Quick: How many teams above .500 in 2019 were below that watermark in 2018? Which teams rebounded in ‘19?
Would you believe that there are only three? The only three teams who finished under .500 in 2018 to get to (or above) .500 in 2019 are:
1) Twins: They had the most dramatic turnaround, finishing 78-84 last season but cruising to the postseason this year.
2) Mets: They were probably a little bit better last year than their 77-85 record indicated, and as it turns out, adding a rookie who hits 50 homers does help you improve considerably.
*3) Phillies:** Putting an asterisk here because they haven’t clinched .500 just yet, but they are sitting at 79 wins and should get there. The Phils were just barely below .500 last year at 80-82, so even if they end up with a winning record, you can understand why fans might not be all that psyched, considering they added Bryce Harper (among other free agents) last winter.
Barring something particularly crazy happening in the NL Wild Card chase, the Twins are the only team with a losing record in 2018 to reach the playoffs the next year. If you were wondering how often such a turnaround happens, well, know that it is actually not that rare, which should be encouraging to a lot of teams.
2019: 1 (MIN)
2018: 2 (OAK, ATL)
2017: 3 (COL, ARI, MIN)
2015: 3 (HOU, CHC, NYM)
So there is hope for the 14 teams that will finish under .500 during the 2019 season. But of those 14, we’d argue there are five who seem the most poised to take a step forward in 2020 -- the ones you feel like are building toward something better. This year might not have turned out the way their fans wanted, but you’ve got to feel optimistic about 2020 for those teams. I’ve ordered them based on how excited their fans should be for next season, starting with the most excited. (Records are through Tuesday’s games.)
1) Reds (73-84)
The Reds were a team that was better than its record all season, though it always seemed to be doing everything a bit backward: A team that struggled with pitching for years finally figured out its rotation right as its offense imploded. But they look like a team primed to get everything in sync in 2020. Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo are a formidable 1-2 punch, and Trevor Bauer slots in behind them. And that lineup, with Eugenio Suárez, an improved (and healthy) Nick Senzel, a sure-to-return-to-form Joey Votto and the looming monster that is Aristides Aquino, could be terrifying. The Cardinals and Brewers aren’t going anywhere, and the Cubs will still have lots of talent no matter how their offseason goes. But the Reds could stun quite a few people next year.
2) White Sox (68-88)
Have you noticed how the White Sox have been hitting the ball in September? Yoán Moncada leads the Majors in hits … and Tim Anderson and Eloy Jiménez are second and third. Those three players look like linchpins for years to come. Oh, and Luis Robert, Andrew Vaughn and Nick Madrigal are coming. José Abreu has also said he hopes to return, and the pitching should be improved next year, with Lucas Giolito back and Michael Kopech returning from surgery.
The White Sox are going to score so many runs next year; they just need to supplement with some pitching. This is a team that has been actively building for the future for years now. Next year, that future should arrive. Or at least it better.
3) Padres (70-87)
You saw positive movement with the Padres this year, and after their expenditure to bring in Manny Machado in the offseason, you’d certainly hope so. But the fact that they just dismissed manager Andy Green shows that expectations are going up a notch.
Machado wasn’t the top-shelf superstar the Padres might have hoped for, but he has still been excellent and the centerpiece of a team that’s starting to grow into itself. Now the Padres can let Fernando Tatis Jr. take over and start ushering in the next generation of studs that they’ve been waiting for, and Chris Paddack should lead the pitching staff with no innings restrictions.
Prospects like outfielder Taylor Trammell and lefty MacKenzie Gore should hit San Diego next year, and there is more Top 100 Prospects list talent behind them. Considering as much time as A.J. Preller and company have had, it’s probably time to start showing some progress. This was a year to lay groundwork, 2020 is the year they need results.
4) Rangers (75-82)
The Rangers were a pleasant surprise by almost any measure this year, and the fact that they faded late shouldn’t be held against them. Lance Lynn and Mike Minor were revelations in the rotation and speak well for an organization that believes it can both develop young pitchers and maximize the skills of older ones. More to the point: This team is likely going to finish just below .500 even though Joey Gallo, who looked well on his way to a potential MVP-caliber season, played in just 70 games after suffering a fractured hamate bone. Get him out there every day, and you’ve got a superstar to build around. The Rangers are opening their new ballpark next year, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them make a splash in free agency to help open their new digs in style. This is a team to watch.
5) Angels (71-86)
This of course starts (and maybe ends) with Mike Trout, who appears poised to win his third AL MVP Award. (And probably deserves to have won two or three more.) When you have Trout on your team, you’re unlikely to win fewer than 74 games no matter what you’re doing. This Angels team actually had the worst record any team Trout has played on, so it’s already a bit of an aberration.
As rough as this year was for the Angels, both on and off the field, there are reasons to feel better about next year. They should have a full season of Andrelton Simmons, first off, and let’s not forget he was a top 10 player (per WAR) just two years ago. And we should also see the debut of outfielder Jo Adell, one of the top five prospects in MLB, per Pipeline. They’ll have a healthier Shohei Ohtani ready to be a two-way player again. And they should have some money to spend on a rotation that obviously needs the help. (Orange County native Gerrit Cole remains the perfect fit.)