• Freddie Benson

My 100 Percent Accurate 2020 MLB Predictions

Updated: Oct 5

There’s no way these go wrong. Right?


Credit: Arturo Pardavila III/Flickr

Every March, in the Notes app on my phone, I scratch out my predictions for the coming MLB season. This year was no different — I had them pretty much set in stone (and felt pretty confident in my picks) by the second week of March. It’s just baseball, right? I know baseball like the back of my hand.

Then COVID-19 hit, and it hit hard. Everything shut down. We retreated into our homes. Sports ground to a halt. As the weeks turned into months, our lives became tiny, solitary cocoons, and we had no clue what we were going to look like when our metamorphosis finished.

Now, against the backdrop of a country still fighting a virus that has killed more than 140,000 Americans, the cocoon is cracking open. I can dine outdoors. I can go to the beach. And most importantly, sports are returning — the NBA and NHL in their respective bubbles, and baseball in a unique, regionalized 60-game season.

In the last week or so, as the quaintly named Summer Camp finished up with scrimmages and exhibition games, I opened up the note on my phone containing my original 2020 MLB predictions. I read it over. I thought about how different things are going to be in 60 games, as opposed to 162. The back of my hand? It looks completely different.

It’s going to be a weird season. Really strange things are going to happen on a nightly basis. But how weird is baseball gonna be when October rolls around? A 162-game season featured several likely playoff teams — does that change? Can a team like the Marlins really get hot and sneak into the Wild Card Game? To what extent do the Universal Truths of Baseball apply in a universally bizarre year? We’ll find out for sure soon enough. For now, though, with the season upon us, here is how I think the 2020 Major League Baseball season will shake out.



Credit: Picasa/FlickrAMERICAN LEAGUE

American League

AL East: Yankees


Very good teams are going to be very good, even in a 60-game season in the middle of a global pandemic. The Yankees are a very good team. Some might point to the Rays here and call them the sexy pick to win the division, and I don’t blame them. The cutting-edge Rays are deep, versatile and have enough pitching to mix and match their way through to October. The Yankees, though, are everything the Rays are, but with legitimate superstar talents and a bottomless supply of resources to make a splash at the Trade Deadline, if necessary.

The team’s biggest weakness last year was their rotation, but the addition of Gerrit Cole immediately changes that dynamic. Instead of a staff full of second- and third-tier arms, they have arguably the best pitcher outside of Queens sitting nicely on top of what now looks like a group that easily goes seven starters deep.


Aaron Judge is healthy. Giancarlo Stanton is healthy. Cole is here. The Red Sox are middling. The Blue Jays have much bigger issues to worry about. The Orioles are going with Tommy Milone on Opening Day. The Yankees have all the pieces to make a serious run, and all indications point to them playing deep into October.

AL Central: Twins

Normally, as baseball fans, we expect teams to address their biggest weaknesses in the offseason. The Yankees signed Cole, the White Sox signed Yasmani Grandal, the Jays signed Hyun-Jin Ryu. All of these moves were made to solidify areas that showed glaring need for improvement in 2019. So what did the Twins, a team that collectively hit the most home runs ever but didn’t have a single starter post an ERA lower than 3.50, do? Naturally, they signed … Josh Donaldson. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Donaldson joins a team that features Nelson Cruz (41 homers in 2019), Max Kepler (36), Miguel Sano (34), Eddie Rosario (32) and Mitch Garver (31) in the lineup. And to be fair, they re-signed Michael Pineda and brought in Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill to back up Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, making the rotation more solid than verifiably good. And free-agent signee Sergio Romo will lend his versatility to an otherwise study but unspectacular bullpen.

Minnesota figures to finish on top in an otherwise slippery division. The Indians won 93 games last year, but traded away Corey Kluber and are thin in the outfield. The White Sox made some interesting offseason moves and have a lot of young talent coming up this season, but I don’t think they’re quite ready to challenge for the division. The Royals and the Tigers are definitely going to play Major League Baseball this season.

The Twins lineup stands out as perhaps the best in baseball, and the pitching should be solid enough to make them fun to watch come playoff time.


Credit: Ian D’Andrea/Flickr

AL West: Athletics

This is the division to watch in the Junior Circuit. The Astros are still incredibly talented (even without Cole) but might be too preoccupied thinking about the repercussions from the sign-stealing scandal that rocked most of the offseason. They also have uncharacteristic bullpen issues to worry about — Will Harris is gone, Joe Smith may opt out of the season, and Ryan Pressly dealt with injuries last season. The Angels have two of the most electrifying talents in the world in Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani — and signed Anthony Rendon to a megadeal to protect him in the lineup — but have both a rotation and a bullpen by committee. The Rangers have one of the better five-man rotations in the game but might not have the offensive firepower to sustain a run. The Mariners have a few exciting prospects but are still a couple of years away from seriously competing.

