Well if Part 1 of the Know Your Enemy season preview looked like some kind of power ranking of teams who performed greatly in 2020, Part 2 is going to be the saddest list ever.
I present to you the remaining teams in baseball, in what can only be described as a race to the bottom.
The Giants are looking at another transitional year as they start a second season of the post-Bochy era. The veteran core of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Johnny Cueto are entering their final guaranteed years, and the new kids like Marco Luciano, Joey Bart, and Heliot Ramos are a year or three away from hitting the big league level. The expanded playoffs are a thing of yesteryear (or last year) so with the stacked NL West, the Giants are facing an uphill battle to success as they’re scheduled to face off against the Padres and Dodgers. It is possible that the Giants can surprise the division, but it would be a *big* surprise if they do. The offense is looking to produce (after a few years of struggling) and with the addition of Tommy La Stella paired with Mike Yastrzemski in the lineup, 2021 could be the year of the Giants. The downside is that they still have noted weirdo Gabe Kapler at the helm.
The 2020 season was not exactly kind to the Brewers, and even worse to star player Christian Yelich. They were one of a few teams with a losing record that managed to luck into the expanded playoffs, only to get bounced quickly. A marginal show of success from the “sit back and wait” game has allowed them to snag Kolten Wong and Jackie Bradley Jr., plus cheap signings of Brett Anderson, Travis Shaw, and Brad Boxberger have given Brewers fans confidence that the team taking the field in 2021 is not the exact same group that was painful to watch last season. Notably, Lorenzo Cain is back after opting out of the 2020 season, and I for one am happy we are back to not being tormented by him 40 times a year (have fun, Cubs). Omar Narváez has improved during his time with the Brew Crew, which is nice to see. He was a decent player pre-Sox and has been a decent player post-Sox, which is a thread I’m not pulling on too strongly. With not many changes to the bullpen or rotation, the big fat question mark over the Brewers is can Yelich bounce back after a disappointing 2020?
The Phillies are still coming off of having Kapler as their skipper, and they’re all the better for it. The NL East is a crowded bunch, and the Phillies are going to need a lot to go right in order to stay competitive. Since the signing of Bryce Harper the Phillies have been desperate to build a team around him. For a team that isn’t in a complete rebuild, the record the last three seasons has not been great. Last year was Joe Girardi’s first year on the bench since leaving the Yankees (and being part of every managerial rumor since) and it seems that the Phillies were one of the few who didn’t manage to luck in to one of the expanded playoff spots (missing by one game is a rough thing). Front office note, Dave Dombrowski has taken over as the president of baseball operations, and he knows a thing or two about droughts for teams in red.
The Mariners managed to dominate a crowded MLB news cycle (crowded with sexual harassment and Mickey Callaway tales) when comments by CEO Kevin Mather about service time manipulation and shots at players who do not have English as a first language hit the wire. Frankly, he should have gotten the boot when he was accused of harassing a female employee but what do I know. The Mariners are really the Kansas City Royals of the West Coast but without the inflated sense of self from Winning A World Series Once This Century. Standout Kyle Lewis is entering his third season in the majors and is looking to continue the success from 2020. Taylor Trammell is in his rookie season after a couple of years in the minors, and Mariners fans are probably hurting for a young player to get excited about. Mariners notably lose Dee Strange-Gordon to free agency, and there really isn’t much to get excited about over the M’s.
Superfan Steve Cohen bought the Mets and announced his presence with authority by throwing gold in the air like Scrooge McDuck, giving fans something to be excited about after years of Wilpon incompetence. Cohen also had to answer for Callaway’s behavior when he was the manager of the Mets, but the team managed to come out of that much cleaner than a certain Cleveland Baseball Team. After ending 2020 tied for last in the NL East, the Cohen era was ushered in with a bang when Jared Porter lasted a month as general manager after sexual harassment allegations surfaced. Cohen pledged a change to team culture and moved on to signing (and extending) Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland. Noah Syndergaard is back midseason and between him, Jacob deGrom, Trevor May, and Marcus Stroman the Mets have a solid bullpen/rotation at their feet. Do I need to recap the b.s. with the sentient barstool post Trevor Bauer? No? OK, moving on …
One big notable loss of the Rockies? Nolan Arenado. The offense of 2020 wasn’t exactly something to write home about with him, either. The Rockies are in a downward skid with Daniel Murphy retiring, Ian Desmond opting out of 2021, and Charlie Blackmon’s defense in rapid decline. Depth is a big problem, with left field backup for Desmond (Garrett Hampson) also forced into backing up second base, third base, shortstop, and center field. Outside of the a bullpen group of Daniel Bard, Yency Almonte, and Tyler Kinley, the pitching staff is a mess.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals did not magically think themselves into the expanded playoffs and ended the pandemic-shortened 2020 with a record of 26-34. St. Louis caught COVID, played 55 games in 43 days, and still did better, thus proving they are the dominant city between the rivals. Baseball’s C-list Batman villain Mike Matheny continues to helm the team with an iron fist and claims to be a mastermind of something that is definitely not bullying rookies or talking shit about Jason Heyward. The Royals managed to con Carlos Santana to their side and trade for Andrew Benintendi (who is definitely being punished), believing that those things will fix their woes. Adalberto Mondesi will continue to be too good for this team, as long as he stays healthy.
