MLB’s 2020 season, shortened to 60 games in a 66-day sprint due to the coronavirus pandemic, starts Thursday night. And there are even more questions than usual. We gathered our staff to predict the storylines that will emanate from the mound in 2020.
Which pitcher will lead the majors in strikeouts?
Gerrit Cole, +350
Max Scherzer, +550
Justin Verlander, +900
Jacob deGrom, +1000
Trevor Bauer and Shane Bieber (tie), +1500
Our staff is riding with the favorite. Newly signed New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole hasn’t shown any reason why he wouldn’t repeat his dominance from 2019.
Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees (7 votes)
Led the world in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine a year ago and probably feels he has something to prove to all of his new fans in the Bronx. - Tim Brown
Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays
Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati Reds (1 vote each)
Bauer resides near the top of the strikeout leaderboard most seasons, and has reportedly has serious discussions about pitching more frequently than the normal starter in this shortened season before reaching free agency. I think the Reds might indulge him. - Zach Crizer
How many complete games are thrown in the majors this year? And who throws the most?
Zero. Pitchers are reportedly ready to throw 5-6 innings immediately, but I think managers play it safe in the short, uncertain pandemic season. - Chris Cwik
Five. The three-week summer camp, the short season, the expanded rosters, there’s just no reason to press or allow starting pitchers to the end, particularly in an era when complete games are becoming rarer in the best of circumstances. The complete games leader? Justin Verlander. He’ll be tied with four other guys with one. - Tim Brown
Seven. Baseball had already been trending away from complete games, so this seems like the perfect reason for the analysts to win the war. Rule for 2020: Angry pitchers have to wear a mask when arguing with their manager about coming out of the game. No spitting, ya know. - Mike Oz
Eight. There were 45 complete games in MLB last season, which translates to 16.7 in a 60-game season, but this isn’t going to be a normal season. Teams are going to be more cautious with their arms, so let’s halve that number. I’ll go with Lucas Giolito for who throws the most. - Jack Baer
Fourteen. If last season’s 45 were actually spliced into the portion of the season we’ll be playing 2020, it would come out to about 17 complete games. I think it will be close to normal for the fairly rare pitchers who threw complete games anyway. Always a good bet that Justin Verlander will lead the way. - Zach Crizer
Twenty. When the urgency increases in September, we’ll see managers turn their workhorses loose. And Shane Bieber to lead them. - Mark Townsend
Which pitching staff finishes with the best ERA and why?
Tampa Bay Rays (4 votes)
The Rays finished third among MLB teams in ERA last year despite Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow encountering major injury issues. Sign me up. - Jack Baer
The Tampa Bay Rays will finish with the best team ERA, because literally all their pitchers are from other planets where the inhabitants have filthy, filthy stuff. - Mo Castillo
An excellent Tampa Bay staff figures to receive even more contributions from Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow this season. Plus, a tasty quarter of their schedule comes against the Orioles and Marlins. - Nick Ostiller
I don’t even want Tampa’s amorphous, no-roles-just-right approach to pitching to work, really. But the combination of three tip-top starters and … seven or eight high-octane arms to follow them in a variety of combinations is convincing both projection systems and me that this will be the best staff over a condensed season. - Zach Crizer
Los Angeles Dodgers (3 votes)
The Dodgers will finish with the best ERA because they are very good and their opponents are not very good. Also, many of them have pitcher-friendly stadiums. - Hannah Keyser
Even without David Price, the Dodgers still feature a deep rotation, have solid depth and always put their relievers in the right situations. - Chris Cwik
With the exception of having to spend more time in Coors Field than most teams, the Dodgers benefit from a weak NL West this year. They also have a deep list of arms and know how to play matchups well. - Mike Oz
New York Yankees (1 vote)
If it’s not the Yankees, it will be the Rays. The tiebreaker is that Yankees pitchers get to tune up against their own lineup, but won’t face them when it counts. - Mark Townsend
Minnesota Twins (1 vote)
Of baseball’s bottom 12 offenses last season, six were in one of the Central divisions. The Twins will play all of their games there, after having added Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey to Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi. - Tim Brown
Who’s the breakout star on the mound this year?
