World Series favorites coast on Opening Night, MLB playoffs expanded
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees' All-Star, got the 2020 MLB season off with a bang when he crushed a no-doubt home run in the first inning of the Yankees' 4-1 win in six innings. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, both presumptive favorite to make the World Series out of their respective leagues, hit the ground running Thursday night with a rain-shortened 4-1 win over the Washington Nationals (Yankees) and an 8-1 drubbing of the San Francisco Giants (Dodgers).
Opening Night of the 2020 MLB season began much like how the year has gone, as Dr. Anthony Fauci's first pitch was juuuust a bit outside. However, the teasing mood quickly changed to one of reflection, as a video played on the Nationals Park scoreboard with many of baseball's best African-American players strongly speaking a singular message: Black Lives Matter.
After the video played with a short narration from Morgan Freeman, every member of both teams on the field (lined up along the foul lines) took a knee while holding a black cloth connecting all players, showing solidarity for "Black Lives Matter" and the fight to "United for Change," both phrases of which were on the sleeves of many players during Thursday night's action.
After the National Anthem was sung, for which all players rose together and stood, 7x All-Star and 3x Cy Young winnner Max Scherzer took the mound for Washington. However, after getting the first out, Scherzer gave up a single to Aaron Judge before, one batter later, Giancarlo Stanton crushed a no-doubt 459-foot home run into left-center field on his first swing of the season to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
Nationals' right fielder Adam Eaton responded in the bottom half of the inning with a solo shot, but Gerrit Cole was too much for the Nationals to do anything else.
The Yankees tacked on a run in the third (Judge RBI double) and fifth (Stanton RBI single) innings to boost the lead, while Cole struck out five and held the defending World Series champions hitless after the Eaton home run.
However, in the top of the sixth inning, soon after the ESPN crew had interviewed MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, the sky opened up with flashes of lightning and a monsoon-like downpour, causing a delay which would eventually cause the game to be called through just five innings and one out in the sixth.
Thankfully for baseball fans, the delay came short before 9 p.m. EST, leaving just over one hour before first pitch between the Giants and Dodgers. Contrary to the fast start in the Yankees-Nationals game which tapered off as the remainder of the game went on, neither team scored until a Pablo Sandoval sacrifice fly in the third inning to give the Giants their first and only lead of the game (1-0).
That lead would not last long, as Opening Night's MVP, Kike Hernandez (4-5, HR, 5 RBIs), singled to left to score Corey Seager to tie the game at 1.
A stalemate was held over the next two innings, but in the seventh, the Dodgers took the plate with a vengeance, scoring five runs to inflate their lead to 6-1.
The first run was scored by newly-extended right fielder Mookie Betts (recently acquired from the Boston Red Sox), who used his quickness to score from third on a shallow infield grounder. Hernandez drove in two more with an RBI single before Austin Barnes drove in another and a walk scored the fifth run of the inning.
In the eighth, Hernandez hit a home run over the left field fence, giving the Dodgers more than enough to get the win, 8-1.
With the other 26 teams now starting their seasons, baseball is fully back, and the race for the playoffs has begun.
That race, however, is now altered, as MLB owners ratified a plan for a 16-team playoffs. Because of that, here are my updated predictions for the season (z=best league record, y=2-3 seeded division winners, x=4-6 second-place teams, w=7-8 seeds):
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
w-Cleveland Indians, 33-27
Kansas City Royals, 24-36
Detroit Tigers, 18-42
y-Oakland Athletics, 34-26
x- Houston Astros, 33-27
w-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
w-Washington Nationals, 33-27
Philadelphia Phillies, 30-30
Miami Marlins, 20-40
y-Milwaukee Brewers, 37-23
x-Cincinnati Reds, 33-27
w-St. Louis Cardinals, 32-28
Chicago Cubs, 29-31
Pittsburgh Pirates, 19-41
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
New to my earlier predictions are the Astros, Indians and Angels from the American League, and the Reds, Nationals and Cardinals from the National League.
Here is how I think the expanded playoffs would go:
(1) Yankees over (8) Angels, 2-0
(2) Twins over (7) Indians, 2-1
(6) Astros over (3) Athletics, 2-1
(4) Rays over (5) White Sox, 2-0
(1) Dodgers over (8) Cardinals, 2-0
(2) Brewers over (7) Nationals, 2-1
(3) Mets over (6) Reds, 2-1
(5) Diamondbacks over (4) Braves, 2-0
Yankees over Rays, 3-1
Twins over Astros, 3-2
Dodgers over Diamondbacks, 3-0
Mets over Brewers, 3-2
Yankees over Twins, 4-1
Dodgers over Mets, 4-2
Dodgers over Yankees, 4-3
The only real change is the Astros getting past the Athletics, though I wouldn't be surprised by the Reds beating the Mets and changing my NL predictions up until the winner, which seems incredibly unlikely to be anyone other than the Dodgers.
If you stayed through a re-hashing of my predictions, enjoy baseball being back as Opening Day begins today!