Chicago Cubs may face a new set of foes in an irregular 2020 season

Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

A new report indicates Major League Baseball may abandon traditional divisional alignments in 2020, meaning the Chicago Cubs would play in Arizona.

In recent days, we’d already heard there’s a chance that if the regular season is played this year, it will be geographically constrained in an attempt to keep players and others involved healthy. At first, it looked like the Phoenix metro area was a likely region – but now, it appears the teams could return to their respective spring training homes in Florida and Arizona for the 2020 campaign.

The 30 big league teams would be split in half – with 15 playing in the Grapefruit League and the other 15, including the Chicago Cubs, playing in Arizona. For just one season, the American League and National League would be no more – with all teams adopting DH rules, as well.

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You can check out the report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today for more details – but instead of the traditional National League Central foes of Milwaukee, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, here’s who the Cubs could face in the Cactus League Northeast division: the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics.

For a moment, let’s assume this proposal comes to fruition. After back-to-back seasons of playing in the ultra-competitive NL Central, this realignment may very well boost the Cubs’ chances at returning to the postseason in 2020.

San Francisco and Colorado are largely non-factors. The team’s real challenges would come from Arizona and Oakland. The Diamondbacks won 85 games this year, even after playing the relentless Dodgers 19 times (they went 8-11 against Los Angeles for what it’s worth).

Meanwhile, Oakland quietly won 97 games – earning a postseason berth as one of the two AL Wild Card teams. For whatever reason, no one ever seems to pay the Athletics much attention – probably because they’ve shared a division with Houston during their dominant run in recent years. But they’re far from a pushover.

On paper, I’d say the Cubs and Oakland would be the favorites in this new Cactus League Northeast Division. Adding the designated hitter immediately makes Chicago an improved team – one that could deploy someone like Kyle Schwarber or Kris Bryant as the DH on a daily basis, keeping the former’s sometimes questionable defense out of left field and keeping the latter on the field and healthy for the entire season.

"“When you’re trying to get really creative, why say no now?’’ Tony La Russa told Nightengale after being briefed on the proposal. “So you have a unique season. I’ve got no problem with that.”"

If Major League Baseball can figure out the logistics – there are a lot of moving pieces to any of the plans we’ve heard about this week, I don’t think anyone will care where the teams play. As one of our writers opined this week, having that sense of ‘normalcy’ to turn to with much of the country under social distancing protocols could be just what’s needed.

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You can’t count your chickens before they hatch. If there’s anything to be taken from all the news we’ve heard this week it’s that MLB is keeping its options open and will continue to do so, which bodes well for the chances of us all enjoying Chicago Cubs baseball, even in a somewhat unfamiliar setting, at some point this year.