These 6 squads could be great. Or ...

March 9th, 2020

The Dodgers have won seven straight National League West titles, and the consensus is that they will make it eight in 2020. FanGraphs projections have them winning 97 games (13 more than any other NL West team), with 97% postseason odds. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA has them with 102 wins (taking the division by 22), with, well, 100% postseason odds.

But for most clubs, the outlook is murkier. These potential contenders have the ingredients to make a run at October, but it remains to be seen if they will all come together in the right way. Will injuries overcome depth, or vice versa? Will young players overperform, or will expensive veterans underperform?

These are the questions that ultimately will decide the fates of these six teams -- one from each division -- but for now, their situations appear volatile.

American League East: Toronto Blue Jays
Will all these injuries cost the Yankees this time around? Can the Rays really repeat that 96-win season? Are the Red Sox still contenders after trading Mookie Betts and David Price? Those are worthy questions, but the biggest ones can be found north of the border.

Sometimes a young, talented club blossoms ahead of schedule. But not every young, talented club progresses in a linear fashion. The Blue Jays' core of position players is tantalizing, but with a lot to prove. Nate Pearson (MLB's No. 8 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline) is opening eyes this spring, but he has pitched three games above Double-A and will be handled with care. A reinforced rotation is led by Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was the 2019 National League Cy Young Award runner-up in his first fully healthy season since 2013.

Best-case scenario: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leads Toronto’s young studs with a sophomore breakout, Ryu throws 180 innings again and Pearson becomes a flame-throwing factor in the rotation, as Toronto reemerges as a legitimate Wild Card contender.

Worst-case scenario: Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio can’t build on impressive rookie campaigns, and Pearson isn’t ready. Ryu finds himself back on the injured list, and by mid-July the hottest topic is closer Ken Giles’ Trade Deadline destination.

AL Central: Chicago White Sox
They headlined the offseason with the acquisitions of Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnación and others. As we’ve seen time and again, however, winning the offseason often doesn’t translate to winning the actual season.

The bigger factor here might be what the White Sox get from their exciting collection of young players. On the mound, Lucas Giolito will try to replicate his breakout 2019, Reynaldo López and Dylan Cease will seek to take steps forward and Michael Kopech (MLB’s No. 20 prospect) will attempt an impactful return from Tommy John surgery. At the plate, Eloy Jiménez has explosive potential, Luis Robert (No. 3) might be a Rookie of the Year favorite, and Nick Madrigal (No. 40) should get a shot sooner rather than later.

Best-case scenario: Grandal helps both the lineup and pitching staff, while last year’s breakouts maintain their gains and the young Sox arrive in a hurry. The club snaps an 11-season playoff drought.

Worst-case scenario: Some combination of disappointing free-agent signings, inconsistent rookie performances and steps backward from the likes of Giolito, Yoán Moncada and Tim Anderson push Chicago under .500 for the eighth year in a row.

AL West: Los Angeles Angels
The Halos have a generational superstar who has never played in a postseason victory and hasn't tasted the playoffs at all since 2014. Every year brings renewed hope of Mike Trout's return to October, and here we are again.

This team lost 90 games in 2019, but it’s not difficult to imagine a big turnaround. Having a 10-WAR caliber player goes a long way. Add in Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, Andrelton Simmons and a healthy Justin Upton -- plus, perhaps, MLB’s No. 6 prospect, Jo Adell -- and there’s the makings of a strong lineup. The big question is health, specifically in the rotation. Can offseason acquisitions such as Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy at least provide some stability, or does Griffin Canning’s concerning elbow issue portend yet another year of pitching problems?

Best-case scenario: Trout hauls in MVP No. 4 with plenty of help from new pal Rendon, Ohtani goes full two-way star, Adell makes a splash and the Angels get just enough from their rotation to snag a spot in the AL Wild Card Game.

Worst-case scenario: The postseason drought continues.

National League East: Washington Nationals
Life as the defending World Series champions is not easy -- just ask the 2019 Red Sox. Washington had a grueling, emotional postseason journey, and then lost arguably its best player in Rendon.

Veterans served last year's Nats well, but they have doubled down on that risky strategy. Their current projected 26-man roster features 17 players who will be 30 or older in 2020, including reigning World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, who just threw 245 1/3 innings, including some high-stress ones in October. Max Scherzer also is now 35 and made multiple trips to the injured list last season. There's also a bullpen with a lot to prove, while 22-year-old prospect Carter Kieboom tries to show he can step into Rendon's shoes.

Best-case scenario: The Scherzer-Strasburg-Patrick Corbin trio drives the Nats to their sixth postseason appearance in nine years, with help from a patched up ‘pen (hello, Will Harris), and young hitters Kieboom, Victor Robles and Juan Soto.

Worst-case scenario: The late innings are a struggle again, and there is a hole at the hot corner. Fatigue and injuries chip away, and Washington isn't around to defend its title come October.

NL Central: Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are another "team of the offseason" candidate in their quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since losing the 2013 NL Wild Card Game. But again, splashy additions don’t always equal champagne celebrations.

The rotation looks like a strength again, though none of its members has been all that consistent in recent years. And a lineup that struggled in 2019 is still loaded with question marks. Will Japanese free agent Shogo Akiyama adapt to the Majors? Is the version of Nick Castellanos we saw with the Cubs here to stay? Will Eugenio Suárez’s shoulder injury have a lasting effect? And then there’s Joey Votto and Nick Senzel: Can they rebound and step forward, respectively? That’s a lot of uncertainty.

Best-case scenario: Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer form one of MLB’s best rotation trios, while the new guys revamp the offense. The Reds pass the passive Cubs and Cardinals, plus the Brewers, to win the Central.

Worst-case scenario: The starters frustrate, Castellanos doesn't make the desired impact, Votto's decline continues and Cincy finishes no higher than fourth for a seventh straight year.

NL West: San Diego Padres
Last year’s signing of Manny Machado, plus the impending arrival of top prospects, increased hope that the Padres would post their first winning season since 2010 and perhaps even snap a 12-season playoff drought. Instead, they lost 92 games.

Will this finally be the Friars' year? Much depends on whether a couple of highly compensated recent signings (Machado, Eric Hosmer) perform as hoped, and whether Fernando Tatis Jr. can maintain his 2019 pace over a full season. Then there’s a rotation featuring high-upside wild cards (Garrett Richards, Dinelson Lamet), plus a bullpen that bet big on Drew Pomeranz’s late-2019 re-emergence as a shutdown reliever.

Best-case scenario: FanGraphs’ projections correctly forecast San Diego as the second-best team in the West, with a revitalized Machado and superstar Tatis leading the lineup. Richards and Lamet rack up strikeouts in the rotation, while Pomeranz forms a nasty late-inning team with Kirby Yates and Emilio Pagán.

Worst-case scenario: It’s another sub-.500 year in San Diego, with fans bemoaning the Machado and Hosmer contracts, Tatis enduring a sophomore slump, and the rotation unable to stay healthy.