Guys, I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think the 2020 NFL season is actually going to happen.
The first game of the year is now just one day away, and unless this country comes under attack by fire-breathing hornets between now and Thursday — which does seem at least somewhat plausible based on how the year has gone so far — I’m thinking we’re going to get football.
With the start of the NFL season now here, that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite thing: PREDICTIONS.
I’ll be honest, I have high expectations for my predictions this year and that’s mainly because I’ve been locked in my house for the past five months quarantined with a baby. During that period, the only two things I’ve done are: 1. Change diapers and 2. Try to figure out who’s going to win this year’s Super Bowl. Although I’d like to think I’ll hit the nail on the head with all of my predictions this year, the fact of the matter is that this could end up being one of the most unpredictable years in NFL history. Not only was the preseason eliminated, but NFL teams did their best to shut down the flow of information coming out of their training camps, which means I have no idea which rookies have looked good or if any aging veterans look like they should be thinking about retirement.
I mean, one team has a 41-year-old player on its practice squad in case you’re wondering how bizarre things have gotten this year.
Before we get to my predictions, let me explain how things are going to work here: I’m going to go through each division and predict each team’s final record. After that, I’ll be making a bold prediction for each division. Once you roll through the divisional portion of these predictions, you’ll see my playoff picks and eventually, my Super Bowl champion. In two of the past five years, my preseason Super Bowl pick has ended up winning it all, so you might want to scroll down and check out that prediction first to see if I’m picking your favorite team.
Also, since we all know that making fun of someone’s predictions is half the fun of reading predictions, you can send all your hate tweets to me on Twitter by clicking here, and just so you know, Broncos fans, I’m already mentally preparing for your hate tweets.
You can also listen to Will Brinson, Ryan Wilson and myself go over my bold predictions on the Pick Six Podcast (hit the subscribe button here).
Finally, if you’re wondering how I did last season, I predicted the exact win total of five different teams. I also correctly predicted that the Packers would make it to the NFC title game and that the Chiefs would win the Super Bowl. On the other hand, I completely whiffed on San Francisco. I had the 49ers going 6-10 last season, and they responded to that prediction by laughing in my face all the way to the Super Bowl. Niners fans also laughed in my face.
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Alright, that’s enough jibber-jabber about last year, let’s get to the 2020 predictions.
AFC East bold prediction:Cam Newton leads the NFL in total touchdowns
No one knows if the Patriots are going to be any good this year and that’s mainly because no one knows if Cam Newton is going to be any good. The former Panthers quarterback hasn’t been able to stay healthy over the past few seasons, so there’s no guarantee he’s going to be able stay healthy in New England. That being said, I actually think Newton is going to have a monstrous year. For one, the Patriots are going to have the element of surprise on their side in 2020. For the past two decades, every opponent knew what the Patriots offense was going to do (even if they couldn’t stop it). This year, no one has any idea what the Patriots are going to do on offense, and because of that, it could be tough to stop. Also, Newton gives the Patriots something they never had with Tom Brady: A quarterback who is a threat to run the ball. If Newton can throw 30 touchdown passes this year and rush for 10 more, that will likely be enough to lead the NFL in total touchdowns, and that’s exactly what I’m predicting.
AFC North bold prediction:Joe Burrow sets NFL record for most TD passes by a rookie
This record is currently held by an AFC North rival (Baker Mayfield), which means it will probably feel especially gratifying for Burrow if he’s able to knock the Browns quarterback out of the record book. Back in 2018, Mayfield threw 27 touchdown passes, which broke Peyton Manning’s record of 26 that had stood since 1997. Burrow is going to have a huge advantage over Mayfield, and that’s because the Bengals quarterback is going to be the starter from Day 1, which means he’ll definitely be starting 16 games this season (Mayfield only started 13 games for the Browns in 2018).
The other upside for Burrow is that he’s going to have a lot of receiving talent to work with in Cincinnati with guys like A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Auden Tate, Alex Erickson and John Ross, plus running backs Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard. Also, there’s a good chance we’ll see Burrow put up big numbers this year no matter how the Bengals play. On one hand, if the Bengals are good, it will likely be because Burrow is having a phenomenal rookie season. On the other hand, if the Bengals are bad, we could see Burrow put up some huge numbers in garbage time, which could help his touchdown total.
AFC South bold prediction: Doug Marrone is the first coach fired during the 2020 season
In most cases, when a team makes it to the AFC Championship game, they try to build on that success, but for some reason the Jaguars decided to do the opposite. Since making it to the AFC title game in 2017, all the Jaguars have done is completely dismantle their entire roster. The final two nails in the coffin came last week when the team dumped both Yannick Ngakoue (in a trade) and Leonard Fournette. After two straight last-place finishes over the past two seasons, Marrone is definitely on the hot seat this year and if the Jaguars get off to a slow start, he might not last long in Jacksonville. The Jags have a bye in Week 7 this season and if the team shoots off to a 1-6 or 0-7 start, it won’t be surprising if owner Shad Khan finally pulls the plug on the Marrone era in Jacksonville.
