Making the Case for (Almost) Every MLB Team to Make the Postseason

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 9, 2020

Making the Case for (Almost) Every MLB Team to Make the Postseason

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    The San Diego Padres deserve the biggest possible stage.
    The San Diego Padres deserve the biggest possible stage.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Only (well, "only") 16 teams in Major League Baseball will qualify for the postseason in 2020. But frankly, we think it would be cool if every contender was represented.

    After all, each of them is worth rooting for in their own way.

    We thought we'd prove the point by looking at what makes the contenders—we count 23 of them at the moment—around MLB tick and why they could be fun to watch on baseball's biggest stage. We naturally covered what each team does well, though we also acknowledged certain attitudes when necessary.

    We'll begin with the "Thanks for Playing" crowd and then proceed with the rest in alphabetical order by city.

Thanks for Playing

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    Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks

    The Diamondbacks came into the year with good intentions, but injuries and disappointing performances forced a sell-off at the trade deadline. But don't worry, they should regroup and be back next season.

          

    Boston Red Sox

    The Red Sox actually looked pretty good at the outset of 2020. But in the wake of the Mookie Betts trade and Chris Sale's Tommy John surgery, it's not surprising that they've been completely non-competitive. Unlike the D-backs, they may need to rebuild for a couple of years. 

         

    Kansas City Royals

    The Royals never were going to contend this season, so it's no big surprise that they haven't. But at least they have some bright spots (i.e., Hunter Dozier, Brad Keller and Josh Staumont) that bode well for their future.

         

    Los Angeles Angels

    Another year, another disappointing turn from the Angels. Their newly formed Mike Trout-Anthony Rendon superduo has more or less lived up to expectations, yet the pitching side of the club's contention equation is still a mess.

         

    Pittsburgh Pirates

    The Pirates were only going to contend in 2020 if everything that went wrong for them in 2019 suddenly went right. Because that hasn't happened, the writing on the wall says that a thorough rebuild is necessary.

          

    Texas Rangers

    The Rangers were actually 10-9 at one point, but even then their depth issues were easy to notice. Those issues have since sunk the team and raised a question of how much longer they can stave off a rebuild.

         

    Washington Nationals

    Juan Soto is the best hitter in baseball. Trea Turner is having a heck of a season in his own right. Otherwise, the defending World Series champions just haven't had the same level of star power and depth that they had in 2019.

Atlanta

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    Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

    Record: 24-18 (1st in NL East)

    With ace left-hander Max Fried (back) now sidelined from a starting rotation that already had serious depth issues, Atlanta's odds of making a deep postseason run are looking a little long.

    But thanks to a truly dangerous offense, nothing's impossible for this Atlanta club.

    Said offense has mainly subsisted on the aggregate 1.021 OPS and 29 home runs put up by Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna and Ronald Acuna Jr. Altogether, Atlanta's .812 OPS is one of the highest in the National League.

    Also, keep in mind that star second baseman Ozzie Albies has been sideline for most of the season with a wrist injury. Once he returns, Atlanta could have enough bats to simply steamroll the opposition in October.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Record: 20-21 (4th in AL East)

    Though the Baltimore Orioles are building for tomorrow, you can kinda-sorta already see what they have under construction today.

    The O's are standing on the periphery of contention largely because their offense has improved by leaps and bounds from 2019 to 2020. To that end, key ingredients include a lower strikeout rate and more power.

    The fascinating thing is that the Orioles have pulled this off without the help of a wave of fun and exciting prospects. Their rise has more so been driven by incumbents like Anthony Santander, Renato Nunez and Pedro Severino, who have an .871 OPS between them.

    So while most everyone is rightfully excited about Baltimore's farm system, some guys on its major league roster right now are also key pieces for the team's future puzzle.

Chicago Cubs

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Record: 25-18 (1st in NL Central)

    The Chicago Cubs are in first place even though they've gotten just a .607 OPS out of Javier Baez and Kris Bryant and a 5.80 ERA out of Jon Lester.

    Their offense has instead been driven by ascendant versions of Ian Happ and Jason Heyward, who've combined for a 1.010 OPS and 17 home runs. This turn of events marks a sort of comeback story for both players, who had previously been disappointments.

    Speaking of, formerly struggling ace Yu Darvish has lit things up with an NL-best 1.44 ERA. Factoring in the 3.41 ERA of ever-steady right-hander Kyle Hendricks, Chicago's rotation is headed by two stalwarts.

    These things have made the Cubs a good team so far. If their straggling veterans can get on track, they could become a great team just in time for October.

Chicago White Sox

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Record: 26-16 (T-1st in AL Central)

    To the extent that they have depth issues in their rotation and bullpen, the Chicago White Sox aren't a perfect team.

