During a time when life for all of us has changed in immeasurable ways, it sure does feel good to dust off the old laptop and put together the first Power Rankings of 2020 -- an exercise that is sure to delight a few of you, while infuriating the rest.
During a time when life for all of us has changed in immeasurable ways, it sure does feel good to dust off the old laptop and put together the first Power Rankings of 2020 -- an exercise that is sure to delight a few of you, while infuriating the rest. (See, things are already feeling back to normal!)
We expanded our voting body from six to 10, a group of diverse MLB.com reporters who will surely not agree on much as we traipse through what should be an interesting and fun 60-game season.
• Opening Day lineup, rotation, closer predictions
Before we get into our Power Rankings Top 5, let’s examine a couple of things that could delightfully derail any preconceived notions we may have about this upcoming truncated season:
Anyone can get off to a hot start!
Who remembers the Mariners’ 13-2 start to the 2019 season? They ended up 68-94, rendering the hot start relatively insignificant. But in 2020? Game. On.
• Each team's top storyline going into Summer Camp
This year, any hot start will be worth noting. Conversely, one bad week or two for a contender could also spell doom. While no one would choose to play such a short season in normal times, we should also look at it as adding an element of excitement that we just can’t get over a 162-game season. Every win (and loss) will matter a little more.
Ballpark atmosphere might be more of a “thing” than we ever acknowledged in the past.
Fans may eventually be permitted inside the ballparks, but that’s probably not happening at the start. Stadiums sans fans will completely change the landscape of the game experience, and we’re about to find out how much crowd energy really does factor into a player’s performance.
Players are human, and when 30,000 other humans are looking at them and expecting something good (if they’re home) or hoping for something bad (if they’re on the road), well, that’s some pressure. But what happens if you take that out of the equation? Will players feel more relaxed? If so, it’s reasonable to wonder if youngsters who aren’t necessarily household names just yet could be in for big seasons.
Conversely, you have to wonder if the more veteran population of players will miss the lack of crowd noise and energy that helps them get that adrenaline rush in the minutes before a game begins. It’s something at least worth considering.
And now … the first Power Rankings of the 2020 season:
The Dodgers appear to have avoided their worst nightmare -- trading for Mookie Betts, not having a season, and losing the All-Star to free agency without him playing a single game. Now they will attempt to make these 60 games as meaningful as they expected the 162-game season to be pre-pandemic. The Dodgers are, as they always are, loaded for a big year. Betts gives them a second MVP in the lineup next to Cody Bellinger, and lefty David Price should settle in nicely as the No. 3 behind incumbents Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler.
Gerrit Cole adds much-needed depth to a rotation that looks strong, with Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery behind him. And these wouldn’t be normal Power Rankings without mentioning the ongoing saga that is the Yankees’ health status. There’s good news for fans on that front -- so far, so good, with Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton and Paxton seemingly healed and ready to start the truncated season in a few weeks.
When we last met in a baseball environment, Justin Verlander stood at his locker at the team’s Spring Training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla, and said it would take a “miracle” to be ready by Opening Day after suffering a lat strain, associated with a prior groin problem. With Opening Day moving from late March to late July, Verlander no longer needs a miracle – back from groin surgery, he appears to be ready to anchor a rotation that, even without Cole, still has plenty of firepower with Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. at the top.
Earlier in the spring, the Bomba Squad looked a lot like it did last year, when it set a Major League record with 307 homers, with one exception – it added a masher in Josh Donaldson. That alone gives the Twins the chance to field one of their more complete teams in recent history. They also have an abundance of starting pitchers that will likely include a now-healthy Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda, another big offseason acquisition. The American League Central will be intriguing, with the Indians still strong enough to contend, and the White Sox making a push after a lengthy rebuild. But the Twins, at least on paper, still look like the team to beat in that division.
If the shortened 2020 season is going to be decided by depth, the Braves are probably in the best position of any team in the National League East to make a dent in the division standings. In this space, let’s focus on pitching -- they have six able starters and one of the strongest bullpens in the Majors, with five relievers who have experience closing games. The shortened season may give the impression that it won’t be as physical of a challenge for players, but keep in mind there are only six off-days once the season gets rolling. Teams are going to need to get creative in order to keep their arms fresh, even with expanded rosters to start.
Ranking the rest:
18) Red Sox
20) White Sox
21) Blue Jays
Voters: Alyson Footer, Richard Justice, Anthony Castrovince, Jesse Sanchez, Mark Feinsand, Nathalie Alonso, Mike Petriello, Sarah Langs, Andrew Simon, David Venn
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.