Welcome Back, Baseball
Nothing about this year is normal, and we can’t expect the baseball season to be either. Amidst the backdrop of tremendous loss and historic social upheaval, baseball has been tasked with the impossible: bringing back a sense of normalcy that most of America has forgotten. Through the shield of empty stadiums and a shortened season, we will once again get to watch the sport we have come to for it’s consistent presence as an American institution. In a way, this form of baseball will be it’s most pure. Players playing solely for the love of the game while representing something much bigger than the sport itself. Welcome back baseball. We’ve needed you.
AL West: Houston Astros (44-16)
Despite this offseason’s revelations of sign-stealing in Houston and the loss of Gerrit Cole, the Astros are poised to repeat this year in the AL West. It’s important to note that this year will be a sprint, not a marathon. The shorter schedule means we may well be seeing Justin Verlander throwing 8 innings of 101-mph fastballs every start. Even without Cole, the ‘Stros rotation is packed, with Greinke and McCullers falling in line after Verlander. There will still be plenty of fastballs-to-the-back for Houston’s hitters though, and Vegas has already put out betting odds for which Astro batter will get plunked first.
AL Central: Minnesota Twins (45-15)
There may not be a better team suited for playing in an empty stadium. Watching, or even better, listening to Miguel Sano, Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson echo rockets off the empty seats at Target Field is going to be worth the price of admission (or I guess the cable bill this year) alone. Their only intra-division threat would come from the White Sox, who are still a year away from serious contention. A division-heavy schedule this year means they’ll likely benefit from multiple matchups with the Tigers and Royals, and in a season where every game counts, the Twins are primed for the postseason.
AL East: New York Yankees (47-13)
The AL East will undoubtedly be one of the closest races in the league this year. While the Yankees are projected to repeat as AL East champs, the Rays will be close on their heels, probably a game or two behind them. Both teams will benefit from this year’s shorter schedule, as the bullpens of both of these teams are the best in the league. While the Aroldis Chapman’s positive coronavirus test is unfortunate both for Chapman and the Yankees, New York still has a formidable bullpen led by Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Jonathan Holder. The Rays will likely be one of the most creative teams, particularly on the pitching side of things. The AL East is going to be fun this year and we could very well see either the Rays or the Yankees in the Fall Classic this year.
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers (50-10)
How crazy would it be if a team won fifty games in a sixty game season? If there’s anybody that could, it’d be the Dodgers. The best record in the NL last year is likely going to get better after the offseason acquisition of former-MVP Mookie Betts. With 60 games until becoming a free agent in the offseason, Betts will be playing in a condensed contract year, making him a player to watch for the NL MVP. David Price’s decision to opt out of the season hurts the rotation a little, but behind Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, there’s not much to be worried about. Los Angeles will also arguably be the most benefited team from this intra-division heavy schedule, considering that their biggest threat in the West will be the Diamondbacks. There’s a lot going right for the Dodgers right now.
NL Central: Cincinnati Reds (41-19)
The NL Central is purely a toss-up. Four of the five teams in the division have a legitimate chance of winning the division title. The victorious team will ultimately end up being whoever starts off the season hot. Although they finished fourth last year, the Reds are poised to catapult to the top of the pack. A top-five rotation and dynamic lineup put the Reds in a unique position to take advantage of a condensed season. Any team in this division could make a legitimate argument for winning the division, but my money is on an upset in the form of Cincinnati.
NL East: Atlanta Braves (44-16)
More than any other division, the hunt for the NL East title will be ruthless. With an intra-division schedule, the Braves, Mets, Phillies and Nationals are all going to beat up on each other, with the Marlins being pummeled at the bottom of the standings. However, on the backs of a deep young pitching staff, elite bullpen, and Acuña’s new hairstyle, the Braves have a good chance to emerge from the pack. This division will also benefit from the expanded playoff format, which now includes four wild card teams instead of two. Whichever team falls short in the division standings will likely still have a path to the playoffs through the wild card.
AL MVP: Mike Trout
As Jordan showed us in ‘96, you don’t bet against the best in the game. It’s a shame that we’ll only get to see 60 games of Trout in one of his prime years, but what if he put up 30 homers? If anybody could do it, it’d be Trout, and year after year, he shows us why it’d be foolish to predict anybody else other than Trout.
