What If the 2019 MLB Season Had Ended After 60 Games?
Due to extraordinary circumstances that don't really require any further elaboration, the 2020 Major League Baseball season will be only 60 games long.
You can rest assured that weird things are going to happen. One way we know that is because we dove into what last season would have looked like if it had ended after only 60 games.
There were eight things in particular that caught our eye. Three pertain to specific teams, while the other five have to do with specific players. What all eight have in common is that they teased storylines that didn't ultimately pan out after 162 games.
Let's take it away.
The Eventual World Series Champs Would Have Missed the Playoffs
Last year ended in triumph for the Washington Nationals, as they overcame challenge after challenge in October en route to their first-ever World Series championship.
But if the season had ended after only 60 games, they wouldn't have even made the playoffs.
The Nats were just 27-33 at that point, leaving them well out of first place in the National League East. The thinking at the time was that they might even give up and sell ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, and that even ace right-hander Max Scherzer could be available.
This was, however, when the Nationals were already in the early stages of a turnaround since they had hit bottom with a 19-31 record on May 23. That eventually snowballed into a 74-38 run that netted them the NL's top wild-card spot.
The rest, as they say, is...well, you know.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs Would Have Been Playoff Teams
Last year's Nationals had to settle for a wild-card spot, of course, because the Atlanta Braves captured their second straight NL East title on the strength of 97 wins.
But after 60 games, the Philadelphia Phillies were matching the Braves at 33-27. Though $330 million newcomer Bryce Harper was off to a modest start, Andrew McCutchen and Rhys Hoskins were picking up the slack.
Meanwhile in the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs co-led the division with the Milwaukee Brewers at 34-26. That had much to do with the red-hot foursome of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras.
Had the season ended at that point, tiebreakers would have been needed to determine the champions of the NL East and NL Central. But since no other club in the National League was better than 31-29 at the time, the Braves, Phillies, Cubs and Brewers all would have been playoff clubs anyway.
In the actual end, however, only the Braves and Brewers made it. The Phillies went 48-54 the rest of the way, while the Cubs finished with a 50-52 mark. Both clubs fell short of October.
The Texas Rangers Would Have Been a Playoff Team
In the American League, the playoff picture after 60 games looked a lot like it did at the end of the season.
The New York Yankees (38-22), Minnesota Twins (40-20) and Houston Astros (40-20) topped the AL East, AL Central and AL West, respectively. For their part, the Tampa Bay Rays led the wild-card race at 37-23.
Yet there would have been an upset in the race for the AL's second wild card. At 32-28 through 60 games, the Texas Rangers would have nabbed the honors over the defending champion Boston Red Sox, who started at just 31-29.
Trouble was, these Rangers were coming off a 95-loss season and not very well-equipped to maintain their strong start. They ultimately didn't, going just 46-56 the rest of the way.
That opened a window for the Oakland Athletics, who blew past the Rangers and Red Sox in finishing with a 67-35 record in their final 102 games.
Joey Gallo Might Have Been the AL MVP
If anyone's wondering how the Rangers were so good early in 2019, Joey Gallo had much to do with it.
Gallo entered last season with a reputation as a dangerous yet beatable slugger. To wit, the 81 home runs he hit across 2017 and 2018 came with just a .208 average.
But at the Rangers' 60-game mark, Gallo was hitting a robust .276 with a 1.074 OPS and 17 home runs. According to FanGraphs, he had also accumulated 2.9 wins above replacement.
If the season had ended right then and there, the combination of Gallo's superb production and the Rangers' surprising record might have made him the top choice for the AL MVP.
In actuality, Gallo was already beginning to deal with a pattern of injuries that eventually limited him to 70 games. Unsurprisingly, Mike Trout won his third MVP.
Jake Odorizzi Would Have Been the AL's ERA Champion
The Twins were able to ride their hot start in 2019 to a final tally of 101 wins largely because they hit home runs better than any other team in history.
Still, all those long balls would have been for naught if the '19 Twins couldn't also pitch. Early on, nobody was doing that better than Jake Odorizzi.
In the wake of a pedestrian 4.49 ERA in 2018, Odorizzi found himself working on a 1.96 ERA through his first 12 starts of 2019. At the Twins' 60-game mark on June 5, that was the lowest figure among AL starters.
Yet even at the time, there were reasons aplenty to be skeptical that Odorizzi could keep his ERA so low. He ultimately didn't, finishing the year with a 4.56 ERA over his final 18 starts.
Gerrit Cole Would Not Have Been Worth $324 Million
Why were the Yankees comfortable signing Cole to a record-setting nine-year, $324 million contract? Probably mostly because of what he did with the Houston Astros.
After years of his results lagging behind his potential with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he picked some tricks up from the Astros and went off for a 2.68 ERA across 2018 and 2019.
Yet there was a time when Cole's newfound stardom seemed to be escaping him. He had finished 2018 with an 3.50 ERA in the second half, and so it went as he compiled a 3.94 ERA through his first 13 starts of 2019.
If Cole had continued on that track, he would have entered free agency with the same scouting report with which he'd arrived in Houston: ace-level stuff, but not an ace.
What actually happened was that he finished the regular season with a 1.67 ERA and 210 strikeouts in his final 20 starts, plus a 1.72 ERA and 47 strikeouts in October. Hence his $324 million payday.
Christian Yelich Would Have Been MLB's Home Run King
In the latter half of 2018, Christian Yelich shot his way to MVP honors by going off for a 1.219 OPS and 25 home runs.
Acts don't get much harder to follow than that, yet Yelich was just as hot out of the gate in 2019.
At the Brewers' 60-game mark on June 2, he was hitting .320/.432/.722 with 22 home runs. The latter figure put him two up on Cody Bellinger and Pete Alonso, who both had 20 home runs through their teams' first 60 games, for the major league lead.
To his credit, Yelich never really cooled down. But once his season ended on September 10 when he broke his kneecap, he was powerless to match Alonso's pace to 53 home runs.
Still, this is an occasion to appreciate just how hot Yelich was between the end of 2018 and the start of 2019. He hit 47 home runs in only 119 games, which is a 64-homer pace over a full season.
Cody Bellinger Would Have Had the Highest Average in 20 Years
Given how short the 2020 season is going to be, one of the many questions being asked is whether somebody will become the first hitter since Ted Williams in 1941 to hit over .400.
Granted, any hitter who does reach that mark won't escape either an official or unofficial asterisk. It's also far from a given that a .400 average will happen even despite the shortened season.
Still, some kind of extraordinary batting average could be in the offing. And if he starts as hot as he did last year, Bellinger might provide it.
The eventual NL MVP was actually hitting .404 as late as May 21 last year. He cooled after that, but he was still hitting a league-best .376 through the Los Angeles Dodgers' 60th game on June 2.
Though that's 24 points away from the .400 threshold, it still would have netted Bellinger the highest average by a batting title qualifier since Larry Walker in 1999 if the season had ended early.