So it’s a weird season, less than half as long as usual. There are no fans in the stands. There are weird rules about pitchers using rags, and any extra innings contests will be a shitshow, or maybe just a joke, as Rob Manfred tries to cram his rinky-dink bullshit gameshow garbage into baseball as hard as he can. It is July, and the baseball season is just beginning.
Some things, however, do not change. Admittedly, I had planned on having this ready for Opening Day, but I didn’t quite make it. Nonetheless, here’s your preview of every team in baseball, in order of finish, in the shortest format I can manage. Yes, the sentences occasionally stretch the definition of ‘sentence’, but this is a nearly decade-old tradition at this point. So here we go.
American League East
New York Yankees — Driven by one of the best lineups in baseball (almost certainly the most powerful thanks to the twin towers of Stanton and Judge), the Yankees should bash their way to a division title. They added Gerrit Cole in the offseason to anchor the rotation and the bullpen remains imposing, but beyond Cole the sheer amount of risk in their starting rotation is kind of amazing.
Tampa Bay Rays — The Rays are always an interesting experiment of one sort or another, even in years when the whole league isn’t a bizarre Frankensteinian shambling horror of schedules and ideas. The roster depth for the Rays is incredible, and while they’re best known right now for largely eschewing the orthodoxy of a starting rotation, it doesn’t change the fact they have some of the most exciting young starting pitching talent in baseball.
Toronto Blue Jays — I worry that the Blue Jays, forced to play somewhere other than Toronto all year, may not be able to handle the stress of this already strange season, but given that every team is playing in a self-constructed bubble, maybe it won’t matter so much. The Jays are light on pitching talent (like, really light), but their exciting young collection of hitting talent from the mid-1990s will really start to come into its own in 2020, I believe.
Boston Red Sox — The Red Sox are very likely a better club than the Blue Jays; even after trading away one of the best hitters in baseball, they retain a formidable lineup headlined by Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and the newest addition of Alex Verdugo, picked up in the Mookie Betts deal. After losing Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery, however, the pitching could be a disaster, and I think there is real collapse potential in a team counting on Nathan Eovaldi to anchor the rotation.
Baltimore Orioles — The Orioles should not be as bad as they have been the last two years, if only because it’s incredibly difficult to keep up that kind of pace, but they are still a very bad team. Success is still off over the horizon somewhere, the O’s are still paying Chris Davis for two more years after this, and they held on to some of the pieces they really should have cashed in as trade chips a couple years ago.
Cleveland Indians — Yes, the Twins took the division a year ago with a magical 100+ win romp, but I’m betting on Cleveland’s run-prevention talent to carry the Indians back to the top of the heap. Carlos Carrasco coming back healthy would make a big difference, but the two-headed monster of Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber at the top of the rotation gives Cleveland instant shut down potential most nights, and they still have probably the best left side of the infield in baseball.
Minnesota Twins — Yes, the Twins had an incredible offense last year, then went out and added a former MVP to their mix, which would seem to make them an easy pick for the top of the division. However, Josh Donaldson is 34, the pitching doesn’t look good enough to support a first-class team to me, and Nelson Cruz has to get old at some point in time, right? ....right?
Chicago White Sox — The White Sox these days seem perpetually poised to take a leap forward into competitiveness, but this season may not be their moment just yet. They’re adding one of the best prospects in baseball in Luis Robert to go along with the young duo of Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez, but they’re also counting heavily on some older talent on the pitching side, and I think they’re going to end up regretting the decision to sign Dallas Keuchel.
Kansas City Royals — The Royals are a bad team, and the components of their next really good team likely aren’t even on the roster yet. They really should have traded Jorge Soler and Whit Merrifield this offseason when they had a chance.
Bonus fun fact: Did you know Whit Merrifield is actually a year older than Sal Perez? Just for some perspective.
Detroit Tigers — The Tigers were the worst team in baseball last year, and it’s possible they could be again this year. The first trickles of talent are beginning to show up on the extended roster for Detroit, but it won’t be until 2021 that I think we really start to see some intriguing players starting to filter in.
