Why MLB Needed to Shorten Doubleheaders in 2020

To safely make up all these postponed games, baseball had no choice but to play seven-inning doubleheaders in 2020.
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What would the late, great Ernie Banks make of MLB’s new doubleheader rule?

“Let’s play two!” Well, it won’t be two full games. More like one-and-a-half. But it’ll count as two, nonetheless.

As first reported by The Athletic, twin bills will consist of seven-inning games starting on Saturday. How else to react except with an exasperated sigh and a shrug?

MLB continues to make up the schedule and the rules of the game as it goes along this season. It’s been dizzying and depressing to keep up with it all, even for someone like me who's in favor of the expanded postseason and thinks the new extra-inning rule is a lovely late-night espresso shot that won’t keep you up for 15 innings.

We’re a week in and the Marlins and Phillies have played only three games, and won’t take the field again until Monday at the earliest. And there aren't enough scheduled off days to make up postponed games at later dates.

But with Thursday’s news, Major League Baseball took another step closer to resembling a neighborhood recreation league, though it didn't have much of a choice.

We’ve already seen star pitchers such as Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Marcus Stroman and Cole Hamels go down with injuries. Those first three guys account for seven of the last 18 Cy Young Award winners. They’re far from alone.

Oct 9, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) reacts in the dugout during the eighth inning in game five of the 2019 NLDS playoff baseball series against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly five times the number of pitchers have been placed on the injured list this season as there were in the first week last year, according to The Athletic’s Eno Sarris, and that doesn’t even include ailments related to COVID-19. It’s impossible to say that rushing pitchers through summer camp instead of a full spring training is the direct cause here. Either way, something had to be done to make sure pitchers aren't overextended even further. Shortening doubleheaders and lengthening the expansion of roster sizes, which also reportedly is being discussed, were the best options.

With the new-look doubleheaders in play, baseball will lose some of the consistency it craves when it comes to statistics. Partially-complete complete games, which we also saw on Opening Night due to a rain-shortened contest, will become more commonplace. Teams’ per-game stats will be thrown out of whack (though percentage rates are superior statistics, anyway). It’ll also just be a little weird.

But fans have learned over the past few months that some sports are better than no sports at all. And with the way MLB bungled the Marlins outbreak by letting them play last Sunday, shortening some games is the best way to give us as many as possible.

Quick Hits

• Miguel Cabrera hit his 479th and 480th career home runs at Comerica Park on Thursday, his first multi-homer game since Sept. 30, 2016. He now has three on the year after just seven games, after it took him 55 to reach that mark last season. He ranks 30th on the all-time leaderboard.

• Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez crushed two more home runs against the Mets on Thursday to take over the MLB lead with four round-trippers.

Vasquez also threw out Michael Conforto at second base from his knees, showcasing the arm that’s thrown out 41% of runners throughout his career, which would rank first among active catchers if he had enough innings to qualify. The 29-year-old Puerto Rican might be the most underrated catcher in the sport after frequently splitting time with Sandy Leon over the last few years. One of Chaim Bloom’s first moves as Red Sox GM was to trade Leon after Vasquez showed he was ready for an unquestioned full-time role in 2019. He won’t be underrated for much longer.

• Nobody told Shane Bieber that starters should be easing into this season.

• Baby Trout is almost here! A far superior maritime alternative to Baby Shark.