Anything can happen in a 60-game Major League Baseball season. That said, which teams have the best chance of being a “surprise” playoff participant in 2020? Here’s a ranking of 2019 last-place teams’ chances at shocking the world this season.
6) Detroit Tigers
Last season the Tigers finished an MLB-worst 47-114. As currently constructed, they’re poised to be near the bottom of the American League Central.
This is a team with a lot of young position players who are yet to have an offensive breakthrough such as Niko Goodrum, Jeimer Candelario, and JaCoby Jones. Detroit didn’t have a position player finish with an OPS of .800 or higher last season. On the hill, Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull have had their moments, but besides them is a combination of veterans who have struggled in recent memory and young starters trying to get their feet beneath them.
Detroit added a couple under-the-radar infielders in C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop, who add credibility to a raw lineup. Is it enough to put pressure on the AL Central? It is not. A Tigers playoff berth is highly unlikely.
5) Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are going to be without their best and most proven player this season: Trey Mancini. His absence is an enormous blow to Baltimore’s chances of competing in the AL East, let alone the AL.
Manager Brandon Hyde will have some compelling players in his lineup such as Hanser Alberto, Renato Nunez, and Anthony Santander. At the same time, the Orioles don’t have the young depth and veteran bats to make for a well-versed offensive attack. Meanwhile, their bullpen has been one of the worst in the sport in recent memory, and their starting rotation is a guessing game outside of left-hander John Means.
They have some talent, but there isn’t a part of Baltimore’s roster that’s up to par. A playoff run is wishful thinking.
4) Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are in an odd situation: superficially, their rebuild is underwhelming, but they have young talent that can turn some heads in a shortened season.
Their offense has youngsters’ Shed Long Jr., Kyle Lewis, and Mallex Smith, accompanied by respected veterans coming off injury-riddled and/or discouraging seasons such as Mitch Haniger, Dee Gordon, and Kyle Seager. Meanwhile, young starters Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn could potentially take the next step.
Seattle’s problem is their playoff hopes lean on breakout seasons from unproven players and resurgent seasons from veterans who are in their prime or on the back nine of their respective careers. They also play in the AL West, which includes the Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, and Los Angeles Angels. The Mariners are the undisputed worst team in their division.
3) Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are probably the worst team in the NL Central, but it’s not as if they have nothing to show for it. Pittsburgh has an offense of young hitters who raked last season and have few seasons at the big-league level under their belt: Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Newman, Colin Moran, and Adam Frazier. When healthy, Gregory Polanco is an intimidating left-handed hitter.
Starting pitching was Pittsburgh’s kryptonite last season, as Chris Archer and Trevor Williams struggled mightily. Williams is a year removed from posting a 3.11 ERA across 31 starts. Can he perform at said level for 12 starts? Can Joe Musgrove come into his own? Crazier things have happened.
The road to the playoffs entails the Pirates playing well in their division. It’s a tall order, though, as the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, and Cincinnati Reds are playoff-caliber ballclubs.
2) Miami Marlins
The Marlins could be the next A’s or Tampa Bay Rays with their plethora of top-tier pitching prospects. Some of those players, like Sandy Alcantara, Jordan Yamamoto, and Pablo Lopez, have begun their MLB careers.
Miami has struggled to develop position players in recent memory with Brian Anderson being their lone All-Star caliber hitter. That said, Harold Ramirez is entering his second full season, Garrett Cooper has pop in his bat, and Isan Diaz is yet to play a full season at the big-league level. The Marlins also added some players who have performed at considerable rates in the past who are looking to right their careers such as Jesus Aguilar, Jonathan Villar, and Corey Dickerson.
The Marlins have depth on their pitching staff and an improving offense. It’s a matter of whether they can overcome the hostility of the NL East. One of their divisional rivals, the Washington Nationals, did as such by building through starting pitching last decade.
1) San Diego Padres
San Diego improved all three aspects of their roster in the offseason. They added Emilio Pagan and Drew Pomeranz to their bullpen, Zach Davies to their rotation, and, most notably, swapped out Hunter Renfroe and Luis Urias for Tommy Pham and Jurickson Profar on their depth chart.
Profar, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Eric Hosmer form an elite infield and spearhead a well-versed, ever-improving offense. First-year manager Jayce Tingler needs starters such as Joey Lucchesi and Dinelson Lamet to turn a corner. If one of them does so the Padres will have a balanced rotation, headlined by Davies and the hard-throwing Chris Paddack.
There’s wiggle room in the NL West, and the Padres have been architecting this project for six years. Maybe they finally open shop, making the playoffs for the first time since 2006.