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This was a curveball no one saw coming —
and you might remember, the Houston
Astros have a knack for that.
“is is all uncharted waters,” rst-year Astros
manager Dusty Baker said.
Baseball is back, but amid a coronavirus pandemic still surging in the United States, it’s going
to be different. After shutting down spring training and going
on a nearly four-month hiatus, Major League
Baseball plans to open a 60-game regular season
on July 23. Teams are set to play in their home
ballparks and travel between cities — no sequestering in bubbles, like the NBA and NHL.
There are protocols for rigorous testing and
social distancing in dugouts, and some players
will wear face masks on the eld. Braves slugger
Freddie Freeman and Yankees closer Aroldis
Chapman are among those already sidelined by
COVID-19, and more are likely to follow.
Hard to know what’s coming next. For a sport
transformed in recent years by upper-cut swings,
just getting a ball in play will be victory enough.
“It feels good to be back on the eld,” Yankees
slugger Aaron Judge said.
Not everyone agreed. Giants catcher Buster
Posey, Dodgers le-hander David Price, Braves
righty Félix Hernández and Nationals veteran
Ryan Zimmerman are all sitting out the season
due to safety concerns.
Even Angels star Mike Trout, expecting his
first child with wife Jessica in August, isn’t so
sure.
“Honestly, I still don’t
feel that comfortable,” he
said. “is is a tough
time, a tough situation
everyone is in. Everybody has a responsibility in this clubhouse.
Social distance, stay
inside, wear a mask
and be safe.”
60-GAME
SPRINT
The World
Series champion Nationals will host
the Yankees
on July 23 for
the season’s rst game
— likely a showdown
between Washington ace Max Scherzer and New
York’s latest big-money addition, Gerrit Cole. Out
West, Clayton Kershaw should be on the mound
later that night as the Los Angeles Dodgers face
the San Francisco Giants.
It will be a sprint from there. Clubs will play 60
games in 67 days, with the season ending Sept.

  1. TAll 30 teams are to start their nales at 3 p.m.
    EDT to account for a nal-day playo scramble.
    Most games this season, however, are at night.
    Clubs will play 40 times against division opponents, and the remaining 20 will be interleague
    games against teams from corresponding regions
    — NL East vs. AL East, for example.
    A juicy twist brought on by the rejiggered
    schedule: the Houston Astros will play at Dodger
    Stadium on Sept. 12 in a rematch of the 2017
    World Series. It will be their rst meeting since it
    was revealed Houston illicitly stole signs en route
    to a 2017 championship, news that irked Los Angeles’ players and fans. Astros manager AJ Hinch
    and general manager Je Luhnow were red in
    the fallout.
    e Field of Dreams ballpark in Iowa remains
    on track. e Chicago White Sox had been
    scheduled to play the New York Yankees. Instead,
    the White Sox will face the St. Louis Cardinals in
    the cornfields on Aug. 13.
    With midsummer already gone, there won’t
    be an All-Star Game. e Los Angeles Dodgers
    were supposed to host, but they’ve been awarded the 2022 game instead.
    WHO’S THAT GUY?
    Thee Yankees claimed free agency’s biggest
    prize when they signed ace Gerrit Cole to
    a $324 million, nine-year deal in December.
    Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks poached longtime Giants le-hander Madison Bumgarner,
    Hyun-Jin Ryu le the Dodgers for the Blue
    Jays, and Zack Wheeler landed with the
    Phillies.
    Right-hander Stephen Strasburg, last fall’s
    World Series MVP, tested the market but
    returned to the Nationals for $245 million
    over seven years.
    Third baseman Anthony Rendon decided
    differently, leaving Washington when the
    Angels oered a $245 million, seven-year
    deal. He’ll join Trout, a fully healthy Shohei
    Ohtani and rst-year manager Joe Maddon
    — red aer 2019 by the Chicago Cubs —
    in Anaheim.
    Thee Dodgers made the offseason’s biggest splash at the last minute, acquiring
    2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts from the
    Red Sox days before the start of spring training.
    He and 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger will form a
    star-studded outeld — at least for one year. Betts
    can become a free agent aer the season.
    SOMETHING NEW
    Games between National League teams will
    use the designated hitter for 2020 as MLB and the
    players’ union hope to keep players healthy amid
    the condensed schedule. No decision has been
    made about 2021, but it’s likely most pitchers have
    taken their final at-bats in the big leagues.
    Another change rankling traditionalists —
    MLB is adopting an extra-innings rule that gives
    each club an automatic runner on second base
    to start each inning from the 10th on. Hardly a
    popular change, but it should keep games from
    dragging deep into the night.
    “I haven’t met anyone so far that likes it,”
    Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez
    said.
    MLB decided before the hiatus to institute a
    three-batter minimum for all pitchers, possibly
    signaling an end to the le-handed specialist.
    Some virus protocols will give the game a different look, too. Reserve players not likely to enter
    the game may watch from the stands instead of
    the dugout, and there will be no spitting, no
    sunflower seeds and no nger licking.
    Getting too close to an umpire to
    argue will lead to immediate ejection
    and discipline.
    With fans barred from entering
    stadiums, clubs are getting creative.
    Some teams plan to pump in artificial crowd noise, and many are
    letting diehards purchase
    the right to have their
    likenesses printed on
    cutouts that will be
    placed in the seats.
    ABOUT THE
    BALL
    So much about
    2020 is uncertain,
    and that includes
    the ball itself. A
    team of scientists
    hired by MLB found
    that inconsistencies in
    the baseball’s seams contributed to a power surge
    in 2019, when batters
    slugged a record 6,776
    homers.
    UNCHARTED:
    MLB SETS COURSE
    FOR SEASON AMID
    COVID-19 PANDEMIC
    MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL | 2020 PREVIEW
    Mookie
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