Tag Archives: Houston Astros

Oakland A’s Clinch the West While the Tampa Bay Rays are One Win Away from Clinching the East

The shortened 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) regular season is heading into the final innings.

This means teams are jockeying for postseason positioning in the expanded playoffs that promise to look like nothing that has been witnessed before; based on among other things neutral site fan free bubble games played in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans.

From the beginning, I have held firm that I do not believe that a 2020 MLB season has any business occurring during a global COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing that could happen this season will change that opinion.

However, since a 2020 MLB season is being played, there are some things that have made me smile during the 2020 COVID-19 season.

During this year of pandemics, wildfires, hurricanes, murder hornets, rare mosquito borne illnesses, coin shortages, and rudderless federal leadership, it is important to remember to smile now and then and enjoy the sweet, sweet irony when it rolls around.

Such was the case when I read that the Oakland A’s captured the American League West Division title and the Tampa Bay Rays are a win away from capturing the American East Division title.

While I am more excited about the prospect of the Rays winning a World Series, I have to admit the A’s taking the division title away from the Houston Astros sounded about as sweet as a Louisville Slugger playing a dugout trash can like an 808 drum in the club.

While I am more excited about the prospect of the Rays winning a World Series, I have to admit the A’s taking the division title away from the Houston Astros sounded about as sweet as a Louisville Slugger playing a dugout trash can like an 808 drum in the club.

Although the Astros will likely still make the playoffs, I take great solace that in a season where their cheating was revealed, they did not capture a division title.

For anyone who may have forgotten, right before the start of Spring Training 1.0, the MLB Commissioner’s office announced that the Astros had been caught cheating during the 2017 season. The cheating scheme came to light when former player, Mike Fiers, outlined the plan to a pair of journalists after leaving the Astros.

Watergate had Woodward, Bernstein and Deep Throat. Trashcangate had Rosenthal, Drelich, and Fiers.

The fact that the person who blew the trash can lid off of the cheating happens to play for the Oakland A’s makes the situation even sweeter.

Although three managers and a general manager were fired, many people, including myself, feel that the Houston Astros players got off too lightly for their roles in the cheating that occurred during the 2017 season. So, since no players were suspended or fined, the next best punishment would be for the Astros season to end as quickly as possible and without any postseason victories.

In another sweet dose of irony, Minute Maid Park was chosen as one of the four neutral site bubbles for the postseason and will host two of the four National League Division Series. The World Series will take place in the Texas Rangers brand new Ballpark in Arlington, TX.

Assuming the Astros make the playoffs, they will play in either San Diego or Los Angeles. Fingers crossed that they play in Los Angeles and some snarky clubhouse manager leaves them some welcoming messages in their lockers from the Dodgers.

Assuming the Astros make the playoffs, they will play in either San Diego or Los Angeles. Fingers crossed that they play in Los Angeles and some snarky clubhouse manager leaves them some welcoming messages from the Dodgers.
Photo R. Anderson

The Dodgers were most likely cheated out of a World Series title against the Astros in 2017. Based on the bad blood that has boiled during the match ups between the teams this year I am sure any messages left in the clubhouse would be illuminating.

Now, some people may think that I am being too harsh on the Astros. Perhaps 2019 me would have agreed with that statement. But, 2020 me has no patience for rewarding cheaters like the Astros.

That is not to say that the Oakland A’s are totally in the clear in terms of cheating in their history. One need only look at the Bash Brothers of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire who were teammates on the Athletics for seven seasons; which included a World Series title in 1989.

Both McGwire and Canseco were tied to statistic enhancing steroid use that has kept them out of the Baseball Hall of Fame; along with many other players tied to the MLB steroid era.

As I have noted before, although a player enhanced with steroids is likely to hit more home runs, they still have to be able to recognize the pitch and know when to swing at the ball. A player who is tipped off on what pitch is coming, is a whole other level of cheating, especially when an entire lineup is taking part.

