By David Mullen
An odd 2019 baseball season is now in the books. The National League Wild Card champion Washington Nationals shocked baseball by winning the World Series against the heavily favored Houston Astros, which won a season’s best 107 games. The Nationals, 19-31 on May 23, finished the season with a 74-38 run including winning 10 of their last 11 games. Opponents should have seen them coming.
At least something seems to be working in Washington DC.
Aside from the annoyance of Nationals fans suddenly jumping on the bandwagon, excruciatingly long nine-inning games, umpire indecision regarding on-field rulings, a strike zone left up to interpretation and endless pitching changes, the World Series had its moments. For the first time in professional sports history, the road team won all seven games in a best-of-seven series. Washington’s 20-year old Juan Soto (now 21) came of age. Journeyman Howie Kendrick, 36, did not show his age. And Anthony Rendon, finally in the spotlight, proved his greatness.
Unfortunately, the World Series highlight that garnered the most interest was courtesy of a bleacher fan that double-fisted aluminum cans of Bud Light, took a home run ball off of his chest, retrieved the souvenir and made nation news. He was featured in a Bud Light commercial that ran on TV the next day and had his own T-shirt line shortly thereafter.
The 2019 World Series did show baseball’s bugaboos. Although there were no extra inning games, only one game was played in less than 3:37, and two games exceeded four hours. In game four, nine relief pitchers were used, all pitching two innings or less. In game two, seven relief pitchers logged 1 1/3 innings or less.
In 2020, changes will be made, including a three-batter minimum for new pitchers and an expanded roster of 26 players, up from 25, with a maximum of 13 pitchers.
World Series games in the Eastern Time Zone started after 8 p.m., meaning that they ended beyond midnight. While MLB tries to get more youth interested in baseball, it is tough to pique curiosity when games end so late and young (and old) fans are asleep. More than 47 percent of Americans live in the Eastern Time Zone.
The season started out with claims that the ball was juiced. Hitters recorded individual marks and 15 teams set records for home runs in a season. They smashed 6,776 homers, which is 671 more than the previous record set in 2017. New York Mets’ Pete Alonso inked a major league record for rookies with 53 round trippers.
With the walk-offs came the whiffs. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole of the Astros were the first teammates to each record 300 strikeouts since 2002. Cole won 20 games and finished with 326 strikeouts, the most by an American League pitcher since California Angels (pre-Texas Rangers) ace Nolan Ryan in 1977. Strikeouts have increased every year since 2008 and rose to 42,823 this season.
Four teams (the Astros, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins) recorded at least 100 victories in a season for the first time in MLB history. Conversely, four teams (the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins and Kansas City Royals) lost more than 103 games.
There was talk that losing teams were “tanking” for better position in the MLB amateur draft, a point that the player’s union will key on as the collective bargaining agreement comes due in 2021. It appears that union would like to eliminate the draft altogether.
The Rangers teased fans by going into the All-Star Break six games over .500, thanks in part to bringing Danny Santana up from the minors after the season started. He became the team’s best everyday player. Starters Mike Minor and Lance Lynn pitched beyond expectations. Hunter Pence was Comeback Player of the Year. But the play of Ronald Guzman, Roughed Odor and Nomar Mazara, earmarked as future Rangers stars, left fans scratching their heads. At least 24-year-old Willie Calhoun finally got to play and hit 21 home runs.
Texas must completely retool the team in the off season to have any chance to compete. The Rangers open the season on Thursday, March 26, 2020 in Seattle. To cut back on early season weather postponements, the scheduling gurus at MLB finally utilized every domed stadium on Opening Day, except for one.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020 has been saved for the Rangers when they usher in Globe Life Field against the Los Angeles Angels. A new dome stadium hopefully will also introduce a revamped Rangers roster. Maybe Texas can surprise like Washington did this season. But with the Astros, Oakland A’s and wild-spending Angels as division rivals, that is about as likely as Congressional Democrats and Republicans agreeing on anything.