from Wes Benjamin into the Rangers’ bullpen. Pujols pointed to the dugout and did a fist pump as he approached third base.
After the Rangers rallied to get within 3-2, Pujols led off the seventh with No. 662 off Demarcus Evans into the Angels’ bullpen to extend the lead.
“I mean, I know he’s not really a home run hitter,” Benjamin said before laughing. “I threw the one pitch I didn’t want to throw. I wanted a fastball up there. It just kind of yanked into the zone just enough and he was prepared for it.”
Pujols has gone deep to left 330 times in his career and 362 have come with the bases empty. He said he is likely to keep the bat he used to pass Mays and that the ball had been retrieved.
Pujols, who has one more season left on his contract with the Angels after this year, has 108 HRs at Angel Stadium, which is only three behind the 111 he hit at new Busch Stadium, which opened in 2006.
Manager Joe Maddon said the only thing missing was having fans in the stands to salute Pujols for reaching the milestone. There was more noise than usual at the ballpark Friday night, along with some cheering, but was because a drive-in concert was taking place in an adjacent parking lot.
“Obviously there’s a high level of satisfaction, but he missed out on the opportunity to have the adulation that people just screaming from the from the rafters,” Maddon said. “It’s too bad. That’s another part of all this. That makes things different but the guys reacted well, Albert typically handled it extremely well.”
The three-time MVP and 10-time All-Star did most of his long-ball damage during his 11 seasons in St. Louis, where he hit 445 before signing with the Angels after the 2011 season.
He had six 40 or more HR seasons with the Cardinals, with his best year being 2006 when he hit 49 homers and drove in a career-high 137 runs.
“He is such a good baseball player,” Maddon said. “So yeah, he hits home runs. We’re not seeing it during his youthful days, but this guy has played this game as well as anybody has.”
Taylor Ward added two hits and an RBI while Anthony Rendon had a two-run double in the eighth for the Angels, who beat the Rangers for only the second time in seven meetings this season. Jaime Barria (1-0) tied a career high in strikeouts with eight and allowed two runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Willie Calhoun drove in both runs for the Rangers, who have dropped three of their last four.
Benjamin (1-1) came on in the second after Jimmy Herget was used as an opener for the first time in his career. Benjamin gave up two runs on six hits in four innings with four strikeouts.
Rangers: OF Shin-Soo Choo (sprained right wrist) is unlikely to come off the injured list by the end of the season. Manager Chris Woodward said Choo is still having a hard time picking up a bat.
Angels: Upton was hit in the helmet by Evans in the seventh inning and did not return. … Shohei Ohtani could begin a throwing program before the season concludes. The right-hander made only two starts before being shut down due to a forearm strain. He is hopeful of returning to his pitcher-designated hitter role next season after mainly being a DH again this season.
The Rangers announced that they have acquired OF Marcus Smith and IF Dustin Harris as the two players to be named in the Aug. 31 trade to Oakland involving LHP Mike Minor.
Rangers: RHP Lance Lynn (6-2) is third in the AL with a 2.40 ERA. He has four straight wins over the Angels, including two this season.
Angels: LHP Andrew Heaney (4-3, 4.02 ERA) has won three of his last four starts, but is 2-5 for his career against Texas.
Mike Tyson nearly knocks out trainer while preparing for exhibition fight against Roy Jones Jr.
Mike Tyson is set to return to the ring on Nov. 28 when he takes on Roy Jones Jr. in an eight-round exhibition fight. Iron Mike has been aggressively training for the fight and it looks like he’s in the best shape of his life. Just ask his trainer.
Tyson has been posting videos showcasing his training in the lead-up to the fight. On Wednesday, a clip showed Tyson sparring with trainer Rafael Cordeiro and, unfortunately for Cordeiro, Tyson accidentally caught him with a hook:
As you can see, Cordeiro stumbles back after Tyson connects on the huge right hand. Tyson, 54, certainly still appears to have the speed and power that made him one of the most dangerous boxers in the sport’s history.
While the upcoming bout against Jones Jr. is an exhibition fight, Tyson appears to be taking it very seriously and the boxing world is taking notice.
WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring commented on the video, writing “Somebody send Mike a reminder that this is an exhibition.” In addition, Danny Williams, who knocked out Tyson prior to his retirement in 2005, believes that Tyson could “seriously hurt” Jones Jr. when the two face off in the ring in November.
Jones Jr. even recently admitted that he may have “made a mistake” by accepting the fight with Tyson.
“He’s still Mike Tyson, he’s still one of the strongest, most explosive people who ever touched a boxing ring,” Jones Jr. old Sky Sports. “If anything, I made a mistake going in with him. He’s the bigger guy, he’s the explosive guy.”