The 2020 MLB season is set to begin this week amid a pandemic, and along with a series of rule changes, the MLB has implemented a regional 60-game schedule for the season.
Based on MLB’s scheduling, each team will face the other four teams in their respective divisions 10 times for a total of 40 games. The remaining 20 games will be interleague matchups based on region — AL East teams versus NL East teams, AL West teams versus NL West teams, and AL Central teams versus NL Central teams. The first article of this three-part series will focus on the teams playing in the Eastern Division.
American League East
The New York Yankees
After adding SP Gerrit Cole, the Yankees have arguably the best overall roster in the AL East, with the Rays being the next contestable threat in the division. In addition to a powerhouse offense and Top 10 starting rotation, the Yankee’s most significant strength is the bullpen. There is no arguing that CP Aroldis Chapman (2.21 ERA), LHP Zack Britton (1.91 ERA), and RHP Adam Ottavino (1.90 ERA) all had lights out stuff in 2019. As a pitching staff, the Yankees had 1,534 strikeouts, which ranked fourth in the AL.
While the Bronx Bombers certainly have a formidable lineup, their greatest weakness is a lack of left-handed batters. Although OF Brett Gardner, OF Mike Tauchman, INF/OF Tyler Wade, OF Estevan Florial, and 1B Mike Ford are left-handed options at the plate, none compare to the capabilities OF Aaron Judge, OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton, 2B/SS Gleyber Torres, C Gary Sánchez, and INF DJ LeMahieu in an everyday starting role.
The Boston Red Sox
There were a lot of questions surrounding the health of SP Chris Sale in 2019, and in April, the Red Sox announced he underwent Tommy John surgery. Along with losing Sale for the season, OF Mookie Betts and SP David Price were traded to the Dodgers for OF Alex Verdugo and a package of prospects. Before the season even started, the Red Sox lost three key players.
Although there are several concerns surrounding the starting rotation and the bullpen, there is still some upside hidden in the starting lineup, even without Betts. While Verdugo is certainly nowhere near the player that Betts is, but he is much cheaper and under team control through the 2024 season. But many seem to forget the Red Sox still have DH J.D. Martinez and a Top 10 shortstop in Xander Bogaerts, who finished fifth in AL MVP voting in 2019. Bogaerts slashed .309/.384/.555 with 33 home runs, 110 runs scored, 117 RBIs, and finished the campaign with a 6.8 WAR.
The Toronto Blue Jays
I wrote an article for The Bullpen detailing the promising talent of the Blue Jays’ farm system, which is arguably their greatest strength entering the 2020 season. Although you can’t count them out entirely, the Blue Jays aren’t ready for postseason contention, even in a shortened season. But that doesn’t mean their prospects can’t take them to the doorstep.
After the offseason free-agent acquisition of SP Hyun-Jin Ryu, there aren’t many other starters to get excited about except for RHP Nate Pearson, MLB’s No. 8 overall prospect.
On the offensive spectrum, 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., SS Bo Bichette, 2B Cavan Biggio, and OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., could have their breakout seasons any year now. Even with slim odds in 2020, the Blue Jays shouldn’t be entirely overlooked if their pitching staff can find success.
The Tampa Bay Rays
As one of the most under-the-radar teams in 2019, the Rays have a legitimate chance to dethrone the Yankees in the AL East, especially with a 60 game season. The Rays finished second in the AL East in 2019 with a 96-66 record, largely in part to a dominant rotation, strong bullpen, and a clutch offensive production.
Their starting rotation is as good as, if not, better than the Yankees. Starting pitchers Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Charlie Morton lead the way, but P/1B Brendan McKay, MLB’s No. 15 overall prospect, should be ready to earn a rotation spot.
The Rays parted ways with OF Tommy Pham after the 2019 season by trading him to the San Diego Padres for OF Hunter Renfroe and 2B/SS Xavier Edwards, MLB’s No. 72 top prospect. But even without Pham, Renfroe and OF/DH Austin Meadows at the top and middle of the order should provide valuable offense.
The Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are in the midst of rebuilding the franchise, and so far have gathered a hefty amount of prospects to be within the Top 15 farm systems. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen how and if these prospects will have an impact at the MLB level, so until then, the Orioles will have to do with what they have — a promising left-handed starting pitcher in John Means. OF Trey Mancini would have also made an impact, however, he is expected to miss the season due to a treatment plan for colon cancer.
Until C Adley Rutschman, INF/OF Ryan Mountcastle, RHP Grayson Rodriguez, and LHP DL Hall are ready, a struggling Chris Davis and developing John Means will have a lot of work ahead of them.
