From left: Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna, Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts and Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. USA TODAY Sports: Jonathan Dyer (Cole, Acuna) and Rick Scuteri (Betts)

Why these 10 MLB contenders will (and won't) win World Series

The coronavirus pandemic has brought nearly the entire sports world to a halt, so it's unclear when the 2020 MLB season might begin. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releasing new guidance Sunday recommending that all in-person events of more than 50 people be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks, a 162-game season is out of the question. Instead the season potentially could begin about mid-May, perhaps meaning a schedule of roughly 110 games. Will there be a season at all? That's unknown.

If a season is played, however, I expect these 10 teams to make the playoffs. While you social distance, debate the case I make for — and against — each of them winning the World Series.

Yankees starter Gerrit Cole  John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports


Yankees | Projection: First, AL East

Why they'll win the World Series: They're stacked on paper. Signing Gerrit Cole away from the Astros drastically shifted the balance of power in the American League. New York boasts an offense with no real weaknesses, a bullpen that should be the best on the junior circuit and a starting rotation with multiple October-tested hurlers. 

Why they won't: Lack of overall depth. The dreaded injury bug has already hit the Bombers hard, claiming several big names. Starter Luis Severino is entirely out of the 2020 equation because of Tommy John surgery. Right fielder Aaron Judge is laid up with a stress fracture in a rib. Designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton has a strained calf. Lefty starter James Paxton will be out a while after having back surgery. New York is suddenly asking a lot of Jordan Montgomery and Jonathan Loaisiga in its rotation, and Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier are going to face pressure to pick up the offensive slack. 

Twins | Prediction: First, AL Central

Why they'll win the World Series:  The Twins set an MLB record in 2019 with 307 team home runs. And then they signed former MVP third baseman Josh Donaldson in free agency this winter. Their lineup is loaded with firepower, and while their pitching staff has holes, they're more than capable of outslugging the opposition.

Why they won't:  Questionable starting pitching. Righty ace Jose Berrios is a rock atop this rotation, and veteran Jake Odorizzi is a serviceable middle-of-the-staff arm. But after that the Twins are weak. Kenta Maeda was acquired in a February trade with the Dodgers and should help, but his 2019 ERA was 4.04. Veteran Homer Bailey served up 21 gopher balls in 163.1 innings with Kansas City and Oakland last season, and he's not exactly a stable fourth starter. Inexperienced righty Randy Dobnak must deliver for the first few months out of the fifth spot. This staff could get a shot in the arm later with Rich Hill returning from injury and Michael Pineda coming back from a PED suspension. 

Astros | Prediction: First, AL West

Why they'll win the World Series: The turbulent sign-stealing scandal the Astros have endured has been well documented. While most of the baseball world will root against them and dismiss their recent accomplishments, inside the Houston organization you've gotta believe this team is more motivated than ever. The Astros have dominated the American League recently, and their core is eager to prove it can continue to do so on an even playing field.

Why they won't: The distractions and external noise become simply too much to withstand. The Astros have become public enemy No. 1 among most baseball fans, and they're going to hear it in every city they visit. Houston obviously has a ton of talent, but the players are human beings, not robots, and it's going to be incredibly difficult for them to tune everything out and focus.

White Sox starter Lucas Giolito Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

White Sox | Prediction: Second, AL Central (wild-card winner)

Why they'll win the World Series: No American League team improved more over the winter than the White Sox, who appear poised to snap a long playoff drought. Chicago has a great blend of young players and veterans, and it has eliminated every glaring weakness. Lucas Giolito emerged as an upper-echelon ace last season, and newcomers Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel will assuredly add stability to the rotation. Catcher Yasmani Grandal, DH Edwin Encarnacion and outfielder Nomar Mazara combined to hit 79 home runs for other teams in 2019. Shortstop Tim Anderson won the batting title last season, and center fielder Luis Robert could be the AL Rookie of the Year. Add all that to a lineup that already includes first baseman Jose Abreu, third baseman Yoan Moncada and left fielder Eloy Jimenez, and the White Sox have the potential to be downright scary. 

Why they won't: Lack of cohesiveness. Chicago is not the first sports team to undergo an enormous offseason makeover. And if it doesn't work, the White Sox won't be the first team to watch their aggressiveness blow up in their faces. Roughly a third of the White Sox's projected opening day roster was not on it last season. How long will it take for this team to jel? The current extended layoff won't make things easier.

Angels | Prediction: Second, AL West  (wild-card winner)

Why they'll win the World Series: Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, baby. By convincing superstar Rendon to switch coasts in free agency in December, the Angels now possess two of the top 10 players in the sport. If this were the NBA, they'd almost be guaranteed a championship, and while it won't be that easy, it is one hell of a start. Trout is basically a shoo-in for AL MVP every year, and Rendon played a starring role in the Nationals 2019 World Series win. A healthy Shohei Ohtani could really make this a fun summer in SoCal.

Why they won't: Incredibly questionable starting pitching. The Angels tried desperately to add star power to their starting staff over the winter but instead had to settle for Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy as consolation prizes. Teheran sort of wore out his welcome in Atlanta after multiple mediocre seasons. Bundy was supposed to be a star after being drafted fourth overall in 2011, but after four disappointing seasons in Baltimore, the Orioles had enough. Considering the rest of the Halos staff includes Andrew Heaney, who pitched to an ERA barely under five in '19, and Griffin Canning, who's struggling with a UCL injury, and yikes. If the Angels are indeed in the mix around the trade deadline, you have to believe they'll aggressively try to import help.