So, I contend that the team that brought the baseball world sabermetrics, Moneyball, and the Bash Brothers is not without their own past controversies. However, I will take the Oakland Athletics alleged indiscretions and crimes against baseball over the acts of the 2017 Houston Astros any day of the week.

Austin Meadows started the 2020 season in COVID-19 quarantine. He may end the season on the injured list. While Meadows may not be in the lineup, the Rays have the roster that could lead them deep into the postseason.
Photo R. Anderson

But enough about the American League West and the Astros. I grew up a fan of the American League East and that is where my true allegiance resides.

The Tampa Bay Rays have done what the Tampa Bay Rays do. Not only have the Rays survived one of the toughest divisions in baseball, they have thrived with the best record in the American League.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.

Hopefully if the Rays do end up winning it all this year the world will open in time for me to travel to the Trop next season to watch the celebration as they kick off the defense of their title.

Back to back wins by the Washington Nationals and the Tampa Bay Rays would certainly make this Maryland born, and Florida raised writer extra happy.

Watching the Astros implode down the stretch would be another source of happiness. There may come a day when I cheer for the Astros again but that day will not be in 2020, nor do I think that day will be in 2021.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

The sad fact is the Astros would have been a good team even if they hadn’t cheated, but they got greedy and took shortcuts to be even better.

There are no shortcuts in life, baseball, or pandemic responses.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely in denial, or running for reelection from an echo chamber in a bunker beneath a large white house near the Potomac River.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Rays playoff baseball to prepare for.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Remembering Milo Hamilton Five Years After His Death

Thursday, September 17th marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of Hall of Fame Broadcaster Milo Hamilton, the long-time radio announcer for the Houston Astros.

While I no longer support the Houston Astros, I have fond memories of the years I spent listening to Milo Hamilton back when I did root root root for the Astros. Whether it was listening to games from home, or listening to the last innings of a game while driving home from the Ballpark, Milo Hamilton was as much a part of my Houston Astros traditions, as buying cotton candy from my favorite Ballpark vendor.

It is fair to say that I am not the only one who felt that the world of baseball grew a little dimmer with the passing of Milo Hamilton. His calls of “Holy Toledo” echoed from a record 59 Major League Baseball Ballparks during a nearly six-decade career.

Although he is gone, Milo Hamilton, shown in bobblehead form will live on in the memories of generations of fans and in the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Photo R. Anderson

As one of the last of the golden era of announcers, Milo Hamilton worked for the St. Louis Browns (1953), St. Louis Cardinals (1954), Chicago Cubs (1956-57, 1980-84), Chicago White Sox (1962-65), Atlanta Braves (1966-75), Pittsburgh Pirates (1976-79) and the Houston Astros (1985-2012).

Milo’s 60 years broadcasting Major League Baseball games is second only to Los Angeles Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully who finished his career with 67 years in the booth.

Although retiring from full time broadcast work in 2012, Milo remained a special ambassador for the Astros and made several on field appearances up until June of 2015.

While Milo’s career encompassed half of the 20th Century, and 12 years of the 21st Century, I did not discover him until 2000 when I moved to Houston, and listened to him regularly until his last broadcast in 2012.

Those 12 seasons of listening to Milo helped me feel a connection to a forgotten era of broadcasting. Milo had a relaxed style that captured the action on the field with a conversational ease that few broadcasters can get right.

One of Milo Hamilton’s final appearances at Minute Maid Park occurred om April 18, 2015 when he honored the 50th Anniversary of the Astros partnering with NASA.
Photo R. Anderson

Although I read many books on Red Barber, Vin Scully and other great baseball broadcasters of the Golden Age, until listening to Milo, I never had the opportunity to hear one of them live.

Milo Hamilton was the first of the old-school broadcasters I heard call a game live, but he was not the only one. I had the chance to listen to Vin Scully call a few games before he retired. During a trip to Dodgers stadium in Vin Scully’s final year before he retired I even caught a glimpse of him in the press box. There will likely never be a pair of announcers like Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully again.