AFC West bold prediction: The Broncos are worse than they were in 2019
The Broncos have been a trendy pick this year as a dark horse playoff team and a big reason for that is because of the way they finished the season. Over the final five weeks of 2019, Drew Lock led them to a 4-1 record, which allowed Denver to finish the season 7-9. One of the biggest question marks in Denver is the offensive line, which is a problem, because that’s not an issue you want to be worrying about when you have a second-year quarterback under center. The Broncos might have quite a few weapons, but those weapons don’t really mean anything if Lock never has time to get them the ball.
I’m starting to think that Jerry Jones actually had a diabolical plan going into 2020 that involved not giving Dak a long-term deal so that he’ll be playing with a chip on his shoulder the entire season, and I’m also starting to think that this plan might work. Last year, Dak finished with the second-most passing yards in the NFL and the fourth-most touchdown passes, despite playing in a run-friendly offense. With a more pass-happy coach and even more offensive weapons, we’ll likely see some even bigger numbers from Prescott. Oh, and let’s not forget that he plays for America’s team, which basically means that you’re automatically in the MVP conversation as long as you finish above .500 and I absolutely think the Cowboys are going to finish above .500.
NFC North bold prediction: No team in the division will hit double-digit wins
If there’s one division where it feels like every team took at least a small step back this year, it’s the NFC North. The Packers added zero receiving weapons for Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings lost half their starters on defense, Bears coach Matt Nagy is being forced to start a quarterback he doesn’t have any confidence in and the Lions are the Lions. Basically, it’s a recipe for disaster and disaster in this case will be a season where none of the teams in the division hit the 10-win mark. This qualifies as bold, because it’s only happened one time in the 18-year history of the NFC North. Since the division’s first year in 2002, the only time none of the teams hit the double-digit mark came in 2013 when the Packers won the NFC North with just eight wins.
NFC South bold prediction:Buccaneers win the division for the first time in 13 years
With Tom Brady now in Tampa, this might not seem like a bold prediction, but according to our friends at William Hill Sportsbook, it definitely qualifies as bold, and that’s because the Saints are the overwhelming favorite to win the division this year. With just days to go until the start of the season, the Saints’ odds of winning the division are sitting at -120 (bet $100 to win $83.30) while the Bucs have much worse odds at +160 (bet $100, win $160). Not only will I be riding the Brady train this year, but I’ll be riding it all the way to the NFC title game. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers though, I don’t have Tampa Bay winning that game. To find out who I have beating them, you’ll have to keep reading.
NFC West bold prediction: All four teams finish at .500 or above
Most people seem to agree this year that the NFC West is the most stacked division in the NFL, so you might be wondering why this prediction qualifies as a bold prediction and the reason for that is because it’s never happened before. The NFC West has existed since 1970, and in the 50 years since then, there’s never been a single season where every team in the division finished at .500 or above. If it’s ever going to happen, this feels like the year the four teams could get it done.
Playoffs bold prediction: Cowboys end 25-year Super Bowl drought
If you know any Cowboys fans, then you’re probably well aware that at the start of every NFL season, there’s nothing they like to talk about more than why this will finally be the year the Cowboys win the Super Bowl. It’s pretty much happened every year for the past 25 seasons. Although I usually laugh in their face after they make the prediction, this year I won’t be doing that, and that’s because I ACTUALLY AGREE WITH THEM. I think Jerry Jones might have brainwashed me because I think THE DALLAS COWBOYS ARE GOING TO WIN THE SUPER BOWL, and they’re going to do it by knocking off the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Basically, not only am I predicting that Dak Prescott will win the MVP this year (as you read about earlier), but I’m also predicting that he’ll lead the Cowboys to the Lombardi Trophy. I think what I’m trying to say here is that Jerry Jones better get his check book ready because Dak’s asking price is going to triple if all of this happens.
The biggest reason I like the Cowboys this year is because they won’t be held back by coaching. Although Mike McCarthy isn’t a Hall of Fame coach by any means, he certainly feels like a step up from Jason Garrett, and let’s not forget, he also has Super Bowl coaching experience because he won a Lombardi Trophy during his time in Green Bay.
Also, I’m not sure if fans will be allowed to attend, but if they are, this Super Bowl would probably give us some amazing tailgating and that’s because the parking lot at Raymond James would be filled with both Kansas City and Texas barbecue, which is important to note, because we could finally decide which one is actually better.
Finally, if my predictions all pan out — and I’m sure they will — here’s what the top of the NFL Draft order will look like next April, and based on those first three picks, maybe they should move the event back to New York for the year.
Order of first five picks for 2021 NFL Draft
1. Jaguars 2. Giants 3. Jets 4. Washington 5. Panthers
Just 22 years old, Shahbazyan has been positioned at the front and center of all of the UFC’s promotional efforts for its return to UFC APEX in Las Vegas on Saturday. UFC Vegas 5 main event counterpart Derek Brunson is a respected opponent, but all the buzz around Shahbazyan’s next fight has him poised to make a huge leap up the middleweight rankings with a win.
Brunson has only lost to the best of the best, meaning he’s the perfect litmus test for Shahbazyan. Is Shahbazyan a legitimate candidate to become the youngest champion in UFC history or will Brunson derail his hype train as he’s done in his past two fights against Ian Heinisch and Elias Theodorou?
