After a long and nasty labor dispute between the MLB and MLBPA, baseball is somehow set to return this Thursday, July 23rd with a marquee pitching matchup between the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer in D.C. Make no mistake, this season is going to be WEIRD. These days, it seems like most people think the usual 162-game schedule is too long, but at least it allows the best teams to prove their superiority via large sample size. With a 60-game schedule, any random-ass team can pull out a 9-game win streak and make the playoffs. Not to mention player stats, which will look more unnatural than JR Smith and Dion Waiters both wearing purple and gold alongside LeBron.
Oh yeah, and I haven’t even mentioned the Big Rona! Let’s see, so far we’ve had:
The MLB telling players that they can’t high-five each other, spit or use chewing tobacco. Good fucking luck with that one.
Teams experiencing delayed test results because the MLB forgot that FedEx takes July 4th off. Really encouraging sign right off the bat (pun intended, sorry).
Big-name guys opting out of the season due to concerns about the Big Rona (Buster Posey, David Price, Jordan Hicks, Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Markakis, etc.).
Big-name guys testing positive for the Big Rona (though most have since recovered). Braves’ star Freddie Freeman detailed his frightening experience with the virus, saying his fever spiked up to 104.5 degrees. Yikes. Wear a mask, people.
Given how poorly the US has handled the Big Rona, Canada told the Toronto Blue Jays to kindly fuck off and play elsewhere. Sooooo… where are they gonna play? Will they move to their training facility in Florida, aka the epicenter of the Big Rona? Will they move to their AAA stadium in Buffalo? I don’t know about you, but at this point I’m all aboard the #JaysMafia train.
The MLB also doesn’t have the luxury of operating in a bubble. While the NBA’s biggest concern is Richaun Holmes snagging some late-night Postmates, the MLB has no way of policing players once they leave the stadium. Several anonymous executives have said that they expect the World Series champion to be the team with the smallest number of positive tests.
With all that said, baseball is back! Here are my official Power Rankings for this weird, short-ass season. I’ve also channeled my inner Busti The Bookie and included one bet per team that I like.
All odds from Caesar’s Sportsbook
TIER 1: LEGIT WORLD SERIES CONTENDERS 🏆
1. LOS ANGELES DODGERS (NL Champions +150)
Look, the Dodgers are absolutely stacked. Their lineup features Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Max Muncy and Corey Seager. They’ll also finally get to unleash super-prospect Gavin Lux. I mean, what 😰? Is this team gonna average double-digit runs per game? Good luck to every pitcher that has to navigate their way around that lineup.
From a pitching perspective, the Dodgers lost Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and David Price… and no one gives a shit. They still have Walker Buehler, Ross Stripling, Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Julio Urías and stud prospects Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. Barring injuries/the Big Rona, the Dodgers seem like a lock to win the NL pennant. I’m just not ready to declare them World Series favorites given their recent playoff track record. Is this the year Dave Roberts finally wises up and benches Kershaw in big moments?
2. NEW YORK YANKEES (AL Champions +160)
Full disclosure: I’m a massive Yankees fan, so credit to me for not putting them #1. All bias aside, from a personnel standpoint, it doesn’t get much better than the Bombers. By my count they have 6 starting-caliber outfielders (Judge, Stanton, Hicks, Gardner, Tauchman, Frazier), 8 starting-caliber infielders (Sánchez, Torres, LeMahieu, Voit, Urshela, Andújar, Ford), they still have the best bullpen in the majors, and oh yeah, they went out and snagged Gerrit fucking Cole in free agency.
The only issue with this team is the rotation (aside from Cole). James Paxton has been inconsistent since coming over from Seattle. Masahiro Tanaka has been a great playoff performer, but he has been inconsistent the past few seasons (side note: how the fuck is Tanaka fine after taking a Giancarlo Stanton liner off the dome?? The exit velo. on that thing was 112mph. Tanaka’s head must be made of straight granite). I’m starting to worry that Luis Severino will be one of those “what-if?” guys after undergoing Tommy John this offseason. Domingo Germán is still suspended under the MLB’s domestic violence policy and has been posting all sorts of weird shit about retiring on social media. Guys like J.A. Happ, Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga, Mike King and stud prospect Deivi Garcia don’t do it for me. This rotation will struggle at times, no doubt about it.
I hate to be that guy, but this is the same team that set records last season with 36 separate IL stints for a grand total of 2,246 games lost, both MLB records. The Yanks overhauled their training staff this offseason, which is great, but that definitely doesn’t alleviate all of my concerns. If the Yanks want ring #28, they need to stay healthy and get consistent starting pitching.
3. TAMPA BAY RAYS (AL East Champions +325)
Listen, I hate the Rays. They’re a division rival. Fuck ‘em. With that said, they’re an UNBELIEVABLE organization that doesn’t get nearly enough credit. I understand why nobody cares: shittiest stadium in all of American pro sports, terrible attendance (stadium is in St. Petersburg, which is juuuuust far enough from Tampa to ensure that no one wants to make the drive), small-market team, no real stars, etc. I mean, we’re talking about a team that won 96 games last season and still finished 29th in the MLB in stadium attendance. The Dodgers, Red Sox and Astros have poached former Rays’ front-office geniuses Andrew Friedman, Chaim Bloom and James Click respectively to oversee their baseball operations in the past few years. The Rays should be a perennial laughingstock, a division bottom-dweller year in and year out. They’re basically at every disadvantage you could imagine.
