Mar 31, 2023

The Circus Begins

2023 Phillies Opening Day
Globe Life Field - Arlington, TX
Well, another season has begun.  The 2022 National League Champions started this season against Jacob deGrom and the Texas Rangers.  The Phillies got off to a strong start by tagging deGrom for five runs before the end of the fourth inning, but the wheels fell off the wagon when the Rangers scored nine runs in the bottom of the fourth, knocking Nola out of the game in 3 ⅔ innings and chasing Gregory Soto from the game before he could record a single out.  The Rangers went on to defeat the Phillies by a score of 11-7.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has rolled out several new rules for Major League Baseball that are in effect for the 2023 season.  Some of these new rules are practical, like the shift restrictions that will force infielders to play their position.  Some are silly, like the increase in the size of the bases from 15" to 18" to artificially increase the number of stolen bases in a season.  However, the most ridiculous of these new rules and the ones that are the most damaging to the integrity of the sport are the timers.

For the first time in the 154 history of Major League Baseball, the game is being micromanaged with a series of stopwatches.  There is now a 30 second timer between batters, and a 15 second timer between pitches when the bases are empty (extended to 20 seconds with runners on base).  The batter has to be in the batters box when the 15 (or 20) second clock reaches 8 seconds or else they'll be charged with a strike.  The pitcher has to begin their motion to pitch within 15 (or 20) seconds or else they'll be charged with a ball.  Pitchers are allowed two "disengagements" per batter where they're allowed to step off or attempt to pick off a runner.  If they violate this rule, they're charged with a balk.  Batters can call time out once during a plate appearance, though I'm not sure what happens if they attempt to do so a second time.  They obviously can't charge a batter with a balk, so I guess it's an automatic strike.  All of this nonsense is being done because they tested the rule in the minor leagues and found that it shaves an average of 26 minutes off of each game, and the Commissioner believes that doing this will draw more fans to the ballpark and to watch the game on television.

If Rob Manfred wanted to do something that might actually draw more fans to the sport, he could work to put a stop to the asinine blackout restrictions, but they make too much money from exclusive contracts with television networks so that's not going to happen.  I can't imagine that anyone who doesn't already enjoy baseball is suddenly going to find themselves being drawn to the sport because they made the bases bigger and added a bunch of countdown clocks.  The fact that they weren't willing to put these rules into effect during the World Baseball Classic suggests that the Commissioner is aware that these rules have little to do with improving the fan experience and a lot more to do with appeasing advertisers who want to squeeze more commercials into a shorter period of time.  Well, there's nothing I can do about it, so it is what it is.  Moving on.

Even with the Phillies starting the season without Rhys Hoskins or Bryce Harper, I think they have a pretty good chance to return to the post-season in 2023.  I doubt that they'll overtake Atlanta for the NL East division crown, but that doesn't really matter.  With the number of Wild Card spots to reach the playoffs, winning the division has never been less important than it is right now.

Once the post-season begins, it's all a question of who's healthy and who's hot.  Last year, the Phillies were at full strength and got hot at the right time.  We'll see if they can repeat and win just two more post-season games in 2023.