Despite my deep and verbosely-documented anxiety about the MLB season pressing on in a country that has not controlled the spread of a pandemic, Opening Day is upon us. I continue to be very concerned about the health of players and staff, but if they’re going to put themselves at risk, I can only repay their bravery by getting HELLA PUMPED.
To wit, I am diving into the pool of Extremely Stok’d Fandom–really, the only public pool that should be open these days–by sharing some of my predictions for our upcoming, bizarre 60-game MLB season. I’m going to try to keep my explanations quick and dirty, lest I turn these predictions into Infinite Guess, only with more footnotes.
Any predictions for this season must take into consideration what seemed likeliest to happen in a 162-game season.
But what I’m truly rooting for in this season is for things to get weird.
I want to see crazy small(er)-sample stats: I want Christian Yelich to hit .400 and Jacob deGrom to have an ERA that skates below 1.50. But I’m also pulling for anything in the realm of upsets and surprises in this 60-game season. In some ways, the less things go as I predict, the happier I’ll be.
And to this end, I’m not only going to put forth the most logical predictions, but also the outcome that would delight me the most, in the realm of possibility. Yes, I have great affection for the Red Sox from my seven years living in Boston. No, I don’t think they’ll win the Series this year with that rotation.
Of course, if they did, I would be here for it. Because that would be weird.
AL East Division Winner Predictions
So let’s hitch a ride on that Red Sox reference, and segue to the American League East.
Most Likely To Be: New York Yankees
In a season where–cue the anxiety gnawing on my stomach lining–players are hitting the Injured List for a new multitude of terrifying reasons, depth will play a crucial role. The Yankees already showcased their depth last year, as we were reminded by literally every single broadcaster when any other team suffered injuries. “But the Yankees have also had a bunch of injuries, and look at them, they’re doing just fine!” was the stock phrase for 2019’s color commentators, across the league. I am fully convinced that even if Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu never played a single game this season, the Yankees would summon up able replacements from their undead legions*.
*Please note, dear reader, that I was raised on a fundamentalist hatred of the Yankees.
The Yankees are also one of the teams best helped by the delay to the start of the season, since the injured Aarons, Judge and Hicks, along with my personal favorite Yankee, James Paxton, will all now be ready for Opening Day.
And though DJ LeMahieu had tested positive for Covid, he has returned to camp and should be ready within the first few games, even if he won’t be stepping in against Max Scherzer on Thursday. It hardly matters for the team’s chances that Aroldis Chapman has tested positive for the coronavirus, since they have an entire 25-man roster of relief pitchers who could close (to be clear: hyperbole). Although to be very clear–as discussing the sports implications of people having contracted a potentially deadly disease also wreaks havoc on my stomach lining–Aroldis Chapman may be my least favorite player in MLB, but his health matters to the world. I still want him to be well.
I Want It To Be: Tampa Bay Rays
Of course, not only do I want it to be the Rays, but the Rays could very plausibly win the division, as well. The Rays are also advantaged by incredible depth, both on the mound and in the field.
Charlie Morton doesn’t get enough love because he has come to his excellence later in his career, but the thirty-six year-old was third in Cy Young voting last year, after Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Durability concerns with 2018 Cy Young Winner Blake Snell should be minimized in a shorter season. And young phenom and possible member of the Avengers, Tyler Glasnow, not only had a 1.78 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP in the 60 innings he pitched last year, he had the best xERA–expected ERA based on the quality of contact–in the entire league. Avengers. I told you.
Unfortunately, last year’s breakout star, Austin Meadows, will not open the season with the team, and he was the only player the Rays were not planning to platoon (also hyperbole). With their MVP candidate on the covid-IL, the Rays will turn to off-season acquisition Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to bat leadoff.
AL Central Division Winner Predictions
Most Likely to Be: Minnesota Twins
Last year’s Bomba Squad has only gotten better with the addition of Josh Donaldson. Even with Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton entering the season with fewer days in training camp–Sano, after a positive Covid test, and Buxton, having sprained his ankle–these Twins are going to rake. Last year, three of the top ten players in Baseball Savant’s barrel rate–how often a player hits a ball at the right angle and velocity to likely become a homer–were Twins: Nelson Cruz, Sano, and Mitch Garver. That doesn’t even include the productive Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco at the top of the lineup. And Luis Arraez could hit .400 in a shortened season.
The rotation has also improved behind ace Jose Berrios. Kenta Maeda has finally been freed from the bonds of the Dodgers’ manipulation of his contract. (Or at least, we all hope that the Twins will not hesitate to run him out there. They need him!) Rich Hill, superb whenever he can stay on the mound, will now be ready in time for Opening Day. And the Twins seemed to have figured out how to get the most out of Jake Odorizzi by limiting his exposure to batters the third time through the lineup, as has often been mentioned on one of my favorite podcasts, “The Sleeper and the Bust.”
