These 5 teams disappointed in 2020

September 18th, 2020

If you ever have to have the floor come out from underneath your season, this might be the year for it to happen. Considering the unprecedented circumstances of 2020, a fan could theoretically (if perhaps not in actuality) forgive their favorite team for having this particular season go flying off the rails.

It was a short season. It was essentially played in quarantine. It was played within a team's division and one other. It featured multiple Spring Training and ramp-ups. It was played in front of no fans. Teams, players and managers do not like to make excuses for poor performance, but if you are looking for some rather solid excuses, in 2020, it is not difficult to find them.

Five teams, in particular, came into 2020 with high expectations or, at the very least, the expectation of contention. Instead, they find themselves essentially out of the playoff chase. What went wrong? How seriously should we take their collapse? And what does it portend for the future? Let’s take a look at five teams who -- like many of us in the world -- will be trying to forget about this season.

Record: 19-31
Preseason Fangraphs Playoff Odds: 46.7 percent
Current Fangraphs Playoff Odds: 0.0 percent

What went wrong: Ketel Marte did not take the next step in his path toward the National League MVP Award, and he's now hurt. Players they were counting on like Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver, Eduardo Escobar, Nick Ahmed and David Peralta took steps backward. Madison Bumgarner has an 8.53 ERA. They ended up trading away Starling Marte, the guy brought in to be the final piece. You get the picture.

How alarmed should we be moving forward? The fun of the D-backs the last few years is that they were able to contend when they were ostensibly still in the rebuilding process; this is a team, after all, that traded Paul Goldschmidt for two players (Weaver and Kelly) who ended up, the very next season, having more productive seasons than Goldschmidt. That wild good fortune ended the moment Arizona began to count on it. Bringing in Marte and Bumgarner was a sign the team was ready to take the next step, but the foundation crumbled so quickly that they went back to selling mode.

There’s still a lot of talent here, particularly if you give players like Marte, Bumgarner and Escobar the benefit of the doubt. Christian Walker has established himself as a lineup stalwart, Zac Gallen has established himself as No. 1 or 2 starter and this is still a smart and inventive front office. But their high-end prospects, outside of already-called-up Daulton Varsho, are still a couple of years away. It is possible the D-backs dive a little deeper into the rebuilding process that many thought they were going to start last season. One thing is clear: With the Dodgers’ dominance and the emergence of the Padres (and even the Giants), the hill they have to climb just got a lot steeper.

Red Sox
Record: 18-32
Preseason Fangraphs Playoff Odds: 64.7 percent
Current Fangraphs Playoff Odds: 0.0 percent

What went wrong: It turned out that the pitching was absolutely not very good. The Red Sox's staff was dreadful from the very beginning of the season, and by the end of the first week, it became clear that no matter how many bats this team had, its pitching staff was too much of a mess to be a contender this season. The Red Sox have a staff ERA of 6.05, which is the worst in baseball.

How alarmed should we be moving forward? Well, the pitching can’t possibly be worse than it was this year. It really can’t. Chris Sale will be back next year, as should Eduardo Rodriguez. But those are players coming off serious medical issues, and those are the pitchers they’re most comfortable with. The Red Sox have a lot of pitching construction to do this offseason.

The better news is that this team really can hit. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers haven’t been the American League MVP Award candidates Red Sox fans might have hoped for, but they’ve been consistent contributors and obvious cornerstones. Alex Verdugo clearly established himself as a regular as well this year, and you have to think J.D. Martinez hasn’t completely fallen off moving forward. Boston will score a lot of runs next year, and considering a 6.05 ERA can’t possibly be repeated, there’s plenty of room to grow in 2021. The division isn’t getting any easier, but the Red Sox are never going to sit in the basement for long.

