It's on! MLB players will report to training camps July 1 to prep for 60-game season
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It's on! MLB players will report to training camps July 1 to prep for 60-game season

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A short season means fewer games to reach personal milestones for 40-year-old Nelson Cruz (left), but a smaller sample size in which to hit for a high average for a line-drive hitter such as Luis Arraez.

A short season means fewer games to reach personal milestones for 40-year-old Nelson Cruz (left), but a smaller sample size in which to hit for a high average for a line-drive hitter such as Luis Arraez. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

Players signed off on Major League Baseball's health and safety protocols and agreed to report to training camps at their home stadiums by July 1 in preparation for a pandemic-shortened regular season of 60 games.

"All remaining issues have been resolved and players are reporting to training camps," the MLB Players Association tweeted early Tuesday evening.

The regular season is expected to start July 23 or July 24 without fans and run through late September.

The postseason is expected to remain at 10 teams - the sides had discussed an increase to a 16-team field - but the designated hitter could be added to the National League in an effort to protect pitcher health.

The agreement will allow any player who is considered high-risk for severe complications due to COVID-19 to opt out of the season and still collect his salary and service time.

According to one report, MLB agreed to the union's proposal that all players who co-habitate with a high-risk individual, including a pregnant spouse, have the right to opt out and be paid while receiving service time. The wife of Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout, a three-time American League most valuable player, is due to have the couple's first child in August.

The usual 162-game, six-month marathon that rewards teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers for their depth and endurance will be replaced by a 60-game, two-month sprint that could allow a lesser team to ride a hot streak into the playoffs.

"There are going to be surprises, that I can guarantee you," Hall of Fame pitcher and television broadcaster John Smoltz said Tuesday on a conference call for an upcoming celebrity golf tournament. "And those surprises might be refreshing in a sense that you didn't see that coming three months ago."

The Dodgers, with their starting rotation of Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Alex Wood and Julio Urias, have such a deep pitching staff that 2018 National League All-Star Ross Stripling probably will open the season in the bullpen.

The Los Angeles Angels' rotation is thinner, with Shohei Ohtani (Tommy John surgery) and Griffin Canning (elbow) returning from injuries and Andrew Heaney, Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy expected to round out the group.

But in a short season, that deficiency could be offset by first-year manager Joe Maddon's creative use of a deeper bullpen anchored by Hector Robles, Keynan Middleton, Ty Buttrey and Cam Bedrosian.

"There could be some scenarios where the pitching staffs that wouldn't be able to do what they could over 162 games might do something different for 60 games," Smoltz said. "So, I think you'll see some creativity that will allow a team to (improve their chances of making) the playoffs."

The Dodgers have won seven consecutive NL West titles, including a franchise-record 106 wins in 2019 and 104 wins in 2017, but they struggled through their first 60 games of 2013, going 27-33, and had mediocre 60-game starts in 2018 (30-30), 2016 (32-28) and 2014 (31-29).

The Colorado Rockies finished fourth in the NL West with a 71-91 record last season but went 37-23 during an early 60-game stretch from April 14-June 21. The Washington Nationals were only 19-31 through their first 50 games of 2019 and finished as World Series champions.

A greater sense of urgency will be attached to each game, each series, each week, in a shortened season, forcing managers to be aggressive in how they use their bullpens and less patient with struggling hitters.

"The teams that were great before this happened are still going to be great, but there's going to be a lot more pressure on them, because in a 60-game schedule, I think you'll have 25% more teams that can compete that had no idea if they could compete for 162 games," Smoltz said.

"So, you're going to see more teams have a chance in a 60-game schedule. I think it's going be awesome. The older players are going to be refreshed, the younger players will be super anxious to get out there. There's going to be different strategy and how you manipulate the roster. I think it has a chance to be unique."

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