Every team's keys to success in 2020

July 23rd, 2020

With great anticipation, the 2020 regular season will arrive Thursday night, and hope springs anew for Major League Baseball’s 30 teams ahead of a 60-game sprint to the playoffs.

Per MLB.com’s beat reporters, here are the keys to success for all 30 clubs this season.

American League East

Blue Jays
The young core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio needs to take a step forward. If one or more of that trio struggles in their second season, then the top of the Blue Jays’ lineup will sink with them. But if these three -- along with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the three-hole ahead of Guerrero -- hit like we know they can, the Blue Jays can carry that “sprint” mentality into the first inning of every game. More >

The Orioles are taking the approach that, in a 60-game sprint, anything can happen. That rebuilding teams can catch fire and make noise, especially during a year with so much uncertainty. But for that to occur, it’ll require more stability from a rotation and bullpen that were among MLB’s most volatile a year ago, and steps forward from young players like Austin Hays and Hunter Harvey. Veterans like José Iglesias, Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, who were brought in to help tide the rebuild over, will need to lead with production as well, and it wouldn’t hurt for Chris Davis to rebound or John Means to repeat his strong rookie season. More >

The Rays will always wonder what the 2019 AL Division Series against the Astros would’ve looked like if they had Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell fully healthy. Well, they’re healthy now and the priority for Tampa Bay is to keep it that way. The Rays will continue to be cautious with Glasnow and Snell, even in a condensed season. Charlie Morton will also be monitored closely after starting a career-high 33 times in 2019. The Rays have enough pitching depth to handle a minor injury, but if they want to make it back to the postseason, they’re going to need that trio to make most of its starts. More >

Red Sox
The Red Sox need to hit -- a lot. They have the talent to do it. Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez could rival just about any team’s top four if they all hit to their capabilities. There are several other solid hitters at manager Ron Roenicke’s disposal, including Christian Vazquez and Mitch Moreland. Jackie Bradley Jr. is streaky, but he's a force when he’s on the right kind of streak. The Sox should also have some good bats off the bench, including Kevin Pillar and Michael Chavis. More >

Gerrit Cole was lauded as the team’s “great white whale,” in the words of general manager Brian Cashman, when the ace right-hander signed with the club last offseason. The Yankees want to place the ball in Cole’s hand as frequently as possible, hoping he resembles the Cy Young candidate from his final 22 starts (16-0, 1.78) more than the pitcher he was in his first 11 starts of 2019 (4-5, 4.11 ERA). Having Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup will also be key. Had the season started on March 26, neither would have been available, joined by Aaron Hicks and James Paxton on the injured list. The shutdown permitted them all to rest and heal. More >

AL Central

Aside from keeping the team healthy, especially the starting rotation, one of the biggest keys to the Indians’ success will be José Ramírez’s bat. The third baseman had a quiet ending to 2018 and got off to an excruciatingly slow start in 2019, as his team fell behind the Twins by 11 1/2 games through the first week of June. But from June 14 until the end of the year, Ramírez hit .314 with a 1.031 OPS, 19 homers and 62 RBIs (a 63-game span). In games where he knocked in at least one run, the Indians went 39-8, while also posting a 17-1 record in games where Ramírez recorded multiple RBIs. More >

Considering the uncertainty surrounding their rotation, the Royals will look to a batting order led by Jorge Soler, Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi to generate enough offense to keep the team in games. Kansas City has stability at closer in Ian Kennedy, who saved 30 games last season, but the formula to get him the ball remains uncertain. Perhaps new addition Trevor Rosenthal and familiar face Greg Holland will be part of the solution. More >

For the Tigers to experience a significant improvement, they’ll need a healthy, productive Miguel Cabrera. He doesn’t have to find a time machine to go back to his Triple Crown form of 2012. He doesn’t even need to hit for big power; C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop can pick up the slack. But Cabrera needs to be a run producer again, and he needs to be healthy to do it. A shortened season could be to his benefit; he was slashing .303/.367/.398 at the All-Star break last year before wearing down. More >

The bullpen needs to show that its 2019 success wasn't a fluke. For all the attention that the offense received for its historic feats (and rightfully so), no other team in the Majors came close to Minnesota relievers' 4.8 WAR in the second half, when the bullpen fully took shape. That success was driven by Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey -- two of the best relievers in baseball down the stretch -- and marked improvement from Trevor May, along with the Trade Deadline acquisition of Sergio Romo. More >

White Sox
With so many talented but inexperienced young players in key roles, there’s a wide variance of expectations for the 2020 White Sox. While all teams need to get off to a good start, it’s especially important for Chicago to build momentum while facing a plethora of games early on against the AL Central. If the team’s young players can’t make adjustments on the fly, the abbreviated campaign might go sideways quickly. However, if rookie center fielder Luis Robert hits the ground running and Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jiménez continue to progress, it could be a special season for the White Sox. More >

