For all the negativity sewn into 2020—the year at large and the season specifically—a few pleasant surprises emerged on the field. The Padres and Marlins, for example, both busted lengthy playoff droughts and were enjoyable teams to watch. On the flip side, clubs expected to fit into the larger-than-ever playoff picture ... did not fit. Some came close. Some did not. Let's dive into the year's biggest disappointments.
The Philadelphia Phillies were the most disappointing team this year. The facts speak for themselves:
• They were the worst defensive team in baseball (.642 defensive efficiency), which is hard to do when your home field has the least amount of fair square footage to defend.
• Their bullpen had the highest ERA in baseball history (7.06) except for that of the 1930 Phillies (8.01).
• Their starting pitchers largely stayed healthy, and they still finished with a losing record, three games behind the Marlins.
• They hired a big-name manager, Joe Girardi, who had no impact on a team that has collapsed three years in a row (9–17 after 9–16 after 8–20).
• They did not field a winning team for the ninth straight year—the first time for the Phillies since World War II.
• They have the longest postseason drought in the National League: nine years. No other NL team has one longer than five years.
• The pitching staff had the second worst ERA in the NL, 5.14, the worst by any Phillies team since 1939.
• They fired their general manager, Matt Klentak.
• They need a fifth pitching coach in the past five seasons.
The Nationals. To be fair, it’s always hard to measure up after winning a World Series, but Washington made it look really hard in 2020. After tying for last place in the NL East, largely thanks to a disappointing season from their pitching staff, they now face a rocky path ahead as the division looks to get only more competitive from here.
The Rangers had 2020 circled on their calendar for a long time, ready to open up the gates of their new stadium with a competitive young team and perhaps a shiny new cornerstone in Anthony Rendon or even Clayton Kershaw and ... yeah, you get the picture. They finished with the AL's worst record and zero attendance across 30 home games. Not ideal, huh?
So while this year was a massive disappointment for Texas, what's worse is that 2021 isn't looking any better, even if fans are able to watch the losses pile up in person.
There was no team more disappointing in 2020 than the 2019 champs. The Nationals essentially had to make up for the losses of Rendon and Stephen Strasburg after the former signed with the Angels and the latter made only two starts after being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. Juan Soto missed the first weeks of the season due to COVID-19. Still, there was enough talent in D.C. to avoid falling into a tie for last place in the division.
At least, it seemed that way before Max Scherzer had his worst season as a National, Patrick Corbin led MLB in hits allowed and Aníbal Sánchez led the NL in earned runs while only Soto and Trea Turner functioned as everyday, above-average bats. Daniel Hudson converting just 10 of 15 saves didn't help, either. Taking into account the season was only 60 games, Washington ended up with the second-worst winning percentage by a defending World Series champion. Only the 1998 Marlins were worse.
The easy answer is the Angels, for not being able to make the postseason despite the expanded field (and my slightly aggressive pick for them to win the World Series). However, the Phillies and their dumpster fire bullpen get my vote. I thought Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler and Joe Girardi were three of the best offseason acquisitions going into 2020, and adding them to a group with Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Aaron Nola would propel them to, at least, a wild-card berth. Instead, the back end of their rotation and bullpen were dreadful.
Still, despite their woes, the Phillies held the NL East's second playoff spot entering play on Sept. 4 after they swept the Nationals in four games. From there, they lost 17 of their final 26 games—including seven of their last eight. Philadelphia's nine-year playoff drought rolls on.
Angels fans are sick of hearing how much their team is wasting Mike Trout's prime, but just because a narrative is overused doesn't make it not true. The league allowed more than half the teams into the playoffs, and the Angels were still nowhere near sniffing contention. New general manager Perry Minasian had a hand in recent successful rebuilds in Toronto and Atlanta, and he's already pledged to address the club's dire need of pitching reinforcements. Owner Arte Moreno said the team's payroll would not be decreasing in 2021, so expect the Angels to be buyers this winter, when free-agent spending leaguewide is expected to be underwhelming.
Perhaps there's no real shame in losing to the eventual American League champion, but it's hard to qualify the Yankees' 2020 as anything other than a disappointment. New York flexed its financial muscle to add Gerrit Cole in the winter, and even as its ace thrived, the team continued to face hurdle after hurdle in a crowded AL East. Neither Aaron Judge nor Giancarlo Stanton could stay healthy, Gary Sánchez struggled, and an undermanned rotation continued to thin throughout the season. The Yankees had enough talent to compete with the Dodgers for the title. Instead, they limped to a 33–27 finish before a five-game exit in the ALDS. Aaron Boone & Co. remain the likely AL favorites in 2021. But 2009 sure feels like a long time ago.