5 teams that can surprise during shortened MLB season

By Matt Johnson
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After months of waiting through the offseason and then MLB’s indefinite suspension, baseball is finally set to return in July. While things will be different this year with a shortened 60-game schedule, it will provide plenty of surprise teams for fans to enjoy this season.

A shortened MLB season will create some challenges for teams. We won’t see as many prospects make their MLB debuts this season, which will be a blow for several clubs. Meanwhile, teams that don’t have a lot of chemistry already or consistently struggle out of the gate, will find themselves out of it quickly.

As we look ahead to the 2020 season, several teams stand out as potential surprises. Whether it’s a combination of incredible pitching depth or established talent that can get hot, we will see some new playoff contenders. Let’s take a look at five teams that can surprise during the shortened MLB season.

San Diego Padres

While every MLB team would prefer a 162-game schedule with fans in attendance, this 2020 season could work out quite nicely for the Padres. There will be some challenges for Jayce Tingler in his first season as an MLB skipper, but he’s got a great track record of helping young talent develop and bringing them together. Frankly. it’s what makes him the perfect fit for this team.

Fernando Tatís Jr. will be this team’s heart, soul and MVP. He thrived in his rookie season, posting a .969 OPS with 22 homers in only 84 games. We’re expecting him to make the leap into stardom this season. San Diego’s lineup around him will also be strong with All-Star talent Tommy Pham and Manny Machado. If Trent Grisham or Jurickson Profar can reach their potential, this lineup could thrive. On the pitching side, a shortened season is perfect for Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards. If that’s not enough, the Padres can call up elite pitching prospects Mackenzie Gore and Luis Patiño. This team could easily surprise this season and make it to the postseason.

Toronto Blue Jays

Before the Blue Jays can even take the field this season, they need to find out if they’ll be allowed to play in Toronto. Once that matter is settled, the countdown begins before one of MLB’s most intriguing teams steps on the diamond. The Blue Jays didn’t make any blockbuster moves this offseason, but their approach could easily pay off this year.

Toronto emphasized its rotation by adding Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson. Ryu has durability issues, but a shortened season should allow him to pitch like a front-line starter. Behind him, Roark, Anderson and Matt Shoemaker will eat innings. Oh, they also have flame-throwing prospect Nate Pearson waiting. The Blue Jays’ lineup gets us excited. Travis Shaw, one of the best signings in baseball this winter, could rebound to his 2018 form when he posted a .825 OPS. If he does, that adds a great bat to a lineup with Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. The Blue Jays are still behind the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, but this team can be sneaky good in 2020.

Philadelphia Phillies

This is a club that starts out hot and then everything crumbles away before they fall flat on their face. If MLB had played a 60-game schedule in 2019, the Phillies would have won the NL East. Coming off an offseason that saw them hire Joe Girardi, sign Didi Gregorius and bolster the rotation with Zach Wheeler, it could all work out this year.

We expect Bryce Harper to post a .850-plus OPS this year, along with Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto. If those three stars thrive, we’ll see Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, Scott Kingery and Gregorius have chances to produce. Philadelphia’s lineup will be its driving force, but the pitching might come through. Wheeler and Aaron Nola will carry the rotation. After that duo, Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta and Spencer Howard all offer some intriguing upside. It might be enough to compete for a wild-card spot this year.

Oakland Athletics

We were excited about the Athletics before spring training even began months ago. While this is a young team, it’s also not a group that will depend on players without any experience. Instead, we have a clubhouse that will gel quickly with an exciting core that seems ready to dominate and could easily surprise this season.

On the pitching side, there’s a lot to love. Sean Manaea doesn’t have a great track record of throwing 160-plus innings, but he won’t need to with this schedule. If he’s healthy, he can be a strong No. 2 starter. There’s also Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, two rookies with some of the best pure stuff among their peers. Now with a shortened season, the Athletics don’t have to worry about an innings limit. If the rotation of Luzardo, Manaea, Puk, Frankie Montas and Mike Fiers thrives, this team is set. A top-10 rotation and a top-10 lineup is perfect combo for a World Series contender.

Cincinnati Reds

It’s been quite a few years since the Cincinnati Reds were considered a good team. They last won a playoff game in 2012 and that came in a disastrous series fans want to forget. As we look ahead to this season, it looks like baseball fans in Cincinnati might finally have a reason to be excited.

The rotation of Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani and Wade Miley will be one of the best in the NL. Cincinnati’s bullpen is also a strength with Raisel Iglesias, Amir Garrett, Michael Lorenzen and Pedro Strop. So, it all comes down to the lineup. The Reds added sluggers Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos this offseason. Add them to a batting order with Eugenio Suárez and Nick Senzel, this becomes an above-average lineup. The Reds could easily win the NL Central in 2020.