The schedule is out.
Let’s start there.
Considering the train wrecks and dumpster fires that 2020 has produced, the idea that Major League Baseball will play some actual games this season is heavenly. The league released its 60-game schedule this week, and fans can now entertain a little bit of optimism.
Our favorite teams will take the field in two weeks. Games will be played. And maybe amid the rhythm of it all — a pitch, a catch, an announcer’s play-by-play — we all can get blissfully lost in the action.
Heck, maybe we’ll even make a few baseball bets, just because.
And so, as we all sit on the edge of an unprecedented season, let’s take a look at what might be Pennsylvania’s 10 best baseball games of 2020.
Circle the dates. And give yourself something to look forward to.
For the sake of fairness, we’re including five games each from the Pirates and Phillies. Games are listed according to the scheduled date.
#10: July 24 – Pirates at Cardinals, opening day
Hope. That’s kind of what baseball’s opening day is all about, right? The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t expected to be very good this year. BetRivers/PlaySugarHouse have them as 100 -1 to win the World Series.
They’re a long shot. But on the first day of the season, anyone can dream. With only 60 games, if the team hits a hot streak … if the pitching holds up …
If you can’t hold onto some hope and manufacture a few dreams on opening day, when can you? That’s why this is one of the best games of the season for Pirates fans. Enjoy it.
#9: July 24 – Marlins at Phillies, Philadelphia’s home opener
OK, so let’s be honest. Not all hope is the same. While it takes a few leaps to even imagine the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs, it’s quite possible the Philadelphia Phillies could qualify. BetRivers/PlaySugarHouse have the Phillies as 22-1 to win the World Series, making them one of the top 10 favorites.
Sure, there are some imposing teams ahead of them (the Dodgers, the Yankees, etc.), but a few dreams about the Phillies in the World Series don’t seem delusional.
#8: July 27 – Brewers at Pirates, Pittsburgh’s home opener
This one is going to be different. Pirates fans will see the familiar sights of PNC Park. The elevated wall in right field. The yellow bridges towering behind the stadium. But there won’t be a single fan in attendance.
Still, after suffering through a season that never got started — and perhaps wondering if it ever would — it will be nice to see a little bit of normalcy. The team and the park you know so well will be on television. It will feel at least a little bit like summer. Take solace in that.
#7: July 27 – Yankees at Phillies
A few games into the 2020 season, the Phillies will face a formidable test. The Yankees are the American League favorites and second in World Series odds. DraftKings Sportsbook has New York at +400.
Although the Phillies will likely miss Yankees free agent acquisition Gerritt Cole (he’s expected to start the season opener a few days earlier), New York’s entire roster is rather imposing. This game will be a good litmus test for Philadelphia’s possibilities.
#6: Aug. 6 – Twins at Pirates
They sometimes call it a businessman’s special: a baseball game in the middle of the day, a good excuse to leave the office and catch a ballgame during your working hours. This game is scheduled for a 1:35 p.m. start on Thursday, Aug. 6.
On the surface, the matchup doesn’t seem incredibly appealing. But the Twins are something of an oddsmakers darling this season. FanDuel Sportsbook has Minnesota as the fifth favorite to win the World Series at +1500. The team signed slugger Josh Donaldson to a four-year contract this January, giving them a pretty powerful lineup that also includes Nelson Cruz and Eddie Rosario.
#5: Aug. 7 – Braves at Phillies
In addition to the Twins, the Atlanta Braves are a team that oddsmakers feel strongly about this season. The Braves are the fourth favorite to win the World Series at FOX Bet at +1300. Philadelphia will get a shot at them a few weeks into the season.
This game is the start of a four-game series that could have significant National League East implications. In a season that’s 102 games shorter than normal, head-to-head matchups will be crucial. The Phillies need to do well in this homestand to strengthen their position in the NL East.
#4: Aug. 13 – Pirates at Reds
Maybe everything will be different this season. Maybe the bad blood will be forgotten. But these two teams combined for two bench-clearing brawls last season (one in Pittsburgh, one in Cincinnati), creating some of the league’s best on-field conflict of the year.
Perhaps the coronavirus pandemic will prevent players from storming the mound or going chest-to-chest with an opponent, but who knows? A couple of high and tight pitches could change things. This one is worth watching beyond the baseball being played.
And for what it’s worth, the Reds have beefed up their roster considerably, so they should be much improved this season. BetRivers/PlaySugarHouse have the Reds at +265 to win the National League Central.
#3: Aug. 18 – Phillies at Red Sox
This should be a fun one. In addition to a matchup with one of baseball’s best franchises, this game will be played in one of the game’s most storied stadiums, Fenway Park. Phillies fans can soak in the sights of the famed Green Monster in left field, Pesky’s Pole in right and all the history that happened in between.
Boston has dropped considerably in stature after trading star players Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Red Sox are now 40-1 to win the World Series at BetRivers/PlaySugarHouse, but they still have a pretty talented roster overall.
#2: Sept. 21 – Phillies at Nationals
The 2020 Major League Baseball season ends on Sept. 27. And this three-game series with the Nationals could very well decide the National League East. The Nationals are the second favorite in the NL East behind the Atlanta Braves. DraftKings Sportsbook has Washington at +250 to win the division.
The Phillies are +325. Philadelphia slugger Bryce Harper will make another return to his old stadium, and the Phillies will need him to perform well. The Nationals still have some top-flight starting pitching with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strausburg in the rotation.
#1: Sept. 27 – Pirates at Indians
One way or another, this is where the dream reaches a crossroads. Before opening day, without any games played yet, maybe the most fervent Pirates fan can conjure a scenario in which this game becomes pivotal.
Maybe it all comes together for Pittsburgh; maybe the team stays healthy and the short season keeps some of their flaws from getting exposed. It’s not very likely, but with baseball season beckoning, most people aren’t overly concerned with reality.
Hope is what seems to matter most. So Pittsburgh fans can perhaps produce enough to envision this game somehow becoming a bridge to the postseason. If they can look past all the rational obstacles, maybe they can even see their team in the playoffs.
No one really expects that. But hope has never been overly burdened by expectations.
So on the brink of baseball’s strangest season, maybe the fans all have it right.
Grab onto as much hope as you can. Hold it tight. And have fun.