The 2020 MLB regular season was unlike anything we have ever seen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Let's take a look at some things that stood out on the diamond over the last two months.
Approaching the August 31st trade deadline, many around the game were skeptical anything of magnitude would happen. Surely no club was going to risk serious prospect capital to potentially chase fools' gold in a sixteen team playoff format. Right? Wrong. Enter the Friars, who made an eye opening six trades involving 23 players. With three more to be named later! San Diego completely revamped their catching situation with Austin Nola and Jason Castro, brought in a veteran left handed bat in Mitch Moreland, and added to their bullpen with Trevor Rosenthal and Dan Altavilla. But their big prize was clearly Mike Clevinger, who instantly slots in atop their rotation. The Padres are going to be the number four seed in the NL, and they're surely not a team anyone will want to play in October.
While a good amount of big leaguers opted out of the season due to health concerns, only three more joined them after play began. Brewers' outfielder Lorenzo Cain, Marlins' second baseman Isan Diaz, and Mets' slugger Yoenis Cespedes. The greater indictment in the players' confidence in all this working, however, is the fact that Diaz- as well as Braves' outfielder Nick Markakis- later decided to opt back in.
Starting extra innings with a man on second base is an idea that had been flirted prior to 2020, and presumably it was only invoked this season to limit time at the ballpark. But let's all call a spade a spade and admit it is a joke. Handing a team a free runner in scoring position is not real baseball, and hopefully 'leadoff two run homer' is a phrase we'll never hear again.
Speaking of rule changes, as much as it pains me to say as a diehard fan of the National League game, the DH is probably not going anywhere. It may have to take a one year hiatus in 2021 during the final season of the previous collective bargaining agreement, but the next package will almost assuredly include it. Veteran players like Jesus Aguilar, Robinson Cano, and Marcell Ozuna among others have benefited from the change, and it has allowed teams to improve their defenses without sacrificing offense.
All season teams have been calling up guys from their 60-man player pool who hadn't played above the A or AA level in the minor leagues, and they've been having success. Heck, the White Sox drafted left hander Garrett Crochet in June and three months later had him pitching out of their bullpen in important games down the stretch. This will be an interesting trend to monitor as things slowly start to resemble normal moving forward.
Even before the world shut down in mid March, everyone and their mother had a Yankees/Dodgers World Series already set in stone. The two Goliaths had both made massive additions, and on paper looked absolutely stacked. Yet as the postseason gets set to begin, who won the AL East and will be the top seed in the American League? The little Tampa Bay Rays who continue to be the best run organization in our sport. Don't be surprised if they end up representing the junior circuit in the Fall Classic.
At one point this season, in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, and Travis Shaw, the Blue Jays were starting an entire infield of second generation Major Leaguers. Toronto has been a team to buy stock in for several years, but the expanded postseason is going to give them a chance to introduce themselves to the national audience ahead of schedule. They're going to be the eight seed in the AL and face a tremendously tough Tampa Bay team, but if nothing else they'll gain important big stage experience.
Who would've thought the defending World Series champions would finish in last place in the NL East? The Nationals' repeat aspirations took a massive body blow when Anthony Rendon headed west in free-agency, and another hit when Ryan Zimmerman opted out. But they still have to be massively disappointed in how this season unfolded. Juan Soto is a legitimate MVP candidate, but unfortunately he and Trea Turner have been the only Washington hitters to consistently produce in 2020. Couple that with a pitching staff that looked exhausted following their deep October run last fall, and you had one heck of a hangover year.
The former agent who took the reigns of the Mets' GM job ahead of the 2019 season has proven to be nothing short of a disaster in his new role. Van Wagenen gutted the Mets' farm system with a full 'win now' mindset, yet failed to even qualify for the expanded postseason field. With the Mets' sale to billionaire new owner Steve Cohen all but final, it's beyond safe to assume the whole organization will undergo a top to bottom reset. The fist order of business should be appointing a real GM in the front office.
Despite struggling down the stretch, Chicago has been every bit as strong as they were expected to be back in February. They went toe to toe with both Minnesota and Cleveland in a heated three team AL Central battle that came down to the season's last day, and they'll be a tough out in October for whoever they play. Luis Robert's blend of power and speed has added the desired dimension to an already deep White Sox' line-up, and while he might not win Rookie of the Year thanks to the Mariners' Kyle Lewis, fans across the country will be wowed by the super rookie.
The Phillies have been trying to extend baseball's best catcher for a while now, but with the giant carrot of free-agency approaching rapidly, Realmuto will surely hear other teams out. And frankly, he'll be able to essentially name his price. Watch out for a team like the Mets here, as they have a drastic need and a new owner who will presumably be looking to make a splash.
The Marlins aren't often good, but when they are, they tend to win the whole thing. Miami has never lost a postseason series, and we may be due for their random once in a blue moon shocking rise to the top of the sport. The Marlins' off-season additions of veterans Corey Dickerson and Jesus Aguilar really helped their offense, and young Sixto Sanchez has absolutely dominated atop their rotation. Miami will enter the postseason via a 2nd place finish in the NL East and face the Cubs in the 1st round.
