No one knows exactly what to expect in regards to the upcoming 2020 MLB regular season. A shortened 60-game season will be played against only regional opponents, meaning that the Milwaukee Brewers will face only teams in the NL and AL Central divisions. Month-long injuries like an oblique now mean that a player will be missing half the season. Rosters will include a universal DH and will be expanded at first before settling in at 26 players after the first four weeks of play. And with the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, there is still plenty to be learned about how teams will deal with positive tests and what, if any, performance issues could be caused by the virus and recovery.
But none of those unknowns can stop the heartless machines from churning out projections. Dan Szymborski published his initial 60-game ZiPS projected MLB standings yesterday at Fangraphs, breaking down each team’s new “strength of schedule” and updating their playoff and World Series chances based on the league’s new operating procedure for 2020. According to the presented results, the Milwaukee Brewers are projected to have the league’s 10th-easiest schedule this season (.491 SoS) and will be right in the middle of the most competitive division of the league.
According to ZiPS, the top-four teams in the National League Central will finish within one game of each other. The Cubs are forecasted to finish 32-28 to capture the divisional crown, with the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds coming up just short at 31-29. The Pirates are projected to bring up the rear at 26-34.
If things play out exactly as ZiPS sees them, then the Cream City Nine would be on the outside looking in at the playoffs. An expanded postseason was discussed during negotiations but was not part of the plan when the season was imposed by Commissioner Rob Manfred, so the standard 10-team will make the playoffs in 2020. ZiPS projects the Cubs, Dodgers (38-22), and Braves (34-26) to win their divisions, with the Nationals (34-26) and Padres (32-28) capturing the two Wild Card slots.
Things never play out in real life the same as they do in our spreadsheets, however. It is important to remember that the results of these projections actually come from finding the midpoint after thousands of simulations. With that in mind, the Brewers have actually seen a sizable increase in their postseason odds under the 60-game schedule than they originally had under the 162-game ZiPS projections. Milwaukee has a 37.1% chance to make the postseason after the latest update, second-highest in the division behind the Cubs (42.1%). The club’s 3.3% World Series win chance also ranks second in the division behind Chicago (3.9%). Milwaukee’s playoff odds have increased by 6.7% and their World Series chances by 1.4% since the original ZiPS totals were posted in February. The Brewers currently have the 6th-best playoff odds on the Senior Circuit as well as the 6th-best World Series odds.
Slingin’ David Stearns spent all offseason cutting payroll and rebuilding the roster with the depth to withstand a marathon, and now he is presented with a sprint. Each game will have much more individual importance than normal. The team would typically be able to allow time for “things to work themselves out,” but Stearns and Craig Counsell will quickly need to figure out what the answers are for the roster questions of shortstop, third base, the starting rotation, and the bullpen. Training camp begins in six days with the regular season starting in less than a month.