66 days left, 66 things to get psyched for
After months of postponed appointments, vacated vacations and agendas interrupted by a global pandemic, the mere release of a Major League Baseball schedule of any length was itself extraordinarily exciting. Games! Real games! Games we haven’t already seen! This is a concept we will never again take for granted.
Now, that schedule is brought to life. Opening Night brought us Gerrit Cole vs. Max Scherzer (albeit in truncated form) and Mookie Betts’ debut in Dodger Blue. That’s just the beginning of the scenes, storylines and surprises that only baseball can bring.
Here is your day-by-day guide to the next 66 days of a regular season that will undoubtedly be strange but will hopefully be satisfying heading into the recently announced expanded playoffs. (All times listed are ET)
July 24: Globe Life Field’s unveiling (Rangers vs. Rockies, 8:05 p.m.)
Opening Day brings us a christening of the new Ballpark in Arlington. With no fans in the stands, it’s not nearly the kind of unveiling a new park typically gets or deserves. But it will nonetheless be fascinating to see how the facility with the partially transparent roof plays.
July 25: The first full 15-game schedule (Watch on MLB.TV)
The last time we had a full buffet of baseball was Sept. 29, 2019. It’s been too long.
July 26: Shohei Ohtani’s return to the mound (Angels at A's, 4:10 p.m.)
“Shohei Sundays” were briefly a beautiful thing in 2018. He made just 10 starts before undergoing right elbow surgery. If Ohtani can return to the level he displayed in those 10 starts (3.31 ERA, 127 ERA+), that’s a special addition to the Halos’ rotation, to say nothing of what he can bring with the bat.
July 27: Joe Girardi vs. the Yankees (7:05 p.m.)
The binder has moved from the Bronx to Broad Street, where the Phillies underachieved the past two seasons, but now they have the 2009 World Series-winning skipper at the helm and former Yankee shortstop Didi Gregorius in the lineup.
July 28: Josh Donaldson takes aim at Target Field (Twins vs. Cardinals, 8:10 p.m.)
The Twins’ centerpiece acquisition makes his home debut. The “Bringer of Rain” deepens one of the best lineups in the game and gets regular at-bats in a building where he had a ridiculous .373/.464/.819 slash line with 10 homers in 97 plate appearances as a visitor.
July 29: Dodgers at Astros (7:10 p.m.)
The finale of a two-game set. There will be no fan noise in this highly anticipated 2017 World Series rematch.
July 30: Red Sox at Mets (7:07 p.m.)
This 1986 World Series rematch represents the uniqueness of this 2020 setup. We’ve seen every potential Interleague matchup at one point or another since the format first arrived in 1997, but we’ve never seen it occupy this high a percentage of the season schedule. The Red Sox will have played the Mets four times before they even see the Yankees.
July 31: Red Sox at Yankees (7:05 p.m.)
Of course, sometimes you’ve got to just play the hits. Does a Betts-less Boston club still have enough offensive firepower to assert itself in this series and in the East?
Aug. 1: Callups? (Watch on MLB.TV)
This is about the point in this shortened schedule when intriguing top prospects might start to get opportunities, and that could be the case this year with the likes of Jo Adell (Angels, No. 6 overall prospect), Nate Pearson (Blue Jays, No. 8), Dylan Carlson (Cardinals, No. 17) and others in clubs’ 60-man player pools.
Aug. 2: Cardinals at Brewers (2:10 p.m.)
Both of the National League Central teams that made the playoffs in 2019 lost offensive firepower in the offseason (Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal left the Crew, and Marcell Ozuna left the Cards), but both clubs still have strong rosters, shrewd leadership and a clear ability to get back to October.
Aug. 3: Mets at Braves (7:10 p.m.)
Two teams built to win the NL East face each other seven times in the season’s first 11 games. We’re going to learn a lot early.
Aug. 4: The Ohio Cup: Indians at Reds (6:10 p.m.)
The hallowed Ohio Cup was already one of the most important and mysterious trophies in professional sports. It takes on added resonance in the regional-oriented schedule. There’s a possibility Trevor Bauer faces his old mates at some point in this four-game series split between Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Aug. 5: The Padres’ new home unis (vs. Dodgers, 9:10 p.m.)
As the Padres host the NL West front-runners, this is as good a time as any to pause to appreciate those sharp home whites with the brown pinstripes. Don’t let the Cleveland football team’s record this century fool you: Brown can be beautiful.
