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Hitters who could feast on rivals in 2020

@SlangsOnSports
July 5, 2020

The 2020 Major League Baseball schedule is expected to prominently feature divisional play, with 40 such games, along with 20 Interleague games against the team’s corresponding geographical division. That’s 67% of the schedule against a team’s own division, compared to 47% of a team’s games in a normal, 162-game season.

The 2020 Major League Baseball schedule is expected to prominently feature divisional play, with 40 such games, along with 20 Interleague games against the team’s corresponding geographical division. That’s 67% of the schedule against a team’s own division, compared to 47% of a team’s games in a normal, 162-game season. That means that certain matchups we’ve come to expect a lot from will be on display even more than usual comparatively.

That one team in the division that your favorite player seems to always hit well against? Well, he’ll be facing that team a lot more, proportionally to the rest of his games, in 2020. The proliferation of these matchups has a chance to heavily influence pennant races if those offensive players perform to their past standards against certain teams, and has a chance to boost individual players’ season stats, too. There are plenty of great examples of these kinds of batter-versus-team histories to choose from.

Here’s a look at one hitter vs. team matchup per division to keep an eye on this season.

AL EAST

Gleyber Torres (NYY) vs. Orioles
Key stat: 13 HR vs BAL in 2019, most by a player vs a single opp. in a season since 1961

Torres is entering just his third Major League season, but he’s already had a huge impact against a division rival. His 2019 performance against an Orioles team that set the record for most homers allowed in a season with 305 was nothing short of historic. It produced a litany of historic stat lines, which put him in some Hall of Fame company.

He hit 13 home runs and slugged 1.045 against Baltimore in 18 games. No player had hit 13 or more homers against a single opponent in a season since Roger Maris against the White Sox in 1961. Only one player has hit more homers against an opponent in a year: Lou Gehrig, with 14 against the Indians in 1936. Torres had five multi-home run games against the Orioles, the most by any player against a team in a single season. He homered in both games of a doubleheader against the Orioles on two separate occasions last season, becoming the first player since Mike Schmidt (1983 vs. Expos) to do that twice in a season against an opponent. Torres’ .876 career slugging percentage against the Orioles is the highest for any active player against a single opponent (min. 100 PA vs. team).

AL CENTRAL

Josh Donaldson (MIN) vs. White Sox
Key stat: .686 career SLG vs. CWS, highest among active players (min. 100 PA)

Donaldson has had a ton of success in his career against the Twins, slugging a whopping .852 against them, but now that he’s on the team, we can focus on another AL Central club he’s cleaned up against: the White Sox. He has a .686 career slugging percentage against the Sox, the highest of any active player (minimum 100 PA). He has 15 homers and 35 RBIs against the club. Neither of those top the lists of active players, but it’s worth keeping in mind that he’s played just 44 games against the White Sox in his career -- the active leader in homers against them, Miguel Cabrera, has played 188.

To that point, having spent just 16 games of his career in the AL Central, while with the Indians in 2018, Donaldson has never played more than eight games against the White Sox in a season. That’s likely to change this year. In 2015, he hit six homers and had 11 RBIs against the White Sox in seven games. Add more chances to rake, and it seems like he will do so. His .676 slugging percentage at Guaranteed Rate Field is his second-highest at any ballpark he’s played in at least 10 times -- only Target Field (.819) is higher.

AL WEST

Mike Trout (LAA) vs. Mariners
Key stat: 41 HR vs SEA, 2nd-most all-time

Trout cleans up against pretty much anyone, but his performance against the Mariners stands out. He’s slugged 41 homers in his career against them, in 155 games. Only Rafael Palmeiro hit more home runs against Seattle in his career, with 52 in 216 games against the club. Trout has slugged .641 against the Mariners with 107 RBIs. And it’s been particularly magnified at T-Mobile Park: Trout has hit 24 of his 41 home runs against the Mariners on the road, just two shy of tying Palmeiro for the most of any player. His .891 slugging percentage against the Mariners in the last two seasons is the highest of any player against a single opponent in that span (minimum 100 PA).

It’s worth noting that Trout also could’ve been on here for his performance against the Rangers or the A’s. He has 30-plus homers against three teams currently in his division -- one of four active players in that category, along with Chris Davis, Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera, all of whom debuted before Trout and have had more time to accumulate those numbers.

NL EAST

Ronald Acuña Jr. (ATL) vs. Marlins
Key stat: 16 career HR vs. MIA, T-most by player vs. single opp. since 2018

Acuña has been a force since he arrived in the Majors in 2018, and there’s no team he’s faced more frequently than the Marlins. He’s hit 16 homers against them, tied with Torres against the Orioles for the most by any player against a single opponent in the last two seasons. Acuña hasn’t hit more than six homers against any other team. He has slugged .703 against the Marlins in his 37 games against them and knocked in 36 runs. Of his three career multi-homer games, two have been against the Marlins -- on Aug. 9, 2019, and Aug. 14, 2018.

The latter game was the final of his five-game streak with at least one home run, which made him the youngest player (20) to achieve such a feat. Three of the five games in that stretch were against the Marlins. Not only did he homer in three straight games against the Fish, but he hit a leadoff homer in each of those games. The only other player in the Modern Era (since 1900) to hit a leadoff homer in at least three straight games was Brady Anderson, in four straight in 1996.

NL CENTRAL

Eugenio Suárez (CIN) vs. Cubs
Key stat: 9 HR vs. CHC in 2019, most by player since 1999

Suárez hit 49 home runs last season, including nine off both the Cubs and Brewers. His performance against the Cubs is the choice here, though, because he also slugged .797 against them and hit .378, compared to .735 and .294, respectively, against the Brewers. Suárez’s nine home runs against the Cubs were the most by a player against the team in a single season since Greg Vaughn hit nine in 1999, and only three players have hit more against the Cubs in a year: Ralph Kiner (11, 1949), Chuck Klein (10, 1929) and Mike Schmidt (10, 1980).

Suárez had a 204 wRC+ against the Cubs last season, the second-highest by a player against them in a single season in the last 15 years (minimum 70 PA).

NL WEST

Max Muncy (LAD) vs. Rockies
Key stat: .745 career SLG vs. COL, 9th-highest vs. single opp. among active players (min. 100 PA)

Muncy has slugged particularly well against the Rockies, Giants and Padres among divisional opponents since joining the NL West, but his stats against Colorado are on their own level. His .745 slugging percentage against the Rockies is ninth-highest among active players against a single opponent (minimum 100 PA), and he’s hit 12 homers against them in 32 games. Coors Field helps, for sure -- he’s hit nine home runs there, his most of any road ballpark. And his .868 career slugging percentage in Colorado is his highest at any venue.

Muncy slugged .879 at Coors Field in 2019, which ranks among the top five highest slugging percentages in a year at the venue in the last 10 seasons (minimum 30 PA). He hit five home runs and knocked in 14 runs in nine games there.

Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.