McMurry: Return of baseball gives us hope

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There has been golf, racing, and even soccer since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but for the first time since March 11, one of the big four professional sports leagues took the field last night when the defending World Series champions the Washington Nationals hosted the New York Yankees. It may be nearly four months past the targeted opening day for the 2020 season, but baseball is officially back.

It is only fitting that America’s pastime is the first of the major sports to return, even if It will look different than what we are used to.

Restaurants have reopened, students will likely be returning to the classroom in a couple of weeks, but as we approach Aug. 1 it is time to realize that things aren’t going to return to normal with a flip of a switch, and that includes sports.

I have been to more than 60 Major League Baseball games, and at least one each of the last 13 years. That will change this year.

I have been to more than 20 games with Tom Lutz, including 10 straight years catching the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark. Our first trip there together was 10 years ago, when we saw the soon to be NL Central champion Reds take down the Colorado Rockies as they celebrated the 20th anniversary of their most recent World Series from 1990, also the last team to lead wire-to-wire and capture the World Series crown. MC Hammer, whose song “U Can’t Touch This,” served as the unofficial anthem of the 1990 team, performed following the game in 2010.

Is this the year the Reds return to glory?

Stranger things have happened, and I think the strangest of things will happen over the next three months as the 60-game shortened baseball season unfolds.

Now the Reds were already tabbed as favorites to win the NL Central back in January, despite finishing fourth with a 75-87 record in 2019.

No fans in the stands will definitely be something to get used to, but I’m tired of all the talk about how odd a 60-game season will be.

In a 162-game season even the World Series champs will get swept or lose a series to bad teams during the regular season, but now literally every single game matters. How fun is that?

Now, no one will be chasing 60 home runs or even 100 RBI, let alone 20 wins from the bump, but think about some of the statistics that are possible.

A .400 batting average? A perfect season from the mound? Even an ERA below 1.00. They’re all possible, and not just because a player can get hot for an extended period of time, but because each player and each team will be locked in day in and day out.

Now for some predictions.

As a beloved Cubs fan, I would say this is a perfect opportunity for them to get back to the playoffs, but there is too much competition in the NL Central.

The Reds are going to win the division, easily. They have the best rotation, and it’s healthy, plus power hitters playing 30 games in a hitter-friendly park, plus many more at Busch Stadium, PNC Park, and Wrigley Field during summer months.

A healthy Dodgers and Yankees teams should have no trouble winning their divisions, while the Nationals should be able to ride momentum to an easy NL East title. As far as the AL West, you have to like Joe Maddon in LA, but I’m taking the Oakland Athletics. The AL Central is the Minnesota Twins to lose.

Now for those Wild Card teams. As it stood yesterday, the playoff format would stay the same with two wild card teams for each league, but discussions as recent as Wednesday were considering expanding by three more wild card teams per league.

NL Wild Cards will be the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Atlanta Braves. AL Wild Cards will be the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays. Sorry Maddon and Mike Trout, a slow start will be detrimental in the short season.

It’s been 30 years since either the A’s or the Reds played in the World Series, and that was a sweep by the Redlegs.

Could this be the year both storied franchises return to the Fall Classic?

I think so.

“2 Legit 2 quit.”

 

Jared McMurry was born and raised in Montgomery County and is the Sports Editor of the Journal Review. He can be reached by email at jmcmurry@jrpress.com and by phone at 765-918-8656. Follow him on Twitter @jaredmac26.

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