Every year features its share of surprise teams. Last year the Twins won 103 games, up from 78 the season before. On the flip side, the defending world champion Red Sox dipped from 108 wins in 2018 to a playoff-less, 84-win season in 2019. With that example in mind, which team is going to surprise in all the wrong ways this year? SI's MLB staff weighs in:
Tom Verducci: Washington Nationals
Gravity is a powerful force.
Start with this: The past 10 defending world champions won an average of 11 fewer games after their title season. Only one of those 10 teams won more games in defense of its title: the 2018 Astros, who improved by two wins. Seven of the past 10 defending champs never even made the playoffs.
So there is something going on in recent years that makes it very hard to defend a title.
Now, remember, the Nationals didn't even win their division. They won 93 games, four fewer than Atlanta. They lost their best hitter, Anthony Rendon. They rely enormously on starting pitching, and last year had incredible health in that regard to withstand what statistically was the worst bullpen ever for a postseason team. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez all made at least 27 starts. Never in the franchise's history have four players made that many starts in back-to-back years. All four of them are in their 30s.
The Nationals on paper have enough talent to get back to the postseason. Recent history tells us they may be due for a correction.
Stephanie Apstein: Boston Red Sox
The Astros will continue to disappoint us emotionally, but from a purely baseball standpoint, it's gotta be the Red Sox. With its poorly explained trade of Mookie Betts and David Price for an outfielder with a bad back and a pair of prospects, Boston all but punted on the season. Owner John Henry's Fenway Sports Group is the third richest conglomerate in the world, according to Forbes, but he wanted to lower payroll so he could stay under the luxury tax limit. He says he still intends to contend, but the Red Sox share a division with the dominant Yankees and ascendant Rays, so it's hard to see a scenario in which they make the playoffs this year, and it's hard to see a strategy going forward that gets them there any time soon. It's a dismal turnaround for the 2018 champions, and a bad look for baseball.
Emma Baccellieri: Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers saw some key players walk in free agency (Mike Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal, Jordan Lyles), and while they did make plenty of small additions this winter, they didn't make any on a level that makes up for what they lost. They already had to worry about the Cardinals and Cubs, and now the Reds could be a serious threat, too. A third consecutive playoff spot is possible, but at this point, it isn't likely.
Connor Grossman: Philadelphia Phillies
A new manager in Joe Girardi, a new front-line starter in Zack Wheeler and a new shortstop in Didi Gregorius aren't enough to push the Phillies from .500 in 2019 to the postseason in 2020. Sure, Bryce Harper might be better in Year 2 (of 13) in Philadelphia. But the NL East should be all bunched up, and I'd bet on the Braves, Nationals and yes, even the Mets, to reach October this season before the Phillies. Their playoff drought will likely reach a ninth season. Unfortunately, the 14-team postseason isn't here—yet.
Matt Martell: Cleveland Indians
The perpetually disappointing Mets jump out, but can a team really be disappointing when their fans are always expecting them to do something inexplicable to ruin their happiness? Instead, let's look at the Indians as the winning team from a year ago most likely to make us sad in 2020. They probably won't make the playoffs for the second consecutive season, and if they fall far enough behind the Twins and White Sox in the AL Central, they could pivot and trade superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor. Nothing's more disappointing for a team than trading away the face of the franchise. Just ask Red Sox fans.
Michael Shapiro: Cleveland Indians
The Indians' outfield remains a mess, and Mike Clevinger's injury adds another hit to a rotation that is no longer anchored by Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber. With the White Sox rising and the Twins bolstering their powerful lineup, Cleveland could very well slide from 93 wins to under .500 in 2020. The end of the Francisco Lindor era could arrive sooner than expected.