With his Blue Star light shining brightly from the press box whenever a player did something spectacular, Milo was Houston’s version of Vin Scully. Like Scully, Milo was an announcer who had seen decades of changes within the game of baseball from behind his microphone and had entertained generation upon generation of fans.

Although Milo Hamilton was known by generations of fans in Houston, one of his most famous calls took place in Atlanta. That memorable moment, which is forever housed in the Baseball Hall of Fame archives, is the radio call of Henry “Hank” Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run in 1974.

The call by Milo Hamilton of Hank Aaron’s home run goes as such, “Here’s the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There’s a drive into left-center field. That ball is going to be … out of here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home run champion of all-time! And it’s Henry Aaron!”

Milo Hamilton signs an autograph during the 2014 Astros Fan Fest.
Photo R. Anderson

Ironically Milo Hamilton was behind the microphone capturing history in Houston when Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron’s record in 2001.

As noted before, that record tying night by Barry Bonds also marked my first trip to see an Astros game in person. Although the night later became tainted by the drama surrounding Bonds’ alleged steroid use, it was definitely a fun way to visit a new Ballpark.

Other memorable calls made by Milo Hamilton include calling 11 no hitters as well as being on the call for Nolan Ryan’s 4,000th strike out in 1985.

Milo Hamilton was also there to cover the first trip the Houston Astros made to the World Series in 2005. When the Astros won the World Series in 2017, I thought of how much Milo Hamilton would have loved to have experienced that.

Later, when the Astros were busted for cheating during the 2017 season, I once again thought of Milo Hamilton and wondered how he would have addressed both the cheating, and the upside down 2020 MLB season.

With so many changes to how the game is being played in 2020, it would be interesting to have had the opportunity to hear Milo Hamilton’s take on things like fan free Ballparks, the universal DH, playoffs in a bubble, and pretty much everything else that has made 2020 a season like no other.

While Milo Hamilton was not around to see the Astros defeat Vin Scully’s Dodgers in 2017, one has to wonder whether he had a view with his trusty blue star from a heavenly sky box.

It is inevitable that the game of baseball continues to move on. As such, it is important to take time to remember those shoulders that the game is built upon.

Old baseball announcers are a lot like World War II veterans. There aren’t too many of them left, and we owe them all a debt of gratitude for the ways that they made our lives better through hard work and sacrifice.

If only that spirit of sacrifice and determination was more wide spread today. If it were, we would likely have a better handle on COVID-19 and all of the other issues that are plaguing us in 2020. We might even be worthy of a blue star shining brightly from a press box if we had had a clear national strategy, or coordinated response, to a virus that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans with no sign of stopping.

Earlier this year, I said that COVID-19 was spreading coast to coast like a wildfire. Now, we have real wildfires plaguing the western United States, hurricanes plaguing the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as COVID-19 to form a terrible triple play of death and destruction.

The year 2020 has definitely been a handful to deal with, but reflecting on the fond memories of listening to Milo Hamilton provides some brief distraction from our infected, flammable dumpster fire of a year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel like rereading Milo Hamilton’s autobiography and remembering a simpler time when the Houston Astros weren’t considered cheaters, and food poisoning was the only thing I had to worry about catching when eating inside a restaurant.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Tanking Goes Mainstream as More Teams Ask Fans to Pay for Subpar Product now in Order to Reap Benefits Later

It has been said that it is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game that counts. For most people, this means playing as hard as possible, and knowing that win or lose, the best effort was given.

For other people, playing the game involves tanking in the present to improve the future. While there is no one way to tank, some tanking techniques include resting top-level players, building a roster of journeymen players, or encouraging players to leave a little in the tank and not go all out on every play.

By tanking, teams lower their season win/loss records, which leads to higher draft picks. Since most sports leagues give higher draft picks to teams with the worst records, the harder one tanks, the higher they draft. Tank multiple seasons in a row and a team can quickly build a roster of future All-Stars.

Of course, if multiple teams are trying to tank within the same season, than teams can find themselves not in a pennant race to be the best, but in a competition to be the worst. In 2019, four Major League Baseball teams finished with over 100 losses as part of their “rebuilding” process.

