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Is Cardinals vs. Cubs as good as it gets right now?Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
As Rivalry Week here at B/R comes to its conclusion, the final order of business on the Major League Baseball front is to size up which rivalries matter the most in 2020.
For starters, there’s growing optimism that there will indeed be a season despite the coronavirus pandemic. Though many hurdles still remain, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Wednesday that the league will soon offer the MLB Players Association a proposal for how and when to resume play.
Assuming play does resume, baseball is likely looking at an 80- or 100-game season with very different parameters. Specifically, Bob Nightengale of USA Today recently reported that the American and National Leagues could be discarded in favor of three 10-team divisions: East, Central and West.
On the plus side, these new divisions would likely retain and even strengthen many classic and contemporary rivalries. We’ve endeavored to rank the 10 best based on geographical proximity, what narratives are at play and their likely competitiveness.
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Frankly, 2020 will be a down year for baseball’s foremost rivalries: Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants.
In fact, it might surprise some that the Red Sox played even worse (5-14) against the 103-win Yankees than the Giants (7-12) did against the 106-win Dodgers last season. And that was before the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts and David Price and lost Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery.
Nevertheless, the Red Sox still have some pieces to put up a fight against the Yankees in 2020. The Yankees’ attitude, meanwhile, is probably something akin to “bring it on.”
As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the American League Division Series on their way to winning the World Series in 2018, the Yankees now know that the Red Sox had some sign-stealing shenanigans going on that season.
Granted, MLB’s investigation couldn’t prove that Boston was stealing signs in October. But the Yankees figure to be itching for revenge anyway. The same likely goes for $324 million newcomer Gerrit Cole, who was also burned by the Red Sox in 2018.
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Jim Young/Associated Press
Whereas the Windy City Showdown has been merely an interleague affair in previous years, the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox may temporarily be placed in the same division for 2020.
Given the circumstances, the timing couldn’t be better.
Throughout their rivalry, it’s been rare for the Cubs and White Sox to be on the same competitive level within a given season. But there was a change in the winds in 2019, as the Cubs sunk to 84 wins while the White Sox took a small step out their rebuild with a 72-win season.
The White Sox have since positioned themselves for a much larger step in 2020. As the Cubs mostly lay dormant during the winter, the south siders added Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazara, Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez. They also effectively promoted top prospect Luis Robert with an extension.
The stage is now set for an exciting new chapter in the Cubs-White Sox rivalry. Their games figure to not only be more frequent, but also more competitive to boot.
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Alex Gallardo/Associated Press
Meanwhile in Southern California, the Freeway Series between the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers could also be heightened by realignment in 2020.
With only one postseason appearance since 2010, the Angels are accustomed to being the underdog in this rivalry. The Dodgers have won seven straight National League West titles, and they further cemented themselves as one of baseball’s titans by adding Mookie Betts and David Price over the winter.
However, the Angels did earn some bragging rights last season by going 4-0 against the Dodgers. Three-time MVP Mike Trout aided the cause with a pair of home runs, and his newest partner in crime, Anthony Rendon, just so happens to be a noted Dodgers killer.
Before he signed a seven-year, $245 million contract with the Angels this past offseason, Rendon helped dispatch the Dodgers with a 1.219 OPS and a huge home run in the 2019 National League Division Series.
The Angels will still be an underdog opposite the Dodgers in 2020. But they at least have enough to make life difficult for the Dodgers, and perhaps to even maintain their bragging rights.
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Traditionally, what the Angels are to the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the Mets are to the Yankees in New York.
The Yankees are the winners of 27 World Series titles—including one that was one at their crosstown rival’s expense—to the Mets’ two. The Yankees have also won 71 of their 122 interleague matchups since 1997.
Since 2018, though, the Mets have pushed back by splitting 10 games with the Yankees. And while only the Yankees made the postseason, both New York clubs finished 2019 by playing above .600 in the second half.
Alas, Noah Syndergaard’s Tommy John surgery has since dealt a blow to the Mets’ good vibes. Yet they’re still heading into 2020 with one of their best teams in years, and some of its individual parts will add spice to their tilts against the Yankees. To wit, there’s former Yankee Robinson Cano and ideal counterparts for Gerrit Cole (Jacob deGrom), Aaron Judge (Pete Alonso) and DJ LeMahieu (Jeff McNeil).
Factor in how the Mets and Yankees will likely see each other more often because of temporary realignment, and the Subway Series should be the best it’s ever been in 2020.
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Jim Mone/Associated Press
The Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins might not immediately jump to mind as heated rivals. But if anything, we’re underrating where their rivalry is right now.
Despite their 101 wins, the Twins didn’t wrap up the AL Central title until the fifth-to-last day of the regular season in 2019. The Indians had much to do with that, as their 93-win campaign featured 10 wins in 19 games against the Twins.
The battles between Cleveland and Minnesota were a case of a great offense vs. a great pitching staff. The Twins set a major league record by blasting 307 home runs. The Tribe, meanwhile, held steady with a solid 3.76 ERA overall and a relatively outstanding 3.97 ERA against Minnesota.
