Checking the standings on Memorial Day has been a tradition for generations. Being an early barometer of baseball’s playoff picture, it’s widely considered the first unofficial checkpoint of the season.
Instead, for the first time since 1880 — again, 1880 — there was no baseball on Memorial Day. There was no baseball throughout all of May in fact, as pandemic life claimed yet another chunk of normal life.
For another month, we can only wonder: “What Would Have Been?”
Who were the breakout stars and the emerging teams a third of the way through? Because if we do get a season, it’s unlikely to look at all like a typical 162-game trip.
So, in memoriam, let’s honor these fallen moments and memories of May 2020.
What Would Have Been: Corey Kluber makes his return to Cleveland. It was, well, pretty random when the Indians traded their two-time AL Cy Young Award winner to Texas in December, collecting only a fourth outfielder and a young pitcher (who has since gotten hurt, and suspended.) Maybe that’s what you get for jettisoning a starter the caliber of Kluber — who is still just 34 — for such a light haul.
What Would Have Happened: The man otherwise known as Klubot lives up to his cyborg nickname and beats his former Tribe mates decisively. Being a Rangers fan may or may not factor into my thinking that Texas takes the series. Joey Gallo and Ronald Guzman also continue ripping long balls as modern day Bash Brothers.
What Would Have Been: On a Saturday night last year in mid-June, Yu Darvish returned to Dodger Stadium for the first time since his early exit in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. He was booed throughout that first return, and it wasn’t because he tossed a dominant seven-inning, two-hit, 10-strikeout gem for the Cubs. Up until the revelations of the Astros’ cheating scandal, he was considered the goat — the bad variation of the term — of that fateful October.
What Would Have Happened: Dodger fans are respectful and cheer Darvish in acknowledgement that L.A.’s Game 7 defeat was for reasons far beyond his control. Clayton Kershaw even once said that the Dodgers wouldn’t have made it to that point without him. Darvish, who was slated for the series finale, then proceeds to dominate his former club once again and the Cubs capture two of three.
What Would Have Been: Aside from this being an early test for two NL teams on the rise, this also would have marked Jesse Winker and the Reds’ return to Citi Field since last year’s infamous walk-off wave. Wait, what? It’s exactly how it sounds and there’s a zero-percent chance Mets faithful forgot about Winker’s taunt.
What Would Have Happened: Cincinnati’s third-year outfielder goes up against Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, and Steven Matz, and gets put down without a whimper. Winker also gets one put in his back via hired gun Jacob Rhame (as Rhys Hoskins can attest to). You can’t be an unproven guy and just decide to go all Reggie Miller on a New York crowd without tasting the consequences later. The Mets also manage to win two of three, and at some point during one of the games, there’s an animated war of words between Trevor Bauer and Yoenis Cespedes.
What Would Have Been: It’s always an event when The Rivalry intersects for the first time in any given season, though this year’s version might be a bit tamer. The Red Sox are in danger of dropping as low as fourth (Baltimore still has a lease on the cellar) after curiously dealing away Mookie Betts and David Price, not to mention losing ace Chris Sale to injury.
What Would Have Happened: What do you expect? Boston is sporting a real messy pitching staff these days. Whenever 40 percent of their rotation toes the rubber, it can be considered an auto loss. Brian Johnson? Ryan Weber? An unknown opener? Ew. The fall from grace for the Red Sox after their memorable 2018 has been quite extraordinary. In addition, James Paxton and JA Happ have been Sox killers. Chalk this one up as a series victory for the Yanks — maybe a sweep.
What Would Have Been: A much-anticipated rendezvous between the defending champions and one of their top players the last several years. In case you forgot, Anthony Rendon actually crafted an MVP-type season (.319, 34 HRs, 126 RBI) during the Nats’ title conquest last season, hence why he was rewarded with a seven-year, $245 million contract from the Halos.
What Would Have Happened: At this point in the campaign, the Angels are enjoying a return to prominence, thanks in part to the addition of Rendon’s wood, and manage to nab two of three from the Nats. There was also hopefully an entertaining duel set between two future Cy Young winners, Stephen Strasburg and Andrew Heaney.
What Would Have Been: Perhaps the biggest grudge match in baseball since the Dodgers pissed in the Diamondbacks’ pool. Also, the return of Gerrit Cole to H-Town. Everyone knows the garbage things (pun intended) the Astros did but it is fun to review how they robbed the Yankees. There was 2017, when Houston’s cheating tactics led them to a seven-game triumph over New York in the ALCS (not to mention Jose Altuve stealing an MVP from Aaron Judge). And last year saw the Astros take care of the Yanks in another thrilling ALCS, this time amid buzzer allegations.
What Would Have Happened: Well, universal happiness first off, as it’s assured one of the two most-despised teams in the game drop at least two ballgames over a three-day stretch. More likely, it’s the Bronx Bombers who come out of Minute Maid Park victorious — unlike those two ALCS-deciding encounters — thanks to the pent-up frustration. There’s also plenty of hit batters in the series as well, with the bad blood continuing beyond this showdown.
What Would Have Been: Yes, the Indians were supposed to host two big pitcher homecomings last month. This time it was Trevor Bauer coming back to town, and while it would only be for a two-game set, you could expect it to be lined up for the former first-round pick to be on the bump in one of the two assignments. Never forget Bauer’s final act as an Indian involved him tossing a ball over the centerfield fence from the mound as he was getting yanked by Terry Francona.
What Would Have Happened: I’ve long been a huge, huge fan of the outspoken right-hander. Therefore I must declare there decisively would’ve been a Bauer outage in whichever contest he pitched, continuing his march toward a second All-Star team. Let’s say Cincy claims the other game as well behind underrated hurler Anthony DeSclafani.
What Would Have Been: It was far from a guarantee that Felix Hernandez would be in Atlanta’s rotation but for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume the former ace had a spot with Cole Hamels injured. And this would have been his return to Seattle, where he left a legacy in his 15 years with the franchise that hilariously featured zero playoff games.
What Would Have Happened: As much of a feel-good story as it would’ve been to see The King — well, more of a commoner at this stage in his career — back in front of his old King’s Court, the fact remains he was 9-23 (!) with an ugly 5.82 ERA the last two seasons. So, he probably gets battered here and doesn’t have the desired fairytale ending. In a much more familiar conclusion, the Mariners are swept with ease.