Baseball returns this week, and if nothing else, it’s going to be a wild year. A 60-game season means that we’re starting in the thick of the pennant race, one in which pretty much every team has a shot at playing in October. There are 22 teams this year that I would not be surprised to see make the playoffs, meaning that these predictions could become garbage in just a few weeks.
Regardless, I took a stab at predicting the standings, postseason and major award winners. I will not be predicting Comeback Player of the Year because that award is just a backhanded compliment.
Here we go…
The NL East features four very solid teams in the Braves, Mets, Nationals and Phillies, with Atlanta likely being a slight half-step above the other three.
1. Atlanta Braves (2 seed)
Each of these teams has questions, but I think the Braves have the most answers. Perhaps their biggest question mark remains at third base, where Johan Camargo and Austin Riley are projected to get the bulk of the plate appearances. Their pitching isn’t anything to write home about, but it should be solid — in particular, I’m still not all the way sold on Atlanta’s model of pitcher, the pitch-to-contact type. Max Fried is projected to lead the rotation in K/9, at 9.0. Still, though, they have the fewest holes, and that should be enough to win the division. It probably won’t be enough to go deep into the postseason, however.
2. New York Mets (Wild Card 1)
The Mets, Nationals and Phillies could really finish in any order. I love the Mets’ lineup and do think Yoenis Cespedes is due to come back quite strong. I worry about their defense up the middle with Amed Rosario and Robinson Cano, but think they should be able to outhit these potential issues. As far as pitching goes, Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman should be fine, but they’ll need at least one (preferably two) of Steven Matz, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha to be solid enough to make a run. My not-so-educated guess is that Matz is the guy to surprise. The bullpen is great on paper, and I think that it will matter more in a shortened season than it does in 162. Having five near-elite-to-elite arms in Dellin Betances, Edwin Díaz, Jeruys Familia, Seth Lugo and Justin Wilson gives the Mets a top-5 bullpen this year, no question.
3. Washington Nationals
I might be underrating the Nationals a bit here, but I think there are some valid concerns to be had. Anthony Rendon leaving for Los Angeles hits that lineup harder than you’d think — Howie Kendrick and Juan Soto were their only other hitters to receive 200 plate appearances and post wRC+ marks above 117 last year. Trea Turner is a stud, but an infield of Eric Thames, Starlin Castro and Carter Kieboom around him does not scare me. They’ll be buoyed by their starting pitching, but it’ll be quite tough for the Nationals to repeat this year unless they can get surprise production from someone in that lineup.
4. Philadelphia Phillies
I think the Phillies have a ton of variance heading into 2020. Considering how close these four teams are, I wouldn’t be shocked if Philly finishes anywhere from first to fourth in this division, and I do think most experts are quick to write them off. Zack Wheeler is exactly what they needed in a second reliable starter, and Didi Gregorius helps to round out their lineup, assuming he hits closer to 2017 and 2018 levels than 2019. The healthy return of Andrew McCutchen, too, will be huge. Their biggest shortfall is clearly in the pitching department; beyond Nola and Wheeler, there’s no sign of a reliable third starter, though Spencer Howard could fill that role soon into the year. The bullpen was neglected of any upgrades and will be in the bottom-third of the league. If they shore up the pitching, the Phillies could surprise, but that’s what we’ve been saying for what feels like a decade now.
5. Miami Marlins
The Marlins will finish in last in the NL East. That is the only thing I am confident about. They have some decent talent throughout the roster; the Marlins and the Royals are probably my two favorite non-contenders this year. I’m a huge Caleb Smith guy, and Pablo López is growing on me as well. Corey Dickerson slashed .304/.341/.565 last year, and has posted a wRC+ of at least 115 in each of the last three years. Jonathan Villar and Jesús Aguilar were great pickups. The Marlins are doing a better job than I think most are willing to give them credit for.
If the NL East is a confusing jungle to navigate, the NL Central is worse, both figuratively and literally: worse to navigate and with worse teams. At a minimum, I think the top two NL East teams will finish with a better record than the best NL Central team. And while the NL East does have some general structure to it, I have no idea how to sort the four top teams here. The distance between the team that finishes first and fourth might only be a game or two.
