MLB 2020 season: Ranking teams under the most pressure, with Yankees, Dodgers thinking title or bust


30 The Orioles have lost 223 games the last two seasons and the current roster might be worse than the 2018-19 versions. They are very early in their rebuild and they’re in a tough division. Expectations are nil and pressure is minimal in 2020. 29 A new president (Travis Williams), a new general manager (Ben Cherington), and a new manager (Derek Shelton) equals a honeymoon period in 2020. Cherington has started cleaning up the mess left behind by the Neal Huntington regime, but there is still a ways to go. Not much pressure on this Pirates group right now. 28 The Tigers have three premium pitching prospects who should debut at some point this season (Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal), so some pressure does exist. They want those kids to reach the show and have success right away. That said, the Tigers have lost at least 98 games the last three years, and no one expects them to contend in 2020. 27 There’s a new owner (John Sherman) and a new manager (Mike Matheny), plus some exciting talent on the roster (Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Jorge Soler, etc.) and near MLB-ready prospects in the system (Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch). The Royals won’t be good this year, necessarily, but the expectation is they won’t be a total pushover either. 26 This is Year 3 of the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter ownership group. The farm system is much improved and the Marlins did add some MLB talent over the winter (Jesus Aguilar, Corey Dickerson, Jonathan Villar, etc.), so it’s time for the organization to take a step forward. At the very least, can they lose fewer than 85 games for the first time since 2016? 25 I’m worried I have the Giants too low because this is a proud franchise with a tremendous recent history. At the same time, the roster is in transition and fans are smart enough to see it, and I don’t think anyone expects them to seriously contend for a postseason spot in 2020. There’s pressure because there’s always pressure here, but there’s not as much as usual. 24 The longest postseason drought in North American pro sports is all but guaranteed to extend another year. The Mariners have not been to the postseason since Ichiro’s rookie year in 2001 and there’s little reason to believe they can contend in 2020. This will be GM Jerry Dipoto’s fifth season though. It’s time to start seeing progress at the big-league level. 23 Pressure to contend? Eh, not really. Pressure to show the kids are for real and not far away from challenging the AL East titans? Absolutely. The Blue Jays have a tremendous young core (Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., etc.) and a budding ace (Nate Pearson), plus they spent money this offseason (Hyun-Jin Ryu). They want to show they will be a force to be reckoned with as soon as 2021. 22 It’s hard not to love what Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen has done the last few years. He’s rebuilt the MLB roster on the fly and improved the farm system, putting Arizona in position to contend in both the short- and long-term. I’m not sure any contender faces less pressure in 2020. Sure, the D-Backs want to win now. Of course they do. But they’re set up to contend for many years to come as well. The window is just beginning to open. 21 There was no tougher team to rank. On one hand, they’re the Red Sox, and they still have a lot talent (Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Eduardo Rodriguez, etc.), so there is pressure. On the other hand, they traded Mookie Betts, Chris Sale is dealing with a potentially serious arm injury, and the team is being investigated for cheating during its 2018 World Series championship season. Expectations are low and that reduces pressure to some degree. 20 The Brewers are currently in the franchise’s most successful period since Harvey’s Wallbangers in the early 1980s. The small payroll and thin farm system mean the long-term outlook is pretty sketchy, so it might be now or never with this group, but the Brewers are in position to contend not only in 2020, but in 2021 as well. Clearly though, the pressure is beginning to ratchet up as we climb the rankings. 19 The Rays are always graded on a curve and that’s understandable given their financial limitations. That said, 2019 was the second-winningest season in franchise history, and they’ve won a postseason round in only one of their 22 seasons. With the MLB roster being as strong as it is and the farm system being so deep, it’s time to get over that hump, especially while Charlie Morton is under contract and Blake Snell remains underpaid. At some point Tampa has win something, you know? 18 The core that won 97 games in 2018 and 2019 remains in place, but for how long? Marcus Semien will be a free agent after this season and both Matt Chapman and Matt Olson will soon get expensive through arbitration. The Athletics have also been phased out of MLB’s revenue sharing program, so this might be the last hurrah for this group. The long-term outlook is not dire, not yet anyway, but the pressure is on. 17 There’s a new ballpark (Globe Life Field) and a new big name starter (Corey Kluber), and the core of a Rangers team that was surprisingly competitive at times last season remains in place (Joey Gallo, Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, etc.). It’s been three years since Texas last broke .500 and there is definite pressure to at least break even in 2020, if not make a serious run at a postseason spot. Maybe even at an AL West title. 16 For the Rockies, the pressure stems from franchise player Nolan Arenado and his contentious relationship with the front office and ownership. He feels disrespected because the club hasn’t done enough to improve the roster around him, and because he has a full no-trade clause, Arenado holds all the cards. Colorado needs a good season to have any chance at retaining Arenado long-term, otherwise he’s going to force his way out a la Giancarlo Stanton with the Marlins. 15 It has been six years since the Reds last played October baseball and they are sick of it. They brought in Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer last year, then imported Shogo Akiyama, Nick Castellanos, Wade Miley, and Mike Moustakas this offseason. Cincinnati’s pressure is self-imposed. They want to win and expended resources (money and trade chips) accordingly. It’s time to make noise in a very winnable NL Central. 14 I went into this exercise expecting the Braves to rank higher. After all, they’ve won back-to-back NL East titles but have not won a postseason series since 2001. 2001! There is pressure to win now. Undoubtedly. The Braves aren’t ranked higher because they are set up so well for the future. There’s Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, on and on it goes. As much as they want to win in 2020, Atlanta is not going away anytime soon. 13 The White Sox have not been to the postseason since 2008 and they have the core in place to end that drought. Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, and Luis Robert are all signed long-term, Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech aren’t going anywhere, and veterans like Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel are signed for another few years. The window is just beginning to open, but make no mistake, the White Sox feel pressure to end that postseason drought in 2020. 12 The Twins won 101 games and hit an MLB record 307 home runs in 2019, then they went out and had a quietly excellent offseason (Josh Donaldson, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, etc.) They are prohibitive favorites in the AL Central and that alone creates pressure, ditto their record 16-game postseason losing streak. Minnesota has a good young core in place (Jose Berrios, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano, etc.), so if they don’t get over the hump in 2020, they’ll be back at it again in 2021. 11 The Cardinals are built around 30-somethings (Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina, etc.) but there is enough young talent to sustain the team beyond 2020 (Paul DeJong, Jack Flaherty, Kolten Wong, etc.). Last year’s NLCS defeat was ugly and St. Louis wants to win another title while Molina (and Adam Wainwright) is still around, so that creates some pressure. The Cardinals never seem to be in panic mode though. When they’re under pressure, it’s difficult to tell. 10 At this time last year, I’m not sure any team faced as much pressure as the Nationals. They had just lost Bryce Harper and had yet to escape the NLDS, and both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg were nearing free agency. There was tremendous pressure to win. And then the Nationals won the World Series last year. The pressure isn’t gone completely — they want to win again while Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, and Trea Turner are in their primes — but it has been alleviated to some degree. 9 I could see the Mets winning anywhere from 82 to 102 games in 2020. I really could. It’s a high variance roster and the clock is ticking. Jacob deGrom is in his prime, Robinson Cano is fighting off Father Time, Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard are two years from free agency, and Marcus Stroman is one year from free agency. Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil will be around for the long haul, but you can see the window closing for this group as presently constituted. The pressure is on. 8 Co-owner Ron Fowler declared “heads will roll” if the Padres do not improve in 2020, which is a pretty good indication GM A.J. Preller is feeling pressure. They brought in Manny Machado last offseason, Tommy Pham and a plethora of bullpen arms this offseason, and have so much young talent coming even after Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack graduated to the big leagues last year. Even ignoring Fowler’s comments, the Padres have spent too much money and invested too much in the farm system for 2020 to be another year in a slow rebuild. It’s time to win. 7 The window is closing and the Indians responded by doing pretty much the bare minimum this offseason. They hung onto Francisco Lindor, so that’s cool, but Corey Kluber is gone and Lindor figures to go at some point, maybe even as soon as the trade deadline. This is almost certain to be the last hurrah for this group. A sluggish start to 2020 could accelerate efforts to trade Lindor and others like impending free agent Carlos Santana. They can’t afford the slightest stumble this year. 6 The Phillies have not been to the postseason since 2011 and the rebuild isn’t panning out as hoped. Far too many prospects have stalled out or fallen short of their ceilings in recent years, with Aaron Nola the obvious exception. They’ve spent too much money (Didi Gregorius, Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, etc.) and traded too many prospects to get MLB roster help (J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, etc.) to finish .500 again. New manager Joe Girardi has been tasked with getting this group over the hump in 2020. 5 The Cubs are fighting a disappointing trend: World Series champs in 2016, NLCS loss in 2017, Wild Card Game loss in 2018, missed the postseason in 2019. Given the team’s self-imposed payroll limitations and offseason trade chatter, a slow start to the season could lead to a trade deadline sell-off. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber … no one will be off-limits. Well, expect maybe Javier Baez. There is tremendous pressure on the Cubs and new manager David Ross to have a good 2020. 4 Losing the World Series despite having a lead in the seventh inning of Game 7 would have created enough pressure going into 2020. Add the sign-stealing scandal on top of it, and everything the Astros do is under the microscope now. They have been booed and taunted throughout spring training and it’ll only get worse once they get into major-league stadiums. The Astros want to show folks they are good and talented and not the product of stealing signs. They’ll have to do that without ace Justin Verlander for an unknown length of time given his lat strain. Lots of pressure in Houston. A unique pressure. 3 Three games. The Angels have played three games in the postseason during the Mike Trout era. It is unfathomable and a damn shame for baseball fans. The best player in the world should be appointment viewing in October. The Angels brought in Joe Maddon and Anthony Rendon (and Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran) this offseason in an effort to get back to the postseason, and if doesn’t work GM Billy Eppler might be out of a job. Owner Arte Moreno torpedoing the Joc Pederson/Ross Stripling trade doesn’t help matters. 2 Gerrit Cole said it best at his introductory press conference: “Pressure is a privilege.” The Yankees have won 101 and 103 games the last two seasons, then they signed Cole over the winter. New York is looking for its first World Series title since 2009 — that drought qualifies as an eternity in New York — and the roster is as win-now as it will get. Cole, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, and others are all in their primes now. The window won’t get any more open, and that’s why the rash of injuries that started last year and continues this spring has to be such a worry. 1 The World Series drought will soon be old enough to fret about its 401(k) and regret its life decisions. The Dodgers have not won a championship since 1988 and losing the 2017 and 2018 World Series to serial cheaters is a little extra salt in the wound. Los Angeles added Mookie Betts and David Price to what was already the game’s deepest roster, one that includes NL MVP Cody Bellinger, Future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, and young stars like Walker Buehler and Gavin Lux. No team faces more pressure in 2020. It’s time for the Dodgers to do more than win NL West titles.





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