In the co-main event, top flyweight contender Joanne Calderwood takes a risky fight against former Invicta FC champion Jennifer Maia. “JoJo” was lined up for a shot at Valentina Shevchenko, but with Shevchenko currently out with an injury, Calderwood decided to put up her spot in the rankings for the chance to stay busy and take on the dangerous Maia.
It’s a shame that this isn’t a five-round main event (the bout was originally scheduled as the co-main and later bumped to the headlining spot after Holly Holm vs. Irene Aldana was canceled when Aldana tested positive for COVID-19) because it’s important for an aspiring contender like Edmen Shahbazyan to get as much cage time as possible at this stage of his career and Derek Brunson has the capabilities to test him for 25 minutes.
Right now, the popular prediction appears to be that Shahbazyan dusts Brunson inside of a round, which makes sense given their track histories. Shahbazyan is a wicked finisher with a preternatural mix of accuracy and patience, while Brunson has been caught in the opening round several times. Look for Shahbazyan to take the center of the octagon immediately and dare Brunson to make the first move. As savvy as Brunson is, he’s also been bitten in the past for being too tentative, though his recent performance shave shown he’s still improving at picking his spots on offense while being mindful of his defense even at age 36.
Shahbazyan is also deceptively strong, which will serve him well against Brunson’s wrestling. Brunson still has a bad habit of telegraphing his shots and Shahbazyan knows how to turn stuffed takedowns into offense. It behooves Brunson not to force the action, because so far Shahbazyan hasn’t showed a significant hole in his game, which means Brunson should take his time figuring out where Shahbazyan might falter.
Brunson can go the distance with elite fighters, a category that Shahbazyan has to prove he belongs to, but he’s faltered too many times in high-profile situations to be favored.
Simple enough, and so far Jennifer Maia nailed step one, which hasn’t been a guarantee for her. After two straight misses, Maia successfully hit the flyweight mark on Friday and she couldn’t have done it a better time. She has a golden opportunity to steal Calderwood’s thunder and slip into the title picture.
That’s not to say that Maia doesn’t have the skills of a top contender. She’s a sharp striker with excellent toughness, though she tends to be somewhat predictable. Against a well-versed standup specialist like Calderwood, Maia could see her lead leg chewed up if she isn’t careful. For Calderwood, the key will be her usual mixture of volume and unassuming nastiness.
That killer instinct of Calderwood will be the difference as Maia just hasn’t shown she has an extra gear since joining the UFC. As long as Calderwood stays smart and respects Maia’s power, she should take a decision.
It’s amazing to watch how Randy Brown has developed since making his UFC debut in 2016. The 30-year-old’s constant evolution is why I’m picking him to beat Vicente Luque.
Though he’s actually two years Brown’s junior, Luque is considerably older in MMA years and it’s fair to wonder if his own development has slowed at all. He’s still one of the best finishes in the entire UFC, capable of blitzing with combinations and muscling his opponents into submission with a variety of chokes. The question is whether Brown is about to leapfrog Luque in the rankings.
Brown’s striking has become so much more fluid and he compliments that with a serviceable wrestling game. He’s also improved his range striking, a key skill that is the difference between him being a fun mid-tier fighter and a potential contender. His defense also factors into this fight as Luque is capable of dragging anyone into a dogfight, a scenario that he’s going to have the upper hand in more often than not.
I expect this fight to have plenty of back-and-forth, with Brown outlasting and finishing Luque in the third.
What a great idea to give these two 15 more minutes to work. Lando Vannata and Bobby Green’s first fight at UFC 216 was an entertaining tilt marred by Vannata losing his senses for a moment and costing himself a point with an illegal knee early in the contest. Outside of that brain fart, Vannata appeared to be the sharper striker and he’ll definitively prove that in the rematch.
Green’s usual defensive tricks just aren’t effective against an opponent with Vannata’s style. “Groovy” is adept at attacking from unorthodox angles and where other men might miss, Vannata can find the button and hit it over and over again. If he tightens up his performance even more, he could actually finish Green.
I have too much respect for Green’s game to make that call, so I’m leaning towards a Vannata decision win instead.
As my colleague Jed Meshew so eloquently put it on Between the Links, this is the most middleweight of middleweight fights… and it’s happening at light heavyweight, which some how makes it more middleweight-y.
Ed Herman and Gerald Meerschaert have seen it all and odds are they’re just looking to throw down and have a good time on fight night. Sure, there’s more to their skill sets than that as this could easily turn into a grueling ground battle with Herman working his ground-and-pound and Meerschaert hunting for submissions. But the modern version of Herman is almost strictly a standup fighter, one that will challenge Meerschaert to keep pace in the striking department.
As long as this stays standing, I like Herman’s chances of scraping by with a hard-fought, gutsy, and occasionally ugly effort.
The unpredictable Kevin Holland doesn’t always make the most of his prodigious physical gifts, but when he’s on his game his prospects are as bright as any fighter at 185 pounds. He has a significant reach advantage over the majority of fighters in his division, including Trevin Giles.
Holland has to use his movement to prevent Giles from outmuscling him and doing damage in close. Knowing Holland, he’ll have welcome the chance to test his clinch and dirty boxing skills against Giles’, but that’s not the path to victory for him. Giles has a clean jab and the ability to generate punching power in a hurry, which makes him a threat to finish if the sturdy Holland gets careless.
