Gerrit Cole is the Yankees' new ace in the hole. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 MLB season is on with players set to report for spring training before Opening Day finally arrives in late July. The baseball world has waited months for America’s pastime to return and it’s almost here. Now with a unique and exciting season approaching, there are plenty of burning questions that will shape how we remember baseball this year.

Every game will mean even more this season with teams under greater pressure to perform quickly thanks to a 60-game schedule. In a season where talent and depth will be more crucial than ever, the possibilities for how things will play out in MLB are endless.

Now that MLB is finally set to return, let’s take a look at five burning questions for the 2020 season.

Will the New York Yankees live up to expectations?

It feels like the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to that record-breaking contract a few years ago. While the COVID-19 pandemic delayed his official debut with the team, MLB’s suspension of play helped the Yankees. If not for the shutdown, New York would have played more than a third of its games without James Paxton, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The question is, will this team live up to the massive hype?

Expectations are high in New York, with many believing the “Evil Empire” is back. There’s a lot to love about the Yankees’ lineup from the top of the order to the bottom. Even more impressive, New York will be loaded with depth in the outfield and infield, a luxury given the likelihood players will contract the coronavirus. A rotation that looked shaky with Paxton sidelined, now could achieve its potential as one of the best in MLB and the bullpen behind it is loaded. We’ve seen this team fall short before, but the Yankees have all the ingredients for a deep postseason run.

What team will benefit most from shortened season?

Making it through a 162-game regular season is a ridiculous grind for MLB teams. While playing 60 games across 66 days will provide its own challenges, especially given the league’s safety guidelines, it should help keep players fresh throughout the year. While depth will prove essential this season for availability reasons, talent will be the main thing that shines in the shortened regular season.

For teams with young players that need time to adjust, a 60-game schedule won’t afford them that luxury. There will also be plenty of challenges for managers in their first season, creating an additional hurdle for other teams. However, we could see clubs like the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays benefit significantly. Both teams are loaded with talent, have shown a tendency for getting hot quickly and have a great manager in the dugout. While there won’t be an expanded playoff, the Phillies and Rays should still make it to the postseason.

Does Mookie Betts bring a World Series title to Los Angeles?

No organization was more terrified of a canceled 2020 season than the Los Angeles Dodgers. After trading Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs for Mookie Betts, a one-year rental, the Dodgers were suddenly at risk of losing it all. Fortunately, their investment was saved at the last minute. But, will it lead to another playoff disappointment or could this team finally end its championship drought.

The Dodgers would have already been a World Series contender without trading for Betts and David Price. The moment they acquired them, this became the team to beat. Betts and Cody Bellinger will compete for the NL MVP award this season and are surrounded by impact talents like Gavin Lux, Corey Seager and Justin Turner.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles can roll with their rotation trio of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and David Price with tremendous pitching depth behind them. If Betts can provide the final push this team needs, Los Angeles could finally bring home a World Series title for the first time since 1988.

Which taxi-squad players will make a big impact?

MLB knows that a lot of players will test positive for the coronavirus, especially since it already spread after small player workouts. So, the league will give each team a 30-man taxi squad to provide additional depth during the season. Because there will be no MiLB season, organizations will use some of the spots on prospects to help them develop. However, we could see a few of those young players make an impact this season.

Thanks to the taxi squad, we should see San Diego Padres top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore this season. Considered the best arm in the minors, Gore could be an outstanding addition later in the year when the Padres need a fresh arm as they push for a wild-card spot. We might even see Wander Franco, the No. 1 prospect in baseball and a future star for the Rays. Fans can also keep an eye out for Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Nate Pearson, St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Dylan Carlson and maybe even Los Angeles Angels outfielder Jo Adell. This could be the start of a few iconic careers and some of these players might help swing a playoff spot.

Will MLB be forced to suspend the season due to COVID-19?

This is certainly the worst-case scenario for baseball. MLB wasted precious months this year. First, the owners refused to negotiate a deal with the MLB Players Association. Finally in late May, they engaged in discussions but showed little genuine effort in making a suitable offer. Ultimately, things worked out because of the original deal in March and now we’re on track for Opening Day. Unfortunately, the biggest step forward came when the United States has taken massive steps back in the fight against COVID-19.

There are now more than 2.3 million cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the Centers for Disease Control. In states like Florida, Texas, California and Arizona, they are experiencing daily record-highs for new cases nearly every other day. That’s particularly problematic given a significant portion of MLB teams play in those locations. All of this could quickly fall apart in a matter of weeks. Some players will sit out, far more will get sick and things will be far worse if an at-risk coach or player falls severely ill. MLB will try to do everything it can to play baseball this season, but COVID-19 will ultimately decide everything.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.



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