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Sports Then and Now

Play Ball! But for How Long?

Posted on July 24, 2020 by Dean Hybl

Ready or not, the “shotgun wedding” 2020 Major League Baseball season is underway with all 30 teams starting a 60-game sprint to the playoffs.

When spring training was halted in mid-March, few could have predicted that it would be late-July before the first games would be played. But the combination of the continuing (and growing) health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and an inability for the players and owners to agree on a financial plan that benefited both sides has led to a season that is not ideal for either side.

The 2020 Major League Baseball season will be quite different with fan cut outs in the stands instead of real fans.

In many ways, the real winners of a return to live baseball are the fans, as there are only so many vintage games and baseball movies you can watch before longing for new content. Even though fans will not be able to attend games in person, in this time of social distancing watching games on television seems like no big deal.

Live baseball will also be a happy return for sports gamblers as there have been few Sports Picks for them to wager around over the last few months.

However, given all the questions about the virus and community health that are still unknown, no one really knows what to expect or how long games will be played.

Already, several high-profile players have decided to opt-out of the season. Former Cy Young Award winners Felix Hernandez and David Price along with veteran position players Buster Posey, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Nick Markakis are biggest names among more than a dozen players who have already indicated they will not play.

In addition, several players have missed time due to testing positive for the virus and there is great likelihood that additional players will test positive during the season.

On the field, sites like Wunderdog are tracking the rosters and identifying the favorites for 2020.

Below is a look at each of the six divisions.

American League East: The easy money in the AL East is on the defending division champion New York Yankees. Though they won 103 games last season, the Yankees were never really at 100% as top sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton each missed extended periods of time. If they are both healthy for a 60-game sprint, the Yankees will easily be the favorite. The only team in the division seemingly poised to contend with the Yankees is the Tampa Bay Rays. If the Yankees pitching staff, which is their only big potential weakness, is unable to provide consistent quality starts, the Rays have enough pitching and offense to make a push. Boston and Toronto will be contending for third place while it seems unlikely the young Baltimore Orioles will finish out of the cellar.

American League Central: After winning 101 games a year ago, the Minnesota Twins added veteran third baseman Josh Donaldson to a solid lineup. Pitching will be the question for the Twins. They had five double-figure winning starters last season, but Jake Odorizzi at 3.51 and Jose Berrios at 3.68 were the only starters with ERAs under four runs per game. The Cleveland Indians are on the edge of having to make a decision about the future of shortstop Francisco Lindor. They are hoping to have one more playoff run before possibly losing him. The Chicago White Sox have made some improvements and in a shortened season could be a contender. The Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers will likely be competing with the Orioles for the first pick in the 2021 draft.

American League West: After reaching the World Series for the second time in three years, the Houston Astros would generally be considered a major favorite. However, the sign stealing scandal that was revealed during the offseason puts their recent success in a different light. With a plethora of talented players both in the field and on the mound, the Astros are the favorites to win another AL West title, but they will have to be able to prove that they can win without an extra edge. The Los Angeles Angels could be one of the teams best helped by the shortened season as Mike Trout and company may have the horses to contend over 60 games in a way that would be tougher for 162. The Oakland A’s won 97 games in 2019 and also could be a strong contender in 2020, however, probably more than any other team in the division they need to make a strong early start if they want to make another playoff run.

National League East: After winning 97 games and the NL East last season with a roster that combined talented young players and experienced veterans, the Atlanta Braves would seem to be an easy favorite for the 2020 season. However, the loss of Josh Donaldson and Dallas Kuechel to free agency, Nick Markakis opting out for 2020 and COVID-19 impacting several other players early in camp puts more question marks out there as they start the shortened season. The defending champion Washington Nationals won last season after losing Bryce Harper. The question this year is whether they can continue to contend without another All-Star in Anthony Rendon. The Philadelphia Phillies could be a contender over a shortened season, especially if Harper gets off to a hotter start than he did last season. Same could be said for the New York Mets if Pete Alonso is able to repeat the performance of his rookie season.

National League Central: Last season the St. Louis Cardinals squeaked to the NL Central crown with 91 victories while the Milwaukee Brewers won 89 games and the Chicago Cubs 84. None of those squads made significantly additions for 2021, so will be interesting to see is any of the three can pull away. Added to that mix is the Cincinnati Reds, who did make some major additions adding Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos to the lineup. It would not be a huge surprise if the winner of the NL Central posted between 33-38 games during the shortened season.

National League West: No team enters the 2020 season as a greater division favorite than the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even without David Price in the rotation, the offensive firepower looks tough to beat. The team includes two top MVP candidates in Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts, along with a number of other All-Star caliber players. The Dodgers also have a solid and deep pitching staff that should be a strength throughout the shortened campaign. The Arizona Diamondbacks seem to have the best chance of staying close to the Dodgers in the division. If new acquisition Madison Bumgarner is back to top form the Diamondbacks could have enough starting pitching to make things interesting.

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