With the intriguing ending to the first golf major title, the PGA Championship, giving us a new major winner in 23 year old Collin Morikawa, sports officially feels like it has returned. This article will break down each sport's return so far and evaluate how the return of these American pastimes has made dealing with COVID – 19 a little easier to handle personally.
The professional female Tennis league, the WTA, was the first league to return. Fiona Ferro from France defeated Estonian Annett Kontaveit for the first title since the league suspended back in March. The professional tennis leagues did get one major completed as the Australian was played in January and won by male player Novak Djokovic and on the female side, American Sofia Kenin. The ATP is due to start this week. The US Open will go on like scheduled but with no audience and the players participating in the tournament being forced into a “safety bubble.”
The PGA tour has been back since early June with the PGA Championship being the first major completed on the season this past weekend. The US Open and the Masters will happen later on in the season. Since golf is definitely a more solitary game, the crowd less tournaments have mostly been going off without any issues.
Professional soccer has returned throughout the world including the highly competitive Premier League and the UEFA Champion’s League which will be moving into its Quarterfinal round shortly. In the United States MLS league, the shortened World Cup group format has created a surprising finalist in Orlando City FC who has never made the MLS playoffs in five seasons (Their best previous conference finish was 7th) and will play for the MLS title tomorrow against the Portland Timbers, the two time finalists (2015, 2018) and one time champion (2015). Their story is also a surprise as they slid into the playoffs last year as the sixth seed and were quickly dispatched. But as an organization, they have been extremely consistent since their inception in 2009. The question everyone should be asking, if Portland wins, will ANTIFA crash the parade downtown? For Orlando, they will bring the first major sports championship to the city if they pull off this Cinderella season (The NBA’s Orlando Magic has lost both times they made the Finals in 1995 & 2009).
Now we get to the MLB. I know these teams are probably making money on these fan created cardboard cutouts. But after watching a few games on television with these monstrosities, there really is nothing a major sporting league has done that could be creepier. It feels like I am playing Madden 20 on my Xbox with the weird digital representations of the crowd followed by the fake crowd noise. If the MLB wanted to simulate their MLB: The Show video game for Sony, they have done a great job doing it in the most unsettling way possible. In terms of the standings, the MLB players did vote to extend the postseason to 16 teams with a 3-game wild card round for every team. Because of a few COVID outbreaks, there is one team, the St. Louis Cardinals that has only played five games while the San Francisco Giants have played 18. All the teams that were expected to do well, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, and Atlanta Braves are near the top or winning their divisions. The surprises are the Oakland Athletics, Miami Marlins (Who have played only 10 games due to COVID) and Colorado Rockies who have played exceptionally well despite not expecting to be more than mediocre this season.
PERSONAL BIAS ALERT: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been horribly disappointing. Other than Oakland, the AL West has largely underperformed (Minus the Seattle Mariners who are just terrible). With the expanded playoffs, I expected the Angels to slide in comfortably to the 6 or 7 seed. Unless they can find some consistency, this shortened season is going to be a disappointment.
The San Diego Padres have been a revelation. With their full rebuild, I expected the Padres to compete in 2021. But their pitching has been above average, and Fernando Tatis Jr. is becoming the star everyone was expecting (And will likely be traded to the Dodgers in 2024). They are in third place behind the Rockies and the elite Dodgers but would qualify as the 6th seed in the playoffs being the team with the worst winning record in the National League (9 teams are currently sporting losing records in the NL). Let us hope they can break their fourteen-year playoff drought this season even if they get destroyed by the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs.
The NBA has been interesting as some teams have adapted to the bubble play better than others. The Pacers, Raptors and Phoenix Suns have excelled since play returned with Phoenix being the only undefeated team in the bubble since play returned. With bubble play coming to an end on Friday, the 32-39 Orlando Magic is up 7.5 games on the Washington Wizards and will avoid the play-in game meaning that the Eastern Conference is set for the playoffs minus some seeding changes. Milwaukee will be the 1, Toronto the 2, and Boston the 3. The Brooklyn Nets will be the 7 with Orlando clinching the 8. The 4 – 6 seeds, Miami, Indiana, and Philadelphia are still jockeying for their seeds. The Western Conference is more chaotic. The New Orleans Pelicans did not play well in the bubble and are eliminated. There are currently four teams within a game of the 8 seed meaning that the 8 – 9 playoff game is a virtual certainty in the West. Other than that, the top 7 seeds have all clinched their spots. The Los Angeles Lakers will be the 1 seed and the Clippers will be the 2. The 3 seed Denver Nuggets and 4 seed Houston Rockets are still jockeying for position. The 5 -7 seeds, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks still can adjust their current seeding positions. The NBA playoffs will kick off next week.
This leaves us with the NHL. Starting tomorrow, the 16 team playoff begins with four games on the NBC Sports Network after the qualifying round advanced two #12 seeds and a #11 (Montreal and Chicago as the #12s and Arizona a #11 who knocked out Pittsburgh, Edmonton, and Nashville). Since both my NHL teams were terribly pathetic and it will be the first time I can remember that no California teams will be participating in the playoffs (3 of the 7 teams who failed to qualify are from California), this will be a fun playoff tournament where there will be no rooting interest on my part (The closest team to me is the Las Vegas Golden Knights who I simply will not cheer for). Welcome back NHL to summer hockey!
I hope this primer was good for you. Four of our five major professional sports are back (Even though the MLS ends tomorrow with the Orlando – Portland title match) and it feels so good to be able to vegetate on my couch with a nice cold lager in my hand and watching professional sports again. You never know what your life is missing until it is gone. There is only so many times you can talk to your wife or converse with your kids before you get that urge to escape. Thankfully, the escape mechanism is back.
EXPERT OF SOME