THE PALLILOG

How MLB's 60 game sprint and expanded playoffs could impact the Astros

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

October 30th of last year is when the Astros lost game seven of the World Series. 268 days later they finally play their next game that counts as they begin a 60 game sprint of a Major League Baseball season Friday night against the should stink again Seattle Mariners.

We know the COVID-19 delayed start has cost the Astros their shot at becoming the first team ever to in at least 100 games in four consecutive seasons. With a full schedule they were unlikely to pull it off, given the loss of Gerrit Cole entirely and Justin Verlander for what would have been at least the first two months of the season. But they had earned a shot at it. Starting with more than 140,000 American lives, many much more important things have been lost than the Astros trying for 100+ wins again, but it is a simple truth.

The Astros will have Verlander on the mound for the opener, and as many as a dozen more regular season starts after it. En route to winning his second American League Cy Young Award last season Verlander won 21 of his 34 starts. On a pro rata basis, eight wins in 13 starts equals 21 in 34.

The Astros won't have 2019 AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez for who knows how long. Presumably but not officially COVID related, Alvarez's absence punches a hole in the Astro lineup, though their one through six in whatever order of George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, and Yuli Gurriel projects as still plenty stout. Losing guys is just going to happen. The Yankees opened their season without D.J. LeMahieu in their starting lineup or closer Aroldis Chapman in their bullpen because of COVID. Not five hours before their opener against the Yanks Thursday night the reigning World Series Champion Washington Nationals announced 21 year old superstar Juan Soto had tested positive. "War of attrition" may be heard too often this season.

MLB to expand postseason field in 2020

Chasing dollars to compensate a little for the loss of nearly two thirds of a season's worth of revenue, it's understandable but still gimmicky of MLB and the players to expand to a 16 team playoff format. The top two finishers in each of the six divisions get in, with wild cards awarded to the next two best records in each league. The first round series will be best two out of three, all at the home of the higher seed. The structure of baseball makes a mediocre or even lousy team beating a superior opponent in a best of three or best of five more likely than the same happening in the NBA. The Astros were awesome last year, but lost two three game series to the Rangers who finished 78-84. In a 16 team format in 2019, the Astros would have opened the postseason in a best of three vs. the Rangers.

60 games can be fun and exciting but it is not a legitimate MLB season. If anyone happens to hit .400, there is no way he should be judged "The first .400 hitter since Ted Williams!" During his MVP 2017 season Jose Altuve had a 60 game stretch over which he hit .420. Altuve finished that season at .346. In 2004 when Ichiro Suzuki set the big league record with 262 hits, he raked at a .441 clip over a 60 game stretch, finishing the season at .372.

Big deal for Mookie Betts

Foremost congratulations to Mookie Betts for inking a 12 year 365 million dollar extension with the Dodgers. George Springer won't command anything close to that when he hits the free agent market this fall, but Betts's haul sure isn't bad news for George. Betts turns 40 in October 2032, the final season of the deal. Bryce Harper turns 39 the final year of his whopper pact with the Phillies. Springer turns 31 in September. Long term contracts paying players megabucks in their late 30s are generally bad business. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are cinch Hall of Famers, but contractual anvils in their later years. Teams can look at those over the hill to washed up paydays as sunk costs as well as hoping revenues go up, up, up so that today's dollar is worth maybe 50 cents a decade from now. If Springer draws a five year 100 million dollar offer elsewhere but gives the Astros the chance to match, would they? What about 125?

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Caught the NFL Films 2019 Texans team video this week. Title: "Pursuit of Greatness. The Story of the 2019 AFC South Champion Houston Texans." Um, ok. Could have at least called it Unfulfilled Pursuit.

2. That's still not as lame as 54 year old Mike Tyson and 51 year old Roy Jones Jr. apparently agreeing to an eight round exhibition fight September 12.

3. Things I'll now do less with baseball back: Bronze-cook elaborate seven-course meals Silver-watch grass (or artificial turf) grow Gold-spontaneously sob uncontrollably

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

Former Astros manager Andrew Jay Hinch is on a short list of candidates to become manager of the Detroit Tigers in 2021.

The question is, after being suspended and later fired for his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, does A.J. Hinch deserve to manage again in baseball?

It's weird to think because so much has happened in 2020, but Hinch was suspended and fired only nine months ago. His banishment, however, ends in a matter of weeks with the final out of the upcoming World Series. At that point, he will be available to manage the Tigers or any other team. There's a possibility that the Mets are interested. Some were hoping it'd be the Astros, but the Astros are committed to manager Dusty Baker for next year. After that … never say never.

Shortly after getting the Astros ax, Hinch went on MLB TV and apologized for his role in the Astros cheating scandal. Although baseball's investigation said the garbage can banging scheme was "with the exception of (Astros coach Alex) Cora, player-driven and player-executed," Hinch took responsibility as manager and didn't challenge his punishment. No players were punished.

"I still feel responsible and will always feel responsible as the man out front," Hinch said. "As the leader, I was in charge of the team. I put out a statement to apologize. But there is something different to doing it on camera and putting a face to an apology, and saying I'm sorry to the league, to baseball, to fans, to players, to the coaches.

"It happened on my watch. I'm not proud of that. I'll never be proud of it. I didn't like it. But I have to own it. And the commissioner's office made very, very clear that the GM and the manager were in position to make sure that nothing like this happened. And we fell short."

In effect, while Hinch didn't authorize or participate in the sign-stealing scandal, he didn't do enough (really anything) to stop it. He is the rare case of being a guilty bystander.

To be clear, Hinch has not been offered the Detroit manager job. However, he has more experience and more wins under his belt than most of the other candidates being considered.

Hinch's reputation is blemished, but his credentials can't be disputed. During his five years as Astros manager, the team never had a losing season, won 100 or more games three times, including a team record 107 wins last year, made the playoffs three times and won a World Series.

Has baseball forgiven Hinch, and does he deserve another chance to manage in the big leagues? This is America, the land of forgiveness and second chances.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."

Hinch knew his team was cheating and didn't do enough to stop it. There's no defense for that. But I think he's paid enough of a price to get back in baseball.

Mike Tyson raped a woman, went to jail, and now he's practically America's sweetheart. Hillary forgave Bill. We not only forgave Confederate leaders, we built schools and statues to honor them. Martha Stewart went to jail for insider trading, now she's back on TV baking crumpets. Ozzy Osbourne was arrested for pee'ing on a monument outside the Alamo, there is no more sacred place in Texas, and now he sells out concerts at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

Pee-wee Herman, well, let's not say what he was caught doing, but he's planning to tour the U.S. celebrating the 35th anniversary of Pee-wee's Big Adventure movie.

Remember, Hinch was suspended for a year. It could have been worse. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has the power to ban people for life. Since becoming the commish, Manfred has permanently banished two people: former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa for hacking into the Astros computer database, and former Atlanta Braves general manager, John Coppolella for signing international players illegally.

Manfred also has temporarily banned Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman for shouting inappropriate comments at female reporters last year. Taubman is eligible to apply for reinstatement after this year's World Series. However, if he commits one more violation of baseball rules, he will be banned for life.

Lifetime bans aren't as unusual as you might think. Since baseball's beginnings in the 1800s, dozens of players, managers and team owners have been banned, mostly, like Pete Rose and the Chicago Black Sox, for gambling-related offenses.

A.J. Hinch copped to his crime, suffered the consequences, now it's time for him to manage a baseball team again. It's not like he'd be landing a plum job with Detroit. The Tigers are out of this year's playoff picture. They lost 114 games last season. And were 64-98 the two years prior. Managing the Tigers will be punishment enough.

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