MLB 60 Game Season Preview

I love this.

It’s too bad the seriousness of COVID has to linger over the 60 game season Major League Baseball has settled in on.

Because otherwise it’s perfect. Baseball has always been a marathon. This season will be a sprint.

I like the 162 game regular season schedule they churn out every year too, but this is a nice little change of pace. They should do this once every five years or so. Or better yet, they should play two 60 game seasons once every five years. Every 5th summer there should be a first half champion and a second half champion. Then, if we’re lucky enough that the two teams are different, they’ll meet to determine the World Series champion. Imagine how stupid and great that would be. Imagine how much different injuries and transactions would be handled in those years. Not to mention tanking and resting players. So many bogus scenarios come to mind.

Some of the things to keep in mind this season:

This year they’ll be no time for players who traditionally get off to slow starts to recover.

And teams that start slow, like the Oakland A’s who always seem to be something like 27-33 sixty games in, and plow through everyone the rest of the way to get a wild-card spot, won’t be able to use the first two months of the season to warm up.

They say you can’t win the pennant in April, but you can sure lose it. With the understanding that April in this case will be late July/early August, only half of that statement is true this year. You might be able to win it early. Every year there’s a team or two that starts out hot, but everyone knows they’ll fizzle out by the dog days of summer. The 2017 Orioles, 2018 Mets, 2018 Mariners, 2018 Pirates, 2019 Padres, and 2019 Phillies, were all examples. It was a lot of fun looking these teams up. Some I vaguely remember, a couple threw me completely off guard.

The saying goes there’s 162 games in a baseball season. Every team is gonna win 54, every team is gonna lose 54. It’s what you do with the other 54 that counts. This year I don’t know what to do with that one. I could see it being the same at 20/20/20. Although it’s possible one of the top tier teams could go at least 41-19 this year. In fact I’d be surprised if 1 or 2 teams didn’t win more than 40 games.

But I’m really hoping a team like the Marlins, Rockies, Royals, or Reds or gets hot early this season.

In the past, if one of these teams started something like 21-9, everyone in the league, including the team itself, would know it’s only a matter of time before the wheels fell off. This year a 21-9 start means having a .700 winning percentage at the halfway point. Any team with a record like that would know it only has to hold on for a little while and survive to make the postseason. Even going something like 15-15, 14-16, or 13-17 the rest of the way gives that team an excellent chance of making the playoffs.

In contrast, teams that start off slow, and aren’t expected to, will feel a lot more pressure and likely won’t recover….

Enter…The Minnesota Twins…

What category are they in? Who knows. It’s impossible to predict this team.

I took a big lull in fandom there for awhile. I was only casually paying attention to baseball for years, but since I moved down here I’ve been tracking the Twins intensely. And they are consistently inconsistent.

In 2015, despite starting 1-6 and not managing to get to .500 until 12-12, they fought and managed to keep themselves relevant all year. They peaked at 11 games over .500. They hung around and made a run at that last wild card spot, but fell a few games short, losing their final three contests of the regular season and finishing 83-79.

2016 was a distaster from the jump. They started 0-9 and were basically out of contention in mid-May. They finished 59-103. One good thing that came out of that year was saying goodbye for good to Torii Hunter. I never understood why he was welcomed back with open arms in the first place. Another was the experience centerfielder Byron Buxton gained as he became an everyday player for the first time in his young career.

In 2017 they bounced back. Buxton started out that year batting 3rd, but was clearly pressing at the plate, waving at everything and posting way too many 0 for 5 boxscores. By Mid-may he consistently bounced around between the 7,8, and 9 spots in the batting order. But he was still unbelievable in the outfield and ran the bases like a deer. Paul Molitor won the American League Manager of the Year. At one point in the season they were 50-54 and looked done, but rallied to finish 85-77. Good enough to secure the second wild card spot and a loss in a one game playoff to the Yankees.

2018 they managed to take another step back. They started off 9-16, Buxton got hurt and only appeared in 28 games, and the team never really flirted with .500 or contention for the remainder of the season. Finishing 78-84 and firing their manager.

In 2019 the Twins dominated bad teams, split the season series with the Indians, and weren’t very good at all against the league’s best. In the AL Central that was good enough for a 101-61 record and a division title. They also set a Major League record for most home runs by one team in a season, and once again provided the AL Manager of the Year (Rocco Baldelli). Buxton played great until the injury bug caught back up with him again towards the end of the season. He was unable to give it a go in the postseason as well. Probably why the Yankees had no problem sweeping Minnesota out of the playoffs once more.

This year: Anyone’s guess. Mine is their pitching won’t be good, their hitting will fall way off from last year’s record breaking home run pace, but they will lean on Byron Buxton and he will carry them back into the postseason once again. He will be well rested and ready to attack all 60 games. Finishing with something close to a .313 average, 12 home runs, 30 RBI, and 25 stolen bases. Also look for him to limit his strikeouts, increase his walk totals, and be in midseason form right out of the gate.

He’s the ticket. The glue that holds the team together. The straw that stirs the drink. All that shit.

Last year before his first injury the Twins were 48-23 with Buxton in the line-up. They went 13-15 while he was out. He came back strong but unfortunately injured himself again late in the season. Overall the Twins were 62-25 with him and 39-36 without him last season.

With the days of being a young prospect firmly behind him, and a modest 1.75 million per year left on a contract expiring after 2022, this could easily be the small sample size of a season Buxton can capitalize on. Look for him to play like he sees the future dollar signs of a potential lucrative extension in front of him, and take advantage of the 60 game stretch that seems Taylor-made for his style of play. In a year where there’s no trade deadline, and many players choosing to sit out the season, there’s basically no pressure to perform…

Bingo for Buxton.

He’s just gotta watch out for that centerfield wall.

Quick editors note: I posted some baseball sayings and facts on a previous post. Since then I’ve been made aware, by one of the five consistent readers of this blog, of two more great stats.

  1. Tony Gwynn hit .394 with 3 strikeouts in 270 career plate appearances against Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz.
  2. In almost 7000 plate appearances Joey Votto has only popped out to the infield 8 times.