Oriole pitchers and catchers are scheduled to take the field in a week, and when the group gathers on February 17th, they’ll be subject to Major League Baseball’s health and safety protocols for a second consecutive season because of the pandemic.
Let’s look at some of the key provisions and how they might affect the Orioles.
One of the provisions that isn’t included is the universal designated hitter. The DH was used in all games in the 60-game 2020 season, and it’s ikely to be adopted in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, which will begin in 2022.
However, Major League Baseball decided to offer the Players Association the DH for all games in exchange for their agreement to expand the playoffs.
Last season, 16 teams made the playoffs, but unless there’s an agreement between now and the April 1st opener, the postseason will revert to 10 teams, as it was from 2012-2019.
The Orioles have seven games in National League parks in the season’s first two months, two at Marlins Park in Miami (April 20-21), two at Citi Field with the New York Mets (May 11-12) and three at Washington’s Nationals Park (May 21-23). After that, they’ll go nearly four months until their final three at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park (September 20-22).
Likely Oriole starters Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer haven’t batted in the major leagues. John Means was 1-for-3 in 2019.
Felix Hernández, who could be a Hall of Fame pitcher, won’t be going to Cooperstown because of his hitting. Hernández is just 4-for-50 (.080) in his major league career. One of those hits was a grand-slam against fellow Venezuelan Johan Santana on June 23, 2008 at Citi Field.
Wade LeBlanc is a more accomplished hitter. In his 12-year major league career, LeBlanc has hit .250, with 29 of his 30 hits being singles.
For years, I preferred the National League-style game with double switches and pitchers hitting. After last year, I’m a convert. I can’t wait for the universal DH, and can do without pitchers, who haven’t hit in years, flailing at fastballs.
Two 2020 innovations that have won me over are the seven-inning doubleheader and the runner-on-second base to begin an extra inning.
In 2020, the Orioles had little success in doubleheaders, losing seven of eight games played.
Many fans remember going to Sunday or holiday doubleheaders as a child and romanticize about them. Doubleheaders have rarely been part of the original schedule for the past four decades. When they were more popular, games averaged less than 2 ½ hours. Fans could be home for dinner.
Now, when there’s a rainout a split doubleheader is usually scheduled. Fans pay separate admissions, and if you want to see both games it’s usually a 10-hour day.
The Orioles and Marlins played a doubleheader in August that took less than 4 ½ hours to play. That’s fine with me.
I was an immediate fan of the extra-inning rule. Not only does it cut down on players attempting to end the game with one swing, but it adds some strategy.
The Orioles were 4-4 in extra-inning games, and there were some memorable moments, including Austin Hays hitting a leadoff two-run home run in Philadelphia.
It’s great to see bunting used strategically, and there’s really no need for a 16-inning game.
The rule change that might impact the Orioles the most is not limiting pitchers on the 26-man roster. A year ago, teams were supposed to be limited to 13 pitchers, but with 28- and 30-man rosters, no limits were placed on the number of pitchers a team could carry.
That helped the Orioles because they were able to carry extra relievers. Perhaps they’ll carry 14 pitchers and try to option pitchers regularly to ensure fresh arms. That would mean only three extra position players, but maybe, they’ll stick with 13 pitchers.
Teams will continue to carry a five-man taxi squad on road trips. One of those five players must be a catcher, and the guess here is that Austin Wynns will be a regular on those trips.
That’s to limit commercial airline travel by players, and guarantees that in case of injury, there’s a replacement at each position on hand.
In September, rosters increase to 28, as they were supposed to last season. Before then, teams could carry up to 40 players.
Fighting is forbidden. Fines and suspensions are promised. Arguments with umpires again must be from a 6-foot distance.
There are many protocols dealing with Covid-19. Beginning with spring training, players can’t attend indoor gatherings of more than 10 people. They’re barred from indoor dining, bars and lounges, fitness and wellness centers, entertainment and gaming venues.
For spring training, players and team personnel and members of their households must quarantine at home with the exception of working out with and traveling with the team, workouts and approved outdoor dining.
During the season, players and team personnel can’t leave the hotel on the road except for games, outdoor walks or exercise and approved outdoor dining. Only outdoor meetings with household or family members are permitted.