Bleacher Report's 2020 MLB Season Preview and Predictions
Given the unprecedented nature of this season's 60-game schedule, anything could happen in Major League Baseball in 2020. Only fools would try to make predictions.
Well, we happen to resemble that remark.
We usually do it a lot earlier than the latter half of July, but we've nonetheless drawn up our annual predictions for the latest baseball season. From breakout players to statistical leaders to award winners to playoff teams to the World Series champion, we've got it all covered.
We'll consider ourselves lucky if one or two of these come true. All the same, it's time to get on with it.
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Post-Hype Breakouts: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Julio Urias
American League: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
Even though Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was only 20 when the Toronto Blue Jays called him up on April 26, 2019, the hype for his debut had been building for a long time. He unfortunately didn't live up to it in posting a modest .772 OPS and 1.5 rWAR in 123 games.
Mercifully, Toronto has since moved Guerrero across the diamond to first base. His limited athleticism should play better there. And if he taps into the form that resulted in an .882 OPS and all 15 of his homers during an 83-game stretch last season, he'll also have a stick befitting of his new position.
National League: Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers
Julio Urias was surrounded by loads of hype in his own right when he debuted with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a 19-year-old in 2016. But in part because of left shoulder surgery in 2017 and a domestic violence-related suspension in 2019, stardom has eluded him.
With a rotation spot in hand, this looks like a year for Urias to start fresh and break through. To this end, his 3.18 career ERA and titillating underlying metrics foreshadow great things.
Biggest Names Traded: Martinez, Giles, Villar and Yates
In case anyone missed it, the trade deadline was moved from July 31 to August 31. That's barely over a month from now, and there will be only about one more month of baseball after it passes.
As such, Joel Sherman of the New York Post broke down how the summer market won't be ideal for traditional blockbusters. Rather than trades of Francisco Lindor and Nolan Arenado, there may only be salary dumps and relatively low-risk rentals.
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
After trading Mookie Betts and David Price and losing Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery, the Boston Red Sox could be in for a rough season. If things go really south, they might look to move star slugger J.D. Martinez and the remainder of his $110 million contract.
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays will begin this year hoping to surprise everyone with a trip to the playoffs. But if it becomes apparent that they have more rebuilding to do, look for them to move ace closer Ken Giles before free agency beckons him this winter.
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres
The same logic that applies to Giles and the Blue Jays also applies to Kirby Yates and the San Diego Padres. And after saving 41 games with a 1.19 ERA in 2019, he'd be a major prize if he indeed hits the market.
Jonathan Villar, Miami Marlins
Whit Merrifield could be the most sought-after utility man on this summer's market. But if the Kansas City Royals remain reluctant to trade him, teams will likely pivot to Jonathan Villar. The Miami Marlins only control him through the end of this season.
Batting Leaders: Bellinger, Trout, Yelich, Gallo, Turner and Betts
Batting Average: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
He hit "only" .305 in 2019, but his average was over .400 even after 47 games at the outset of the season, and his expected average ended up at an MLB-high .323. We also like his chances because he takes his walks and makes plentiful and loud contact.
On-Base Percentage: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout has led the majors in OBP in three of the past four years, so we'll go ahead and take a layup here.
Slugging Percentage: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
This is another layup, as Christian Yelich has slugged a Bonds-ian .705 since the 2018 All-Star break. Efficiency has been the big key there, as 37.1 percent of his fly balls have gone over the fence.
Home Runs: Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
Efficiency is nice and all, but Joey Gallo's humongous raw power has our attention. He hit fly balls and line drives at an average of 101.2 mph in 2019, during which he was on an early 56-homer pace before his injury trouble began.
Stolen Bases: Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
Trea Turner is one of very few players whose average sprint speed is over 30 feet per second. He also gets on base pretty well, and there could be more pressure on him to run now that the Washington Nationals no longer have Anthony Rendon batting behind him.
Wins Above Replacement: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
Mookie Betts is always one of the league's top defenders and baserunners, and the offensive outburst that fueled his 10.6-WAR year in 2018 wasn't necessarily a one-time thing. Though his OPS fell 163 points from 2018 to 2019, some of that was bad luck.
