How in the world do you forecast a 60-game baseball season amidst a pandemic?
You allow for far more freak occurrences. You concede that the fate of the season will be determined as much by external forces, like our country’s questionable willingness to take the coronavirus seriously and those ripple effects, as by, say, the members of a specific team’s pitching staff.
You come to peace with the reality that picking winners in this upside-down season, more than any other, requires an immense portion of good fortune. All the more so in light of Major League Baseball’s decision, in conjunction with with the MLB Players Association, to expand the postseason to 16 teams — an agreement made so late in the action, a couple of hours before the Yankees and Nationals kicked things off last Thursday night, that we published our predictions under the impression that the old, 10-team playoff would be in place.
But look, trying to get this stuff right is all fun and low stakes. So we give it a shot, knowing full well — especially in light of this week’s Marlins outbreak — that this season, “There won’t be a World Series” might very well be the right answer.
Here are my picks and the accompanying rationale. For clarification’s sake, my original wild-card selections were the Rays and Blue Jays in the American League and the Phillies and Padres in the National League. The rest have been added to accommodate the new format.
1. New York Yankees
2. Tampa Bay Rays (WC)
3. Toronto Blue Jays (WC)
4. Boston Red Sox
5. Baltimore Orioles
The Yankees’ roster seems deeper than ever, particularly on the offensive side. I can’t imagine any other team wouldn’t have room on its roster for the alluring presence that Clint Frazier remains. On the pitching side, while James Paxton’s 2020 debut understandably set off some alarms, Masahiro Tanaka is set to return shortly, and now they have that Gerrit Cole guy, who appears to be pretty good. If they don’t have the best starting rotation, it should be good enough. Furthermore, I buy into the narrative that Aaron Boone’s group possesses a knack for grinding through adversity. They should win consecutive division titles for the first time since 2011-12 with a 38-22 record.
The Rays, back in the saddle of being as tough a group in the game on a dollar-for-dollar basis, possess more than enough pitching to make it back to October for a second straight year. And the Blue Jays, armed with a young core of prodigies and a re-armed pitching staff, should catapult themselves from rebuilding to rebuilt.
Times are so dark for the Red Sox, who saw the traded Mookie Betts sign a long-term extension with the Dodgers before playing in a game for them, that even the Mediocrity Festival that is this year’s playoff system won’t save them. And the less written about the Orioles…
1. Chicago White Sox
2. Minnesota Twins (WC)
3. Cleveland Indians (WC)
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Detroit Tigers
The White Sox look ready to explode after stockpiling talent these last few years, stepping on the gas this past winter with the additions of Edwin Encarnacion, Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel. I have their ace Lucas Giolito winning the AL Cy Young Award.
The Twins will take a step back after last year’s 101-61 showing, as their best 2019 pitcher Jake Odorizzi already is on the injured list with a back problem. They’ll still hit like crazy, though, giving themselves a puncher’s chance in October.
And the expanded playoffs might influence the Indians’ future as much as any franchise. Their starting pitching is so high-ceiling, and Francisco Lindor is so good — plus they employ a future Hall of Fame manager in Terry Francona — that they should be able to stay in the race. Which in turn could keep Cleveland from dealing Lindor, who can be a free agent after next season and, at least in normal economic times, would seem beyond the mid-market Indians’ financial comfort zone.
1. Oakland Athletics
2. Los Angeles Angels (WC)
3. Texas Rangers
4. Houston Astros
5. Seattle Mariners
I was down on the Astros before Justin Verlander went on the injured list, due to their pitching shortage and a sense that, even if the coronavirus spared them from angry road crowds, they couldn’t fully escape the malaise that enveloped them in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal.
I’m high on the A’s because of their trove of young talent, highlighted by likely AL Most Valuable Player Matt Chapman. This is the kind of team that can finally get Billy Beane into a World Series. The Angels intrigue me because of Shohei Ohtani’s return (which got off to a very rough start Sunday) as well as the arrival of Anthony Rendon and skipper Joe Maddon, giving Mike Trout a vastly improved supporting cast.
