Opening Day
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Opening Day: Here’s what you may have forgotten

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At long last, Opening Day of the 2020 MLB regular season is upon us. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted things in mid-March, shutting down the league for three and a half months. Players returned to their teams on July 1 for three-plus weeks of a second training camp to ramp up ahead of the start of the regular season — today for four teams, tomorrow for everybody else.

Tonight’s Opening Day matchups feature the Nationals hosting the Yankees (Max Scherzer vs. Gerrit Cole) and the Dodgers hosting the Giants (Clayton Kershaw vs. Johnny Cueto).

With the pandemic and the subsequent negotiations between the MLB and MLBPA to put together details on a reformed season, it is easy to forget about all of the news that has happened since last October. Here’s a recap of everything you need to know.

  • The Astros and Red Sox were penalized for cheating. That happened this year! The Astros lost their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and ’21, their GM and manager (Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch) were suspended one year and subsequently fired, and the team was fined $5 million. James Click is now the GM and Dusty Baker is the new manager. Meanwhile, the Red Sox fired Alex Cora for his role in two cheating schemes: with the Astros in 2017 and with the Red Sox in ’18. Ron Roenicke is now managing the Red Sox. Carlos Beltrán, who was also part of the Astros’ cheating scheme, was named as the Mets’ manager but was fired shortly thereafter, replaced by Luis Rojas.
  • Mookie Betts is a Dodger (and signed a big extension!), as is David Price (but he elected not to play the 2020 season). Gerrit Cole is a Yankee. Anthony Rendon is an Angel. Corey Kluber is a Ranger. Other noteworthy team changes: Starling Marte and Madison Bumgarner (Diamondbacks), Josh Donaldson (Twins), Zack Wheeler (Phillies), Hyun-Jin Ryu (Blue Jays), Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal (White Sox), Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos (Reds).
  • Joc Pederson is still a Dodger, despite the club agreeing to a trade with the Angels in February.
  • Other teams hiring new managers include the Phillies (Joe Girardi), Angels (Joe Maddon), Royals (Mike Matheny), Giants (Gabe Kapler), Cubs (David Ross), Pirates (Derek Shelton), and Padres (Jayce Tingler).
  • Along with Price, these players have elected not to play or opted out of the 2020 season: Buster Posey (Giants), Mike Leake (Diamondbacks), Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals), Joe Ross (Nationals), Welington Castillo (Nationals), Ian Desmond (Rockies), Héctor Noesí (Pirates), Collin McHugh (Red Sox), Nick Markakis (Braves), Félix Hernández (Braves), Jordan Hicks (Cardinals), Joe Smith (Astros), Tyson Ross (free agent), and Michael Kopech (White Sox).
  • The All-Star Game and the related festivities like the Home Run Derby have been cancelled. The Dodgers were scheduled to host, but they will instead host in 2022. The Braves will host in 2021.
  • There are a number of rule changes, some instituted before the pandemic and some instituted after. Let’s start with the pre-pandemic rules changes:
    • All pitchers must face at least three batters or pitch until the inning is over before coming out of the game. This is to cut down on mid-inning pitching changes, aimed at reducing the length of games.
    • Rosters were initially increased to 26 players. Due to the pandemic, they are now 30 players but will be pared down to 28 and then 26 as the season progresses. Teams were also limited to carrying at most 13 pitchers on their 26-man roster.
    • Two-way players now have a designation, allowing teams in some cases to carry more pitchers than they would otherwise be allowed. Consider the Angels with Shohei Ohtani or the Reds with Michael Lorenzen.
    • Pitchers and two-way players have a 15-day injured list as opposed to a 10-day injured list for position players. This is meant to act as a deterrent for teams getting cute with roster manipulation with their pitchers. In a similar vein, pitchers optioned to the minors must remain there for 15 days, up from 10 days.
    • Managers have 20 seconds to challenge calls on the field, down from 30 seconds.
  • The post-pandemic rules changes:
    • Universal DH in both leagues
    • Runner on second base to begin extra innings
    • No restrictions on position players pitching
    • Games that are suspended before they are official will be started at a later date rather than starting a fresh game
    • Players and managers are not allowed to argue with umpires as a way of maintaining social distancing. Players are also not allowed to instigate fights.
    • To deter pitchers from licking their fingers, pitchers are allowed to carry a wet rag in their back pocket for moisture. Pitchers will also carry their own rosin bag to and from the mound before and after each inning.
  • There is still labor strife. It was evident as MLB and the MLBPA attempted to renegotiate their March agreement. Now that there’s a season, it will be easy to forget things are tense between the two sides. The collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, 2021 and there are a lot of unsolved issues, including free agency and service time manipulation.
  • Don’t forget about the juiced ball. There has been a lot of research deducing what, exactly, happened to the baseballs in recent years that led to a prodigious increase in home runs. It remains to be seen if the ball has been materially changed to bring offense back to pre-2017 levels.
  • Your reigning award winners:
    • AL MVP: Mike Trout (Angels)
    • NL MVP: Cody Bellinger (Dodgers)
    • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander (Astros)
    • NL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom (Mets)
    • AL Rookie of the Year: Yordan Álvarez (Astros)
    • NL Rookie of the Year: Pete Alonso (Mets)
    • AL Manager of the Year: Rocco Baldelli (Twins)
    • NL Manager of the Year: Mike Shildt (Cardinals)
  • The Nationals are the reigning World Series champions, having defeated the Astros in seven games last October. It feels like that happened five years ago, but it was only nine months ago.