Also, the Twins can look forward to the easiest schedule this season, in terms of their opponents’ projected winning percentage. They were already slated to have the easiest 162-game schedule, but their odds are also most improved by the realigned divisional play. According to Tim Britton of the Athletic, the Twins’ opponents have a winning percentage of .468.
Dear Santa. I would like one opponent winning percentage of .468. Also can the Phillies please re-sign JT Realmuto. Your pal, Ellen
I Want It to Be: also the Twins
My childhood love of Kirby Puckett may or may not be in play here. But I would also really love for the Twins to break their very tragic 15-game postseason losing streak, and this team deserves to do it. If there’s any way for them to not run straight into the buzz-saw of the Yankees, that would be even better.
But in the spirit of Things Getting Weird, an upset from the Cleveland Clevdogs* or the Chicago White Sox would also delight me.
*This is essentially Alex Fast’s idea for renaming the Indians’ team, but I would like to take it one step further: Clevdogs should be the name, not the mascot.
AL West Division Winner Predictions
Most Likely to Be: the Houston Astros
For all of the trash can rights advocates out there, I regret to say that the Astros still look like the team to beat. They lost Gerrit Cole and his 13.82 K/9 last year (illegal in some states), but they’re not without excellent rotation options.
First of all, Lance McCullers will be making his return from Tommy John surgery. The course of TJ return does not always run smooth, but counterpoint: that curveball tho. Meanwhile, Josh James was held up, but now seems on track to slot into the rotation when the season starts. James’ 14.67 K/9 in 61 innings last year is screaming down the highway into the void left by Cole. He could be their second best starter this year, after reigning Cy Young winner Justin Verlander.
And their potent offense remains intact. The only exception is an absent Yordan Alvarez, who was moved to the Injured List for undisclosed reasons. However, this only gives Kyle Tucker, long the step-child of the Astros’ roster construction, a chance to go to the ball. Starter Jose Urquidy went to the IL along with Alvarez, but Framber Valdez is an intriguing replacement for the start of the season.
The Astros, along with the Yankees, also benefit from the oddities of the 2020 season. In an alternate timeline, Bregman, Altuve, Springer, Correa, et al. are fighting the distraction of people in trash can costumes dancing in their peripheral vision. Whatever kind of piped-in crowd noise they get this year, they can be grateful for what it lacks in verisimilitude.
I Want It to Be: The Oakland Athletics
I believe my love for this Athletics team is well-documented. My chief affection lies with the corner-infield Matts, for their beautiful, beautiful defense. Both winners of Gold Gloves, the defense of Matt Chapman and Matt Olson is a triumphant Henry Purcell song. It is a Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpture. Matt Olson has amassed 35 DRS in his four-year career; Matt Chapman had 34 DRS last year, for a total of 79 in the last three. They are dreamboats.
But I also love Marcus Semien, who finished third in MVP voting last year, his WAR improved by focusing on strengthening his defense, as well. Ramon Laureano is a triple-threat: power, speed, laser! Mark Canha proved last year that he can be exceptional as an everyday player. All nations should root for Khris Davis to bat .247 once again. Stephen Piscotty’s life story is a tear-jerking Disney movie. I love them.
Their rotation is not as solid as their lineup.
Particularly with promising rookies Jesus Luzardo–whose curveball is almost a magic act with a 68.4 Whiff%–and AJ Puk sidelined to start the season. Luzardo tested positive for Covid-19, while Puk suffered a shoulder strain. Luzardo should be pitching, if not starting, within the first week, while Puk will miss at least several weeks.
The good news is that Frankie Montas returns from his PED suspension, having put together a breakout performance last year, controlling his walk rate and upping his strikeout rate en route to a 2.63 ERA. And Sean Manaea was excellent in his return from shoulder and oblique injuries, with a 1.21 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in the small sample of 29 innings.
I am also here for an upset from the LA Angels, though Anthony Rendon’s injury and boyfriend Shohei Ohtani’s intrasquad performance do not bode well.
NL East Division Winner Predictions
Most Likely to Be: Atlanta Braves
Now more than ever, the NL East is poised to be a sprint between four greyhounds and a beagle. (The Marlins have upgraded from last years’ dachshund.) Even so, the Braves have the best odds, here.
