The pandemic has brought havoc to all of our lives, making 2020 a year we aren’t likely to forget for a long time. Baseball has had to adjust on the fly as well, scrambling to put together a 60-game season, the shortest since 1878.
Baseball is back, but it will look a lot different. The stands will be empty, save for a few players and plastic cutout images of fans. Some players will be wearing masks. High-fives and spitting is forbidden (can you even play baseball without spitting?)
In fact, there will be a lot of changes this season. In addition to shortening the season to just 60 games, teams will only play games against teams in their own division and the corresponding geographic division in the other league. The designated hitter will be universal. Rosters will expand to 30, at least for the first two weeks of the season. And the playoffs will feature 16 teams rather than 10.
The 5 weirdest seasons in modern baseball history:— Mike Bates (@MikeBatesTWIBH) July 23, 2020
1981 - Strike, half-seasons
1994 - Strike, no World Series
1961 - Expansion, 162 gms, 61 HR
1918 - WWI ends season early
1944 - WWII sends all the good players overseas, Browns win AL
This year is going to blow them all away.
The short season will bring more randomness into the season, and an expanded playoffs will allow pretty much any team with a .500 record or better to get a taste of the post-season. It is enough to give even teams coming off 100-loss seasons like the Royals at least a chance to dream. All it takes is a few good weeks of baseball, and you could find yourself in a pennant race. According to Fangraphs, the Royals’ playoff odds went from less than 1 percent back in March, to 14 percent with a shortened season, to 19 percent with an expanded playoff.
But it will take not getting buried at the start of the year. In 2018, the Royals began the year 21-39, and last year was even worse at 19-41. In fact, the best 60-game stretch the Royals have enjoyed the last two seasons were the last 60 games of the 2018 season, in which they finished 27-33.
Perhaps this team is better. The bullpen has had a 5.05 ERA over the last two seasons, third-worst in baseball. This year they added veteran closers Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland. Both have had injury problems, both have struggled with control since getting hurt, but both can also be dominating strikeout relievers when they’re healthy and on their game. The Royals are throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks, but at least it’s high quality spaghetti, not that Blaine Boyer/Brandon Maurer/Justin Grimm stuff.
But the more intriguing arms in the bullpen will be the younger guys. Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Kyle Zimmer, Richard Lovelady, Tyler Zuber, and newly acquired Ronald Bolaños can all bring it and are all 27 or younger. Some of them will likely struggle to throw strikes, or learn quickly that big leaguers can sit on their heater. But a few of them could turn out to be pretty solid relievers. For a franchise that once relied on “HDH” to win a championship, this could be a pretty important year to find out if they have any shutdown relievers in their system.
The bullpen will be even more important because we just don’t know what we can expect out of the starting pitching staff due to the pandemic. Brad Keller and Jakob Junis were expected to be pillars for this rotation, but each tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, and while they have been cleared to rejoin the team, it will take two or three weeks for them to build their workload up to the point where they can be activated, and even then, they may be working in middle relief.
That has opened up an opportunity for rookie Brady Singer, the 2018 first-round pick out of the University of Florida. Singer brings a bulldog mentality after posting a 2.85 ERA in 26 starts across High-A and Double-AA last season, with a nasty slider. He held his own in spring training against top big league hitters, but his success this season may well depend on how good his change up has developed. Singer could be one of many Royals pitching prospects who gets an opportunity this year, with Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and perhaps even 2020 first-round pick Asa Lacy all candidates to see some action.
Royals pitching staff
|RHP||Brady Singer||Pitched in the minors|
The Royals’ lineup features a few very bright stars, like All-Star Whit Merrifield and home run champ Jorge Soler. Along with 2019 breakout star Hunter Dozier and the exciting potential of Adalberto Mondesí, you might think the Royals had a pretty good offense last year, but those stars helped hide the fact that the lineup had a lot of holes in it, finishing second-to-last in the league in runs scored. The return of Salvador Pérez from an elbow injury that cost him the entire 2019 season will help a lot, and hopefully a shortened season can help Mondesí stay on the field more, after he missed 60 games last year. But the Royals will need someone else to step up - perhaps one of their first base candidates like Ryan McBroom or Ryan O’Hearn - as well as avoiding regression from Dozier and Soler.
Complicating matters is the presence of COVID-19 on the team. O’Hearn tested positive, and while he has been cleared to rejoin the team, he has not been activated yet. Dozier tested positive as well, and it remains unclear when he’ll be able to rejoin the team. Catchers Cam Gallagher and Nick Dini will also begin the year on the COVID-19 Injured List.
Royals starting lineup
|C||Salvador Perez||Did not play|
No one really knows how this season will play out. The long hiatus will probably lead to some sloppy play and require creative handling of pitching staffs. Positive tests for COVID-19 will cause havoc on rosters. The short season and expanded playoffs could lead to an unexpected post-season, if we can make it through the regular season without any more interruptions.
Of course, everyone hopes that the players, coaches, staffers, and their families can stay safe through this season. The pandemic has reminded us that baseball is just entertainment, and secondary to the health of those around us. But it has also reminded us of just how much we miss this darn game. It will look a lot different this year, and no one knows just quite how this will work out, but boy is it great to have baseball back.
How many games will the Royals win in 2020?
This poll is closed
More than 35
Less than 20