Our crew of MLB experts has weighed in with predictions for the 2020 season, and two teams stand above the rest — the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees.
The Dodgers, winners of seven straight National League West titles, were unanimous picks to make it eight for eight, with 24 of 32 voters picking them to make the World Series. The Yankees will face a little more resistance, according to our experts, but the Bronx Bombers had twice as many votes as any other team to win the American League pennant.
With the thought that these big-market behemoths may indeed be on a coast-to-coast World Series collision course, we asked baseball reporters Alden Gonzalez and David Schoenfield to size up the teams and what (if anything) might derail them along the way.
Which team has the better lineup?
Alden Gonzalez: Here’s all you need to know: The Dodgers ranked in the top five in the majors last season in OPS, at-bats per home run, walk percentage, weighted runs created plus and practically every important offensive statistical category — then they added Mookie Betts and gained the benefit of the designated hitter. The Yankees are lethal, but the Dodgers are unmatched in their versatility and depth on the position-player side. In Betts and Cody Bellinger, L.A. probably has the two best all-around players on these teams. Then, in no particular order, there’s Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Corey Seager, A.J. Pollock and Gavin Lux. If they’re all healthy and available, that is historically good.
David Schoenfield: If we remove pitcher hitting, the Dodgers had a 118 wRC+ in 2019, with the Yankees right behind at 117 (the Astros led the majors at 126), according to FanGraphs. That’s a park-adjusted stat, so we’re essentially in a dead heat. Sure, the Dodgers added Betts … but the Yankees compiled their number even though Aaron Judge missed 54% of the games, Giancarlo Stanton missed 89% and Miguel Andujar missed 93%. Yes, some of their replacements, such as Gio Urshela and Mike Tauchman, filled in admirably, but imagine this lineup with a healthy Judge and Stanton, plus possible improvement from Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres. Yes, that’s a big if, but it appears both of the big boys will be ready to go. The Yankees should shatter the per-game home run record the Twins set last year (when the Yankees were just one homer behind Minnesota despite all the injuries).
Which team has the better pitching staff?
Gonzalez: The Yankees, probably by a decent margin. Gerrit Cole turned down a substantive offer from the Dodgers and chose the Yankees, which obviously had a major impact on this answer. But the back end of the Yankees’ bullpen is better, even after Aroldis Chapman was diagnosed with COVID-19, and their rotation looks more talented, even after Luis Severino opted for Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers are still relying heavily on Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, who have shown obvious signs of regression. If Blake Treinen captures the performance he had in 2018 (when he was one of baseball’s best relievers) and Dustin May takes a major step in his development, the gap might shrink. But I’ll still give the Yankees the edge here.
Schoenfield: Let’s see, the Dodgers lost the NL ERA leader in Hyun-Jin Ryu, while the Yankees added the AL ERA leader in Cole. Via the metrics at FanGraphs, Dodgers pitchers in 2019 accumulated 24.1 WAR, versus 18.2 for the Yankees, but that gap is erased if you consider Cole is essentially replacing CC Sabathia and the Dodgers have to replace Ryu’s 2.32 ERA. Obviously, those are 2019 numbers instead of 2020 projections, but Cole is a huge difference-maker here. The Dodgers also have to replace Kenta Maeda, and their depth was hurt when David Price opted out for the season. They have the arms to do that with May, Tony Gonsolin, Julio Urias and Alex Wood, although the bullpen depth will be affected if May or Gonsolin is in the rotation. The Yankees have a couple of minor questions with Chapman out temporarily and Masahiro Tanaka potentially missing a start due to a concussion, but those appear to be minor blips, and once Chapman returns, the back end of the Yankees’ bullpen is more of a sure thing. Yankees over Dodgers … barely.
Which team has more depth?
Gonzalez: I went through the Dodgers’ active player pool and counted at least 32 players who are legitimate, potentially above-replacement-level contributors. That’s a lot. I don’t think the Yankees — or any team — can match that. It’s a credit to both the Dodgers’ ability to develop prospects and make prudent acquisitions.