In a normal season, I think the Astros probably finish on top. However, a 60-game sprint benefits the Athletics in multiple ways. The Oakland rotation features two starters that are younger than 27 in top prospect Jesus Luzardo (22) and Frankie Montas (27) — and a third in the highly-touted A.J. Puk who just hit the IL with shoulder woes. These arms, along with 28-year-old Sean Manaea, aren’t starting down 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings, so management should be comfortable letting them empty the tank straight into October without restriction.

The A’s also have one of the best defenses in the game — from Gold Glove winners Matt Chapman and Matt Olson to the toosly, underrated center fielder Ramon Laureano, to catcher Sean Murphy, the organization’s number-two prospect. Defensive ability seems to play a bigger role in smaller sample sizes (such as the postseason or, say, a 60-game regular season) and Oakland’s stand-out squad should be a boost to those young arms.


The bullpen is suspect; Liam Hendriks (one season removed from a 1.46-WHIP campaign) doesn’t have a ton of help in the back end. Still, I can see the short season playing in their favor, letting them trot out their young guns and ride their stellar defense and Chapman’s bat into the postseason.

AL Wild Cards: Rays, Astros

As I mentioned before, the Rays have one of the deepest pitching staffs in the game and their new-school approach should help them win 90-plus games again, as they have in each of the last two seasons. The team that invented the opener suddenly has six viable starters (including former Cy Young winner Blake Snell and darkhorse candidates Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow) and baseball’s deepest bullpen. The lineup also has some sneaky pop, especially with the addition of Hunter Renfroe and a full season of Yandy Diaz’s massive forearms. They might be the team best equipped to handle the chaos of 2020.

I think the second Wild Card spot goes to an AL West team, and I’m leaning towards the Astros. Even with the questions surrounding the legitimacy of their World Series victory and subsequent dominance over the last three seasons, their roster is still incredibly talented and they have the requisite playoff push experience. George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke — there is no shortage of legitimate superstar talent on the roster. It’s just a matter of how the bullpen adapts without a couple of key pieces, and how well they capitalize on all the free baserunners they’re about to have:


NATIONAL LEAGUE

NL East: Braves

I’m a Mets fan. This physically hurts to write. I grew up as the Braves won 15 consecutive division titles, and they’ve also taken the East in 2018 and 2019. I lie awake at night thinking about Chipper Jones taking two generations worth of sorry Mets pitching staffs deep. And right now, the Braves roster is full of Mets killers, including Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Cole Hamels — and that doesn’t even account for the Former Met Principle, the soul-crushing phenomenon that will assuredly turn Adeiny Hechavarría and Matt Adams into Barry Larkin and Frank Thomas when they line up against the Orange and Blue.

Beyond the Braves’ ability to tear my heart out of my chest, they have a revamped bullpen and solid starting pitching to complement their MVP-caliber duo at the heart of their lineup in Freeman and Acuña. What’s interesting is that they’ve been significantly affected by COVID-19 opt-outs; Nick Markakis and History’s Weirdest March Toward 3,000 Hits will stay home, as will potential fifth starter Felix Hernandez. Most teams’ rosters would feel a little stretched down two key cogs (and maybe a third, with Hamels potentially on the shelf for an extended period of time), but the Braves picked up Marcell Ozuna and have some decent pitching depth in the roster pool, including 26th-ranked prospect Ian Anderson (shoutout to Shenendehowa High School, New York stand up).

The NL East is as much of a “win-now” division as there is in the game; the Phillies, Nationals and Mets are all within spitting distance of the top spot. New skipper Joe Girardi could get Philly over the hump for the first time after two straight second-half collapses. The defending champion Nationals need to stave off a Rendon-less World Series hangover, but anything is possible with the three-headed monster atop their rotation. The Mets are essentially an inverse of the team that won the NL pennant five years ago — a stellar lineup with plug-and-play pitching that will toe the line between contention and collapse if they can’t stay healthy or if the bullpen doesn’t rebound. The Braves seem like the sturdiest choice in a four-team horserace.

Credit: SFC Anthony L. Taylor/Wikimedia Commons

NL Central: Reds

The Reds?! Winning the division?!? Instinctively, I want to smear war paint on my face and scream over the ashes of normalcy that we left behind four months ago. But this isn’t as crazy as it seems, and the Reds might have been a sexy pick to win the Central in a full season, as well.

