MLB Contenders That Will Benefit from Delayed Start to 2020 Season
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Major League Baseball has pushed back the start of its 2020 season. But in a roundabout sort of way, the delay, which figures to last at least until Memorial Day on May 25, should prove beneficial for some teams' contention chances.
There are seven in particular that we think are worth talking about. The implications here are almost entirely injury-related, though there are also broader circumstances at play.
We'll start with the team that could benefit the least of the seven and end with the one that could benefit the most.
To be fair, the Washington Nationals were actually set to begin the season in good health.
Right fielder Adam Eaton had to sit out a week's worth of Grapefruit League action with a tight hamstring, but he was back on the field before the remainder of spring training was canceled on March 12. Veteran reliever Will Harris was dealing with an abdominal issue, but he hadn't been ruled out for Opening Day.
Rather, the delay could spare the Nationals from a World Series hangover. They now have extra time to recover and prepare after going all the way to Game 7 of the Fall Classic in 2019. That, plus what will presumably be a shortened schedule, can only help them stay fresh through the end of 2020.
There are obviously no guarantees, but such things could make them the first repeat champions since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees.
The Philadelphia Phillies, meanwhile, will be gunning for their first National League East title since 2011 when the 2020 season opens.
This won't be easy, but having veteran left fielder Andrew McCutchen for a "full" season should help. The 2013 NL MVP wasn't expected to be recovered from a torn ACL in time for the original Opening Day on March 26. Whenever it comes, he'll presumably be 100 percent healthy for the rescheduled opener.
Likewise, 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta should be over the shoulder stiffness that forced him out of his last spring training start on March 12. Relief pitchers Victor Arano (elbow) and Tommy Hunter (flexor tendon) could also be good to go.
In short, that's all sorts of potentially good news for a club that needs as many able bodies as it can get.
Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels should score plenty of runs this season, but that will only matter if their pitching staff surpasses expectations.
To this end, two-way wonder Shohei Ohtani may not have to miss any starts after all. The Angels' plan had been for him to make his return to the mound in mid-May. Because the delay will likely extend beyond then, he might even be able to take the ball for the Angels' opener.
It's less of a sure thing that right-hander Griffin Canning, who pitched 90.1 solid innings in 2019, will be recovered from elbow discomfort in time for Opening Day. Yet it's also not out of the question, either.
If the Angels do indeed begin the year with Ohtani, Canning, Julio Teheran, Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney in their starting rotation, they might at least have the firepower for a wild-card berth.
Boston Red Sox
It wasn't that long ago that the Boston Red Sox were in danger of beginning 2020 with major holes in their roster.
There's now a glimmer of hope that ace left-hander Chris Sale will be recovered from a flexor strain in time for Opening Day. Even if the Red Sox have to give him more time for rest and rehab, he could still end up in their rotation for a majority of the likely shortened season.
Fellow hurler Collin McHugh is also healing from a flexor strain, though he's surely further along in his recovery than Sale. Outfielder Alex Verdugo, who was Boston's big prize in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade, should be closer to the end than the beginning of his recovery from a stress fracture in his back.
It's harder to take a glass-half-full viewpoint of the situation with veteran second baseman Dustin Pedroia, but the delay should otherwise work in the Red Sox's favor.
The Cleveland Indians aren't well off in terms of depth, so they'll need their stars to carry them this season.
On that front, the Tribe had been positioned to open without aces Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco. But Carrasco now has more time to heal from an elbow injury that wasn't too serious to begin with. For his part, Clevinger should be fully recovered from knee surgery.
There's also a chance that right-hander Emmanuel Clase, who came over from the Texas Rangers in the Corey Kluber trade, will be over the strain in his upper back. He isn't yet a household name as a reliever, but his triple-digit cutter could change that in a hurry.
If Cleveland does indeed have a full complement of arms come Opening Day, the Minnesota Twins may yet face a challenge for American League Central superiority.
Under ordinary circumstances, the Houston Astros would be preparing for life without Justin Verlander right now.
That's changed. Though the two-time Cy Young Award winner is recovering from a lat strain and groin surgery, he might still make Opening Day if it is pushed to Memorial Day or beyond. That would be huge for a rotation that has question marks even with him in it.
The Astros can also breathe easier with regard to slugger Yordan Alvarez. There's now little question that his sore left knee will be better in time for Opening Day. If so, he'll have no restrictions as he attempts to build on one of the best rookie seasons in history.
The Astros will still be the primary villain of the 2020 season, but having their best pitcher and one of their best hitters for all of it will certainly help them weather the storm.
New York Yankees
After adding Gerrit Cole on a $324 million contract during the offseason, the New York Yankees entered spring training as arguably the World Series favorite in all of baseball.
However, that calculus was thrown for a loop as aces Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery) and James Paxton (spinal surgery) and sluggers Aaron Judge (stress fracture in rib), Giancarlo Stanton (calf strain) and Gary Sanchez (sore back) were all felled by injuries. It seemed to be 2019 all over again.
At least for these purposes, the delay is a welcome reprieve. Though Severino won't be back until 2021, manager Aaron Boone said on MLB Network Radio on Monday that he believes the others will be healthy whenever Opening Day finally rolls around.
If so, the Yankees may again be World Series favorites after all.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.