OPPORTUNITY LOST

Here's why MLB may have already blown it

Composite photo by Jack Brame

If the goal for Major League Baseball was to try to destroy its sport - they are knocking this one out of the park.

Remember when baseball was going to usher in the return of team sports? When the game was going to help "heal the country?" The 4th of July was going to have MLB back and demanding the spotlight for the first time in years. Instead, we have billionaire owners and millionaire players arguing how to split billions of dollars in the middle of a global pandemic that has left one in five Americans out of work and over 100,000 Americans dead. What's the saddest part about these "negotiations?" The two sides can't even agree on what they agreed on in March.

I'm not naive enough to think that just because baseball came back on the 4th of July that the sport would be saved and regained the popularity it once had but wouldn't it have been nice to have a positive news story involving the sport for once? Baseball used to be the national pastime - it hasn't been in decades. The average age of an MLB fan is 57. That's up from 52 in 2000. A great way to destroy your sport is to make sure that people either don't care or can't even find it in the first place. The national ratings for baseball continue to go down and do you think that the owners or players even care?

You have plenty of billionaire owners crying poor despite baseball bringing in over 10 billion dollars in revenue. I guess I forgot that apparently if you own an MLB team you are legally required to make money every year. It's fair to even wonder just how many owners even want to play at this point. The players deserve their blame in this too. The MLBPA continues to insist they have already taken pay cuts by agreeing to pro-rated salaries. However, that is simply not true. You aren't going to get paid for games that haven't been played. Why should your employer have to pay you for 162 games of work when we aren't going to have anywhere near that amount of games. Agreeing to a pro-rated salary is not a pay cut. Stop pretending it is one.

Both sides continue to air out their dirty laundry publicly. Why? This isn't an election. The court of public opinion means nothing if we end up with only a gimmicky 50 game season instead of playing at least 82 games. Or even worse - no season at all. How is there no common ground here? How can't both sides realize that playing only a 50 game season when the opportunity was there to play way more games diminishes a true world champion? Do we really need another offseason of asterisk talk?

Regardless of how this story ends, MLB has already blown their golden window of opportunity to grow the sport. Any chance of building up good-will with the fans has evaporated before our eyes. If you thought the damage of the World Series being canceled in 1994 was bad for the popularity of baseball, just wait and see how destructive it will be if there is no season at all. Only this time you won't have a performance-enhanced drug era of the game to save the sport.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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