AL West

An offense led by Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon figures to be the strength of the team, and the Angels will lean heavily on their bullpen, but they also need improvement from their rotation. The Halos received a boost with the season being pushed back four months, as Shohei Ohtani is now fully ready for two-way status and right-hander Griffin Canning is also healthy after an elbow injury in Spring Training. If those two and left-hander Andrew Heaney stay healthy and new additions Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran (when he returns from the injured list) can eat some innings, the Angels could reach the postseason for the first time since 2014. More >

The Astros’ roster still has plenty of talent, but Houston’s young bullpen will have to grow up in a hurry. With several veteran relievers not expected to be available for Opening Day -- including closer Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith, Brad Peacock and Austin Pruitt -- the Astros will have to turn to some young and inexperienced arms like Bryan Abreu, Cristian Javier, Blake Taylor and Brandon Bielak. More >

Health will be the key in a shortened 60-game regular season where injuries could easily derail a team. Matt Olson, Ramón Laureano and Khris Davis all dealt with injuries at certain points in 2020, but the A’s found a way to hold down the fort until those players returned. Oakland remained injury-free in Summer Camp up until earlier this week, when A.J. Puk (the A’s No. 3 prospect), who was set to move into the starting rotation, was placed on the injured list with a left shoulder strain. More >

With three rookies in the starting lineup and two more in their rotation, the Mariners need the kids to stay healthy and show they can play in order for this season to pay any dividends. In such a brief time frame, any injury or illness could wipe out much of the shortened window for first baseman Evan White and outfielders Kyle Lewis and Jake Fraley, as well as starters Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn. More >

The Rangers have a new ballpark and a surprisingly new area of strength, as they begin their 60-game schedule believing their starting pitching is the No. 1 reason why they’ll reach the postseason for the first time since 2016. Lance Lynn and Mike Minor gave the Rangers two formidable starters last season, but nobody else who made at least four starts for the team had an ERA below 4.85. In the offseason, Texas added veterans Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to join Lynn and Minor, and the team also has left-handers Joe Palumbo and Kolby Allard in reserve. More >

National League East

With Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna, the Braves may have the NL’s best lineup from No. 1-4, but the bottom of the order is a concern. Now that Yasiel Puig is no longer an option, there is a greater need for Austin Riley to become the masher he was the first six weeks after debuting last year. If Riley can get back on track and Dansby Swanson builds on the success he had before his heel injury last summer, Atlanta will have the necessary depth to keep Acuña in the leadoff spot. More >

In Year 3 of their rebuilding process, the Marlins are putting development aside this year in hopes of making a special 60-game run, but their young players will have to come of age quickly for Miami to be a surprise team in 2020. Third baseman Brian Anderson, catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitchers Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López and Caleb Smith are coming into their primes, and behind them are a handful of prospects who are getting closer to being big league ready. Right-handers Sixto Sánchez, Edward Cabrera and Jordan Holloway are all on the 40-man roster, and they throw 100 mph. More >

Two things in particular must happen if the Mets are to compete in a stacked NL East. Their bullpen, much improved on paper, must actually be better. The presences of Dellin Betances and Jeurys Familia -- the latter of whom has looked exceptional this spring, with devilish break on his split-fingered fastball -- should help. But the Mets are counting on this unit to be elite, after it finished 25th in the Majors in ERA last season. Secondly, the rotation -- and particularly Jacob deGrom -- must stay healthy. Even with Noah Syndergaard sidelined, the Mets have enough firepower to match up well against most teams. But given their depth issues, they can ill afford an extended absence for deGrom (or anyone). More >

Health is of the essence in a shortened season, especially on a veteran-heavy team. Manager Dave Martinez has noted how an injury that would sideline a player for two months in a traditional season could force them to miss the rest of the 2020 season. Versatility and depth will play major roles in trying to avoid this. The Nationals could have gone with a four-man rotation; instead they will name Erick Fedde or Austin Voth the fifth starter to alleviate the workload of their pitchers, who threw 153 innings last postseason. The roster also was constructed with players who can defend multiple positions, providing flexibility if someone needs rest or an extra day to return from a setback. More >

On paper, the Phillies should score a lot of runs. If everybody is healthy, their rotation should hold its own in the NL East. But the Phillies have plenty of uncertainty in the bullpen. In just the past week, they released veteran right-handers Anthony Swarzak and Bud Norris and left-hander Francisco Liriano. It suggests that the Phillies plan to go young in the bullpen. Can it work? Well, the Phillies have two things going for them: First, Joe Girardi is known to run a good bullpen. Second, pitchers seem to love working with Bryan Price. If Girardi can push the right buttons during the game and Price can tap into the potential of his staff, the Phillies’ bullpen could become steadier than expected. More >

