Begin with the premise that everything about baseball this year is screwy. The shortest-ever season is about to be followed by the longest-ever postseason. Certainly nothing to suggest 2020′s champion can stand with the great teams of yore without showing at least two forms of ID and a letter of recommendation from John McGraw.
Nevertheless, a trophy will be sanitized and presented sometime late October, barring any testing outbreak of positivity. One more month to hold our breaths.
The trophy and the title that comes with it can never be taken away from you, they say. Which is a great comfort now to both the Astros and whoever wins the thing in 2020.
Maybe the winner doesn’t get a traditional victory parade this year, unless they find a way to put an entire city center in a bubble. Maybe it would be more appropriate for the champions to shower each other with Lysol rather than champagne. Who knows just how different winning will look? How different it will feel, that is yet to be determined.
Inevitably the legitimacy of the next month will be called into question, simply because this path to the World Series is so unlike the 115 that were blazed before it.
Will the champions of the Pandemic Playoffs be recognized as the proper heirs to all those other teams that survived the trial by duration that is a normal baseball season? And then bounced between the home park and various hostile venues to claim first a pennant and then a World Series, rather than play in the sanctuary of a neutral site?
Or will they be slighted as the mutant spawn of a disfigured year, mere placeholders until a real season can be staged? Are they champions or just contingencies?
Depends on who wins.
If it’s the Braves - not a likelihood, mind you - a championship would be greeted rather enthusiastically hereabouts, I’d guess. It’s not exactly like we can get all snobby and selective, not when the wine cellar of titles would hold only two bottles. A title in 2020 would not have the heft of 1995, but the banner over Truist Park – or whatever it’s called next year – would not be reduced to scale.
Now, if it’s one of the other 15 applicants, then we here are free to dismiss the World Series winner as a fraud. Those are the rules this year for all who don’t win.
One problem here is that we have no comparative measure to judge how good any of 2020′s teams really are. And baseball people are as lost without numbers as accountants or agents.
The Braves won 90 games in order to win a division and earn their postseason place in ’95. They won 35 games to get to that point this year (that would project out to 94 wins over 162 games, although such projections are folly). They’d need to win 13 more – 37% of their regular-season win total – to claim a World Series.
Freddie Freeman has had a MVP-quality season by scoring fewer runs than Jeff Blauser did in 1995 (51 to 60), hitting less than half the number of home runs as Fred McGriff (13 to 27), driving in fewer runs than Ryan Klesko (53 to 70) and compiling considerably fewer hits than Mark Lemke (73 to 101). None of that exactly computes.
And the sheer number of teams involved in this postseason dulls the senses. No scarcity here. The Braves play in one of eight playoff games Wednesday. You may need an air traffic controller to sort out the schedule.
And still, no matter how much they expand the playoffs they can’t seem to figure a way to get Mike Trout into them.
This first level is a best 2-out-of-3, such a blip of a sample size as to almost assure one or more upsets. The Braves are high on that alert list.
To be fair, if you insist upon putting an asterisk next to the eventual winner, you better have plenty of room down there where the footnotes hide. Because the champion, despite playing an abbreviated season, will have overcome such unique challenges as playing within the confines of a pandemic, testing, clubhouse distancing, uncertainties at every turn, seven-inning doubleheaders and the gnawing wonder over whether it’s even safe to play. There is something to be said for being able to celebrate anything in 2020.
And as for the postseason, the format that largely eliminates days off will more than ever test the whole of a team’s pitching staff and its bench strength. It is in one way a more complete test.
In their empty house, the Braves begin their postseason quest Wednesday at noon. Yes, even the game time is as peculiar as anything in a Dali painting.
They will be running just as much in the red as they would be when any other season gives way to the playoffs, when each game’s importance is measured by the ton rather than the pound.
They will not ponder questions of what it all means in baseball’s bigger, grand picture. That is left to those with more idle time on their hands. They just want to figure out how to hit Trevor Bauer.