1 MLB Team from Every Division That Will Be Better Than You Think in 2020

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 29, 2020

1 MLB Team from Every Division That Will Be Better Than You Think in 2020

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    Don't sleep on Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels.
    Don't sleep on Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Regardless of when the 2020 Major League Baseball season begins, it will be about as full of surprises as every other campaign that's ever been played.

    While we wait for the coronavirus pandemic to run its course, we thought we would predict a few surprises of the pleasant variety.

    We've singled out one team from every division that could be better than expected in 2020. We're perhaps taking it for granted that people have modest or even low hopes for them, but we want to get it out there that these clubs are somewhere between not totally hopeless and low-key quite good.

    We'll begin in the American League East and end in the National League West.

AL East: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays won't combine for 199 wins like they did last season, but they nonetheless figure to dominate the AL East again in 2020.

    Even still, this should be the year the Toronto Blue Jays become a player in the division.

    Even as they were losing 95 games last season, they were seeing exciting stuff—i.e., a combined .824 OPS—out of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Assuming they make the most of last season's experience, all four could become full-blown stars in 2020.

    Meanwhile, Blue Jays pitchers are due for an improvement on last year's 4.79 ERA. Their $80 million deal with Hyun-Jin Ryu is risky, but he, Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark are welcome rotation additions. There's also top prospect Nate Pearson, who was last seen looking ready to dominate.

    These Blue Jays can at least finish ahead of the Boston Red Sox and potentially even make a run at a spot in what might be an expanded playoff field.

AL Central: Cleveland Indians

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    After winning 101 games on the strength of a record 307 home runs in 2019, the Minnesota Twins will be difficult to supplant as AL Central kings in 2020.

    Even though Corey Kluber's departure marked their offseason, the Cleveland Indians still have the best chance of any team in the division to do that deed.

    The delayed start to the season will allow aces Mike Clevinger (knee) and Carlos Carrasco (elbow) to recover by Opening Day. They, along with fellow ace Shane Bieber and up-and-comers Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac, can form one of the AL's best rotations.

    The Indians offense has holes, but they did upgrade at second base with Cesar Hernandez and in left field with Domingo Santana. For their part, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana and Franmil Reyes loom as an underrated quartet of star hitters.

    Because the Indians aren't so well off in the depth department, staying healthy will be key. But if they can, they should at least nab a wild-card spot, even if they can't topple the Twins.

AL West: Los Angeles Angels

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    Masterpress/Getty Images

    For the last two seasons, the AL West has been the domain of the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics. That will more than likely be the case again in 2020.

    The Los Angeles Angels will be in the mix, however, and perhaps more so than just on the periphery.

    Their offense is headed by Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, who would have combined for a 1.044 OPS and 79 home runs as teammates in 2019. Shohei Ohtani, Justin Upton, Tommy La Stella and Andrelton Simmons give the Angels four more quality hitters, and top prospect Jo Adell will make it five when he gets the call.

    In tandem with an offense like that, Angels pitchers will merely need to hold the line. To this end, Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran will at least eat innings. It also helps that Ohtani, who more than lived up to the hype as a pitcher in 2018, won't have to miss any starts after all.

    Like the Indians, the Angels should at least contend for a wild-card spot.

NL East: Miami Marlins

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Granted, the Miami Marlins will be on the outside looking in at a four-way fight between the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals for the NL East crown.

    But dare we say the Marlins could be fun to watch anyway?

    Though that hasn't been the case in recent years, they're undergoing a rebuild that's bearing fruit. It won't be long before fire-armed right-hander Sixto Sanchez joins what's already an exciting young rotation. Likewise, shortstop Jazz Chisholm and outfielder Jesus Sanchez should get the call this season.

    As it is, Miami's offense looks much better after the additions of Jonathan Villar, Jesus Aguilar and Corey Dickerson. It also has Brian Anderson, who's quietly one of the NL's better players, and a couple of post-hype breakout candidates: Lewis Brinson and Jorge Alfaro.

    Altogether, there's enough for the Marlins to take a step toward respectability in 2020.

NL Central: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Sort of like the Marlins, we're compelled to pick the Pittsburgh Pirates as the better-than-you-think team for the NL Central by default.

    There is, however, also the reality that they should be more watchable than the disastrous iteration that lost 93 games in 2019.

    Though the Pirates won't out-pitch the Cincinnati Reds or St. Louis Cardinals, they have some exciting arms in both their rotation and bullpen. The most intriguing of the bunch belongs to Mitch Keller, whose 7.13 ERA from 2019 obscures how his pure stuff oozes upside.

    The Pirates will miss outfielder Starling Marte, but they have a couple of star-caliber hitters (Josh Bell and Bryan Reynolds) in the heart of their lineup. Kevin Newman, Adam Frazier, a healthy Gregory Polanco and top prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes should ensure those two don't have to do everything.

    Again, not great. But watchable. And better than many might expect.

NL West: San Diego Padres

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The San Diego Padres set out to do big things in 2019, only to fall below .500 and to the NL West cellar.

    That won't happen again this season.

    Above all, San Diego's pitching should be a lot better than the unit that posted a 4.60 ERA in 2019. Chris Paddack is an ace-in-waiting, and he's backed by Zach Davies, Joey Lucchesi and healthy versions of Garrett Richards and Dinelson Lamet. MacKenzie Gore, who's MLB.com's No. 1 pitching prospect, is standing by in reserve.

    In their bullpen, the Padres have maybe the best trio of relievers in MLB: Kirby Yates, Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan. Their offense has more question marks, but it also has upside underneath stars Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Tommy Pham.

    The Padres won't challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers for NL West superiority, but they might give the Arizona Diamondbacks a run for second in the division.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball ReferenceFanGraphs and Baseball Savant.