You’ve probably read that fast starts are going to be important in a 60-game season. That’s mostly true. For instance, even if the Dodgers stumble a bit at the beginning, they’ll still be huge favorites to win an eighth straight National League West title.
Some teams definitely need a good start, and possibly not for the reasons you might think. Yes, the standings are important. For some teams, though, a good start is also about building confidence that a club can be what it hopes to be.
Could an under-the-radar team ride a nice start right into October? Could a team being picked to finish near the bottom of the standings shock an entire sport? Possibilities abound, right?
A fast start is especially important to these five teams:
Early schedule: 6 of 13 vs. Marlins
The Phillies could use a nice start to erase the disappointment of an 81-81 2019 season and to tamp down potential doubts from eight consecutive seasons out of the playoffs. This team is potentially very good thanks to a potentially excellent rotation, some intriguing rookies and an offense anchored by Bryce Harper, a 27-year-old former NL MVP who would surprise virtually no one by having a great season.
2) White Sox
Early schedule: 13 of 16 vs. Twins, Indians and Brewers
No team has a brighter future than this one, and no matter what happens this season, the White Sox are positioned to contend as all that elite young talent gets settled in. While that process is difficult to fast track, the White Sox have veterans like Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion to be an example for the young players. A fast start would do wonders for the group’s confidence, but a tough early schedule will be a challenge.
Early schedule: 7 of 14 vs. Royals and Pirates
The Cubs haven’t won a postseason game since 2017, and amid a flurry of offseason talk that management was considering blowing up the roster, a fast start would go a long way toward settling things down. It would also allow new manager David Ross to infuse some confidence into the group and to put the focus on the Cubs many strengths. This is a team with no glaring weakness in an NL Central race in which four teams -- Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, Brewers -- are good enough to win.
Early schedule: 9 of 16 vs. Mariners and Rangers
The Angels had a great offseason in adding one of baseball’s 10 best players (Anthony Rendon), one of the game’s best managers (Joe Maddon) and three veteran starting pitchers (Dylan Bundy, Matt Andriese and Julio Teheran). Now, if the Angels can get through a season without having their pitching staff obliterated by injuries, this is a club that can contend for a postseason berth.
Early schedule: 11 of 17 vs. Cubs, Indians and Brewers
This team has been transformed in the past 18 months with additions up and down the roster. What the Reds really need is the kind of start that can instill confidence and make sure they understand they’re good enough to go toe to toe with the Brewers, Cardinals and Cubs. Manager David Bell has so much outfield depth that he may need time to figure out the various roles. Compared to last season, when only five teams scored fewer runs, that’s a nice problem to have.
The Reds will be tested early, and if they can survive that storm, they will be in great shape.