The Angels have Mike Trout! And Shohei Ohtani! And Anthony Rendón! They should have finished better than 23rd in baseball! Stop wasting Mike Trout, Angels! They haven’t won a playoff series since 2009 (woof) but were very active this offseason in suspending Callaway pending “investigation” (see you in 2022, Mickey), signing José Quintana, Kurt Suzuki, and Alex Claudio while trading for José Iglesias, Dexter Fowler, Alex Cobb, and Raisel Iglesias. With that much talent in one place they have to get better, right? If their rotation of Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney, Alex Cobb, Griffin Canning, Quintana, and Ohtani stay healthy there’s no telling what will happen (truly, I’m not a psychic). Ohtani has shown more value in hitting than pitching, posting 967 plate appearances vs. 12 games as a pitcher in four years. I’m picking the Halos to be either a huge disaster or a nice surprise come September.
The Nationals were unable to repeat the glory of 2019. Did the magic of Baby Shark wear off? Was there election burnout being so close to the White House? Did the curse of Bryce Harper bubble up? All valid questions, but let’s not look to the past. WDC added Kyle Schwarber, Josh Bell, Jon Lester, and Brad Hand to their side of the world that already included Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Trea Turner, and Yan Gomes. The Nationals are tipping the older side of the scale and 2020 was not a productive season offensively, so the additions of Schwarber and Bell may be the shot in the arm the team is looking for since both excel at run production. With very little changes made to the rotation and bullpen, the Nationals are looking to take back their seat in the middle of the NL East.
The upside of 2020 was that playing >100 games did not give the O’s a chance to lose 108 again. They added low-risk bullpen options of Felix Hernandez and Matt Harvey (neither of whom has been particularly notable in the past six years). The rest of the rotation consists of John Means, Keegan Akin, and Dean Kramer and honestly, the Orioles are just begging for a comedy “pulled up by your bootstraps” baseball movie to be made about them. I can’t preview anymore about them because it’s just really too sad after I saw FanGraphs has them projected as having a 0% chance of making the playoffs.
It’s worth noting that my list originally had the Diamondbacks listed as the “Cardinals,” but seeing as this isn’t football, let’s talk about a team so forgettable I mixed them up with the NFL. As my husband, noted baseball super casual watcher, said “They were good there for a bit.” To be fair to every other team in the NL West, the Dodgers and the Padres have dominated headlines and standings. Last year’s everyone gets a trophy playoff model still left the Diamondbacks in the dust, and this season isn’t shaping up to be much better for them. They still have Madison Bumgarner, who I am told has not punched any walls with his throwing hand recently but has been tapped as their Opening Day starter despite what can only be described a Low-A quality season in 2020. The front office didn’t change much outside of the inexplicable signing of Asdrúbal Cabrera, who has certainly seen better days.
The Red Sox said goodbye to Mookie Betts. I still can’t believe that, and it’s not a new thing. Alex Cora is back at the helm post-“firing” for sign-stealing after Ron Roenicke kept his spot warm for him in 2020. The Red Sox have been on a ride since winning the World Series in 2018: 84 wins in 2019, trading Betts to the Dodgers, sign-stealing scandal, and a godawful 2020 season that saw them at 24-36. Chris Sale is back in the rotation for 2021 after Tommy John surgery (back in the rotation in, like, August or September, but he’s still coming back). If the Red Sox are in the hunt by then and Sale comes back firing on all cylinders, Boston might be able to catch lightning in a bottle. J.D. Martinez and Xavier Bogaerts holding strong in the lineup and Hunter Renfroe’s addition has the Red Sox offense not looking too terrible in the post-Betts era. They definitely won’t capture 2018 magic, but the Red Sox do have the chance to beat the Yankees at least once.
A.J. Hinch is coming off 2020’s “punishment” to take the reins in Detroit, but he gave an interview in February where he said he could have “done more.” So I guess that means we can forgive him because HEY IT’S NOT PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING DRUGS. It’s notable that when he has managed without the bonus of sign-stealing, his numbers aren’t stellar, so the Tigers may not get Astros-level managerial prowess. The Tigers have been consistently not good for a few seasons now but their farm system is currently ranked No. 2 by MLB.com, so Tigers fans may have a light at the end of the tunnel. One big chunk missing from their farm system is depth that could truly jump-start a full rebuild. Former No. 1 draft pick Casey Mize teased some appearances for the big club in 2020. Let’s not forget Isaac Paredes’ first major league home run being a grand slam in a victory that ended a 20-game losing streak against Cleveland. Notable offseason additions include Nomar Mazara, Wilson Ramos, and Derek Holland while saying goodbye to Austin Romine, C.J. Cron, and Ivan Nova.
The Rangers are apparently rebuilding. PECOTA has them at a 0.0, which I didn’t know was actually possible. The outfield now consists of a combo of David Dahl, Joey Gallo, and Leody Tavares, which will probably be nothing but fun (anything involving Gallo is fun because he’s a delight to watch). Defense wasn’t really the problem for the Rangers in 2020, though. It doesn’t matter how good your defense is when you’re not putting runs on the board. Currently the Rangers are mostly stocking up on some guys that include the likes of Anderson Tejada and Brock Holt. The departure of Elvis Andrus and DFA of Rougned Odor leaves a gaping hole of recognizable names (outside of Joey Gallo).
The Pirates had a rather dubious honor of being the worst team in baseball in 2020 while playing in the worst division in baseball. They were definitely fielding some guys last year, and that hasn’t changed going into 2021. Ke’Bryan Hayes is an electric player on a crap team. In 95 plate appearances he slashed .376/.442/.682. Josh Bell, the only other really notable player Pittsburgh had, went to the Nationals. Ownership is going to continue to tear down the team and sell it for parts every few years, and as they do that they’ll get further and further away from an actual chance at a postseason.