1. Cincinnati Reds (3 seed)
With that said, I am buying into the Reds. I am all for the improvements that they’ve made to their front office, player development and analytics departments over the last year — hiring Kyle Boddy speaks volumes to me. I am also a fan of their on-field additions made over the offseason. Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos were big adds, as was Shogo Akiyama, the first Japanese-born acquisition in franchise history. I am also higher than most on their pitching. Trevor Bauer might be due for a big year as an impending free agent, and Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray should continue to remain solid. The team’s pitching should be its strength, as FanGraphs’ projected 6.7 WAR from the group is second to only the Brewers in this division. If things go right, their pitching will be what carries them to their first division crown in eight years.
2. Chicago Cubs
Since winning the World Series in 2016, the Cubs have failed to establish the dynasty that many thought was coming. The team did make the postseason in both 2017 and 2018, but an 84-win season and third place finish last year resulted in the removal of Joe Maddon as manager in favor of David Ross. Most of the pieces from 2016 still are here, but what worries me is their lack of starting pitching depth beyond Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. Jon Lester’s wheels fell off a bit in the second half (5.35 ERA, 4.36 FIP), and I’m still not quite ready to trust the starting pitcher version of Tyler Chatwood again, even though he did look good there in five outings last season. Jose Quintana remains the biggest x-factor for this rotation, but the few turns that he will miss in the rotation due to his thumb injury could loom large down the stretch. The team could easily claim the NL Central crown, but their pitching is enough of a question mark for now to slot them in at second here.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals probably have the fewest holes of any of the NL Central teams, and for that reason, they could easily win this division again in 2020. I just don’t know where a lot of the upside comes in. They only have one hitter projected to post a wOBA over .340 (Paul Goldschmidt), compared to five for the Reds and three for the Cubs. Their pitching is fine, but again, outside of Jack Flaherty, an aging Adam Wainwright, a likely-to-regress Dakota Hudson and a solid Miles Mikolas doesn’t pop off the page. Carlos Martinez could end up as the clear No. 2 in this rotation by the time the year is up, but then again, he hasn’t been a full-time starting pitcher since the beginning of 2018. The Cardinals are a good team, but I don’t see the necessary variance for them to end up with anything more than 35 wins. That could be enough to win the division, but I’ll put the teams with higher potential win totals above them for now.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
If the Cardinals are the team with the lowest variance of the top four NL Central squads, the Brewers are the team with the highest. I still don’t really know where they’ll end up. They’ve got the third-best player in baseball in Christian Yelich and a fantastic bullpen — and I’m all for the bullpens this year. Beyond that, there are some question marks. How well does Josh Lindblom’s KBO excellence translate back to MLB? Can Brandon Woodruff truly anchor the staff? (I think that one’s a yes.) Where does the rest of the lineup production come from? The Brewers have a knack of outperforming expectations, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised to see everything come together for them again this year, but that’s not going to be the reason why I put them atop the division right now.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are clearly at the bottom. However, without the injuries to both Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon, they might have been a surprise contender. Even still, they have some interesting talent. Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Kevin Newman, Gregory Polanco and Bryan Reynolds are all names to keep tabs on. I’m high on Mitch Keller, too, and the day that Joe Musgrove finally pitches to his peripherals will make him a bonafide No. 2. I’m not quite sure what to make of the rest of the rotation, though Trevor Williams was good as recently as 2018 and could rebound. Maybe next year we’ll be talking about how the NL Central has five teams competing for the division crown, but for now, the Pirates are clearly a step below the other four.
The NL West is a lot more clear-cut than the other two National League divisions. The only argument I could really see here is the placement of the Padres and the Diamondbacks; other than that, there’s a pretty clear indication of where these five teams will fall.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (1 seed)
Starting with the Dodgers, this team is likely going to end up as baseball’s best. Having baseball’s second- and fourth-best players certainly helps to make their case, but, top-to-bottom, this lineup is undoubtedly the deepest in the National League and is up there with the Astros for deepest in the game. Their pitching staff took a bit of a hit with David Price’s decision to opt-out of the 2020 season, but with the amount of depth that they have, it probably won’t matter all that much. Clayton Kershaw (3.03 ERA, 3.86 FIP) was still really good last season, even though people seem to forget that — he’s quickly moving into underrated territory. Walker Buehler is going to be among the top-five pitchers in the game in a few years. Ross Stripling, too, is underrated by most traditional fans. (The Angels definitely would love to have him right about now.) This team is a clear World Series contender, and if they do ultimately end their drought, there shouldn’t be any asterisk next to this season. This team is 100 percent deserving of a title, irrespective of the number of regular season games it takes to get there.
