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Baseball is back

Cincinnati Reds v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

It’s been weeks of aggressive posturing and finger-pointing on the part of both the players, the owners, and even MLB’s commissioner Rob Manfred, but the truth remains this morning; baseball is back. After disagreements piled up over the past several weeks over debates concerning player salaries and prorating, expanded playoff brackets, universal designated hitters, and grievance filing abilities, the MLB Players’ Association and the league agreed upon a 60-game season yesterday that will feature no fans, a universal DH, and a split of games against a team’s own division as well as the division geographically adjacent to them in the other league. The players will make about 37% of their full-season salaries in 2020 per the league and players’ association’s agreement.

Teams will play their division rivals a total of 10 times each, making up 40 games of the schedule; naturally, the other 20 will come in 5 games each against every team in the corresponding division in the other league. For the Pirates, this amounts to 10 games against the Cubs, Cardinals, and Reds, and 5 games against the Indians, White Sox, Tigers, and Twins. The season is set to begin on July 23 and July 24, with spring training starting next week on July 1 for the Pirates. No specific schedules have been released.

There will be 10 playoff teams as per usual should the season make it that far (the expanded playoff proposal was downvoted by the players). Tentatively, extra-inning games may include the usage of a batter being placed on second base at the start of each half inning to try and conclude the contests quicker. No doubleheaders will be scheduled as part of the season and will only be used for rescheduled games in an effort to minimize player contact with each other for extended periods of time.

No fans will be permitted in the stadiums and media will be limited to watching games from the press boxes; postgame conferences and interviews will most likely take place over video calls. On top of all these rules, players will also be subjected to mandatory temperature-checks throughout each day of the season, with multiple COVID-19 tests taking place throughout each week. Other precautions will also be implemented; baseballs will be discarded after contact with too many different players, no high-fiving or fist bumps will be permitted, and off-field personnel and injured players will be forced to sit in the stands away from the dugout while also maintaining their social distance from each other.

It’s lovely to know baseball is returning; the sad reality is the fact that it could all vanish in the blink of an eye with a willful resurgence of the coronavirus throughout the league. Here are some things to keep in mind for the Pirates specifically in regard to this season:

1. Through 60 games last year, the Buccos had a better record than the Washington Nationals, the eventual World Series’ champions. That’s not to say the Pirates could easily fluke their way into a playoff berth in a shortened season, but baseball is after all a streaky sport and getting hot at the right time could make this season extremely interesting throughout the league.

2. The Pirates will be without several key players due to injury as a reminder; pitchers Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon will be out for the year along with infielder Kevin Kramer. Pitchers Steven Brault and Clay Holmes remain sidelined with injuries to the shoulder and foot respectively but could be back for opening day on July 23.

3. The Pirates traded away Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks during the offseason for essentially two minor league lottery tickets with promising upside in shortstop Liover Peguero and pitcher Brennan Malone. Marte’s replacement comes in the form of defensive stalwart centerfielder Jarrod Dyson.

4. The Bucco rotation will look somewhat similar to last year’s minus Archer and Taillon. Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams, Mitch Keller return with newcomer Derek Holland most likely filling in with some combination of Brault and Holmes.

As we all recall, this season was not meant to be a coming out party of any sorts for this Pirates’ roster as currently constructed; general manager Ben Cherington has already begun the rebuilding/retooling process with the Marte trade, and more of those transactions with veterans are likely on the horizon. This does not mean however that the Buccos will not be at least somewhat interesting to watch during this COVID-19 shortened season. Their pitching will be a huge question mark, with Musgrove, Williams, and especially Keller needing to take big steps if they wish to be a meaningful part of the team’s future and surprise the league this season. The offense will rely on the production of the team’s young guns; Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman will need to capitalize on their impressive rookie campaigns while 2019’s early call-up Cole Tucker and newcomer Ke’Bryan Hayes will have to take big strides to propel the Pirates forward and at least give the organization hope for 2021 and beyond.

That all being said, it will surely be an interesting 2020 MLB season nonetheless. Let’s just hope it’s able to be completed.