With apologies to Charles Dickens, it was the worst of times, it remains the worst of times, it was the age of foolishness, now the age of flibbertigibbety, it was the epoch of sabermetric disbelief, still the epoch of FIP disdain passed from the father to the son, it was the spring of hope, it is the abbreviated summer of game-by-game despair.

It feels like one continuous thread, a Cincinnati version of string theory that has remained unbroken from the moment Mat Latos  trudged unheroically off the mound in the fifth inning of Game 5 nearly 8 years ago until this moment. An unbroken stream of angst and recriminations threading its way through this 60-game season, now ratcheting up because of the new math:

Disappointing Results x 2.7 = Outrage

The narrative has been set in stone since the schedule was unveiled. The Reds should handle a very bad Detroit Tigers team, and if they don’t get off to a fast start, woe is them, because, well, The 2.7.

If only that were how it works. Even bad teams play well for short stretches. Maybe the Reds failed to hit. Maybe the Tigers pitched well, too. This is the major leagues, after all. Even bad teams can have a few worthy pitchers. The well-worn shibboleth that every team wins a third of its games, loses a third, that what is done with the other third determines a team’s fate carries the distilled heft of truth. The simple analysis might be that as pitching dominates, outcomes hinge on the vagaries of the game, the bounce of a ball here, a throw there, variance swamping everything, to borrow writer Joe Sheehan’s well-worn phrase. Had one of several Joey Votto line drives gotten past a Tigers first baseman, the Reds might have won the first series, alarm bells remaining silent, and warnings not elevated to Defcon 1 after one whole week of baseball.

A heartbreaker of a game against the Cubs was lost because Wade Miley had a very bad night. He was a very good pitcher last year who slumped badly in 3 September starts, but otherwise held his own as a member of a Houston Astros rotation that was, well, spectacular. His game is location, not velocity, and he had none on this night. Now must he be banished to Siberia?

This perverted Disney version of a It’s a Small, Small World season, what I call “The 2.7,” is strangling us. Small sample size was once ridiculed as the misleading signpost it surely is. Now, it’s our drug of choice. Michael Lorenzen has been awful so far, likely a victim of a short 21-day summer camp that has robbed him of his rhythm. Manager David Bell remains an easy punching bag. We’ve always had a tendency to see managers as soothsayers, demanding they look into the seeds of time and divine which grain will grow and which will not. Now, every decision has become—in some corners of the fanbase—worthy of excommunication from the church of baseball.

Pitcher injuries have spiked, a fact writer Mark Townsend of Yahoo Sports notes, which explains the early hook manager Bell has used to protect arms that may have been rushed in the service of bringing baseball to the masses.

“After the offseason, pitchers have had three weeks worth of spring training, followed by three-plus months of waiting, and then another three-week summer camp. They were not able to consistently build up arm strength as they typically would in spring training and were often limited to simulation games and scrimmages as preparation.”

The irony is that if the season is spiraling away, it is doing so outside the chalk lines of the playing field. Should this season become tempest-tossed on its sea of troubles, it won’t be bullpen-related, but the result of a rising tide of a virus flooding our country. If the inner circle at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue cannot be kept safe from exposure to COVID-19, how can Major League Baseball in good conscience send hundreds of people into regions of the country like Florida, Texas, California and Arizona that are drowning in the sick air?

And yet, Commissioner Manfred says, “play on:”

 

COVID-19 hasn’t just put baseball people at risk, it’s turned the game into a circus, a funhouse mirror distortion of itself. Runners dropped deus ex machina-like onto second base in extra innings. Teams sitting idle for days between games. Home teams playing in road ballparks. Seven inning doubleheaders.

 

 

The 2.7 owns us now. There’s no room for nuanced, thoughtful analysis of the losses or patience for players to find their feet, much less their bats. There’s no space for caution from the men who run baseball in the midst of a worldwide health crisis. Just the false bravado of Park Avenue suits and a double-dose of pandemic—a viral one on the field and the pandemic of fear the season is spiraling away before it has barely begun.

16 Responses

  1. Jordan

    A much better and mentally healthier way of looking at this is to count each game as one game (because, ya know, they are) with each team starting at 51-51. Losing your first five with someone else winning the first five still just means your five games back. Everyone needs to chill.

    • Mark Moore

      +5000

      This is the sensible way to look at it. Everyone is 51-51 to start the season.

      I totally get the urgency call-to-arms here. That’s why a hot start means more than if we were playing the full 162. But the 2.7 stuff is misleading since it’s all relative and the winners in the end are the ones with the best records.

      Urgent? Absolutely!

      Games worth more? Not so much …

      4-game Tribe series will be a great indicator of who we really are … and it comes as the hitting seems to be improving all around.

    • Doc

      Or you could look at it that everyone started at 0-0 and it is a 60 game season.