Tanking not a new to sports. What is new, is the openness some teams now have to telling their fans, and anyone else who is listening, that they are in “rebuilding mode.” The length of rebuilding varies by market and sport, but the usual length of a rebuild is about three to five years.

That is three to five seasons where fans are asked to accept a subpar product in order to potentially gain an advantage at the end of the rebuilding process. There is no guarantee that tanking will lead to success, but enough teams have succeeded at it that it remains a tool for some franchises to utilize in order to shortcut success.

The Houston Astros are considered one of the forefathers of tanking. The Astros used a tanking philosophy of accepting multiple 100 plus loss seasons from 2011-2013 as a means to secure draft picks. For their efforts of tanking to rebuild the farm system, the Astros won the World Series in 2017. That victory became tainted when the team was caught cheating through an investigation by the MLB Commissioner’s office. So, the actual benefits of tanking their way to a title could be equally owed to a well-placed trash can and video camera.

Proponents of tanking say that a few bad seasons are worth it if they can secure enough prospects to have five good seasons where they can make a World Series run.

The Houston Astros are considered one of the forefathers of tanking. The Astros used a tanking philosophy of accepting multiple 100 plus loss seasons from 2011-2013 as a means to secure draft picks. As one can imagine there were a lot of empty seats in Minute Maid Park during those losing seasons.
Photo R. Anderson

From an ethical perspective, no matter how you slice it tanking is wrong. People will try to justify tanking, but at the end of the day, there is no way one can say tanking is good for the sport.

Tanking cheats the fans of getting to see a competitive game, and it forces players to decide if they want to go along with the plan knowing that many of them will be replaced by the higher draft picks that their tanking efforts generate.

Teams who tank claim that it is the only way they can be competitive with the bigger market teams since they cannot outspend teams to build a roster of All-Star free agents each season.

It is certainly true that there will always be teams with higher payrolls and bigger stars. However, the Tampa Bay Rays, and others, have shown that by drafting smarter and working within their means, they can be competitive year after year without having to resort to “blowing up the roster” and starting over.

When fans buy a ticket to see a game, they are supporting the players on the field on that day. They are not spending money to watch people not play hard so that two to three years down the road a team can be a success.

There is a difference between resting a star player on a particular day, versus a season free of star players or teams trying hard not to win. Players deserve to take a day off here and there. Players should not take whole seasons off in terms of giving maximum effort.

In all sports, there is only one champion in any given year. Teams need to know that not everyone will get a championship ring, but everyone can act like a champion on the field through playing fair and hard.

The practice of tanking needs to be curtailed to preserve the sanctity of sport. Teams that are caught tanking should have their draft picks either taken away, or moved to later in the first round to avoid any benefits being derived from tanking. As long as tanking produces results in the form of high draft picks, teams will continue to engage in the unethical practice.

When steroids were discovered to be widespread in Major League Baseball, steps were taken to punish players found to be cheating. The same type of penalty needs to be handed out to organizations caught tanking.

For their efforts, the Astros rebuilding process gave them a core of young talent. In turn that talent devised a cheating scandal involving trash cans and video cameras proving that some teams really will stop at nothing to gain an advantage, whether that be tanking to rebuild, or tipping off pitches to win a World Series.

To me, there is no difference between willingly accepting years of rebuilding to build a better roster, and cheating with trash cans. Both approaches cheat fans out of seeing sports at its finest. For fans of the Houston Astros, they had the misfortune of enduring seasons of rebuilding only to have the legitimacy of the resulting World Series title called into question thanks to player greed.

I supported the Astros during those rebuilding years, and cheered for their roster of underdog ballplayers both in person and on television. I will take that roster of journeymen who were just happy to get to go to the Ballpark and play every day over the roster of cheaters that followed.

I don’t need my teams to win every year in order for me to feel a season is a success. If I did, I would have stopped cheering for the Baltimore Orioles a long time ago.
Photo R. Anderson

I don’t need my teams to win every year in order for me to feel a season is a success. If I did, I would have stopped cheering for the Baltimore Orioles a long time ago.

