Major League Baseball is aiming to have the 2020 season take place amid the coronavirus pandemic. Due to the circumstances surrounding the sport, whenever baseball does come back, it will be different.
The league is still working through numerous hurdles that include creating a safe environment for players, staff and family. One proposed solution that has been floated around revolves around the league being reformatted to three 10-team divisions. The groupings would be based on locations and those teams would only play each other.
USA TODAY recently reported what those new divisions could look like. For the Nationals, the New York Yankees and Mets, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins would become Washington's opponents.
That list of teams provides the Nationals with some familiar faces they are used to, but also a great deal of American League opponents they only see every so often during Interleague play. With more opportunities to face off with teams from the AL East, is there a chance that a rivalry or two could form? NBC Sports Boston's John Tomase believes so.
Tomase joined the Nationals Talk Podcast last week to give an outside perspective on how other teams around the league may view the Nationals. Among the topics discussed, Tomase listed some teams from the AL East he thought could become a foe of the Nationals in 2020.
Ideally, the Orioles would be the team one could point to and say a rivalry would grow from with the two teams close in proximity playing more often. Yet, location is only half the battle in a rivalry. There also needs to be a competitive spirit derived from both sides giving each other their best shot and trading blows. The Orioles aren't really up for that right now.
“In a perfect world you’d say the Orioles. But unfortunately we know they are irrelevant at the moment," Tomase said. "So, it’s not going to be then.”
Moving on to more formidable opponents, Tomase won't rule out the Rays as an option. Though they don't carry the same reputation and lore as other AL East squads, the Rays were a very good team in 2019. Winning 96 games, Tampa Bay entered the postseason as a Wild Card team just like the Nationals.
After winning the one-game playoff, the team used a fighter's mentality and got the most out of its roster to push the Astros toward elimination. Sound familiar?
“The Rays are the little team that could," Tomase said. "They are the team that very nearly kind of duplicated what the Nationals did last year, pushing the Astros to the limit.”
Though the Rays and Nationals would have some good battles in the new division, there's one team that Tomase thinks will provide Washington with the biggest challenge, therefore potentially sparking a rivalry.
"Really it’s the Yankees. Because the Yankees are a legit World Series contender, the Nationals are the defending World Series champs," Tomase said. "I think there you go right there."
The Yankees-Nationals rivalry makes sense. As Tomase notes, it has the competitive nature needed for a rivalry to grow. The Nationals are the defending World Series champs and a team that showed its skill in 2019, even if some think luck played a big part. New York was just a few games away from being Washington's opponent in the Fall Classic. The new division would allow two really good teams to get more looks at each other.
Additionally, the offseason activities of both squads bring more similarities. The Yankees have always been known as big spenders and proved it once again by signing Gerrit Cole. Washington was no slouch, however, giving a large contract to Stephen Strasburg.
The Yankees and Nationals have big-time players and are at the top of the food chain in baseball entering 2020. With the potential for the two to meet more often, a new rivalry seems plausible.
"I think you’re really looking at a Yankees-Nationals one-two in that reconfigured East if that’s the way baseball goes," Tomase said.
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