There’s no book on a season like this. How do you manage your roster when your team’s first 60 games are also its last 60?
Everything is on the table -- bullpen usage, days off, sense of urgency -- and it’s all uncharted territory. Which managers will do the best job adjusting? How will players be impacted by empty ballparks?
One thing on which we can all agree: We’ve missed live games. Amid the uncertainty and the fear and all the rest of 2020, we’re positioned for a whirlwind of a season.
Here are seven predictions that might blow your mind:
1) 60 games won’t settle things
This season promised September chaos even with a 162-game schedule. That’s because at least 20 teams see a reasonable path to the postseason. A shortened regular season means that teams with young depth -- Padres, Blue Jays and White Sox, for example -- have a chance to rotate their rosters and play the hot hand. That further evens the playing field at a time when some division races are too close to call. So be prepared for a regular season that will have a few days tacked onto the end. Back in 2014, if the season ended after 60 games, there would have been three-team tiebreakers for the second Wild Card in both leagues. Imagine that.
2) National League fans will love the designated hitter.
Look, NL fans only think they hate the DH. They’ve convinced themselves that it’s not real baseball (it is) and that it takes a strategic element away from the game (it’s complicated). Besides that, the era of pitchers hitting has passed. NL pitchers batted .131 in 2019, and that’s no one’s idea of fun.
NL fans will grow to love the DH because it gets their favorite players in the lineup more often. Instead of giving your favorite third baseman a day off, he can DH for a game. Also, the strategic challenges are interesting: All of a sudden, managers won’t have pitching changes dictated by when the pitcher’s spot comes up in the batting order. They’ll have to make the call themselves.
3) Someone is going to hit .400. Looking at you, Joey Votto.
He’s 36 years old and coming off a 2019 season in which he did not meet his usual Hall of Fame standard. All of which means he’s going to have a monster 2020 season since he’s healthy, excited and surrounded by talented players. In a short season, Votto’s ability to draw walks actually increases his chance of hitting .400. For example, in 2012, he had a 60-game stretch where he hit .376, and that was partially because he had 45 free passes and just 205 at-bats (77 hits). The fewer at-bats a qualifier has, the more likely he is to get a bit lucky in the quest for .400.
His Reds are a solid dark-horse World Series pick, and Cincinnati is spectacularly beautiful in October. Few players deserve baseball’s biggest stage more than Votto, and in a 60-game sprint, he just might do something insane.
4) Ronald Acuña Jr. will be the NL MVP anyway.
Why not? Acuña impacts games in all sorts of ways and will be a top-five player for the next decade or so. Look at how he filled up a stat line in his first full MLB season (2019): 41 homers, 37 stolen bases, 127 runs. He’s also a very good outfielder, and at 22 years old, he will get better in every area.
5) Joe Maddon is about to have his finest hour.
The new Angels manager prides himself on his optimism and thinking outside the box. The circumstances of the 2020 season have his name written all over them. The Angels could have their best rotation in years, and Maddon’s ability to entertain, distract and convince his players not to sweat the small stuff sets him up to complete another line on his Cooperstown resume.
6) Astros will rock the world at the Trade Deadline.
No team is more motivated to win the World Series than the Astros. Team owner Jim Crane believes that would ease the sting of the sign-stealing scandal that has tainted the 2017 championship in the eyes of many, and he’ll give his baseball operations people the go-ahead to think big at the Aug. 31st Trade Deadline. He wants them to think big. Jake Arrieta and Mike Minor would be nice fits if their teams fade, but the Astros could make a run at J.T. Realmuto or perhaps even Francisco Lindor. Nothing will be off the table.
7) Asterisk? Actually, winning this World Series might be the most satisfying of them all.
Consider what these players have been through since February. Spring Training opens. Spring Training shuts down. Practice facilities? Plenty of players had little or no access for at least two months. Now, a season in which an unseen opponent adds a degree of uncertainty and anxiety into everything will be played under the oddest circumstances imaginable. So the team that emerges with the World Series title is going to cherish it beyond words.