Over the winter, the Twins attempted to double down on their superiority by adding 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson and deepening their pitching staff. But the Indians were active in their own right, specifically in bolstering their offense with Domingo Santana and Cesar Hernandez.
Even if the AL Central goes away in 2020, the Indians and Twins presumably won’t be separated by realignment. Their rivalry would thus continue unabated.
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David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Two of the American League’s three winningest teams across 2018 and 2019 were also division rivals: the Houston Astros (210) and the Oakland Athletics (194).
The Astros didn’t spare the A’s in 2018, beating up on them to the tune of a 12-7 record on their way to winning 103 games. But the A’s did improve against the Astros in 2019, notably to a point where they won six of the clubs’ last eight meetings.
“They won 97 games last year, too, so they’re here to stay,” A.J. Hinch, who was then the manager of the Astros, said of the A’s last September. “They’re a really, really good team. They put pressure on you from the very beginning.”
Simply in this context, the Astros and A’s rivalry would have “good one” written all over it for 2020. Then there’s the matter of Houston-turned-Oakland pitcher Mike Fiers, who originally blew the whistle on his former team’s sign stealing (MLB later punished the Astros.)
If there’s a question here, it’s whether the Astros and A’s will stay in the same division for 2020. But since they would under Nightengale’s proposal, expectations for them should be set appropriately high.
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Aaron Gash/Associated Press
Though the Cubs share a city with the White Sox, their primary rivals are a few old foes from the NL Central.
Of these, the Milwaukee Brewers have the distinction of being not that far away geographically and a frequent tormentor of the North Siders in recent seasons. The Brewers have taken 30 of the 58 games between the two clubs since 2017.
The matchups between the Cubs and Brewers in 2017 and 2018 alone were loaded with memorable moments, and everything came to a head when they met at Wrigley Field at the end of ’18 for an NL Central tiebreaker. The Brewers won that and eventually came one win shy of the World Series.
The Milwaukee-Chicago battle didn’t let up in 2019, as the Brewers took 10 of the 19 games between the two sides. That notably involved winning five of their last seven contests to facilitate a come-from-behind run to the National League’s second wild-card spot.
For 2020, whether the Brewers or the Cubs are any kind of favorite is debatable. But they once again look like worthy adversaries, and realignment almost certainly won’t pull them apart.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
The likely realignment of the divisions will break up some of the more heated rivalries from recent years. But the Arizona Diamondbacks need not worry, as their greatest foil will still be nearby.
Even though the D-backs have only been around since 1998, their feud with the Dodgers runs deep. The two developed a genuine disdain for one another in 2013, and it clearly hasn’t fully dissipated in more recent seasons.
More to the point, the Snakes and Dodgers have been a good match for one another since 2017. Though the Dodgers have won 302 games over the last three years, the Diamondbacks have actually won more than they’ve lost against them.
The Diamondbacks are poised to once again be a thorn in the Dodgers’ side in 2020. After enjoying a sneaky-good season in 2019, they added a handful of new stars over the winter. Among them are two who are plenty familiar with competing against the Dodgers: Madison Bumgarner and Kole Calhoun.
If the D-backs have their way, 2020 will be yet another compelling chapter in what might be baseball’s most underrated rivalry.
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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
With the Red Sox-Yankees and Dodgers-Giants rivalries on the fritz, the classic rivalry in the best shape right now is the one between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.
So heated was their competition during the early 2000s that former Cubs manager Dusty Baker couldn’t even muster a sunny disposition while discussing it years later. And following some lean years for the Cubs between 2010 and 2014, the rivalry has come back strong in the last five seasons.
To this end, Cubs can boast about winning more head-to-head contests, ousting St. Louis from the 2015 playoffs and then winning the World Series in 2016. However, the Cardinals have won just as many NL Central titles since ’15 as the Cubs have, the most recent of which came at the Cubs’ expense.
The Cubs held a lead in the division as late as August 22, but they soon began faltering. Fueled in part by clutch home runs by Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong, the Cardinals all but buried the Cubs with a four-game sweep at Wrigley Field between September 19 and 22.
For 2020, that gives the Cubs a score to settle and the Cardinals bragging rights to protect. And barring any baffling realignment decisions, the two should remain key “Central” opponents.
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David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Is it cheating to give the No. 1 slot to a two-against-one rivalry that features three teams that aren’t traditional rivals and are nowhere near each other geographically?
Yeah, probably. But hey, sometimes you just can’t hide what you really want to see.
Though 29 teams have a right to a gripe with the Astros because of their sign-stealing scheme, 27 of them can get in line behind the Yankees. The Astros defeated them in the American League Championship Series in 2017 and 2019, and the Yankees know that at least the former wasn’t on the level.
Even still, the Yankees belong behind the Dodgers in the aforementioned line. They were the victims of the Astros’ win in the 2017 World Series, which deprived Los Angeles of its first World Series title since 1988.
“It’s hard to feel like they earned it,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “Just not 100 percent sure if they should be called champions for the rest of their lives.”
Because of realignment, the Yankees will likely have to wait until the playoffs for their shot at the Astros. The Dodgers, on the other hand, may well end up in the same division as Houston. That would permit them to take as much revenge as they can get.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.