After a four-month delay because of the pandemic, the Cleveland Indians begin their shortened season Friday. They’ll play 60 games between now and the end of September. WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto said this shortened season comes with a lot of challenges.
No rest for the weary
Pluto said players won't get many days off as the season goes from 162 games to 60.
"The Indians are opening with 17 consecutive games every single day," Pluto said. They'll play each divisional opponent 10 times, with 20 games of interleague play against NL Central teams. The schedule makes sure teams are limiting travel.
Pluto said the challenge will be keeping players healthy, and not only from the coronavirus.
"It will be just flat-out, old-fashioned pulled muscles [and] sore arms. All these things that happen over the course of a season condensed," he said.
Players like first baseman Carlos Santana would normally get a few days off every now and then over the course of a 162-game season.
"You ain't getting a day off now," Pluto joked. "They're all going to be playing through it. Their bodies are not conditioned to really go with what they're going to be facing."
It's anyone's year
Pluto said the shortened season means the season is up for grabs.
"That's what I think is going to be surprising. We'll see some teams get off to a good start that we didn't figure and others will struggle," Pluto said. "I think it's going to be a test of character for these teams."
Traditional slow starters
The Indians and Terry Francona are known for getting off to a slow start, mostly because of the cold weather that greets players in Cleveland in March and April. From April 2015 to April 2019, the team went 7-14, 10-11, 14-10, 14-11 and 15-10.
This season, as Opening Day comes in the middle of summer, a fast start is crucial.
"Francona said, 'It's like we're going into August and we're tied for first place with four other teams in our division,'" Pluto said.
But one or two bad weeks could be all it takes to end a team's hopes for contention. For reference, the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals were 19-31 after 50 games last season before catching fire.
History and a chance to draw fans in
Pluto believes Cleveland has a good chance of making the playoffs and grabbing the attention of fans. Right now, the Indians are the only game in town on TV. The Cavs didn't make the Orlando bubble that's set to start ths month, and the NFL is still negotiating with teams about how to start the season amid the pandemic.
"They're always fighting for their fan base and always fighting for attention and fighting for dollars," Pluto said. "This is a big chance for you guys to grab the interest of the town even though there'll be nobody in the stands."