  2. TR

    Such as it is, it’s nice to have baseball back.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      Sure beats no baseball as far as I’m concerned!

  3. Klugo

    The 2.7 math is silly. One game is one game. Out of 60.
    And I’m sure the Tigers were just as happy to play 90+ loss for, what, like 5 years in a row Reds organization as we were to be playing them. I’m sure they saw an opportunity there too.

    • John C.

      I am with you Klugo. I and tired of the 2.7. The fact of the matter is that it is August and we are three out. A game is a game. One weekend and we can be in first place. We are not 10 games out. Not sure why so many writers have fallen in love with the fact that each game is worth so much more. Yes, they are not playing 162 but all that matters is where we are with roughly 50 games to go. Just win.

  4. Tom Reeves

    I figure that the players, coaches, and staff are not only playing baseball, they’re also playing dodgeball with a (deadly for a percentage of people) virus.

    Baseball has always been coupled to disappointment. The joke that the first rule of baseball is that “it’ll break your heart” is just as true in 2020 – it just brakes our heart times 2.7 each game. When we asked for baseball, we asked for our hearts to be broken.

    Every summer of my life has had the long novel of baseball in the background. This novel happens to have a virus, protests, and an election as plots and subplots. Baseball lives within that context. More importantly, baseball lives. Let’s enjoy the heartbreak while we can.

  5. RedNat

    The good news is regarding the coronavirus is that the vast majority of cases in the mlb have been very mild or asymptomatic. I guess the time to get this virus is in the heat of the summer when your vitamin d stores are high and your immune system is strongest. I think the reds are actually doing well. They have already had 4 presumed cases plus crappy weather but are still competitive in every game except Friday against the tigers

  6. Brian Schoettmer

    The 2.7 stuff means nothing. If you are 3 games back of the Cubs and sweep a 3 game series, then you are tied. Plain and simple. Don’t over-complicate things.

  7. daytonnati

    I believe Richard is using “2.7” as a metaphor for the absurdity of this season. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy baseball is being played and I have watched every Reds pitch so far. But the DH in the NL, the seven-inning games, the 10th-inning rule, the Blue Jays playing in Buffalo, the daily lineup-shuffling “Covid-symptom lottery” makes it all similar to a Samuel Beckett play.

    As Dr. Peter Venkman once observed about what could possibly be in the offing: “Human sacrifice? Dogs and cats living together? Mass hysteria?”

    Choose your destroyer, MLB.

    • Matt WI

      Not going to lie, I really liked the 7 inning double header. I thinks it’a entirely viable to keep it as a way to schedule purposely in the future and get the season done sooner before the playoffs start. Don’t miss pitchers hitting at all. Keep these ideas.

      Where I am most skeptical and resistant is the expanded playoffs. Fine enough for this weird season, but nothing I’d want then to keep.

      • Gonzo Reds

        Baseball purest perspective here. In order to play baseball this year at all I’m fine with all the changes put in place. With that being said… hope as much as possible is put back where it was meant to be next year.

        For instance… I love how we can compare stats back to the early years of the game. Just this weekend it was mentioned that going back to 1940 only one other player had hit more doubles in a season than Casto and that player was a lefty so Casty has the most right-handed since 1940. I and a lot of fans eat these stat comparisons up!

        With that being said, season long stats like this will no longer be comparable if we shorten the season or shorten the innings available to play. For every 4 innings cut in a double header it’s possibly 2-3 ABs are cut from a players season, perhaps a player chasing Bonds HR record for one (or whoever you feel actually owns that record). For career stats I suppose a player can try to hang around a little longer than they should to get the 3,000 hits that will get them into the HOF but a season is only based on what is available to play.

        And of course I have to also mention how I feel about possibly having a DH in the NL full time and losing all the wonderful lineup strategy that goes into when to pinch hit, double switch, bunt runners over etc. Plus some pitchers can actually hit and it’s their way of increasing their chances to win on the mound by helping the offense. DH is just vanilla, manager sticks 9 guys in and then goes to sleep on the bench, no reason to actually have to manage, most of the decisions are already made. Boring…

    • Richard Fitch

      You can never go wrong quoting Dr. Peter Venkman.

  8. Indy Red Man

    I don’t care about 2.7 either, but it does really shorten the rope that Bell can give some of these guys. Guys like Winker or JVM…how long do you give them before you start giving Aquino at-bats vs rhp? You have a bad month and you can get buried quick. Bell has the starting pitching, but his job is sort out the pen and find a way to put up consistent runs.

    • Mark Moore

      It’s the remaining time that matters … that’s always been the case. The “2.7” from so many sources just muddies the water. And this year, waiting a month is 50% of the season.

      So the pressure is on (or should be) to assess, identify, and remediate quickly because time is the one commodity we don’t have this season.