Good luck making sense of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.
While we might think we know some things that’ll happen, the reality is this year’s 60-game format — a product of the coronavirus pandemic — makes it nearly impossible to project what’s about to unfold.
Still, we’re not going to let that stop us from making a few predictions for the upcoming campaign, which finally begins Thursday after a stop-and-go spring training-turned-summer camp.
So, let’s throw some stuff at the wall and see if anything sticks. Here are seven bold predictions for you to consider as Opening Day nears.
1. Fernando Tatis Jr. will become the youngest MVP in MLB history.
Vida Blue currently holds the distinction — earning the award with the Oakland Athletics at age 22 in 1971 — but it’s just a matter of time before that record falls. Prospects are arriving to the majors earlier and making an immediate impact and Tatis, who turned 21 in January, is a prime candidate to break out in 2020.
Tatis made a jaw-dropping first impression in 2019, hitting 22 home runs with 53 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and a .317/.379/.590 slash line in just 84 games. The sky is the limit for the Padres shortstop, who’s well-equipped to handle the short burst of a 60-game season and maybe even thrust San Diego into the National League postseason discussion.
2. An Angels player not named Mike Trout will be named American League MVP.
Trout, who has won the award three times and finished second on four other occasions, again is the overwhelming favorite to bring home hardware in 2020. But don’t sleep on his supporting cast, namely Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon.
Rendon, a long underrated player who signed a seven-year, $245 million contract with the Halos this offseason, finished third in NL MVP voting last season with the Washington Nationals. It’s perhaps Ohtani who really deserves our attention in 2020, though, for his ability both on the mound and in the batter’s box during a condensed season in which he could wind up being the very definition of “most valuable.”
3. A reliever will win the Cy Young Award.
This might seem like a real shot in the dark. A reliever hasn’t won the award since Eric Gagne’s otherworldly 2003 season. Before that, it hadn’t been done since 1992, when Dennis Eckersley won both the AL Cy Young Award and AL MVP Award. But the 60-game schedule changes the whole conversation. Starters only will have so many outings to work with, whereas relievers have the potential to make a greater difference than ever before.
4. The new extra-inning rule will backfire.
Each half inning in extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. The idea is to prevent games from lasting too long, at which point pitching staffs would be taxed and players would remain at the ballpark for far longer than necessary during a global pandemic. But isn’t it possible the whole thing goes up in smoke if teams decide to sacrifice bunt the runner over to third base, and we’re left with each club trading one run per inning well into the night?
MLB.com recently published an extensive breakdown that should alleviate such fears, noting that 45 percent of minor league games in 2016-17 (the final two years without the runner) ended after one extra inning, whereas 73 percent ended after one extra inning in 2018-19 (with the runner). Still, you never know what MLB managers will be thinking while navigating this new normal.
5. A prominent player will retire midseason.
It’d be somewhat reckless to try to pinpoint who exactly will go this route, but it sure seems possible conceptually. There’s already been a huge influx of young talent, making it difficult for aging players to find and keep work. Throw in the uncertainty of COVID-19, and a notable veteran might just say “screw it” rather than play out the string if his team falls out of contention.
6. The Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees will miss the playoffs.
This would be an absolute disaster for either franchise. The Dodgers and Yankees (+375) are co-favorites to win the World Series, according to Bovada’s odds as of Tuesday, well ahead of the Houston Astros (+1200) and Atlanta Braves (+1200), who fall next in the pecking order. Los Angeles is -450 to make the playoffs and +300 to miss the playoffs, while New York is -290 to make the postseason and +210 to miss out on the festivities.
So yes, plenty of things would need to go wrong. Both clubs are stacked and theoretically should be locks to play well into October. But there are no guarantees with the 60-game schedule. One cold streak can ruin a team’s season. Just as one positive coronavirus tests and/or injury related to this year’s disrupted preparation can prove detrimental to an organization’s championship dreams.
7. The Athletics will defeat the Diamondbacks in the World Series.
While the Houston Astros still are considered the team to beat in the AL West, the A’s quietly have won 97 games in each of the past two seasons. They can mash, they’re elite defensively and they’re accustomed to using their bullpen creatively, something that should give them a leg up on the competition this season. Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, two young southpaws with immense upside, will be enough to push the A’s to the World Series, where they’ll overcome an intriguing D-Backs team that added Madison Bumgarner and Starling Marte this offseason.