Oakland A’s — I’m going out on a limb here picking against the Astros, who still have one of the most daunting collections of young talent in the game, and it’s possible I’m picking with my heart rather than my head here, hoping to see Houston fall. At the same time, though, Oakland has one of the deepest rosters in the game, along with a handful of really impressive talents on the infield, giving them an offense capable of propping up what is, admittedly, a fairly uninspiring pitching staff.
Houston Astros — It was a crazy offseason for the Astros, and if anything, the emergence of a global pandemic basically saved them from the constant scrutiny and animus of opposing crowds we all expected this season. The ‘Stros are still really good, with an enormous collection of talent that was the bounty of Jeff Luhnow’s unprecedented tank job, and the one real worrisome aspect of this club is they’re relying very heavily on some high-mileage arms to carry them through.
Los Angeles Angels — Another year, another middling finish from the Angels is what I’m expecting, consistent with their mission over the past half-decade to prove just how much good fortune a team can endure and still miss out on postseason play. (Well, and one really horrific piece of bad fortune, too.) The Angels have the best player in baseball, the best two-way player in baseball, the best defensive shortstop in baseball, added one of the top third basemen in baseball, and still simply cannot build a functional pitching staff of any sort.
Texas Rangers — The Rangers seem stuck in neutral these days, trying to make roster upgrades at the same time other parts of the club are collapsing. Lance Lynn and Mike Minor combined for over fifteen wins above replacement last year, the Rangers added Corey Kluber over the offseason, and the offense and bullpen will almost certainly be enough to sink their season again in 2020.
Seattle Mariners — The Mariners are bad, but their future looks bright. If this were a normal season, we would be talking right now about Marco Gonzales being one of the more intriguing names on the trade block this summer; as it is, we can safely ignore Seattle for another year or two.
National League East
Atlanta Braves — Atlanta should be a very strong club again this summer, and certainly one of the more balanced in the game despite losing Josh Donaldson to free agency after only a single season. The Braves are loaded with talent in the starting rotation, and Freddie Freeman is the oldest player in their everyday lineup, at 30.
Washington Nationals — The Nationals lost one of the best hitters in baseball prior to the 2019 season, then basically just plugged Juan Soto into that same spot, upgraded the rotation, and won the World Series. There is definite collapse risk here, almost all of it on the pitching side, where the Nats are leaning heavily on a very old pitching staff, but that same pitching staff also has championship potential if all the arms hold together again this year.
Philadelphia Phillies — I think the Phillies actually have substantial upside this year, and could easily end up atop the East, but unfortunately for them they also have to contend with two other pretty beastly clubs in their division, not to mention the Mets, who are always a wild card. Zack Wheeler gives the Phillies’ rotation substantial upside along with Aaron Nola, though both come with serious injury questions attached, but the offense is the much bigger question mark for me despite what looks like an impressive collection of talent.
New York Mets — Every year the projections spit out an optimistic fate for the Mets, and every year I struggle to square those rosy outlooks with my own view of a club that never quite feels like a serious contender to me. It’s easy to see why the Mets might be considered a contender this year; Jacob DeGrom is one of the best pitchers in baseball, two-thirds of the Mets’ outfield is certifiably awesome, and Pete Alonso might hit enough dingers to make everyone forget that there are huge injury concerns throughout the pitching side and almost no real depth to this roster beyond the flashy names at the top.
Miami Marlins — It’s a shame the Marlins’ offense is so bad, because with even a middling offense this club might make some noise given the obvious upside of their pitching staff. I don’t think the Marlins are going to contend this year, nor next, honestly, but they seem like they could absolutely ruin some contender’s day come September.
