The Dodgers have won seven straight division crowns, but remain title-free since 1988. Will either of those things change in 2020? Maybe!
Of course, it’s possible that the Dodgers don’t win the West, but keep their title streak alive, if, you know, Major League Baseball has to pull the plug on this farce of a season. But let’s say that L.A., now with Mookie Betts on board, does play a full 60 games. Do they face any real challenges in the division?
The Dodgers’ worst 60-game stretch last year was 35-25, while the best 60-game stretches for the Giants and Rockies were 37-23. The Diamondbacks? 34-26. The Padres? 31-29. So it would take Los Angeles being at its worst, and a division rival at its best, for somebody else to finish first.
It might be San Diego that poses the biggest threat, with its young players coming along, although highly unpredictable Colorado has virtually the same roster that nearly won the division two years ago. San Francisco’s hot run last year was well out of character for what its roster is, but also shows how pretty much anything can happen in 60 games.
2 / 7
COVID Response: The Diamondbacks had a round of furloughs, layoffs, and pay cuts impacting 25-30 percent of their staff at the end of May, but did commit to paying for medical benefits through the end of the year.
“Whatever happens right now, whatever you feel right now, the first thing you’re going to think is that you have the virus.” — Outfielder David Peralta, who had a non-COVID illness, amid a mini-outbreak on the team that has hit pitchers Junior Guerra and Silvio Bracho, and outfielder Kole Calhoun
Staying Away: Pitcher Mike Leake, who wanted to sign with the Diamondbacks in 2016 to be close to his paralyzed father, and wound up in Arizona last summer via trade, was the first player in the majors to opt out of playing this season.
Oh, He’s Here Now? Champion cattle roper Mason Saunders, aka lefty Madison Bumgarner, is going to look awfully weird in a Diamondbacks uniform after winning three World Series in Giants colors.
Where’d He Go?Adam Jones didn’t just leave the Diamondbacks, he got out of Major League Baseball entirely, signing with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. He’s already hit three home runs this season.
What To Expect: More players getting coronavirus? Hopefully not, but Arizona has been a huge hotspot for the pandemic this month, and there already have been cases on the team. Bumgarner is only 30, but he has a lot of mileage on him and hasn’t pitched at an ace level since 2016. It’s not like he stinks, but he’s not the frontman for a playoff rotation, and this isn’t a playoff rotation. Arizona has a good bullpen and a better lineup, but they don’t have the horses, even with whatever Bumgarner rides in on.
3 / 7
COVID Response: The Rockies did right by their employees, committing in April not to lay anyone off or cut pay, putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to stability and values.
“I do think we’ll be as safe as we can and try not to get it, but honestly, we went through a whole lot of trouble and a lot of changing of our life and our country for something that wasn’t that bad — in my experience. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be more serious for other people and that it hasn’t been more serious for other people.” — Outfielder Charlie Blackmon, who recovered from coronavirus and let some of his words do a whole lot of heavy lifting, considering that 138,000 Americans are dead from this virus
Staying Away:Ian Desmond is staying home in Florida to help Sarasota Youth Baseball, a decision that’s as much about social justice as it is about coronavirus.
Oh, He’s Here Now? The Rockies had a very quiet offseason, but among the players they signed to join a mostly homegrown club is Daniel Bard, last seen in the major leagues with the Red Sox in 2013, and out of pro ball entirely since pitching two-thirds of an inning and issuing five walks for the Mets’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2017.
Where’d He Go? The Rockies return almost entirely the same roster from a year ago, but backup catcher Chris Iannetta did what so many ex-Rockies seem to do and joined the Yankees. Reliever Chad Bettis did, too, but he wound up retiring instead of pitching this season.
What To Expect: Who the hell knows? No team has changed less since we last saw them than the Rockies, but no team in baseball was as volatile when we last saw them as Colorado, whose best 60 games last year were equal to the best 60 games played by the Cubs, and whose worst 60 games were one game worse than the worst 60 games played by the Royals. Nothing was more 2019 Rockies than hanging with the Dodgers for three straight games in Los Angeles, and getting walked off three straight times on homers by three different rookies.
4 / 7
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers
COVID Response: The Dodgers avoided any staff furloughs, but did have tiered pay cuts, which is better than what a lot of teams did, but at the same time, the Dodgers came to a carriage deal with DirecTV for their SportsNet LA channel in April, so it’s silly to believe they’ve ever been strapped for cash.
“For the county of Los Angeles, I think we are more on the conservative side, which I think is a good thing. But, obviously, we talk about competitive advantage when our guy might be out a little bit longer than another team’s players, certainly. But I think the most important thing is the health of the players and we’ll make do regardless of what we’re up against.” — Manager Dave Roberts on the L.A. law mandating a two-week quarantine for anyone coming into contact with a COVID-positive person
Staying Away: Acquired in February, David Price won’t be making his Dodgers debut until 2021 after citing health and family concerns as he opted out of this season.
