Baseball will be making its return in late July. There are still some details to be ironed out, but we will see players trotting onto the diamond before August hits. It will look very different from any MLB season before-- only 60 games in the season, a universal DH, and an attempt to shorten extra-inning games by allowing a runner to start on second after the ninth inning are among the big changes.
Buster Olney went on ESPN this morning to discuss the changes and how it will affect the season in the larger picture. He also gave his pick for the World Series, and it comes as a bit of surprise. Olney is a believer in the Tampa Bay Rays.
Yesterday, I argued that a 60-game season means star power will be more important than ever, which is why the Los Angeles Angels are a good longshot World Series bet at 20-1. According to Vegas, the Rays wearing the crown by the end of October is equally as likely. Olney believes it is not star power but rather depth that will matter the most-- specifically when it comes to the pitching staff. And the Rays have as deep a bullpen as any around the league.
Tampa has an ace in Charlie Morton, who went 16-6 last year with a 3.05 ERA. Blake Snell will be returning fully healthy after an injury-plagued 2019 and is a good bet to look more like the 21-game winner he was in 2018 than the six-game winner he was last season. Tyler Glasnow is a prime breakout candidate after going 6-1 in 2018 with a 1.78 ERA before injures also derailed his campaign. That's three high-end starters the Rays can rely upon to win important games when the standings get crowded at the end of the season and rotations need to be shortened.
While the Rays' bullpen isn't stacked with big names like some of their major-market counterparts, the bullpen was a big part of their September push into the postseason. They have a cadre of reliable arms, and in a 60-game season, that's more important than having one shutdown closer and a handful of hit-or-miss middle relievers. Keeping everyone's arms fresh will be the biggest challenge for all MLB teams, and it does seem like the Rays are poised to tackle that as well as anyone in baseball.
Baseball has always been a sport more about the sum of its parts than individual star power. Olney believes that will be even more true in this shortened season. He just might be right.