MLB's weirdest and wildest season is about to begin. The sport itself remains unchanged but everything around it has been flipped upside down as the league attempts to play a 60-game season amid a global pandemic.
It's impossible to know what the world will look like three months from now, but if–and this is a mighty if–MLB is able to complete the regular season, it will give way as usual to the postseason and World Series in October.
And if we are lucky enough to see a Fall Classic in 2020, who do you expect to be there? SI's MLB experts offer their predictions below, projecting the 10-team playoff field and eventual World Series matchup. The Rays and Dodgers proved to be the trendy World Series picks, but the Yankees, Nationals and even the Angels got a nod as well.
Let's get to it.
We are bound to see surprises because this is a year unlike any other: 60 games, COVID-19, expanded rosters, empty ballparks, limited number of opponents … more unpredictable than ever. Several teams will miss the playoffs by one or two games. The White Sox, Athletics, Cardinals and Braves could just as easily win their division as come up just short. Here’s the best part about this season: more meaningful games in September than ever before.
World Series: Rays over Dodgers (7 Games)
Offense will be down this year. The expanded roster was a mistake. The first month will be a parade of nasty relievers holding down hitters. The two toughest pitching staffs to hit last year belonged to the Dodgers and Rays. Go with depth of pure stuff to find your pennant winners.
This season will be all about depth. At any moment a team could lose half a dozen players for a week; the clubs with the strongest benches will probably prevail.
World Series: Dodgers over Yankees (6 Games)
The Yankees have the best pitcher on the planet right now but less certainty behind him. The Dodgers and their Swiss Army Knife roster construction seem especially well-suited for the finishing kick of a sprint of a season.
Sixty games may be short enough to introduce all sorts of weirdness in the records of individual players, but for the most part, I think that team records will still align more or less with what we'd expect from a longer season. (As fun as it would be to see a playoff run from the Orioles or Mariners... that's still a tall order.)
World Series: Dodgers over Yankees (7 Games)
No asterisk needed here if the Dodgers finally get their World Series. Their strengths should play up especially well in a short season, and it might be enough for everything to fall into place for them at last.
This season is going to be weird, and while I think the cream still rises to the top, we'll see a surprise emergence from the other National League team in Southern California. The Padres haven't made the playoffs since 2006. With a nasty bullpen and wonderfully fun franchise player in Fernando Tatis Jr., they end the National League's longest postseason drought.
World Series: Rays over Nationals (5 Games)
Nothing about the Rays is status quo–their embarrassingly thin budget, sparsely-filled dome stadium and knack for finding talent where others don't–so how appropriate would it be for their first championship to come in a season like this? Also, the Anthony Rendon-less Nationals remain strong enough to make a serious run at becoming MLB's first repeat champions in 20 years.
Three of the five AL playoff teams already appear to be locked up, with the Yankees and Twins taking their divisions and the Rays securing the first wild-card spot. Things go a little haywire in the AL West. Houston does not have Gerrit Cole this year, and still has the pressure to prove its success was not dependent on its illicit sign-stealing scheme. Three wild card teams that could surprise are the Angels, White Sox and Blue Jays. I’m counting on Anaheim to secure the second wild-card berth with a road win over the Dodgers in Game 60.
Over in the NL, the Dodgers winning the West is the only lock. Otherwise, anything can happen. The Nats are built to win the East, with three stud starting pitchers and a good blend of youth and experience in their lineup. St. Louis has the most depth of any NL Central club and a strong starting staff anchored by ace Jack Flaherty. The Phillies made some great additions this offseason—Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler and manager Joe Girardi—with little subtractions. San Diego is young and exciting, with an elite bullpen, and has the most favorable travel schedule of any team in the West: 20 of its 23 September games will be played in California. The Braves, Mets, Brewers, Cubs and Reds also have a path to the playoffs in what should be an exciting NL pennant race.
World Series: Angels over Dodgers (7 Games)
In the spirit of a chaotic season, why not have a champion no one saw coming? Shohei Ohtani will dominate on the mound and at the dish, complemented by a lineup of Trout, Anthony Rendon, Jo Adell, David Fletcher, Albert Pujols, Justin Upton, Tommy LaStella and Andrelton Simmons.
The Dodgers run away with the NL West and outlast the Nationals in a seven-game NLCS. Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager provide the offense to get past Washington’s elite rotation.
In Game 7 of the World Series, Pujols leads off the 14th inning and puts on one final show with a title-clinching solo home run. The artificial crowd noise does little to match the magnitude of the moment.
A thrilling World Series is the least I can hope for in such a devastating year.
All three juggernauts should roll through the regular season, with the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers all capable of winning 40-plus games. But there are more than three potential champions out there. Both the Rays and A’s have accumulated a mammoth amount of talent despite minimal payrolls. Cleveland could make a run at the World Series if it doesn’t deal Francisco Lindor, and there’s no shortage of contenders in the National League. A chalk group of division winners doesn’t necessarily portend an unsurprising World Series matchup.
World Series: Dodgers over Rays (6 Games)
The Dodgers sport perhaps the most stacked roster in the game, pairing Mookie Betts with Cody Bellinger for a true superstar combo. The Rays are approaching the talent level of their 2008 pennant-winning squad. Tyler Glasnow is a true AL Cy Young candidate, followed by Blake Snell and Charlie Morton for a fierce playoff rotation. But it's L.A. that grinds out its first title since 1988, ending a lengthy championship drought in a season unlike any other.