NL Central

If the Brewers can replicate their recent knack for finishing strong, they will have a chance to make the postseason a third straight year for the first time in franchise history. In each of the past two seasons, they have gone 20-7 from Sept. 1 through the end of the regular season, with manager Craig Counsell taking full advantage of the expanded rosters in September. Now, the expanded rosters come up front, with 30 active players for the first two weeks of the regular season, 28 players for two weeks after that and 26 players the rest of the way. Can the Brewers capitalize on those extra hands at the front end of this season the way they did at the end of 2018 and ’19? Notably, it’s a different team than those previous postseason entries, as the club added outfielder Avisaíl García, catcher Omar Narváez, first basemen Justin Smoak, starter Josh Lindblom and reliever David Phelps, among others, in the offseason. More >

The Cardinals’ pitching staff is as deep as any staff in the NL Central -- but the offense must back it up. The team has touted internal improvement, as well as breakouts from young players, as the answer to an offense that flickered all last season. The Cardinals’ offense ranked below average in almost every category last season, and no playoff team struggled to produce runs like St. Louis. The Cards then let their cleanup hitter, Marcell Ozuna, go in free agency and didn’t add a bat to replace him. Veteran bats will need to return to form for the offense to improve. Young bats will need to provide a spark. Contributions from a new leadoff hitter and cleanup hitter can help. More >

The Cubs need Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish to pitch like aces to lead a rotation chock full of uncertainty and low on reserves. They need a handful of relievers to rise up and run with impact roles in a shortened season. They need their core group to do the heavy lifting offensively, with hitters like Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr. taking big steps forward. And above all else, they need to lean on their collective experience from the past few years to navigate through this challenging, abbreviated campaign. More >

Big picture, the most important thing for the Pirates to see this year is progress. They want to see their returning pitchers take strides toward reaching their potential under new pitching coach Oscar Marin. They want to see Josh Bell, Kevin Newman, Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes, among others, emerge as legitimate franchise building blocks. They want to see manager Derek Shelton maintain the cohesive culture he’s built throughout Spring Training and Summer Camp. And they need to show fans that they are, indeed, building toward something better in the future. More >

The offense needs to produce regularly to support what could be one of baseball’s best rotations. Cincinnati’s’ 33 one-run losses in 2019 underscored the need for more offense as the club ranked 12th in the NL in runs, average and OPS. New additions Mike Moustakas (35 home runs in 2019), Nick Castellanos (27 homers, 58 doubles) and Shogo Akiyama (.392 OBP for Seibu) should help the Reds score more often, and their lineup could turn into a strength if Joey Votto rebounds and Nick Senzel breaks out. More >

NL West

The success the club has had in three years under Torey Lovullo has been keyed by a strong starting rotation that pitched deep into games and allowed him to keep his bullpen fresh. If the rotation, led now by Madison Bumgarner, can do that again this year, this team has a real chance at doing some damage. Newcomers Junior Guerra and Héctor Rondón join the returning Andrew Chafin, Kevin Ginkel and Yoan Lopez to give Lovullo some solid late-inning options to get to closer Archie Bradley, and he will be able to mix and match to get the most out of them if the starters provide length. More >

The Dodgers have one of the deepest rosters in the game on the position-player side, but their pitching staff has some question marks behind co-aces Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill are gone, taking with them 28 wins, 68 starts and nearly 400 innings, and newcomer David Price elected not to play this season. While Ross Stripling is a great insurance policy, Los Angeles’ season may hinge on how well youngsters Julio Urías and Dustin May perform, and whether closer Kenley Jansen can rebound from a disappointing 2019 campaign. More >

It’ll be hard to compete with the sheer depth of the Dodgers, who are favored to win their eighth consecutive NL West title this year, but the Giants plan to rely heavily on platoons to help bridge the talent gap and create more favorable matchups that could allow their offense to produce at more consistent levels than it did last year. Evan Longoria, Mike Yastrzemski and Brandon Crawford might be the only players who come close to playing every day, as expanded rosters and increased positional flexibility will give the Giants the ability to construct tailored lineups for opposing right- and left-handed starters each night. More >

Fernando Tatis Jr. has the makings of a generational star. As a 20-year-old last season, he dazzled with his five tools and threw himself in the mix to become the youngest batting champ in big league history. However, he has missed significant time in the past 24 months with three different injuries. It's no coincidence that the Padres floundered late last season when Tatis was shut down due to a lower-back ailment. The Padres need their sparkplug healthy in 2020. They could also use bounceback campaigns from Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer. Machado was solid in 2020, but not up to his usual elite standards. Hosmer, meanwhile, has yet to resemble the player he was in Kansas City. More >

The Rockies had five starters with ERA+ figures higher than 100 in 2017 and four in 2018, and they made the postseason each year. Last year, Jon Gray (135) and Germán Márquez (109) were the only two to do it. Colorado needs continued production from Gray and Márquez, and for Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela to rebound. Freeland is especially important, as he was a Cy Young candidate in 2018 (166 ERA+ over 202 1/3 innings) before posting a 77 ERA+ in 104 1/3 innings last season. More >