WASHINGTON — The challenges of the 60-game Major League Baseball regular season, which began for the Yankees on Thursday night against the Nationals, are endless.
In no particular order — and by no means is this anything close to comprehensive — there’s the day-to-day worry regarding who on a given team might have contracted COVID-19 (as if on cue, Nationals star Juan Soto tested positive Thursday), a 100-page-plus operations manual filled with protocols designed to keep the virus out of every team’s clubhouse and, generally speaking, the uniqueness of the schedule, which could not be more different from the grind presented by the typical 162-game marathon.
And that’s just to name a few of the obstacles facing MLB in trying to complete a season in the midst of a pandemic.
But when Aaron Boone looks at the significantly shortened season — a full 102 games fewer than usual — and all it will entail, he sees it as nothing but positives for his team.
“I think the conditions that we're playing in, the situation, the uniqueness of this season, I believe will work to our advantage,” Boone said. “And that's how we're kind of looking at it. We have a lot of confidence. Our guys have a lot of confidence in themselves that they can go out and be the best team. And we know that there's going to be challenges along the way, just based on what we're dealing with this year. And I trust that we're going to be really good at handling that and hopefully turn that into even more of an advantage for us.”
That should sound familiar. After all, late last week, Boone discussed another element of what promises to be a bizarre season — no fans in the stands — and how it potentially might give an edge to his team.
“I just feel like that's one of the areas this year that I think there's going to be teams at times, I think there's going to be individuals at times, that it does affect in a negative way, not having those fans,” Boone said of fan-less games. “And I feel like that's one of those battles, one of those edges, that we need to be able to gain. We need to be able to find that energy every day, not have that be a distraction that I feel like it will inevitably be at times for teams and players. We need to take advantage of that.”
Among the ways of doing so, Boone said, is players finding ways to generate the energy — positive or negative — typically provided by the crowd.
In this case, the edge boils down to something more basic: talent. Their impressive collection of it made the Yankees a favorite to get to the World Series in a 162-game season and makes them a favorite in this far briefer one.
“It’s going to be a sprint to the finish, but I think we’re a team built for it,” Brett Gardner said Thursday, a couple of hours before the team bus headed to Nationals Park.
Built for it because of Gerrit Cole sitting atop what already looks like a good rotation; a stacked lineup that has few, if any, noticeable weak spots; one of the deepest bullpens in the sport, and of a single-mindedness that has kept players, at least publicly, from engaging in much of the discourse that has come from other camps regarding the unprecedented nature of what is being attempted.
“I just trust in the character of our guys,” Boone said. “We've been through a lot as a team. They've been through a lot these last few years, and I feel like they do a really good job of dealing with whatever adversities have come their way, and this year is going to present a whole new different level of adversities and I feel like we are cut out to handle that. That is the expectation, and we're excited for that challenge.”