At 7:08 p.m. on July 23, a Giant will dig into the box -- likely the right-handed box, given Gabe Kapler's likelihood to use platoons -- and stare out at Clayton Kershaw. For a moment, the summer will seem normal.
It's not at all normal, of course. That game will be played without fans, with managers wearing masks, and with players socially distancing themselves in the empty stands. But here in 2020, that's the closest we can get to baseball, and MLB is making a real effort to return for a 60-game season.
It was a long road getting here, and there's a lot to be figured out before the opener. But here's a look at what you can expect during the 2020 season:
When does the MLB season resume?
If you're going to come back in late July, come back in style, and that's what baseball is doing. The first game of the short season is Yankees-Nationals, followed by Giants-Dodgers as the nightcap. That's Max Scherzer vs. Gerrit Cole and then Johnny Cueto vs. Kershaw. If MLB wanted to make a statement with the first night back, that's a hell of a way to do it.
The other 26 teams return July 24, which is nearly four full months later than the original start date. MLB shut down spring training operations March 12 and the league and MLB Players Association had a long battle to try and figure out a way to return. It was nasty, and ultimately the commissioner imposed a 60-game season. Here's what that looks like for the Giants:
The Giants will play all of their home games and do all of their training at Oracle Park, which has been upgraded quite a bit.
Is there a new format?
Aside from this being the shortest season in MLB history? Yes, there are some other quirks. Scheduling was changed to limit travel and extra innings will now start with a runner on second to try and speed games up and make sure players aren't at the ballpark too late into the night.
Social distancing rules are in effect, although there's only so much guys like catcher Buster Posey and first baseman Brandon Belt can do.
The biggest change is the universal DH, which was likely to go into the rulebook in the next CBA anyway. Goodbye, Madison Bumgarner hitting dingers. The Giants won't have a set DH. They plan to use several veterans, including Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and likely newcomer Darin Ruf.
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What does the playoff race look like?
It's an Even Year, my friends!
Alright, alright, the Giants are still not anywhere close to favored, but a 60-game season is a sprint, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has talked repeatedly of how it puts the Giants in a much more competitive position. He recently mentioned a conversation on a call with team employees.
"Somebody made the point that, 'Hey, we were 19-6 in July. We were the best team in baseball in July,'" Zaidi said. "That's like half the season now."
With a hot start, any team can enter September with a shot at the postseason. This is especially brutal for the original favorites -- the 2019 Nationals started 19-31 before rebounding and winning it all.
Talent should still win out in most cases, and the Dodgers are a clear favorite in that respect. The Diamondbacks and Padres are generally thought of to be on their heels in the division. The entire NL Central looks up for grabs outside of the Pirates. In the NL East, the Nationals and Braves are favorites, with the Phillies and Mets also potentially in the mix for a division title over 60 games.
Much of this, quite frankly, could be decided by the coronavirus. More than a half-dozen established big leaguers already have opted out and more are on the way. The Giants had to shut their camp down for a night just four days in.
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The 2020 MLB schedule
It's just 60 games, with 40 against your division and 20 against the corresponding division in the other league. Six of those 20 interleague games are "rivalry" games, which for the Giants means 10 percent of their season comes against the A's.
The regular season ends Sept. 27. After that, the hope is for a normal postseason.
Odds to win the 2020 World Series
The Giants are, uhh, not exactly favored. In some places they opened at +25000, meaning you can bet $100 to win $25,000. Sounds great, until you realize that you'll almost certainly just lose that $100.
The Dodgers and Yankees are the heavy favorites at +350, but it's no fun to pick the favorite, especially if you're a Giants fan in this case. It's a 60-game season and anything can happen, so why not take a risk? From here, the Rays (+1800), Reds (+2000), A's (+2000) and Angels (+2200) look like solid options if you want a good roster that could get hot and win it all in a shortened season.
In terms of long shots, the Diamondbacks are intriguing. They're +5000 and have a really well-balanced team, with enough pitching depth to make them a real problem for the Dodgers in the NL West. If they get into the postseason, they'll line up behind Bumgarner, who knows a thing or three about October.