The 2020 Major League Baseball season will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen: a 60-game regular season with no fans, no extended playoffs, and 66.7 percent of games being divisional affairs. Here are eight bold predictions for the unprecedented MLB season.
The Management of Pitching Staffs Barely Changes
There has been discussion about whether managers will change the way they run their pitching staffs because of the shortened season. For example, a team with a deep pitching staff pulling its starters a bit earlier in games, therefore getting their bullpen more work. Why would this become widespread?
Are Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, and Jack Flaherty going to pitch through an order twice and call it a day? Part of the point of having elite starting pitching is to alleviate your bullpen’s workload. In a shortened season, a rested bullpen is dangerous. Perhaps some teams who put an onus on their bullpen put a little more emphasis on that aspect of their ballclub this season. At the end of the day, it won’t dominate the sport; it’s merely the same game with fewer games.
Shohei Ohtani Shines as a Two-Way Player
Ohtani made 10 outings for the Los Angeles Angels in 2018. The right-hander is expected to start once a week this season, meaning he’ll make roughly eight starts. In 2018 he posted a 3.31 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP, and 63 strikeouts across 51.2 innings. He’ll pitch with that same efficiency this season.
Ohtani is healthy, he throws a high 90s four seamer, and gets considerable movement on his slider. Meanwhile, he will be hitting in an offense that at full force includes Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Justin Upton, and Albert Pujols. Ohtani is a powerful, line-drive hitter capable of performing at an All-Star caliber level. This season he will be what the Angels signed up for: a two-way star.
No Team Wins More Than 40 Games or Loses Less Than 10 Games
The Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Minnesota Twins are some of the premier contenders who could loom large in their respective leagues. The Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, and San Francisco Giants are some of the teams who could rot at the bottom of their respective leagues. However, it won’t be to the extremity of a team winning more than 40 games or losing less than 10 games.
Of a team’s 60 games this season, 40 are against divisional opponents. This will help balance out the possibility of teams unlikely to make the playoffs in a 162-game season doing so this season. Teams have familiarity within their division. It’s a matter of execution. The better teams will rise to the top but will occasionally slip-up, hence not winning or losing out of proportion.
Matt Chapman, Ketel Marte Win AL, NL Most Valuable Player Awards
Chapman has two superb seasons in the big leagues under his belt, where he has posted an OPS of .848 or higher, an OPS+ of 126 or higher, and has launched a combined 60 home runs. Meanwhile, he’s exceptional fielding ground balls off his glove and back hand. This season Chapman will have a breakout 60-game stretch.
He hits in a power-happy A’s lineup with players who get on base at a high level. Chapman is accustomed to playoff games, competing in a tough division, and playing alongside Oakland’s positional core which includes Marcus Semien, Matt Olson, Mark Canha, and Khris Davis, among others. This season he hits for a high average, strikes out less, and wins the AL MVP.
Marte is one of the best all-around players in baseball. He plays both second base and center field and is the heart and soul of the Arizona Diamondbacks lineup. Last season was Marte’s coming-out party, hitting .329, posting a .981 OPS, and totaling 32 home runs and 92 RBIs while playing center field on a full-time basis for the first time in his MLB career. This was a taste of what’s to come.
Marte is a line-drive hitter who has gradually improved over his career. He’s a star. He’s a versatile fielder who can wreak havoc anywhere in a lineup. Marte will lead the offensive attack for Arizona at a higher level against pitchers he’s used to, helping him win the NL MVP.
Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom Win AL, NL Cy Young Awards
Cole is the best starting pitcher in the American League. He throws an overpowering fastball, a filthy slider, and is an elite strikeout pitcher who goes deep into games. Cole is also adept at working out of trouble, and he has pitched well in the playoffs. This season he’ll win his first Cy Young.
Cole is pitching in the AL East, a division that includes a mix of young hitters and home-run hitters. A dominant strikeout pitcher like Cole carves up young lineups and takes advantage of power hitters with off-speed pitches. He’ll be a continuation of the last two seasons, pitching and winning games at a high level.
deGrom is arguably the best starting pitcher in baseball. He has hitters guessing all game, gets great movement on all his offerings, and pitches remarkably deep into games. For his career, deGrom has held the Philadelphia Phillies (.258 on-base percentage), Atlanta Braves (.259 on-base percentage), Washington Nationals (.268 on-base percentage), and Miami Marlins (.295 on-base percentage) in check.
The above teams are those in the New York Mets’ division, the NL East. deGrom will be firm, provide length, and be a sturdy force in a truncated season. The amount of games won’t stop him from being his highly effective self.
Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros Claim AL Wild Cards
The Rays added power to their lineup card in the offseason by acquiring Jose Martinez, Hunter Renfroe, and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. They accompany a young offense and hit for a loaded pitching staff from top to bottom. Case in point: the Rays are an AL contender. They’ll simply finish behind the Yankees, who have a scorching offense, for first place in the AL East.
The A’s have a high-octane offense and a deep, young pitching staff that will help them win more games than the Astros. The latter is still an extremely talented team. That said, losing Cole is a devastating blow to their rotation, no matter who still resides from their 2019 rotation. Fortunately for the Astros, their offense and rotation, most notably Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, will be able to get them to the Wild Card round.
Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks Claim NL Wild Cards
The World Series-champion Washington Nationals will return to the playoffs. They sport the best starting rotation in the sport, improved their bullpen in the offseason, and have a contact-happy offense. Not having a formidable one-two hitting punch (Anthony Rendon left in free agency) is Washington’s weakness. They’re still a contender but need others to step up around the diamond. The Atlanta Braves are simply the more balanced team to finish with the most wins in the NL East.
The D-Backs are a sneaky contender. They’ve utterly revamped their starting rotation over the last year with young pitchers and a veteran leader, Madison Bumgarner. Meanwhile, they have an electric offense that came into its own towards the end of last season, and manager Torey Lovullo has a bullpen of experienced relievers. However, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a little more experience in their rotation, a slightly better offense, and an all-around better chance of winning the NL West.
The Minnesota Twins Beat the Atlanta Braves in the World Series
The Twins roster is eerily similar to the 2018 World Series-champion Boston Red Sox: an overwhelming offense, a good but not great starting rotation, and a criticized but quietly reliable bullpen. They’re coming off a 101-win season where many position players and relievers turned a corner. Minnesota added starters Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, and Homer Bailey and third baseman Josh Donaldson in the offseason. They’re as dangerous as any team in the sport in a 162 or 60-game season.
The Braves have a relentless offense, an improved bullpen, and a growing rotation. Improvement from their rotation is imperative. Mike Soroka dazzled in his rookie season, Max Fried is a work in progress, and Mike Foltynewicz, who performed at a Cy Young caliber level in 2018, pitched better in the second half of last season. All the pieces are present for a deep Atlanta playoff run. That said, the backend of their rotation and the frontend of their bullpen remain gaping loose ends.
Minnesota has a savvy mix of young stars and veterans who have played in big games and are still performing at high levels. Think about it this way: Donaldson is maybe the fifth-best hitter in a lineup that includes Nelson Cruz, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Mitch Garver, and Luis Arraez. Meanwhile, Jose Berrios is a stud on the hill, Jake Odorizzi is coming off a bounce-back season, and Hill, who has been plagued by injuries, has to make just 12 starts. The Twins have struggled in crucial road games in recent memory, a factor partially eliminated with no fans in the stands.
The Twins will go down as the team that came out on top in a baseball season unparalleled by any in the sport’s existence.