A’s over Yankees. What, you missed the hint I dropped in the above paragraph? In addition to their young stars, they have Hall of Fame whistleblower Mike Fiers. Karma will be on their side.
1. New York Mets
2. Philadelphia Phillies (WC)
3. Atlanta Braves (WC)
4. Washington Nationals
5. Miami Marlins
True, it turned out to be a discouraging opening weekend for the Mets, and I don’t think Edwin Diaz’s blown save will turn out to be a false alarm. Nevertheless, the Mets field a potentially ridiculous offense, with Yoenis Cespedes returning to join Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto, among others (not Robinson Cano, though). Combine that with Jacob deGrom’s standard dominance (he’ll win his third straight NL Cy Young Award) and a hunch that Marcus Stroman will return and contribute earlier than expected, and there’s enough here to capture what should be a very tightly packed division with a 33-27 record.
Joe Girardi will join Luis Rojas and Maddon as the most impactful managerial hires of 2020. The Phillies will appreciate Girardi’s seriousness and mastery of in-game strategy and reward him with a playoff berth, courtesy of an excellent season by former Met Zack Wheeler, a walk-year resurgence by Jake Arrieta, the arrival of NL Rookie of the Year Spencer Howard and a characteristically strong Bryce Harper campaign.
The Braves figure out ways to get it done despite owning excuses to not get it done. How about Marcell Ozuna’s first weekend in an Atlanta uniform? The defending champion Nationals, however, face too much headwind with guys down to illness and injury as well as opt-outs. That’s right, neither World Series participant from last year will qualify for the postseason despite the expanded field.
1. Cincinnati Reds
2. St. Louis Cardinals (WC)
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
I went with the Reds last year, much to my chagrin, and I’m now doubling down. They suffered from some bad luck last year, as evidenced by their 701-711 run differential (which should’ve produced an 80-82 record) measured against their 75-87 mark. They added Nicholas Castellanos and Wade Miley as well as Mike Moustakas, although Moustakas already is on the injured list with an unspecified illness.
The Cardinals are the most consistent team in the industry. They’re always in the thick of it and the lowering of the postseason bar means they can write their October ticket right now. I’m not feeling the Cubs, who have suffered the most intense, understandable post-championship hangover ever, nor the Brewers, who have lost too much and picked up too little.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Diego Padres (WC)
3. Arizona Diamondbacks (WC)
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Francisco Giants
The Dodgers are like the “Green Eggs and Ham” guy of the baseball world. They would win the NL West in a 162-game season; they will do so in a 60-game season. They would do so in a house; they would do so with a mouse. There’s no stopping them, at least not until the playoffs.
It’s payoff time for the Padres, who haven’t finished above .500 since 2010. Fernando Tatis Jr. is an MVP candidate (although new super-rich guy Betts will capture the honors) and the pitching staff, headlined by Chris Paddack, appears poised for big things. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, have proven very adept at getting the most out of what they have, and now they have Madison Bumgarner.
Dodgers over Reds. I just don’t see anyone upending the Dodgers, who will make their third Fall Classic appearance in four years.
A’s over Dodgers. A rematch of the 1974 all-California battle. AL Rookie of the Year Jesus Luzardo wins MVP honors by getting two wins, and Marcus Semien will launch into free agency with a strong performance. Then, in 2022, the Dodgers will again go ballistic when Fiers reveals that the ‘20 A’s illegally stole signs (kidding, kidding).
This week’s Pop Quiz question came from Dan Mahoney of The Bronx: The Bob Dylan song “Catfish” mentions a pair of Hall of Fame players. One is Catfish Hunter. Who is the other?
Our Yankees and Mets podcasts are back in action. Give them a listen.
Your Pop Quiz answer is Reggie Jackson.
If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at email@example.com.
Crdit: Source link