Schoenfield: Look, no doubt if you go 1 to 50, the edge goes to the Dodgers. I love the positional flexibility the Dodgers will have, and they’ll be able to rotate good hitters through the DH spot. But with Judge, Stanton and Andujar back in the mix, the Yankees also have similar flexibility. Look for Andujar to play some first base and maybe a little left field and third base. Tauchman’s defensive metrics were outstanding last year, giving the Yankees a great defensive outfield when they run out Tauchman, Brett Gardner and Judge. Aaron Hicks also says he’ll be ready for Opening Day. The Yankees probably don’t have as many good rotation options, so the Dodgers have the slight edge if pitching injuries or coronavirus cases start to pile up.
Which team is better suited to adjust to the 60-game season?
Gonzalez: The Dodgers, for the reason stated above. It’s a shorter season, but depth will probably be more important than ever this year because of the inevitability of coronavirus cases. It’s not just depth that will help the Dodgers, though. It’s versatility. Seven of the nine men who would be considered regulars play multiple positions, and Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez, who are technically reserves, can play practically everywhere. And it’s the young arms, which could be crucial given the quick ramp-up to the season. The Dodgers have some promising ones in Urias, May, Gonsolin and Brusdar Graterol.
Schoenfield: I have to agree here. For the Yankees to be a powerhouse, they’re relying heavily on Cole to be an absolute stud. Of course, they won 103 games last season without him. But the Dodgers have more paths to success than the Yankees. The one thing I wonder about, as Buster Olney pointed out, is how well the Dodgers emotionally recharge for this weird season after World Series losses in 2017 and 2018 and last year’s heartbreaking loss to the Nationals in the division series. The mental edge might be in the Yankees’ favor.
Which team is better built for October?
Gonzalez: The Yankees. They have the legitimate, showstopping ace in Cole, and they have a dominant back end of the bullpen with Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle. Their lineup, of course, is also fierce, with Judge and Stanton particularly dangerous if they get hot in a short series.
Schoenfield: As the Nationals showed last year, it’s possible to work around a shaky bullpen, but given the Dodgers’ postseason history in that area in recent years — Jansen’s blown saves, the curious usage of relievers in the 2018 World Series, the questionable decision to use Kershaw in relief against the Nationals — I give the Yankees the edge because of the bullpen. But as Alden pointed out earlier, if Treinen finds himself, that’s a huge, huge bonus.
What is each team’s biggest weakness?
Gonzalez (Dodgers): We’re splitting hairs given the overall talent throughout the roster, but I’d say for the Dodgers, it’s starting pitching, especially with Price opting out. After Kershaw and Walker Buehler, the Dodgers will be relying on a blend of young arms (May, Urias, Gonsolin) and middle-tier veteran arms (Ross Stripling, Wood).
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Schoenfield (Yankees): Health. Judge, Stanton and James Paxton are three of their best players, but all have been injury-prone throughout their careers.
Who could stop them?
Gonzalez (Dodgers): Themselves. That might sound like a cop-out, but it’s a 60-game season, which doesn’t allow for many lulls, and the Dodgers have had their fair share of lulls these past few years, either in the beginning, near the middle or toward the end of the season. They’re really good, have consistently played deep into October, and sometimes, it seems, they get bored. It’s understandable over the course of a six-month regular season. But there is no room for that in 2020. The Dodgers must summon an initial sense of urgency that they’re simply not accustomed to, without the ability to feed off a home stadium that is always packed to the gills with fans supporting them. It could be their toughest challenge — in the National League, at least.
Schoenfield (Yankees): The strong rotations in the American League. The Rays will run out a top three of Charlie Morton, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow that could be as good as any trio in baseball. The Indians will have Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger to potentially start four games in a five-game series. The Astros lost Cole but still have some guy named Justin Verlander, plus Zack Greinke and a healthy Lance McCullers Jr.
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