Major League Baseball made its return to play this past week amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Watching meaningful, live baseball games for the first time in 2020 (it's July!) brought a wide range of emotions.
Pure joy. Childlike excitement. Amusement with the peak-weirdness of it all. A sense of normalcy. But those initial emotions proved to be just surface level and ultimately temporary.
After the news of a coronavirus outbreak among the Miami Marlins team (resulting in at least 17 positive cases and multiple games postponed), what was felt when that first pitch was thrown on Thursday in Washington D.C. quickly fell to the wayside. A wave of eeriness crept over. Watching the real-life consequences play out in real-time became unsettling.
The health and safety of MLB players and staff is the priority, and the league will have to seriously re-evaluate things in the coming days if it still plans to complete the shortened season with continued travel and an expanded postseason. In the meantime, we're going to momentarily take a step away from baseball news and provide you with some analysis from this first batch of games.
The plan is to share with you some of the biggest stories that have bubbled up to the surface in MLB each week. We'll try to figure out what I'm buying into or selling. Feel free to share whatever pivotal issues that got you excited this week in baseball on Twitter with me @KatherineAcqua.
Now, let's get to it:
Buy: Stanton's hot start after injury-plagued 2019 season
Last season, Giancarlo Stanton played just 18 games in an injury-plagued year. This year, he's off to a hot start. So far in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, Stanton has accounted for two home runs, one double, four RBI and recorded two walks.
Stanton suffered an excruciating saga of injuries (bicep, shoulder, calf, knee) in 2019, and it's likely that muscular imbalances and/or weaknesses contributed to Stanton's failed rehab. The outfielder/designated hitter wasn't alone either. Last year, 27 of New York's 39 injured list stints were for new soft tissue injuries, including five different players who were sidelined with calf strains.
The 30-year-old Yankees slugger looks leaner this season, and ultimately more comfortable at the plate. Stanton worked with Eric Cressey, who was hired by the Yankees to oversee their training staff this offseason, and you can see it paying off thus far.
With Stanton entering his 30s, it'll be crucial for him to work on keeping his body at its healthiest in an effort to prevent further breakdown. Judging by his early success, I think Stanton's in good hands with Cressey and his training staff. I'm going to say that Stanton's apparent comeback isn't just a fluke, and buy it. I'll even go further and say that If Stanton can stay on the field this season, he may lead the league in homers and take home the AL Comeback Player of the Year award at the season's end.
Sell: Worries about Ohtani after rough return to the mound
Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani made his long-awaited return to the mound after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October of 2018. But, things went south quickly as the right-hander failed to record an out against the Athletics. He wasn't effective; he allowed five runs on three hits and three walks. For Ohtani, coming back from Tommy John surgery doesn't just mean his return to pitching, but also returning to live game at-bats. It could be that Ohtani, 26, is just going to take a bit longer to get back to regaining his normal self.
It's tough though because of the 60-game season. Each game means so much more and the Angels are a fringe-postseason club this year thanks to the expanded playoff format. But, the Angels can be patient. Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway said that Ohtani's struggles were because he didn't get the chance to face enough hitters during his preseason buildup. Despite the fact that Ohtani's lowered fastball velocity (96.7 in 2018 down to 92.9 in 2020) gives reason for concern, Callaway's point may be it. I'm going to say the Ohtani concerns are loud right now, but not enough for me to say he won't be able to return to himself in his next start. For right now, I'm selling the worry over Ohtani.
Buy: Indians rotation already impressing
The Cleveland Indians rotation came up firing on all cylinders in this first week of play. Let's first take a quick look at Cleveland's starters' final lines:
We'll have to note here that they did face the rebuilding Royals, but we're still going to put this up for the buy/sell decision. I think ultimately, the fact that the Indians' top starters are already coming out to start the 2020 season with full confidence and composure is what leans me into buying this.
It's even more impressive considering that the Indians got rid of Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber in back-to-back seasons, putting added pressure on the 25-year-old Bieber and the remaining mix of veterans and youngsters to perform.
This should bode well for Cleveland, and I'm betting on this Indians rotation continuing to perform at such a high level this season. Possibly even leading them to a playoff spot in the expanded field.
Buy: Padres look ready to make playoff leap
It's gotta be the uniforms, right? The San Diego Padres rocked their vintage brown-pinstriped unis for 2020 and came out to an electric start to the season. The upstart club nearly swept a decent Diamondbacks club in the first series of the year and looked really good while doing so.
The Padres offense -- despite being mostly youngsters -- made every pitch count in their first couple of games. As a team, San Diego recorded an impressive 27 walks (a league-best so far) in their four games against Arizona. Heading into Tuesday's slate of games, the Padres are only behind the Dodgers for the league's best OBP (.376). Just in the first two games of the season, the Padres lineup hit a full count 28 times. That's against starters Madison Bumgarner and Robbie Ray.
Then you pair the lineup's hot start with a very talented rotation and bullpen, and you've got a pretty special start for San Diego. The club's top three pitchers in their first starts of the 2020 season:
And we can't forget that the Padres could always call up their prized southpaw, top prospect MacKenzie Gore, sooner rather than later this season. San Diego's set up in a good spot right now, and beyond that, they're stacked for the future.
Now, are the Padres are playoff team this year? As of now, they have a 27.7 percent chance of reaching the postseason. And, I'm going to say yes to buying San Diego's 2020 playoff run. Three of us on the CBS Sports MLB staff chose the Padres to finish second, behind the Dodgers, in the NL West this year. To be honest, it would really just be a real shame if their new uniforms don't get to make an appearance on primetime television in October. I'm a fan, in case you couldn't tell.