    What stars they have, though, are definitely shining enough so as to be worthy of October.

    Most of them—i.e., Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert—serve an offense that was up and down to start but is now one of baseball's best. Since August 16, specifically, White Sox hitters have mashed with an .884 OPS and 44 home runs.

    Between that offense and the dynamic rotation trio of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Dylan Cease, the White Sox have the talent to play deep into October. What's more, they ought to have a chip on their shoulder after an 11-season playoff drought.

Cincinnati Reds

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Record: 18-24 (4th in NL Central)

    Probably the last thing any other contender wants to see in October is the front three of the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation.

    Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo have indeed been that good this year, posting a 3.05 ERA and, even better, striking out 12.3 batters per nine innings. Stuff-wise, at least, they're arguably the best trio of starters in baseball.

    The problem to this point has been Cincinnati's offense, but it's not without potential. If Eugenio Suarez, Mike Moustakas and Joey Votto rise to the level of their track records, Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos wouldn't have to do it all by themselves in October.

    In that scenario, the Reds would have the necessary ingredients for a deep playoff run.

Cleveland

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Record: 26-16 (T-1st in AL Central)

    Even without Mike Clevinger, Cleveland's rotation is just as good as the one in Cincinnati.

    It all starts with Shane Bieber, who has outright bullied hitters to the tune of a 1.25 ERA, 94 strikeouts and only 14 walks in 57.2 innings. After him come Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac, who've combined with Bieber to post a 2.42 ERA through 30 starts.

    Whether Cleveland has enough offense for a World Series run has been the question so far. But less so now, as Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have awakened over the last couple weeks.

    In short, Terry Francona's squad could be one of the league's more well-balanced and star-laden teams come October. And with the team's championship drought currently at 71 years, even people outside of Cleveland may be pulling for it to finally get off the schneid. 

Colorado Rockies

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Record: 20-22 (4th in NL West)

    The Colorado Rockies were 11-3 at one point, but they've since been tripped up by many of the same depth issues that ruined their 2019 season.

    Still, one notable difference is what they're getting out of pitchers Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela. Their 3.87 ERA is spectacular by Colorado standards, and it points to a possible backbone for an extended stay in October.

    Otherwise, this season is yet another example of shortstop Trevor Story not really getting his due as one of baseball's great players. Between him, Charlie Blackmon and a surely soon-to-be-hot Nolan Arenado, Colorado's offense is built upon a heck of a talented trio.

    If things fall into place, the Rockies might enjoy a star-led trip to the World Series not unlike the one that guided the Nationals last season.

Detroit Tigers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Record: 19-21 (4th in AL Central)

    The Detroit Tigers are like the Orioles: Even though they're not there yet, where they're going has come into focus.

    There are some exciting pitchers on this team, including top prospects Casey Mize (who was the No. 1 pick of the 2018 draft) and Tarik Skubal. Along with Spencer Turnbull, who's broken out with a 3.32 ERA, the Tigers might just have the arms to cause trouble in the postseason if they can get there.

    Offensively, this season has been a good one for Jonathan Schoop, Jeimer Candelario, Victor Reyes and (when healthy) JaCoby Jones. More recently, Willi Castro has infused Detroit's lineup with a red-hot bat.

    Plus, wouldn't it be nice to see Miguel Cabrera back in October while he's still a reasonably functional hitter?

Houston Astros

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Record: 22-21 (2nd in AL West)

    Even if fans could go out to the ol' ballgame right now, not many would be root, root, rooting for the Houston Astros. What they did in 2017 won't soon be forgotten.

    The funny thing about the 2020 Astros, however, is that it's mostly been relative newcomers driving them.

    Kyle Tucker, for example, has been one of the team's top hitters by way of an .897 OPS, eight homers and six triples. Zack Greinke, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier weren't around in '17 either, so there's little point in sneering at their 3.42 ERA.

    There's also Dusty Baker, who's done a fine job managing the Astros in the face of their lingering controversy and injuries to Justin Verlander and Roberto Osuna. Assuming Houston makes the playoffs, he'll deserve to have people pulling for him.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Record: 31-12 (1st in NL West)

    In a season that has been so improbable, the extremely probable has happened: The Los Angeles Dodgers are the juggernaut they were supposed to be.

    They've outscored their opponents by 2.3 runs per game even though their offense hasn't peaked yet. With Mookie Betts and Corey Seager playing at MVP-caliber levels, they just need Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy to correct the more than 200-point drop-off in their combined OPS from 2019 to 2020.

    In the meantime, the Dodgers can ask for no more from a pitching staff that's dominating with a 2.93 ERA. Clayton Kershaw, especially, has looked like his vintage self with a 1.50 ERA through six outings.

