No, no, not because Strasburg has a nerve issue in his right wrist and Scherzer tweaked his right hamstring in what became a 3-1 loss to the New York Mets. There’s enough bad in the world at the moment without wishing ill on anyone, let alone athletes who are yearning to compete.
No, sentences such as those are a joy to type because these are baseball problems suffered by baseball players that will affect their baseball teams. Baseball, baseball, baseball. Imagine that.
Scherzer’s injury is the kind of development that, in an ordinary August, can put a baseball town in a tizzy. Yes, he downplayed it heavily afterward, labeling it an “ailment” rather than an injury and predicting he wouldn’t miss time.
“I’m really not concerned,” he said.
Great. Pencil him in for his next start. Since he first came to Washington in 2015, every Scherzer outing has been something of an event. A no-hitter? A 20-strikeout game? Shutting someone down while pitching with a black eye? He’s done them all. Last summer, when he was working his way back from neck and back issues, each start became something of a referendum not only on his health but on the Nationals’ chances at the postseason. How’s he coming along? What’s his velocity? It becomes all-consuming.
Now, in this unprecedented season — the Nationals have played nine of their scheduled 60 games, which equates to 24 games in a normal 162-game year — it’s hard to place where baseball developments, be they injuries or home runs, fit. The Nats’ other big development Wednesday came with the return of left fielder Juan Soto, who laced hits — a double to left, a single to right — in each of his first two at-bats. Why was that significant? Because Soto tested positive for the novel coronavirus back on the day the season began and hadn’t played since.
“I’m happy to be back,” Soto said. “I’m happy to play the sport that I love.”
And we’re happy to watch.
But Soto’s return was only an event because of the global pandemic that dictates everything about this season — not just what teams are able to play and when but what is considered the sport’s biggest news on a given day.
Put Scherzer and Soto aside for a second. Aaron Judge hit his seventh homer Wednesday in what was the New York Yankees’ 10th game, and in any other season, such feats by one of the game’s most prominent stars — playing for its most prominent franchise — would bring no measure of back-page tabloid fodder. But that’s in a world in which the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes didn’t briefly go AWOL on his team, then leave for good because of concerns about the virus.
These three hours per night, they’re supposed to be an escape. That’s one of the reasons we were told sports needed to return, even as the virus raged on: Americans need a diversion.
But the diversion of baseball has served to put more focus on the virus — which isn’t a bad thing, because Americans seeing ballplayers in masks might serve to send the right message. Still, it’s hard to focus on the baseball. What was more important MLB news Wednesday: Judge’s seventh homer, Scherzer’s early exit or the fact that when the St. Louis Cardinals return to play this weekend — following their seven-day hiatus after seven players and six staff members tested positive for the virus — players who aren’t in the lineup will not sit in the dugout, but rather remain socially distant from their teammates?
I’ll take the last choice, Alex, because it’s the latest indication of how difficult this all has been already, how difficult it is each day, how difficult it will be going forward. The adjustments to try to make this work are coming every single day.
“As hard as it is and as natural as it is and as ingrained as it is to physically support your teammate with a high-five or pat on the back to celebrate … we just won’t do it,” Cardinals Manager Mike Shildt told reporters — via Zoom, of course — after his team worked out Wednesday. “We’re going to be super-cautious about everything we do and how we celebrate and how we react.”
For all involved, baseball seasons are about rhythm. This one is syncopated at best, with starts and stops and unpredictability baked in. Despite Soto’s positive test — which he believes was in error — the Nationals have not been ravaged by the virus like the Cardinals or Miami Marlins, who had 18 players test positive. Still, their scheduled series against Miami last weekend was erased, leaving them with just two games in a week. Even the fans — none in the stands, all on their couches — can’t get into a rhythm like that.
“Because we’ve had so much time off,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said before Wednesday’s game, “right now, playing two games in a row is pretty awesome.”
He said it in jest. But he also knows the entire enterprise has serious underpinnings.
“It’s going to be tough to sleep at night; I’ve struggled already in the past,” Martinez said last week. “But you wake up every morning, and a lot of times you are waiting for test results back, and you’re sitting there going, ‘Man, I just hope everybody comes back negative.’”
In a way, it’s a battle just to get to the point where you can tweak a hamstring or strain your wrist.
Maybe there will come a point this season in which games aren’t postponed or adjustments aren’t announced because of the pandemic. That day was not Wednesday, when the Cardinals and Tigers were idle, their four-game series scheduled for Detroit blown up following that rash of Cardinals’ positive tests. Just two teams have endured outbreaks, but eight have had their schedules messed with.
Maybe there will come a point when Judge’s power surge will lead the baseball news, an excellent baseball player doing extraordinary baseball things. Mike Trout, the sport’s best player, did his part to push out a good old-fashioned baseball story when he homered in his first at-bat after becoming a first-time father.
There’s a season scheduled, and if that schedule is to be met, all of the challenges the virus presents must be navigated. It’s true that Strasburg hasn’t yet started and Scherzer couldn’t get to the second inning Wednesday. Those are the challenges baseball teams — players and coaches and executives — are used to confronting.
But two weeks into this great experiment, there is no rhythm to the season, and the news about baseball players doing baseball things hasn’t overtaken how the sport is being affected by the virus. Who knows whether it ever will?