MLB will likely play this season, though they obviously won’t be able to play 162 games. Despite being a less than optimal situation, at least three of the Cubs’ players may benefit from a shortened season.
Jon Lester has had a phenomenal career, but let’s face it, he’s getting old. He needs a solid season this year, as the Cubs have a team option on him for the 2021 season.
For Lester to have his option guaranteed, he needed 200 innings this year, but obviously that’s now impossible. Achieving that feat was unlikely, as it would have required average starts of over six innings. With the guarantee no longer in play, Lester will have to have a solid season from start to end.
Lester may very well retire if the Cubs fail to pick up his option for 2021, but a shortened season should help his longevity. Three to five inning starts will be common this year, which will greatly benefit Lester. Complicated by aging, Lester always seems to get burned out by the All-Star break, but with a shorter season, he’ll now be less likely to tire as badly going down the stretch.
One thing that could work against Lester is the heat. MLB seems determined play the season in Arizona, where Phoenix’s temperature averages 105 degrees in the summer months. Lester shed some weight over this past winter, but he’ll need to drop at least another 10-15 pounds if he wants to maximize his outings.
Willson Contreras is unarguably one of the best catchers in baseball, that is, until pitch framing is considered. Stealing pitches just off the corners for his battery mates has never been one of Contreras’ strong suits, but now it may not matter.
Baseball is facing a ton of obstacles due to COVID-19. They’ll undoubtedly be using neutral stadiums and spring training facilities to host games. Games will be played without fans. They’ll have additional doubleheaders and fewer off-days in an attempt to maximize the season. MLB may also be using the 2020 season as a litmus test for the electronic strike zone (ELS). Under the guise of social distancing, the league claims the ELS could be used as a way to keep the umpire, catcher and batter from standing so close to each other.
The minute the electronic strike zone becomes commonplace, the art of pitch framing becomes irrelevant. Contreras was never in jeopardy of losing his starting job, but the use of the ELS could serve to help raise his arbitration and free agency values. Alas, there is a caveat for Contreras. Live by the sword, die by the sword, they say. While the ELS may help Contreras’s salary down the road, it would also raise his trade value in the short-term. The Cubs have not been able to reach an extension agreement with their coveted catcher, and they’ve already realized that they can’t keep the core together forever.
More than anyone else on the team, Yu Darvish looks to be the guy who will benefit the most from a shortened season. Darvish hasn’t exactly had the best of luck stringing together full, quality seasons, but he’s been dominant – when healthy – in short bursts.
As the Cubs entered camp this year, one of the team’s biggest concerns was whether or not Darvish could pick up where he left off last year. Due to experiencing flu-like symptoms in late February, Darvish’s starts were even more limited than his teammates this spring. Yu quickly put those concerns to bed, dancing around the 100 mph mark with his fastball in his earliest spring appearances.
Darvish says his arm feels great. The movement on his two-seam fastball is enough to mesmerize most hitters, and his breaking stuff can be uncatchable. Although Darvish only faced 23 batters this spring, he managed to fan seven of them (30.4%). If he continues to post those kinds of numbers when the season starts, don’t be surprised when he collects a Cy young Award.
Making the Best of a Shortened Season
Just like anything else, there’s good and bad in everything. If a shortened season can benefit even three of the players on the Cubs’ roster, then all is not lost. For the owners, players and diehard fans, a shortened season certainly isn’t optimal. At this point, however, let’s take whatever we can get.
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