2020 MLB season expert predictions: Division picks, playoff field, World Series winner

After a delay of nearly four months, the 2020 MLB season will begin on Thursday night when the Washington Nationals host the New York Yankees (7 ET, ESPN). It's time to pin down our expectations for what we expect to happen in the abbreviated 60-game season.

Will the Nationals repeat? Is this the year the Los Angeles Dodgers end their long championship drought? Will Gerrit Cole pitch the Yankees to their first title since 2009?


From among our columnists, writers, researchers and editors, we polled 32 of ESPN's leading baseball experts to see what they expect, asking them about who's going to win their respective divisions as well as who's going to win their leagues and ultimately the World Series.

To see who our experts think will walk away with the MVP and other hardware at the end of the 2020 season, check out our award predictions.

Jump to predictions for: National League | AL and NL champions| World Series champion

American League


AL East


Our pick: Yankees (21 votes)

Who else got votes? Rays (11)

Why did you pick the Rays?

The Rays might be the league's most creative team, which makes them the team most likely to find hidden opportunities in these anomalous circumstances. I'd pick the Yankees' wealth and talent to win out in 162 games, but in 60 games, the gap is negligible, and the division could go to the team that first figures out how to make this once-in-a-lifetime schedule work for it. -- Sam Miller



AL Central


Our pick: Twins (24)

Who else got votes? Indians (5), White Sox (3)

Why did you pick the White Sox?

Among the trio of AL divisions, the Central is the most wide-open, and between Cleveland, Chicago and Minnesota, the White Sox possess the highest ceiling during this boom-or-bust season.
Tim Anderson emerged as a legitimate offensive force at shortstop last season, winning the batting title despite playing in fewer than 130 games, while Lucas Giolito lived up to his former consensus top pitching prospect hype for the first time to the tune of a 3.41 ERA in 29 starts and an All-Star appearance. Toss in the free-agent additions of Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal, the continued development of Eloy Jimenez and the rookie season of Luis Robert, and this White Sox squad boasts the highest talent ceiling in the division. 2020 could be the year, amid the craziest of circumstances, the accumulation of top-tier young talent comes together on the South Side. -- Joon Lee



AL West


Our pick: Astros (17)

Who else got votes: A's (11), Angels (4)

Why did you pick the Angels?

While the Astros remain the team to beat, the Angels and A's have closed that gap significantly. I picked the Angels to win the AL West not only because of Houston's loss of Gerrit Cole to the Yankees but also because the Angels addedAnthony Rendonand have a fully healthy Shohei Ohtani back in action. Their pitching is suspect, but anything can happen in a 60-game season, especially when you have Mike Trout. -- Marly Rivera

Why did you pick the A's?

I think the balance of Oakland's roster helps in the unbalanced schedule of the short season, especially going up against some shallow rosters in the two Western divisions -- outside of the Dodgers, of course. The Astros are definitely going to miss Gerrit Cole, and that makes the difference in a 60-game sprint. -- Christina Kahrl



AL wild cards



Votes: Rays (21), Yankees (10), Astros (10), Indians (5), White Sox (6), Twins (4), A's (4), Angels (3), Blue Jays (1)

Why do you think the A's will get one of the AL wild-card spots?

It's hard to make a numbers-based case that Oakland should be favored over the Astros in the AL West, but the A's have one of the best five or six rosters in baseball. What's more, their strengths -- team defense and relief pitching -- should help them find their way as every team seeks to quickly find a rhythm in this odd season. -- Bradford Doolittle




National League



NL East:


Our pick: Braves (16)

Who else got votes? Nationals (10), Mets (4), Phillies (2)

Why did you pick the Nationals?

FanGraphs has the Nats' odds with the Braves to win the division as a coin flip, and that's about where I landed as well. I'm leaning toward the rotational power the Nats have with their Max Scherzer/Stephen Strasburg/Patrick Corbin trio, but the Braves do have a little more youth and upside. --Kiley McDaniel



NL Central



Our pick: Reds (14)

Who else got votes? Brewers (7), Cubs (6),Cardinals (5)

Why did you pick the Reds?

