I don’t know if there was anything I liked about working for the Dodgers more than the freedom to roam around the empty stadium. And so as wrong as it feels for there to be ballgames without fans, there’s something that makes me feel wistful about the idea of watching a game there without a crowd.
Jon SooHoo’s latest photographic gem, above, captures my feelings probably as well as anything I could write. But with the 2020 MLB season somehow about to begin, I thought I would share some not entirely random thoughts …
- There’s no avoiding this: The Dodgers are winless and tied for last place with 60 games to go in the season. This is a horse race, folks.
- Thanks to the pandemic cleaving away 63 percent of the season, every single game the Dodgers play is like a series. A win or a loss is the equivalent of nearly three. A three-game sweep is like an eight-game winning streak. A six-game losing streak is a slump of epic proportions.
- With that in mind, think about how the Dodgers open the season at home with four games — then go on the road for nine. (It’s not a particularly easy trip either, with stops at Houston, Arizona and San Diego.) Before the Dodgers play their second home series, nearly 25 percent of their season will be done.
- So let’s talk about home vs. road. Obviously, road games won’t have hostile fans in 2020 (think how much different those games in Houston would have sounded), but the challenges of travel during a pandemic could make things even more difficult for a road team. If the Dodgers are above .500 (7-6) after their first road trip is over, consider that a major bullet dodged.
- As you can see, the compressed schedule magnifies the stress of the season. A ninth-inning blown save in a normal season creates a two-game swing in the standings. A ninth-inning blown save this year creates the equivalent of a six-game swing. Translated: Go on Twitter with extreme caution.
- Relevant to the previous point: The area of greatest uncertainty for the Dodgers is the bullpen. Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, Blake Treinen are all in search of comeback seasons. If they find them, the Dodgers probably cruise into October. If they don’t … well, the Dodgers’ ridiculous lineup will have to do the heavy lifting and then some.
- That lineup, by the way, really is riduculous. Speaking of which, here’s another SooHoo special from this week — Mookie Betts basking in the sun’s spotlight, with each blade of grass around him representing a dollar he is going to receive on his apparently impending mega-contract with the Dodgers.
- Here’s more stress for you: In a dominant 2019 season, the Dodgers won the National League West by 21 games. In a 60-game season, even if they are just as dominant, the Dodgers probably can’t clinch a division until the final week. There just ain’t much time to relax.
- With such an unusual, truncated season coming into view, you may have wondered whether winning a World Series in 2020 will seem hollow. Keep in mind, however, that the playoff format did not end up changing at all this year — the gauntlet is every bit as difficult to run this year. If the Dodgers win the World Series this year, celebrate without reservation. But also, maybe use this year to reconnect with how incredible the Dodgers have been to win seven straight NL West titles, even without the ticker-tape parade at the end.
- For months, I have been a genuine skeptic about the 2020 MLB season, about whether it should even be attempted and whether logistically it can be completed. People keep underestimating the tenacity of the coronavirus in this country, and it won’t take much for it to break through the shield with which MLB has been trying to protect itself.
Baseball has long been my refuge, a place where I try to assume the best, not the worst. But it has been hard. Maybe my fears about sending my daughter away to school for her freshman year are seeping into my thinking. The result is that I definitely haven’t been excited about the coming season.
It’s funny — the most invested I’ve been since the Dodgers got back into action this month was Tuesday night, watching prospect Josiah Gray face Mike Trout. My innate curiosity kicked in, my love of seeing a kid on the rise face off against the best in the game, even in an exhibition. It reminded me that my feelings for the game haven’t gone, even if they’ve been hibernating.
I’m still not convinced that this whole thing isn’t a mistake, that our attention isn’t better devoted to the health and social issues facing this country. I don’t think we need a diversion — quite the opposite. I think diversion could be genuinely harmful.
But the season is coming, and within the bubble of baseball, I will be hoping for the best. If the Dodgers become a small light at the end of this long tunnel, I will take it. When it comes to baseball, I try to never take any joy for granted.
I just figure to have more existential concerns about what the ballplayers are even doing out there, or what we’re even doing watching them.