Aug. 6: The Brewers' new road unis (at White Sox, 8:10 p.m.)
And as Milwaukee faces old pal Grandal on the South Side, this is a good time to salute the long-overdue, full-time return of the ball-in-glove logo and also the Brewers’ road options, which include a navy top with script “Milwaukee” lettering and a two-tone cap that harkens back to their 1978-84 look.
1. Ty Cobb, 78.4
2. Rogers Hornsby, 75.9
3. Mickey Mantle, 74.3
4. Mike Trout, 72.8
What’s extra amazing about that is, because a player’s “age year” is determined by his age on June 30, this is Trout's age-28 season. There’s a good chance he would have topped this list come October had he had a normal 162-game schedule to tally the 5.7 WAR needed to pass Cobb.
Trout also has a history of delivering on his birthday. In six games, he's batting .304 (7-for-23) with four homers, five RBIs and a 1.254 OPS.
Aug. 8: Rays vs. Yankees (6:40 p.m.)
A lot of people were quick to assume the Yankees will win their second straight AL East title when they signed Gerrit Cole. But in a 60-game season, especially, the Rays have the pitching and pliability to topple the Yanks, and this early four-game set would be a fine time to prove it.
Aug. 9: A’s vs. Astros (4:10 p.m.)
Speaking of plucky underdogs capable of overthrowing AL powers, never sleep on the A’s. Here’s their early opportunity to make a statement against the Astros.
Aug. 10: Viva the universal DH! (Watch on MLB.TV)
This is not at all scientific, but I reckon that, by this date, most of the NL rules devotees will have caved and come around to the idea that adding another legitimate threat to the lineup instead of foisting pitchers into a job they are not qualified to fulfill makes for better baseball. I mean, unless watching No. 8 hitters get intentionally walked and pitchers striking out is your jam.
Aug. 11: Cubs at Indians (7:10 p.m.)
It’s the 2016 World Series rematch, in the building where the baseball gods finally smiled upon the Cubbies. Chicago native Jason Kipnis nearly extended the “Curse of the Billy Goat,” but he was just a touch too aggressive on an Aroldis Chapman meatball. Now he’s on the Cubs. Weird.
Aug. 12: Nationals at Mets (7:10 p.m.)
Assuming regular turns on four days’ rest, this is Scherzer’s start day. Unfortunately, because the Mets begin their season a day later, this is not Jacob deGrom’s start day. But rain happens, things happen and schedules get adjusted, especially in these conditions. So maybe we’ll be treated to Mad Max vs. deGrom sometime in this four-game series. If not, it’s still an important NL East affair.
Aug. 13: MLB at Field of Dreams (White Sox vs. Cardinals, 7:15 p.m. on FOX)
Dyersville, Iowa’s heaven on earth is the site of a newly constructed ballpark in the cornfield next to the movie site. MLB has done several special events at iconic sites in recent years, but to say this has been the most anticipated one of all is an understatement.
Aug. 14: The Bay Bridge Series (A’s at Giants, 9:45 p.m.)
The Giants are in a transitory state. But then again, that was the case last year, too, and in a 60-game stretch beginning June 1, they were 10 games over .500. So maybe they’ll surprise some people, including their rivals from across the Bay.
Aug. 15: The Freeway Series (Dodgers at Angels, 9:40 p.m.)
This freeway is jammed not with cars but with stars. There are two reigning MVPs (Trout and Cody Bellinger) and former MVPs in Betts, Albert Pujols and Clayton Kershaw, not to mention the likes of Anthony Rendon, Ohtani, Justin Turner, Corey Seager, etc.
Aug. 16: Negro Leagues celebration (Watch on MLB.TV)
In honor of the centennial of the founding of the Negro National League, all players, managers, coaches and umpires will wear a special anniversary logo created by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. This follows a recent campaign in which celebrities, players and dignitaries -- including four former presidents -- tipped their caps to the Negro Leagues.
Aug. 17: Juan Soto vs. Ronald Acuña Jr. (Nats at Braves, 7:10 p.m.)
Soto’s 21 and is already a World Series hero. Acuña’s 22 and fell three stolen bases shy of a 40-40 season last year. We can debate which guy you’d rather have for the next decade, but it’s still more fun to just watch them. (Obviously, we are hoping Soto is fully recovered from COVID-19 by this point. He was asymptomatic on Opening Day when it was revealed he had tested positive.)
Aug. 18: Cardinals at Cubs (8:15 p.m.)
