Cue the Laugh Track

I've been around for quite a while now, and have had my share of good years and bad years. I've had to adjust to my share of changes that life more or less thrust upon me without bothering to ask me for my approval. For all of that, 2020 stands out above all the other years for the sheer disruption that it has caused both myself and the world around me. A lot has been asked out of all of us that we never bargained for.

Do not fear, however, now that there's news that FOX will use "virtual fans" to sweeten its MLB broadcasts. Fox is planning to utilize augmented reality technology to create a virtual crowd in the stands, both visually and audibly. To quote Fox Sports executive vice president Brad Zager:
"We were dead set on trying to make the broadcast with no crowd feel as authentic and organic as possible. We want to give people an escape."
So basically, what the man is saying that Fox wants to give us an "authentic and organic" experience by using computer technology to put a fake crowd in the stands. The article even mentions that Fox might even make the fake fans do the wave! That's interesting because, to me at least, the wave is something that was kind of cool years ago because it was something that began as an impromptu expression of enthusiasm by fans that nowadays feel as fake as the "spontaneous" cheers led by those gigantic electronic scoreboards in ballparks.

Look, it's no surprise that Fox is committed to inserting another gimmick into their telecast. They were doing that long before this pandemic came around. It's why I always find a Mets telecast on Fox tedious and sad to watch. I'll always cherish the fact that I got to watch Pete Alonso hit his record-breaking home run in a small corner of the screen while most of the screen was devoted to a boring interview.

I imagine some people will welcome fake crowds in the stands over the strangeness of MLB 2020 played in a near-empty park. The thing is, while I wish things were normal this year, they're just not. So why fake normal, why not just embrace what is different?

I hope with all of my heart that this is the only MLB season in my lifetime that is played during a pandemic. One worldwide disaster of this nature is more than enough for me. But still, in its own sad way, this MLB season is historic. I'd rather consume baseball in that unvarnished historic manner than try to pretend it's not happening. The cardboard cutouts are a way of poking a little fun at how weird this all is. Augmented reality crowds feel like a lame attempt to cover my eyes and deny what is really in front of me.

The article in the Post notes that this isn't something that anyone besides FOX is attempting to do. I'm actually very grateful that I can watch Mets games on SNY without that bit of deception. I find most things in life are more interesting if I let myself just embrace them for what they really are. That's how I plan to handle pandemic baseball. I've never found any tv comedy more enjoyable because someone inserted fake laughs into it, and I don't need computer-generated reactions in my baseball.

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When I first read about Marcus Stroman going on the injured list with a calf strain, I thought he was likely to miss 2 or 3 starts. After hearing Luis Rojas use the expression "week to week" to describe his injury, it seems likely that Stroman will be gone for much longer. In a season that's only 9 weeks long, that's just not a good thing.

The Mets pitching depth is also not a good thing. They have some solid prospects in the minor leagues, but most of them are at the beginning of the journey to the majors, not the end. David Peterson is the pitching prospect closest to the majors, but the Mets elected not to put him on the 30-man roster to start the season. Its seems they are committed to allowing Corey Oswalt to fail again as the fifth starter. I've never seen anything out of Oswalt that gives me confidence that he's likely to do otherwise. I'm rooting like hell for a "Rocky" storyline for Oswalt, but it's hard to envision that playing out.

Now a lot is going to depend on how many starts Stroman misses. If it goes the way that I expect it will, a week from now we'll get an update on Stroman's condition stating that he's not yet ready to resume baseball activities. The season will slowly bleed away with updates like that. It's not that I'm advocating that the Mets rush Stroman back. Even if he signs elsewhere this coming off-season I wouldn't want to see the guy hurt his arm or shoulder altering his delivery to pitch with a strained calf. I just wonder how many bad starts Oswalt will be allowed to make before the Mets decide to try someone else.

I understand that they don't want to rush David Peterson into a major league start when he hasn't pitched above Double-A. I'm quite grateful that Peterson is actually getting the chance to develop some this year by being on the 60-man roster. The vast majority of the Mets young pitching talent is way too far away to even get that type of development. To me, that's a real problem. It remains to be seen what, if anything, the Mets are planning to do to get those young pitchers at least a bit closer to being ready for the major leagues someday.

While there is nothing the Mets could do this season to have better alternatives from their minor league talent than Corey Oswalt, they simply must try to do something more than Zoom chats with these young prospects this season. We need to get to a point in this organization where there really is some depth to handle unexpected injuries, because those injuries always seem to expose the Mets, year after year after year. Allowing prospects to stagnate for a full year is just unacceptable.

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Edwin Diaz is expressing some confidence that he can return to form in 2020. Look, it's not like you'd expect him to say something like, "hey, I'm pretty sure I'm going to give up home runs by the bucketful again." But his best chance I'm turning things around is with some boosted confidence, because his stuff still looked good last year.

I hate to be Captain Obvious, but, if Stroman misses multiple starts, the Mets best chance to overcome that would be by having a really, really good bullpen. At the very least, that would require Diaz, Betances and Familia to be really good, and Seth Lugo to remain that way. So I'm keeping all my fingers, toes and other body parts crossed that this happens.

We've seen teams with less-than-stellar rotations succeed. Look at the 2006 Mets that came one game short of the World Series after losing both Pedro and El Duque. They were able to lean on their bullpen to overcome their starting pitching problems, and that bullpen was nowhere near as good as this one has a chance to be if things go mostly right. Now, I understand completely that things going mostly right is not something Mets fans are used to, but we are kind of overdue for that kind of luck.

Anyway, I'm out for today. Real baseball tomorrow, with no virtual fans to distract. Please stay safe, be well and take care. Embrace the weird.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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