This season will be different. Surprise!
The storylines and standards are new. For SI’s season preview in 2019, we ranked teams by watchability; in 2020, all baseball might seem either equally watchable (desperately missed after months away) or unwatchable at all (baseball? in this world?) Throw in the weirdness inherent in such a short season—60 games could give us just about anything—and it’s hard to tease out much with the old ideas of what makes a team “watchable.” That said, in terms of just the on-field product, some teams will still be more fun to watch than others. So here they are, ranked in tiers:
Totally Worth It
Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers are so deep, so balanced, so damn good that they almost break the idea of watchability. Their bench and farm system are so loaded; the versatility of their plug-and-play roster makes them well-suited to the sprint of a short season; they’re perfectly positioned to weather anything unexpected. They’re the best team in baseball. (And, also, if you haven’t heard, they now have Mookie Betts. Quite a watchable guy.)
Houston Astros: Remember the discussion about how the Astros would overcome the drama of this winter? How other teams would react? How long it would take them to rewrite the narratives around them? A few months later, it seems adorably quaint to recall how we once thought these would be some of the most crucial dilemmas in baseball in 2020. Regardless, whether you love them or just love to hate them, Houston remains so good that they’re worth tuning in to.
New York Yankees: After an injury-plagued 2019 whose effects had threatened to extend into 2020, the delayed start to the season means that the Yankees should now be fully healthy (or close to it). The chance to watch this roster at full strength is a gift.
Minnesota Twins: We’re not sure what the collective noun is for a group of home runs—a bushel? a barrel? a dingerdom?—but whatever it is, Minnesota will have them en masse, and there’s no feature more watchable than that.
Atlanta Braves: Ronald Acuña and Yasiel Puig? It's hard to name a more fun duo. This outfield should be solid in terms of defense, but it'll be absolutely untouchable in terms of personality.
Don't Look Away
Washington Nationals: Juan Soto has a solid case as the single most watchable player in baseball. There are few others who exude so much joy on the field, no matter the game or situation or task at hand. Mix in Trea Turner, Victor Robles, this rotation (Max Scherzer’s intensity is a form of watchability unto itself), and you can’t look away.
Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Anthony Rendon, hopefully the debut of top prospect Jo Adell—that foundation is so fun to take in that you can let yourself overlook the questions around the pitching staff. (Well, maybe.)
Tampa Bay Rays: Take last year’s fun squad, add in a full season of two-way wunderkind Brendan McKay and the roster trickery needed to accommodate this many DH-types (Yoshitomo Tsutugo, José Martinez, Ji-Man Choi, Nate Lowe), and you’re looking at some quality entertainment.
Oakland A’s: Matt Chapman’s glove and Ramón Laureano’s arm alone would make this team watchable. And thankfully, it has other features (Marcus Semien’s… everything), too.
New York Mets: It’s easy to picture a strong season for the Mets, anchored by the reigning Cy Young and Rookie of the Year. It’s equally easy to picture an injury-laden mess. (And the chaos of a 60-game season will provide less room to even out any bumpiness.) But it’s almost impossible to picture something boring.
You Could Do Worse
Chicago White Sox: The White Sox’ rebuild is over, and the question now is just when the new construction will be fully functional and ready to cut the ribbon. This set of young players—Lucas Giolito, Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, Dylan Cease, Nick Madrigal—should guarantee a team that’s fun to watch no matter how much it wins.
Cincinnati Reds: “Fun” is relative. So, sure, the Reds’ baseline here is tied to the fact that they have not had a winning season since 2013, but after beefing up their lineup this winter—Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama—they just might be “fun” in absolute terms, rather than relative ones.
Chicago Cubs: This is almost the exact same team as the Cubs fielded in 2019, sans Castellanos and Cole Hamels. That means some notably fun spots (Javy Báez) and some notable question marks (the ‘pen) that should even out to a team that’s now clear in the middle of the road so far as watchability.
