I haven’t missed the Red Sox this year. I have missed baseball quite a bit, but from the moment the team traded Mookie Betts to Los Angeles for real I had put this year’s team on the emotional back-burner, and I haven’t moved them since. I had planned for a lost season of mercilessly criticizing Alex Verdugo, more or less entirely to antagonize a Red Sox Twitter account that, in the heady days of February and early March, did everything possible to sell the team’s new addition to a professionally skeptical audience.
So the layoff hasn’t killed me the way it has others. I miss baseball plenty, but I have largely felt toward the Sox as one feels toward a family member after a deep betrayal, waiting for the feelings to pass but also wary these feelings might crop up again and consume my entire baseball experience. This is heady stuff, sure, but the Mookie trade was bad enough that I already had my eye on 2021, a circumstance that was only driven further home by Chris Sale’s decision to get Tommy John surgery and forego whatever shortened schedule baseball and its players could agree on.
But with a 60-game season seemingly about to potentially become real, I’m softening a bit. COVID means the Mookie trade worked out in a real way, full-stop, in a way that was largely (but not entirely) invisible when it was made: If there were fewer games in 2020, for whatever reason, the damage done from swapping Betts for Verdugo would obviously be mitigated. These are not things one usually plans for, but, as we learned from his draft strategy, Chaim Bloom has thought through several layers of plans that we, perhaps, have not. Same goes for John Henry, who merely owns the website that saw the coronavirus coming to the U.S.... in December. (I have been discouraged from further following these conspiratorial threads, which is probably for the best, though any advance understanding of COVID would, obviously, have made a Betts trade a no-brainer).
Anyhow yeah, as I said, a shorter season changes all of this. A lost season has likely been found, and the Red Sox are in a decent position to take advantage of it.
First, any churn in the number of games played in the bigs helps the Sox move back toward competition in the very Tampa-too model they’ve clearly adopted. “Game the system and then game it some more” only works when there are games to process, and, as much as any team, the Sox need this process to start again, especially at the minor league level, where the seeds of the rebuild need to finally take root and the maturing players (Jeter Downs, Triston Casas) can finally be plucked. (Even if there are no games, there will presumably be development of some kind happening in Fort Myers.)
Second, a 60-game-ish season leaves the playing field absolutely wide open for an overachieving team to topple the best teams in the sport in a way the 162-game season did not. There is now a real chance the Sox get hot and maybe thrive in the playoffs, which may be expanded to 16 teams, because why not? Baseball is still definitely gonna baseball, and stranger things have happened, at least according to the standings. It’ll likely be a long time before a team with a winning percentage as low as the 2006 Cardinals (83-78) wins it all, including this year, so the hope is real.
Third, a short season lessens the time the Sox have to pretend that Ron Roenicke is the long-term solution at manager when we all know Alex Cora is coming back before next year if Boston can help it. In fact, in terms of forced vacations for Cora, you could do a lot worse. You could also do better, in that he could be able to travel, but you get it.
Add it up and there are real reasons to be excited for this micro-season, almost none of which, for the first time in forever, is wholly dependent on winning the World Series. That’s uncharted territory for us over the last decade, just as everything happening today in the whole g-d world is uncharted territory for everyone over the last century, and it all neatly lines up to allow us to enjoy the dregs of the 2020 season in peace.
There is only one major speed bump: The Yankees still must not win it all, but with expanded playoffs and a small slate, they’re as vulnerable as anyone else. As long as they end up on their backs, I’ll be relaxing on mine, unless things get really exciting for us. Then I’ll be on the edge of my seat. That is something I didn’t expect to say this year, and it feels great.