7 candidates to go from sub-.500 to playoffs

July 6th, 2020

Could one of last year's sub-.500 teams crash the postseason dance during this truncated 2020 campaign? While the 60-game schedule could make it easier for an upstart club to do so, it actually wouldn't be that unusual.

In the eight seasons since the second Wild Card was established, 20 clubs have made the playoffs a year after finishing with a losing record, and it’s happened at least once in every season during that span. Two of these clubs -- the 2013 Red Sox and the ’14 Giants -- even won the World Series. The most recent team to do it was the Twins, who went from 78-84 in 2018 to 101-61 last year.

Based on FanGraphs’ playoff odds, these seven clubs -- which were among 14 teams with a sub-.500 record in 2019 -- are the most likely to join that list in ’20. Postseason odds provided in parentheses.

Reds (37.6%)
2019 record: 75-87
While the Reds missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season in 2019, they made some strides, as evidenced by their 80-82 Pythagorean record, and the National League Central could be wide open in '20. Depending on the performance of , who had a 6.39 ERA over 10 starts after joining Cincinnati in a trade last July, the Reds could have the best rotation in the division, and their offense should be improved by the additions of and . Ultimately, though, Cincinnati’s playoff chances may rest squarely on the shoulders of . The 36-year-old first baseman finished second in the NL MVP race in 2017 (36 homers, 167 OPS+), but he has produced just 27 homers with a 112 OPS+ in the past two seasons combined.

White Sox (36.8%)
2019 record: 72-89
The South Siders haven’t tasted the postseason since 2008, but they are a team on the rise, having added veterans , , and Gio González to their young core of , Tim Anderson, , Luis Robert and , not to mention 33-year-old slugger , who was re-signed. If those players live up to expectations, it will put less pressure on flamethrowing righty and left-hander Carlos Rodón to rebound from Tommy John surgery.

Padres (34.7%)
2019 record: 70-92
Bolstered by the signing of third baseman and the stellar debuts of shortstop and right-hander , the Padres were firmly in the NL Wild Card race at the 2019 All-Star break, but a second-half skid left San Diego with a losing record for the ninth straight year. Things could be different in 2020, as the Friars should have a more well-rounded roster with and another year removed from Tommy John surgery; top prospect looming; and new additions , , , and in the fold.

Angels (28.8%)
2019 record: 72-90
For all of his individual accomplishments, has played in the postseason only once in his career, with the Angels getting swept by the Royals in 2014. Los Angeles has finished under .500 in each of the past four years, and its rotation remains a major question mark. Still, with third baseman joining the Halos as a free agent, back in a two-way role and and now healthy, the club could make some noise in the playoff race this season.

Rangers (11.6%)
2019 record: 78-84
Much like the Padres, the Rangers were in contention for a Wild Card spot in the first half of 2019, but they went 30-42 after the All-Star break. Texas improved its starting staff with the additions of , Kyle Gibson and in the offseason, and and are back after ranking first and third among MLB pitchers in Wins Above Replacement (per Baseball-Reference) a year ago. But even if Minor and Lynn can sustain their success, the Rangers might not have enough offense to make a serious postseason run.

Rockies (10.9%)
2019 record: 71-91
After back-to-back postseason appearances, the Rockies’ pitching staff imploded last season, posting the second-highest ERA (5.56) in the Majors. And while , Trevor Story and each turned in a strong season, Colorado’s offense wasn’t good enough to make up for the deficiency on the other side of the ball. With their personnel essentially unchanged, the Rockies will be looking for German Márquez and to rediscover their 2018 form, and for , , and to become reliable contributors. That still might not be enough, though, considering the Dodgers, Padres and D-backs all have more impressive rosters on paper.

Blue Jays (8.0%)
2019 record: 67-95
The up-and-coming Blue Jays might have better postseason odds if they weren’t in the AL East, but they share a division with the Yankees (74.5%), Rays (60.9%) and Red Sox (38.1%), who all have odds above 38%. Toronto is still a team to watch, however, as youngsters Vladimir Guerrero Jr., , , and could team with free-agent addition to help the Jays exceed expectations in this shortened season.