This could be a wild one and Holland has shown he thrives when he has to improvise. Holland wins a close decision.
The 2020 Major League Baseball season is fast approaching. Summer camp is well underway and the mad dash 60-game season will soon begin. This season will be unlike any other season in MLB history — it’ll be the shortest season on record, there will be a universal DH, and there will be an extra-inning tiebreaker rule — but it’s baseball, and it’ll be fun. It’s OK to enjoy it.
To stick with the “20s” theme, here are 20 bold predictions for the 2020 baseball season. Come with me, won’t you?
It seems crazy to suggest the baseball could be even more juiced next year, but a) these are bold predictions, and b) this has already happened once before. During that 2017 homer explosion, we all sat around and said, “wow, the ball can’t possibly get more juiced than this,” and then it was two years later. Baseball is a flat circle. Everything that’s happened will happen again.
With an ultra-juiced baseball and MLB wanting to catch everyone’s attention post-pandemic, we are boldly predicting 2,600 homers this season. That’s a 7,000-homer pace in a full 162-game season. I feel good about this prediction because look at the ridiculous swing that led to Riley Greene’s spectacular Endy Chavez style catch earlier in summer camp:
I know C.J. Cron has power, but good grief. That swing isn’t supposed to produce a ball hit that far. The extra-juiced baseball will lead to several teams reaching the 120-homer plateau in 2020, or a record 324 home runs in a 162-game season. First bold prediction: dingers, and lots of ’em.
2. Acuna will go 20/20
A late season groin injury sabotaged Ronald Acuna Jr.’s bid to become only the fifth 40/40 player in baseball history. The Braves wunderkind sat out the final four regular season games and finished with 41 home runs and 37 stolen bases. A National League leading 37 stolen bases, if you can believe it. It had been nearly 60 years since the NL leader stole that few bases.
For posterity’s sake, here are the four 40/40 seasons in history:
Jose Canseco, Athletics: 42 homers and 40 steals in 1988
Barry Bonds, Giants: 42 homers and 40 steals in 1996
Alex Rodriguez, Mariners: 42 homers and 46 steals in 1998
Alfonso Soriano, Nationals: 46 homers and 41 steals in 2006
Back in spring training Ozzie Albies told Fox Sports South that Acuna was “talking about 50/50” this season, though that won’t happen in a 60-game season. Instead, our second bold prediction calls for Acuna to get to 20/20 in 2020. That’s a 54/54 pace in a full 162-game season. It’s doable. Likely? No, but doable, and I’m willing to bet on a player this talented.
July 21, 1970: Jack Baldschun gives up leadoff single in the ninth (Clay Kirby threw the first eight innings).
July 18, 1972: Steve Arlin gives up two-out single in the ninth.
Sept. 5, 1997: Andy Ashby gives up leadoff single in the ninth.
Sept. 22, 2006:Chris Young gives up one-out homer in the ninth.
July 9, 2011:Luke Gregerson gives up two-out double in the ninth (the Padres used five pitchers that game).
While there is something endearing about being the only MLB franchise not to do something cool like throw a no-hitter, our third bold prediction calls for the Padres to finally join the no-hit club this season. It’s time. The San Diego franchise has played 8,136 regular season games and it’s time to get through nine innings without allowing a base hit.
Specifically, I’ll say slider specialist and personal fave Dinelson Lamet will start the historic game against the Mariners on Sept. 19 before giving way to relievers Drew Pomeranz and Kirby Yates. Lamet struck out 105 batters in 73 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery last season, you know. He’s going to wake up one morning with no-hit stuff and, well, contribute to a no-hitter.
4. Davis will hit .247 again
And order will be restored to the universe. Athletics slugger Khris Davis never seemed quite right last season — he hurt his hip crashing into the wall in May and maybe that did it — and he fought through a prolonged slump that saw him finish at .220/.293/.387. A’s manager Bob Melvin even benched him at times. It was quite a fall for the 2018 American League home run leader.
The season-long slump put an end to one of the most fun streaks in recent baseball history. From 2015-18, Davis hit .247 in each season. Here are his batting averages carried out to an extra decimal place:
2015: .2474 (97 for 392)
2016: .2468 (137 for 555)
2017: .2473 (140 for 566)
2018: .2465 (142 for 576)
Davis hit .247 on the nose from 2015-18, because of course he did (OK fine, he really hit .2470081379). After a dreadful 2019, the bold prediction here is Davis will get back on the horse in 2020, and again hit a .247. (In case you’re wondering, Khrush’s batting average through 60 games last season was … .241. So close!)
5. Cespedes leads New York in home runs
The five boroughs boast an impressive collection of power hitters. There’s Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton (and Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres) in the Bronx, and reigning NL Rookie of the Year and rookie home run record holder Pete Alonso in Queens. Those players I just mentioned have combined for three 50-homer seasons in the last three years.
And yet, it will not be one of those players who leads the two New York teams in home runs in 2020. It’ll be Yoenis Cespedes, who has not played in roughly two years now because of heel surgeries and a boar-related ankle injury, but is healthy and has been crushing the ball in Summer Camp.