2. San Diego Padres (Wild Card 2)
As has been the theme throughout these predictions, I’m high on bullpens driving success this year, and the Padres’ group could have an outside chance of finishing as the best bullpen in baseball. FanGraphs projects them for 1.6 WAR, which would rank sixth, but they are filled with high strikeout arms that I love: Kirby Yates (42 K%), Drew Pomeranz (47 K% as reliever) and Emilio Pagán (36 K%) should anchor them. The rest of the roster is nothing to sniff at, either. They’ll get a full season from Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack, Manny Machado could see some positive regression, and Tommy Pham was a fantastic offseason addition. I promised my followers on Twitter that I would pick the Padres to earn a playoff spot this season, and I am following through on that now. They’re my selection to snag the NL’s second Wild Card spot.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
Not too far behind San Diego is the Diamondbacks, who, under GM Mike Hazen, have undergone one of the more successful retooling efforts I have seen in recent years. Despite not making the playoffs since 2017, Arizona hasn’t had to tear it all down to add impactful talent to their roster. Ketel Marte broke out in a huge way last year, and even if he’s not a perennial 7 WAR player, he will remain an important part of their future. I loved the Zac Gallen trade, and supplanting that rotation with an aging-but-still-effective Madison Bumgarner will shore up any depth issues they may have had. Archie Bradley is one of my favorite relief pitchers in baseball right now, just because of his versatility — he has the sixth-most innings among relievers over the last three years. The Diamondbacks could easily contend now, and they’ll be well in the race for the Wild Card as the season nears its end. I just have them a touch worse than the Padres.
4. Colorado Rockies
From here, the Rockies are a clear step below. Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are the two stars, but Dan Szymborski’s piece about the team from last July still rings true today — the Rockies are wasting them. David Dahl and Charlie Blackmon are also solid lineup pieces, but once you get beyond Daniel Murphy in their projected order, you are left with Ryan McMahon (projected 89 wRC+), Garrett Hampson (75), Sam Hilliard (72) and Tony Wolters (66). Yikes. Admittedly, this says nothing about their pitching, either, which should be decent. A rotation of German Márquez, Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman projects to rank 19th, one slot above the Diamondbacks. The bullpen, on the other hand, could be one of baseball’s worst.
5. San Francisco Giants
Now, we’re left with the Giants. This is going to be a tough year for San Francisco. Their projected roster consists of aging veterans and not a lot of young talent. It’ll be fun to see Mauricio Dubón get regular at bats for the first time in his career, but he’s already 26. It will also be enjoyable for fans to see Hunter Pence back in the orange and black. Other than that (this includes Pence, honestly), they’re left with aging veterans such as Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija that don’t offer much of anything in the way of upside at this point.
NL playoffs And Awards
The Dodgers are my pick to win the National League. Here’s how I see it playing out…
And my award picks:
The AL East race this year doesn’t look that different than it did last year. The Yankees are still a prime World Series contender, and the Rays will still surprise. Perhaps the only difference here is that the expectations for the Red Sox have been greatly diminished; Nathan Eovaldi, their Opening Day starter, had a 5.99 ERA last year. As with the Padres, I’m also on the Blue Jays’ hype train this season, but don’t think they’ll be competitive enough to take a postseason spot.
1. New York Yankees (1 seed)
The Yankees are the most talented team in this division, but they might have to fend off a considerable challenge from Tampa Bay given the length of the season. You can’t argue with adding the best starting pitcher in baseball in free agency, and that’s exactly what the Yankees did with the signing of Gerrit Cole. Beyond that, though, the rotation still has some question marks. James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka should be solid, but both J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery could be cause for some concern. It probably won’t matter, though, as the Yankees’ lineup and bullpen (even without Aroldis Chapman) remain excellent, giving them the much needed flexibility to withstand a potentially-weaker back end of that rotation. Giancarlo Stanton appears ready to go for Opening Night, but so does Aaron Hicks, who could become the first player ever to have Tommy John surgery and not miss a single regular season game. Hicks is one of my personal favorite Yankees — he posted a 129 wRC+ and 5.0 WAR in 2018, and he might be no better than the fifth-best position player on that team. The Yankees are stacked and should be prime contenders for the World Series again this year.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card 1)
As mentioned, however, the Rays could give the Yankees some serious problems. Though they do not have the luxury of Gerrit Cole, I feel comfortable saying that Tampa Bay has a deeper rotation than the Yankees. Charlie Morton and Blake Snell are the headliners there, but Tyler Glasnow could be a sneaky-solid Cy Young pick, assuming he stays healthy. Trevor Richards, whom the team picked up in a July 2019 trade with the Marlins, was fantastic in 23.1 innings with the Rays, posting a 1.93 ERA and a 3.47 FIP. There might be more upside there than people think. Beyond that, we know Tampa will be creative, and Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos provide added flexibility. None of this has mentioned their bullpen, which also will be a significant weapon — FanGraphs projects the group to finish with the most WAR of any team. The lineup might be the Rays’ only relative weakness, and even then, their focus on defense — Kevin Kiermaier and Manuel Margot are two of the best defenders in baseball — will aid their pitchers and could mitigate any lack of offense the team might face.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays being my third-place pick could come as a bit of a surprise, but I’m all about the hype here. Yes, we don’t know how they’ll pitch — even after adding Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanner Roark, their rotation remains a huge question mark — but we do know that they’ll hit. Full seasons of Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. should scare the rest of the division, but don’t sleep on a bounce-back season from Travis Shaw (a great offseason pickup). Randal Grichuk, too, had a little bit of a down year last year and is projected to see a reversal. As I’ve said throughout, there will be quite a bit more randomness this year than normal, and the Blue Jays making the playoffs really wouldn’t shock me.