Let’s break it down. This is going to be the best division in baseball, with four teams scratching and clawing for the top spot and the fifth, the Pirates, eager to play spoiler. It’s also going to be the worst division in baseball, with the eventual champion likely to win no more than, say, 33 games in this shortened season, partly because of the upcoming dogfight and partly because, well, these teams just aren’t that great. Every team has a glaring weakness that could keep them from October, from dismal pitching (smile, Chicago) to a weak lineup that wasn’t addressed in the offseason (St. Louis, stand up!) to a roster full of “guys” but not enough “dudes” (Milwaukee, you know what I mean).

Still, the Reds might be the riskiest pick in the division. The Cardinals are fresh off an NLCS appearance (where they were swept by the Nats, mind you) and are almost guaranteed bounceback seasons from Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter. The Cubs still have the core that broke their 108-year World Series curse in 2016, highlighted by a not-yet-traded Kris Bryant. The Brewers are one season removed from taking the Dodgers to seven games in the NLCS. It just seems unlikely that a team coming off six consecutive losing seasons would take a division that has so much prestige.

With great risk, though, comes great reward, and the Reds have been building towards this reward for some time. They have big bats, including the newly-acquired Nicholas Castellanos and Mike Moustakas, and a stellar rotation with Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. The bullpen has a solid backend trio with Amir Garrett, two-way stud Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias, and I think that David Bell will have these guys eager to take advantage of the short season. This looks like the year that Cincy’s long rebuild ends.


NL West: Dodgers

Everything I said for the Yankees in the AL goes for the Dodgers in the NL. They check all the boxes. Two MVPs in the lineup? Check. Two Cy Young candidates? Check. Lineup depth? They’re going to leave baseball’s second overall prospect off the Opening Day roster because they simply don’t need him. Bullpen depth? This may be their weak spot, but if need be, they can always call up the electrifying Josiah Gray and Dustin May to help out the back-end quartet of Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez, Blake Treinen and Brusdar Garaterol, who should be arrested for witchcraft:


The difference between the Dodgers and the Yankees is that the Dodgers have no real competition in the West. Sure, the Padres are going to be fun to watch (as long as they don’t send their guys down to Single-A again), but they’ll only be a threat if their high-upside pitching staff pans out (and that’s a big if). The Diamondbacks are going to be incredibly average, and you could combine the Rockies’ and Giants’ rotations and it still wouldn’t match what L.A. has. The Dodgers will be using the 60-game regular season as a series of scrimmages to keep them sharp for October. They could probably start Chico on Opening Day and still win the division:




NL Wild Cards: Mets, Brewers

The Mets lost Marcus Stroman to a left calf tear hours before I wrote this, and there are a lot of “ifs” to this team — they’ll contend if the bullpen can rebound, if Amed Rosario and J.D. Davis prove that they’re for real, if Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil can repeat their All-Star campaigns from 2019 and if Yoenis Cespedes can prove he’s still a force in the middle of the order. I’m still confident enough in the personnel they have to pencil them into the first Wild Card spot. They’re organizationally thin, though, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they fell on the wrong side of that aforementioned line of contention and a Corey Oswalt-type is making September starts.


I’ve waffled back and forth with this second spot, and I ultimately think that Milwaukee’s “guys” are enough to push past St. Louis’ pitching depth, which took a massive hit when Jordan Hicks decided to opt out. The Brewers’ pitching staff is as mix-and-match as everyone thinks the Rays is, and it’s hard to argue against Christian Yelich anchoring a balanced offensive attack. A deep, consistent roster generally beats out a top-heavy one — especially in a truncated regular season — which is why I think Milwaukee beats out the Cubs, Cardinals, Nationals and Phillies for the second spot.



WILD CARD GAMES

AL: Rays over Astros

Justin Verlander would presumably take the ball for the Astros, and he’s been a little Jekyll and Hyde-ish in his postseason career. He was less-than-stellar, but not terrible, last October, and I don’t know if his 37-year-old Hall-of-Fame arm can take too many more high-stress innings, especially in a winner-take-all scenario. The Rays will trot out one of their Cy Young candidates, back him up with anyone and everyone out of the ’pen, and find the right offensive approach against Verlander to move on.


NL: Mets over Brewers In a winner-take-all scenario, everyone looks to the pitching matchup to see which squad has the upper hand. It’s hard to do better than deGrom in that scenario, and if the Mets get to this point, that means the high-powered lineup will be healthy and ready to attack whatever hodgepodge of relievers Craig Counsell throws at them.


The Brewers lineup is different than it was when they reached the NLCS a couple of years ago — they don’t have a Jesus Aguilar or a Travis Shaw behind Yelich, and they’ll pay dearly for that against deBest pitcher in deSport.



Credit: Keith Allison/Wikimedia CommonsALDS

Yankees over Rays

The Yankees have just too many weapons. The lineup doesn’t quit, the rotation is incredibly solid, and the bullpen is relentless. They are a machine, and they’ll fairly easily overpower the Rays, who will most definitely go down in a blaze of analytics glory, like having six infielders or pulling a McDowell-Orosco.

