Everyone is impacted by a canceled or shortened 2020 season, but the Dodgers could be impacted the most.
If it is ultimately deemed impossible for baseball to return in 2020 and the season is canceled, many people believe the Dodgers have the most to lose. After trading a package of young players and prospects to the Red Sox for a rental player in Mookie Betts, it would be a gut punch to the organization if he never got to play a regular season game before hitting the open market next offseason.
The Dodgers are built to win now. Beyond Betts, they also have veteran players who would become one year older, and key pieces, such as Justin Turner, who would need to be re-signed, in order to run it back with the same squad next year. The group poised to make a run for the World Series in 2020 would look different in 2021. Opportunity only knocks so many times, so to miss a chance at opening the door is costly.
That said, the Dodgers strength is in their ability to develop talent. From Gavin Lux to Dustin May to Cody Bellinger the team is stocked with young players who will fill the Dodgers lineup for years to come. This is not a veterans-only squad whose competitive window will slam shut once each player ages another season.
And what if a shortened season is played? How would that impact things? At least Mookie Betts would be given an opportunity to play. The Dodgers would still be the prohibitive favorites to win their division, however the division would look, as MLB considers different formats that could drastically change the traditional American League and National League structures.
Over 162 games, the Dodgers roster is built to be the best. It’s hard to imagine anyone competing with them in the National League for prominence over a marathon schedule. Those odds change the shorter the season gets. A marathon becomes a sprint, and suddenly, over 81 games, it’s possible that a key injury or slow start could impact the Dodgers chances of running away with the division.
Manager Dave Roberts shares these concerns.
“When you shorten the season, less variables come into play,” Roberts recently told Sports Illustrated. “The smaller the sample size the more it brings other teams into play, which is great. But I do think when and if we start the season the expanded rosters will ultimately help our club.”
As Tom Verducci points out in his article with the Roberts quote, the Dodgers would have won the National League West only once over the past four seasons if each season had only been 60 games long.
FanGraphs recently modeled the difference in playoff probabilities for each team based on a full season versus half season being played, and found the Dodgers most impacted. Their odds of making the playoffs drop from 98.7% over a normal schedule to 71.4% during an 81-game schedule, a 27.3% difference, largest of the 30 teams modeled.
Of course, there are other considerations at play beyond the difference in scheduling. How would playing every game in a neutral site impact a team like the Rockies, who is used to taking advantage of the mile high air in Denver? An article published Tuesday in Forbes shows the significant split advantage the Rockies gain at home compared to the Dodgers. Perhaps that offsets some of the gain for underdogs during a truncated season.
Kershaw 300 wins? Bellinger 500 home runs? Betts 3000 hits? Milestones that could be impacted by a 2020 season lost due to the coronavirus.
Do the Dodgers have the most to lose from a shortened or lost season? Sure. But that’s also because they have the most to gain. They are the favorites to return to the World Series for the third time in four years—a position they will gladly accept.