Even if the coming 60-game Major League Baseball season gets played to conclusion through the World Series, fans are going to look back at this season for years and see strange things.
Like a home run champion that might hit, say, 21 homers. Or a pitcher leading the majors in wins with seven or eight. Or a saves leader with 16. Or a World Series champion crowned after a 60-game season.
Will that World Series winner be legit?
Well, legit is in the eye of the beholder. To me, that answer is yes. Yes in the sense that whichever club is the champion will have prevailed in maybe the strangest, most challenging season ever. This year being a good player and a productive player probably means more than what one produces on a stat line. It means following strict protocols during a pandemic to stay healthy and truly be a good teammate.
In fact, the winningest teams may be the ones that stay the most healthy as the virus rages and can most thrive during the strangeness that will be this year. Teams used to playing in front of big crowds that help them generate intensity and enthusiasm will be on their own to keep the energy up.
Imagine what it’s going to look like the first time a team wins via a walk-off hit. No charging the plate, no hugs or high fives. No crowd roaring. No postgame pie in the face or water dumped over someone’s head. I guess just run back into the clubhouse and get ready to go home.
When we get to the playoffs, a short season could produce an outlier or two still playing in October. But the team standing alone at the end will have to defeat some other good teams along the way. They should be able to say they were the best during a tough year to play.
No asterisk needed for me.
Kjerstad’s press conference: After the Orioles signed top draft pick outfielder Heston Kjerstad of Arkansas on Tuesday, yesterday he had his second Zoom video press conference with reporters. Kjerstad continues to make a nice impression. He’s articulate and seems sure of himself but not cocky in his interviews, and it’s clear he got a lot of practice dealing with media playing for a big-time Southeastern Conference program.
The 2018 SEC Freshman of the Year, Kjerstad played in 16 games in the shortened 2020 season before the O’s selected him No. 2 on draft night. He batted .448/.513/791 with 19 runs, six homers and 20 RBIs. His strikeout rate dropped from 21.6 as a sophomore to 11.5 this season.
O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias called the 21-year-old Kjerstad “the headliner of a very impactful draft class.”
Said Kjerstad: “Definitely pumped to be a part of the Orioles organization. Starting with Mike Elias all the way down to everyone involved, even the players, I think it’s a great organization. Honestly, it’s a great fit for me. With the people, they take care of everyone well. They definitely have a lot of talent coming up in their minor league system. I think it’s going to be a great place for me to be able to develop and reach my full potential.”
We found out yesterday (I for one had not heard this before) that Kjerstad switch-hit for much of his high school career before going full-time as a lefty batter.
“I did it all through high school,” he said. “Mainly, just because it was something to do and I loved just hitting and everything. I just started going from that side because I’m really supposed to be a natural right-handed hitter because I do everything else (including throw) right-handed. So, it was kind of pretty easy. My senior year of high school I started realizing I was able to hit left-handed pitching real well and my left-handed swing was more advanced. It was time to just focus on one side and make one side as good as it can be.”
Some around the Arkansas program have said they recruited a player in Kjerstad that once had the size and physical look of a leadoff-type hitter. Then he got bigger and left the program with more bulk and as a middle-of-the-order bat.
“In high school, he was much smaller,” said O’s scout Ken Guthrie, his area scout. “When I was in the clubhouse prior to his freshman spring season (of college), I was with one of the coaches, who is now the pitching coach in Minnesota. Heston walked in and he looked like a completely different person. I knew right then and there that I probably underestimated what his power tool was going to be. And immediately going into that spring he proved my notion right that day. As scouts, we do our best to project, but players do get bigger. They get better. Certainly, Heston showed the advancements that he made physically in that initial year at Arkansas.”
For more with Kjerstad from yesterday, click here.
Fans at KBO games are possible: While we know that MLB will begin later this month without any fans at games, that could be changing in the Korea Baseball Organization, where teams are about 50 games into their seasons. KBO teams are set to play entire 144-game schedules.
Soon the league may allow fans to fill about 30 percent of stadiums. Korean authorities still need to sign off on this plan and have not done so yet. But the league is working on a variety of protocols for this limited attendance.
So fans could soon attend games throughout the KBO except, perhaps, in the Kia Tigers’ home city of Gwangju, where there has been an uptick in coronavirus cases. Right now outdoor gatherings of 100 or more are not allowed there.
Meanwhile, two former Orioles pitchers are in the top five in the KBO in ERA. Dan Straily is 1-2 with a 2.43 ERA. Over 63 innings, he has walked 18 and fanned 65 and ranks second in the league in strikeouts and fourth in ERA. Aaron Brooks is 3-3 with a 2.51 ERA, which ranks fifth best in the league.
Right-hander Tyler Wilson, an Oriole for parts of 2015-2017, is 3-3 with a 4.47 ERA. Over 52 1/3 innings, he has walked 18 with 37 strikeouts. Right-hander Mike Wright is 6-2 with a 3.70 ERA. Over 56 innings, he has walked 25 with 44 strikeouts.
Former O’s outfielder Hyun Soo Kim is eighth in the KBO in batting at .333. He has 17 doubles to rank second in the league, and one triple, five homers and 33 RBIs, which is 14th in the KBO.