Despite losing Donaldson, they replaced his bat in the lineup–if not his glove in the infield–with Marcell Ozuna. The Nationals, arguably the Braves’ biggest competition, do not have as proven an option to replace Anthony Rendon. Freddie Freeman, thankfully, will be back for the start of the season from his very sobering case of Covid-19, and MVP candidate Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies should continue to run and bash at the top of their lineup.
The news about Puig’s positive covid-test is very sad for everyone involved including baseball fans rooting for Puig to get a job. (See below shot of me reacting to the news live on MLB Network.) The Braves can certainly make use of Puig if they re-sign him after two negative tests, but even if they don’t, there’s a sceneairo in which everyone in the bottom half of their batting order clicks–Travis d’Arnaud, Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Johan Camargo.
Obviously, the Nationals do have the edge with pitching, with three legitimate aces in Max Scherzer, Steven Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.
And the Braves have lost some of their veteran depth, even if Cole Hamels’ tricep injury will have him back at some point this season, and Felix Hernandez was not a lock for the rotation. But Mike Soroka anchors this rotation, Max Fried is on the cusp of greatness, and Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb have each had periods of good performance. Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson did not impress last year, but the samples were microscopic.
Want It To Be: The Philadelphia Phillies
I mean. Obviously. But I will be happier if it is anyone but the Braves, to be honest.
And it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Sixty games into the 2018 season, the Phillies had a record of 32-28, soon to hold first place in the division for 31 days. In 2019, the Phillies were 33-27 through 60 games, having occupied first place for the majority of the first 67 games.
Before the 162-game season, I was calling them Schrodinger’s Phillies: winners and losers inside the box. Because tremendous potential exists on this team, despite underperformance by the time September rolls around.
But no aspect of this Phillies team exists without a question mark, even if it’s a question mark of sustaining or returning to excellence.
So what if Aaron Nola gives another 2018 performance, outlier BABIP be darned? What if Zack Wheeler sustains his periods of ace-level performance? Could Eflin develop some real stability? What if Velasquez’s new cutter and retooled changeup help him a third time through the order? Is Spencer Howard ready to dominate the majors? What if Jake Arrieta actually is healthy?
Could Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto be even better and give us the kind of production we’ve seen pre-2019? What if Rhys Hoskins’s rebuilt swing fixes his Too Much Launch Angle problem? Will a healthy Andrew McCutchen help this team coalesce, as it seemed to in early 2019? What if Scott Kingery takes off offensively when he’s playing a single position? Maybe Didi Gregorius just needed a little more time after TJ and he’ll be 2018 Didi again. Hey, what if Jean Segura bounces back? Could Adam Haseley take a step forward? Could we see Roman Quinn play three games without injuring himself? Will Jay Bruce as the DH continue to save us at the most improbable times? Alec Bohm! Will you save us all?
And what about that bamboo? Could it help?
And the largest question of all, could the lottery cards that Klentak collected to scratch off for the bullpen be big winners, or even just something worth redeeming at a gas station?
NL Central Division Winner Predictions
Most Likely to Be: Cincinnati Reds
The NL Central presents another four greyhounds and a basset hound race, but this choice brings me joy. Y’all. That rotation.
Luis Castillo is one of my favorite players not on the Phillies, and as Nick Pollack frequently points out, his change-up is a Renaissance painting (metaphor: mine). I was all-in on a Sonny Gray bounce-back last year, freed from the clutches of a one-size-fits-all pitching approach from Larry Rothschild. He rebounded to a 2.89 ERA with a career-high K/9. Trevor Bauer wants to pitch every fourth day and could well have tinkered himself back into greatness. Wade Miley: well, I view his blow-up starts at the end of the year as bringing his ERA in line with his peripherals, but he also outperformed them for months. And Anthony DeSclafani is an able fifth starter, with Tyler Mahle in the wings.
What may be most important, though, are the non-Miley additions that the Reds made over the offseason.
Slipping loose from the bounds of Comerica Park, Castellanos smashed a 1.002 OPS with 16 HR after being traded to the Cubs. The bandbox of Great American Ballpark may be even kinder. It should also provide no downgrade to the power of Mike Moustakas, everyone’s prototypical middle infielder (note: not really). I’ve always really liked Moose, and was relieved that at last, he signed a contract that he deserved, after settling for consecutive one-year deals.
But wait! There’s more. If you act now, we will also include a brand-new lead-off hitter: Shogo Akiyama! You may not yet know how his power and speed will play outside of Japan, but he is undoubtedly a smart addition for a team which now has a 25-man roster of capable outfielders (still hyperbole). Aristedes Aquino broke the rookie home run record for a single month last year, and he might not even be on the roster. Nuts.
Nuts are not included in this one-time offer, but you should still act now. In summation: this is a new lineup.