This longstanding rivalry has carried added heft in recent years. And if the Cubs are going to reassert themselves in the NL Central after a difficult 2019, they’re going to have to get through the defending division champs.
Aug. 19: Brewers at Twins (8:10 p.m.)
Yeli and the Bombas would be a decent band name. And Christian Yelich vs. the Bomba Squad should make for a decent matchup. Unless you’re one of the baseballs in danger of getting battered.
Aug. 20: Indians at Pirates (7:05 p.m.)
This Rust Belt rivalry is a chance to check in on Josh Bell, who had a breakout 2019 (.936 OPS, 37 homers, 37 doubles). Even if there are no fans in the stands at PNC Park, Bell can send souvenirs out to the Allegheny.
Aug. 21: MadBum returns to San Francisco (D-backs at Giants, 9:45 p.m.)
Everything’s weird right now. So in that context, maybe Madison Bumgarner at Oracle Park as a visitor isn’t all that strange. But pardon us if it takes a while to adjust our eyes to the sight.
Aug. 22: The Subway Series (Yankees at Mets, 7:10 p.m.)
Having the Subway Series on consecutive August weekends ups the ante (or the fare, if you will) in the shortened season. Cole and deGrom would be lined up to pitch in this series if on regular rest, though perhaps not against each other.
Aug. 23: The Crosstown Classic (White Sox at Cubs, 2:20 p.m.)
With the Cubs having entertained trade ideas involving some of their best players and the White Sox having made several big acquisitions over the winter, perhaps the power in the Windy City is shifting to the South Side. But the Sox still have to prove it. Interestingly, FanGraphs projects these clubs to win nearly the same number of games this season (32 for the Cubs, 31 for the Sox, but with the Cubs in first in the NL Central and the Sox in third in the AL Central).
Aug. 24: Royals at Cardinals (8:15 p.m.)
Mike Matheny took the Cardinals to the World Series in 2013, but he had lost support in the clubhouse by mid-2018. Many other skippers have applied hard lessons in their second gigs, and Matheny has a chance on the other side of Missouri with the rebuilding Royals. This will be his first visit back to Busch Stadium in the regular season.
Aug. 25: The midpoint (Watch on MLB.TV)
Though there won’t be a formal All-Star Game, let’s agree to meet back here on this date and create (and argue about) fake All-Star teams based off minuscule statistical samples. Deal? Oh, and whoever’s leading the Majors in dingers is your de facto Derby champ. Them’s the rules.
Aug. 26: Twins at Indians (7:10 p.m.)
This is the finale of a three-game set at a point when the AL Central race could be ramping up. The Twins’ offensive eruption powered them to the division title in 2019, but the Tribe’s deep pitching could allow it to reclaim the top spot.
Aug. 27: Phillies at Nationals (7:07 p.m. on FOX)
Let’s not subscribe to the faulty narrative that Bryce Harper had somehow been holding the Nats back all those years. But it is true that the money saved in not re-signing him was applied to an impactful addition in Patrick Corbin (among others), and you can’t argue with the final result. Anyway, this three-game set marks Harper’s first trip to Nationals Park with a World Series championship banner hanging.
Aug. 28: Jackie Robinson Day (Watch on MLB.TV)
Jackie Robinson Day, the day when all of MLB is No. 42. It’s a day that takes on additional resonance at a time when our country is rightly recalibrating. Jackie’s debut was a significant step toward the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s. All these decades later, the push for equality continues.
Aug. 29: Kershaw comes home (Dodgers at Rangers, 7:05 p.m.)
Jackie Robinson’s team is in Texas on this weekend, which means Kershaw returns to his native Dallas area. He never pitched at Globe Life Park. Will he get the chance to pitch at Globe Life Field?
Aug. 30: Marlins vs. Rays (1:10 p.m.)
Give credit where it’s due: The Marlins made a legitimate effort to improve their lineup in the offseason (Jesús Aguilar, Jonathan Villar, Corey Dickerson), and they’ve got good young pitching coming up the pipeline. They’ve got a brutal schedule, but will the Fish still be fresh come the end of August?
Aug. 31: The Trade Deadline (Watch on MLB.TV)
Just when we had adjusted to the idea of there being no August trades last year, suddenly the Deadline is at the end of August. Well, add it to the pile of things we’re adjusting to these days. Francisco Lindor, Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant are among the big names potentially available, but it’s hard to know how aggressive contending teams will be in acquiring players under these circumstances, and all teams will be limited to acquiring players already in the 60-man player pools.
