Spring training is underway and that means in just a few short weeks, it will once again be time for the MLB season. There is a lot of anticipation heading into 2020, as a new decade in baseball is likely to bring new stories.
Perhaps gone are the powerhouses of the 2010s and in their place, a new era of the sport may be set to begin. All around the league, new stars are emerging and teams that once languished at the bottom of their divisions are primed to make playoff runs. Speaking of those playoffs, with potential changes to the postseason format (as well as a vote on the DH in the National League coming in 2021) on the horizon, baseball in the 2020s and beyond could end up looking very different.
All of that is still up in the air. What isn’t is the fact that the 2020 season will begin on March 26th with an opening day that features all 30 MLB teams in action. Entering the season, it is the New York Yankees (+350) and Los Angeles Dodgers (+375) sitting one-two at the top of the World Series odds with the most trusted of the legal American sportsbooks.
From a divisional standpoint, with four of its five teams sitting among the top-eight odds to win the World Series, it is the NL East that is poised to offer the most competitive race and the most dominant and compelling division in all of baseball. So, for that reason, and the fact that the NL East boasts the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals (+1400), it seems appropriate to start with a preview and predictions of MLB’s NL East:
Atlanta Braves (+1400 To Win World Series)
Most people might have forgotten given their unceremonious exit from the playoffs last year, but it was the Braves and not the Nationals, that actually won the NL East crown, doing so for the second year in a row. Then, also for the second year in a row, the 97-win Braves failed to advance out of the divisional round.
It was another disappointing end to a season that began with such high expectations for Atlanta. Heading into 2020, the Braves are once again being pegged as potential World Series winners as well as the favorite (+175) to win the NL East for a third consecutive time.
There are a lot of reasons to like the Braves starting with the offensive threats of Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. These two led one of the MLB’s most potent lineups last year, finishing seventh in the league in runs, total bases and OPS. It seemed like when the Braves needed a run, their lineup got the job done. The loss of Josh Donaldson to the Minnesota Twins certainly hurts but offensively, the Braves still look poised to have another top-10 offensive season.
From the other side of the ball, Atlanta made improvements in one of their weakest areas, the bullpen. A big issue for the team in 2019, the Braves added Will Smith who should be a welcome arrival. They’ll also bank on big performances from last year’s trade deadline arms, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin. From a starting pitching position, the Braves were hopeful former World Series MVP Cole Hamels would be an instant impact but a shoulder injury is keeping him out at least for the first few weeks of the season.
Perhaps former Cy Young award winner Felix Hernandez will be able to fill that role. Atlanta has talent in their rotation no doubt with Mike Soroka and Mike Foltynewicz, leading the way, but there are some questions regarding how the back of that rotation will look and with Hamels’ injury, at least temporarily, the Braves will have to find out the answer to those sooner rather than later.
The Braves have a good team and one that should be expected to stay near the top of the NL East standings for the entire season. If they can stay healthy, they should be built for a postseason run as well. Though, the fact that the team hasn’t gotten out of the divisional round of the playoffs since 2001 (they’ve lost their last 10 postseason series), has to be weighing on this franchise.
Washington Nationals (+1400)
Defending a championship in any sport, at any level, isn’t easy to begin with, but it gets increasingly more difficult a task when the guy who arguably got you there, has left in free agency. That’s the reality of what the Nationals face as they enter their championship defense season without Anthony Rendon who signed with the Los Angeles Angels this past winter. Many baseball writers have remarked on this with legendary journalist Tim Kurkijan simply saying, there is no replacing Rendon’s production. It doesn’t mean the Nationals aren’t going to try.
Juan Soto is going to be the new star in town now and in the offseason, Washington went to work, signing Starlin Castro, Eric Thames, Asdrubal Cabrera and resigning Howie Kendrick. Even put together those veterans wouldn’t match Rendon’s impact but consider this: Entering the 2019 season, the Braves lost Bryce Harper to the Philadelphia Phillies. People said Harper’s production was irreplaceable and yet, Washington won a World Series anyway, without him. No player is truly irreplaceable, especially when you’ve got as many pluses in the check column as the Nationals do.
