Spring training is underway and there’s plenty to be excited about actual baseball being played for the first time in over three months.
With the regular season beginning in only six weeks, it is time to take a look at the latest Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm (PECOTA) rankings and see how each time will do in 2020.
What does $324 million buy these days? Not a single extra win for the Yankees, who brought Gerrit Cole to the Bronx for October, not regular season window dressing. Chalk up a third consecutive 87+-win season for the Rays, who have made believers of us all. Too much talent in Boston to dismiss the Red Sox, but trade winds, pitcher health and attrition elsewhere will all have to work in their favor if they’re to contend. Hyun-Jin Ryu buys the Blue Jays some stability, but it will take one more year for their core of legacy players to make them a contender for the division. A handful of keepers are trickling toward Baltimore, where the Orioles may be worse than last year, but a year closer to 2022, when the ugliness may finally subside.
The Twins will drop from a quiet 101 wins to a noisier total in the low-90s, with Josh Donaldson giving the Bomba Squad an MVP-caliber presence. So long as the Indians hold Francisco Lindor, they will contend, but shipping out he or Mike Clevinger will send them tumbling toward the second division. “Winning the winter” usually doesn’t matter, but beware the White Sox, who made impactful moves just as the Eloy Jimenez-Luis Robert core is ready to form. Can the Royals scare up a couple more viable players in the manner Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler stepped forward in ’19? That would make another inevitable losing campaign a little more palatable. It’s going to be another miserable year in Motown, but at least once every five days, the Tigers can hand the ball to Ivan Nova and see league-average performance, in all its glory.
Like a 34-ounce hunk of ash repeatedly slamming into a plastic receptacle, we’re seeing just a few cracks in the Astros. Bold of the Angels to keep firing even after missing out on Cole; $245 million for Anthony Rendon will make them a much better team, but stopgap starters Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy won’t push them much higher than .500. The Rangers finished second on Rendon but their goal this season will be to complicate the wild-card dreams of the division’s top three teams. Are Evan White and Kyle Lewis and Shed Long and J.P. Crawford building blocks in Seattle? Or churning pieces in the Mariners’ eternal five-year plan?
National League East
That’s right. The defending World Series champion Nationals aren’t even slated to win their own division, nor are the two-time defending division champion Braves, who have had one of the NL’s more productive offseasons. PECOTA suggests that the Mets will reach the postseason for the first time since 2016, and that they will do so as the division champion. The Nationals wouldn’t hate a second consecutive wild-card slot, if only because it meant they survived the post-championship body blows accrued by the six trusted members of their pitching staff – along with the gaping lineup hole Rendon leaves. In any other division, the Marlins’ modest moves would move the wins needle a bit. In this one, they’ll be not quite good enough on a lot of nights.
National League Central
The NL Central will have a new champion for the fourth straight year as the Reds are projected to win its first division title since 2012. Cincinnati’s resurgence also comes at the expense of St. Louis and Milwaukee, which are expected to take significant steps backward, with win projections of just 80 and 79, respectively, on the heels of very quiet winters. The Cubs are slated to sneak into the postseason with the second NL Wild Card spot, with a 51.5% projection of reaching October.
National League West
The Dodgers were already the class of the National League, even before acquiring Mookie Betts. But after trading for the former AL MVP Award winner, Los Angeles has climbed to a 103-win projection and postseason adjusted odds of 99.9% (well ahead of the second-highest Yankees, at 94%). PECOTA projects the Dodgers to win the NL West by 24 games over the would-be second-place Padres, which would be the largest margin from first to second in any division since the strike-shortened 1995 season. And it’s not just that the Dodgers should dominate their division: No other NL club is projected to win more than 88 games, and nine of the 15 NL clubs are projected to finish within five games of .500.
Do you agree or disagree with the predictions?