Athletics over Twins

These two teams are like puzzle pieces from completely different sets. This matchup isn’t strength vs. strength or even strength vs. weakness. It’s two solid teams with very different identities fighting to the death. It’s like gladiators vs. samurai! Lions vs. pterodactyls! ATTICA!

Anyway, a wise man once said, “If the Mets catch the ball, they will win.” Same rule applies here. The A’s defense and electricity on the bump should help contain the Twins’ offensive attack. It’ll be a good series to watch, and it might go the distance, but I think the A’s are too balanced to lose.



NLDS

Dodgers over Mets

My explicit Mets bias wants me to blindly push them to the NL pennant, but I’m sober right now and can’t consciously do that as a Baseball Gods-fearing human being. The only way the Mets would pull off the upset is if Jacob deGrom takes the ball three times in five games and if Yoenis Cespedes treats baseballs like crab legs. That probably won’t happen. The Dodgers are really, really good, by the way. Did I mention that?


Braves over Reds

Experience counts double in October, and I doubt that the Braves will want to repeat their back-to-back NLDS exits (including an embarrassing Game 5 loss last year). That bullpen is significantly better than it was last year, too, and the universe will smile if Freddie Freeman wins a playoff series. The Reds are a fun team, but I don’t think they’re particularly well-equipped to handle the big stage just yet. Atlanta doesn’t have the Awesome Power of the Sleeveless Jersey like Cincinnati does, though.




ALCS

Yankees over Athletics

It’s the early 2000s all over again. The Flip! Giambi! Moneyball! Just kidding. Kinda. The A’s have a great defense and a few big sluggers, like they did two decades ago, and the Yankees are the big bad Death Star, like they were two decades ago. Advantage: Yankees, once again.

The A’s just don’t have the pitching to last seven games against this Yankees lineup. You know, the one that has a guy that almost won the 2017 AL MVP (Judge), the 2017 NL MVP (Stanton), and a guy that almost won the 2019 AL MVP (D.J. LeMahieu)? Yeah, that one.


The Yankees, on the other hand, nearly won the 2019 pennant by putting the entire weight of a fanbase squarely on the shoulders of its bullpen. They won’t have to do that this year, but it’s nice to know that they can get a little creative if necessary. And New York has an ace in the hole, literally — Cole has a 2.60 career ERA in the postseason.

MVP: D.J. LeMahieu

NLCS

Dodgers over Braves

Have I mentioned that the Dodgers are really, really good? Well, they are. And even though the Braves actually match up fairly well against them, I don’t see how the Dodgers don’t win the NL pennant.

But like I said, it’ll be a fun matchup at the very least. We’ll see the potent Braves lineup fight against Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. Cole Hamels will continue postseason prowess against Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts. The two pre-eminent powerhouses in the NL over the last three seasons will meet again in October.


The last time they met in the playoffs, the Braves were sent home in a four-gmae NLDS romp. They’ve both beefed up since then, but these Dodgers seem to be special.

MVP: Walker Buehler



Credit: Ian D’Andrea/Flickr

WORLD SERIES

Dodgers over Yankees, 4 to 2

The matchup that everyone in the baseball world is clamoring for, but hasn’t happened this century. In a season where everything could turn upside down, it feels like the blue-blood franchises are even more likely to take advantage of the chaos.

Think about it. The odds of a darkhorse sneaking into October are definitely higher than they were before. However, it becomes likelier the ones that consistently make it there take control of the limelight, simply because they can block out the chaos and go about their business like it’s just another postseason.

The most common matchup in World Series history will take center stage for the 12th time. The Yankees hold an 8–3 all-time advantage, but the 2020 edition will go to the City of Angels. Pitching wins championships, and even though the Yankees have the better bullpen, L.A.’s starters will finally provide a challenge for New York’s lineup, go deep into games, and avoid the squad’s hairy middle relief options.

As we’ve seen before, the Yankees can only rely on that bullpen for so long, and aside from Cole and Masahiro Tanaka, they don’t have the kinds of rotation options that instill confidence in October. The bullpen will pick up the slack through the first two rounds, but those relief arms will finally wear down towards the end of the series — and L.A. will smell blood in the water. The end result will be a World Series parade for Dodgers fans for the first time since 1988.


AWARDS

AL MVP: Matt Chapman, 3B, OAK NL MVP: Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, ATL AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, SP, NYY NL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, SP, NYM AL Rookie of the Year: Luis Robert, OF, CWS NL Rookie of the Year: Shogo Akiyama, OF, CIN AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, OAK NL Manager of the Year: David Bell, CIN AL Comeback POY: Giancarlo Stanton, NYY NL Comeback POY: Yoenis Cespedes, NYM



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