What I do need are players who try their best and know that it is the game they are playing now that matters and not some magical roster that will be built years down the road.

Sports will never be perfect. They are messy and complicated due to the presence of messy and complicated individuals. However, those messy and complicated individuals need to act ethically and look for advantages within the lines and not try to shortcut the system by working outside the lines.

I have noted many times that the Houston Astros caught a break this season by not having to play in front of fans booing them this season. Just because the fans aren’t there to boo in person does not mean that the Astros get off the hook. What they did was wrong and that shame should follow the players who took part in it for the rest of their lives.

What good is a rebuild if to find success one has to sell their soul? That is a question that more and more teams will have to answer until professional sports leagues put their foot down to punish tanking.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about rebuilding has me in the mood to build a sandwich that would make Dagwood jealous.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dodgers Show That Even in a Global COVID-19 Pandemic Revenge is a Dish Best Served with Some Chin Music

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros faced off for the first time since the Astros were caught cheating with their hands in the proverbial trash can.

The cheating goes back to the 2017 season when the Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series. Looking back at those games, an argument can definitely be made that the Dodgers could have added another oversized World Series Ring to their plaza of honor at Dodger Stadium had it not been for a video camera, a bat, and a trash can.

With many people thinking that the Astros players got off way too easily in terms of punishment for their cheating, the 2020 season was expected to be a season long opportunity for players and fans who felt wronged by the Astros to show their displeasure.

As I noted a few months back, the fan-free season during COVID-19 made the Astros the biggest winners of 2020, since fans cannot boo them when they come to town. On can only imagine how loud a completely full Dodger Stadium would have been with fans booing in unison with every Astros at bat.

A year after being cheated out of their first World Series title in nearly 30 years, a lone trash can is seen in front of a mural commemorating the titles the Dodgers have won. It is quite possible that were it not for the sounds coming off of a trash can, the Los Angeles Dodgers would have a fresh coat of paint on the World Series title mural, as well as a new entry for 2017. Instead, they are left with wondering what might have been had the playing field been level.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans in Ballparks have been limited to cardboard representations, the players for the other teams are still free to enforce the unwritten rules of the game, which made the Astros versus Dodgers game must see TV.

After Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw a pitch in the area of the head of Alex Bregman, and later taunted Carlos Correa in the sixth inning in game one of a two game series, a good old-fashioned bench clearing brawl occurred.

For his part in the somewhat masked, but totally not socially distanced melee, Kelly was suspended for eight games by MLB. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts received a one-game suspension.

The Dodgers ended up with the last laugh as they won both games of the series by scores of 5-2 and 4-2, respectively.

While the Dodgers won the series, they also exposed the mismanagement of the cheating scandal by MLB. Yes, to be fair, three MLB managers lost their jobs due to ties to the scandal, and the Astros fired their General Manager. But many fans and players maintain that the punishment did not go far enough since former Astros skipper, A.J. Hinch, wasn’t the one playing a trash can in the dugout like a bass drum to let hitters know what pitch was coming.

Just to make sure this point comes across, players who were caught cheating for an entire season were given zero suspensions for their actions, but a pitcher for the team that many argue was cheated out of the 2017 World Series title is given an eight-game suspension. To put that in perspective, eight games equates to around 13 percent of the shortened season. Kelly has appealed his suspension.

Jose Altuve, and his 2017 Astros teammates, were found by MLB to have benefited from an intricate cheating technique that involved a camera, a bat and a trash can. While the world will never know whether the cheating is why the Astros won the World Series, the world does know that none of the players were punished for their actions during that season. That fact, as a lot of fans and players from other teams mad enough to kick a trash can.
Photo R. Anderson

These truly are strange and mysterious times, and show that in many ways MLB is just making things up as they go along. More on that thought in a bit.

The rules for the 2020 season outlaw bench clearing brawls. However, writing something in a health manual, and actually following what is written, are two entirely different things; as demonstrated by the fact that the dugouts and bullpens emptied in a fan-free Ballpark.