Angels’ Andrelton Simmons opts out of final 5 games

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of the remainder of the Los Angeles Angels’ season.

The Angels announced the four-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop’s decision Tuesday before they faced the San Diego Padres.

Los Angeles (24-31) is still technically in the playoff race with five games left in the regular season, and Simmons clearly caught the Angels by surprise, although the club said it respected his decision.

The 31-year-old Simmons, who can be a free agent this winter, is finishing his fifth year with the Angels. After spraining his ankle in late July and missing 22 games, Simmons is currently batting .297 with 10 RBIs while playing his usual stellar defense, albeit with four errors in 30 games.

“At this time, I feel this is the best decision for me and my family,” Simmons said in a statement. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we would like to sincerely thank the Angels organization and Angels fans for welcoming and making us feel at home.”

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged he was caught by surprise when general manager Billy Eppler told him about Simmons’ decision Monday night after Simmons went 1 for 4 with an RBI single in the Angels’ home finale. Maddon texted Simmons, but hadn’t heard back by Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve really enjoyed this guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I’m a big fan. This guy is a good baseball player, and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, too. It’s just unfortunate. He’s really a big part of what we’re doing right now.”

Simmons is a favorite of Angels fans for his defensive wizardry, and owner Arte Moreno has described Simmons as perhaps his favorite player to watch on the roster. Simmons has batted .281 with 36 homers and 281 RBIs during his five seasons with Los Angeles, and he won the Gold Glove in 2017 and 2018.

“He’s a thinking kind of a player, and I’ve enjoyed him a lot,” Maddon said.

Simmons will be a free agent this winter, and the Angels have an obvious replacement for him in David Fletcher, who has a .374 on-base percentage while regularly hitting leadoff for the Angels during his breakout major league season. Fletcher has been playing second base since Simmons’ return from injury.

But the Angels haven’t publicly closed the door on Simmons’ return, and he could be given a qualifying offer. Maddon has repeatedly said he would like Simmons to return in 2021 if possible.

The Angels haven’t had a winning season during Simmons’ five years in Anaheim, although Simmons said last week he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of team success. Simmons played his first four major league seasons in Atlanta, and he hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013.

Simmons also said he hadn’t been involved in any recent contract talks with the Angels, but he had enjoyed playing for the club. When asked if he wanted to return to the Halos, Simmons said he would have to “plead the fifth.”