Dustin May, Los Angeles Dodgers: This is a little bit an internally consistent logic pick, if the Dodgers are going to have the best ERA it’ll be in part because May overperformed after David Price’s decision to skip the season left the fifth starter spot open to the rookie. - Hannah Keyser
Dustin May: Exhibit A. - Jack Baer
Nate Pearson, Toronto Blue Jays: He’s ready. It's just a matter of Toronto turning him loose. - Mark Townsend
Dinelson Lamet, San Diego Padres: Returned from Tommy John surgery just over a year ago and had 105 strikeouts in 73 innings across 14 starts. - Tim Brown
Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates: Look deeper than last year’s 7.19 ERA and you’ll see a pitcher with promising skills who got extremely unlucky in 2019. - Chris Cwik
Lance McCullers Jr., Houston Astros: McCullers has something to prove after Tommy John surgery and the Astros need him to do it even more now that Gerrit Cole is gone. - Mike Oz
Jesus Luzardo, Oakland Athletics: What we saw from the lefty in limited action last season should tell you all you need to know about how dominant he can be in whatever role the A’s decide is best for him. - Nick Ostiller
Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers: Hide your eyes from Burnes’ 2019. After a promising bullpen stint in 2018, the Brewers tried the sturdy 6-foot-3 righty in the rotation and he got demolished by the home run ball. The ERA started with an eight. But with an apparently tweaked fastball to go with his devastating slider, he may be back on the track that made him a highly rated prospect. - Zach Crizer
Casey Mize, Detroit Tigers: Mize wasn’t supposed to make his debut until 2021, but recent blows to the Tigers rotation have given Mize an opportunity. He’s only pitched as high as Double-A, but he’s got elite strikeout stuff. The top overall pick from the 2018 draft is itching to get to the majors and show everyone what he’s got, and let’s face it: The Tigers need it. - Liz Roscher
Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks: I’m a believer. - Mo Castillo
Who will win the Cy Young awards?
The top AL Cy Young favorites this year, per BetMGM odds, are:
Gerrit Cole, +270
Justin Verlander, +600
Shane Bieber, +900
Mike Clevinger, +1000
Blake Snell, +1000
Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees (4 votes)
It would be the Yankees’ sixth, and first since Roger Clemens in 2001. - Tim Brown
Justin Verlander, Houston Astros (3 votes)
The 37-year-old ace is in his second peak, claims Nolan Ryan as an idol and reworked his mechanics during the break following groin surgery to be easier on his body. A back-to-back run of Cy Young nods doesn’t seem crazy. - Zach Crizer
Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
José Berríos, Minnesota Twins
Mike Clevinger, Cleveland Indians (1 vote each)
Three emerging AL Central aces get votes, with plenty of poor opponents to feast on.
On the other side, the top NL Cy Young favorites, per BetMGM odds, are:
Jacob deGrom, +280
Max Scherzer, +450
Jack Flaherty, +800
Walker Buehler, +1000
Stephen Strasburg, +1100
Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals (3 votes)
A huge young talent with charisma and drive. Also, the Twins aren’t the only ones who get to pitch in the Centrals. - Tim Brown
The second half of his 2019 is one of the best stretches of pitching in recent memory, rivaling Jake Arrieta’s 2015. Can he keep that pace up? Probably not, but could he at least make a convincing case for being the NL’s best pitcher for another 60 games? Maybe. - Zach Crizer
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals (3 votes)
Last we saw Strasburg, he was rewriting the headline of his career with a dominant postseason, posting a 1.98 ERA across 36 ⅓ innings during the Nationals’ World Series run.
Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (2 votes)
If Scherzer were to win, he’d become just the fifth pitcher with four or more Cy Youngs on his mantle, joining Roger Clemens (seven), Randy Johnson (five), Steve Carlton (four) and Greg Maddux (four.)
Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers (2 votes)
The Dodgers’ rising ace, seemingly set to duel with Flaherty for years, may only be held back by the team’s depth and willingness to conserve his energy.
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