The full MLB schedule is out, and it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. To reduce travel, teams will play within their division (40 games) as well as interleague games against their counterparts (20 games -- for example, AL East plays NL East). Here are the 10 most fascinating series of the season, which is scheduled to begin July 23.
Every team will play its final game of the season at 3 p.m. Eastern on Sept. 27. What could be the juiciest final regular-season series is the interleague battle for Chicago. In addition to the usual North Side-South Side drama, the stakes could be high for both clubs. After collapsing down the stretch last season, FanGraphs gives the Cubs a 46.8 percent chance to make the playoffs, the highest in the NL Central. They’ll likely be in the thick of a divisional race, with wild-card spots up for grabs as well. The White Sox, meanwhile, are poised to pull out of their rebuild with electric young stars Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito. Their playoff odds are 36.6 percent, so this final series could be especially meaningful as the franchise tries to reach October for the first time since 2008.
There’s a clear “Big Three” in MLB. The Astros, Dodgers and Yankees stand out as the most dominant teams in the game and can be penciled into the playoffs before the first pitch is thrown. With the regional schedules, only two of these juggernauts will face each other in the regular season. The Yankees get a pass, but the Astros and Dodgers will clash twice -- in Houston in July and in Los Angeles in September. They represent four of the past six World Series participants, including in 2017 when the Astros topped Los Angeles amid what we now know was a sign-stealing season for Houston. Will the Dodgers have revenge on their minds?
The best matchup of two intradivisional opponents this year will be the Yankees and Rays. New York has 203 regular-season victories over the past two seasons and returns with healthy players, including sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who have battled injuries. Tampa Bay earned a wild-card spot with 96 wins in 2019 and returns a dominant trio of starters: Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow. These heavyweights clash for the final time in the regular season in late August and early September in a series that could define the AL East.
Rockies at Rangers, July 24-26
The Rangers will open the season by unveiling their new retractable roof stadium. Is it aesthetically pleasing from the outside? No. Does it even look like a baseball stadium? Also no. Is there any truth to the rumor I’m starting that they stripped the paint off an IKEA? Sources are unclear. Was this a useful expenditure of a billion dollars of taxpayer money? Absolutely not. Are we going to watch these games on TV anyway just to see it? Ugh, probably.
No matchup in all of baseball captures public attention (and TV viewership) like the Yankees and Red Sox; they’ll square off a handful of times this year, starting at the end of July. The Yankees are, well, the Yankees. Boston could stumble down the standings a bit this year with Mookie Betts and David Price gone and Chris Sale injured. The lineup still punches with J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, but the pitching staff is far less intimidating. Still, FanGraphs has the Red Sox's playoff chances at 38.4 percent, so they’re still a team worth watching. Besides, a season isn’t a season until the biggest rivals in American sports battle.
Cardinals at Cubs, Sept. 4-7
Along the same lines as the Yankees and Red Sox, the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is always entertaining. St. Louis surged down the stretch in 2019, stealing the NL Central from the grasps of the Cubs and Brewers. Along with the Reds, all four of these teams have a 20-30 percent chance to win the division this year according to FanGraphs (sorry, Pirates). These teams meet for the final time in early September. Playoff spots will surely remain undecided, but this series will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in the outcome.
We checked the rules, and we can say with reasonable certainty that someone will have to win these games. The Orioles finished 54-108 in 2019, and the Marlins were 57-105. Like a car accident, the allure of two of the most abject teams in baseball colliding is undeniable. It’s too bad the Tigers couldn’t get involved somehow. In its wisdom, MLB decided this series needed to be four games — the first two in Miami and the last two in Baltimore-- so nobody has to miss out on the fun. The awful is being spread around with equal distribution.
Here’s a sneaky-fun matchup with wild-card implications in both leagues. The A’s surged to 97 wins and a playoff berth in 2019, even though they finished 10 games behind the Astros. They feature a stellar infield that includes 3B Matt Chapman, SS Marcus Semien and 1B Matt Olson. We’ll also see their next crop of young talent for the full season, pitchers Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk as well as catcher Sean Murphy, all of whom debuted last year. The Padres’ wave has been building for years, as they’ve accumulated a wealth of prospect talent coupled with some pricey free agents. With 3B Manny Machado, SS Fernando Tatís, Jr. and pitcher Chris Paddack, the team could be ready to crest.
Braves at Nationals, Sept. 10-13
The wild-card Nationals won the World Series in 2019, but the Braves took the NL East. These rivals should again plan for a dogfight for the division title, with their mid-September series in Washington having crucial importance. Young prodigy outfielders Ronald Acuña (Braves) and Juan Soto (Nationals) could ensure this rivalry remains intense for the next decade or so, to say nothing of Nationals pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and Braves hurlers Ozzie Albies and Mike Soroka.
The schedule finishes strong in the Central, with an exciting, power-packed matchup. The Reds have bolstered Eugenio Suárez, who blasted 49 home runs last year, with slugging free agents Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos. The Twins set an MLB record with 307 home runs last season and return five players who amassed at least 30 bombs in 2019. They seek to defend their AL Central crown.
Honorable mention: Cardinals vs. White Sox, Aug. 13
Is the Field of Dreams Game really that big of a deal? The Yankees and Red Sox playing in London was fun and exciting in one of the largest, most culturally iconic cities in the world. A literal cornfield in Iowa is …less iconic ... and the movie is overrated. It’s at least novel, so if that entices you, enjoy.
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