4. Boston Red Sox
Because I am bullish on the Blue Jays, I have to be bearish somewhere else, and the Red Sox fit that bill for me. If we worry about how Toronto will pitch, the Red Sox pose even larger issues that will certainly result in this team’s downfall. Nathan Eovaldi is the team’s Opening Day starter, but their current roster projection has Martín Pérez, Ryan Weber, Brian Johnson and Matt Hall behind him. Eduardo Rodriguez recently rejoined the team after a bout of COVID-19, so that should help, but when they open the season later this week, their rotation’s projected FIPs look like this: 4.34 (Eovaldi), 4.63 (Weber), 4.67 (Pérez), 4.71 (Hall) and 5.46 (Johnson). Yes, Boston’s best projected starter is expected to have the same FIP as Vince Velasquez’s career mark. The team will hit, but even still, they traded away the second-best player in the game to the Dodgers. I see way more downside here than upside.
5. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles round out this division, despite the fact that this team signed quite possibly the most versatile player in the game, Taylor Davis, over the offseason. (He’s a pretty good podcast co-host, too.) Orioles fans have more to be excited about this year than, say, Giants fans, since the team is considerably younger and took a chance on some waivers guys that may surprise. (Never forget that J.D. Martinez was a waiver claim.) In their current projected starting lineup, the Orioles have four guys that they picked up on waivers since the beginning of 2018 — Renato Núñez, Hanser Alberto, Rio Ruiz and Pedro Severino. If rebuilding is about looking for diamonds in the rough and collecting minor league talent, the Orioles are taking that to heart. John Means can already be considered a success from the “find diamonds in the rough” strategy.
The biggest question facing the AL Central in 2020 is: Are the White Sox ready now? The team made significant offseason upgrades and could pose a threat to the rest of the division, or they could still be a year away. I’m not yet sold, but there’s certainly a chance the White Sox take a playoff spot if all goes right. For now, I’m sticking with the 2019 order, but just know that the South Siders have a real opportunity to make some noise and come away playing in October.
1. Minnesota Twins (3 seed)
In sticking with 2019, the Twins are my pick to repeat as AL Central champs. They set the record for most home runs by a team in a single season last year. All of the boppers are back, plus one major addition: Josh Donaldson, whom the Twins signed in January. The signing allows them to move Miguel Sanó to first base, which is sure to be a better fit for him defensively. Donaldson, then, effectively replaces C.J. Cron, who already was in the bottom-third of Twins’ regulars at the plate. On the pitching side, I’m also a big fan of Minnesota’s under-the-radar upgrades. Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill aren’t flashy names, but all three posted FIP- marks below 100 in 2019, giving the Twins the much-needed rotation depth that they lacked by the end of last season. The 2019 Twins were not a fluke; this team remains really good.
