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Baseball refresh: Here are the MLB storylines you were planning to watch in 2020

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

So, where were we ...

Mookie Betts is in L.A., Gerrit Cole is in New York, Josh Donaldson is in Minneapolis, the Houston Astros are in the doghouse, and Yasiel Puig is on Instagram.

Exactly where we left them three months ago. To then, the baseball season’s dramatic events had been Chris Sale’s sore elbow and the clearing of germy reporters from clubhouses, which were unrelated and harbingers for some pretty bad stuff. A lot has happened since, most of it involving sitting around the house, some of it involving sitting around the house watching owners and players wrestle around on the floor over the last pizza crust.

They’re going to resume training for baseball games next week, for a 60-game season that will feel like one of those wispy mask breaths you get walking up a flight of stairs. They’ll test everyone for the virus and then hope for the best, the best being an uninterrupted and odd little sprint into the end of October that sickens as few people as possible.

For the moment, before a single long cotton swab draws a single dab of whatever the heck is in there, 30 teams reset with rosters they built to win or maybe contend or for sure bring them a high draft pick. Those rosters were frozen in March, along with the game itself and a good percentage of everyday life. Therefore, in a world where about everything has changed, the Baltimore Orioles remain, very likely, terrible.

How any of it plays over two regular-season months of (probably) fan-less, lockdown, starting pitcher-lite baseball is unclear. What we do know is it’s as though the entire season starts with none out and a man at second base in the 10th inning, a get-’em-over-get-’em-in stab at legitimacy that isn’t the fault of anyone in baseball. 

Maybe there’ll be more urgency in everything that comes. Maybe great players find they are more capable of carrying a team over two months than they are six. Maybe the answer is depth, good players upon good players, because maybe the winners and losers will be determined by the numbers on one of those forehead thermometer guns.

With the 2020 season shortened to 60 games, at best, the Los Angeles Dodgers may only get a few months with superstar Mookie Betts roaming the outfield. They acquired the impending free agent in a blockbuster winter trade. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Refreshing the season, the best teams are the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins. In a normal season, they would win six or seven games out of every 10, over and over, month after month, so that small advantages mature into comfortable division leads by mid-August. That’s the winning slog. 

Does it play over 60? Not the same way. You know how opening day is always a collection of fussy affairs with song and unfurled flags and polite composure? This one’s gonna feel like the intern left the door open at the dog pound when the mailman came. A hot bat or two might be enough, as would be a bullpen that finds its collective soul from Day 1, as would be a couple weeks of just dumb luck, when pop-ups find the sun and middle-middle fastballs find gloves and the other guy can’t stay out of the way of those forehead thermometer guns.

So, yeah, meantime, in case you forgot what Scott Boras was up to all winter, Gerrit Cole is a New York Yankee for $324 million, Anthony Rendon is a Los Angeles Angel for $245 million, Stephen Strasburg is still a Washington National for $245 million, Hyun-Jin Ryu is a Toronto Blue Jay for $80 million, Nicholas Castellanos is a Cincinnati Red for $64 million, Dallas Keuchel is a Chicago White Sox for $55.5 million and Mike Moustakas is a Red for $64 million.

In the non-Boras category, Josh Donaldson is a Minnesota Twin, Yasmani Grandal is a White Sox, Zack Wheeler is a Philadelphia Phillie and Madison Bumgarner is an Arizona Diamondback.

The upshot: the Yankees will be good, so will the Twins, the Phillies could live up to last year’s hype, the Nationals have the starting pitching to at least dream of a repeat, the Angels could see their fourth postseason game of the Mike Trout era, and the Reds and White Sox are sneaky grown up.

The baseball story of the summer and fall, assuming there is baseball in either, will be the Dodgers and Mookie Betts, which could become the steamiest whirlwind romance since America and Tiger King. 

In the days before spring training, the Dodgers acquired Betts and David Price from the unraveling Boston Red Sox for three players, including outfielder Alex Verdugo. Price had a 4.28 ERA in 2019 and has $96 million left on his contract, half of which is on the Dodgers, and Betts, a top-three player in the game the past half-decade, can be a free agent after the season. If there is a season. And he’d be a free agent either way. They may have one shot together, and it’s going to be a manic game held in a Tupperware habitat.

Also:

Shohei Ohtani is a two-way player again in Anaheim. The right-handed pitcher/left-handed hitter who made it look so elegant over nine weeks in 2018, then endured Tommy John surgery, is just 25 (26 in July) and will be a regular in the lineup and starting rotation.

Two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber is in Texas after being traded from Cleveland in December. The Rangers, who haven’t won a postseason series since 2012, expect to be more competitive.

After 15 seasons in Seattle, Félix Hernández will try to rediscover himself in Atlanta.

In the Bronx, Giancarlo Stanton is good to go after playing 18 games in 2019. Aaron Judge, who played 102 games, is a bit hazier.

There are new managers in Boston (Ron Roenicke), Kansas City (Mike Matheny), Houston (Dusty Baker), Anaheim (Joe Maddon), Queens (Luis Rojas), Philadelphia (Joe Girardi), Chicago (David Ross), Pittsburgh (Derek Shelton), San Francisco (Gabe Kapler) and San Diego (Jayce Tingler).

So, you’re caught up. Opening day is July 23. A lot will happen between now and then, some of it, hopefully, good.

We’ll let you know on Puig.

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