Photo by Arturo Pardavila III / Flickr
The shortened 2020 MLB season has come and gone in the blink of an eye, leaving teams to turn their attention to an offseason of uncertainty across the league. But before we set our eyes on the future, let’s take a look back by grading each of the 30 clubs on their performance in 2020.
First off, it’s important to note that the circumstances of the season — from the 60 regular season contests to rules changes and COVID-19 interruptions — undoubtedly had an impact which can’t really be quantified. Many of these grades would have undoubtedly changed had these teams played a full 162-game regular season schedule. Second, these grades are about more than just regular season record and postseason success. Expectations, context and circumstances are receiving plenty of weight in the process as well.
Without further ado, let’s dive in, starting with the East divisions:
Baltimore Orioles: C+
The rebuilding Orioles were projected for the worst record in baseball yet found themselves in the playoff race entering the final few weeks of the season. They went 5-14 to finish the season 25-35, but you’ve still got to give credit to a roster lacking in essentially any star power for making things interesting. Rookie Ryan Mountcastle showed he’s a building block for the future with an .878 OPS in 35 games.
Boston Red Sox: D-
With Mookie Betts in L.A. and Chris Sale out for the season, the Red Sox were never going to win the AL East, but few could have predicted a collapse to the point of finishing dead last in the division. Despite a lost season for Andrew Benintendi and a really rough campaign from J.D. Martinez, Boston finished 11th in MLB in runs scored. The problem: a pitching staff that posted a collective 5.58 ERA, third-worst in baseball.
New York Yankees: C+
Reaching Game 5 of the ALDS hardly seems like a C-level performance for most teams, but the Yankees aren’t most teams. The Bronx Bombers were co-favorites to win the World Series but wouldn’t have even made the postseason if not for the expanded field. That being said, there’s really no doubt that the team was one of the five best in the AL, but at some point the results are what they are and injuries aren’t a valid excuse. The Yankees were also largely healthy entering the playoffs and were let down by their starting pitching, an area they failed to address at the trade deadline, against the Rays in the division series.
Tampa Bay Rays: A+
This is pretty straightforward. The Rays used their organizational formula of strong pitching, defense and depth to post the best regular season record in the American League. They then relied on those aspects plus the longball and Randy Arozarena to make it all the way to the World Series before falling to the best team in baseball. Not too shabby for a team in the bottom five in MLB in payroll.
Toronto Blue Jays: A
How can the Blue Jays have the same grade as the team that knocked them out in the first round of the playoffs before winning two more postseason series? Remember, these grades are relative to expectations and circumstances. Despite not playing a single game at their home stadium, having to piece together a rotation behind Hyun Jin Ryu and having the fourth-youngest roster in the league, the Blue Jays took a significant step forward to finish above .500 and make the playoffs for the first time since 2016. A Wild Card Series loss to the eventual league champs is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, either.
Atlanta Braves: A
Backed by an offense which finished first in OPS and second in runs and home runs in MLB, the Braves won the NL East for the third straight season and swept the Reds and Marlins in the postseason to reach the NLCS. Atlanta’s season ended as it blew a 3-1 series lead to the Dodgers, a rough ending to a highly impressive season. Rookie Ian Anderson was the breakout pitcher of the postseason, posting a 0.96 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 18 ⅔ frames, and he and Max Fried helped Atlanta make a deep postseason run. An easy call with this grade.
Miami Marlins: A+
The Marlins were arguably MLB’s biggest surprise story in 2020, with Don Mattingly’s club making the playoffs for the first time in 17 years and upsetting the Cubs to advance to the NLDS, where they fell to Atlanta. It was far from an easy path, as a COVID-19 outbreak on the team in the first week of the season landed 18 players on the injured list. Sixty-one players were used by Miami in the 60-game season as Mattingly became the franchise’s all-time wins leader. With their bevy of young talent, particularly pitchers, it looks like the Marlins could be ready to compete with consistency sooner than many thought.
New York Mets: C-
The Mets offense ranked seventh in runs, fifth in home runs, third in OPS and first in batting average in the National League in 2020. Michael Conforto had a great season and Dominic Smith broke out at the plate. The problem was the pitching. Jacob deGrom was as good as ever this season, striking out 104 batters in 68 innings with a 2.38 ERA, but the rest of the Mets starters posted a collective 6.33 ERA and offensively the team struggled with runners in scoring position. The club finished tied with the Nationals in the cellar of the division and remains in search of its first playoff series victory since 2015.
Philadelphia Phillies: D-
There was no doubting the talent on this roster, from Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto to Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. But the front office failed to address their biggest need, the back end of the bullpen, and Phillies relievers went on to post the second-worst bullpen ERA in MLB history: 7.06. Joe Girardi, highly regarded for his bullpen management in New York, made some questionable decisions, but the major factor was the organization’s quantity over quality approach to its bullpen failing to historic proportions. A ninth-straight season without a postseason appearance was extremely disappointing for a team with the core and expectations to do much better.
Washington Nationals: D
The defending World Champions lost Anthony Rendon to the Angels via free agency, Stephen Strasburg to surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome and Patrick Corbin to complete ineffectiveness, as the left-hander lost velocity and gave up a major-league high 85 hits in 2020. Superstar outfielder Juan Soto, speedy shortstop Trea Turner and a slightly diminished Max Scherzer couldn’t do all the heavy lifting on their own on a team otherwise lacking in any other proven high-end players. For the second season in a row, the Nats reached the 50-game mark of the season with a 19-31 record. There was no time to rebound in a 60-game season.
On page 2: Central divisions