We are mere days away from real, consequential baseball games. People are undoubtedly hungry to regain the privilege of witnessing home runs, strikeouts and even sacrifice bunts. But which teams will present the most compelling forms of baseball this season?
Here are all 30 teams, ranked in tiers, by the quality and excitement they generate. Preferential treatment was granted to teams who can mash homers (but not at the expense of consistently putting the ball in play), steal bases and conjure web gems out of thin air. Teams were penalized for lacking personality and talent, as well as contributing to pace-of-play problems.
Clear Your Schedule
Los Angeles Dodgers: Say what you will about Trevor Bauer, and there’s plenty to talk about with him, but he is as unpredictable of a star pitcher as you’ll find. Will he try to pitch with one eye closed? Throw a fit upon being pulled? Join the no-hitter club? Anything is possible, and how he affects the makeup of the reigning world champions is one of the season’s biggest story lines. Oh yeah, there’s also the draws of 2018 MVP Mookie Betts, 2019 MVP Cody Bellinger, 2020 World Series MVP Corey Seager, future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, expressive and explosive youngsters Dustin May and Brusdar Graterol, either of which could expose Kenley Jansen’s tenuous hold on the closer job … the league’s best team is also its most watchable.
Houston Astros: Seeing how different fan bases troll the Astros will make for great entertainment on its own. You’ll also see plenty of action on the diamond, as Houston struck out less than any other team last season, supplying some evidence it wasn’t just the trash cans responsible for the Astros’ superior contact skills. Other story lines to watch on this fascinating villainous squad: The return of Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve’s potential yips, Zack Greinke’s oddball shenanigans and Dusty Baker’s likely last go-round.
San Diego Padres: Slam Diego is home to the game’s most electrifying young player, a bunch of talented supporting cast members and three No. 1 starters. The Friars exude a confident, daring style of play that led to them being the only team to rank in the top five in home runs, triples and stolen bases last year. The only drawback here is that with Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove and Emilio Pagan, the Padres possess three starters and a closer who all rank near the absolute bottom in pace-of-play leader boards. San Diego is the favorite to lead MLB in game length, but it’ll be so fun to watch it’s hard to dock it much for giving us more baseball.
New York Mets: There are a lot of new faces in Queens, led by the smiling mug of Francisco Lindor. How they jell together with fan favorites like Pete Alonso, Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard is something every baseball fan will be watching. It will either be a rousing success for one of MLB’s underdog franchises or a good old-fashioned Metsian trainwreck.
New York Yankees: Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Voit and Gleyber Torres are this era’s Blake Street Bombers when healthy. Gary Sánchez elicits the widest range of joy and angst in his team’s fans of any player in the league, making every at bat—whether he’s batting or behind the dish—an adventure. Gerrit Cole is primed for a Cy Young campaign, and Aroldis Chapman appearances still elicit feelings of awe and fear. Plus, they’re the Yankees.
Atlanta Braves: The projected top four hitters in Atlanta’s lineup—Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna—can inject any game with an enthusiastic brand of offense from the start. Rookie center fielder Christian Pache did nothing to quiet the Andruw Jones comparisons by collecting his first home run and first home run robbery in last year’s NLCS. Max Fried’s knee-buckling curve makes him something like the modern Barry Zito at the height of his powers. Mike Soroka is the starter with the guitar, though.
Don’t Look Away
Chicago White Sox: The South Siders took a hit with the loss of Eloy Jimenez, whose adventures in the outfield are almost as entertaining as his exploits at the dish. But there’s still plenty to like here, from Lucas Giolito’s no-hit stuff and Tim Anderson’s no-holds-barred brand of baseball to Yasmani Grandal’s silky smooth left-handed home run bat drop and Luis Robert’s all-around excellence, which prompted Jimenez to dub him the next Mike Trout. The fact he wasn’t laughed off by the baseball community tells you all you need to know.
Los Angeles Angels: The Angels are full of guys you want to see succeed. It looks like Shohei Ohtani will finally fulfill his goal of being a full-time two-way player, making him the sport’s biggest curiosity. Mike Trout is still the most talented all-around position player everyone wants to see in the playoffs, and Albert Pujols’s expected final season may provide some drama even if Alex Rodriguez is likely out of reach on the career home run leader board.