2. Cleveland Indians
I’m slotting the Indians back in second place, but I remain concerned about the lineup. You can’t argue about Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramírez and Carlos Santana, but they are the only sure things. I look at every other hitter and see question marks. Does Franmil Reyes hit well enough to be an effective full-time DH? How will Domingo Santana handle left field? Can César Hernández be a 3 WAR-caliber player again? Cleveland might not need all of these answers to go their way in order to compete, and of course, I'm completely ignoring their pitching, which is still great. Indians fans were absolutely correct in arguing that their staff will still be among baseball’s best even after trading Corey Kluber to Texas. FanGraphs projects the team to rank 8th in starting pitcher WAR, but I’m a huge fan of both Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger and think they each offer considerably higher ceilings. Carlos Carrasco is a solid No. 3, and both Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac had effective cups of coffee in the majors last year. Cleveland knows how to develop pitching, and because of this, I pick them to finish second.
3. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are the team that’s the hardest to place here. They really do have the potential to make the playoffs, but as a near-perfect antithesis to Cleveland, their pitching may be an issue. The lineup, meanwhile, should hit. Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara were huge additions to a roster that already includes offensive darlings in Tim Anderson, José Abreu, and yes, Yoán Moncada. Luis Robert also gets his first crack at the majors; he may already have one of baseball’s smoothest swings and produces enormous power. Mark it down now: This team will score a ton of runs. I just don’t know that they’ll prevent them, though. Lucas Giolito is a stud, and pairing Dallas Keuchel and Grandal should only mean good things. The rest of the rotation, including offseason addition Gio González, could be hit-or-miss. Dylan Cease may offer the highest upside if he can limit the walks. The bullpen looks like it will be a problem, too. Pitching will be what holds this team back.
4. Kansas City Royals
The Royals are a really interesting team, and became even more interesting with their recent acquisition of Franchy Cordero from the Padres. Between Cordero, Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler, there’s legitimate power in this lineup, something that has been rare in Kansas City. Soler, for example, became the franchise’s first ever 40-home run hitter last season with his AL-leading 48 homers. However, for how interesting this team is (and, yes, that includes Whit Merrifield), they won’t compete. Their pitching is mediocre, though I am super excited to see Brady Singer — the team’s first round pick in 2018 and No. 4 overall prospect — in the rotation. He might break the Opening Day roster out of camp. As with most rebuilding teams, the 2020 season is about seeing how guys like Singer produce, and seeing whether they can develop players like Cordero and Maikel Franco into true major league contributors. Ultimately, from a fan’s perspective, the team should be more exciting to watch than most rebuilders.
5. Detroit Tigers
Similar to the Marlins, the Tigers picked up a bunch of players who they could theoretically flip at the trade deadline. I see C.J. Cron, Cameron Maybin, Iván Nova and Jonathan Schoop — all solid major league contributors who joined on one-year deals — potentially fitting this bill. Additionally, Tigers fans should be excited to see Michael Fulmer back in the rotation for the first time in two years. The trio of Matthew Boyd, Fulmer and Nova has the potential to be pretty solid. I actually like that group more than most top-threes. Throw Spencer Turnbull and maybe even Matt Manning or Casey Mize into the mix, and the Tigers could be looking at one of baseball’s more intruding rotations. Otherwise, this will be a slightly-improved team that should once again be looking at a top-five pick in the 2021 draft.
The AL West is a really fun division with a lot of great players. The Astros are still the most complete team here — circumstances for the hiring aside, I like Houston’s decision to bring Dusty Baker aboard. I’ve become a big fan of his. Yes, he might not be the most analytically-inclined manager, but it seems as though he really connects with his players to bring out the best in them. The rest of the division has good-yet-flawed teams. Nobody (including me here) gives the Athletics enough credit; they’re probably more talented than the Angels, but I want to see Mike Trout in the playoff so badly I’m putting them in third. The Rangers, too, are probably a tad underrated, and the Mariners round it out.
1. Houston Astros (2 seed)
As noted, the Astros are still the best team in this division, sign-stealing scandal or not. This lineup is probably baseball’s deepest — Carlos Correa is currently projected to hit seventh. The pitching does take a hit with the loss of the best pitcher in the game in Cole, but the return of Lance McCullers Jr. from Tommy John surgery should be a huge boon. Regardless, since Jose Urquidy is currently on the Injured List, I’d be worried about Josh James and Framber Valdez at the back of the rotation to start the year. James has been excellent to start his big league career, striking out 36% of the hitters that he has faced, but this has mostly come out of the bullpen. Valdez finds himself in a similar boat, though his results haven’t been quite as promising. They’ll need some decent production from either of these two arms right out of the gate. Ultimately, the rotation is my only reservation about this team. The lineup and defense will be solid, the bullpen looks pretty good, and the rotation should hold together. This team will win the AL West for the fourth consecutive year.
