By Sam Kroin and Henry Geller
The fresh 2020 MLB season is approaching fast, which means it is time to look at where each team stands going into the year. Who can keep it together until October, and who will crumble under the pressure? Will we see some fresh faces in the playoffs this year or will it be more of the same? We asked two ISJ experts to break it all down and to provide their projections for the 2020 playoff field
Sam: New York Yankees
This was a pretty obvious pick for me since the Yankees are coming off of a great 2019 season and show no signs of slowing down. The Yanks boast one of the strongest lineups in the league, featuring sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, among others. This lineup posted the 4th highest batting average in the league and was 1st in runs per game. The Yankees have also improved their pitching staff with the acquisition of ace Gerrit Cole. Cole had a 2.50 ERA last year and was a nominee for the Cy Young, barely getting edged out by former Astros teammate Justin Verlander. Add Cole to an already thriving Yankees roster, and you have a recipe for a division title
Geller: New York Yankees
Coming off a very strong 2019 season, they have one of the most powerful offenses and strongest bullpens in the MLB. The biggest question is starting pitching, however now with the edition of Gerritt Cole, that shouldn’t be a big problem anymore. Another problem that plagued the team last year was injuries. Despite having so many injuries, the Yankees depth saved them but it will be interesting how the position competition will play out with so many players contributing to the strong 2019 campaign.
Sam: Minnesota Twins
The Twins are coming off of a spectacular 2019 season that came to a screeching halt at the hands of the Yankees in a 3-0 ALCS sweep. However, the Twins will be out for redemption this season, and they have the tools to do it. The Twins recent acquisition of slugger Josh Donaldson adds more power to a Twins lineup that led the league in homers last year, and the move of Indians pitcher Corey Kluber to Texas has put the Twins in a prime position to take back to back division titles
Geller: Chicago White Sox
Although a bold prediction, the White Sox have made many moves this offseason to strengthen their case to win the AL central. With lots of young talent in Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, and Eloy Jimenez, along with more veterans, with the additions of Edwin Encarnacion and Yasmani Grandal, this team has some dangerous weapons on offense, however, the biggest question is the pitching. The addition of Dallas Keuchal is a huge help along with the young talent of Lucas Giolito, leading to the start of this rotation to look good, but the rest of the rotation is a big question mark. If the starting pitching can hold up this year, the White Sox have a chance at the AL Central.
Sam: Houston Astros
There is a chance that the Astros could be a little thrown off of their game to start the season in the aftermath of their 2017-18 cheating scandal, but I don’t think this will stop them from winning the AL West once again. Although the Rangers and Angels have buffed up their rosters with the additions of Corey Kluber and Anthony Rendon respectively, they simply do not have complete enough rosters to go toe to toe with the reigning AL champs. The ‘Stros can also expect a challenge from Matt Chapman and the A’s this year as well, but I think Jose Altuve and reigning AL Cy Young Justin Verlander can lead the A’s out of one of baseball’s toughest divisions this year.
Geller: Houston Astros
Despite the recent cheating scandal, the Astros are still the obvious pick in the West. The loss of Gerrit Cole doesn’t worry the Astros too much as they are getting Lance McCullers Jr back from injury this year. McCullers missed all of 2019 because he needed Tommy John surgery. Their offense will be just as dangerous with Springer, Correa, and Bregman leading the way. The Rangers may pose a threat if they are able to land Nolan Arranado from the Rockies, but I don’t think he adds enough to that team to beat out the Astros for the AL West.
(Home Field) AL WILD CARD 1
Sam: Oakland A’s
The A’s are coming off of a solid season that ended with them coming up short in the wildcard round. I believe that the A’s will get a chance at redemption this year, as Matt Chapman and Mike Fires will lead Oakland to another wild card birth.
AL WILD CARD 2
Sam: Boston Red Sox
The Sox had a World Series hangover throughout the 2019 season that kept them from getting a chance to defend their title in the playoffs. I expect the Red Sox to have a bounce back year this season, and for good reason. Firstly, the Sox still have many of the pieces of that 2018 championship roster, including Xander Bogarts, Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, and David Price. Secondly, even with their struggles last year, including a very slow start, the Red Sox managed to claw their way over 500 to end the season. People are sleeping on this Red Sox team, but they should not be overlooked as a wild card contender.
