Max Scherzer and the defending World series champion Washington Nationals will kick off the long-awaited Major League Baseball season Thursday against the New York Yankees. Alex Brandon/Associated Press

When Major League Baseball begins its 2020 season Thursday in Washington D.C., players will not need wool hats and coats in the dugout.  It should be about 80 degrees.

A season opener on July 23 will be unusual.

In early April, the Nationals would have seen the thermometer dip into the 40s.

This year, fans won’t have to be worried about the weather … they won’t be there.

And, no matter the outcome, the losing team can’t just shrug it off as one loss in 162 games. The 2020 schedule is a 60-game sprint.

Are you ready?

This major league season is not one for the record books. Numbers will mean little, except wins and losses. Home run records won’t be broken, nor marks for strikeouts. And if someone ends up batting over .400 for the season, that number – like everything else about 2020 – will have a big asterisk.

Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak could be toppled, but it will take nearly the whole season to do it.

So, the numbers will be skewed … so what?

When the New York Yankees enter Nationals Park on Thursday night, there will be talk of these crazy times, but when Max Scherzer throws his first fastball, the focus will be baseball.

When Scherzer walks off the mound, Gerrit Cole will approach it – his first game in Yankees gray.

Scherzer vs. Cole. Nationals vs. Yankees. Not a bad start to a season that was in doubt because of dysfunctional labor talks, and still has the coronavirus cloud hovering.

Can the players stay healthy (and we’re not just talking injuries)?

Will fans be allowed to watch in person at some point in September?

How will National League teams adjust to have the designated hitter? We’ll find out right away in Washington, and later that night in Los Angeles, when the Giants play the Dodgers. Los Angeles will start Clayton Kershaw, but the Dodger in the spotlight will be former Boston outfielder Mookie Betts. Dodger fans get to watch him (on TV) for 37 percent of a normal schedule.

A short season could help, or hurt, Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. – a streaky hitter who becomes a free agent after this season. Steven Senne/Associated Press

THE RED SOX, without Betts for the first time since early 2014, open their season Friday night in an empty Fenway Park, except for a few cameramen, and the Baltimore Orioles.

Even with Betts gone, Boston has other outfielders to watch – Andrew Benintendi, Alex Verdugo (acquired in the Betts deal), Kevin Pillar and J.D. Martinez (when he is not the DH). Keep an extra eye on Jackie Bradley Jr., not only for his other-worldly fielding but also his streaky bat.

In a 60-game season, Bradley’s streak-or-skid ways could be huge. After 60 games last year, Bradley was batting .186. But he batted .315 in June (before hitting .198 over July and August). A timely hot streak in a 60-game season would benefit both the Red Sox and Bradley, who becomes a free agent after this season.

STREAKY PITCHERS and hitters could make this season unpredictable. The Yankees are hoping Cole sizzles like he did in the summer of 2019. He began the season 5-5 with a 4.02 ERA through May. After May, he was 15-0 with a 1.73 ERA. That helped Cole land his nine-year, $324 million contract.

A lesser-known (and lesser paid) free agent is Boston left-hander Martin Perez. The Red Sox would love to see Perez start like he did with the Twins last year. Through the 60-game mark, Perez was 7-2 with a 3.72 ERA. After that, Perez was 3-5 with a 6.03 ERA (which is why Boston could sign him for one year and $6.5 million).

THE INJURED LIST will be watched with scrutiny for two reasons. The obvious concern is if players test positive for COVID-19, like Red Sox pitchers Eduardo Rodriguez, Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor. The other important factor – in a baseball sense – is how long a player is gone. A lengthy stay on the IL, along with rehab time, could knock a player for half the season or more.

THE WORST PART of the 2020 season is the new extra-inning rule. After the ninth, every half inning will begin with a runner on second base. The justification is to keep games from dragging on and taxing pitching staffs that did not have a proper training camp to prepare for this unique season. That may be valid, but such trickery needs to go when things get back to normal in 2021.

They will be back to normal then, right?

 

Comments are not available on this story.