Sept. 1: Rockies vs. Giants (8:40 p.m.)
The Rox are the best example of how unpredictable a 60-game stretch can be. Last year, they had one in which they went 37-23 and another in which they went 16-44. Which club will show up in 2020? And will Arenado still be here come Sept. 1?
Sept. 2: Reds vs. Cardinals (6:40 p.m.)
Cincinnati underperformed offensively last year, wasting one of the better starting rotations in the league. Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos add serious lumber to the lineup. Will that lineup be roaring when the Reds play the Cards 10 times in their final 35 games?
Sept. 3: Rangers at Astros (2:10 p.m.)
In adding Corey Kluber, Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson to a group that already featured Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, the Rangers put together one of the more intriguing rotations in the game. By this finale of this important series against the Astros, we’ll know if that rotation has altered the outlook in the AL West.
Sept. 4: Blue Jays at Red Sox (7:30 p.m.)
No one can properly predict the maturation process of young talent, and the Blue Jays are loaded with it, boasting Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The team also greatly improved its rotation with left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu. So while having to play their home games away from Toronto is certainly sub-optimal, don’t be surprised if the Blue Jays have taken flight by this point.
Sept. 5: Tigers at Twins (7:10 p.m.)
The Twins went 14-5 against a terrible Tigers team in 2019. But if Detroit’s young pitching (Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal) gets an opportunity this year, the Tigers could at least start to show some bite.
Sept. 6: Mariners vs. Rangers (4:10 p.m.)
In all likelihood, the M’s longest active postseason drought will be prolonged in 2020. But will No. 11 overall prospect Jarred Kelenic be offering a glimpse into a better future by this point?
Sept. 7: Gleyber Day? (Yankees at Blue Jays, 6:37 p.m.)
Gleyber Torres went 0-for-3 with a walk on Labor Day 2019, letting down all of New York’s back-page headline writers. But one of the game’s more exciting young players can redeem himself here.
Sept. 8: D-backs vs. Dodgers (9:40 p.m.)
Speaking of fun plays on words, let’s check in on the Marte party that the D-backs have set up. Ketel Marte had a breakout, borderline MVP-worthy 2019, and Starling Marte (no relation) brings an above-average bat to the equation, while allowing Ketel to return full-time to second base. This, like all series against the Dodgers, will be a big one for Team Marte.
Sept. 9: Roberto Clemente Day (Watch on MLB.TV)
Moral fiber, compassion, charity and the fight against injustice. We can still learn so much from Roberto Clemente's story.
Sept. 10: How the (AL) West was won? (Watch on MLB.TV)
Hey, maybe the Astros will run away with it again. But the A’s, Angels and Rangers all go into the season expecting to have some say in the matter. And on this day, series-ending day games (Astros at A’s at 3:40 p.m. and Angels at Rangers at 4:05 p.m.) will give us a window into the AL West’s direction.
Sept. 11: Orioles at Yankees (7:05 p.m.)
The “race” for the No. 1 pick can ultimately only be appreciated in retrospect, when we know what that No. 1 pick becomes in the bigs. But the O’s have figured prominently into this race the past two seasons (taking Adley Rutschman at No. 1 overall in 2019 and Heston Kjerstad at No. 2 this year) and project to be in the thick of it again by this point.
Sept. 12: Home Run Derby reunion (Mets at Blue Jays, 6:37 p.m.)
In last year’s Derby, Guerrero ran out of gas after his epic semifinal round against Joc Pederson, and Alonso was able to capitalize in the finals. Sadly, we won’t get to see a real rematch this year. But this series featuring Vlad Jr. and the Polar Bear presents the next best thing.
Sept. 13: (NL) Central focus (Watch on MLB.TV)
On Opening Day, the Cubs, Brewers, Reds and Cardinals were all projected by FanGraphs to finish within two games of each other. This Sunday slate will feature the finales of two series -- Cubs at Brewers (2:10 p.m.) and Reds at Cardinals (2:15 p.m.) -- with a big say on how the Central takes shape.
Sept. 14: White Sox vs. Twins (8:10 p.m.)
With Grandal both lengthening the lineup and potentially helping the pitching staff improve and with talent (Yoán Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Luis Robert, etc.) blossoming all over the diamond, the Sox could be a threat to take down the Twins this season.
Sept. 15: Padres vs. Dodgers (9:10 p.m.)