I Want It to Be: Also the Reds
The Central is apparently the division where my wishes most closely align with reality. I just appreciate the Reds so much for going for it in the off-season.
The other choice for “most likely” is the Milwaukee Brewers. Anchored by Yelich, the closest the National League gets to a lefty Mike Trout, veterans Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun should still contribute (if much to the frustration of my best friend, who hates Ryan Braun), along with up-and-coming superstar Keston Hiura. I believe Avisail Garcia and Justin Smoak to be better players than they showed in 2019.
I predict the Brewers will miss Yasmani Grandal, however. Omar Narvaez has a decent bat, but doesn’t have Grandal’s defensive prowess, and the pitching staff may struggle. Despite the excitement over pitchers like Adrian Houser, Corbin Burnes and Josh Lindblom, and their touted bullpen, I don’t think their pitching will match Cincinnati’s.
NL West Division Winner Predictions
Most Likely to Be: Los Angeles Dodgers
It’s going to be the Dodgers. Young babies, born only today, struggled bawling out of the birth canal to note the headlines about Mookie Betts’ 12-year, $365 million contract extension with the Dodgers, and moved to place money on the Dodgers winning the pennant. Only in states that allow sports gambling, of course.
It’s going to be the Dodgers. They already had enough players to platoon at every single position (same joke; still hyperbole) and now they also have Mookie Betts, forever. They have Mookie Betts and they have Cody Bellinger. They have two MVPs on one team. And that’s not even mentioning Max Muncy, Justin Turner, AJ Pollock and Corey Seager. Until just now, when I mentioned them.
The Dodgers have lost some of their pitching depth by trading away Kenta Maeda and witnessing David Price opt out. However, this just means that Ross Stripling finally has a chance to start. Kershaw remains, if only excellent and not otherworldly, Walker Buehler is already one of the best pitchers alive at 26 years old, and baseball fans can hope for as much Julio Urias as possible. Alex Wood may seem like an after-thought, but I desperately wanted him for the Phillies. The Dodgers can even still Dodger with Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin in the carousel.
It’s going to be the Dodgers. It would be irresponsible to say anything else. However:
Who I Want It to Be: Arizona Diamondbacks
I love this Diamondbacks team.
The Diamondbacks’ maneuvering in the last couple of seasons has led me to repeatedly claim to have a crush on Mike Hazen, without having any sense of what he looks like. No, I will not do an image search. Just in case it ruins it.
When the Diamondbacks got Carson Kelly and Luke Weaver from the Cardinals for a year of Goldschmidt, I was struck. Woah, I thought. That’s a good trade. I didn’t feel, at the time, as if this were the pervasive opinion. But I was impressed. Subsequently, Hazen traded Zack Greinke for a haul of prospects including Seth Beer and JB Bukauskus, and then he turned around and signed Madison Bumgarner! This year, I might rather have Greinke, but Bumgarner is six years younger, and Hazen got four other players.
The Zac Gallen trade sealed it. I was already very intrigued with what Gallen was doing on the Marlins, and I was baffled as to why the Marlins would agree to that trade. Perhaps Mike Hazen hypnotized them!
Maybe another good reason not to do that image search.
But Gallen is one of the players I am most excited to watch this season, coupled with my baseball-boyfriend Ketel Marte already being on the team. And, perhaps thanks to more of Hazen’s Jedi mind-tricks, the team has now cornered the market on Martes, bringing top player Starling Marte into the fold.
Also, Eduardo Escobar is continually underrated. Nick Ahmed has astonishingly good defense and I feel like I never hear people talking about it. Nick Ahmed, I see your career 76 DRS! Ahmed is fifth in all of MLB in Outs Above Average. I see you, baby. Meanwhile, David Peralta and Christian Walker could very realistically be legitimately great.
Also, Hazen got Kole Calhoun in the offseason. Do you know how many homers Kole Calhoun hit last year? No, seriously. Guess.
The World Series, God Willing We Get That Far
In terms of wild card winners, it seems safe to say they might come from amongst the teams that I have selected as hopeful division winners. Of course, last year’s World Series champion, the Washington Nationals, have an excellent chance here, as well.
The most probable pairing seems to be the Dodgers versus the Yankees, which would delight many Americans but be perhaps the most disappointing outcome for me. I could easily see the Dodgers facing the Rays, or the Twins, if things break right, but the Dodgers seem so much better than any other team in the National League that they seem the highest probability for a championship. They were only small-sample-sized out of it two years in a row, and show no signs of slowing down.
Who I Want It to Be, Besides the Phillies, Obviously
Athletics versus Diamondbacks. Let’s get weird!
Enjoy the season, everyone!
- / 1 year ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.