While Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Associated have finally come to an agreement on the 2020 season, it won't be like anything the league has seen before.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the absence of fans and safety protocols will give the game a different feel. However, another major difference is that only 60 regular-season games will be played. Additionally, unlike in a normal year when teams would travel across the country, no franchise will venture outside its geographic region.
This means every team will only play against the teams in their respective divisions, as well as those in their interleague counterpart. For example, the Nationals will only play NL and AL East opponents. According to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, teams will have 40 division games and 20 interleague matchups. The reports on how those 20 games are sorted range from five games against four opponents, to team's playing their natural interleague partner (like the Orioles and Nationals) six times.
No matter how it shakes out, the new format creates potential matchups that would otherwise not happen during the 2020 season. Here's a look at some of the most interesting options.
The defending World Series Champions going up against one of the 2020 favorites is a matchup everyone can enjoy for multiple reasons.
First off, it will feature the power arms against dominant bats. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg facing off with Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres will be can't-miss at-bats. However, no single battle may be more intriguing than Gerrit Cole versus Juan Soto.
Cole, the newly-signed Yankee, was as lights out as they came in 2019. Yet in the World Series, the 20-year-old Juan Soto seemed to have his number, taking him deep twice and making him look human. Now, there's a chance that the two will get to square off once again, and you won't want to miss it.
Additionally, the current success of both franchises immediately creates a high-stakes atmosphere. Washington is looking to defend its crown and prove 2019 wasn't a year of luck, while the Yankees are trying to live up to their lofty expectations. It's not just a potential World Series preview, but in a year where teams will stay in one region, a chance for a small "rivalry" to be born.
A few months ago, the Astros sign-stealing scandal dominated the baseball news cycle. A pandemic and ensuing arguments for the two sides of the league somewhat dampened the intensity of the hatred a lot had for Houston. But, make no mistake, it's still there and no one may be more bitter than the Dodgers.
On the losing side of that 2017 World Series, Los Angeles will surely be marking these AL/NL West games on their calendar. No fans in attendance will lessen the boos the Astros would hear, but it won't stop the Dodgers from trying to make them pay on the diamond.
In what could be a few games filled with anger and intensity, anything can happen.
Though the names may not jump out, this potential matchup could end up being an exciting one. Both teams from the central divisions have struggled in the past, but expectations for 2020 are on the rise.
The Reds built off a promising 2019 season by adding Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama to an already talented position player roster that features Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Nick Senzel and Aristides Aquino. On the mound, Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray lead a strong rotation.
Chicago's southside team also has plenty of talent. Lucas Giolito asserted himself as an ace in 2019 and Michael Kopech could soon do the same if he remains healthy. A core of Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Tim Anderson give the White Sox a pretty loaded lineup that also features veteran catcher Yasmani Grandal.
These two teams may not feature the biggest names in the game as of now, but that could change. A plethora of future stars are on both rosters, which could lead to a surprising battle of talented squads in 2020.
Just four years ago, these two teams faced in the World Series, and it looked as if it was a sign of what was to come. That hasn't quite happened, as both have returned to the playoffs but failed to find their way back to the Fall Classic.
Now in 2020, it could be the beginning of windows closing for both franchises. Down years in 2019 coupled with top players staring free agency in the face makes it a win-now campaign in Chicago and Cleveland. With only 60 games, the pressure will be on. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor will provide the star power in what could be a matchup of two teams desperately fighting to stay away from the "blow it up" talk.
No, this is not a joke. Both teams will still struggle greatly in 2020, but it doesn't mean the games in which they go against each other can't be fun.
Sure, they're hard to watch when the opponent is way better, but what about when the playing field is even? It could lead to some rather exciting and competitive games in which young players have a chance to show what they have.
Maybe there are a few errors or a little league inside-the-park homerun. But, can you really say you don't want to see that? A battle for the No. 1 pick or a sneak preview of the 2027 World Series, the bottom battles shouldn't be overlooked.
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