Speaking of blossoming talent, the brown unis aren’t the only things to be excited about in San Diego. By this point, we could be seeing homegrown pitching prospects MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño making a dent in the NL playoff picture, perhaps against the dreaded Dodgers.
Sept. 16: A .400 chase? (Watch on MLB.TV)
All we can do is speculate (and hope) right now, but it would be fun to see some strange statistical chases in the last couple of weeks. Could José Altuve, Bellinger, DJ LeMahieu, Luis Arraez, Yelich, Arenado or somebody else be batting .400 or better at this late stage? We know it’s not anywhere near as big an achievement as it would be in 162, but it would still be a heck of a hot stretch.
Sept. 17: A Triple Crown race? (Watch on MLB.TV)
Again, nobody’s suggesting that leading your league in batting average, homers and RBIs over 60 games is as special as doing so over 162. But competitive instincts will be kicking in if, say, Trout (gee, what a creative example) is ahead in those three key categories with 10 days to go.
Sept. 18: An absurd ERA? (Watch on MLB.TV)
The best ERA over 60 team games on record is the 0.29 (not a misprint) mark posted by Fernando Valenzuela in early 1981 and Lefty Grove in early 1936. More recently, Jake Arrieta posted a 0.41 over 60 Cubs games from Aug. 4-Oct. 2, 2015. Will anybody be under 1 in the late-September home stretch?
Sept. 19: A 10-game winner? (Watch on MLB.TV)
Given that starters on regular rest can only expect to make 12 or 13 appearances, a double-digit win total feels particularly unlikely. But try telling that to Cole and Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and Kershaw and Mike Clevinger and deGrom and Justin Verlander and…
Sept. 20: A dude with 20 dingers? (Watch on MLB.TV)
Maybe no one will have 20 by Sept. 20, but 20’s the new 50 in this burst of baseball. (Barry Bonds actually hit 37 home runs in a 60-game stretch in 2001, but pardon us if we’re not holding our breath for a homer haul that high.) We’ll be keeping an eye out to see if Alonso, Guerrero, Trout, J.D. Martinez, Joey Gallo, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge or anybody else can reach the roaring 20s.
Sept. 21: The final week (Watch on MLB.TV)
How many playoff races will be mathematically resolved when we reach the final seven days of the season? Any? It’s a decent bet that the last week will not be weak.
Sept. 22: A’s at Dodgers (9:40 p.m.)
It’s a series that summons images of Kirk Gibson vs. Dennis Eckersley. But here in 2020, it’s an awfully interesting Interleague affair in the late stage of a season in which both clubs possess pennant possibility.
Sept. 23: The freebie factor (Watch on MLB.TV)
Near season’s end, we’ll be able to look at this experiment of having automatic runners at second base for extra innings and, hopefully, determine whether it’s something MLB should consider implementing permanently and how much of an impact it has had on the pennant races. It might not lead to the bunt-a-palooza some are expecting, and it might be fun to see bench speed rewarded.
Sept. 24: Surprise, surprise (Watch on MLB.TV)
Saving this space for a late-September salute of that which is impossible to predict or project. Last year, the likes of Gio Urshela (Yankees), Mitch Garver (Twins), Tommy Edman (Cardinals) and Howie Kendrick (Nationals) filled much-bigger-than-expected roles on good teams. A short season heightens the possibility of unexpected dudes making a dent.
Sept. 25: Interleague intrigue (Watch on MLB.TV)
Why shouldn’t an unusual season have an unusual ending? There are not one, not two … but seven Interleague series (Phillies at Rays, Marlins at Yankees, Red Sox at Braves, Pirates at Indians, Reds at Twins, Cubs at White Sox, Angels at Dodgers) on the final weekend. Just another reason the adoption of the universal DH is so welcomed here.
Sept. 26: Non-Interleague intrigue? (Watch on MLB.TV)
Of course, some of the “regular” final series figure to have big implications, too, including the aforementioned Mets at Nats, Astros at Rangers and Brewers at Cardinals.
Sept. 27: The finale (Watch on MLB.TV)
For once, we can say with certainty that this is the regular-season finale, because, as part of the expanded postseason format for 2020, there will be no tiebreaker games (any ties will be resolved mathematically). Granted, that kills the dream of a super-complicated, five-way Wild Card tie or similar end-of-season madness. But it buys us eight best-of-three series in a Wild Card round set to begin Sept. 29. A good trade!