Besides the benches clearing brawl, players have been breaking the guidelines involving walk off celebrations, and high fives among other things.

But while MLB seems quick to enforce the rules for what it sees as retaliation pitches, it is downplaying the wildfire of COVID-19 that is inching closer to bringing the 2020 season to a screeching halt.

The Miami Marlins were suspended for an entire week after a COVID-19 outbreak impacted nearly 20 players and staff, however the teams not impacted by games against the Marlins were left to continue to play ball. Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum.

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers became the latest teams to have games cancelled after two Cardinal players tested positive for COVID-19. The Cardinals and Brewers join the Marlins, Blue Jays, Phillies, Orioles, Nationals, and Yankees as teams who have had games either postponed or played with different opponents than scheduled.

That means that at the time of this writing, nearly a third of all MLB teams have been impacted by COVID-19.

In response to the growing list of games that will need to be rescheduled, MLB has decided that all doubleheaders will be 7-innings, instead of 9-innings, in order to cram as many games as possible into the schedule in their drive to crown a World Series Champion. Nothing like changing the rules of a season after the season has started.

While they are at it, why not just have all games decided by a home run derby? The Sugar Land Skeeters are using home run derbies to settle extra inning games in their four-team, fans in the stand independent baseball summer league.

If MLB needs to crown a champion in order to call the season a success, why bother with the games? Just line the teams up for a home run derby to decide who the best team is? After all, launch angles and the long ball seem to be all the rage these days.

I will take it a step further and say that a home run derby approach can even eliminate team travel. Just have retired pitchers travel to the Ballparks and throw batting practice to decide the games. Teams can choose from a selection of retired pitchers and the same pitcher has to pitch to both teams to make it fair.

Of course, with different ballparks having different outfield dimensions considerations will need to be made for how to assign a weight to each home run.

Maybe, teams can be reward style points for launch angle.

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The remarks below appeared in USA Today in early July, and are chilling when looked at through the lens of hindsight after a week of MLB action.

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” said Doolittle. “We’re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are and their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we’re just like trying to bring it back even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve or whatever you want to say. We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn’t use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it.

“If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks, because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. We can’t just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We’re over it. This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn’t sports come back now?’ No, there’s things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back.”

Since Doolittle made that statement in early July, the COVID-19 death toll in America has risen by 23,000 to over 153,000 dead and counting, with no signs of slowing down.

Sadly, there are those who will say, “But hey, at least two thirds of the MLB teams haven’t missed any games yet, and the MLB has shown that it is going to come down hard on pitchers who throw at members of the trash can symphony club.”

Yes, there are live sports to watch now, and the NCAA seems determined to ensure that college football returns in the fall despite us not acting anything like a functional society. Why worry about a global pandemic when there are sports to watch?

Sometimes, real life truly is stranger than fiction.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if my seeds from China arrived. As crazy as the world is getting, they may grow a magic bean stalk. But that is a story for another day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Verlander Shut Down with Forearm Strain as Injuries Pile up in Shortened MLB Season

The Houston Astros were dealt a major setback in their quest to return to the World Series for the third time in four years when it was announced Sunday that pitcher Justin Verlander has a forearm strain and will be shut down “for a couple of weeks,” according to manager Dusty Baker.

Verlander, the team’s ace, pitched for the Astros on Friday and experienced “tenderness,” which resulted in an MRI on Saturday according to Baker.

The news of Verlander getting shut down likely echoed through the Astros dugout like a well-placed swing with a Louisville Slugger to the side of a trash can.

In a normal season, a 14-day stint on the injured list (IL) is no big deal. However, in this 60-games in 66 days COIVD-19 inspired season, two weeks represents close to a third of the regular season. Plus, there is no guarantee that Verlander will be ready when the two weeks is up.

This is not Verlander’s first flirtation with injury this year. Verlander, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, was expected to begin the season on the IL back in March after having groin surgery and experiencing muscle soreness in the back of his shoulder.

