Major League Baseball has returned in the form of a 60-game season, and it has not disappointed so far.
As the renewed MLB season continues to progress, it is becoming clear that this season will be wildly different from any we’ve seen before. The baseball diamond has so far featured all the typical excitement and rivalry fans are accustomed to, but both the regulations taken due to COVID-19 and the virus itself have impacted the season in an unprecedented way that goes beyond a shortened schedule.
Here are two important storylines that have been at the center of the game thus far.
Marlins and Cardinals suffer from outbreaks, Indians discipline pitching staff
The most prominent storyline when it comes to this season is obviously the safety of MLB players, and while teams have largely stayed safe and avoided leaving hotels or coming into contact with one another, two teams have shown how quickly COVID-19 can change a team’s season and subsequently alter the league.
The Miami Marlins suffered from a COVID-19 outbreak in late July, with at least 18 players testing positive, according to CBS Sports. The positive cases resulted in several of their games getting cancelled.
Other teams that came into contact with the Marlins, such as the Philadelphia Phillies, also had games cancelled as a result. As for the cause of the outbreak?
“Well, I think a couple of guys went out in Atlanta,” said baseball insider Bob Nightengale in a radio segment. “I believe some guys got careless. At least one guy did for sure, he went out, and came back positive and spread it around.”
The Marlins have recovered from the outbreak, but lost valuable playing time as a result. The St. Louis Cardinals have suffered a more recent outbreak to begin the month of August and have yet to return to play as a result.
These instances highlight how important it is to obey MLB’s protocol regarding COVID-19, as the remainder of MLB teams have remained healthy by staying in their hotels and continuing to distance themselves on the field. Cleveland Indians pitchers Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger were punished by team management for violating COVID-19 regulations, and both will miss playing time.
These consequences just go to show how seriously MLB is taking safety this year. As teams attempt to avoid missing games so they are eligible for postseason play, safety is paramount.
Astros still facing backlash for attitude and cheating
After the scandal regarding their sign-stealing operation to win the 2017 World Series was revealed, the Houston Astros organization apologized and fired multiple executives and coaches. The team neglected to punish the players involved in the cheating, however, and many opposing players are enraged as a result.
The lax consequences have resulted in two confrontations on the field this season, both of which resulted in opposing players receiving suspensions.
In a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Astros, Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly pitched inside against Astros players, nearly hitting shortstop Carlos Correa. Whether the inside pitches were intentional remains to be seen, but the entire Astros dugout emptied and charged towards Kelly and the Dodgers.
The instigation of contact or physical confrontation between two teams is strictly prohibited under MLB’s new COVID-19 guidelines, but no Astros players or coaches were suspended. Kelly, however, was suspended for eight games for his pitching.
Fans and players alike were displeased with MLB’s disciplinary actions following the incident, but it paled in comparison to the Astros vs. Oakland Athletics’ matchup on Aug. 9. A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano was hit by two different pitches, but did not instigate a fight between the teams. Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron, however, mocked Laureano from the Astros dugout as Laureano walked to first and insinuated that Luareano should approach him.
A brawl broke out as a result, and Cintron faced a 20-game suspension while Laureano was dealt a six-game punishment. The confrontations demonstrate the lack of discipline in the Astros clubhouse, but also exemplify how MLB’s new COVID-19 regulations can change how issues between teams are dealt with on the field. The Astros now have a target on their backs as well.
Every game that has been played this year has been different, however, and players are adjusting as quickly as possible. As the season progresses, teams will attempt to solidify their shot at the playoffs while staging safe and healthy.
Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.