Don't get me wrong, I'm old school when it comes to America's pastime and would prefer as few rule changes as possible. And while I'm not entirely in favor of the seven inning double headers, I will admit they are not quite as bad as I anticipated. They create a level of urgency that is fun to watch, and if they stick around it might not be the end of the world.
Philadelphia made a massive splash when they pried Bryce Harper away from the division rival Nationals in free-agency prior to last season, and the move has accomplished very little other than dramatically detracting from the organization's bottom line. After an up and down first season in the City of Brotherly Love, Harper has again failed to propel his club to success again in 2020. Philly will disappointingly watch the playoffs on television yet again.
Atlanta's first baseman has been one of the most feared hitters in the National League for a decade, but he's never been better than he has in 2020. Freeman's batting average, OBP, SLG% and OPS are all career highs, and there has been no more important hitter to their individual team's success than him.
The Indians' righty was an all-star last season, but he's taken his game to an entirely new level in 2020. In 12 starts Bieber worked to a 1.63 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP, while striking out a dominant 122 hitters in 77.1 innings. The Indians have some flaws as a team, but when Bieber is on the mound they are as good as any team in the game, and it will be fun to see what he can do leading their staff in October.
Having the best player on the planet consistently sit out in October is nothing short of a nightmare for Major League baseball. Despite Mike Trout's incomprehensible greatness night in and night out, the Angels pathetically have struggled to put a competent team around him. They thought that would change with the addition of superstar third baseman Anthony Rendon, but unfortunately neither he or Trout can pitch. The Halos problems on the mound ultimately gave them no chance in 2020, and they'll have their hands full addressing the situation over the winter.
Nobody really felt the Pittsburgh Pirates would be good in 2020, but they weren't exactly supposed to be this bad either. Pittsburgh has easily been the game's worst team in this truncated campaign, with several important players-namely Bryan Reynolds-taking large steps in the wrong direction. The emergence of young third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes has probably been the lone bright spot in western Pennsylvania.
On a Yankees' team decimated by injuries for the 2nd straight season, the powerful right handed swinging Voit has been an absolute godsend. New York's first baseman led the Majors in home runs, finished on a pace close to 150 RBI over the course of a full season, and came up with big hit after big hit down the stretch. If the Bombers are going to make good on their preseason championship prediction, they'll need Voit to be front and center in October.
For a long time it appeared as if Bauer, New York's Jacob deGrom, and Chicago's Yu Darvish were going to race to the bitter end in the competition for the NL Cy Young award, but Bauer pulled away late. Cemented with a dominant performance on short rest that helped earn Cincinnati a spot in the postseason, Bauer should take home some hardware this winter. In addition to a new massive contract he'll assuredly receive in free-agency.
Having no fans in the stands during the entire 2020 season was of course severely disappointing, and it was easy to see that it affected the atmosphere of the games. But the cardboard cutouts most teams installed did help with the aesthetic. Places like Nationals Park in D.C. that did not participate stood out, as nothing but empty seats behind home plate made for a depressing ambiance.
The Athletics don't have a ton of household names, but similarly to the Rays, they just never go away. Oakland won the AL West with relative ease, in large part thanks to the production of Hendriks, who has simply been unhittable at the end of games. The veteran righty has long been an important part of the A's relief corps, but he'll never play a more critical role to this team's success than he will over the next few weeks.
Unlike the Yankees in the American League, the NL's preseason favorites have not disappointed. Los Angeles' trade for Mookie Betts propelled them to the top record in the sport, and while Atlanta and their division rivals in San Diego may have something to say about it, it will be severely disappointing if they don't make it to the Fall Classic.
After leading baseball in homers as a rookie in 2019, the Mets' charismatic first baseman has struggled mightily during his sophomore season. Alonso's power has still been there, but his average hasn't, and his strikeouts piled up dramatically as the season wore on. With New York struggling it was clear Alonso was pressing at times, and the club will hope he can relax and clear his head over the winter, and show up to camp in February ready to reclaim his position as one of the most dangerous sluggers in the sport.
While the actual game on the field has looked relatively normal, it's important to remember what everyone involved has gone through. From the rigorous testing players, coaches, and team personnel have had to undergo, being isolated from their families, and quarantined at the hotel on the road rather than even being able to hang out with your teammates, this has been a season like no other. While some big name players' (i.e. Christian Yelich) numbers are significantly down, it's important to factor in the mental and emotional toll all of the measures to keep everyone safe could be taking on certain individuals.
Justin Mears is a freelance sports writer from Long Beach Island, NJ. Enjoys being frustrated by the Mets and Cowboys, reading Linwood Barclay novels, and being yelled at by his toddler son. Follow him on twitter @justinwmears.