Pitching Leaders: Cole, Flaherty, Cole, Darvish, Hendriks and Cole
Wins: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
Because the season is only 60 games long and teams may be quicker to yank starters in favor of relievers, this is going to be an extremely lean year in the win department. But Gerrit Cole should do fine, as he's arguably the best there is and is backed by a powerful lineup and a lockdown bullpen.
Earned Run Average: Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
To lead the majors in ERA, Jack Flaherty only needs to pick up where he left off after posting a 0.93 mark over his last 16 starts of 2019. It can only help that he'll face strictly American League and National League Central teams this year. Out of the two divisions, only the Minnesota Twins have a great offense.
Strikeouts: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
Walks/Hits per Innings Pitched: Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs
Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom would be a more sensible pick here. But we're intrigued by Yu Darvish, who allowed only 66 hits and issued just seven walks in his last 14 outings of 2019.
Saves: Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics
In this scenario, the sensible pick is someone like Yates or Josh Hader. But in 2019, nobody racked up more saves than Liam Hendriks after the Oakland Athletics finally let him close a game on June 22.
Wins Above Replacement: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
As evidenced by Aaron Nola in 2018 and Mike Minor in 2019, a pitcher can lead the league in WAR despite not being as dominant as some of his peers. Yet it seems safe to simply pick the league's best pitcher to lead in WAR this season. For our money, that's Cole.
American League Award Winners: Murphy, Cole and Bregman
Rookie of the Year: Sean Murphy, Oakland Athletics
Chicago White Sox center fielder Luis Robert is a good bet to win the Rookie of the Year in the American League. The catch with him, though, is that his next major league game will also be his first.
Not so with Sean Murphy, who made the most of his 20-game cameo with the A's in 2019 by putting up an .899 OPS. That was in line with his recent production in the minors, and he's also billed as a talented defender behind the dish.
Cy Young Award: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
But no matter. If he lives up to his billing (and our obviously high expectations) in the first season of his $324 million deal with the New York Yankees, he'll win it this year.
Most Valuable Player: Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
Trout has already won three AL MVP awards and should arguably be favored to win his fourth in 2020. Yet he's probably going to miss some time in August for the birth of his and his wife's first child.
That would be an opening for Alex Bregman. He's generally gotten better every year, and he perhaps should have won the MVP in 2019 on the strength of his 1.015 OPS, 41 homers and AL-high 9.1 WAR.
National League Award Winners: Lux, deGrom and Betts
Rookie of the Year: Gavin Lux, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers raised eyebrows Tuesday when they optioned Gavin Lux to the minors their alternative training facility for the start of the season.
But don't worry. He'll be back. There's an opening for him at second base, and his sky-high upside is still apparent in the absurd .347/.421/.607 batting line that he posted at Double-A and Triple-A a year ago.
Cy Young Award: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
We may not have deGrom leading the majors in any key categories this season, but that was also the case in 2019, and he won a second straight NL Cy Young Award anyway.
Otherwise, the 2.05 ERA and stellar 5.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio that deGrom has put up over the last two years pretty much speak for themselves.
Most Valuable Player: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
As Trout, Bryce Harper, Cody Bellinger and Betts himself can vouch, leading the majors in WAR is a pretty good way to also earn an MVP. Doing so and leading one's team to the playoffs is even better.
To these ends, our stance on Betts' WAR outlook is clear, and there isn't much doubt that the Dodgers are the best team in the National League.
AL East Champs: New York Yankees
From top to bottom, the Tampa Bay Rays might have the best pitching staff in the American League. Further, what their offense lacks in stars, it more than makes up for with sheer depth.
But after winning 103 games to the Rays' 96 in 2019, the Yankees still look like the team to beat in the AL East.
They're mostly going to thrive on their offense, which Giancarlo Stanton rightfully called "unmatched" if he and Aaron Judge can stay healthy for this year's 60-game sprint. After all, the Yankees hit 306 homers last season even though both of said sluggers missed substantial time with injuries.
Apropos of their needing to do it all over again, the Yankees also proved in 2019 that they can live without Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery). And that was without Cole atop their rotation. Throw in an intimidating bullpen headlined by Aroldis Chapman and a deft manager in Aaron Boone, and the Yankees have everything you could want in a contender.