NL MVP: Mookie Betts
Several factors point toward 2020 being Betts’ best season yet. A change of scenery in LA means he’ll be surrounded by star power in the lineup, forcing pitchers to either pitch to him or 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger. The fact that Betts is a free agent this offseason also means we could see an award-winning season from the outfielder. He’ll have to make his case for an offseason contract in a mere sixty games, so we could see a red-hot Betts right out of the gates.
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole
After last year’s second place finish in the Cy Young race, Cole will likely be out for the crown in 2020. In a season where high strikeout numbers and win totals will be less important than they would be in a regular season, overall team contribution is going to be a big aspect of the Cy Young race. As the undisputed ace of the best team in the AL, Cole has a better chance than last year to take home the title.
NL Cy Young: Jack Flaherty
Flaherty took off late in the season last year, finishing with a 2.71 ERA and 231 strikeouts while leading the Cardinals to the NLCS. If his hot finish carries over to this year’s shortened season, Flaherty could easily make a name for himself at the top of the Cy Young race. Add on to that the fact that the Cardinals are going to be in the heat of a vicious fight to the top of the NL Central and Flaherty becomes the name to beat in this race. Other names to keep an eye out for are perennial favorites Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom as well as newcomer Walker Buehler.
AL Rookie of the Year: Jesus Luzardo
With Michael Kopech opting out of the 2020 season, Luzardo becomes the top pitcher in the ROY race. Luzardo looked promising in six games in 2019, compiling 16 strikeouts in 12 innings pitched. Considering that the A’s will be competing with the Astros for the top spot in the West and will likely make the playoffs in some form, a big contribution by Luzardo in the rotation will be enough to give him the award. Other names to watch here are White Sox mega-prospect Luis Robert and Rays two-way player Brendan McKay.
NL Rookie of the Year: Gavin Lux
If Betts and Buehler take home the MVP and Cy Young, the Dodgers could be looking at an awards-season sweep at the end of the year. Somehow, the Dodgers keep churning out top prospects while winning 100-plus games each year, and this year’s stud Gavin Lux looks to be a big part of the Dodgers already-stacked lineup. Lux struggled a little in his debut last year, hitting .240 in 23 games for the Dodgers, but a .305 average over four years in the minors shows he has nothing to worry about.
Other Important Predictions
The Duality of Shohei Ohtani is Properly Appreciated
With a shortened sprint of a season in place instead of the normal marathon of the regular season, every game will matter. That means we’ll likely be seeing more of two-way players like Ohtani, who are both the ace of the rotation and the anchor of the lineup. Will we see a 10-strikeout, 3-homer game? If there were ever a season for it, it would be this one.
Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies Will Miss Each Other
With coronavirus social distancing measures in place, the biggest bromance in the majors is going to have to find new ways to express their love. In previous years, if you looked down the Braves dugout, you could usually find Albies and Acuña all over each other with pure joy for the game. Now, even high fives are suspect. Could we see the renaissance of the Elbow Bump? The Foot Tap? Time to get creative.
The Stands Will be Packed with Fans...Sort Of
When the KBO started back up several months ago, the stands were packed with faces of sports fans...but just their faces. To get the feel of having a full stadium, the league had placed cutouts of fans in the stands. In the same vein, we’ve seen stuffed animals populate the stands of other Korean baseball games. If having Elmo stare into your soul at third base gets eerie after a while, we recommend using old department store mannequins, because that worked out well for Will Smith in I Am Legend.
TV Volumes will be Turned Up Higher Than Ever
You don’t realize how big and cavernous MLB stadiums are until they’re empty. Perhaps the best thing to come out of preseason Summer Camp has been the sounds of the game echoing throughout the stadiums. With nobody in the stands, we’ll be given a rare opportunity to hear sounds we wouldn’t be able to in a packed stadium like the echoing boom of a home run or the specifics of Yasiel Puig losing his mind on an umpire. The one time there was an empty stadium this decade, the announcers had some fun with it.