Oh, He’s Here Now? There was another guy in the trade that brought Price to L.A., who was it again? Oh, right, Mookie Betts, a 6+ WAR player every full season of his career and the 2018 American League MVP over Mike Trout, joins a team that’s won seven straight division titles.
Where’d He Go? To make room for Betts, the Dodgers made the hard choice to trade 37-homer man Joc Pederson to the Angels… except they didn’t… and now Pederson is still in L.A. County and not Orange County. Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was second to Jacob deGrom in last year’s Cy Young vote, did actually leave for Toronto as a free agent.
What To Expect: Same as usual, winning the division, then losing in the playoffs in some way where Clayton Kershaw is prominently involved, it’s debatable as to how much it’s the future Hall of Famer’s fault, and certainly featuring some form of bullpen mismanagement. There are some parts of the space-time continuum even 2020 can’t break.
5 / 7
San Diego Padres
San Diego Padres
San Diego Padres
COVID Response: The Padres were an industry leader in treating people right, the first team to announce it would pay minor leaguers through August (the minor league season usually ends in the first week of September) and baseball operations staff through October. There were, however, pay cuts.
“If we stay diligent on precautions and stay ready to play as much as we can, this is going to be an exciting year with every game being so important. You’re only as beneficial to your team as often as you take the mound. If you’re not available, you can’t help us. Definitely in a 60-game season, that’s magnified. If you’re not able to be at the field because you wanted to go out the night before and had symptoms pop up, that’s not good. We’re going to have to be diligent as teammates to keep things under wraps, because a week’s worth of games could change your playoff chances. We have to keep things safe for our teams and our families.” — Reliever Emilio Pagan on precautions for the season, although even being as diligent as possible, once anyone leaves their home, there is an inherent risk of contracting coronavirus
Staying Away: Infielder Jorge Mateo, acquired in a trade with the Oakland A’s at the end of June, will have a late start to his season after testing positive for coronavirus in early July. No Padres players have opted out of the season.
Oh, He’s Here Now? The versatile Jurickson Profar makes San Diego his third team in as many years, having hit 20 homers for the Rangers in 2018 and 20 for the A’s in 2019. Profar figures to slot in at second base, where the Padres got little production from Ian Kinsler, Greg Garcia, and Luis Urias last season, and can also spell Manny Machado at third base and Fernando Tatis Jr. at short, as well as playing some outfield.
Where’d He Go? Manuel Margot, who stole 20 bases last year and played a solid center field, but never really developed as a hitter the way the Padres hoped when they acquired him from the Red Sox in the Craig Kimbrel trade, was shipped to Tampa Bay in the deal that brought Pagan to San Diego.
What To Expect: The Padres might be ready to take the leap into contention, especially in a short season, but so much depends on young players — whether they’ve established a high level of performance, like like Tatis and Chris Paddack, or whether hopes for them are more about their potential, like Cal Quantrill, Francisco Mejia, and Trent Girsham. It’s easy to see where a team like the Padres could take a step backward, just as much as they can take a leap forward.
6 / 7
San Francisco Giants
San Francisco Giants
San Francisco Giants
COVID Response: While there were furloughs, the Giants did commit to paying stipends to game-day workers in addition to their unemployment benefits, part of a generally decent program in which full-time employees kept their jobs and pay cuts were only given to those earning $75,000 or more.
“Nobody expected this to be easy. And everybody is doing the best they can. … I understand that there’s going to be hiccups along the way. I think our club does, as well. Our players and staff are included in that. I still have confidence for sure.” — Manager Gabe Kapler on MLB’s testing protocols, plagued by problems in July
Staying Away: Catcher Buster Posey, the face of the franchise for the last decade and 2012’s NL MVP, opted out of the season to care for the prematurely born twins he and his wife are adopting.
Oh, He’s Here Now? After a season in Texas that saw him make his first All-Star appearance since 2014, Hunter Pence returned to San Francisco as a free agent. The adoption of the universal DH for this season should serve the 37-year-old well back with the Giants, and he can split time in right field with Michael Yastrzemski.
Where’d He Go? After 13 years as the Giants’ manager, with three world championships, Bruce Bochy moved to a special advisor’s role in the front office.
What To Expect: Posey sitting out should open the door for top prospect Joey Bart to go behind the plate and start the next chapter for the Giants. As good as Posey has been, his hitting has declined in the past couple of seasons, and he might get a late-career boost starting next year with a move to first base, although Brandon Belt remains under contract through 2021, and at this point is a better hitter than Posey. But Belt would also have some trade value in the winter, and… oh, right, this is supposed to be about what to expect this year. Well, the Giants were an 85-loss team, lost Madison Bumgarner in free agency, downgraded from a Hall of Fame manager to a guy who lasted just two seasons in Philadelphia with a team that fell well short of expectations last year, and won’t have the guy who’s been their leader since they were winning World Series early in the last decade. You can understand why it’s more interesting to talk about 2021 and beyond.