AL Central Champs: Minnesota Twins
As per usual, there's a good ballclub in Cleveland this season. That's also the case on the south side of Chicago, where the White Sox are hellbent on making their first postseason since 2008.
But is either clearly better than the Minnesota Twins? Eh...no, not really.
The Twins are returning all the key members of last year's Nelson Cruz-led "Bomba Squad," which set a single-season record with 307 home runs. Considering that it was also outfitted with 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson over the winter, Minnesota's lineup figures to be no less dangerous in 2020.
The Twins likewise saw to their pitching depth by bringing back Jake Odorizzi and adding Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey. So while they obviously can't win as many as 101 games again, they're a clear favorite to repeat as division champs.
AL West Champs: Houston Astros
Even if the Houston Astros have won over 100 games in three straight seasons, it's oh-so tempting to pick the A's to win the AL West.
Their pitching staff is loaded with unsung yet solid arms, and there's even more to like about their lineup. Between Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Marcus Semien, Ramon Laureano, Mark Canha and a healthy and hungry Khris Davis, it has one of the strongest cores of any lineup.
Trouble is, Oakland's pitching depth has already been afflicted by A.J. Puk's shoulder strain and Jesus Luzardo's bout with the coronavirus. Both rookie left-handers are now on the outside looking in at a starting rotation that was supposed to be buoyed by them.
So, the Astros it is. They have some red flags of their own, but they still have Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke leading their rotation and—Yordan Alvarez's curious absence aside—most of an offense that authored an all-time great performance in 2019.
AL Wild Cards: Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics
Wild Card 1: Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays won 96 games last year even though aces Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow missed time with injuries and super-reliever Nick Anderson was only with the team for the last two months of the season.
Health permitting, all three will be among the main drivers of Tampa Bay's outstanding pitching staff in 2020. And even if the Rays won't have an "everyday" lineup, manager Kevin Cash has more than enough options with which to craft a functional offense and perhaps an even better defense.
Wild Card 2: Oakland Athletics
Cleveland mounted a strong wild-card push in 2019, and it figures to do so again this year. The White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and maybe the Red Sox and Blue Jays also figure to be in on it.
But even if they fall short of the Astros again, the A's look too good to miss out on October. Their offense can carry them, and manager Bob Melvin could win his fourth Manager of the Year award if he can keep his pitching staff in line.
NL East Champs: Washington Nationals
Whereas the American League has a status quo feel to it this year, the National League looks a lot messier.
The state of the NL East has much to do with that. The Marlins are out, but Atlanta, Washington and New York are back in the mix after finishing over .500 last season. The Phillies don't quite measure up on paper, but guys like Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler are emblematic of their very real upside.
But if there is a "safe" pick to win the NL East, it has to be the reigning World Series champions.
The Nationals lost Rendon from their offense over the winter, but wunderkind Juan Soto is still there and he has some solid support. Even better, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are still in place in Washington's rotation. And best of all, this team has gotten more rest than any reigning champ in history.
NL Central Champs: Cincinnati Reds
Much like the one in the NL East, the NL Central race also looks like it's going to be a toss-up.
The Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs are in after vying for the top spot in last year's race, and the Reds threw their hat in the ring during an expensive offseason. Heck, even the Pittsburgh Pirates don't look hopeless.
What pulls us in the direction of the Reds is the potential of their rotation. Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo were All-Stars in 2019, and Trevor Bauer showed in 2018 that he has Cy Young potential. At the back end, Wade Miley and Anthony DeSclafani are both solid.
The Reds offense will have to do better than the 4.3 runs per game that it scored in 2019. Newcomers Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama will help with that. The Reds can also hope for more of the same from 49-homer slugger Eugenio Suarez and maybe a vintage year from Joey Votto.
NL West Champs: Los Angeles Dodgers
Then there's the NL West race, which has been won by the Dodgers seven times in a row. And counting.
After winning 85 games in 2019 and promptly adding Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun, the Arizona Diamondbacks look like a winner. And especially if they get more from Manny Machado, the San Diego Padres could be as well.