Cespedes is on track to the Mets everyday DH when the season opens. He won’t have to worry about playing the outfield and that will reduce wear and tear, and improve his chances of staying healthy. Cespedes hit nine homers in 38 games prior to his injuries in 2018, a 38-homer pace, and he’s playing for a contract. Few things in this sport are as fun as a locked in Cespedes and I am boldly predicting we will see that guy in 2020.
MLB teams have been signing their best young players to long-term contracts for more than two decades now. The craze started with the John Hart-era Cleveland teams in the 1990s. Teams are so extension happy nowadays that they’ve started signing players before they even make their MLB debuts. A complete list of pre-MLB debut extensions:
Jonathan Singleton, Astros: 5 years, $10 million with three club options (June 2014)
Luis Robert, White Sox: 6 years, $50 million with two club options (January 2020)
White spent the entire 2019 season in Double-A, yet the Mariners were still compelled to lock him up. They believe in him that much and there’s so much upside. If he becomes the player they expect, Seattle will save tens of millions during the life of the contract. And, if White busts, the Mariners are out $4 million a year for six years. Middle reliever money. No big deal.
The next player to sign a long-term extension before making his MLB debut will be Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. He is an elite prospect — Rutschman was arguably the best draft prospect since Bryce Harper in 2010 and he was quite clearly the best catching prospect since Buster Posey in 2008 — and Baltimore will lock him up and soon.
My boldly predicted contract terms: 7 years and $60 million (covering 2021-27) with two club options that could bring the total value to $90 million. That would be the richest deal for a player yet to make his MLB debut and allow the Orioles to bring Rutschman to the big leagues at any point with no worry about service time. He’s a special player and he’ll get a special contract.
7. The No. 1 prospect at the end of 2020 will be a Mariner
Which Mariner? Either Jarred Kelenic or Julio Rodriguez. I’d bet on it being Kelenic because I like his chances of playing in the big leagues this season, and with no proper minor-league season, it’ll hard for players to improve their prospect stock at the alternate training site. Kelenic will see game action and have a chance to wow.
The gem of the Robinson Cano trade, Jarred Kelenic asserted himself as the top prospect in Seattle’s system with an impressive age-19 season that saw him hit .291/.364/.540 with 23 homers and 20 steals across three levels — including 21 Double-A contests. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kelenic is expected to be an above-average hitter at the big-league level. Kelenic is more than just a stick though. He can run, and for the time being he’s likely to remain in center thanks to his footspeed and his big-time arm. There’s a chance he has to move to a corner (likely right) down the road, but there’s star potential if he can stick up the middle. Kelenic won’t be able to legally drink until July. By then, he could be knocking on the big-league door. Whether Seattle chooses to answer it before the 2021 season rolls around is to be seen.
Kelenic is on the short list of the game’s top prospects and I boldly predict he will get enough MLB playing time this year to impress onlookers and improve his stock, but not enough to exceed the 130 at-bat rookie limit. He’ll remain prospect eligible in 2021 and we’ll see him atop top 100 prospect lists.
Blasphemous, I know. Mike Trout is well on his way to the inner circle of the inner circle of the Hall of Fame, plus we can’t forget about new free agent pickup Anthony Rendon either. He’s quite good. The thing is, Ohtani might be the most talented baseball player on the planet. It’s not just me saying that either. At least one former opponent believes it:
“I keep saying this, and people always laugh at me when I say this, but he’s the best baseball player I’ve ever seen in my life,” CC Sabathia said on his podcast a few months ago. “Are you kidding me? He can hit the ball 900 feet and throw 99 off the mound. Who else can do that? Who else is doing that, bro? There’s nobody else is doing that at the big-league level.”
Ohtani is wrapping up his Tommy John surgery rehab and is expected to be in the Opening Day rotation. He turned only 26 earlier this month and, before his elbow gave out in 2018, he threw 51 2/3 innings with a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts. He’s also a career .286/.351/.532 hitter with 40 homers in 792 MLB plate appearance. All-Star production on both sides.
The total package, pitching plus hitting, will make Ohtani the most valuable player on his team this season. Trout is expected to step away at some point to be with his wife when she gives birth to their first child, which will cut into his production, but mostly, I just think Ohtani is that damn good. I can see him being a 4 WAR player in 60 games. It’ll happen. It has been foretold.
9. The AL Rookie of the Year will play for Chicago
But it won’t be Luis Robert. Instead, it’ll be fellow White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal. The 5-foot-7 second baseman slashed .311/.377/.414 with only 16 strikeouts in 120 minor-league games at three levels last season, including Triple-A. His 3.0 percent strikeout rate and 2.2 percent swing-and-miss rate were, by far, the lowest in the minors.
The No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft, Nick Madrigal is unlike most any other player in baseball. He’s small and unlikely to offer much power, yet he’s a good defensive second baseman with absurd bat-to-ball skills who “runs like a [mother’s intimate friend],” in the words of one source.
Madrigal could arrive at any point during the shortened season — he’ll need to spend only seven days at the alternate site to push back his free agency — and he has the skill set to grab the attention of Rookie of the Year voters. He’s a flashy defender, he steals bases, and he makes so much contact that there is a chance he dinks and dunks his way to a .350 batting average. That’ll play.
