The Best And Worst Of 2020 Baseball Thus Far

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Baseball is back, sort of, but it’s a little strange to watch on TV. The stadiums are empty, except for the cardboard cutouts populating the seats, but when a player gets a hit or tallies a strikeout, there’s artificial crowd reaction noise pumped in through the speakers to fill the otherwise deafening void.

So yeah, if you squint your eyes and muffle your ears, Major League Baseball is back.

But in the era of COVID-19, I’m thankful for literally any form of baseball that can be played safely. It’s different, but so is everything else these days, so who cares… PLAY BALL!

This year, the MLB season is only 60 games long. So even though we’ve only had real baseball for about two weeks, we’re already approximately 20% of the way through the season.

In the dozen-or-so games played so far, we’ve seen some truly impressive feats unfold in ballparks across the nation. From big-name sluggers like Arron Judge of the New York Yankees knocking the absolute snot out of the ball to our own crafty left-handed starter, Marco Gonzales of the Seattle Mariners, showcasing his signature brand of excellence on the mound, there’s been something for everyone to appreciate in this still-getting-started season.

And yet, there are two specific things I want to shine a light on that, in my very subjective opinion, standout as the highest and lowest moments in all of 2020 baseball thus far.

THE BEST IS NAMED KYLE LEWIS

As a key figure in the ongoing Seattle Mariners rebuild, Lewis is quickly making a name for himself in Seattle and beyond with his excellent play in 2020. Originally drafted by the Mariners with the 11th overall pick in 2016, Lewis developed his skills in the minor leagues, first with the Everett AquaSox, and then on to the AZL Mariners, the Modesto Nuts, and finally the Arkansas Travelers.

Then, on September 10, 2019 the Mariners promoted Lewis up to the majors as part of the expanded September rosters. In his first game with the Mariners, Lewis hit a home run off everyone’s favorite NL pitcher, Trever Bauer of the Cincinnati Reds. He also homered in each of his next two games, becoming only the second player in MLB history (after Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies) to homer in his first three MLB games. Over 71 at bats in 2019, Lewis had 6 home runs, 13 RBIs, and a .268/.293/.592 slash line.

And he’s picked right back up in 2020 where he left off in 2019… No wait, he’s actually outplaying his former self right now.

As of this writing, through 12 games with 52 at bats, Lewis has 3 home runs, 9 RBIs, a .375/.423/.583 slash line and, most importantly to me, an all-MLB-leading 18 hits. In fact, until going 0-for-4 on Monday’s game, Lewis had registered at least one hit in every game of the season, emphasized by six straight multi-hit showings. However, every rose has its thorn, and for Lewis, it’s his strikeout rate. In 2020, he’s whiffing 39.6% of his at bats, slightly up from 38.7% last season.

Lewis wasn’t picked by many prospect experts to be the breakout Mariners player this year, but he’s quickly proving that he belongs in any conversations about this year’s top players. Even ones that may or may not include terms like, Rookie of the Year.

I know it’s still early, and an odd season in general, but Lewis is the no-doubt frontrunner for a RotY campaign. And perhaps the shortened and irregular season will bolster his case, as anyone off to a hot start is all the more positioned to finish a shorter-than-usual race in first place. Unfortunately, the largest challenger to Lewis’ top-spot is another fresh outfielder, Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox, who has very similar numbers, albeit with fewer strikeouts.

Hopefully, Lewis can minimize the strikeouts and maximize the offensive performance he’s already shown for a few more months. If he does that, I think the Seattle Mariners might just have their first Rookie of the Year since back-to-back showings from Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2000 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001. Not to mention, Mr. Mariner himself, Alvin Davis who brought home the honors in 1984.

Even without a RotY award satiating a starving-for-success fanbase, Kyle Lewis is quickly offering evidence to the organization’s overhaul, a.k.a. Jerry Dipoto’s rebuild, being on the right track. Since we fans have been waiting about 20 years for the Mariners to deliver a playoff caliber team, seeing our younger players shine, even in a pandemic-stricken season, feels almost too good to be true.

Or, if nothing else, it’s the best thing in baseball thus far.

THE WORST IS STILL NAMED THE HOUSTON ASTROS

Given all the events we’ve endured so far in 2020, and boy-oh-boy is that a lengthy list, it would be easy to forget about the Houston Astros being found guilty of cheating their way to a World Series Championship during the off-season. I know, it feels like years ago, but it wasn’t, it just happened pre-Coronavirus and therefore feels like ancient history.

