The MLB is finally set to return on either July 23 or 24, when teams will begin a 60-game season that will conclude on Sept. 27.
The Yankees fell to the Astros in the 2019 ALCS, and they’ll look to avenge that loss and make it back to the World Series this season. Former starters Didi Gregorius and Edwin Encarnacion will suit up for different clubs this year, as will bench players like Cameron Maybin and Greg Bird. In addition, long-time Yankee starter CC Sabathia retired after his 19th year in the MLB.
Despite those losses, New York will be bringing back the majority of their core roster from a year ago, as well as some crucial new additions. Most significantly, the Yankees signed pitcher Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million deal, essentially locking him into their rotation for the rest of his career. Cole, who led the MLB in strikeouts and led the American League with a 2.50 ERA in 2019, helped defeat New York as a member of the Astros last year.
Top-tier relief pitchers Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman will be coming back for another season in New York, as will veteran starters Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ. Young stars like Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez will once again lead the team’s offense, though Aaron Judge may miss some time due to a rib injury. Reliable veteran hitters such as DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela, Brett Gardner, and Giancarlo Stanton round out arguably the deepest batting order in baseball.
Still, winning another title won’t be an easy feat for the Yankees this year. Here are the five teams who pose the biggest threat to them in 2020:
Honorable Mentions: Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets
5. Washington Nationals
The 2019 World Series champion Nationals will once again be one of the best teams in the National League this season. World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg will look to continue dominating hitters in his age-31 season, as will ace Max Scherzer. Newcomer Starlin Castro will take over second base, and the recently signed Eric Thames will man first base for Ryan Zimmerman, who recently announced he would sit out the season due to COVID-19 concerns.
The loss of star third baseman Anthony Rendon hit the Nationals hard over the offseason when he signed a deal worth $245 million with the Angels. Rendon’s 34 home runs and 126 RBI will be hard to replace. Starting infielders Matt Adams and Brian Dozier, who were both productive for the Nationals, also won’t be returning. World Series roster members like Yan Gomes, Trea Turner, and young phenom Juan Soto will have to lead the team’s offense.
4. Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves displayed significant improvement in 2019, taking the St. Louis Cardinals to seven games in the NLDS. Though they lost the series, the Braves’ young stars put the MLB on notice. Second baseman Ozzie Albies had a great third season, racking up 24 home runs and 86 RBI with a .295 batting average. Sophomore right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. cemented himself as one of the best young talents in the league, finishing with 41 home runs and 101 RBI. Highly touted shortstop Dansby Swanson also came into his own, putting up 121 hits and hitting .251.
With the return of veteran sluggers like Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, and Marcell Ozuna, the Braves have one of the most fearsome lineups in the league. To advance further in the playoffs, they’ll have to rely on their pitching staff to step up. Young starters like Mike Soroka and Max Fried will have to put forward strong efforts to match their team’s offensive output.
3. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs relapsed in 2019, finishing 84-78 and missing the playoffs. This year, they’ll have to perform under the guidance of former catcher David Ross, their new manager. Joe Maddon, who helped the club win the World Series in 2016, is now with the Angels.
Still, Chicago is set to bring back most of its roster this year. Elite starting pitchers like Yu Darvish and Jon Lester headline the team’s rotation and Craig Kimbrel will once again handle closing duties.
The team’s offense is stacked from top to bottom, led by first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant. Wilson Contreras will look to further earn his reputation as one of the best young catchers in the MLB, and dynamic shortstop Javier Baez will try to pick up right where he left off after hitting 29 home runs and totaling 85 RBI last season.
The Cubs cut former second baseman Addison Russell, but they replaced him with long-time Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who they faced in the 2016 World Series. Utility player Ben Zobrist has opted out of playing this year, but veteran Jason Heyward will return to play in right field.
If the Cubs can regain the momentum they found in 2016, they could easily make another title run this season.
2. Houston Astros
Over the offseason, the Astros lost Cole and were stripped of their first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 for stealing signs in 2017 and 2018. They also fired manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. On top of those penalties, the team is still reeling from their loss in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series.
Despite these setbacks, Houston will once again be a contender in 2020. AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander is returning, and Zach Greinke will make up the second half of the most fearsome pitching duo in baseball.
The Astros’ offensive core is back as well, led by young stars like Carlos Correa and George Springer. Veteran Jose Altuve will once again man second base after hitting 31 home runs and batting .298 last year, and 33-year-old Michael Brantley will take his place in left field after driving in 90 RBI and hitting .311.
The Astros are experiencing universal resentment from the rest of the league right now, but they could channel that antagonism to fuel a deep postseason run. It all depends on how they respond.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
More than any other team in baseball, the Dodgers are all in on this season. In February, they proved their determination to win a title in 2020 by trading for former MVP Mookie Betts and veteran ace David Price.
Betts, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 80 RBI in 2019, will join last year’s NL MVP Cody Bellinger in the outfield. Price, who’s shown a bit of regression since turning 34 last year, is now part of a rotation that includes the uber-talented Clayton Kershaw and young aces in Walker Buehler and Julio Urias.
Big hitters such as first baseman Max Muncy, third baseman Justin Turner, and left fielder Joc Pederson round out the Dodgers’ lineup. Muncy had another standout season in 2019, compiling 35 home runs and 98 RBI.
Over the past seven years, the Dodgers have earned a reputation for making the playoffs and then coming up short. Back-to-back World Series losses in 2017 and 2018 stand out in particular. The stakes have never been higher for the Dodgers than they are right now, and they’ll seek to capitalize on their new additions by bringing home a championship for the first time since 1988.