The favorites to win the 2020 World Series are fairly clear, even long before Spring Training has gotten underway. The consensus favorites to win it all in ‘20 are the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Houston Astros, each with a loaded roster and lofty expectations.
A common saying among fans of the sport is “you can’t predict baseball”. This is true more often than not, as evidenced by the miraculous run that saw the Washington Nationals capture an unlikely title in 2019.
Which team in 2020 can topple a titan as the Nationals did in ‘19? After a closer look, some choices seem fairly realistic, while others feel like more of a long shot.
The Washington Nationals will not be picked by most experts to repeat as champions, especially after they lost star third baseman Anthony Rendon in free agency. The Nationals’ offense will have a significant hole to fill, as Rendon was spectacular in ‘19. He led the club in homers (34), RBI (126), and OPS (1.010), and finished third in NL MVP voting.
The Nats have unwavering faith in their core of prospects, as they expect Carter Kieboom (MLB’s #20 prospect) to fill in for Rendon as their third baseman of the future. The scouting report on the young Kieboom indicates that he will be a capable hitter to all fields, and that his power should develop as he matures. The Nats also expect further growth from the young Victor Robles, who showed immense promise in ‘19. Robles is a stellar center fielder, as he ranked number one in baseball in Outs Above Average at the position. Robles is just 22, and was also solid offensively in ‘19; he recorded a .745 OPS, along with 17 homers and 28 stolen bases. Robles’ plate discipline needs to improve, as his 5.7% walk rate ranked in the bottom twenty of qualified Major League hitters. While he will likely never be a player who walks at an elite rate, Robles is sure to refine his ability to get on base as he ages. When he does, his blazing speed will become even more lethal as he will look to cause havoc on the basepaths.
The Nationals’ offense will not be their strength in 2020, even if they receive large contributions from their young studs. It has the potential to be decent, but the real reason that they will be an under-the-radar title contender is their group of starting pitchers.
Their trio of dominant starters is almost certainly the best in baseball, as Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin are each capable of contending for a Cy Young Award when they are at the height of their abilities. The Nationals’ gauntlet of starting pitchers assures that all they have to do is get into the postseason, because their rotation will be able to compete with any level of opposition.
The Nationals were counted out after they lost Bryce Harper last offseason, and were written off when they were 19-31 in May. They would win 93 games, and complete an improbable World Series comeback after winning games six and seven in Houston.
The Cincinnati Reds are another team with a formidable trio at the top of their starting rotation. Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer make up a talented group of starters who can carry a team on their backs. Castillo had a breakout 2019, as he rode his devastating changeup to an All-Star appearance. Gray revitalized his career in ‘19 with a 4.4 fWAR campaign, and Bauer will seek to regain his 2018 form, in which he posted 5.8 fWAR in just 27 starts.
The Reds will also boast a much-improved offense in 2020, as the club has added infielder Mike Moustakas and outfielder Nick Castellanos via free agency this winter. The two have each recorded at least 23 homers in every season since 2017, and will slot in alongside slugger Eugenio Suárez, who mashed 49 of them in 2019.
These two accomplished hitters will certainly be welcome additions to the club, as Cincinnati’s offense was constantly struggled last season. Their 701 total runs and 87 wRC+ as a team each ranked 25th in baseball.
The Reds’ bullpen is a bit of a question mark, as closer Raisel Iglesias was ineffective at times in 2019. Amir Garrett, Michael Lorenzen, and Robert Stephenson are all extremely talented young relievers, but it would be naive for a team with clear postseason aspirations to rely on this group without adding additional depth.
The Reds have a very real chance of winning the NL Central in 2019, and with a rotation as talented as Cincinnati’s, they could find themselves going much further. The offense and bullpen are not perfect, but the Reds will be able to add to their roster during the season to shore up these weaknesses.
The New York Mets are led by the best pitcher in baseball in Jacob deGrom. Noah Syndergaard is an extremely high-upside number two option in the rotation, but the back end of their pitching core is questionable at best. The group was bolstered when the club acquired Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello in free agency, yet both are inconsistent and often unreliable.
The Mets’ offense has elite potential if health works in their favor. Defending NL Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso figures to be a feared presence in the middle of the order for years to come, and Michael Conforto is one of the most underrated players in the game. Further, Jeff McNeil has solidified himself as one of the best bat-to-ball hitters in baseball, and is a versatile defender with sneaky power to right field. McNeil made his Major League debut at the age of 26 in 2018, and was productive immediately, despite not garnering much hype as a prospect. His success continued in 2019, as he recorded a 143 wRC+, 23 homers, and 4.6 fWAR.
Any production that the Mets get out of Yoenis Céspedes will be a bonus, as they certainly cannot count on his health or consistency for the foreseeable future. The same goes for Jed Lowrie, whom the club signed to a two-year, $20 million deal in free agency last offseason, yet only appeared in nine contests for the Mets in 2019. When he is on the field, Lowrie is an excellent all-around third basemen, providing pop from both sides of the plate. In 2018 with the Oakland A’s, Lowrie was superb; he posted 23 homers and an .801 OPS. If Céspedes and/or Lowrie can contribute meaningfully in 2020, the Mets’ offense will be able to compete with the very best in the league.
Like most of the teams on this list, everything will have to go right for the Mets for the club to get anywhere near true contention. Yet, this roster’s talent is among the best among this group of fringe teams.
The Chicago Cubs are loaded with talent as well, but have failed to live up to lofty expectations in the years since their 2016 World Series title. A shaky rotation could limit their ceiling in 2020, as the team currently lacks a proven fifth option after the loss of Cole Hamels to the Atlanta Braves in free agency.
The lead men of this rotation are Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks, and the Cubs will need to depend on both as a consistent presence on top of the rest of their pitching staff. In 2019, Darvish rebounded from a disastrous first season with the Cubs in which he started just eight contests. Darvish was spectacular throughout the second half of last season, and provided hope for the Cubs that their $126 million investment in the righthander will not go to waste.
José Quintana will be an x-factor in this rotation if he can rediscover his dominance of years past. He has often failed to live up to his all-star abilities since the 2017 trade from the White Sox to the Cubs; his cumulative ERA on the South Side was 3.51 (3.53 FIP), yet it has risen to 4.23 (3.95 FIP) with the North Siders.
Speaking of acquisitions that have not quite panned out for the Cubs, appointed closer Craig Kimbrel was a shell of his former self after he joined the Cubs in the middle of last season. The club will hope that Kimbrel’s struggles were directly linked to the fact that he was not able to participate in Spring Training last season, as he was a free agent until June. His fastball velocity was wildly inconsistent in 2019, as he occasionally topped out at his familiar 98 MPH, but primarily sat between 94 and 96 MPH, a few ticks below his career averages. Kimbrel will need to pair consistent velocity with improved command if he is to be once again regarded as a lockdown closer.
If the 2020 Cubs reach the playoffs, it will be on the strength of their offense. This club will depend on scoring runs, and their lineup is capable of doing so. Should it stay healthy, the Cubs position player group will be one of the best in the National League. Led by Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Báez, the Cubs’ middle-of-the-order is a murderers’ row of powerful bats. Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, and Jason Heyward are among the supporting cast of this offense, which despite its talent has been plagued with inconsistency in recent seasons.
In 2020, new manager and World Series hero David Ross will likely aim to relieve some of the pressure that has undoubtedly strained the Cubs since the 2016 title.