    In light of their 31-year championship drought and what happened in 2017 and 2018these Dodgers also have a sympathetic quality that juggernaut teams don't usually have.

Miami Marlins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Record: 19-18 (3rd in NL East)

    This probably isn't going to be their year, but 2020 could eventually be known as the year that the Miami Marlins truly arrived.

    The Marlins still have talent to harvest from their farm system, yet they've already built the foundation for a dangerous rotation. Specifically, the fivesome of Elieser Hernandez (when healthy, of course), Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara and Trevor Rogers has put up a 2.91 ERA.

    Granted, Miami has less going for it on offense. But newcomer center fielder Starling Marte should stick around through 2021, when he'll be supported by young guns like Jazz Chisholm and Isan Diaz and fellow veterans Miguel Rojas and Brian Anderson.

    In the meantime, there's a non-zero percent chance that the Marlins' pitching alone will allow them to play spoiler in October if the chance presents itself.

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Record: 18-22 (3rd in NL Central)

    It's actually remarkable that the Milwaukee Brewers have been able to hang around in the National League playoff picture.

    They lost a huge piece when Lorenzo Cain opted out, and luminaries such as 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich and 2019 breakout star Keston Hiura have provided disappointing returns. Altogether, Milwaukee's offense is one of the league's worst.

    Not to be overlooked, though, is Milwaukee's pitching. The Brew Crew's bullpen in particular is more overpowering than its 4.28 ERA indicates. That's especially true of Josh Hader and Devin Williams, who've combined to allow four earned runs with 53 strikeouts in 28.2 innings.

    Because starters Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes are a pretty good tandem in their own right, Milwaukee might not be such a long shot for the World Series.

Minnesota Twins

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Record: 27-18 (3rd in AL Central)

    It might be time to start putting pictures of the "Bomba Squad" on the back of milk cartons.

    In 2019, the Minnesota Twins blasted a record 307 home runs and scored 5.8 runs per game. In 2020, they're in the middle of the pack in homers and down to 4.5 runs per game.

    And yet it's some comfort that many of the same players who drove last year's effort are still around. The Twins also recently welcomed newcomer star Josh Donaldson off the injured list, so there may yet be an offensive surge in the club's near future.

    If such a surge were to join forces with the club's consistently excellent (i.e., a 3.72 ERA so far) pitching, there might not be any team keeping the Twins out of the World Series.

New York Mets

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Record: 19-24 (4th in NL East)

    The New York Mets have a bunch of problems that could lead to their demise in October, but their ace and their offense aren't among them.

    Jacob deGrom has never been more, well, Jacob deGrom-y than in 2020. He's ramped up the gas and forged a 1.69 ERA with six times more strikeouts (70) than walks (11) through eight starts. 

    New York's lineup, meanwhile, is arguably the best in baseball even without a repeat from 2019 home run champion Pete Alonso. Robinson Cano, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis and Dom Smith should take a bow for their aggregate .915 OPS and 32 home runs.

    Though the regular season has been a struggle, any team with these qualities has the potential to be a nightmare matchup in October.

New York Yankees

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Record: 21-21 (3rd in AL East)

    Add up Gerrit Cole's struggles and a laundry list of injured stars, and you get some pretty good reasons for the New York Yankees' 5-15 skid since August 18.

    The bright side, however, is that the Yankees would still be a playoff team via the AL's second wild-card spot if the season ended today. And if they're healthy by the time October actually arrives, their regular-season struggles could soon be forgotten.

    Struggles aside, Cole and Masahiro Tanaka make for one of the best one-two rotation punches in the American League. As per usual, the Yankees also aren't lacking for electric stuff in their Aroldis Chapman- and Zack Britton-led bullpen.

    Similar to the Twins, better things should indeed be expected of an offense that slammed 306 home runs in 2019. And once Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton return from injuries, better things may indeed materialize.

Oakland Athletics

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Record: 25-15 (1st in AL West)

    How are the Oakland Athletics leading the AL West despite not getting elite production out of their offense or their starting pitching?

    In all honestly, the club's relatively easy schedule has helped. But so has its bullpen.

    A's relievers have put up a league-best 2.09 ERA and generally been immune to meltdowns. Because no single pitcher is driving this effort, any team that doesn't score first on the A's in October will be in trouble.

    Plus, it's hardly out of the question that Oakland's offense and rotation will get better. Simply based on what they did in 2019, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Marcus Semien ought to be and still might be far better than they've shown in 2020.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

    Record: 21-18 (2nd in NL East)

    The Philadelphia Phillies aren't exactly the most well-rounded team in baseball, but they're yet another team that could follow the 2019 Nationals' blueprint for October success.