The NL Central appears to be the most wide-open division. When in doubt, default to starting pitching, and the Reds should be the class of the division with Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Wade Miley andAnthony DeSclafani. Add in new power sources Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos, and the Reds' lineup should be improved as well. -- Dave Schoenfield



NL West



Our pick: Dodgers (32)

Everyone picked the Dodgers in the NL West, but if one team were to catch them, which would it be?

The Padres are a chic pick, but I'll go with the Diamondbacks, who have an excellent defensive team anchored by shortstop Nick Ahmed, a star in Ketel Marte and a potentially top rotation with Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver and Merrill Kelly. -- David Schoenfield



NL wild cards



Votes: Nationals (12), Mets (8),Diamondbacks (8),Braves (7), Padres (7), Cubs (5), Brewers (5), Cardinals (5), Phillies (4), Reds (3)

Why do you think the Padres will earn a wild-card spot?

In a conventional sense, the Padres are probably at least a year or two away. But shorten the season to 60 games and all of a sudden a lineup featuring Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. could be a major difference-maker, and young starters like Chris Paddack, MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino can pitch without much restriction, and a dominant reliever like Kirby Yates can be used more freely. -- Alden Gonzalez



AL and NL champions



American League



Our pick: Yankees (14)

Who else got votes: Rays (7), Twins (3), Indians (3), A's (3), Astros (2)

Why did you pick the Astros as AL champs?

If we were making these picks in March, I'm not sure I would have gone with the Astros. Dealing with packed stadiums getting on you every road trip for six months in the immediate aftermath of the winter's sign-stealing news is a lot to shoulder. And I'm also not sure Houston could cover all of the innings it lost when Gerrit Cole left town for a full season. But the shorter season in front of empty stands really plays in the Astros' favor. They still have a very formidable lineup with lots of extra motivation to prove they can hit without any trash cans banging in the background, and a Justin Verlander-Zack Greinke-Lance McCullers Jr. rotation trio is enough to compete with anyone in October. -- Dan Mullen


National League



Our pick: Dodgers (24)

Who else got votes? Braves (2), Nationals (2), Brewers (2), Diamondbacks (1): Reds (1)

Why did you pick the Braves as NL champs?

If you had any doubts about the incredible talent of Ronald Acuna Jr. before last season, his 2019 campaign promptly silenced any doubters. Between Acuna and Ozzie Albies, the Braves possess one of the best talent cores in the league. Toss in the emergence of Mike Soroka last year and the signing of Marcell Ozuna, andAtlanta brings a team with offensive depth -- and that's without including star first baseman Freddie Freeman, one of the most high-profile players to test positive for the coronavirus. Atlanta lost Josh Donaldson to free agency but brings back much of the core that led to 97 wins last season. It'll need a healthy Freeman to make a run at the World Series title, but the talent Atlanta brings to the table is among the best the National League has to offer. -- Joon Lee

Why did you pick the Reds?

The Reds aren't a perfect team but have no major weaknesses. A stacked lineup will only be aided by the DH as this team is no longer Joey Votto and a bunch of no-names. The additions of Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos alone make them the offense to beat in the NL Central. And they have just enough pitching to come out on top. -- Jesse Rogers



World Series champion



Our pick: Dodgers (18)

Who else got votes? Yankees (6), Rays (3), Brewers (2), Braves (1), Nationals (1), Indians (1)

Why did you pick the Dodgers?

My theory on the 2020 season: Health is the single most important variable in a 60-game season. The antidote to the possibility of poor health is depth. There is no deeper team than the Dodgers. And it's really talented, high-ceiling, star-caliber depth too, with prospect capital to supplement via August trades or September roster additions. -- Jeff Passan

Small samples are usually terrible for the favorites, but thanks to a weak division and an outrageous roster -- the NL's best stars at the top, the NL's most depth at the bottom -- the Dodgers are the one team that should be fluke-proof in the regular season. They're the best team in baseball, and the next four, in my opinion, are all in the AL, a gauntlet the Dodgers get to avoid until the World Series. -- SamMiller