From the mound, Washington excelled finding great seasons from playoff hero Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and even Max Scherzer, who’s dominant first half made up for a less than stellar conclusion to the season. Scherzer has been one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers for quite some time but is his twilight dawning? If the Nationals get second-half Scherzer in 2020, they are going to have a tougher time on the mound, but if they get first-half Scherzer, there is no reason to think this team can’t go back to the playoffs and have another deep run.
New York Mets (+2000)
For the past several years, the Mets have been a really good team. It may sound crazy to say given how the team has missed the playoffs in each of the last two years, but in 2018 and 2019, there was reason to stand behind the Mets as a potential World Series contender. Those reasons, in large part, are still there today.
For New York, it’s the same story though. Their rock star starting rotation has to stay healthy. New York has had one of baseball’s best rotations on paper for some time as young arms like Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey dazzled. In 2020, the Mets are without Harvey, whose injuries have plagued him and left him a free agent, and without Wheeler, who signed for huge money in the offseason with the rival Phillies.
They added Marcus Stroman and DeGrom is still a perennial Cy Young phenom, but Syndergaard struggled in 2019. The Mets will need him back to his best if they hope to contend in 2020. If he can return to form, you are looking at a top three that stands up to any other in the league.
Offensively, the Mets are quietly a really good power-hitting team. Five players finished the 2019 season with 20+ home runs including Pete Alonso, who led the league with 53. Alonso is a star in the making for a city that hasn’t really had one in some time. In 2020, Alonso will be front and center and it’s more than fair to say that his season could well dictate just how successful the Mets are this year. New York will also rely on a return to glory from Robinson Cano, who is coming off his worst season in a decade. If Cano can rebound to his best days, then the Mets offense is one that opposing pitchers, especially in this division, are definitely going to struggle against.
Philadelphia Phillies (+2000)
The Phillies were supposed to do big things in 2019. Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, JT Realmuto – the team went out and bought the big bats in order to return to its power-hitting days of the successful World Series contending teams of the late 2000s. That didn’t happen. Segura was up and down, McCutchen got injured early on and Harper, well, was pretty darn good but it’s tough to do it all by yourself. Rhys Hoskins offered little to no production and that will have to change in 2020. The team will also look for Roman Quinn, Adam Haseley, Scott Kingery and the returning Odubel Herrera to pitch in.
Speaking of pitching, for every dollar the Phillies spent in 2019 on their offense, they probably spent a quarter of that on pitching and it showed. The bullpen was downright abysmal, and the starting staff was little more than Aaron Nola and whoever decided to show up that week when starting after him. The Phillies at least addressed this issue in part in the offseason, swooping in and signing Wheeler away from the Mets. Even if Nola and Wheeler make a formidable 1-2, that’s not enough. The Phillies will need more from Jake Arrieta and something from whoever slots in at those fourth and fifth spots. Rotational issues are still a concern in Philadelphia, especially when competing in a division that is so deep.
Miami Marlins (+100000)
The Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Marlins are all staked to the worst odds to win the World Series in 2020, with Miami entering the season after having lost the most games of any team in baseball. Simply put, the Marlins aren’t a good team and given they are in a division with two very good teams and another two who can certainly compete under the right circumstances, 2020 is looking like another tough campaign for the Marlins. So, we won’t spend too much time on them here.
The Marlins enter 2020 looking to start working their way back up the ladder to relevancy but this year, the most they can be expected to do is play spoiler to one of their divisional foes much like in 2019. The Phillies lost way too many games to the Marlins, something that very well could have impacted their chance to make the playoffs.
No one wants to play the role of spoiler, they want to compete, but new Marlins’ GM Derek Jeter knows his team isn’t there yet. The team does have some bright spots with new additions of Corey Dickerson, Jonathan Villar and Jesus Aguilar and could make some noise in the way of run-producing. But in a tough NL East, their young and inexperienced starting rotation is going to struggle.