The revised game schedule for the 2020 MLB season is set to be released on Monday. Fans got their first taste of baseball in months last week as players reported for aptly named ‘MLB summer camps’. The name, intended to evoke fond childhood memories for players and fans has already not been without incident. MLB’s marketing team hopes the rebrand will be enough to distract players from the health concerns playing will create, but the jury’s still out on whether most players can move past these calculated risks.
In preparation for what’s expected to be the most awkward 60 game stretch in baseball’s history, let’s examine five interleague matchups fans have to look forward to. Remember, with teams in each geographic region playing each other, many of these matchups will happen at the same time. Matchups fans have never seen all in one season
1. Dodgers vs. Astros
Oh boy. It’s hard to predict what will happen when this rematch of the 2017 World Series hits the diamond. The Astros sign-stealing scandal absolutely flooded offseason news, but that was before the global pandemic hit baseball. Do the Dodgers bean every Astros hitter, as some fans have suggested? Do the teams stay civil with hopes of making every one of the 60 games count?
Both teams are set up for winning seasons again this year. That makes the bean-ball potential all the more intriguing. Los Angeles holds the slight edge in rotation depth, but lineup strength is a dead heat. The bullpen and defense will likely decide the outcome should strong pitching reign supreme in a shortened series
Prediction: The Dodgers are still the better team on paper. LA returns all their major pieces from a year ago and have added Mookie Betts and sneakily good David Price to their ranks. Houston kept their primary lineup this season (Correa, Bregman, Altuve, Springer, and Gurriel) but could struggle with back end rotation depth after the loss of Gerrit Cole.
Key Matchup: SP Walker Buehler vs. Entire Astros Lineup
The up-and-coming Dodger ace is no stranger to expressing emotion when he takes the mound. If Buehler can keep his emotions in check against the Astros, fans should expect a masterful pitching performance. If anger gets the better of him, the advantage could likely shift in the other direction.
2. Nationals vs. Yankees
Two high-profile teams with World Series aspirations? Sign us up. The Nationals are coming off an impressive 2019 World Series win in which they survived and won five different elimination games. The Yankees won more than 100 games for the second straight year, only to lose in the American League championship against the Astros. Both teams are in the top-six favorites to win the World Series.
These are both good teams. It’s hard to figure out if the age of the Nationals will catch up with them anytime soon. Players opting out of the 60 game season might also have an impact on the series. When all is said and done, these games will have some fireworks.
Prediction: It’s hard to bet against the top three in Washington’s rotation (Scherzer-Strasburg-Corbin), but New York added the biggest piece in the offseason — Gerrit Cole. With Giancarlo Stanton reported to be healthy and coupled with white-hot bats, the Yankees get the edge.
Key Matchup: OF Juan Soto vs. SP Gerrit Cole (.667, 2 HR, 4 RBI in World Series)
It’s hard to believe that anyone in baseball could get the best of Gerrit Cole, but Juan Soto’s World Series performance against the now-Yankee ace raised some eyebrows. Ever the competitor, expect Cole to pitch aggressively and bear down. It will be up to Soto to make adjustments to his plate approach.
3. Cardinals vs. White Sox
Off the beaten path of anticipated interleague matchups, both the Cardinals and White Sox go into the season with something to prove. In the St. Louis’ case, Dylan Carlson and other young bats hope to step up and contribute to the Cardinals offense. As for the Sox, they’ll look for pitching to step up this season and top prospects to perform to the team’s expectations. And there could be no better stage for both clubs to showcase their talent than the first annual ‘Field of Dreams’ game in Iowa, where the namesake classic movie takes place. Staunch fans and the game itself will prove the movie’s famous adage true: “If you build it, they will come (even during a global pandemic).”
Prediction: St. Louis has a better track record of late, with their first postseason appearance since 2015 last year. Chicago, meanwhile, hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008. The Sox probably hold the edge in offense, but the Cardinals should play sharp defense and pitch well. Really, it’s a toss-up. Expect a close series filled with developing stars.
The classic ‘duel of the aces’ in this series should be epic. Flaherty emerged as a superstar in the second half of last year (0.91 ERA), and Giolito has the best pitch arsenal among the young arms for the Sox. Not only are the two pitchers close friends; they went to the same high school and played on the school’s team at the same time. The rivalry here should be friendly and the pitching pinpoint.
4. Cubs vs. Indians
The series that brought a world championship to Chicago and the series that reminded Cleveland of their sports fans’ endless agony. Yes, both squads look different than they did during the 2016 World Series, but both teams still expect to vye for their division titles. Cleveland has only 6 players from that 2016 World Series team in their 60 player pool. With Francisco Lindor becoming trade bait, that number could still decrease. The Indians strengths include their young pitching and top-of-the-order bats; everyone else has worked through inconsistency. The Cubs look to rely on the back-to-back-to-back punch of Báez, Bryant and Rizzo to hold the offense, but could be thin on pitching after José Quintana’s freak injury.
Prediction: Neither side will be perfect, but Chicago’s lineup will hold on longer than Cleveland’s bullpen. Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras hold the keys to making the Cubs lineup fearsome, and they should step up. Lindor will be Lindor, but the Cubs should take the series.
Key Matchup: SP Shane Bieber vs. SS Javier Báez
Bieber, the young gun, wasn’t around for Cleveland’s World Series run, but has pitched on the big stage in last year’s All Star game. Báez, meanwhile, ended up batting .167/.167/.267 in that ‘16 series and is looking for revenge. The best batter in the series faces the best pitcher in this matchup. Whoever prevails will give their team an advantage in the series.
5. Phillies vs. Rays
Many baseball fans may have forgotten that this was the 2008 World Series matchup, when the Phillies came out on top in five games. This year’s series instead will show the stark contrast between the two teams’ management styles. On one side: Bryce Harper, $330 million man, Rhys Hoskins, Didi Gregorius and JT Realmuto, all signed to healthy contracts. On the other: Charlie Morton and Blake Snell, with less than $20 million dollars in contract money between them. Where Philadelphia seems to throw money at roster holes, Tampa Bay dives into the numbers, taking a more analytical approach. What’s most impressive is that the Rays are still expected to have the better season, and they’ll do that through player platoons and aggressive bullpen use.
Prediction: Philadelphia might have the star power, but Tampa Bay has the production. Assuming the Rays pitching staff can limit the Phillies lineup, Tampa Bay should win comfortably. A hot streak from Harper or Realmuto could make the box score a lot closer.
Former Pirates prospects face off in this one. Glasnow missed a significant portion of last season returning from right forearm tightness. The injury overshadowed his then-miniscule 1.27 ERA, and his return wasn’t as spectacular as his April had been. Getting more innings for the right-hander will be crucial for the Rays’ success. McCutchen also had a 2019 riddled with injuries but expects to be back for Opening Day. If he can have success at the top of the Phillies lineup, he helps set the table for a powerful middle part of the order.
Featured image courtesy of TravelIowa.com.
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