Baseball will be different this year. That much you already knew.
Yet we’re still excited for its return. In this season’s Sports Illustrated power rankings, Nick Selbe will cover the American League teams while Will Laws will write about the National League clubs. Each of us ranked the clubs on our own and averaged the results to get the rankings you see below. Let's enjoy this absurd sprint of a season.
Fangraphs projects the Orioles to be outscored by 88 runs in 60 games this season. Getting outscored by 1.46 runs per game? Yeah, it's going to be a long year. At least José Iglesias playing shortstop every day will still be fun.
29. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers lineup isn’t going to scare anybody this season, though it will become imminently more watchable if 2020 first overall pick Spencer Torkelson makes his debut at some point.
28. Seattle Mariners
Seattle’s 13-2 start to the 2019 season feels like a fun, distant memory. A similar start out of the gates this year would put the Mariners firmly in the playoff hunt. Don’t bank on a repeat performance this year, though we’ll gladly tune in for more J.P. Crawford plays like this.
Gregory Polanco and top prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes both contracted the coronavirus and are out indefinitely. Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon are already out for the season due to injuries. Josh Bell probably feels something like this:
26. Miami Marlins
The Marlins added a bunch of veterans in Jonathan Villar, Corey Dickerson, Matt Joyce, Jesús Aguilar and Brandon Kintzler who could actually help a winning team in 2020. That winning team will not be Miami.
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Kansas City is still a long way from contention. If there's a reason to watch, it's to see former second baseman Whit Merrifield play center and reigning home run champ Jorge Soler in right.
San Francisco will not be starting the 2020s the way it began the 2010s. Buster Posey opting out of the season makes it more likely that we’ll see prospect Joey Bart at some point this year, which would be the best reason to watch the Giants once the novelty of the new season wears off.
23. Texas Rangers
Starters Lance Lynn and Mike Minor were each stellar in 2019, and they added Kyle Gibson and Corey Kluber. This Rangers club will go as far as its rotation takes it.
22. Colorado Rockies
Daniel Bard is a fun story, but his placement in the bullpen is also indicative of how bad Colorado’s bullpen was last year. The rotation wasn’t good, either, but at least there’s some hope there that Kyle Freeland, German Márquez and Antonio Senzatela return to form after awful 2019 seasons.
Were this a simple “fun” ranking, the Blue Jays would be much higher. Their young core of position players—led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette—is reason enough to tune in. Pitching? Well, that’s a story for another blurb.
20. Boston Red Sox
Even without Mookie Betts, Boston's lineup still has bite to it with J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers in tow. The starting pitching, though, is nowhere near strong enough for a contending team.
The Angels will be must-see TV in 2020. Shohei Ohtani returns as a two-way player. Anthony Rendon joins a lineup with Mike Trout in it. And, of course, Trout is still the best player on the planet. Still, avert your eyes from the mound.
The Diamondbacks may be a good bet to claim a wild-card spot, or at least come out of the gates strong. Only 11 of their first 38 games are against teams that finished over .500 last season.
No team is more dependent on one player than the Phillies are on Bryce Harper. If he gets off to one of his patented hot starts, Philadelphia could push for the NL East crown—remember, the Phillies sat atop the division after 60 games last year.
16. San Diego Padres
The Padres hype train is getting pretty crowded for a team that finished last in the NL West in 2019. But an elite bullpen coupled cornerstone infielders Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado should make for an entertaining 2020.
Speaking of hype trains... the White Sox' left the station years ago. A lineup of budding stars including Eloy Jiménez, Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert blends nicely with established veterans such as José Abreu and newly acquired Yasmani Grandal. There are still some questions with their rotation, but reason for excitement exists on the South Side this season.
Avisaíl García, Brett Anderson and Justin Smoak could turn out to be valuable pickups for Milwaukee, but their season will likely be dictated more by players that didn't return (Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas, Zach Davies, Gio González, Drew Pomeranz and Jordan Lyles).
13. New York Mets
There are enough bounce-back candidates on both the pitching staff (Rick Porcello, Dellin Betances, Edwin Díaz) and the offense (Yoenis Céspedes, Robinson Canó) to be optimistic about the Mets. But losing Marcus Stroman to a partially torn calf on the eve of the season is a tough break for a rotation that was already going to miss the services of Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard.
St. Louis waved goodbye to Marcell Ozuna and José Martínez without signing anyone to replace them. Its pitching should be good, as usual, though the bullpen will suffer from the losses of Jordan Hicks (opted out), John Brebbia (Tommy John) and Carlos Martinez (starting rotation).
11. Cleveland Indians
Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger are two of the game’s best young arms, while Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez make up perhaps the best left side of the infield in the league. But it’s Lindor’s uncertain future with the organization that looms large, and trade rumors aren’t going to die down any time soon.
10. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds haven't won a playoff series since 1995. With Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer, their starting rotation has the potential to be as good as any. The NL Central title appears very much up for grabs.
The A's were really good last year. They had the fifth-most wins (97) and fifth-highest run differential (+165) in the game last year before getting bounced by the Rays in the wild-card game. Oakland remains a strong club, but can they finally win a playoff series? They've lost its last five.
8. Chicago Cubs
In a 162-game season, this would probably be too high for a team that missed the playoffs last season and lost some contributors in free agency. But much of the World Series-winning core is still here. That could be enough in 2020.
Atlanta's rotation is suspect behind Mike Soroka, especially with Cole Hamels fighting Father Time. But the Braves have more than enough to compensate. May Yasiel Puig forever be remembered with fellow Atlanta greats such as Carmelo Anthony, Julius Erving, and David Thompson.
The Rays will lean on their pitching in 2020 after leading the majors in pitching fWAR (25.3) and FIP (3.65) in 2019. A new face to watch out for is 28-year-old Japanese outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Rays this offseason. Tsutsugo hit 140 home runs over the past four seasons in NPB, has drawn comparisons to Hideki Matsui and knows how to execute a proper bat flip. Sixty games feels like plenty of time for him to become a fan favorite.
The Twins set the record for most home runs in a season in 2019... then added third baseman Josh Donaldson. Starting pitching is a bit more of an unknown. Three-fifths of last year’s rotation is gone, replaced with the trio of Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. If those three can stay upright 60 games, Minnesota should be in a great position to win the division.
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The Nationals have to replace the run production and glove of Anthony Rendon (MLB-best 126 RBIs), but giving more at-bats to Eric Thames (117 OPS+ in 2019) and Starlin Castro (94 OPS+ on a bleak Marlins squad) instead of Matt Adams (83 OPS+) and Ryan Zimmerman (86 OPS+) should help compensate.
Houston has the offensive firepower to rival the Yankees. Virtually every hitter returns from a team that led the majors in wRC+ (125), though many will view the Astros’ hitters with suspicious eyes following the franchise’s sign-stealing scandal.
The Yankees swatted 306 home runs last season, which would have set the all-time record had the Twins not hit 307. That the Bombers reached that number while getting only 102 games out of Aaron Judge and a mere 18 from Giancarlo Stanton is a testament to their depth, which is nearly unmatched in 2020. Oh yeah, they also have Gerrit Cole now.
Everything is lined up for this to be the Dodgers' year. But it's been that way for the last few years. It's also been a long time since 1988. The pressure only grows by the year as baseball's best team extends its title drought. At least L.A. has Mookie Betts through 2032.