Only a couple of weeks ago, we saw the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV. With this, most sports fans shift their focus to the NBA, NHL, or maybe even the XFL. But, to baseball fans around the world the conclusion of the NFL season signals one thing; Baseball is on its way.
This week, all players began to report to their respective teams’ spring training camps. After a long and eventful off-season, this is music to baseball fans’ ears everywhere. With this, we can really begin to breakdown, assess, and irrationally predict where the 2020 MLB season may take us. What we do know for sure is, this was one of the most active and hectic off-seasons in recent MLB History. On top of the chaotic Astros cheating scandal, this offseason saw big name managers and players on the move everywhere you looked. A handful of teams such as the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, & New York Yankees were considered winners of this offseason. For the White Sox and the Reds, this was the case because they added multiple valuable pieces to their talented young cores. For the Yankees and the Phillies, who are both considered to be a pair of the most talented teams in the league, it was because they landed some of the superstar players who were available on the free agency market. Following a year in which the Washington Nationals stunned the league with a magical World Series run, the league feels to be up for grabs in some ways following dominant runs by teams such as the Dodgers and the Astros in recent years. The Astros are freshly removed from their cheating scandal, but still remain relevant in the 2020 World Series picture. I do not think I can remember a league wide tension like the one which the recent Astros cheating scandal has created. Everybody in the league is fed up and feels like the Astros got off easy with their punishments handed down by the MLB commissioner. The pressure is on the Houston Astros this year more than any team in recent league history to have a good season because of the fraudulent success they once created. The team who lost to the Astros in the now infamous 2017 World Series is the Los Angeles Dodgers who have just landed superstar Mookie Betts in a blockbuster trade which will solidify them as the early favorites to win the National League. But even with this, baseball is a team sport and has proven to be the least predictable of all major professional sports. With a plethora of highly talented teams such as the Braves, Cubs, Angels, Phillies, White Sox, and Cardinals filtered throughout the league, I believe this year’s World Series is there for the taking.
Coming into 2020, there is much more competition within each division of baseball than in years past. The NL Central, which has been one of the best divisions in baseball in recent years, is packed with uncertainty. My St. Louis Cardinals won the division in 2019 and went on to the NLCS where they fell to the soon to be World Series Champion Washington Nationals. The Cardinals, however, did not do much this offseason. They added quality pitching in both Kwan Hyun Kim and top 50 MLB prospect Matthew Liberatore along with the expected returns of pitchers Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks from injury. However, the Cardinals also bowed out on Marcell Ozuna in free agency, who signed with the Atlanta Braves, citing belief in their young outfielders such as Lane Thomas, Tyler O’Neil, & Dylan Carlson to fill the void of Ozuna. The Chicago Cubs fired Joe Maddon and hired David Ross but other than this, did not do much as well. Everybody knows the talent the Cubs possess in their core group, but the confidence in their surrounding pieces continues to waiver as well as a rattled relationship between GM Theo Epstein and superstar third baseman Kris Bryant. The Milwaukee Brewers went through a complete makeover this off-season, but still remain in the picture as long as they have Christian Yelich on their team and the Cincinnati Reds are ready to make a run following a fantastic offseason.
The same uncertainty lives in other divisions around the league such as the NL East, which was won by the Braves in 2019, but is home to the reigning champion Nationals as well as the highly talented Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. The AL East is where the mighty Yankees continue to reign, but the Tampa Bay Rays are truly rock solid and are ready to shock the world coming off a tremendous season and a strong off-season. Or the AL Central where the White Sox, Twins, and Indians are all capable of winning the division. With tremendous competition and great storylines, the bottom line is, this season is shaping up to be one of the most entertaining seasons in recent MLB history.
Baseball brings to me feelings of summer, sunshine, and good times. Although I love watching my Chicago Bulls lose horrendously every other night, it’s not quite the same as MLB baseball in the heart of the summer. With the arrival of pitchers, catchers, and other players soon after at Spring Training Camps league wide, we find ourselves one step closer to that summer feeling.