While I'm concerned that further decline from Kenley Jansen could really undermine things, I also don't want to overthink it. The Dodgers won 106 games last season and outscored opponents by 273 runs. Then they traded for Mookie Betts. I know the arithmetic never works out that straightforward, but the bottom line is that arguably baseball's best team added one of baseball's best four or five players. -- BradfordDoolittle

Of the three comparable top contenders, I can't pick the Astros given all the uncertainty and acrimony around their offseason, while the Yankees have to get out of the harder league (featuring six of the top seven teams in FanGraphs' projected team WAR). Even apart from those two factors, the Dodgers are probably my slight preference for the best pick of these three anyway. --Kiley McDaniel

Why did you pick the Yankees?

The Tampa Bay Rays are a deep and dangerous team, and I intended to pick them to win the 2020 World Series. But in watching the Yankees in the summer camp, in seeing the staggering accumulation of talent -- amplified by the return from injury for Miguel Andujar, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge -- picking against them would be like picking against the Harlem Globetrotters. Or picking against the Alcindor/Walton UCLA Bruins, or the '98-'00 Yankees. Luck is a greater factor in a 60-game season, but the Yankees' roster advantages will significantly mitigate the chances for derailment by misfortune. They are stacked. -- Buster Olney

Even in a shortened season, Gerrit Cole is able to dominate, leading the Yankees to a championship in his first season in pinstripes. New York's depth up and down the lineup and in the bullpen also prove to be major factors, as the Bronx Bombers end up on top for the first time since 2009. -- Harrison Marder

Why did you pick the Rays?

I project the Rays to have the best pitching staff in the majors, led by Charlie Morton, 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell and potential 2020 Cy Young winner Tyler Glasnow. The bullpen is deep and the lineup better than people realize with 2019 All-Stars Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe and the ability to platoon at several positions. -- David Schoenfield

Insert your own joke beaten into the ground about the Rays being used to playing in front of no crowd at Tropicana Field. Now, sure sure, Tampa Bay's roster has plenty of experience playing in front of sparse crowds, but it also means some of its roster's bright spots go undercovered.

Meadows, acquired in the Chris Archer deal with Pittsburgh, emerged as one of the best bats in the division, and there's a potential bounce-back on the horizon from Snell, who struggled in 2019 to repeat the success of his 2018 Cy Young campaign. Throw in Morton and a perennially strong bullpen pieced together by the team's analytically driven decision-makers and Tampa Bay has everything needed to make a strong run in a small-sample-size season. Tampa Bay dealt away one of its top offensive threats in Tommy Phamand hope Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who hit 29 homers for the Yokohama BayStars in the NPB in 2019, can replace some of that production.

Baseball's postseason is always chaotic -- the midseason punch line-to-wild card-to-champions Nationals being proof of that last year -- and the Rays seem positioned to navigate all of it. -- Joon Lee

Why did you pick the Braves?

Atlanta approached 100 wins last year and arguably improved this offseason, adding solid vets (Marcell Ozuna, Travis d'Arnaud, Cole Hamels) to one of the best young talent cores in baseball. The Braves also end the year with 10 of 20 games against Miami and Baltimore. With sneaky depth to take advantage of the new DH, they're a top-five talent right now and are the team best equipped to take on the Dodgers in October.--Kevin Pulsifer

Why did you pick the Indians?

People seem to overlook the Indians winning 93 games a year ago, despite myriad issues with the lineup (Jose Ramirez, the outfield) and rotation (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco). The upgraded lineup is deeper and more powerful, led by a motivated MVP candidate in Francisco Lindor;the rotation appears healthy; and with a rather attractive schedule, Cleveland should cruise to the postseason, where a veteran manager with several World Series rings adds another. -- Eric Karabell

Why did you pick the Brewers?

It's an unusual year, so why not an unusual pick? Someone's going to get hot come October, so why not a team that has advanced to the postseason in back-to-back seasons, has a strong lineup and is willing to maximize matchups at any point in the game on the pitching side? Christian Yelich is an MVP favorite, the DH role seems perfect for Ryan Braun and the team has one of the best closers in the game in Josh Hader. -- Tristan Cockcroft

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