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If teams start 19-31 like the Nationals, it really is over in a 50-game season

If teams start 19-31 like the Nationals, it really is over in a 50-game season

To put 50 games in context, just flashback to last season. It’s easy enough. Say it: 19-31. If the Nationals could, they would trademark those numbers together.

Fifty games is a flash. Almost a death knell to the eventual 2019 World Series champions. That’s a season over in late May. Think of it this way: Teams play around 30 games in a normal spring training alone.

The owners have pushed this number into the public with their non-counter-counter to the players’ suggestion of 114 games. Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to use the March agreement between players and owners as a cudgel. Players are refusing to take a further pay cut on top of the one already negotiated. Manfred in turn is saying, “Fine. Then we will schedule the amount of games that are in line with what you are being paid.”

In play now is the 48-game season, according to ESPN. A smidge under 50. A full blitz that would be looked back at as a farce if it’s attempted to be played in the regular way. Playing half a season in the traditional manner is probably the minimum for any legitimacy. Even then, 2020 will be awash in caveats.

The Nationals’ 2020 recovery came against restrictive odds. The manager was supposed to be fired. Some suggested trading the best players, and to do it sooner than later. Season simulations said the Nationals were done. Or as close to it as possible.

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A 50- or 48-game season would cook anyone who has a bad two weeks. Lose a frontline starter? It’s over. Have your shortstop and leadoff hitter hit on the finger by a pitch and miss three weeks? It’s over. Half a season feels like a baseball sprint. Fifty games or less defines the league’s desperation to put some pennies back in its pocket in 2020.

There is one fun idea around a 50-game season. It was hatched at Fangraphs. The premise is one big 50-game tournament. Not the usual three-game series in this town, and four-game series in that city.
Fangraphs makes the on-point mathematical argument that 50 games determines next to nothing when comparing the best in the league to the mediocre. It’s just games for the sake of games.

Since baseball is trying to wade through extraordinary times, why not attempt something extraordinary, such as the tournament?

The model used at Fangraphs included 32 teams, all 30 major-league clubs plus two futures teams, one from each league. Let’s use that premise.

Stage the whole thing in the Texas Rangers’ new park -- Texas is already saying it will allow fans. Have a loser’s bracket. Make the final a five-game series. Pay the players what was already negotiated. Pin more money to the outcome. Run it from early July to the end of September. That way, you still play through much of the summer but duck under a possible fall coronavirus spike the owners are so wary of.

No caveats about if the season was long enough for an authentic champion. This is a complete outlier. The tournament year. Players wore microphones. Some kid from Double-A struck out Bryce Harper in a big at-bat. No leagues. Everyone in the same pot. Have some fun amid an historically troubling time.

What’s not working is the public whining from both sides. The inability to make a deal. The lack of common ground. Both groups are working toward one idea: loss mitigation. A 50-game season does little of that and carries even less validity. Just ask a team that opened last year 19-31.

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Dusty Baker thinks his Astros, not the Nationals, are the team to beat in 2020

Dusty Baker thinks his Astros, not the Nationals, are the team to beat in 2020

If an MLB season is played this summer, there will be several choices for the favorite to win the World Series at the end of what is expected to be a shortened regular season.

The Nationals are the reigning World Series champions and managed to keep their star-studded rotation intact over the offseason. Up north, the New York Yankees made the biggest free-agent signing of the offseason by luring Gerrit Cole into pinstripes. Over on the West Coast, the Los Angeles Dodgers boosted their lineup by acquiring former AL MVP Mookie Betts in a trade with the Boston Red Sox.

However, despite the sign-stealing scandal that dominated most of MLB’s headlines over the winter, Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker believes his team has the talent to win it all.

“Well it’s got to be the Nationals because they were the team to beat,” Baker told Brian Custer on Monday’s episode of The Last Stand Podcast. “We came in second so right now they would be the team to beat since they’re the incumbent. But you know, I feel like it’s us…it’s going to be tough to replace Gerrit Cole but you still got to play the games.”

Baker, who prior to this season last managed the Nationals from 2016 to 2017, joined the Astros after owner Jim Crane fired then-manager A.J. Hinch (as well as GM Jeff Luhnow) for failing to put a stop to the team’s sign-stealing scheme that spanned across the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

As the Astros were being investigated by MLB officials, they also had to grip with the loss of AL Cy Young runner-up Cole. Even though they have no obvious in-house options to pair up with Justin Verlander atop their rotation, Baker is confident the Astros have someone on the roster who will help fill the void Cole left behind.

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“I always count on somebody, a surprise guy, coming through that you weren’t counting on because when the Astros got Gerrit Cole, he wasn’t the Gerrit Cole when he left,” Baker said. “So hopefully there’s another one waiting that we’re not counting on.”

There will certainly be a target on the Astros’ backs this season. But Baker is 70 years old and still hasn’t won a World Series over 22 years of managing. Despite being unsure about what his future holds with Houston beyond 2020, he joined the Astros with the full intention of leading them back to the Fall Classic this year.

“I didn’t come back not to win,” Baker said. “In my mind, I was brought back to win and the fact that this is my last hurrah to win. So I’m usually good under pressure. I’m looking forward to the managing and trying to bring a championship back to Houston.”

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Gerardo Parra 'overwhelmed' by 'Baby Shark' tribute on Nationals World Series ring

Gerardo Parra 'overwhelmed' by 'Baby Shark' tribute on Nationals World Series ring

The Nationals' 2019 World Series rings managed to capture just about every aspect of the team's unforgettable run to their first-ever championship. 

Included on the inside of the ring was a special tribute to "Baby Shark," which of course was Gerardo Parra's walkup song and eventually became the anthem for Washington's postseason run. Parra saw the design and posted a heartfelt message on Instagram thanking the organization for honoring him. 

"I’m completely overwhelmed about the honor the Washington Nationals organization gave me in our World Champions ring we earned last season," Parra wrote. "I can not say thanks enough to the organization and, of course, our fans, because you were the ones that made the Baby Shark song our anthem. I just feel really blessed and I want to say that I will be forever grateful for being a part of the Washington Nationals history!"

Now Parra's World Series ring matches his "Baby Shark" tattoo he got shortly after the Nats won the title. He may have only been in Washington for a year, but he left an everlasting mark on the franchise and its fans 

Parra unfortunately won't play in the majors in 2020 after signing a one-year, $2.5 million contract with a $3 million vesting option for 2021. 

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