20 reasons to be excited for the 2020 season

June 24th, 2020

Let's see, where were we? Mookie Betts was wearing Dodger blue, Mike Trout was welcoming Anthony Rendon to the Angels and Gerrit Cole was freshly shaved in Yankee pinstripes.

Wait, there's more. Madison Bumgarner was preparing for his first season in Arizona, Josh Donaldson had signed with the Bomba Squad, and certain divisions (such as the NL East and Central) looked completely wide open.

So there you go. Now we can finally get back to the things we love in a sport that is about to have its most long-awaited Opening Day ever and a 60-game sprint to the postseason.

We don't know how a lot of it is going to look or feel. We just know this: We're about to get one of the best things about summer back.   

So here's to Max Scherzer dropping a knee-buckling, brain-freezing hammer of a curveball on some poor hitter. Or Cody Bellinger driving a pitch over the fence, or Ronald Acuña Jr. flying around the bases or Lorenzo Cain laying out to swipe a ball off the turf.

Here are 20 reasons to be excited for Opening Day:

1. Games! Real games!

Almost eight months have passed since Nationals reliever Daniel Hudson got the final out of the 2019 World Series. We had the kind of chaotic offseason that whets the appetite for a wild regular-season ride. Now it'll be compressed into 60 games that will begin on July 23 and offer a smorgasbord of possibilities. It might look a little different without fans in the stands, but we'll adjust.

2. When a fast start and a fast finish is the same thing.

A veteran player once told me he never even checks the standings until August. He meant that a baseball season eventually exposes every weakness and reveals every strength. That might not be the case in a 60-game season. Every team could be one hot streak -- and virtually every team has one or two really good stretches -- from opening the postseason door. For example, if the season ended after 60 games last year, the Rangers would have been in the and Nationals out. In that way, every game counts in a way it doesn't usually count in a normal season.

3. Will Mookie Betts get the Dodgers over the hump?

Isn't that the single biggest question this season? The Dodgers added one of baseball's five best players to a team that has won seven straight NL West championships and made it to the World Series in 2017 and 2018. But there's a sense of unfinished business for a franchise that hasn't won the World Series since 1988.

4. DH for all.

Yes, we'll have the DH in both leagues for the first time, and it'll be fascinating to see the reaction of National League fans who've long preferred pitchers hitting and the myriad strategies that presents. Managers will love it because they can use the spot to rotate their regulars while no longer exposing pitchers to an unnecessary injury risk.

5. Here's to the defending champs.

Few World Series winners have been as tough and resilient as the Nationals, who rallied furiously from a 19-31 start in the regular season, then trailed the Brewers late in the NL Wild Card Game and were down to the Dodgers in the fifth and deciding NLDS Game 5. They finished the deal by winning Games 6 and 7 of the World Series on the road. Last year, they lost Bryce Harper and won a World Series, and this past winter they bid farewell to Anthony Rendon. Can they overcome the loss of another superstar?

6. In the AL, is it the Yankees against the field?

This delayed start has allowed Giancarlo Stanton, James Paxton and Aaron Hicks to get healthy. If Aaron Judge is ready to go -- or maybe if he isn't -- the Yankees appear to be the AL's best team, and not by a small margin.

7. Shohei Ohtani and the two-way experiment.

He appears to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and prepared to pitch some and hit some for the Angels. Talent isn't the issue. He has proven he's capable of dominance on the mound or at the plate. What we still don't know is if anyone is capable of doing both over the long haul. New Angels manager Joe Maddon is going to have some fun figuring things out.

8. A real threat to Houston in the AL West.

This shortened season opens the door for the A's to unseat the Astros, and after the offseason revelation of Houston's illegal sign-stealing scheme, there are a lot of folks who probably wouldn't mind seeing that. Oakland's biggest question is the workload for three potentially dominant starters: Sean Manaea, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk. A 60-game season could take care of that issue, and if they have all three for the entire run, Oakland's rotation matches up with pretty much any.

