This year is not normal. In life, in sports, or in baseball. Nothing is going to be normal this baseball season. It’s 60 games, players are still getting sick despite guidelines and divisional alignments and rule changes and what not. It’s kind of a mess.
But most of the time, baseball is a mess, or at least it seems like it.
Even though the data tells us that this year probably won’t be much different than a normal season, it still feels weird to have the same confidence about everything that we would normally… which teams will be good, who can make the playoffs, who is going to suck. None of this feels normal, so why would it be normal?
That’s what this column, which debuts today and will finish tomorrow, is going to try and do. We’re going to look at every non-normal scenario that could play out this season, and that comes in the form of who we could see winning the World Series or not. Turns out, there aren’t many teams that can’t do it. One of them plays tonight. Let’s start there.
Sorry, but nope:
San Francisco has a roster very similar to the Seattle Mariners (More on them tomorrow), where no direction is very clear. The Giants roster is practically the same one they’ve had from the past two World Series championships (2012 and 2014), except everyone is old and sucks now (Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, is that enough?). Alex Dickerson and Mike Yaztremski burst on the scene last year and can plug a couple holes, but they aren’t exactly young either (Yaz will soon be 30 and Dickerson already is that age). Joey Bart will likely take over for Buster Posey this season, who opted out of the 60 game season. Bart and Mauricio Dubon represent some exciting youth on this roster, but aside from them, it is slim pickings.
Now for the three others who can:
It’s a complete disaster for Los Angeles if they don’t win the World Series this year, pending bad luck (2017’s loss can count as that). Even in what could be a flukey short season, their talent is just supreme over the rest of the league. The Dodgers are the favorite because unlike the Yankees, it’s hard to predict major bad injury luck. Since their rise, New York has been decimated practically every year, which tempers down our expectations for them in a season. This one is no different. With LA, we aren’t expecting them to underachieve instinctively. No one can blame them if they do because of injuries, but if collapses come in the form of 2018 and 2019 again, then Dave Roberts could see the end of his tenure as Dodgers manager. Thankfully, they now have Mookie Betts locked up and prevented from bolting.
Being the favorites in a 162 game season compressed to 60 shouldn’t bode well for Los Angeles. In no other year are we looking at 22 other teams that have a shot at winning the World Series – their competition has severely increased. But for the Dodgers, it really shouldn’t matter. They’re more talented than the Yankees; what other team is close to having AJ Pollack, Chris Taylor and Kike Hernandez all vie for one spot in the outfield (This assumes Joc Pederson is in a DH role)? What about Matt Beaty as rolling infielder along with Taylor and Hernandez? Who has Dustin May in the bullpen because they can get away with and be comfortable having Ross Stripling or Tony Gonsolin in the rotation instead? Who has two of the best four outfielders in baseball in the same outfield?
There’s no excuses anymore for this team aside from injury. But it’s gotten to the point the past two years where it’s hard to keep picking them over and over again.
It seems ridiculous to pick against the Dodgers but we know what we get ourselves into when we do it. Maybe this time around, we won’t actually be let down.
The Nationals had one of the flukiest, most impressive regular season and eventual World Series runs ever last year, and in a season where flukiness could reign king, Washington might be set up well again.
The lineup looks much different than it did last year. Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman are gone – Rendon signed with the Angels while Zimmerman opted out of the 2020 season. Eric Thames will be playing 1st in combination with Howie Kendrick, while highly-touted youngster Carter Keiboom will be handling the hot corner. Starlin Castro slides in at second, with Astrubal Cabrera taking on more of a bench role, and Thursday it was announced that Juan Soto has contracted COVID-19 and will be out for obviously a good chunk of time. Michael Taylor figures to be his replacement.
It’s the type of lineup that makes you wonder how this team won the World Series last year. Part of it is the turnover, but part of it is that this team just wasn’t that good last year until it really mattered. It truly was flukey.
But the starting pitching certainly helped. That was the heart of that Nationals team, and it has to be again this year given some of this roster’s deficiencies. They arguably possess the best rotation in baseball, and that’s still the case considering their fifth starter – Joe Ross – opted out. Washington has had success getting nobodies or unlikely contributors to preform well – fourth starter Anibal Sanchez is a perfect example –so Austin Voth taking over Ross’ spot should be met with confidence.
The bullpen is just as shaky as it was last season, but they were able to survive. That was coupled with what seemed to be much more potent offense, though.
If it happened last year, than a Nationals World Series championship can absolutely happen again this year. How much luck they get from the shortened season will just have to outweigh the value lost in the lineup.
It’s not a Dodgers-level disaster for New York if they don’t win the World Series, but it’s pretty close.
There are a couple reasons for that, one of which was alluded to above. First, our expectations traditionally have been lower for the Yankees recently due to what feels like an injury bug that plagues them every year. New York is destined to lose multiple key contributors during every season, and before the first pitch of Opening Day Thursday, they already have.
Luis Severino underwent Tommy John Surgery and will be out for all of this season and possibly part of next. Aroldis Chapman is fine after having COVID-19 but is still getting back into baseball shape and won’t be ready right away. Masahiro Tanaka was struck in the head by a liner during summer camp and will be on IL with a concussion.
Tanaka’s injury is a killer. Though it’s not a long term injury, a few weeks can mean a lot this season. It already wasn’t necessarily a strength to have him be the team’s third starter – 2019 was a rough go for him.
The Yankees have one guarantee in the rotation in Gerrit Cole. Aside from that, James Paxton nor JA Happ have been what New York thought they were getting. Mike Montgomery will need to rekindle his 2017 season and stay healthy to be a viable option.
The good news for New York is that their lineup and bullpen are both awesome, and in this shortened season, the Yankees could easily pivot to bull-penning a game or two if the back of their rotation falls apart.
Injuries are one thing for New York – they’re inevitable and can’t really be blamed on anything. But the questions in the rotation are the second reason why it’s not a full-scale catastrophe if the Yankees can’t win the whole thing. It might seem hard to believe, but they are really up against it in certain areas, and their division and schedule won’t help.
Final standings for the four teams listed:
Win-loss records will not be given this year
Giants: 5th in NL West
Dodgers: 1st in NL West, Win World Series
Nationals: 3rd in NL East
Yankees: 1st in AL East, lose in ALDS
Full standings will be released in Part 2 tomorrow