The Most Exciting MLB Storylines We Can't Wait for Once Shortened Season Begins
The 2020 Major League Baseball season was supposed to be about two weeks old right now. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, there's no telling when or even if the season will be played.
However, there's no harm in looking forward to storylines that still figure to be there when baseball [knocks wood with crossed fingers] boots back up.
To wit, we picked out eight that we think are worth waiting for. They cover a variety of exciting teams, players and trade possibilities that are on the back burner for now, but which would be relevant again even in what will surely be a shortened 2020 season.
Let's count 'em down.
The Toronto Blue Jays and San Diego Padres Await Their Big Break
Not many will pick the Toronto Blue Jays to win the American League East or the San Diego Padres to win the National League West, but nobody should make the mistake of sleeping on them in 2020.
The Blue Jays bolstered their pitching staff with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson over the winter. If they do their job while young hitters Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. evolve into stars, the Blue Jays should move well beyond last year's 95 losses.
The Padres suffered a 92-loss campaign of their own in 2019, but they should get better pitching by way of healthy versions of Garrett Richards and Dinelson Lamet and newcomers Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan. Plus, a lineup built around Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Tommy Pham could be darn good.
Though the Blue Jays and Padres will be underdogs, let's not forget what makes underdogs so appealing: Sometimes they surprise you.
Shohei Ohtani's Return as a 2-Way Star
Since the 2020 season likely won't start until after then, it follows that Ohtani figures to be a member of the Angels' "Opening Day" rotation after all.
That's something worth celebrating, given what we know about the lightning that courses through the 25-year-old's right arm. Albeit in only 10 starts, he racked up a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts as a rookie in 2018. That was mainly through the use of a 96.7 mph fastball and a nasty splitter.
Assuming Ohtani has more of where both that and his .883 OPS and 40 home runs over two seasons came from, he should return to being a one-of-a-kind two-way talent in 2020.
Another Helping of Peak Mike Trout
Elsewhere on the topic of Angels stars to be excited about, there's no player in baseball more worthy of elation than Mike Trout.
A long time has passed since Trout became an everyday player in 2012 and promptly gave himself a hard act to follow by winning the AL Rookie of the Year on the strength of a .963 OPS, 30 homers and 49 stolen bases. But against all odds, all he's done is push the bar higher.
The 28-year-old has been the best hitter in baseball in each of the last three seasons, across which he's averaged a .303/.447/.634 line and 39 homers. Coupled with what he does on the bases and in center field, he's maintained his place as the game's best overall player.
Hence why, no matter when the season opens, Trout will be the odds-on favorite for what would be his fourth AL MVP award.
Jacob deGrom Goes for a 3rd Straight Cy Young Award
To date, only Greg Maddux (1992-1995) and Randy Johnson (1999-2002) have ever won as many as three straight Cy Young Awards.
New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom will be out to add his name in the list in 2020, and the shortened season may only make it easier for him to do so.
In 2018, deGrom ran away with the NL Cy Young Award race by racking up an MLB-best 1.70 ERA with 223 more strikeouts than walks in 217 innings. He somewhat stumbled out of the gate in 2019, but his 2.07 ERA over his last 27 starts clinched a second straight Cy Young.
That's not the first time deGrom has secured a major award with a stellar finish. If he gets into another groove in 2020, there may not be enough time for the competition to catch up with him.
Another Epic Home Run Race Between the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees
It's safe to assume that neither the Minnesota Twins nor the New York Yankees will cross the 300-homer plateau again, but both should still hit dingers aplenty in 2020.
For their part, the Yankees hit 306 homers in 2019 despite having Aaron Judge for just 102 games and Giancarlo Stanton for only 18 games. Both should be in good health when this season opens up, and they'll have plenty of support in the Yankees' slugger-laden lineup.
Though the Twins lost C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop from an offense that smashed 307 homers in 2019, they made up for it by adding 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson. A lineup core of him, Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Mitch Garver and Miguel Sano is arguably as good as it gets.
Even if these two clubs can't hit 300 homers, they might have a shot at 200 in a 100-game season.
The Houston Astros as Baseball's Ultimate Heel
Remember when the Houston Astros were Major League Baseball's biggest pain in the you-know-what?
That was a while ago, but said pain wasn't exactly of the dull variety. Once the details of the sign-stealing scheme that led the Astros to their World Series title in 2017 came to light, the league's integrity was badly damaged and athletes from around the sporting world were righteously ticked off.
This isn't exactly a happy storyline, yet what comes next has always been a source of great intrigue. Will the Astros wilt under the weights of unfettered competition and, in all likelihood, a consistent barrage of beanballs? Or will they lean into their role as baseball's ultimate heel and be both hated and good?
No matter which way the Astros go, one of baseball's greatest all-time scandals figures to get a hell of a sequel.
Gerrit Cole, Mookie Betts and More Familiar Faces in New Places
Regardless of when it opens, the 2020 season will have one of the same charms as every baseball season that came before it: that of familiar faces in new places.
The big ones are certainly Gerrit Cole with the Yankees, Anthony Rendon with the Angels and Mookie Betts with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The first two are fresh off signing contracts worth a sum of $569 million. Betts took the trade route to Los Angeles, where he's due to team up with fellow MVP Cody Bellinger.
Cy Young Award winner David Price was also in the trade that sent Betts to the Dodgers, while fellow aces Madison Bumgarner (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Corey Kluber (Texas Rangers) also changed addresses.
Looking for whole teams that have all-new compositions? Try the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds, who spent nearly $300 million on free agents for the common purpose of returning to the postseason in 2020.
Nolan Arenado, Francisco Lindor and More Big Names on the Trade Block
It may not come on July 31, but the 2020 season presumably will have a trade deadline at some point. And it could be a doozy.
All eyes will be on the Colorado Rockies. They'll go into the 2020 season with good intentions, but Nolan Arenado will invariably become popular again in trade rumors if another losing season starts to materialize.
Similar circumstances could lead Cleveland Indians star Francisco Lindor and Chicago Cubs slugger Kris Bryant back onto the trading block. The delayed start to this season might change things, but for now their service-time clocks are ticking down to free agency after 2021.
After trading Betts and Price and losing Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery, it also wouldn't be the biggest shock if the Boston Red Sox traded more stars. If they do, J.D. Martinez could be the next to go.