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Three teams off to smashing starts to 2020

@RichardJustice
July 31, 2020

If you looked at the Padres on Opening Day, you would have sees a team filled with possibilities: Two dazzling stars (Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado) on the left side of the infield, a big bopper in left field (Tommy Pham) and one of the game’s true pros (Eric

If you looked at the Padres on Opening Day, you would have sees a team filled with possibilities: Two dazzling stars (Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado) on the left side of the infield, a big bopper in left field (Tommy Pham) and one of the game’s true pros (Eric Hosmer) at first base.

You would see an organization oozing with young pitching and an aggressive, innovative general manager (A.J. Preller) who had done a great job accumulating talent.

On the other hand, we didn’t know what it meant. We just didn’t. The Padres haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, and as we’ve seen with the Royals, Cubs and Astros in recent seasons, even seemingly inevitable turnarounds do not come with timetables.

Now, we know a bit more. The Padres have been one of baseball’s best and most entertaining teams in this first week of the 2020 season. While it’s a small step even in a shortened season, winning matters even more when a team hasn’t done a lot of it in recent years.

Confidence grows day by day, and with postseason veterans like Hosmer, Pham and Machado, the path to October becomes a bit clearer.

The Padres aren’t the only team that should be feeling good about things in this opening week. Here are three clubs that have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic:

1) Padres (5-2, +18 run differential)
Garrett Richards may end up being one of Preller’s shrewdest pickups. The Padres signed the former Angels No. 1 starter while he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and gave him the 2019 season to recover. Now, with Chris Paddack picking up where he left off last season and righty Dinelson Lamet off to a good start, there’s a nice veteran nucleus to place in front of the kids who’re likely to rotate in and out of the other slots.

Baseball’s top pitching prospect, Mackenzie Gore, will get a shot at some point. Offensively, outfielder Trent Grisham was an under-the-radar excellent acquisition from the Brewers, and even after letting a lead slip away against the Giants on Wednesday and nearly doing so again on Thursday before rallying in extra innings, the Padres have every reason to be excited about 2020. Only the division rival Dodgers have a better run differential through seven games.

2) Indians (5-2, +9 run differential)
Seven games in, the Indians are who we thought they were. They’ve allowed more than three runs just once. But they’ve also scored two runs or fewer four times. No Cleveland starter has pitched fewer than six innings, and that’s how the Indians get back to October. No club’s rotation is better than the Indians' front five of Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac.

Once shortstop Francisco Lindor gets going, there should be some offensive wiggle room. As for the outfield, the Indians knew it might be trial, error and looking for the hot hand. Even as center fielder Oscar Mercado struggles in these opening games, Domingo Santana and Bradley Zimmer have been solid. With all that pitching, solid would be plenty good enough.

3) Rockies (4-1, +12 run differential)
The Rockies are the most pleasant surprise in the Major Leagues after opening the season by winning two of three in Arlington against the Rangers before sweeping a two-game series in Oakland. Colorado's 1.84 staff ERA is the lowest in baseball thanks to Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland getting off to excellent starts in their bid for bounce-back seasons behind staff ace Germán Márquez.

What remains to be seen is if the Rockies have enough offense to support the pitching. Once third baseman Nolan Arenado and right fielder Charlie Blackmon break out of their slow starts, the offense's capabilities will be more defined. The hope is that those two will help ignite an entire lineup, especially center fielder David Dahl at the top of the order and first baseman Daniel Murphy and second baseman Ryan McMahon behind the star duo. Right-hander Daniel Bard’s return to the Majors could be a boon for a bullpen that had a difficult 2019.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.