Cleveland Indians: Francisco Lindor and José Ramirez still have the potential to be the most fun infield tandem in baseball. But it’s understandably hard to find this team too exciting after another less-than-inspiring winter in a division that’s only gotten tougher. (There was one must-watch addition, however: Emmanuel Clase, acquired in the Corey Kluber trade.)
Boston Red Sox: Are Chris Sale’s Tommy John surgery and the loss of Mookie Betts responsible for all of Boston’s decline in watchability? Nah. Just… a lot it.
A Better Game Is On—Maybe
San Diego Padres: Just take this highlight reel of Francisco Tatis, Jr, who’s so watchable on his own that he can make up for (some, but not all) growing pains of an ongoing rebuild.
St. Louis Cardinals: The equivalent of a partly cloudy day in late spring: decently enjoyable, certainly pleasant, but not quite exciting, and you really should have grabbed a jacket when you had the chance, just in case.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Mix some exciting additions—Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte, Kole Calhoun—with a roster that was already solid, and you now have the ideal prototype of a team that’s pulled off a rebuild without a full teardown. Plus you still have all these fun rodeo jokes to make.
Toronto Blue Jays: Will Vlad Guerrero, Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette bring a winning season back to Toronto? There’s probably more work left to do. But will the young talent be a blast to watch? No doubt. (And keep an eye out for top prospect Nate Pearson and his 100-mph fastball, which are now part of the 60-player pool and will almost certainly see a big-league field in 2020.)
Milwaukee Brewers: There’s plenty that’s fun here (Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura, Lorenzo Cain). There’s also the rotation. These are two very distinct categories with no overlap.
Keep a Hand on the Remote
Philadelphia Phillies: Let’s borrow an old saying from their new manager. The 2020 Phillies are not necessarily not what you want. They’re… fine. Which means that they’re not necessarily what you want, either.
Texas Rangers: Joey Gallo is not the best player in baseball, but he may well be the freakiest, and if he stays healthy in 2020, he’s one of the most compelling to watch. Otherwise, in terms of fun, Texas has a… potentially very capable rotation, top to bottom?
Colorado Rockies: On one hand? Nolan Arenado. On the other? ... Just about everything else.
Miami Marlins: This rotation could be a blast. Caleb Smith has strikeouts aplenty, Sandy Alcantara offers a tantalizing arsenal, and Jordan Yamamoto is fresh off a promising rookie season. Of course, there’s sufficient variance among all these pitchers for this rotation to be… very much not a blast. And the offense, upgraded as it may be, could easily derail the whole thing. But still! It could be a blast, and that’s more than can be said for some other teams.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers have two big things going for them here. You should almost certainly have more fun watching them than you did last year, and you might even get to see Casey Mize and Matt Manning.
Avert Your Eyes
Pittsburgh Pirates: Remember the Pirates’ hot streaks last year? First in April, then just before the All-Star Break, both inspiring hope that ultimately proved foolish? In a sense, this year’s team should be more watchable, because there should be less room for false hopes. They should just be uniformly bad. No emotional roller-coaster here!
San Francisco Giants: If you’re looking for some aging inspiration, look no further. The first three hitters in the line-up (Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt), first two pitchers in this rotation (Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto), and anchor of this bullpen (Tony Watson) are all over 30. If you’re looking for anything else… look elsewhere.
Kansas City Royals: The delayed start to the season means a fully healthy Adalberto Mondesi, who’s now recovered from shoulder surgery, and you’ll probably get to see the debut of one of the org’s top pitching prospects, Brady Singer, but “fun” here is in generally short supply.
Baltimore Orioles: Can they really be worse to watch than they were last year? is not the sexiest question to drive interest in a team, but it’s a question all the same, and that gives Baltimore second-to-last place here rather than last place.
Seattle Mariners: The Mariners are not the worst team in baseball. (Well, not necessarily.) Nor are they the most hopeless: They can see their future, or at least see part of it, even if they’re certainly not there yet. But in terms of the product on the field right now? Just close your eyes and wait for 2021, or Jarred Kelenic, whichever comes first.