Robert is awesome, don’t get me wrong, and his new extension ensures he will be on the Opening Day roster. The extra playing time could factor into the Rookie of the Year race. I think Robert could be in for an adjustment period though — his swing-and-miss rate jumped to 21.1 percent in Triple-A last year — allowing Madrigal to sneak in and steal the award, boldly.
10. The Twins will end their postseason losing streak
Game 3 of the 2019 ALDS was Minnesota’s 16th consecutive postseason loss, tying the 1975-79 Chicago Blackhawks for the longest postseason losing streak in the history of the four major North American pro sports. The Twins have not won a postseason game since Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS against the Yankees. Johan Santana started the game. Minnesota’s starting lineup:
Not a single active major leaguer has played in a Twins postseason win. The last active player to appear in a Twins postseason win was Red Sox legend David Ortiz. He started his career in Minnesota and played his final big-league game on Oct. 10, 2016 (Game 3 of the 2016 ALDS against Cleveland). Yeah, it’s been a long time since the Twins won a postseason game.
Fortunately for you, Twins fans, we are boldly predicting your team ends the postseason losing streak this year and gets back in the win column. Will they win a postseason series? Let’s not get greedy. Win one game first. The Twins are a solid bet to return to the playoffs this year, likely as the AL Central champs, and they’ll win a game in the ALDS (assuming they don’t play the Yankees).
11. The Rays and Cleveland will be carbon copies …
… again. One team won 96 games last season and is viewed as an up-and-coming powerhouse. The other won 93 games last year and is generally considered to be trending down. Pull the curtain back a little bit, and you can see the Rays and Cleveland were near carbon copies in 2019:
Freaky! Neither team got dramatically better over the winter either. Cleveland traded Corey Kluber, who was mostly a non-factor last year because of injuries. The Rays traded Tommy Pham and Emilio Pagan, arguably their best hitter and reliever, but have the depth to replace them. Point is, these two teams were extremely similar last season.
And I expect them to be extremely similar again this season. They’re both deep in pitching with a few questions on the offensive side. For all the chatter that the Rays are built for a 60-game sprint, I feel like the same logic applies to Cleveland as well. They’re a pitching factory with a manager who knows how to use it. Terry Francona’s team is the sleeper your father thinks the Rays are.
12. Bryant gets traded …
… to the Phillies. Consider this is a three-pronged bold prediction. First, the Cubs are going to be bad (or simply mediocre) enough to actually sell at the Aug. 31 trade deadline. Second, Theo Epstein & Co. will actually go through with the whole selling thing. It’s one thing to be in position to sell. It’s another to actually act on it and trade away that big name player.
“It puts us in a position in which we have to be very objective about what we have,” Epstein said. “In the middle of this season, if we have a legit World Series contender, that is really meaningful. But if we don’t, you can’t be blind to the realities of the following 18 months.”
And third, the Phillies will be the team to bite and make the trade for Kris Bryant. Bryant was reportedly on the trade block all winter, and Philadelphia was said to be involved at various points, so connecting the dots again here hardly qualifies as bold. I guess the bold part of this prediction is the Cubs actually being out of it, and the Phillies offering enough to get a deal done.
What is enough to get a deal done? I’m going to say a multi-player package that is headlined by 2018 No. 3 pick Alec Bohm. A near MLB ready pitching prospect like Adonis Medina and JoJo Romero will be the second piece. Sound good? The Phillies get a big third base bat while the Cubs get young talent and that all important financial flexibility.
The August 31 trade deadline will be weird. It’s only a month into the season, so teams won’t have much time to evaluate their roster and plot changes, and clubs will be wary of paying too much given the risk COVID-19 forces the season to be shut down at some point. Also, the shutdown is going to ruin payrolls for the foreseeable future. Money is tight.
That said, the Rockies and Tigers are in position to control the pitching market at the deadline because they’re loaded with pitchers that are controllable beyond 2020. Consider: Jon Gray is under control through 2021, Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer are under control through 2022, Kyle Freeland is under control through 2023, and German Marquez is signed through 2023. Some of those guys are more available than others, but I can see a scenario in which all five are on the market.
Because this is a bold predictions piece, let’s make some actual predictions. I’ll say Boyd goes to the Astros for a package built around outfielder Kyle Tucker and pitching prospect Cristian Javier, and Gray goes to the Yankees for outfielder Estevan Florial and righty Albert Abreu. Sound good? Good.
The first impression of the new Globe Life Field in Texas is that it is “playing big as hell,” according to slugger Joey Gallo. He has taken batting practice at the team’s new digs in recent weeks and, for a guy with his power to say a ballpark is playing big, it must be playing really big.
“It’s playing big as hell,” Gallo told Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in May. “It’s definitely going to be a pitcher’s park. We are trying to get those fences moved in a little bit. It’s a little deep, I am not going to lie. It’s a little deep out to center. Us hitters are getting a little nervous about that.”
Globe Life Park, the team’s old facility, was a notorious hitter’s park, especially in the summer, when the ball flew in the Texas heat. The thing is, Globe Life Field’s dimensions are generally cozier. Check it out:
The fence may be closer just about everywhere except dead center field, but there is more to how a ballpark plays than the outfield dimensions. The shape of the ballpark and how air moves through the structure matters, as does the retractable roof. It’ll be nice and air conditioned now. Fans will love it. Alas, the cooler air means the ball will not travel quite as well.
