One of MLB’s defining features is its large sample size compared with other sports. The baseball regular season typically does a pretty good job of sorting out the most talented teams from the pretenders.
The 2020 campaign, though, brings a different dynamic. With 60 games instead of 162, there will most likely be clubs reaching the playoffs that ordinarily would finish far outside contention.
Last year, for example, the Phillies and Rangers held postseason spots through 60 contests. They finished September nowhere near that mark.
With that in mind, here are a handful of teams with the boom-or-bust potential that meshes well with an abridged season:
The Padres were a trendy pick to contend for a wild-card spot last year but faded fast after an OK first month. Still, they flashed the tools to succeed in a shortened season amid that otherwise disappointing campaign.
Because beefy bullpens could be of the utmost importance in a sprint of a season — think of how managers treat the playoffs — San Diego’s strength toward the end of games is crucial. Despite the injury losses of Trey Wingenter and Andres Munoz, the Padres have a nice collection of young, high-upside relievers. Among the inexperienced, gas-throwing hurlers to watch are Gerardo Reyes, Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez and possibly MacKenzie Gore, a top prospect who made the team’s 60-player pool and has impressed in camp. Then there are the proven commodities to help out around the seventh and eighth, such as Drew Pomeranz, Emilio Pagán and Craig Stammen. Kirby Yates remains an excellent stopper for the ninth inning.
The rest of the roster isn’t too shabby, though quality depth in a couple of spots might be a problem. If starting pitchers Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards can stay healthy for two months to solidify the rotation, and third baseman Manny Machado gets going at the plate, the Padres could run up their win tally against the bottom-dwelling Rockies and Giants, better the evenly matched Diamondbacks and sneak into October as a wild-card entrant.
No team has gotten as hot as Oakland at its peak over the past two years — during the second halves of 2018 and 2019 combined, the A’s went 108-54. In a rare turn of events for the club, most key roster components are returning for a third straight year. Plus, manager Bob Melvin’s pitching staff is designed to put a heavy burden on its bullpen, a sound strategy considering there aren’t enough games for back-end pieces to wear down.
There’s also a lot of pressure. Like in 2002 and 2014, the A’s know they are likely about to shed stars to free agency and must break through soon. Marcus Semien hits the open market this offseason, and Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are a year away from arbitration. Oakland has not responded well to October stress since the turn of the century.
What following baseball long enough teaches spectators, though, is that there is no such thing as destiny, good or bad. The “cursed” White Sox, Red Sox, Cubs and Nationals have won the World Series over the past 20 years. Supposed teams of destiny, such as the 2007 Rockies and 2012 A’s, have been bounced unceremoniously. Even the Yankees have gone 11 years without a title.
So, the snakebitten nature of Oakland squads in recent memory should not rule out a dominant run through a talented set of AL teams in 2020. This group is tight-knit and capable of surprising those who doubt its ability to advance further than the past two years.
The Mets have so many players who could either be fantastic or non-entities, and the possibility of those guys moving in the right direction this year makes New York an NL East sleeper.
Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie played in a combined nine games last year while making almost $33 million. Cespedes is back and looking better than expected during exhibitions, but Lowrie is still experiencing lower-body pain. Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis were phenomenal at the plate last year with minimal track records of MLB success. Robinson Cano, once a regular All-Star, was miserable in all facets of the game. The Mets would be thrilled to have three of the above five players hit at an above-average level to form a decent lineup around Pete Alonso.
A host of Mets pitchers could go either way as well. Is Edwin Diaz OK? Can Dellin Betances return from a year lost to injury as a stud? Does Jeurys Familia have a bounce-back season in him? Will Steven Matz ever be able to fulfill his promise? There’s a really good staff here in one universe and one full of meltdowns in another.
Mets fans, largely cynical by nature, will expect the worst. Still, they have the right to be excited given the potential payoff if their most volatile players enjoy positive small-sample runs.
Published at Tue, 21 Jul 2020 13:02:33 +0000