Atlanta Braves will need to watch out for MLB gimmickry

An empty Truist Park awaits the Atlanta Braves and their fans. (Photo by Stephen Nowland/Getty Images)
An empty Truist Park awaits the Atlanta Braves and their fans. (Photo by Stephen Nowland/Getty Images) /

Maybe this is all just bluster from bored writers, but the fear here is that the Atlanta Braves could run into trouble if MLB goes from social distancing to social experimentation.

The Atlanta Braves has assembled a team that they’d really like to get on the field here in 2020.  For obvious reasons, that hasn’t happened – and the longer this delay goes, the more that some folks’ ideas are gaining traction.

It feels like the Atlanta Braves – as assembled – might be a team that should perform better under a “normal” playing scenario – no surprises, no changes to the rules.

They have veteran leadership – accustomed to doing things one way.  They have a penchant for late-inning heroics with clutch performances as they exploit weak bullpens – which might not translate to things like 7-inning double-headers.

Those concerns may or may not manifest themselves in that manner – heck, let’s just hope we get baseball in some recognizable form this year – but some of the ideas being floated right now are downright scary.

Here’s a few of them – and I won’t even discuss expanded playoff ideas:

  • Those 7-inning double-headers, as are done in most minor leagues.  This comes as a result of a couple of needs:
    • The idea that double-headers might become a once-a-week (at least) norm so that the leagues can get as many games played as possible.
    • An attempt to not completely blow out starters and bullpens during a compressed schedule.
    • It’s ideas like this that are also breeding the thought that extra players on the active roster will be necessary… for ideas like 6-man rotations are very likely in the conversation now.
    • On the flip side, the Atlanta Braves are probably among the best positioned of any team to run out six or seven quality starters.
  • Extra-inning silliness:  placing runners on second base starting in the 10th or 11th innings of any non-playoff game.
    • This started happening in the minors in 2018.
    • This started for the same reason we’re talking about for MLB now:  trying to preserve arms when there might be fewer days off.
  • Extra-inning outright insanity:  the Dodgers’ Justin Turner wants a home-run derby to break out after 10 tie innings.  Yeah.  Let’s move on.
  • Allowing games to end in ties.
    • Well, that’s the ultimate arm-saver, isn’t it?  Just stop playing after some specified point.
    • Can you imagine some of the team strategies changing near the end of the season?  You’re tied with a divisional rival, but they lose their game.  In your own game, perhaps a manager plays for a tie, knowing it’s easier than trying to win… and is just as effective.

While all of these are well-meaning offers to help, the traditionalist here is hoping that MLB keeps their new ideas in check.

This notion that “if there’s ever a year to try this out, it’s now” is a mantra that would support lots of bad ideas… and bad ideas can serve to either (a) set bad precedents; or (b) add asterisks to the record books… or both.

Other Scheduling Concerns

In recent days, writers such as Ken Rosenthal (theAthletic, subscription required) began to consider the logistics of ‘fanless’ gameplay.  On the surface, that’s perhaps an idea that fans and players alike could get behind, but that’s until you start thinking about the concept for… oh, maybe five minutes.

Turns out there are numerous problems that even this concept brings up.  Here’s the biggest ones

  • Travel.  You simply can’t use the stadiums in each club’s home cities. Why?
    • MLB can’t control the environment that each team encounters.  Between airports, hotels, and other general transportation, each team would be subject to any number of unintended contacts with people who could serve to infect one player… which then puts an entire team – and league – at risk.
    • Gameday personnel.  Teams don’t just show up and start playing:  the stadium staff can number in the low 100’s on any given game day.  Imagine having these people work 6 days, go home and do other things for a week while their club is on the road, then come back for the next homestand.  Big risks when they contact players.
  • Local restrictions.

So to combat this issue, one MLB proposal, Rosenthal reports, is to leverage the Spring Training stadiums – probably those in Arizona – in which to play all games.

That’s an environment that at least would have some measure of control, for the proximity of stadiums around Phoenix is excellent:  the worst case is roughly a 40-mile drive from one end of the Cactus League universe to the other.

So each team could more-or-less commandeer their own hotel for the duration and have at least some semblance of control – short of the staff running the facility.

Moreover, there’s 10 ballparks plus the Diamondbacks Chase Field in that greater Phoenix area.  That requires doubling-up on most days, but that’s at least plausible, for it means every park gets used essentially every day.

The real concern?  The ultimate nightmare scenario happens whenever any MLB player catches this virus.  It’s that single event that has the potential to grind every plan – whacky or not – to an instant halt.

Immediately, the league would have to halt the schedule.  Given that they’re already looking at compressing games into an already-tight calendar box, that could destroy all the best-laid plans.

So do they even try?  There’s the big question.  The secondary question is ‘if so, then when?’

Next. Reliving the Drama. dark

Thus far, the speculating and the idea-floating continues as there’s simply no end in sight now… and our Atlanta Braves are still waiting, too.