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Hok Talk: Month-in check-in

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We are now a month into the 2020 baseball season. What do we know so far?

Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly throwing from the mound
Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly has been a prominent name in baseball news, this year.
Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Royals are still in the playoff hunt

Back in February how would you have felt if I would have told you that the Royals would be only three games under .500 and two games back from a playoff spot in mid-August? OK, but how would you have felt if I had told you, instead, that the Royals would be in fifth place in the AL Central and the only team in the division playing under .500?

Somehow both of these things are true. I am on record that there should never have even been a 2020 MLB Season. However, if we’re going to have one, it might as well be entertaining. As of this writing, no team is more than four games back of a playoff spot with fewer than 50 games left to play. That means everybody is still in it and will be for most of the season which makes for more entertaining baseball. The Royals suffered a seven-game losing streak early on but even from fifth place are still right in the thick of the hunt.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that this almost certainly means the Royals won’t be interested in selling at the deadline, this year, but based on how well the market has worked out for sellers the past few years I’m less inclined to care. Yes, if the Royals lose their next ten games or something, they should go ahead and trade anyone who won’t be under contract for next year for whatever they can get. But the prospects that are being returned in such deals have been of lesser and lesser quality recently.

Some people think that this year could be a seller’s market since so many teams will be in playoff contention at the August 31 trade deadline but I tend to think that because the playoffs will be so crowded many teams will be less interested in giving up a top prospect for a crapshoot that could see the best teams out in just a couple of games of weirdness. Put all of that together and, personally, I’d rather take my odds on a few games of weirdness with a playoff atmosphere than a handful of sixth outfielders and a couple of relievers who will never make it above AA.

It seems like the 2020 season will actually get finished

One of the big questions at the start of the season was whether MLB really could get all 30 teams to play all 60 games each without a massive COVID-19 outbreak shutting everything down. Things were looking pretty dire when the Marlins and then the Cardinals screwed up but with the Cardinals resuming play this weekend and their schedule modified to account for the missing time everyone is playing again. Additionally, MLB has modified the rules, and teams and players have started enforcing them better and we haven’t yet had another outbreak. Cross your fingers, this might actually, somehow, work.

Of course, this still hasn’t been entirely without controversy. Zach Plesac got busted breaking protocol and was forced to rent a car to drive back to Cleveland so he could be quarantined from the rest of the team. He was pretty unhappy about both that and the fact that his indiscretion was reported in the media. He tried to complain in a since-deleted Instagram video that “the media” turned him into a villain before confessing to more or less everything that had been reported. I can understand trying to take a path where you defend yourself against the accusations or a path where you own up to what you did in hopes of people being understanding but doing both simultaneously strikes me as... not particularly bright.

Fortunately, players like Plesac have been few and far between and baseball has carried on. And, as Rex likes to say, I won’t be crying any tears or sending any apology cards to Cleveland for the temporary loss of two of their pitchers. Just like no one sent the Royals any when they had to start the year without Junis or Keller.

The Astros’ cheating scandal will not die

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, the Astros were outed as having cheated by using cameras to steal signs in 2017. Responses to the scandal have been mixed with some people not caring at all, some people decrying the cheating, and some people decrying the cheating but only because it used electronics as opposed to old-fashioned eyesight.

New Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly took umbrage at the dishonorable behavior and threw at Alex Bregman when the Dodgers played the Astros earlier this year, causing the benches of both teams to be cleared for a confrontation and earning himself a suspension. While his suspension was under appeal Kelly did an interview and explained that he thinks the Astros players are “snitches” and doesn’t like that they avoided all punishment while the teams’ front office staff and field manager took the hits.

This, obviously, is playing very well in Los Angeles since Dodgers fans are convinced that their team would have won the 2017 World Series had the Astros not cheated. However, Joe’s accusations seem a bit like his changeup. He set up a perfectly reasonable target, aimed his pitch to strike the bad guys out, and somehow ended up damaging his own house.

Joe Kelly, of course, pitched for the 2018 Red Sox. Another team that stole signs. Another team that saw a manager fired while the players - and I cannot stress enough that one of these players was Joe Kelly - all received immunity for their testimony. Methinks he doth protest too much. Or not enough. Either way.

The thing is, I don’t think Joe is lying. I think he really does think what the Astros did is despicable and he probably can give you a reason - and very well may as this story continues to develop - as to why what he and the Red Sox did was somehow different. Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that the Red Sox allegedly didn’t cheat during the World Series and that their scheme wasn’t as complex as the Astros’. I don’t know. Mostly, this serves to remind us that baseball players really are just like us. Full of irrational beliefs and bizarre grudges.

Oh, and it should also remind us that - especially with the universal DH this year and potentially for the foreseeable future - the “unwritten rules of baseball” need to stop being enforced by throwing balls at people with whom one does not agree. Beyond the insane danger involved in such an act (which should have been enough to put a stop to it on its own...) it simply cannot be enforced equally among all players. Since there is no equivalent of throwing at a pitcher, it’s time to let this old habit die and find a more civilized way of dealing with these infractions. Like lightsabers.