Chicago Cubs — The NL Central is going to be incredibly tight this year, I think, given the presence of four very evenly matched clubs, and I don’t see any of these teams being able to run away and hide. That being said, the Cubs still have the most star-level firepower of any team in this division, particularly on the offensive side, even if the aging of their pitching staff and upcoming free agent paydays suggests their window may be in danger of closing prematurely if they can’t develop a next wave of talent to help bolster their roster, and soon.
St. Louis Cardinals — The Cardinals have built a run-prevention beast of a team, particularly this year with Matt Carpenter likely seeing as much time at DH as he will over at third base. Quality pitching, remarkable depth of pitching, and a mostly airtight defense (looking at you, right field...), will keep opponents off the board; the question is can the club find enough offense to win a bunch of 4-2 games?
Cincinnati Reds — The Reds are kind of a weird club this year; they’re seen as this up-and-coming young team, but if you look at their starting lineup there is only one player under the age of 28, and they can’t quite seem to decide if they want to actually let their kids play or bring in outside talent to try and keep from having to do so. The pitching could be really good, with Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray all legitimate high-level performers, and there is enough offense here to make Cincy a really dangerous club in this very tightly-packed division.
Milwaukee Brewers — The Brewers don’t really deserve to be a fourth-place team, but someone has to lose out in this division, and to my eye it’s going to be Milwaukee. They have the best player in the division in Christian Yelich, but the rest of the offense isn’t any better than average, and the pitching staff doesn’t have enough talent to carry it.
Pittsburgh Pirates — The only club in the Central without a legitimate chance at winning it, I believe, is the Pirates, who manage to show the downsides of both a lack of action and spending (stagnant payroll, not enough additions to bolster competitive rosters), and making big, aggressive moves (the Chris Archer fiasco), at the same time. Neither Archer nor Jameson Taillon will pitch this season, and while there is some legitimate offensive talent on this roster (Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds), it’s just not enough to make up for a weak rotation and what looks like a really bad bullpen.
Los Angeles Dodgers — Look, I don’t know why the other clubs in this division bother showing up. The Dodgers are the best team in baseball, to a genuinely unpleasant degree, and they might have the best outfield since the city of New York in the 1950s.
San Diego Padres — The team of the future for at least three years running, the Padres have build a legitimately impressive pipeline of talent, developing such young stars as Fernando Tatis Jr., Chris Paddack, and a wave of guys still waiting to crash on to the shore. The issue for the Padres has mostly been the underperformance of their outside signings, such as Manny Machado and, especially, Eric Hosmer, who decided to prove his narrative of being good only every other year by just being bad all the time now.
Arizona Diamondbacks — The DBacks have, over the past couple years, conducted a very impressive rebuild without ever having to tank completely, assembling a very deep, solid roster through smart trades and canny signings. The struggle now will be to see if a deep roster that’s lacking in star power can take a step forward, or if Arizona will find itself in the same perpetual half-step too little limbo in which the Cardinals languished from 2016-’18.
Colorado Rockies — Colorado is another challenger in the best-left-side-of-the-infield-in-baseball tournament, with Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story presenting a compelling case, up there with just about any other two-player combo in the game, and the Rockies in general have produced a phenomenal amount of homegrown talent over the past half-dozen years. The rotation has three exciting pitchers at the top, but there is a distinct lack of quality depth in the lineup and the bullpen is very likely bad enough to finish sinking the Rockies’ hopes for 2020.
San Francisco Giants — Just beginning their rebuild in earnest, the Giants are likely going to be pretty bad this year; maybe not first overall pick bad, but bad all the same. There’s not a lot of offensive talent, yet the lineup is surprisingly old (a hallmark of clubs that should have rebuilt a couple years before they decided to do so), and the pitching side is significantly less encouraging.
Okay, so let’s do something dumb now and make some postseason picks, shall we?
Well, I don’t really know how the postseason is going to work. I can see all of the rules, but man, that’s complicated. I’m not picking out eight teams from each league. How about just championship series and World Series teams?
NLCS: Dodgers over Reds
ALCS: Indians over A’s
World Series: Dodgers over Indians, 4 games to 2