Globe Life Park opened in 1994 and the park factors at FanGraphs say it inflated offense at least 3 percent every year of its existence, with most years in the 5-9 percent range. In Year 1 of Globe Life Field, I boldly predict the ballpark will suppress offense at least 3 percent below the league average. The Rangers will go from a bandbox to a cavern.
15. The Blue Jays will finish third in the AL East
Toronto has been mired in fourth place since going to the ALCS in 2015 and 2016, so third place would represent their best finish in the standings in four years. The Blue Jays lost 95 games a year ago, but gosh, look at the young talent. Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are elite cornerstone types, and others like Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are great complementary pieces.
Clubs with a great young talent base have a tendency to arrive ahead of schedule. The Twins did it just last year. The Rays in 2008, the Pirates in 2013, the Cubs in 2015 … all those clubs were loaded with young talent and they all emerged sooner than expected. The Blue Jays spent some money on pitching this winter and those young bats make them a budding powerhouse.
Finishing in third place is unlikely to get the Blue Jays back to the postseason, but it does represent progress. I reckon Toronto will be a real headache to play in 2020. They won’t be a pushover like many other non-contenders. And, of course, the Blue Jays finishing third means someone has to finish fourth, and I boldly predict it will be the Red Sox. A quick recap of their situation:
Their No. 3 starter is Ryan Weber and their No. 5 starter is TBD.
SportsLine has the Red Sox as an 33-win team at the moment. With the Blue Jays beginning their breakout and some things going wrong for the Red Sox, a fourth place finish is very possible. When the Red Sox are bad, they tend to be very bad (three last place finishes from 2012-15). Toronto breaks out, Boston breaks down, and the Blue Jays earn a third place finish in 2020.
16. Gallen finishes top three in the Cy Young voting
A season ago Zac Gallen went from breakout prospect to hotshot rookie pitcher to traded at the deadline. He went from the Marlins to the Diamondbacks in July and pitched to a 2.89 ERA in eight starts in Arizona. Gallen’s final MLB numbers: 2.81 ERA with 96 strikeouts and 2.7 WAR in 80 innings. Heck of a rookie year for the 24-year-old.
It’s hard to call a guy who had a 2.81 ERA a year ago a breakout candidate, but Gallen is one, and I boldly predict he will place in the top three of the Cy Young voting in 2020. Ahead of wealthy new teammate Madison Bumgarner. Gallen is a five-pitch pitcher with command, and he misses bats with all five pitches. The numbers:
Generally speaking, you need at least one swing-and-miss pitch to succeed as an MLB starter. Two swing-and-miss pitches gives you a chance to be an All-Star. Three? You’re talking Cy Young potential. Small sample size caveats apply, obviously, but Gallen’s stuff is very good, and he also ranked in 75th percentile in exit velocity. Strikeouts and weak contact is a great combo.
That all points to Gallen having a chance to be among the best pitchers in the National League as soon as this season. He has the strikeout ability and the weak contact skills, and he has a good infield defense behind him. I see him as this year’s Shane Bieber. The guy who goes from interesting prospect one year to Cy Young contender in his first full MLB season the next.
17. There will be a three-way tie atop the NL Central
The three teams: Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds. The Cubs were bad enough to trade Kris Bryant in an earlier bold prediction, so they won’t be in the division race. I think the Pirates will be better than the 26-win team SportsLine projects — squint your eyes and you can see a .500 record — but not good enough to contend in the NL Central. It’ll be a three-team race.
What happens in the event of a three-team tie? The three teams are designated Club A, B, and C using a long cookbook formula based on head-to-head records and things like that, then there are two tiebreaker games:
Tiebreaker Game 1: Club A hosts Club B.
Tiebreaker Game 2: Game 1 winner hosts Club C.
The Game 2 winner gets the division title. If applicable, the loser of Game 2 would be a wild-card team, and the loser of Game 1 would be the second wild-card team. I am pro-chaos, so let’s say the NL Central winner and only the NL Central winner qualifies for the postseason. The two wild-card teams come from the other two divisions. That gives us two elimination tiebreaker games. Fun!
Also, just to paint a complete picture, I’m going to say the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds will finish the 60-game regular season with identical 32-28 records, triggering the three-team tiebreaker scenario. It’s just not a good division right now.
18. Cole wins AL MVP
It’s always trendy to make a “the big offseason addition will win a major award” prediction and hey, sometimes it happens. Christian Yelich won MVP in his first year with the Brewers. Josh Donaldson won MVP in his first year with the Blue Jays. The late Roy Halladay won the Cy Young in his first year with the Phillies. We see it every few years.
What doesn’t happen all that often is a pitcher winning MVP. Twenty pitchers have combined to win 22 MVP awards (Hall of Famers Carl Hubbell and Hal Newhouser won two each), but only six times has a pitcher won MVP in the last half-century:
Picking a big name offseason addition to win a major award happens seemingly every year. Picking a big name pitcher addition to win MVP? That’s rare and it’s basically never happens. Some voters have a bias against pitchers winning MVP, which is silly, but it is what is. A pitcher needs a historically great season to win MVP.