Record: 20-30
Preseason Fangraphs Playoff Odds: 57.4 percent
Current Fangraphs Playoff Odds: 0.7 percent

What went wrong: Remember when we thought this was going to be the year we finally saw the Shohei Ohtani who both hit and pitch? Well, he gave up seven runs in 1 2/3 innings over two starts, and he’s hitting .189 and slugging less than Albert Pujols. This is not to put it all on Ohtani; the Angels have had a lot of problems. But the overarching problem -- getting less than they needed both offensively and on the pitching staff -- is neatly symbolized by Ohtani’s struggles and woes. You see all the talent; you just don’t see the results.

How alarmed should we be moving forward? Mike Trout is still here, so that’s a start. Anthony Rendon -- who actually has a higher WAR than Trout this year, per FanGraphs -- is still an All-Star player. So how about the other 23 roster spots? There’s hope in the rotation: Both Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney outperformed expectations this year, and there’s reason to be optimistic about Griffin Canning, too. The bullpen has a lot of holes, but bullpens are fungible; you can figure out a bullpen.

But frankly, the Angels may just have too many gaps to fill. Jo Adell’s struggles as a rookie are likely temporary, but if Justin Upton is going to hit .198, and Andrelton Simmons is probably going to leave as a free agent, and they already just signed the biggest offseason free agent in Rendon … what more can the Angels do here? With Trout and Rendon, they have a clear floor. The problem is that they seem stuck on that floor.

Record: 22-27
Preseason Fangraphs Playoff Odds: 68.3 percent
Current Fangraphs Playoff Odds: 20.2 percent

What went wrong: Of all the teams on this list, this is the one we’re most wary of writing off just yet. After all, they were just 2 1/2 games out of the eighth NL playoff spot entering Thursday. But then you see Jacob deGrom being pulled from a start with hamstring issues, and you wonder how in the world they could pull this off. If deGrom can’t return -- or even if he can, considering he only has two starts left anyway -- do you think they’re ready to make a playoff run with Seth Lugo (who moved from the bullpen two weeks ago) and David Peterson (a rookie) fronting the rotation?

How alarmed should we be moving forward? The Mets’ offense the last couple of years has been underappreciated. With Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith, the Mets have three star hitters in their mid-20s that would be the envy of any team in baseball. They’ve also seen a bounceback season from Robinson Canó and excellent complementary years from J.D. Davis, Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil, who really might end up winning that batting title someday. The team's offense has outpaced, say, that vaunted Yankees offense by quite a bit.

The pitching is of course the question. deGrom turns 33 next year, and while he’ll still be great, this is around the time pitchers start slowing down, or even breaking down. Noah Syndergaard will return some time next year from Tommy John surgery, eager to prove himself ahead of free agency. Marcus Stroman, Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello will all be free agents. The Mets will have new ownership and a lot of big contracts coming off the books, including those of Stroman, Porcello, Jed Lowrie, and Yoenis Céspedes. You have to think, with that lineup, they have real upside in 2021. But then again: I thought that this year too. (And hey: There’s still time!)

Record: 18-29
Preseason Fangraphs Playoff Odds: 76.7 percent
Current Fangraphs Playoff Odds: 0.9 percent

What went wrong: The offense has been a massive disappointment outside of Juan Soto and Trea Turner, but the issue has been the rotation. Stephen Strasburg ended up only making two starts, and the only positive starters have been Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, both of whom have been below their career levels. (And we’ll spare you the usual bullpen woes.)

How alarmed should we be moving forward? Any team with Soto, Turner, Scherzer, Corbin and Strasburg has a fantastic foundation to build off. But this is always the issue with the Nats: When the bullpen and supporting cast do their part, they’re division champs, but when they don’t, the wheels come off. Counting on three pitchers in their 30s is a risk, but the Nats have no choice in that regard.

That might be a reason to worry. As we’ve seen this year, when one of those pitchers gets hurt, it puts a strain on the rest of the rotation that’s difficult to overcome. It would help if youngsters like Carter Kieboom and Victor Robles take big steps forward, but Washington looks a little in between right now: Too old in the rotation, too young in the lineup, too empty in the bullpen -- and with a comparatively weak farm system. The Nationals got their title. They have it forever. But they don’t look like they will be favored to win this division again anytime soon.