Or it did until last week, when the Astros hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Things began in the 6th inning, when Joe Kelly, a relief pitcher for the Dodgers, threw a fastball behind the head of Alex Bregman, third baseman for the Astros. Next, a heated exchange between Kelly and Michael Brantley, outfielder, at first base paired with verbal taunting from the Astros bench. Finally, after striking out Carlos Correa, the Astros’ shortstop, Kelly made a pouty face and verbally mocked him as he returned to his dugout. And then it was unleashed.

In the first benches-clearing event of 2020, both the Astros and Dodgers rushed the field to defend their teammates, ball clubs, and emotions. And to their credit, many of the players wore facemasks even during such a heated confrontation.

As a result of all this, Joe Kelly was suspended for 8 games, which in this shortened year accounts for 13% of the season. Additionally, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, was suspended for 1 game.

Forgetting about the Astros cheating scandal for a moment, this sounds about right. A pitcher seeming to intentionally throw at a player’s head warrants an ejection and/or suspension under normal circumstances. But as part of dishing out punishment against the Astros for their misconduct, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, specifically stated that any pitchers seeking their own brand of justice from the mound would be met with severe penalties. Which an 8-game suspension certainly is.

However, Kelly’s actions didn’t happen in a vacuum. His actions were unquestionably a reaction to the Astros cheating not only the Dodgers, but the entire league, out of a fair game. Moreover, his (and all of our) feelings about the Astros have been exacerbated by Manfred’s so-called punishment for the crime.

Or the lack thereof, if we’re being honest.

As I’ve written about before, the consequences levied against the Astros for cheating their way to a World Series Championship fell woefully short of fair, given the scope of the wrongdoing.

The Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow and team manager AJ Hinch were both suspended for a full year, through the 2020 World Series. Additionally, the team was fined $5 million (the maximum amount allowed under the MLB Constitution), and they were stripped of their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. Then, Astros owner, Jim Crane, took things further by outright firing both Luhnow and Hinch.

But no individual players were fined, penalized, or suspended in any way for cheating.

Let that sink in: You play a key role in helping your team cheat its way to a World Series Championship, you get caught, and you suffer zero consequences.

Compared to: You throw a baseball at a batter to express your frustration, you get into a confrontation with proven cheaters, you get suspended for eight games.

I get where Manfred was coming from, I understood his perspective, and now I’ll even grant him the unpredictable way all of these events played out in a pandemic… But, everyone knew this would happen and everyone knew what the consequences would be, so why is it still so shocking to see it realized?

I’ll hazard a guess … Because it’s a bunch of …

Cheating in baseball—specifically cheating your way to a World Series Championship—threatens the integrity of the sport. If people don’t believe the game is fair, they will stop caring about the outcomes. And if people don’t care, the sport will die.

As I wrote in the past, I believe the consequences for the Astros cheating should have been far tougher, because the Astros players, organization, and entire fanbase needs to feel remorseful for their crime. And being upset about (justifiably) getting thrown at proves to me that they don’t.

From the Astros’ perspective, they believe they think they paid a price (embarrassed, lost coach/GM, media questions, etc.) and that’s enough. As in, they’ve done their penance and now would like to resume playing regular baseball. But I think the rest of baseball, and the entire non-Astros fanbase, all feel that they haven’t paid nearly enough for their actions. At least, not yet.

The consequences should have been severe enough to ensure that no other team attempts anything remotely like this again. That’s the only way to both atone for this violation of trust in the game and protect it moving forward. But since that didn’t happen from the commissioner, they players are taking the game’s integrity into their own hands.

So, Joe Kelly is the first player to pay an individual price for maintaining the integrity of baseball, but I’m positive he won’t be the last. I hope others, many, many others follow suit and let it be known that cheating doesn’t have a place in the sport.

Failing to do so, and offering a backdoor endorsement of the Astros actions, certainly would be the worst thing in baseball thus far.

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About Author

Jon Aiken

Born and raised in Seattle, Jon developed a deep love for the Mariners and Seahawks and continues to watch, analyze, and discuss them on a daily basis. As a professional advertising copywriter, the blending of these two loves (sports/words) seemed like a natural creative evolution. He recently moved south to Tacoma, fully embracing his new hometeam, the Rainers.

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