Good luck trying to predict what next week will look like in Chicago or the rest of the world, much less the next two months.
As for trying to plan for the return of sports during shelter-in-place orders and the rising toll of this pandemic, come on.
But the trial balloons being leaked over the past week in baseball offer at least a welcome respite and moment to dream on what a Cubs season might look like during a summer in Arizona — with or without fans. Or the Cardinals.
“I love that people are getting creative and making a strong effort,” Cubs infielder Nico Hoerner said, even with a dose of skepticism, about one scenario being discussed in which all 30 teams would convene in the Phoenix area to start the season sometime next month.
That was even before the USA Today report Friday morning outlining another scenario being discussed: a one-time realignment of Grapefruit League teams in Florida and Cactus League teams in Arizona playing abbreviated seasons without leaving those states and without recognition of National or American League distinctions.
Three geographical-based divisions in each state? Use of spring ballparks and three major-league stadiums with roofs in those states? Universal use of the designated hitter? A neutral-site World Series between the winners of Cactus and Grapefruit playoff champs?
If it can be done without significant health risk and without taking resources from general-population needs — why not?
And if those questions are answered in time for an 80- or 100-game season and playoffs? Bring on the lab coats and microscopes for a season of experiments in what already was assured of becoming a season of asterisks.
Doubleheaders with seven-inning games? Electronic strike zones? A DH for every team?
“If they shortened the season, sure, why not try the DH [for NL teams] and see what happens?” said former Cubs great Fergie Jenkins — who’s also for the shorter games in doubleheaders and open to the robo-ump idea.
If Jenkins, a good-hitting pitcher and workhorse who tends to scoff at pitch counts, is on board with full-blown 2020 experimentation, it’s hard to imagine much opposition.
It’s already a history-making year for sports, barely a week into April.
So make it a truly memorable year if baseball can be played. Make it must-see TV (if only because that’s probably going to be the only way to watch). Make it innovative and creative. Schedules, leagues, statistics and tradition be damned. It’s not like there’s a chance anything about this season will look normal anyway.
Consider the season of asterisks and potential asterisks:
*It’s already assured of being the first major league season not to open before May since Ulysses S. Grant was alive (1884 season began May 1) and almost certainly would start later than any in history — if there is a season.
*If the Arizona-Florida plan is used, it means no Cubs-Cardinals — unless they meet in the “World Series.” Since St. Louis joined the National League in 1892 and opened that season hosting Chicago, the Cardinals (then the Browns) have never played a season without facing the Cubs (then the Colts) at least nine times.
*The Cubs and Sox would be in the same “league” for the first time. In fact, no two teams from the same city have been in the same league since the late 1950s, when the Dodgers and Giants were both in New York.
*A Cubs team that looked like one of a four-team scrum of good-not-super teams in the National League Central could instead wind up the favorites in a division of the Cactus League with the rebuilding Giants, the competitive Athletics and the Rockies and Diamondbacks. By contrast, the Reds —who ramped up to compete in the NL Central — might wind up in a division with the loaded, NL-favorite Dodgers.
*Los Angeles? The new alignment also would mean the Cubs would get maybe six games against Joe Maddon’s upgraded Angels, who could be in position to challenge the Cubs for a playoff spot or face them in a league playoff.
*The DH for all? The Cubs could benefit more than any traditional NL team with the DH added with Kyle Schwarber perfectly equipped for the job. The lefty slugger has a 1.044 OPS in 26 career games as a DH (including World Series), while his left field spot can be upgraded with a more natural outfielder.
*Nobody has pitched more than six complete games in the last eight seasons and only one pitcher has a double-digit total for a season in the last 20 years (James Shields with 11 in 2011). With seven-inning games on the schedule, how many CGs could that mean for Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks or Yu Darvish, even in a shortened season?
*Robo umps? As recently as 2018, Willson Contreras led the National League in throwing out would-be base stealers and led all catchers in the majors with nine pickoffs. Imagine if he’s able to cheat for optimal pop time instead of focusing on receiving/framing.
*David Ross could become the first Cubs manager to start a season with the club and not lose a game until June or later. Albeit, that’s kind of a lame asterisk, but check out this one:
*With the front office shakeup across town with the Bulls, Ross is on the verge of going from fifth to fourth in tenure among big-league head coaches and managers in Chicago, before managing a game. And if the baseball season is canceled, Jim Boylen’s replacement might coach almost an entire Bulls season before Ross’ first game and still rank behind the Cubs manager.
Come to think of it, how about those Bears and Blackhawks?Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.