Sam: Washington Nationals
The defending champions will be entering 2020 with a chink in their armor following the loss of top offensive producer Anthony Rendon over the offseason. Even though the loss of Rendon should lower offensive numbers for the Nats, young studs Juan Soto (sounds a lot like Han Solo) and Trea Turner should be able to carry the load. The National’s strength lies in their pitching. Steven Strausberg, Max Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin all finished top 5 in the National League in strikeouts. With pitching like that, it’s hard to not be a contender. In order to make it back to the playoffs, the Nationals will need to win the NL East, a division that many consider to be the toughest in baseball this year, but since they have shown that they have what it takes to win, I’m going with em.
Geller: Atlanta Braves
The Braves were a powerhouse team last year and due to all their young talent, will probably be for a long time. A solid roster from top to bottom was in the top 10 highest-scoring teams in the 2019 season and a pretty solid rotation with young 22-year-old Mike Soroka and veteran Cole Hammels leading the way. Although the Braves have the defending World Series Champs to worry about, the 2020 Nationals are going to look very different than the 2019 team losing a big offensive weapon in Anthony Rendon. The Braves are an electric team with great talent everywhere you look from Ronald Acuña Jr. to Freddie Fredman. The Atlanta Braves are going to be a fun team to watch in 2020.
Sam: Milwaukee Brewers
The success of the Brewers this year lies in the hands of Christian Yelich. The 2018 MVP finished 2019 with a .329 batting average and hit 44 home runs, all while dealing with an injury. If he is able to take those same numbers into 2020, the Brewers have a good chance of winning the division. The Brewers are not a one man show, however, Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun assist Yelich in the batting department, and if they can hang on to Josh Hader, one of the most dominant relievers in the league, the Brewers will be a force in the NL Central
Geller: Chicago Cubs
Although the Chicago Cubs fell short of the playoffs last year, they still have a solid team. With mediocre pitching, it is going to be up to the offense to win them games. This is possible because Javy Baez and Kris Bryant are due for a great year.
Sam: Los Angeles Dodgers
The obvious winner of the NL West will come out of Los Angeles yet again this year. The Dodgers have all the pieces they need to take another pennant and secure a long playoff tenure. When pairing the Dodger’s ferocious lineup, led by sluggers Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner, with the excellent pitching of Claton Kershaw and Walker Buhler, it is easy to see why they won over 100 games last season. Although the Dodgers will have to raise their play to cover the loss of Hun Jin Ryu, they should be able to dominate a weak NL West.
Geller: Los Angeles Dodgers
This is an easy pick. The Dodgers are such a good all-around team with Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, and Clayton Kershaw all with ERAs under 3.30. Along with shut down pitching, they have an explosive offense averaging 5.45 runs per game and totaling 279 home runs. Along with this, the Dodgers don’t have much competition in this division as the next best team in 2019 was the Diamondbacks with an 85-77 record, but because they traded away key pieces, such as Zach Greinke late last season, they should pose no threat.
(Home Field) NL WILD CARD 1
Sam: Atlanta Braves
The Braves have one of the strongest young hitting core in the league. Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr. both are showing no signs of slowing down heading into their third seasons. Cole Hammels and Mike Foltynewicz will hold down the pitching front this year, but the Brave’s batting will be what lifts them into the wild card spot this season.
Geller: Washington Nationals
NL WILD CARD 2
Sam: New York Mets
The Mets come into the 2020 season with a young, talented team. The question is whether or not the new manager Luis Rojas can figure out how to use his players correctly. The Mets certainly possess a lot of raw talent. Jacob Degrom is coming off his second consecutive Cy Young season, Pete Alonso set home run records last season en route to a Rookie of the Year win, and Jeff McNeil contended for the batting title. The weakness for the Mets last season was the bullpen, with Jerus Familia and Edwin Diaz putting up career lows in ERA and saves. However, the addition of Dillon Betances and the progression of Seth Lugo could propel the Mets bullpen to where it needs to be. The Mets have enough talent to secure a second wild card spot if they use it correctly `
Geller: Milwaukee Brewers