Predictions for MLB season one week from Opening Day
Updated: Jul 17, 2020
Grandstands will look like this image of Progressive Field, but fans will certainly be tuning in to watch as baseball is the first major US sports league to return. Image courtesy of Peter Burtnett.
Co-founder, Impact Sports Media
First pitch on Opening Night of the 2020 MLB season is just one week away! Being the first of the four major sports leagues in the United States to swing back into action, here are my predictions for how the shortened season will unfold.
Before getting into what I think the standings will look like the evening of Sept. 27, there are three things to keep an eye on as teams grapple with this unique season brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
1) Slow starts (or quick starts) will make or break a team's playoff chances
Unlike the regular 162-game season, the revised 60-game season will give little room for error. For example, last year's NL Central champions (St. Louis Cardinals) were just 31-29 and in third place in the division through 60 games but were able to recover and win 91 games on the way to an NLCS appearance.
And the team they lost to in the NLCS, the Washington Nationals, started just 27-33, six games out of a Wild Card spot and 6.5 out of first in the NL East. In the abbreviated 2020 MLB season, the 2019 World Series champions would not have even sniffed the playoffs.
This year, teams might be able to handle a slow start through the first 10-20 games, but beyond that even a "good enough" start any other year won't be enough to make the playoffs, which has not been altered and allows just five teams from each league.
On the flip side, if a team wins 20 or more of their first 30 games, they will already be halfway home to making the playoffs, without having to try to keep up their winning run through 132 more games.
2) Records are likely to be challenged
In a 162-game regular season, players have to maintain batting averages and earned run averages (ERA) through an arduous marathon. While stats like home runs or wins and strikeouts will obviously be lower, stats determined by averages will be accentuated, either positively or negatively.
Through last year's All Star break (by which point teams had played roughly 90 games), the most notable stat that tapered off by the end of the year was then-Los Angeles Dodgers (now Toronto Blue Jays) pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu's ERA of just 1.73 (still led MLB with a 2.32 by season's end).
Not only will players benefit from having less games to try to keep their averages up (or down for pitchers), but they will also likely push harder than usual to ensure their teams get the wins they need in the shortened season. With less room for error, the added pressure will cause some players to soar, but some will falter and run out of time to recover.
For example, Texas Rangers second baseman Roughned Odor was batting just .193 through the All Star break. Odor batted .230 in June and .250 in the first week of July, with early June being the 60-game mark last year. In other words, Odor's average was even more abysmal before he was able to put things together after the first 60 games.
3) Staying healthy will be more important than ever before
Most years, medium terms injuries (think 30-day injured list), if suffered in the early or middle stages of a season, can be recovered from in time for postseason runs. However, in a 60-game season, staying injury-free will be one of the more important points to watch during the season. And it's not just injuries that players will have to avoid.
If a player tests positive for COVID-19, they are instructed to self isolate and likely suffer a short stay on the IL. However, with the quarantine period being roughly 14 days for people who test positive, two weeks away for a star player like Christian Yelich or Gerrit Cole during the stretch run in mid-September could be bad news for teams in the playoff chase.
While the number of games won't cause concern for position players who are used to playing well over 100 games in a healthy season, the condensed nature of the season could cause more strain than usual, especially for pitchers if teams maintain the traditional five-man rotation.
With just 63 days to play 60 games, position players will get little time to rest and pitchers will have a maximum of four days rest. In a time where health is at the forefront in society, it will likely remain the same in the unique 2020 MLB season.
Who will win the 2020 World Series to claim the Comissioner's Trophy? Image from Michael Tercha, Chicago Tribune.
Now for my predictions for the final 2020 standings and playoffs (z = clinch home field advantage through League Championship Series; y = clinch division, x = clinch wild card)
American League East
z-New York Yankees, 38-22
x-Tampa Bay Rays, 35-25
Toronto Blue Jays, 29-31
Boston Red Sox, 28-32
Baltimore Orioles, 15-45
y-Minnesota Twins, 37-23
x-Chicago White Sox, 34-26
Cleveland Indians, 33-27
Kansas City Royals, 24-36
Detroit Tigers, 18-42
y-Oakland Athletics, 34-26
Houston Astros, 33-27
Los Angeles Angels, 31-29
Texas Rangers, 28-32
Seattle Mariners, 25-35
National League East
y-New York Mets, 36-24
x-Atlanta Braves, 35-25
Washington Nationals, 33-27
Philadelphia Phillies, 30-30
Miami Marlins, 20-40
y-Milwaukee Brewers, 37-23
Cincinnati Reds, 33-27
St. Louis Cardinals, 31-29
Chicago Cubs, 29-31
Pittsburgh Pirates, 20-40
z-Los Angeles Dodgers, 41-19
x-Arizona Diamondbacks, 34-26
San Diego Padres, 31-29
San Francisco Giants, 23-37
Colorado Rockies, 21-39
World Series hangover affects both the Nationals and Astros, who one year after making the Fall Classic miss out on the playoffs altogether (but just 1 GB in wild card race), while the White Sox, Mets and Diamondbacks join the rest of the teams who made last year's postseason.
AL: Rays over White Sox
NL: Diamondbacks over Braves
AL: Yankees over Rays (3-1), Twins over Athletics (3-0)
NL: Dodgers over Diamondbacks (3-1), Mets over Brewers (3-2)
AL: Yankees over Twins (4-2)
NL: Dodgers over Mets (4-1)
Dodgers over Yankees (4-3)
The Yankees and Dodgers have the two best rosters in baseball, and while a shortened season could make a difference for new Dodgers star Mookie Betts and Yankees ace Gerrit Cole to adjust to their new surroundings, by the time the postseason rolls around, two of baseball's best franchises will be hard to stop.
Even without their best pitcher from last year (Hyun-jin Ryu), the Dodgers outlast the Yankees in what could be one of the best ever World Series in baseball history to conclude the most unique season in baseball history.