9. Most interesting team? That might be the White Sox.

Give 'em credit for doing things right. GM Rick Hahn accumulated an impressive amount of young talent, and then when it was time to add veterans, he did just that in signing Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion and Gio Gonzalez. If kid outfielders Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez are close to being as good as advertised, this will be a fun summer on the South Side.

10. Bryce Harper's second season with the Phillies.

Lots of moving parts in Philadelphia. Jake Arrieta is healthier than he has been in a couple of years, and with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, the Phillies rotation could be excellent. But Harper is the one to keep an eye on. He had a very good first season with the Phillies -- 35 homers, 36 doubles, 99 walks -- but he aspires to repeat the greatness of his 2015 NL MVP season. Don't be surprised if he does that.

11. Juan Soto, who is still just 21 years old.

Let's not forget we are watching one of the great young hitters in the history of the game. Soto debuted at 19 and made the hardest game on Earth look easy. He has a 140 OPS+ in 266 regular-season games and hit .333 in his first World Series. His 34 homers last season place him fourth on the age-20 list, behind only Mel Ott, Frank Robinson and Alex Rodriguez.

12. Fernando Tatis Jr. and a glimpse of greatness.

Speaking of phenoms ... While there are exciting young players here, there and everywhere, none of them looked as good as the Padres' 21-year-old shortstop did in his injury-shortened 84 game debut last season. His stat line was full: 22 homers, 16 stolen bases, six triples and a .969 OPS. Padres fans have every reason to be excited about the team GM A.J. Preller has assembled, none more than the opportunity to see Tatis for a full season.

13. The Bomba Squad is back ... with an improved rotation.

Yes, Twins fans have every right to be excited about the addition of Josh Donaldson to a lineup that hit the most home runs in Major League history last season. But what really ought to get them fired up is -- wait for it -- starting pitching. Minnesota added veteran starters Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey to a group that includes staff ace Jose Berrios and veteran Jake Odorizzi. Did we mention that no rookie manager had a more impressive debut than Rocco Baldelli?

14. Who's up for a Pete Alonso encore?

How do you top 53 homers as a rookie? We can't answer that question. We only know that it's going to be fun to watch what the Mets' 25-year-old first baseman delivers in his second Major League season. Astros fans are going to be just as excited to see what Yordan Álvarez does for his encore.

15. The unpredictable Brewers.

Few executives are as aggressive as Milwaukee GM David Stearns. He turned over 14 of the 25 players on his postseason roster -- that's 56 percent -- in a host of changes that includes three new starting pitchers (Brett Anderson, Josh Lindblom, Eric Lauer) and new starters in right field (Avisail Garcia), third base (Eric Sogard) and catcher (Omar Narváez). Count on this: the Brewers are again going to be good.

16. Reds' good work deserved to be rewarded.

Baseball is better when the Reds are good. That's because baseball is special in Cincinnati and because the Reds have a rich history. In the last two seasons, general manager Dick Williams has added talent up and down his roster, and they look plenty capable of winning the NL Central in 2020.

17. Kershaw, Trout and greatness.

So you didn't see Ted Williams or Bob Gibson? Someday you'll be able to tell people that you saw Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout because both of them have already established themselves as two of the best that ever played. Best of all, both have miles to go before they're done.

18. Another wave of kids is on the way.

Their names are Dylan Carlson (OF, Cardinals), Joey Bart (C, Giants), Jo Adell (OF, Angels) and Gavin Lux (INF, Dodgers). There's also Casey Mize (RHP, Tigers), MacKenzie Gore (LHP, Padres) and Nate Pearson (RHP, Blue Jays). In a shortened season, one phenom could have an outsized impact.

19. Globe Life Field is MLB's newest palace.

The Rangers are set to open a gorgeous new ballpark with a retractable roof and an intimate feel that will make it one of baseball's crown jewels. Fans may not be able to enjoy it in 2020, but they can take comfort that their guys will no longer be worn down by the tough Texas heat.

20. The unknown.

It's going to be different than anything we've seen before, and that has the potential to be interesting. Let's not sweat the small stuff. This is what we love. Baseball is back.