These two clubs might have a shot at the Dodgers if certain things go wrong in Los Angeles. The Boys in Blue no longer have Hyun-Jin Ryu, after all. Plus, David Price opted out of the season, and Clayton Kershaw (32) and Kenley Jansen (32) aren't getting any younger.
Yet the Dodgers have two MVPs (Betts and Bellinger) at the heart of the National League's deepest offense. And even if Kershaw and Jansen falter, youngsters like Urias, Walker Buehler, Dustin May and Brusdar Graterol should be there to pick up the slack.
NL Wild Cards: Atlanta and Chicago Cubs
Wild Card 1: Atlanta
Even if the NL divisional races align as we anticipate, the wild-card race will be a free-for-all between Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Arizona, San Diego and maybe the Pirates and Colorado Rockies.
But if we must back two teams, we'll pick Atlanta as one of them. Ronald Acuna Jr. is going to be in the running for the NL MVP award, and there's enough pitching depth to weather the early absences of Cole Hamels (shoulder inflammation) and Will Smith (coronavirus).
Wild Card 2: Chicago Cubs
Why the Cubs for the NL's second wild-card spot? It's definitely not because of their bullpen, which has problems even beyond Craig Kimbrel's apparently unending decline.
What the Cubs do have, though, is a strong lineup anchored by Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras. There's also a fair deal of upside in their rotation, and new manager David Ross might be able to steer the club away from the underperformance issues that hampered it in 2019.
American League Championship Series: Yankees over Astros
Let's assume that the A's get the Rays back for last year's AL Wild Card Game, only to then be outclassed by Verlander, Greinke and Houston's offense in the division series.
In the other ALDS, let's also assume that the Yankees beat the Twins. Because that's just what happens when those two teams meet in October.
Thus would the American League Championship Series pit the Yankees against the Astros for the third time in the last four years. And as much as the Yankees might want revenge for being on the losing end of an unlevel series in 2017, the Astros would surely feel confident about beating them yet again.
The funny thing about the 2019 ALCS, though, is that the Yankees actually outhit (.673 OPS to a .600 OPS) and outpitched (3.13 ERA to a 3.44 ERA) the Astros despite losing in six games.
Assuming they can make it there at full strength, the Yankees would bring at least as good an offense to this year's ALCS. They'd also have Cole in their rotation, plus a bullpen that figures to be fresher thanks to its greatly reduced workload. As a result, revenge would indeed be theirs.
National League Championship Series: Dodgers over Nationals
For the NL Wild Card Game, let's assume the Cubs win a slugfest against Atlanta to set up a rematch of the 2016 National League Championship Series. Only this time, the Dodgers would have the upper hand.
The other NLDS matchup between the Nationals and Reds would be a clash between two good rotations. But when it comes down to it, the Scherzer-Strasburg-Corbin trio is better than the Gray-Castillo-Bauer trio.
This scenario would reunite the Dodgers and Nationals in the NLCS for a grudge match of their tilt in the NLDS last season. That one was won by the Nats in five games.
This time around, Washington's hurlers would be up against a considerably stronger Dodgers offense. The Nats would be weaker in that regard, as Rendon wouldn't be able to hurt the Dodgers like he did—e.g., five runs batted in and a huge homer in Game 5—in last year's series.
So albeit on a smaller scale than the Yankees over the Astros, the Dodgers would also be in for revenge in the NLCS.
World Series: Yankees over Dodgers
Yet the Yankees' odds of winning it all aren't long in their own right. And if they do indeed come up against the Dodgers in the Fall Classic, they would have several advantages.
Though the Dodgers would have the series' best overall players (Betts and Bellinger), the Yankees' edge in power would be heightened by how their mostly right-handed lineup would get to face three left-handed starters: Kershaw, Urias and Alex Wood.
The Yankees would also boast the series' best pitcher (Cole), and their own lefties (James Paxton, J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery) would have a leg up on same-sided sluggers such as Bellinger, Max Muncy and Corey Seager. Plus, Chapman and Zack Britton would be the series' two best relief pitchers.
A seven-game series would be a real possibility if the Dodgers and Yankees clash in the World Series. But ultimately, the Yankees would win their first title since 2009 while extending the Dodgers' drought to 32 years.