Tonight the 2020 MLB season begins after a wild offseason. The Astros sign-stealing scandal and the Gerrit Cole record-breaking signing seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? The season was just set to begin when the world ended back in March. And honestly, I never thought I’d say this, but I didn’t miss the game nearly as much as I thought I would. The pandemic helped us see the trivial nature of so many things in our lives. But four months in, it is nice to have a distraction from all the negative headlines.
But honestly, the strife between the players and owners has also diminished my passion for the game somewhat. Which is telling, because I am a baseball guy. But if my love for the game has waned in light of this most recent financial spat, I can only imagine how the casual fan feels, to say nothing of the prospective one. Baseball has several major issues to work through — the pace of the game, a lack of interest among young fans, the way the game is dying in urban communities — but none is more pressing than the looming labor discussions. For the record, I’m on the side of the players, but for the sake of the game, I hope there’s not another work stoppage around the corner.
Anyway, this season is going to be super weird. Sixty games is such a small sample size that almost anything can happen this season. Maybe this is the shot in the arm baseball needs. The next two months are essentially a pennant stretch and all thirty teams have a shot. Well, except for the Orioles. (More on that below.)
Every year I make some predictions for the season and I usually do okay, but this season there are far fewer locks. With the top two teams in each division going to the playoffs along with two additional wild card teams, this will be an unprecedented year in that more than 50% of the league will advance to the playoffs this year. I know the idea is to increase the likelihood of the best teams actually making it to the playoffs, but I hate that percentage. There are going to be some really crappy teams in the playoffs this year. But whatever. At least the owners and players could agree on something.
At any rate, here are my predictions for the upcoming season.
American League East
There are few locks this year, but predicting this division is kind of a no-brainer. The Yankees have one of the most potent lineups I’ve ever seen: as I am watching tonight, Giancarlo Stanton has put on a laser show and Aaron Judge looks to be fully healed from his rib injury. They’re also deep: D.J. Lemahieu has the luxury of getting healthy before he suits up and one of their better bats (Miguel Andujar) remains on the bench tonight. And, oh yeah, they added Gerrit Cole to frontline the rotation. All in all, I think the Yankees are one of the best teams in the game and should contend for another title this year.
It’s a shame that nobody watches the Rays, because they have a great club, beginning with their pitching staff. Tyler Glasnow should be able to withstand the rigors of a 60 game season; with no restrictions, he could be a Cy Young contender. Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, Nick Anderson, Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos, Diego Castillo…the arms are just relentless on this club. I expect the Rays to finish second in the division, thus advancing to the playoffs.
The Red Sox signaled their expectations by dealing away Mookie Betts this offseason. The Sox and Jays will battle for third and fourth in this division — presuming the Jays can find a place to play their home games this season. Baltimore is as sure a bet as any team to finish last in their division. Seriously, with all of their games coming against the AL East and NL East — Braves, Nats, Phillies, Mets, Yankees, Rays — the O’s might not win 10 games this year. Seriously. At least they get to play the Marlins.
American League Central
A lot of pundits seem to be pegging the White Sox as a sleeper team for this season. And they’ll be exciting to watch with youngsters Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Nick Madrigal logging significant innings. But I just don’t see them as a serious contender just yet. Maybe next year.
That leaves Minnesota and Cleveland as the best bets to advance. Minnesota already had one of the most homer happy squads of all time and then they went out and signed Josh Donaldson. But their most important offseason additions were pitchers: Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, and Sergio Romo. I think Minnesota wins this division easily and ought to contend for the pennant. I like Cleveland to finish second, carried by Frankie Lindor, Mike Clevinger, and Shane Bieber.
American League West
This might be the best division in baseball. Houston, Oakland, Texas, and Los Angeles could all conceivably make the playoffs this year. Seriously. These teams are all that good. Who knows how Houston responds in light of the cheating scandal. I think they’ll still win the division based on their talent, but who knows. The pitching will probably come back to earth a bit after Cole’s defection to the Yankees, although a full season of Zack Greinke isn’t a bad fallback option. I see the Astros as one of the five best teams in baseball, so I’d be shocked if they didn’t work their way into the postseason conversation.
That leaves three teams vying for that final spot, although the other two could certainly be the AL wild card teams. I’m taking Oakland to finish second. They have a dynamic young core of position players and I really like some of their young pitchers. Typically, the Rangers are a premium offensive team with suspect pitching. But this year, the strength of this club ought to be the pitching, especially the rotation of Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, Corey Kluber, and Jordan Lyles. That should carry them to a wild card spot. Ditto for the Angels. Boy, it sure would be great to see Mike Trout in October.
National League East
Some will say this division is the deepest in the game, but not true. It’s actually top heavy with the Nats and Braves, but the Phillies and Mets look destined to be .500 teams if you ask me. Washington retains the best starting pitching staff in the majors behind Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin — and I’m a big believer that good pitching beats good hitting. I don’t really love the Braves pitching staff, but I just can’t see the mediocre Philadelphia and New York hurlers performing well enough to surpass them.
Oh, yeah. And this division has the Marlins.
National League Central
I’d love to pick the Cardinals to win this division, but I really like what Cincinnati has done with their pitching staff. Luis Castillo could win a Cy Young award this year; Sonny Gray found himself again last season; and Trevor Bauer oozes unfulfilled potential. Offensively, Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos join the holdovers to form a formidable lineup. Defensively, they’re a total mess, which scares me a lot. But maybe they’ll have more homers than errors.
I like the look of the Cardinals, too. Defensively, they are incredible up the middle with Yadi, Kolton Wong, Paul Dejong, and Harrison Bader. That’s an elite middle of the field, which will especially help Cardinal hurlers who pitch to contact like Adam Wainwright and Dakota Hudson. Jack Flaherty should feast on the Central lineups he’ll be facing (Royals, Tigers, Pirates) and is a dark horse Cy Young contender. The offense projects to be league average, but maybe they can tread water until they call up Dylan Carlson. I like the Cardinals to finish second in this division.
I think the Cubs will be solid, possibly a wild card team. And the expectations shouldn’t be very high for either Milwaukee or Pittsburgh.
National League West
Boy, are these Dodgers going to be fun to watch. I’d love to pick another team to win it all, but in a 162-game season, this club could threaten the single-season win total. They ought to win this division easily and erase their championship drought. And I bet it’ll be fun to watch.
Who finishes second? I like the Padres. The Friars have one of the most exciting young lineups in the game with Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis, Jr., Trent Grisham, Josh Naylor, and Francisco Mejia. But it’s their young pitching that will carry them. Chris Paddack established himself last season but remember the name Mackenzie Gore. I hope we get to see him in the big leagues this season. And this bullpen is one of the best in the National League.
I’ll go out on a limb and pick Arizona as the other wild card team, along with the Cubs.