Boy did the 2020 Irregular Season™ fly by! As we ramp up for the most chaotic playoffs of all times, let’s take a look back at which teams exceeded expectations and which teams fell flat on their face during an abbreviated 2020 season.
Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball for quite a while, but his playoff experience has been limited to 12 at-bats in a 2014 first-round loss to the Royals. Adding former Nationals slugger Anthony Rendon was supposed to give Trout some much-needed protection and power the Angels to a return to postseason play. That didn’t happen. They performed about as well as can be expected, but two players couldn’t shoulder the entire load.
Lack of pitching has long been a huge Achilles Heel for the Angels, and that continued in 2020. Free-agent signing Julio Tehran finished the season with an abysmal 10.05 ERA. Only the Tigers and Red Sox had worse team ERAs in the AL than the Angels’ 5.09 mark. Shohei Ohtani’s return to the mound didn’t go as planned, and his bat also suffered limping to a meager .190/.291/.366 line.
Ohtani wasn’t alone in his offensive struggles. Top prospect Jo Adell finally arrived, only to hit a woeful .161/ .212/ .266 in his first taste of big-league pitching. Nearly traded during the off-season, utility player Luis Rengifo was pushed into expanded playing time and only managed a .156/.269/.200 line while filling in at second base during Andrelton Simmons’ absence.
The Angels’ 2020 was not without bright spots, David Fletcher excelled in a near everyday role and Dylan Bundy broke out as a potential frontline starter for a team in desperate need of pitching.
Exceeded Expectations: Blue Jays
The Jays season got off to an inauspicious start as the pandemic forced them to play their home games in Buffalo, NY. The young team seemed to bond over their unusual situation and was able to sneak into the expanded playoffs as the #8 seed.
Key off-season pickup Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched like the ace they needed him to be and the team was carried by a bevy of young sluggers, led by Teoscar Hernandez, who could garner some down-ballot MVP votes after hitting 16 home runs and posting a .919 OPS. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Cavan Biggio, and a healthy Bo Bichette look primed to carry the Blue Jays offense for years to come.
Disappointments (Injury): Astros, Nationals, Yankees
Both 2019 World Series participants were hammered with injuries, particularly on the pitching side. The Nationals brought back ace Stephen Strasburg only to see him pitch for five innings before being placed on the IL. The Astros, meanwhile, lost Justin Verlander after just one start. The Astros also lost a bullpen’s worth of arms to the IL and the Nats’ bullpen woes continued over from 2019, especially without setup man Sean Doolittle. Nagging injuries limited Doolittle to only 7 2/3 innings on the year. Offensively, both teams drastically underperformed expectations with Carter Kieboom failing to even remotely replace Anthony Rendon in the Nats lineup. Likewise, the Astros offense fell precipitously in 2020. Critics will point to the sign-stealing scandal as the reason why, but whatever the reason, the combination of injuries and underperformance wreaked havoc on both squads. The Astros managed to squeak into the playoffs with a 29-31 record. The Nats’ bright spots were monster seasons by Juan Soto and Trea Turner. But even that wasn’t enough as the Nationals followed up their miracle 2019 season without even reaching the playoffs, finishing tied for last in their division.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were the trendy pick to start the 2020 season. Armed with Gerrit Cole and a deep lineup of sluggers, many expected them to be the World Series favorites. The 2020 regular season has to be viewed as a disappointment, especially when they didn’t even win their division after all the pre-season hype. Injuries up and down the board played a big reason why. They could still make a deep playoff run — if everyone returns to form and health and plays to their abilities. Luke Voit’s league-leading 22 home runs and DJ LeMahieu’s batting title saved the Yanks from falling even further in the standings.
Exceeded Expectations: Padres
No one honestly expected the Dodgers to be caught in the NL West but very few would’ve predicted the Padres to finish the regular season with the third-best record in baseball. Their hot start and aggressive trade deadline propelled them to success. Injuries to key pitchers late in the season could prove costly in the playoffs, but don’t count out the young Padres led by Fernando Tatis Jr., Trent Grisham, and Jake Cronenworth. Controllable, budding aces like Mike Clevinger, Dinelson Lamet, and even potentially top prospect Mackenzie Gore could have the Padres reclaiming the throne out west sooner rather than later.
Yes, they made the playoffs. Yes, Trevor Bauer pitched like a bonafide ace and Cy Young candidate. But the Reds barely finished above .500. They were the trendy pick in the NL Central to start the year. Their three-headed pitching monster of Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray more or less held up their end of the bargain. The offense on the other hand struggled to live up to expectations. Off-season additions Nicholas Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama both underperformed expectations, as did holdovers Freddy Galvis and Nick Senzel. If the 2019 Nationals have taught us anything, it’s that good starting pitching can carry you in the playoffs, so there’s still some optimism for the Reds. However, the regular season was not quite what fans expected.
Exceeded Expectation (Accelerated Rebuilds): Mariners and Orioles
Neither of these teams was expected to make the playoffs (and they didn’t). They did however avoid the last place finishes that many had predicted entering the season. The writers at DD ranked the Orioles last in our Opening Day power rankings and had the Mariners at 28th. Both fan bases have bright spots to look forward to with the hope that return to prominence might be arriving a lot sooner than expected. Rookie of the Year favorite Kyle Lewis was a sight to behold all season for the Mariners, and Orioles shortstop prospect Ryan Mountcastle more than held his own in his first crack at big-league pitching.
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