Toronto Blue Jays: If these tiers were based solely on offense, Toronto would rank near the very top after the addition of George Springer and Marcus Semien to a core populated by second-generation ballplayers who can rake and swipe a base (well, Vlad Jr. can rake, anyway). But aside from the ever-crafty Hyun-Jin Ryu and fireballing prospect Nate Pearson, neither of whom are sure bets to make it through the season—Pearson is already nursing a groin injury—there aren’t many pitchers who will hold your attention.
Washington Nationals: Juan Soto makes every plate appearance feel like a Wild West shootout with his Soto Shuffles and fearless glares toward the mound. Max Scherzer serves as the pitching equivalent. Trea Turner and Victor Robles supply the speed on the basepaths. New sluggers Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell have the power to send balls to the top of the Washington Monument. I also have a morbid curiosity concerning Jon Lester’s presence and whether opponents will be tempted to run amok if Yan Gomes can’t hold runners as effectively as Willson Contreras did in Chicago for the yips-inflicted veteran.
Worth the Watch
Minnesota Twins: These Twins don’t possess quite the offensive ceiling as the 2019 edition did while setting the team home run record (last year saw them dip to 18th in runs scored, tied with Arizona). Andrelton Simmons and Byron Buxton will do their damndest to make up for it with a ton of web gems up the middle. Also, you’re probably underrating 2020 AL Cy Young runner-up Kenta Maeda, who led MLB in WHIP (0.75) and has a deep arsenal of breaking pitches that are a delight to watch unless you’re in the batter’s box.
Kansas City Royals: K.C. is still a year or two away from playoff contention, but there’s a lot to like here. Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield set the pace for an aggressive offense that attempted the most stolen bases in MLB last year. Andrew Benintendi should slot between them in the lineup nicely. Jorge Soler led the AL in home runs in 2019. Newly extended Hunter Dozier can do a little bit of everything at the hot corner. And Josh Staumont is the most fearsome reliever you may not have heard of. Don’t let the man bun fool you; he can crank it up to 102, send bats flying and pull the string on his curve.
Chicago Cubs: The Cubbies are putting faith in a bunch of starters who pitch to contact, which may not prove to be successful in terms of wins but should provide more action during their games. Javy Baez is still a staple in highlight compilations and blooper reels alike. Willson Contreras is a hyperactive presence behind the plate who loves nothing more than to catch a runner sleeping at first (Note: Catcher pickoffs are infinitely more fun than pitcher pickoffs). It’ll be weird seeing Joc Pederson in a Cubs jersey for a while, but his majestic moonshots will make up for the loss of SchwarBombs.
Milwaukee Brewers: Josh Hader and Devin Williams are the fire and ice of the bullpen, providing a varied one-two punch any club would be hard-pressed to match. Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Jackie Bradley Jr. could generate the most defensive highlights of any outfield. Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes exhibited ace potential in 2020. But the offense isn’t always in sync and accounted for the second-most strikeouts in the league last year.
You Could Do Worse
Tampa Bay Rays: Tyler Glasnow starts are a sight to behold. He has the stuff to be the most dominant pitcher in the league, but he’s still putting it all together, as evidenced by his high rates of the three true outcomes and MLB-high seven wild pitches last season. All eyes will be on Randy Arozarena to see if he can repeat his postseason heroics. But the Rays struck out more than any team in the majors last year, and Kevin Cash’s frequent pitching changes can kill the momentum of a game, even if Rays relievers typically come out of the bullpen pumping 100 mph fastballs, wicked sliders or both.
Oakland A’s: Ramon Laureano boasts the most impressive cannon in the league, but every baserunner knows that by now—he had just two assists in 53 games last year after posting 10 in 122 games in 2019. Opponents can’t dodge Matt Chapman’s vacuum at the hot corner, though, and Oakland’s bullpen is home to two of baseball’s silliest sliders, courtesy of Jake Diekman and the ageless Sergio Romo. Bonus points awarded for the gorgeous Kelly green jerseys, and then deducted for the utterly uninteresting veterans at the bottom half of the lineup and on the bench.
Seattle Mariners: You can see Jerry Dipoto’s vision starting to take shape in Seattle. The Mariners are fast (third in MLB with 50 stolen bases last season) and don’t make many mistakes on defense (third in MLB with .989 fielding percentage). Kyle Lewis won Rookie of the Year. Evan White became one of 12 rookies in MLB history to win a Gold Glove (and the second in Mariners history after Ichiro). Longtime top prospect Taylor Trammell will be in the Opening Day lineup after tearing up the Cactus League, and Jarred Kelenic shouldn’t be far behind. Justus Sheffield recorded a 3.58 ERA last year as a full-time member of the rotation, where he’s now joined by James Paxton, the guy he was traded for by the Yankees. The M’s finished only two games behind Houston last year; could a surprising step into playoff contention be in the offing?
