Every Major League club will be affected in some way by the need to delay the start of the regular season as the nation deals with the coronavirus pandemic. Here is a look at how this development could affect each National League East club.
As long as Cole Hamels’ left shoulder remains healthy, it now looks like the Braves will have him in their rotation for a greater percentage of the regular season. Hamels, who developed left shoulder inflammation in late January, was not expected to be ready before the middle of May. His status will affect decisions made regarding Félix Hernández, Josh Graham and Sean Newcomb, who were the favorites to fill the two vacancies within Atlanta’s rotation. The Braves have the option to send Newcomb back to the bullpen, which projects to have just one lefty (Will Smith). They also must decide whether to commit $1 million to Hernández, even if it’s just to have him give Hamels more time or to allow Kyle Wright to further develop before possibly being rushed for a second straight year.
If there is a reduced schedule, the Braves might be more hesitant to have Austin Riley begin the season at Triple-A Gwinnett. Johan Camargo is a capable third baseman. But having Riley’s power in the middle of a potentially top-heavy lineup could significantly influence what should be a tight division race.
From Day 1 of Spring Training, Miami's front office and coaching staff preached competition. The players took the message to heart, which resulted in camp being among the most successful the organization has had in years. It was reflected by the club's 12-6-2 Grapefruit League record and the intensity of the play. Some veterans said winning (even spring games) was building team confidence for a franchise that lost 105 games in 2019. The delay halts the momentum the Marlins were building in camp. The big question now is, can they get it back? For the most part, this isn't a veteran team. There are many prospects and several core players with only a few years of MLB experience. Will Miami be able to hit the reset button and come back with the same mindset and focus it had when Spring Training was suspended? Manager Don Mattingly often says baseball is a game of adjustments. The challenge for the Marlins' coaching staff and players will be how they transition back into action. Will they be clicking the same way they were when spring was halted?
Like a lot of teams, the Mets departed Spring Training with a host of banged-up players. Unlike a lot of teams, their list included some of the best on their roster.
Michael Conforto was dealing with a strained right oblique muscle, and should no longer have any trouble getting ready for Opening Day. Dellin Betances was taking a slower progression back from last season’s left Achilles tear — while his Opening Day wasn’t in doubt, he now has plenty of time to ramp up his velocity.
The Mets’ two most significant question marks remain, but Yoenis Céspedes and Jed Lowrie now have plenty of extra time to prepare. In Céspedes’ case, he’s recovering from multiple heel injuries and a broken right ankle; he was questionable for Opening Day, but would seem to have a real shot at it given the extra time. Lowrie isn’t quite so certain as he looks to overcome a host of left-side issues, but a little more time can’t hurt him, either.
The Nationals entered Spring Training with questions surrounding key parts of their roster, and they still needed to be answered at the time of the delay. The biggest gap to fill in the lineup is at third base. Prospect Carter Kieboom was given the opportunity to earn that starting job, and the 22-year-old could have benefited from real-time game action if Spring Training had been played in its entirety. The Nats could give Kieboom the nod regardless of his experience there, or they could turn to veteran infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera to open the season. When it comes to the pitching rotation, Washington had not decided on its fifth starter. Last season, a combination of Erick Fedde, Joe Ross and Austin Voth manned that role. Ross made a strong case for himself in West Palm Beach, posting a 0.00 ERA in his first two outings. The team also has to name a player to fill the 26th roster spot. The versatile Emilio Bonifácio, who can play infield and outfield, and left-handed-hitting fifth-outfielder candidate Andrew Stevenson stood out.
During Spring Training, the Nationals had specific training programs designed for players to gear up for the start of the 2020 season. Each starting pitcher, for example, was on his own throwing routine to balance the extra work done in last postseason’s World Series championship run with preparation for this year. Max Scherzer pitched the first spring game, while Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin made their debuts later in February. The Nats were at the point in Spring Training where starters were throwing five innings. That pitching plan will have to be redesigned when the season is cleared to begin. With this delay, some of the Nationals’ arms will have extra time to get healthy. Reliever Will Harris did not pitch in spring because of a left abdominal injury, and Scherzer was dealing with a right side ailment that bumped back his last scheduled start.
The Phillies planned to open the season on March 26 without left fielder Andrew McCutchen (left knee) and right-hander Tommy Hunter (right elbow). They were cautiously optimistic they could have right-hander Víctor Arano (right elbow), but even that seemed up in the air. But now that the season will not begin until mid-May at the earliest, manager Joe Girardi is optimistic he will have each of them ready by Opening Day. It is good news for the Phils. First, their offense sputtered the final four months of last season without McCutchen hitting leadoff. Second, the bullpen might be without right-hander Seranthony Domínguez for the foreseeable future. He recently suffered a setback in his recovery from a right ulnar collateral ligament injury. Philadelphia needs healthy and effective versions of Arano and Hunter to compete in the NL East.