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Let’s look ahead to actual baseball

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It’s months away, but it’s all we have.

Another Major Nor’Easter Barrels Into Northeastern U.S. Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

I don’t know what’s going on here, and neither do you, but I think we can all agree that Bill James is just your average scholar, casually accruing blood lust statistics. This, and I mean this genuinely, likely has nothing to do with the winter madness that has settled over the baseball community this flu season.

Maybe none of the players will have teams this year. Maybe all the free agents we’d looked forward to seeing on new teams, with new rivals in new divisions, just won’t be there when the sun rises on opening day. Instead, less coordinated and more confused athletes will take their places, on teams that didn’t want to spend money on anyone good. It’ll be like when baseball had talent shortages due to strikes or world wars, only for no reason.

Why, though; why would teams not pursue the league’s best players?

“Why, for reasons, of course!” the rich owners say, tousling our collective hair. “Good, secret reasons. Now, no more questions, and off to bed with you!”

So, we go to bed, frown at the ceiling for a while, and then get up again, to the news that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado still don’t have teams. Flipping through the archives of this season’s non-happenings, we see that this week, the news is that A-Rod thinks MLB’s owners are doing a great job at colluding, a video game’s Twitter account is once again hinting that it knows more about Harper’s decision than anyone, and maybe Machado would be better off on a one-year deal, actually, says Joel Sherman:

Alex Rodriguez went on national TV last week and said, “Owners are doing a terrific job working closely together” to restrain player salaries.

Whether he knows it or not, Rodriguez was alleging collusion, which is illegal. But let’s assume the less nefarious, that groupthink, not collusion, has overrun the industry.

Even Tuesday, a day when we were inexplicably pretty sure something was going to happen, was a day in which nothing happened, as ESPN’s Jeff Passan dutifully reported.

We still have two months to go until opening day.

You can pretend that hearing baseballs slap against gloves during spring training is your anti-drug, but we all know you’ll get bored of exhibition games in twenty minutes. “Pitchers and catchers report” has always been a life preserver we cling to, as though a few dozen guys rolling up to a training complex in gym shorts meant America’s pastime was back in action. The sources we once relied on for rumors to sustain us have dried up, and all we can do is make harassing phone calls to Ricky Ledee late at night to see if he knows anything.

So, let’s do what the Phillies’ latest engaging content has asked us to do, which is to look ahead to their March 28-30 opening series against the Braves.

Let’s all close our eyes and return to the dark void into which we pass each winter’s eve feel the spring sun on our faces as the cold melts away and the smell of popcorn lingers in our nostrils.

Aaaaahhhhh

Here we are, back in Citizens Bank Park, at last. The Sixers are playing the Nets tonight, Miss Saigon is at the Academy of Music, Boogie T is at The Fillmore, but you’re here, wiping off a seat. It’s good to be back.

Never mind Pass & Stow, the new concession area and beer garden by the third base gate. You’ve waited too long for baseball that wasn’t being played in a Youtube video to not go straight to your seat. The Farmer’s Almanac was right on the money again when it was “red-flagging March 20–23 for a potent East Coast storm,” and emergency management services have been hard at work, breathing hot breaths on the filthy snow and slush piles as they cling to the pavement. Stadium employees had a harder time getting this place ready for tens of thousands of butts, and with the first pitch of 2019 season on its way, we can only hope they’ve done enough.

Ignore the savage wind gusts and sub-zero temperatures and fitful March precipitation: This is baseball weather. Just look at those boys of summer, wearing two layers of hoodies and team branded administered ear flaps.

And how about that Braves roster; I’m not worried about facing them for the next decade at all.

  • 1B: Freddie Freeman
  • 2B: Ozzie Albies
  • SS: Dansby Swanson
  • 3B: Josh Donaldson
  • LF: Ronald Acuna, Jr.
  • CF: Ender Inciarte
  • RF: Nick Markakis
  • C: Tyler Flowers

Good lord, who let this happen? Somehow, in an age when nobody wants good ball players on their team, the Braves still wound up with a bunch of ‘em.

Freeman believed so hard in this team that he didn’t even feel the need to try and get his friend Bryce Harper to come to Atlanta. Of the four NL East rival ball parks in which he plays, Acuna’s lowest OPS was in Citizens Bank Park, and it was .803. You know Donaldson’s probably good for 20 home runs and an interview with Kevin Millar in which he uses the phrase “this team believes in itself.” Albies, Inciarte; even Brian McCann is back, to the delight of Braves purists everywhere.

But it’s not just the players, say the reports out of Atlanta. It’s also the culture, which apparently is great. Atlanta Journal-Constitution Braves writer Gabriel Burns wrote the most honest explanation of clubhouse culture I’ve ever read, in which he describes it as truly indescribable:

Truth is, it can only be defined by those experiencing it. For as much access as the scribes have, we can pick up only parts of it. Whenever we step into a clubhouse, the atmosphere is evident after a few moments. Obviously you have a better feel for the team you’re covering, but as involved as we might be, you don’t get the full scope.

The acquisition of McCann continues what Burns feels is one of the sport’s most respected clubhouse cultures, started in its modern form by Terry Pendleton in the nineties. I don’t know about all that, but as an observer who is even further away from the situation than Burns, I can say that if it’s rigid law enforcement the Braves are after, then they’ve reacquired the right back-up catcher.

Hopefully, and presumably, the Phillies will go with Aaron Nola as their opening day starter again, because he’ll be just about the only thing keeping Braves’ lead-off hitter Ender Inciarte from slapping the ball all over the outfield. Inciarte hits well in Citizens Bank Park, he’s productive against right-handed starters, and even his numbers in day games and in April games are dependably .270-ish. But it’s against the Phillies in general where he really shines: a lifetime .326 BA and .767 OPS with only 30 SO in 258 AB that can hopefully only be nullified by his less impressive numbers versus Nola: .207 BA, .475 OPS, 5 SO in 29 AB.

TGP OFFICIAL AT-BAT PREDICTION: Strike out on five pitches.

Next up is NL East rookie Josh Donaldson, and if you thought Inciarte’s numbers were solid, Donaldson’s are pornographic, in way less appearances against the Phillies: .364/.462/.709 in 55 AB. He is being projected to bounce back from dead arm and a calf strain, and you can just see him, flicking his bat back and forth to get the flurries off it as he strides toward the plate, his mind surging with comeback narratives. You can almost feel the heat coming off the grounder it’s so easy to see him scorching toward Maikel Franco down the third base line. But let’s not be too hasty, it’s his first AB of the year, and they’ll all be shaking off the rust.

TGP OFFICIAL AT-BAT PREDICTION: Strike out on four pitches.

Attaboy, Aaron. Just one more out, and it’s a doozy. Freddie Freeman’s not nearly as prolific a hitter at CBP as you’d think, but despite this, we have every reason to believe that even with Nola throwing his best stuff out there, Freeman will crush an obnoxious double off the wall in left center. But consider this: What if he doesn’t?

TGP OFFICIAL AT-BAT PREDICTION: Strike out on three pitches.

And there you have it, actual baseball, being played right before your eyes. Sadly, we do not yet live in this world, and must return to our own, where the insanity, as it unavoidably does, continues.