2. Los Angeles Angels (Wild Card 2)
Putting the Angels in second place might be more of a “speak it into existence” type of selection. In a 60-game season, I don’t think they’re that much less talented than the Athletics for them to leapfrog them in the division, and that’s the bulk of my rationale for having them sneak into the playoffs. Regardless, they have a really good collection of bats. You can’t argue with Mike Trout, but adding a second top-10 player to that lineup in Anthony Rendon makes their hitting really scary. Shohei Ohtani will probably be in the 120 wRC+ range again this year, Tommy La Stella took a legitimate step forward last year and David Fletcher is… David Fletcher, of course. (That’s to say he’s a really good all-around player.) People think Albert Pujols is worse than he is — he’s probably still a true-talent league-average bat at this point, and, in a 60-game season, he could have a surprisingly decent year. Justin Upton, too, seems to be underrated at this point; he’s only one injury-riddled year removed from a 132 wRC+. On the pitching, there is cause for concern, but my Twitter followers tell me that Griffin Canning is the GOAT, and I’m inclined to buy in, perhaps not on the “GOAT” talk, but on the “he’ll be, at worst, a reliable starter” talk with the potential for much more upside. Additionally, Julio Teheran always seems to outperform his peripherals, and I think there’s an outside chance Dylan Bundy could turn a few heads this year. Plus, they’ll get Ohtani once a week. But, boy, this team could have used Ross Stripling…
3. Oakland Athletics
As mentioned, the Athletics are probably a more complete team than the Angels, but forgive me for wanting Trout in the postseason. The front office in Oakland always manages to put out a team with very few holes, and that’s true once again for the 2020 version of the A’s. The only newcomer in the starting lineup is Tony Kemp, and they didn’t really lose anyone notable either. Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman are probably the two players most sabermetrically-inclined fans love to fawn over, but don’t forget about Matt Olson, either, who might be the best first baseman in baseball. He ranked sixth in wRC+ among those at the position, and was the best defender by a country mile. He reminds me of Paul Goldschmidt a little bit, though his defense is a little bit better and his hitting is a little bit worse. The A’s pitchers don’t look great from a name-brand standpoint — A.J. Puk going to the Injured List certainly hurts a lot — but they should be solid across the board, without any significant weakness. Plus, Jesús Luzardo should join the rotation relatively soon; as he continues his recovery from COVID-19, he’s not expected to start any of the first five games, having just rejoined the team on July 17. Either way, I’m not too worried here. The Athletics will be a solid team and could easily make the playoffs.
4. Texas Rangers
The Rangers are probably better than what people are willing to give them credit for, to the point where I wouldn’t be totally shocked if they got hot and made the playoffs. (Again, I think up to 22 teams could realistically make the playoffs.) Both their lineup and their pitching is all-around solid; I don’t think many would expect Texas to have the fifth-best projected starting pitcher WAR. Adding Corey Kluber, even if he’s a bit over the hill, gives them a rotation full of No. 2s. If 2019 was an injury-riddled fluke (the broken arm was a fluke, but the oblique maybe less so), he’d be the obvious ace. I’m very curious to see if Joey Gallo can pick up right back where he left off; is he a 140 wRC+ bat or a 120 wRC+ bat? Either way, he’ll anchor that lineup, which loses its legs as you move further down the order. A full season of Nick Solak should be interesting; he came out of the gate hot last year. Otherwise, the position player depth is the very reason why Texas is a step below the top three teams in this division.
5. Seattle Mariners
Rounding out the AL West is the Mariners. The team has collected a lot of young talent, but they’re not in contention this year. They’ll have the opportunity to get an extended look at Shed Long Jr., Kyle Lewis, Evan White and Jake Fraley, all prospects who could be part of the next contending Seattle team. From a veteran standpoint, Kyle Seager’s second half last year was really good — he slashed .260/.339/.524 with a 129 wRC+ — and, as a result, I’ve bought into a further resurgence there. On the pitching, Taijuan Walker is back after only logging 14 innings with the Diamondbacks over the last two years due to injuries. Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are the young pitchers to watch in the rotation, but neither is expected to stand out quite yet. In the end, the Mariners are still a few years away. Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic will be in Seattle sometime soon.
AL PLAYOFFS AND AWARDS
Going chalk in the AL as well…
And for my awards picks, too...
WORLD SERIES: DODGERS OVER YANKEES. MOOKIE BETTS MVP.
Here’s to a safe and healthy 2020!
— Devan Fink