An MLB season is usually a marathon: 2020, though, is more like a 10K
The thinking in baseball is that over a 162-game season, things tend to even out. Which is why the 2020 MLB season could be one of the more interesting we’ll ever see.
Because over 60 games, there isn’t as much season for things to even out.
Take your 2019 world champs, the Washington Nationals, as a for instance.
You remember that the Nats started 19-31 last season.
Washington doesn’t sniff the playoffs with that kind of start in 2020.
But the problems that vexed the Nationals early on – injuries to Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, the inability of anybody other than Sean Doolittle to get outs in the late innings – corrected themselves over time.
Which will be of the essence in a 60-game schedule in 2020, where a stint on the injured list for a middle-of-the-order guy or #1 or #2 starter could spell doom.
And that’s not even accounting for the mysteries that come with a COVID-19 diagnosis.
You won’t necessarily know who gets quarantined, as hard as that is to imagine.
I mean, seriously. Let’s say Max Scherzer suddenly misses a start for no reason. Would the team tell a white lie and say it’s a bad back or forearm strain to throw us off the trail? Or if they don’t, and just say, Max can’t pitch, are we supposed to pretend that we don’t know why?
Having a top-line guy out for 10 or 15 games in a 60-game schedule could be devastating.
Conversely, being lucky enough to avoid the injury/COVID bug could push some marginal teams closer to a surprise playoff berth.
Because, again, you don’t need to be one of the best teams over 162 games to get to the 2020 postseason.
Looking back a year, I pulled the date June 5, 2019, as a snapshot for when the league was at roughly 60 games played.
The eventual American League playoff participants were pretty much settled. New York led the AL East with a 38-22 record, and Tampa, which went on to a wild-card berth, was second at 36-23, while Minnesota (40-20) and Houston (42-21) were cruising in the Central and West.
Oakland was 31-31 on June 5, a game and a half out of the second wild-card spot, so the A’s were at least in the mix.
The National League was a mess, in terms of where it was on June 5 vis-à-vis how things ended up.
Philadelphia was the leader in the East, at 35-27, with the eventual division champ, Atlanta, in second, at 33-28, and the Nats in fourth at 28-33.
The Chicago Cubs led the Central on June 5, at 34-26. Milwaukee, on its way to a wild-card berth, was in second at 34-28, and the eventual Central Division champ, St. Louis, was third at 30-29.
The only team that was in cruise control was Los Angeles, which had already lapped the field in the West at 43-20.
You had four of your five AL playoff teams in place at the 60-game mark, then, including your three division champs, and while three of the five NL playoff teams were on their way, Atlanta was a wild-card at 60 games, and your eventual league and World Series champ was well on the outside looking in.
MLB gets going in two weeks with 30 teams in the thick of a pennant race.
From the looks of it, anything can happen, and probably will.
Story by Chris Graham