The Orioles haven’t had a winning season since 2016 when they finished second in the AL East. Since then, the struggling Orioles have had two seasons with 100-plus losses.
National League East
The New York Mets
The Mets lost SP Zack Wheeler to the Phillies in free agency but were able to add both Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha to replace him in the back end of the rotation. The front end, however, is already decently covered by two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and SP Noah “Thor” Syndergaard.
After a breakout season in 2018 when CP Edwin Díaz led the league with 57 saves and a career-best 1.96 ERA, he took a major step back in his first year with the Mets, which left some questions about the capabilities of the bullpen. Those questions may have been addressed with the acquisition of RHP Dellin Betances, who was recovering from a partial left Achilles tear earlier this year.
Of course, you can’t talk about the Mets without mentioning 1B Pete Alonso, the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year, and INF Jeff McNeil. Alonso, the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year, and McNeil, who had a breakout campaign of his own, led the Mets offense. And to protect them in the lineup is OF Michael Conforto, OF Yoenis Céspedes, 3B J.D. Davis, and 2B Robinson Canó. While certainly not the most formidable lineup, there is still plenty of pop against both right- and left-handed pitchers
The Washington Nationals
There is no question that the Nationals have one of if not, the best starting rotations in baseball with three-time Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, 2019 World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, and two-time All-Star Patrick Corbin. But after losing OF Bryce Harper and 3B Anthony Rendon to free agency in 2018 and 2019, respectively, 21-year-old Juan Soto will have a lot of weight to carry at the plate.
While Soto, OF Adam Eaton, and SS Trea Turner carry the offense, Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin will have to carry the pitching staff. Because aside from CP Sean Doolittle and RHP Will Harris, the bullpen is virtually nonexistent. But the incumbent World Series champions still have a solid and competitive team overall, one that should still pose challenges to opposing lineups.
The Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies were busy during the 2018-19 offseason when they traded for C J.T. Realmuto, extended SP Aaron Nola, and signed OF Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million deal. All these moves amounted to an 80-82 overall record in 2018 and improved by one win in 2019. It seems these moves haven’t panned out exactly how the Phillies hoped for, but they clearly haven’t given up after signing SS Didi Gregorius and SP Zack Wheeler in the 2019-20 offseason.
To accompany Wheeler, Gregorius, Nola, Harper, and Realmuto are a handful of above-average players that includes 1B Rhys Hoskins, INF Scott Kingery, and veteran starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, who all saw some stretches of success in 2019. Although improvements could be made, the biggest need for the Phillies will be to receive reliable production from the bullpen.
The Atlanta Braves
What the Braves lack in the pitching department they make up for on the offensive spectrum. Most notably is CF Ronald Acuña Jr., who has the potential to log the first 40-40 season (40 home runs and 40 stolen bases) since Alfonso Soriano achieved the feat in 2006. With an outlandish speed and power combination, Acuña Jr. is by far the best player on the Braves roster. But not far behind are a handful of superstar sluggers like 1B Freddie Freeman, currently recovering from COVID-19, 2B Ozzie Albies, SS Dansby Swanson, and OF Marcell Ozuna.
The Braves added veteran SP Cole Hamels to a one-year deal in the 2019-20 offseason. The addition of a veteran pitcher was the right move to further develop their younger starters like LHP Max Fried, RHP Mike Soroka, and LHP Sean Newcomb. Although there are questions surrounding the starting rotation, the offense should have no problem picking up the slack.
The Miami Marlins
The Marlins finished 57-105 in 2019, exposing improvements that need to be made before they can be a competitive team. It is hard to find many positives in a season with 100-plus losses. But, on the bright side, the Marlins received decent production from some of their young starting pitchers like LHP Caleb Smith, RHP Sandy Alcantara, and RHP Jordan Yamamoto.
The name of the game is to score runs, but the Marlins struggled in that department by scoring the least runs in the NL and finishing second to last in hits. Although C Jorge Alfaro, OF Lewis Brinson, and 3B Brian Anderson have high ceilings, they have yet to breakout at the MLB level.
The Eastern Division is a seemingly weak, or noncompetitive, division with the Yankees, Rays, Nationals, and Braves sitting comfortably as the favorites. On paper, the Yankees seem to be the favorite in the AL East with the Rays not far behind them. In the NL, I think the Braves will topple the Nationals to finish first in the NL East.
My name is Sebastian and I am a senior at Northern Arizona University. I am a double major in journalism and communication, along with a minor in German. I have been in various editorial positions and have contributed articles to The Lumberjack, NAU's student-run newspaper.