Here we are, one day from a baseball season’s Opening Day. The Nationals and Yankees will play the season opener Thursday evening, followed by the Giants vs. the Dodgers, and the Cubs begin Friday at an empty Wrigley Field against the Brewers.
Normally, when we get to this point in a baseball season’s calendar, I post predictions for that year’s final MLB standings in this format.
In thinking about whether I wanted to do that for this 60-game season in 2020, I eventually decided to break from format. First, this entire year has “broken from format,” likely the most bizarre year any of us has ever lived through.
And in regard to baseball, this will be a season like no other. Shorter. Different roster sizes. New rules, some good, some not so much. And there will be players playing for some teams who under normal circumstances wouldn’t be in the big leagues at all in 2020.
So I’m just going to wing it here and give you some more-or-less random guesses as to where I think teams are going to finish. The Cubs? Well, they certainly have talent, talent enough to match up with any of the other NL Central and AL Central teams they’ll be playing. But 60 games? They could wind up 10 games over .500... or 10 games under. Fangraphs projects them at 32 wins, tied with the Brewers for the most of any NL Central team.
Any streak, losing or winning, will be magnified this season. In The Athletic, Jayson Stark points out that every game this year is the equivalent of 2.7 games in a 162-game season:
“Say you go somewhere and sweep someone,” the same exec said. “That happens all the time. But if you sweep a three-game series now, it’s like an eight-game winning streak. And that’s huge.”
Or sweep a four-game series, and it’s now the equivalent of a 10-game winning streak. Win 10 in a row, and it’s the equivalent of a 27-game winning streak. But the same goes for a four-game or 10-game losing streak. So you think that’s going to affect the urgency with which games are managed? You should.
“A lot’s going to depend on what you did the game before,” said one NL executive, “because you can’t have that three-, four-, five-game losing streak now. So it’ll be: ‘What did we do last night? We lost? So we’ve got to have a little quicker hook (on the starter) tonight,’ because avoiding those streaks is going to be what gets you to the postseason.”
Consider last year’s Washington Nationals, who were 19-31 after 50 games and 27-33 after 60. You can see the Nats comeback starting there — winning eight of 10 between Game 50 and Game 60. That team eventually won the World Series, but after 60 games, they had only two fewer losses than the Detroit Tigers, who lost 114 games overall.
If a team digs itself that deep a hole early, there’s no way to come back from it.
An old baseball saying goes: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” This year is a sprint. Here goes:
Wild cards: Nationals and Cardinals (NL), Yankees and White Sox (AL)
Wild-card game winners: Nationals, Yankees
Division series winners: Dodgers, Braves, Rays, Twins
LCS winners: Dodgers, Rays
World Series champion: Rays
Random other predictions for 2020
- The MLB home run leader will have fewer than 20
- The MLB saves leader will have fewer than 30
- A qualifying position player will hit .400
- A qualifying pitcher will have an ERA under 1.00
Lastly, the most important prediction I’m going to make: This season will not reach its conclusion and will have to be halted for pandemic-related reasons.
Baseball, along with the rest of the world, can pick up close to normal in 2021.
Where will the Cubs finish in 2020?
This poll is closed
World Series champions
N.L. champions, but lose the World Series
Win a division series, but lose the NLCS
Win the NL Central, lose a division series
Win a wild-card game, lose a division series
Make the wild-card game but lose it
Miss the postseason
The 2020 60-game season will not be completed