But wait, we’re talking about a team THAT WON 96 FUCKING GAMES LAST SEASON. They lost Tommy Pham and Avisail García, but they picked up masher Hunter Renfroe, Japanese stud Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and solid role players like José Martinez and Manuel Margot. Blake Snell hasn’t dropped any bathroom furniture on his toes and should be back in Cy Young form. Tommy Shelby, I mean, Tyler Glasnow has recovered from wrist surgery (and the Big Rona) and should be back to throwing 100mph and striking everyone out. Charlie Morton has quietly been one of the best starters in baseball. The bullpen is still rock-solid. I’m a believer in the Rays, and with a shortened season, they could absolutely knock off the Yanks in the AL East.
4. HOUSTON ASTROS (AL Champions +500)
Man, it really sucks that there won’t be fans to boo the shit out of the Astros at every single road game. Let’s just hope the Astros break MLB records for the most HBPs in a single season.
As much as I hate the Astros, they’re still nasty. Altuve. Bregman. Correa. Springer. Air Yordán. This team can mash. They lost Gerrit Cole, which is obviously a massive blow, but they still have Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, and Lance McCullers Jr. has recovered from Tommy John and has, by all accounts, looked great in Summer Camp. This team has tons of playoff experience (ugh) and has great value to win the AL pennant at +500.
Lots of experts have wondered if the sign-stealing fiasco will affect the team on the field. I think that’s a bunch of bullshit. The players haven’t shown much remorse, and new manager Dusty Baker is one of the best in the biz. The Astros are as formidable as ever, unfortunately.
TIER 2: DEEP PLAYOFF RUN POTENTIAL 💪
5. ATLANTA BRAVES (NL Champions +600)
The Braves are a fascinating team. For starters, their core is absolutely good enough to win now. Ronald Acuña Jr. has a chance to be one of the best players this game has ever seen. Ozzie Albies is electric. Freddie Freeman, a bona fide superstar, is back after beating the Big Rona. Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley are very solid youngsters. Snagging Marcell Ozuna and Will Smith in free agency were shrewd moves. King Felíx Hernández opted out, and with all due respect to a future HOFer, that’s addition by subtraction.
The Braves definitely took some Ls this offseason, losing Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel in free agency and Nick Markakis to Big Rona concerns. But I like their young pitching staff, with dudes like Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Chad Sobotka and Touki Touissant. The Dodgers are the better team, but in this shortened season, anything can happen. The Braves are for real.
6. OAKLAND ATHLETICS (AL West Champions +225)
Similar to the Rays, people forget that the A’s won 97 games last season and almost made the Astros a wild card team. The A’s kinda did jack shit this offseason, but I don’t care. Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien are the best shortstop/3rd baseman combo in the majors (sorry Machado/Tatis Jr.) and guys like Matt Olson, Mark Canha and Ramón Laureano will quietly produce. The pitching staff should hopefully be healthy, and with guys like Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, A.J. Puk, Jesús Luzardo and Mike Fiers, the A’s are definitely formidable in the AL West. Don’t be surprised if the lovable, small-market Moneyballers dethrone the big bad Astros this season.
7. WASHINGTON NATIONALS (NL Champions +1000)
I did a double take when I saw the defending champs are +1000 to win the NL pennant. Yes, they lost Anthony Rendon, who finally showed the world that he’s a legitimate superstar. Fine. I get it. But they still have the most devastating top-three starting rotation in baseball with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. Juan Soto seems like he could carry an offense to the World Series all by himself. People disrespected the Nationals last season and look what happened. They now have championship experience and a ton of roster continuity – are experts underestimating them again?
8. MINNESOTA TWINS (AL Champions +600)
Not gonna lie, the Twins have some STINKY lines on Caesar’s. I think they’ll win the AL Central, but they’re -125. I don’t think they’ll win the AL pennant, and they’re only +600. The Twins are a team I’m staying away from betting-wise.
As for actual on-field performance, the Twins are great on paper, but I’m out on them. Maybe it’s because I watched the Yankees kick their dicks in during the ALDS last year, but the Twins struck me as a team with too much flash and not enough substance. Hitting an MLB-record 307 homers during the regular season was cool, but that doesn’t guarantee wins in October. They did add Josh Donaldson, which is huge, and the pitching staff seems healthy. Adding Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda certainly doesn’t hurt, either. The Twins certainly have the pieces to put it all together, but I’m still skeptical.
TIER 3: IN THE PLAYOFF HUNT, BUT NOT A REAL CONTENDER
9. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (NL Central Champions +240)
The Cubs and Reds both have better odds to win the NL Central than the Cards this season. Wait, what? Did everyone forget that the Cardinals came out of nowhere to win the Central and reach the NLCS last year? Sure, they lost Marcell Ozuna in free agency and Jordan Hicks opted out. In my mind, losing those two guys doesn’t hurt them all that much. Jack Flaherty is morphing into a perennial Cy Young candidate before our very eyes, and the Cards have solid-but-unspectacular talent all around the diamond. The Cards also have the 3rd-easiest schedule this season (based on 2019 winning percentages). I’m not saying they’re going to reach the NLCS again, but this is a good team that isn’t getting enough respect.
10. CLEVELAND INDIANS (AL Central Champions +260)
Ever since the legendary 2016 World Series, I get the sense that both the Indians and Cubs (more on them below) have been on a slow-but-steady decline. The Indians still have some studs – Francisco Lindor (get him the fuck out of Cleveland, please), José Ramirez, Carlos Santana, Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco and Brad Hand come to mind – but this just doesn’t feel like a roster that’s going to make any real noise in the playoffs. With that said, that rotation is solid and they could definitely give the Twins a run for their money in the AL Central.