New Yankees ace Gerrit Cole is certainly talented enough to have an MVP season. His 326 strikeouts last season were the most by a right-handed pitcher since Nolan Ryan struck out 341 in 1977, and his 39.9 percent strikeout rate was the highest ever for a pitcher with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Cole is in his prime at 29 and could very well do it again in 2020.
There is also a narrative component to the MVP award. The Yankees have already lost Luis Severino to Tommy John surgery, so Cole will be counted on to lead the rotation even more than initially expected. Repeating his 2019 performance in 2020 while leading a decimated Yankees rotation to the AL East title could lock in the MVP. I’m boldly predicting it.
19. Both 2019 World Series teams miss the postseason
You have to go back to 2006 for the last time the two pennant winners both failed to qualify for the postseason the next season. The White Sox swept the Astros in the 2005 World Series, then Chicago went 90-72 and finished in third place in the AL Central in 2006 while the Astros went 82-80 and finished in second in the NL Central. Neither returned to the postseason.
Our penultimate bold prediction calls for the 2019 pennant winners, the Astros and reigning World Series champion Nationals, to both miss the postseason in 2020. Houston lost Gerrit Cole to free agency and they look more vulnerable now than they have at any point in the last three or four years. They’re very good! But more beatable than in recent years.
As for the Nationals, they had one of the oldest teams in baseball last season and they doubled down on veterans this winter. There is a lot of age-related risk on their roster. Also, the Nationals were so close to being done multiple times with Anthony Rendon last year. I mean:
22.2 percent postseason odds after 19-31 start.
11.6 percent win probability in eighth inning of Wild Card Game.
9.7 percent win probability in eighth inning of NLDS Game 5.
15.0 percent win probability in seventh inning of World Series Game 7.
Now Rendon is gone and their three aces (Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg) all threw a ton of innings last season. They’re surely hoping the shutdown gave them all a chance to recover because the World Series hangover effect can be very real. The Astros and Nationals will be good in 2020, just not postseason good. Better luck in 2021.
… and Clayton Kershaw is the postseason hero. It’s time. The Dodgers have not won the World Series since Kirk Gibson hobbled around the bases in 1988. Their World Series drought is older than most big leaguers, the World Wide Web, the Simpsons, Seinfeld, and Game Boy, among about a zillion other things. It’s time for the drought to end.
Los Angeles has won seven consecutive NL West titles and they lost the 2017 and 2018 World Series to serial cheaters. Kershaw is entering his decline phase — keep in mind his decline year in 2019 featured a 3.03 ERA with 189 strikeouts in 178 1/3 innings — and he has been the postseason goat more times than a pitcher of his caliber ever should. That includes last year.
The Dodgers added Mookie Betts to an already stacked roster this offseason, and the result was a pre-pandemic 103-win PECOTA projection. That was literally the highest win total in PECOTA history. The Dodgers are that good. They’re going to cruise to another division title. This time, they’ll finish the job in October.
To be more specific, Kershaw will win the clinching game in both the NLCS and World Series. Seem crazy? It’s not. David Price, who himself had the postseason choker label, won the clinching game in the ALCS and World Series (both on short rest!) two years ago. He was a postseason choker until he wasn’t. The same will happen with Kershaw this October and the Dodgers will end their World Series drought. We are boldly predicting it.
For the second straight week, UFC will have two women headlining an event. Jessica Eye will meet Cynthia Calvillo in the headliner of UFC on ESPN 10. The winner of the fight will be very close to a title shot against the champ Valentina Shevchenko.
The Women’s Flyweight division possesses its problems. It has a champ that has been utterly dominant throughout her reign. However, there is a sharp fall in the quality of competition after “Bullet”. In all fairness, no one seems good enough to dethrone her as of now. However, the two women fighting this weekend possibly have the best odds out to put an end to her reign in the future.
Eye is coming off a win right after a failed bid to capture the Flyweight gold from Shevchenko. However, the result will be met with an asterisk due to her showing up way ahead of the Flyweight limit. Her weight cutting issue refused to leave her even for this weight. Eye showed up a quarter-pound over the weight limit. Moreover, she looked drained and it seemed that her body had taken the brunt of the weight cut.
Cynthia, on the other hand, is no stranger to the horrors of weight-cuts. After spending significant time at Strawweight, Calvillo is moving up to Flyweight. She has missed weight several times, the most recent one in her last fight against Marino Rodriguez which ended in a majority draw.
Moving up a weight class hasn’t always solved the problems of fighters struggling to make weight. However, what is certain is that Calvillo would certainly have had one less thing to worry about.
Prediction: Cynthia Calvillo wins via a fourth-round TKO
The fact that the fight is held for five rounds will play a major role in deciding the outcome. Both the fighters have shown that they are capable of pushing the pace for three rounds. Beyond that lies a realm full of questions. None of the fighters have a record of knocking their opponents out. The same shall be expected from this fight as well.
Another factor to be considered is Calvillo’s recent change of camps from Team Alpha Male to American Kickboxing Academy. While both are prime training locations, a shake-up in the training staff often gives the fighters a chance to evolve.
Cynthia should be able to use her striking along with an efficient mix of takedowns to put the pressure on her opponent. Jessica will have the advantage of her size. She is considerably bigger than the former Strawweight. However, it seems that the weight cut has done the damage. Calvillo should be able to take the fight to the deep waters and finish Jessica in the fourth round.
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