Miami Marlins: The Marlins managed to be the fun surprise of the 2020 season despite cycling in a bunch of castoffs to cover for players stricken by a COVID-19 outbreak. The offense stole the second-most bases in the bigs, and a young, talented group of starters kept them in every game. But it’s hard to place Miami any higher than this after a quiet offseason featured an uninspiring lineup that’ll make it hard for the Fish to repeat their success.
St. Louis Cardinals: St. Louis scored more runs than only the Rangers and Pirates last season. Even though Nolan Arenado will help a bit in that regard, the Cardinals’ reliance on solid pitching and defense probably isn’t going to attract many casual fans. Here’s to hoping Jack Flaherty bounces back and provides Cardinals fans with appointment viewing.
Keep a Hand on the Remote
Cleveland: Cleveland’s bottom-five offense (in terms of OPS) lost Francisco Lindor. When Jose Ramirez goes through one of his cold streaks, this will be a tough team to get excited about on days Shane Bieber isn’t on the bump. James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase should spin some filthy stuff out of the pen, but two quality relievers don’t make a watchable game.
Philadelphia Phillies: It’s a good thing Bryce Harper, still just 28, is as polarizing and talented a star as he is, because he’s the only everyday player selling tickets on this team.
San Francisco Giants: The Bay Area was home to some of the most unlikely redemption stories of the 2020 season. While it may be appealing to check in on the fortunes of Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano & Co. once in a while, the Giants are drawing dead in the NL West and there isn’t enough young talent around to justify trying to get a glimpse of the future. At least some weird things tend to happen in games managed by Gabe Kapler.
Colorado Rockies: This team may lose 100 games, but Trevor Story and the Coors Field factor guarantee enough entertainment to keep the Rockies from falling into the bottom tier.
Cincinnati Reds: It’s hard to get too riled up about the first offense in MLB history to be eliminated from the postseason without scoring, even if Cincy’s individual track records and offense-friendly home park suggest brighter days are ahead. We should give credit to the Reds’ rotation for containing Wade Miley and Luis Castillo, two of the three fastest-working starters in the league, according to Fangraphs’ pace metrics.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
Detroit Tigers: Tune in for Miguel Cabrera chasing 500 homers (currently at 487) and 3,000 hits (currently at 2,866). Maybe a Casey Mize start here and there after the 2017 No. 1 overall pick cracked the Opening Day rotation, as long as he shows better than he did last year (6.99 ERA). Pour one out for the oft-injured Michael Fulmer, the 2016 Rookie of the Year whose starting spot Mize claimed, and don’t put yourself through the rest.
Boston Red Sox: Fenway Sports Group has managed to dismantle one of the most delightful World Series champions of the century in depressingly short order. Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Nathan Eovaldi are still around, but they couldn’t stop the Sox from resembling a sad shell of their former selves last season. Adding any mildly interesting pitcher would help their cause in this ranking.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Zac Gallen is already very good, but leading the league in pickoff throws (149)—almost triple the pitcher with the second-most, according to STATS—is not what we’re looking for here. His rotation mates Madison Bumgarner and Merrill Kelly are also two of the 10 slowest-working starters in the league, according to Fangraphs. Ketel Marte is the only hitter worth writing home about, but even he endured a disappointing 2020 season that dimmed his outlook and made his 2019 All-Star campaign look like an outlier.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes is the NL Rookie of the Year favorite after bursting onto the scene in a 24-game sample last season. He’s a star in the making and may already be the most well-known Pirate on a squad that’s subtracted talent from 2020’s league-worst outfit.
Baltimore Orioles: Trey Mancini’s comeback from cancer is inspiring, and it’d be a heck of a story if Matt Harvey finally found his groove again. There was brief flirtation with contention in 2020, but having a struggling Harvey as your No. 2 starter illustrates how rough things are in Baltimore.
Texas Rangers: Joey Gallo’s all-or-nothing approach hit a new low last season with a .181 batting average. And yet, he’s still the most intriguing player on this roster by a country mile, which is approximately how far most Rangers fans will likely stay away from this team and its shiny new stadium.