    That involves getting steady contributions from core offensive stars. In Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins—who have a .907 OPS and 26 homers between them—the Phillies are good there.

    The Nationals model otherwise involves funneling postseason innings to a small handful of elite pitchers. To this end, the Phillies have starters Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and relievers Brandon Workman, Tommy Hunter and Blake Parker.

    Such weapons could easily allow the Phillies to get through the opening round's best-of-three series and then go from there.

San Diego Padres

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Record: 27-17 (2nd in NL West)

    There's no longer a question of whether the San Diego Padres will qualify for their first postseason since 2006. The only question is how far they'll go.

    "Pretty far" seems like a safe guess even if you're only looking at San Diego's offense. Largely thanks to Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado—who've teamed up for a 1.013 OPS and 27 long balls—the Padres are one of baseball's best run-scoring teams.

    San Diego isn't quite as impressive on the mound but definitely better after the trade deadline. Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet, in particular, can and should be a dynamic duo of aces.

    To boot, the Padres are also oh-so-fun to watch. So assuming they make the playoffs, they should have more than just San Diegans pulling for them.

San Francisco Giants

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Record: 22-21 (3rd in NL West)

    It's not just that the San Francisco Giants are surprisingly good. It's also how they're surprisingly good.

    In years past, they thrived on the strength of their pitching. That script has been flipped in 2020, wherein the Giants are scoring 5.2 runs per game with an OPS+ worthy of the Barry Bonds- and Jeff Kent-led Giants of 2000.

    Early on, it was Mike Yastrzemski doing the heavy lifting. As he's kinda-sorta faded, Donovan Solano and Alex Dickerson have arisen while Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria have re-arisen.

    Alas, the Giants' pitching is...well, not as good. But if their offense keeps performing, they might charge through October so hard that other teams won't know what him them until it's too late.

Seattle Mariners

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Record: 19-23 (3rd in AL West)

    You might be thinking, "Wait a minute, weren't the Seattle Mariners bad?"

    Yes, they were. But wins in 12 of their last 17 games have allowed them to sneak into the AL wild-card race and have also provided a tease of what they're building for the future.

    Though uber-prospect Jarred Kelenic is still waiting in the wings, Kyle Lewis has established himself as a cornerstone star with a .909 OPS and nine homers. Fellow youngster Evan White has come on strong lately, while ace Marco Gonzales and reliever Anthony Misiewicz are carrying the club's moundstaff.

    Any team with exciting pieces like these is liable to be a sympathetic favorite in October. Considering that a postseason berth would also be the Mariners' first since 2001, they could be the ultimate underdog if they can get there.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Scott Kane/Associated Press

    Record: 18-17 (2nd in NL Central)

    Whether or not "pitching wins championships" deserves to be a thing is very much up for debate. The St. Louis Cardinals, though, certainly hope it's true.

    Their 3.68 ERA is one of the best in baseball, and numerous hurlers deserve credit for contributing to it. None more so than Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright and Dakota Hudson, who have a 2.91 ERA through 17 total starts.

    Also deserving of credit for St. Louis' excellent run prevention is the club's defense. Despite a disadvantage in games played, it ranks among MLB's best with 19 defensive runs saved.

    Simply because of these strengths, the Cardinals could frustrate the heck out of (and also beat) the competition in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Record: 28-15 (1st in AL East)

    The Tampa Bay Rays are 22-7 since August 8, so that they're an amazing team is beyond dispute.

    The hard part might be discerning exactly how they're so great. They don't have many household names, and some of the ones they do have (i.e., Blake Snell and Austin Meadows) aren't having great seasons.

    But in Brandon Lowe and Willy Adames, the Rays have two cornerstone hitters who frankly should be household names by way of their .895 OPS and 15 homers. And while they're not there yet, Randy Arozarena and Mike Brosseau are headed in that direction.

    Yet above all, the Rays are just...deep. They're also exceptionally well managed by Kevin Cash. So when October arrives, their relative shortage of star power doesn't figure to be their undoing.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Record: 24-18 (2nd in AL East)

    Shortly after they settled into their temporary digs in Buffalo in August, the Toronto Blue Jays became one of the league's hottest teams.

    The Jays have specifically been one of the AL's top offensive teams since August 17. Ascendant star Teoscar Hernandez has since been subtracted from the equation, but the pending return of Bo Bichette could help Toronto maintain as a dangerous run-scoring unit.

    The Blue Jays also pitch better than they get credit for. Hyun-Jin Ryu has made an admirable transition from the NL to the AL, and the club's bullpen is better than its 3.21 ERA indicates.

    The other things to keep in mind is that this is a predominantly young team that's just getting started. Even if a World Series run doesn't materialize, the Jays will have laid a foundation for future runs.

         

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, and are current through Tuesday, August 8.

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