Atlanta will be a bit short-handed in this coronavirus-shortened 60-game season as outfielder Nick Markakis has opted out of playing. Markakis hit .285 with nine homers and 62 RBIs in 2019, a year after he was an All-Star. He was competing for a spot in a crowded Braves outfield after the offseason signing of Marcell Ozuna.
“He’s one of our backbones of our club,” Manager Brian Snitker said of Markakis. “I know he’s been thinking long and hard about it. … When you lose a guy of that stature and what he brings and the player he is, it doesn’t help you, that’s for sure.”
Atlanta also lost starting pitcher Felix Hernandez to an opt-out. Star first baseman Freddie Freeman had a scary bout with the coronavirus. Despite having multiple symptoms, including a fever that spiked as high as 104.5 degrees, Freeman said he lost just one pound during his bout with COVID-19. He believes he’s at full strength and just needs to face live pitching in order to get ready for the season.
The Dodgers are so loaded they may not even miss former AL Cy Young winner David Price, who also opted out. The lefty was acquired from Boston this past winter along with outfielder and former AL MVP Mookie Betts. The 34-year-old Price is coming off arguably his worst professional season in terms of results with a 4.28 ERA, but he was still able to post a 10.73 K/9.
“After considerable thought and discussion with my family and the Dodgers, I have decided it is in the best interest of my health and my family’s health to not play this season,” the 34-year-old pitcher wrote on Twitter. “I will miss my teammates and will be cheering for them throughout the season and on to a World Series victory. I’m sorry I won’t be playing for you this year, but look forward to representing you next year.”
The NL Central race could be the most interesting in MLB this season because it’s quite possible the Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers or Reds could win it. Only the Pirates have no shot. The Cards have lost closer Jordan Hicks to an opt-out.
Hicks, 23, was identified as a high-risk player because he has Type 1 diabetes, which is considered a pre-existing condition. Hicks is also recovering from Tommy John surgery performed last June. The hard-throwing right-hander appeared in 29 games last season with 14 saves before he underwent a full reconstruction of his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in June 2019. Hicks threw the 21 fastest pitches of ’19, including a 104.3-mph fastball on May 31.
The Cubs missed out on the playoffs for the first time in five seasons last year. Can they win the Central for the first time since 2017? The Cubbies are +275. The Cubs will open the season without one of their starting pitchers in Jose Quintana. He has moved his throwing progression out to 90 feet. The lefty will open the 2020 season on the injured list after suffering a cut on his left thumb that required stitches.
Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo has been dealing with some back issues but thinks he can be ready for Opening Day. Rizzo has been in the Cubs’ Opening Day lineup in each of the past seven years. The Cubbies have a new manager in David Ross; he was formerly a Cubs catcher. Ross helped the Cubs end their 108-year-old World Series drought in 2016. He is now replacing his former manager, Joe Maddon, who the Cubs announced would not be coming back ahead of the final game of the season.
The Cubs have a good lineup led by Rizzo, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber, but there are some pitching questions.
Division winner predictions
Braves in East, Cubs in Central and Dodgers in West.