MLB consoles fans with video game tournament

baseball stadium
The Seattle Mariners' home field, T Mobile Park, has sat empty all season. image available under MyName (Cacophony) / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Right now should have been baseball season. We should be watching the Mariners slowly spiral into another disappointing season. We should be watching the Astros get booed at every single game. We should be watching the Dodgers make it to the World Series with a historic roster and then lose to whatever American League team makes it. Instead, the MLB set up a 30-player tournament in the video game “MLB the Show 20.” Each team was represented by one of their players as they went head-to-head for about a month to see who the best among them was.

By the end of the “regular season,” one thing became clear: This in no way was to represent what playoffs in the MLB would actually look like. Stud teams like the Yankees, Twins, and Astros missed playoffs. Other teams more obviously missed playoffs, like the Tigers, Pirates, and Royals. Carl Edwards Jr. managed to go 10-19 on a very bad Mariner’s squad thanks to a late run of victories, making his record look better than it probably should have. Amir Garrett’s Reds also missed playoffs, finishing 17-12 after he won a previous tournament among MLB players.

The first round of the playoffs commenced with tournament-favorite Blake Snell representing the Rays versus Gavin Lux’s Dodgers. Snell narrowly beat out Joey Gallo for the best record during the regular season and went to quick work dispatching Lux, taking a 2-0 series victory with game scores of 3-2 and 5-4. Following them was Jeff McNeil’s Mets against Dwight Smith Jr.’s Orioles in a battle of two teams who definitely should not have been good enough to make the playoffs. Despite posting an impressive 19-10 record and beating out several better teams, Smith was dispatched by McNeil in quick 2-0 fashion.

Powerhouse Joey Gallo and his Rangers were next up against Ian Happ’s Cubs. Gallo came out of the gates swinging, upsetting the likes of Snell in the first day of gameplay. He went on to finish 23-6 as the second-best player in the tournament. Meanwhile, Happ was one of the four teams tied at 19-10 who were one game away from missing playoffs outright. They traded wins in the first two games until Happ demolished Gallo in the third game 7-0 and taking the series victory. The final quarterfinal matchup was between Lucas Giolito’s White Sox and Bo Bichette’s Blue Jays in another battle between teams that probably weren’t going to be in the playoffs. Giolito got out of a bases loaded jam in game one, but Bichette bounced back with a game two victory. Giolito grabbed a 5-3 victory in game three to advance to the semifinals.

Snell faced off against McNeil in the first series, with the latter stunning Snell with a game one victory. Snell buckled down in games two and three, winning in blowout fashion with game scores of 8-0 and 7-0 to advance to the finals. Meanwhile, Happ took on Giolito on the other side of the bracket. Somehow powered by a shoddy White Sox offense, Giolito took an 8-3 victory in game one. Happ managed to turn it around in game two by virtue of a 1-0 shutout to force a game three. Down 3-1, Happ loaded the bases with one out, but came up short and Giolito advanced to the finals.

Snell came out of the gates swinging, scoring five runs off three home runs by Willy Adames, Mike Zunino, and Austin Meadows en route to a 5-1 victory to start the series. Giolito took it in stride as they commenced game two, where Snell scored three runs in the first inning off a home run by Ji-Man Choi. Snell held off a White Sox rally, winning game two 3-2. Snell didn’t give Giolito any room for a comeback, scoring four runs in the third inning and winning 6-0 to take the trophy.

This was an unprecedented experience, but that’s what a pandemic will bring. We got to see players in lights that normal baseball never would have been able to use. It even managed to put some lesser-known players in the spotlight for a while and exposed them to potential fans. The MLB has always struggled with marketing, so this might have been a step in the right direction. Still, it can’t compare to the real thing. In real life, the Orioles wouldn’t have made the playoffs. The fielding errors that are absolutely rampant in MLB the Show probably wouldn’t have happened. As much as video games want to make Aaron Hicks a stud, he is not going to hit 60 home runs this year. But normal baseball just can’t happen right now, and it’s a pleasure to see the players and the MLB making the most out of the opportunity. There are whispers of a July start to the baseball season, but until then I’d love to see a couple more of these tournaments.

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