Braves center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr.  Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports


Braves | Prediction: First, NL East

Why they'll win the World Series: Only 22, outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. has blossomed into an absolute superstar. In his first full big league season a year ago, the youngster blasted 41 homers, drove in 101 runs and stole 37 bases. His blend of power and speed is the rarest of skill sets. When spring training opened about a month ago, Acuna publicly acknowledged that his goal for 2020 was to deliver the first 50/50 season in MLB history. That assuredly will not happen in what will most likely become an abbreviated season, but it gives you an idea how high his ceiling is. On a team with a dominant bullpen and another perennial MVP candidate — first baseman Freddie Freeman — Atlanta is going to be a force.

Why they won't: Back of the rotation woes. Had the Mets Pete Alonso not been setting home run records last season, Braves righty Mike Soroka would've been the unanimous NL Rookie of the Year. He's going to anchor this staff for a long time, and Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried should be strong running mates. But beyond that Atlanta currently has an injured Cole Hamels and an over the hill Felix Hernandez. The team has some depth, but if guys like Kyle Wright and Sean Newcomb are in the rotation early, Atlanta will not survive when other injuries inevitably occur.

Reds | Prediction: First, NL Central

Why they'll win the World Series: They absolutely won the winter. The Reds spent the offseason collecting impact veteran players like outfielders Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama, infielder Mike Moustakas, starter Wade Miley and relievers Pedro Strop and Nate Jones. They already boasted an offense that included little-known- outside-of-Ohio third baseman Eugenio Suarez (who crushed 49 homers in '19) and first baseman Joey Votto and a rotation with an excellent three-headed monster of Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer.

Why they won't: Vulnerable relief pitching. Closer Raisel Iglesias was lights out two years ago, but he took major strides backward a season ago. In 68 appearances he turned in a 4.16 ERA, his WHIP and batting average against spiked significantly and he blew six saves. If he struggles similarly or worse in 2020, Cincy could probably get by with moving up Amir Garrett and Michael Lorenzen in the pecking order. But that would make the belly of this bullpen weak.

Dodgers | Prediction: First, NL West

Why they'll win the World Series: Karma will be on their side. When news of the Astros' cheating scandal broke, L.A. felt instantly cheated out of a championship. The Dodgers lost an epic seven-game Fall Classic to Houston that year, and they rightfully believe they would've come out on top had there been no funny business. The next year they lost the World Series again, this time to Boston. Los Angeles is better than they've ever been after adding outfielder Mookie Betts and starter David Price in the offseason, and it sure feels like their time is now.

Why they won't: Difficulty finishing games. Betts and fellow outfielder Cody Bellinger alone would make this offense scary. But combined with shortstop Corey Seager, first baseman Max Muncy and third baseman Justin Turner, opposing pitchers may feel the urge to call in sick when they see the Dodgers on the schedule. A rotation featuring Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Price is going to be a strength as well. But closer Kenley Jansen suffered through the worst season of his career in 2019, and setup man Joe Kelly was dreadful. If those guys are again ineffective, and Blake Treinen and Pedro Baez can't pick up enough of the slack, L.A. will be in for more heartbreak.

Mets ace Jacob deGrom  Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Mets | Second, NL East (wild-card winner) 

Why they'll win the World Series: Exceptional starting pitching. The Mets have been built on starting pitching for a long time now, and while they rode their rotation to an NL pennant a few years ago, it wasn't enough to close the deal then. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz were all on the '15 team that went to the World Series and are still here. And they're now complemented by a motivated Marcus Stroman in a contract year and a former Cy Young winner in Rick Porcello. With a powerful offense led by charismatic Pete Alonso, New York believes it has enough to make a deep run. But it all starts on the mound.

Why they won't: The bullpen fails miserably for the second season in a row. Last year Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia were the main culprits, as the Mets blew an unfathomable 27 saves, an incredibly frustrating situation, considering they missed the playoffs by only three games. New York brought in veteran Dellin Betances over the winter, but it's worth noting that injuries limited him to only one outing in 2019. In a perfect world Betances is healthy, Diaz and Familia rebound and Seth Lugo and Justin Wilson are again outstanding. But it's not hard to envision a scenario like last year unfolding, where the Amazins' only have a couple of guys they can trust when the bullpen gate opens.

Nationals | Third, NL East (wild-card winner)

Why they'll win the World Series: They just proved they could, and they're almost the same team. The Nats possess the best 1-3 rotation in baseball with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. They've got a legitimate superstar leading their offense in left fielder Juan Soto and a collective roster loaded with proven veterans. In a lot of ways, the Nationals are the last team anyone would want to face in the postseason. 

Why they won't: I said they were ALMOST the same team, right? Save for one monumental exception. Third baseman Anthony Rendon took his talents to Anaheim in free agency, and Washington's offense is going to feel his absence in more ways than one in 2020. For starters, Soto becomes a feature player at only 21 years old, and there is concern he may try to do too much if the team slumps. More importantly though, shortstop Trea Turner, who has mostly hit leadoff his entire career, is about to be dropped to third as the team's primary right-handed run producer. Much of what makes the veteran dangerous is his blazing speed, which is unfortunately going to, in large part, be taken away now. What do I mean, you ask? Turner has stolen 157 bases over the past four years, but hitting in front of Soto, he won't be able to run at will anymore at the risk of getting thrown out with Soto at the plate. And even if he makes it, it gives pitchers the option to take the bat out of Soto's hands and hand him an unoccupied first base. Either option is a losing bet for D.C. 

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

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