With pitchers falling like Jenga towers, the MLB might want to look into using t-shirt cannons, or mascot sling shots as a means to prevent injuries to pitchers during the shortened 2020 MLB season.
Photo R. Anderson

The delayed start to the regular season created enough time for Verlander’s groin and shoulder to heal allowing the 37-year-old to take the mound for opening day.

Unfortunately for Verlander, and the Astros, a new injury popped up.

During Saturday’s Tampa Bay Rays versus Toronto Blue Jays broadcast, Rays broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson, mentioned that the shortened amount of time players had to get ready for the season would likely lead to many injuries as players tried to get up to speed in half the time of a traditional Spring Training.

Viewers did not need to wait long to see the prophecy from the broadcast booth come true. In the sixth inning, Toronto center fielder Randal Grichuk left the game after experiencing discomfort in his right sacroiliac joint while tracking down a ball at the outfield wall.

Three innings later, Blue Jays closer Ken Giles, a former teammate of Verlander, left with right elbow soreness after struggling with pitch velocity that allowed the Rays to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Due in part to Giles’ struggles, the Rays managed to tie the game from two runs down and ultimately won in walk off fashion in the 10th inning.

Toronto Blue Jays closer, Ken Giles, shown during 2016 when he was a member of the Houston Astros, became the latest pitcher to leave a game early as a result of an arm injury when he left the ninth inning of a game between the Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. Giles’ former Astros teammate Justin Verlander is out for a minimum of two weeks following arm tenderness during his Opening Day start.
Photo R. Anderson

While I am ecstatic that the Rays won, I never want to see anyone get injured on the field.

No timetable has been announced for the return of Giles and Grichuk to the Blue Jays lineup. Much like the Astros with Verlander, the Blue Jays will just have to wait and see how long they are without their teammates.

Back when the rumblings of playing baseball in 2020 were percolating, I mentioned that it was asinine to rush players back to play a shortened season that would not only expose them to a deadly virus, but would also lead to the possibility of increased injuries, all in the name of saying that baseball was played in the middles of a COVID-19 pandemic.

I take no joy in saying that just a few games into the season it appears my prediction was correct.

Verlander, Giles and Grichuk are just three of the players already injured. Texas Rangers pitcher Corey Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, left his start in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies after one inning due to tightness in his pitching shoulder. Also on Sunday, pitcher Reynaldo López, of the Chicago White Sox, left the game in the first inning mid-batter due to right shoulder tightness.

Stephen Strasburg, of the Washington Nationals, has yet to make a start in the 2020 season after being scratched due to arm soreness.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from players leaving games early due to injuries, Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, both were scratched from their Opening Day starts due to injuries.

John Means and Hunter Harvey of the Baltimore Orioles are both on the IL for arm fatigue. The list goes on and on with more players likely to be added daily.

Additionally, players with the Nationals, Rays, Reds, and others have yet to take the field due to being in the COVID-19 quarantine protocol.

While I admit that I am enjoying watching baseball on TV, it is not like I am unable to find things to do with my time if a 2020 MLB season did not happen. Providing fans a few hours of entertainment still does not seem worth the risk to players health both from COVID-19, as well as freak injuries like the ones that are running through the MLB with the same reckless abandon that COVID-19 is spreading across America.

An athlete’s career is short, and skills usually diminish with age. So, I understand the competitive nature of players wanting to take the field as often as possible. In that way, a 2020 season of any length, even one that allows over half of the teams in the league to make the playoffs, makes sense.

However, when one considers that this season is taking place amidst a global public health crisis, the optics get a little murkier.

As far as the Astros go, even without Verlander on the mound, they are likely to be one of the 16-best teams this year and should make the playoffs. Assuming they do make the playoffs, and Verlander’s injury is healed by then, that should help them in the postseason.

Of course, there is no guarantee that they won’t have other players joining Verlander on the IL.

The 2020 MLB season will be one for the ages. Hopefully it is a one-time only thing, and normalcy returns to the diamond, as well as the world in general, by the time Spring Training 2021 rolls around.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to give myself another quarantine haircut.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson