Baseball is Back! Team Previews, Projected Win Totals, Hitter to Watch for Each NL Team in 2020

By Michael Badzik

After three months of infuriating, back and forth, negotiations between the MLB Owners and the MLBPA, we finally have an agreement. It's perfectly fitting that these negotiations ended without a true agreement at all, more so both sides saying, "This isn't going anywhere, let's give up and do what we planned originally." The only real difference between now and the plan in March is the length of the season. 60 games. That's a very short baseball season. For reference, after 60 games last season, my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates were 29-31 and 1/2 game behind the eventual division winner St. Louis Cardinals. The Pirates finished the year in last place, 22 games behind the Cardinals. (So as a Pirate fan, I'm optimistic.) Each team will play 40 divisional games, 10 against each club, and 20 inter-league games against their geographic counterpart, e.g. NL Central plays AL Central, a 4-game series against each club.

I won't dive into the inter-workings of the negotiations, or how Scott Boras was steering the negotiations from the MLBPA's side, or how baseball NEEDS a salary least not in this article. In this piece, I want to do what all baseball fans should be doing right now: getting excited to watch real, live baseball. In this article I’m going to give a hitter I’m interested to watch and a 60 game record prediction for each National League club.

Let’s start with the World Series Champs

NL East

Washington Nationals

2019: 93-69 – 2nd place – World Series Champions

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 37-23 (100-62 in full season)

If the season lasted 60 games last year, they would have finished 27-33 and been watching someone else lift the World Series trophy. But a late season turn around and magical post season run created a very different story for their season. The biggest offseason event was the loss of Anthony Rendon, who signed a mega-deal with the Angels.

Hitter to Watch: Juan Soto

It has to be the 21 year-old phenom from the Dominican Republic. In his 2nd year in the big leagues last year, Soto batted .282, hit 34 home runs, and drove in over 100 RBI’s, but it wasn’t until the postseason that he really made a national name for himself. The series against the Dodgers was spectacular, but for a (at the time) 20 year-old kid to hit 3 home runs and reach base in all 7 games in a world series against a pitching staff compiled of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Zach Greinke, that’s unbelievable. With his patented stare down of the pitcher after every pitch, Soto has a real chance to build upon a great 2019 and become a true face of the game in 2020.

Atlanta Braves

2019: 97-65 – 1st place – Lost NLDS to Cardinals

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 33-27 (89-73 in full season)

Coming off a 2nd straight NL East title and a 97-win season, you might think Atlanta would be satisfied with their young core. They are not. They certainly have the young talent to make this a sustained run of success, hoping for their first World Series title since 1995. The Braves did lose third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Twins, as well as pitchers Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel. But the addition of Marcell Ozuna could be a solid pick up if he can return to his normal batting form, recovering from a down year in 2019. The Braves also added veteran starter Cole Hamels, which could be a much-needed veteran leader in the rotation. The Braves also bolstered their bullpen by adding Will Smith and Darren O’Day. The Braves still have perennial MVP candidate Freddie Freeman and expect big things this season.

Hitter to Watch: Ronald Acuña Jr.

The Braves have a few candidates for this pick, the aforementioned MVP candidate Freeman, as well as the young 2nd baseman Ozzie Albies. For me, Acuña is the pick though. In 2019, he was able to hit 41 home runs, knock in over 100 RBI’s and steal 37 bases. There may not be a more exciting player in baseball. While the Bravers lost Game 5 to the Cardinals in the NLDS in embarrassing fashion, Acuña certainly had nothing to be embarrassed about that series, batting .444 with an OBP of .565. The dude is a stud. If I were doing this list and could only pick one hitter in all of baseball, it might be Acuña.

Philadelphia Phillies

2019: 81-81 – 4th place

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 32-28 (86-76 in full season)

It’s difficult not to call the 2019 Phillies campaign a disappointment. The enormous contract they gave Bryce Harper looks like it might not have been the best idea, and they’ve fired manager Gabe Kapler. To replace Kapler they’ve brought in former Yankee manager Joe Girardi, a move I think will work out well for the Phillies. Free agent bat additions Didi Gregorius and Neil Walker will be much needed. The addition of Zach Wheeler was another big splash and should help sure up the rotation. The biggest question mark might be around the ability of the bullpen to stay healthy. That starts with David Robertson. I expect a bounce back year from the Phillies in a shortened season.

Hitter to Watch: Bryce Harper

This pick is less about what I want to watch, and rather more what we need to watch. You could make the case that Harper is the single most important Philly, and given the massive financial investment in him, he needs to have a great year. Looking at Harper’s 2019, some are now making the argument he was actually underrated. His numbers were okay, batting .260, slugging .510 and hitting 35 home runs. He was able to knock home 114 RBI’s and the part most people forget is that he’s only 27. Harper was 5th in the National League in Win Probability added, and 1st in outfield assists, I know we’re talking batting. At the end of the day, it was an underwhelming season for Harper, and certainly not the 2015 MVP type season that Philadelphia fans were expecting. He’ll be looking to bounce back big this year.

New York Mets

2019: 86-76 – 3rd place

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 29-31 (78-84 in full season)

The Mets are working on their 3rd manager since the end of last season, after the plan to replace Mickey Callaway with Carlos Beltran was stopped in its tracks due to the evidence that Beltran played a key role in the Astro’s cheating scandal. The new manager will be 38-year-old Luis Rojas, someone who has been in baseball circles since he was a kid, with father Felipe Alou being a legendary outfielder and manager. The Mets have really nice young core. Including NL Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso, 2-time Cy Young Award Winner Jacob deGrom, and Jeff McNeil, an all-star in his first full season. I don’t think anyone would be too surprised if the Mets made a run at the wild card or even an NL East title this year. It will be tough in this season’s format, with the majority of games coming against the tough NL East opponents.

Hitter to Watch: Ahmed Rosario

While it would be easy to keep an eye on the growth of Pete Alonso or Jeff McNeil, and I will be, I think perhaps the most exciting part of this young core is the young shortstop, Ahmed Rosario. The power seems to be improving every year, with 15 home runs last year, he’s got the making of well-balanced hitting shortstop. He has the ability and speed to be able to steal 30 bases in a season, but last season had a tough time picking his spots, and as a result led the league in caught stealing. If Rosario is able to be a true lead off hitter, with ability to provide 20 home runs and 25 stolen bases, the Mets will no doubt be a success this season.

Miami Marlins

2019: 57-105

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 20-40 (54-108 in full season)

The Marlins aren’t very good…yet. They certainly have an interesting young team and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Don Mattingly lead them to a respectable season. They won’t be a player when it comes to the postseason, but I like what they’re building in Miami. They traded for Jonathan Villar, added Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli, and Matt Joyce to add veteran leadership, as well as taking a flyer on Matt Kemp. Even with those additions, they’re the worst team in the NL East, and they’ll be playing those teams a lot this season.

Hitter to Watch: Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson really came on last season after a rough start and before breaking his finger and missing the last 5 weeks of the season. Despite the bad start he was able to hit 20 home runs and while his season average finished at .261, he was .293 after the all-star break. He still struggles against left-handed pitching, so this will be an important season for Anderson’s future.

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals

2019: 91-71 – 1st place – Lost NLCS to Nationals

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 34-26 (92-70 in full season)

The Cardinals in 2019 were able to win the NL Central, possibly the best division in baseball, and make the NLCS, all while having a relatively disappointing campaign from newly signed Paul Goldschmidt. That success perhaps is a case for optimism in St. Louis, prompting the Cardinals to have a quiet offseason. They lost Marcell Ozuna and plan to replace him with prospect Dylan Carlson, who may get an accelerated bump to the big leagues with this season’s format. The Cardinals are the case study for why playing good defense still matters in baseball, posting the 3rd best defensive efficiency, and allowing the 2nd fewest runs in the NL despite only decent starting pitching, aside from stud Jack Flaherty. Being a Pirate fan, I know better than most, the Cardinals will find a way to be good.

Hitter to Watch: Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt’s 2019 campaign would have been considered by many players as the year of a lifetime, almost 100 RBI’s, 34 Home Runs, and a division crown. But for a guy who has finished in the top 3 of MVP voting as many times as Goldschmidt has (3), you’re expecting a bigger year in your first season with your new club. I’m expecting a big bounce back. From watching Goldschmidt in Arizona, he’s one of the beset pure hitters I’ve ever seen, I’m expecting big things. Here’s a guy who is probably going lower in fantasy drafts than he should this year.

Milwaukee Brewers

2019: 89-73 – 2nd place – Lost Wild Card Game to Nationals

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 30-30 (81-81 in full season)

The Brewers probably have more turnover on their roster than any other playoff team from 2019. While they're sticking with their core of Yelich, Cain, and Hader, after dropping the bats of Mike Moustakous, Yasmani Grandal, and Travis Shaw, most of the roster is made up of younger, unproven talent, and cheaper veterans. If anyone can get that crew to perform and make the postseason for a 3rd straight year, it might be Craig Counsell. The Brewers will definitely be in the playoff mix, and pitchers like Brandon Woodruff coming off of injury should make them a serious contender, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a small downturn from the Brew Crew.

Hitter to Watch: Christian Yelich

The emergence of Christian Yelich has been one of the best stories in baseball the past two season. While he showed flashes in Miami, and had two really good seasons before joining Milwaukee, no one could have expected the MVP campaign he turned in in 2018. And to follow that up in 2019 with another great year finishing 2nd in MVP voting, proves this guy is for real. During his first 5 years in the league, if someone told me Yelich would turn into a 44-home run hitter, I’d have never believed it. The pop has been phenomenal, and the swing looks great. You can tell he’s been putting in work in the cage. There’s no doubt Yelich is the player to watch for the Brewers this year, and a top 3 MVP candidate coming into this year.

Chicago Cubs

2019: 84-78 – 3rd place

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 27-33 (73-92 in full season)

The Cubs might be being overlooked here. After a disappointing 2019 season, the team and Joe Maddon parted ways, an off the field front office mess with Kris Bryant is hanging over the team’s head, and an offseason that saw the team lose more than they gained has people looking at the Cubs without much hope for 2020. They’ve brought in David Ross to manage, a questionable move considering who was available, but this player-to-manager move has worked in the past for clubs. They still have good hitters and on paper one of the best bullpens in the big leagues, despite losing Pedro Strop. The Cubs may be a surprise team here, but with a short season and two-thirds of games to be played against a tough NL Central, I don’t think this is the year.

Hitter to Watch: Javier Baez

Easily one of the most fun players to watch in baseball, Baez is coming off of what some have called a disappointing 2019, slashing .281/.316/.531 with 29 home runs, 85 RBI’s. Coming off a 2018 of .290/.326/.554 with 34 home runs, 111 RBI’s, it makes more sense. Batting clean-up in a Cubs lineup with other guys who can get on base will supply Baez with lots of RBI opportunities. Power hitting shortstops seems to be the future of MLB, and Javier Baez is certainly one of the best at that.

Cincinnati Reds

2019: 75-87 – 4th place

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 29-31 (78-84 in full season)

In the offseason, the Reds made aggressive moves to improve. They signed a pair of power hitters to four-year, $64 million contracts—Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos. They also acquired veteran lefty Wade Miley to add to the rotation and stole Pedro Strop away from the Cubs to help the bullpen. They also went international with their ambitions, signing Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama. The Reds already had a solid pitching staff led by Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo, adding Trevor Bauer at last year’s deadline and Wade Miley to that group could be special. A lot of people are expecting a lot from the Reds this year, I’m not sure the product will match the hype, this year, anyway.

Hitter to Watch: Nick Castellanos

While I’m tempted to go with the Japanese pick up, Shogo Akiyama, out of sheer intrigue, Castellanos is the headliner in this lineup. A huge attraction at last year’s deadline, the Reds were hoping for more when they were able to grab him and Trevor Bauer. It didn’t work out, but the hope is that with a full year in a Red’s uniform, he’ll be able to blossom into the superstar they were expecting.

Pittsburgh Pirates

2019: 69-93 – 5th place

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 27-33 (73-91 in full season)

I’m probably more bullish on the Pirates than I put in my projected win total, but I try and be realistic when I talk about my club. An overhaul in leadership is reason for optimism though, Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle are out, Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton are in. As noted in the opening of this article, the Pirates had a decent start to 2019, and in 2018 had a good enough start they considered themselves buyers at the trade deadline…leading to quite possibly the worst trade of my lifetime dealing Glasnow and Meadows for Chris Archer…but let me stay focused here. This schedule format could bode well for a Pirates team under a new manager, who might be able to string some starts together to start a season. Not having Jameson Taillon will hurt, but I’m expecting a big leap from Mitch Keller and possibly a return to 2018 form for Trevor Williams. Second year jumps from Bryon Reynolds and Kevin Newman could be big if the Pirates have any shot at competing this year.

Hitter to Watch: Josh Bell

The answer has to be Josh Bell here, although I do love the approach of Bryon Reynolds and considered him a legitimate candidate for NL rookie of the year last season. Bell was red hot to begin last season, earning him MVP conversations, and a spot in the Home-Run Derby. He certainly cooled off as the season went along, slashing .232/.342/.476 with 19 homers in his final 371 plate appearances. One of the biggest concerns for Bell is the lineup around him, as well. He’ll likely be batting 4th in the order this year, and with no clear guy in the 5 spot, could end up being pitched around heavily this year. Bell is a switch hitter; however, he is significantly worse batting from the right side of the plate. He’ll need to improve on that going forward if he wants to reach superstar level.

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers

2019: 106-56 – 1st place – Lost NLDS to Nationals

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 37-23 (100-62 in full season)

The Dodgers are really good, man. Coming off a 106-win regular season, the Dodgers yet again failed to win the World Series. With that failure, they went out and made the biggest acquisition of the offseason, by adding Mookie Betts and David Price. Betts is a top 5, maybe top 2, player in baseball, and adding him to an already loaded line-up, including last year’s MVP, Cody Bellinger, makes the Dodgers a powerhouse yet again. This might just be the year.

Hitter to Watch: Mookie Betts

It feels almost criminal to not have Cody Bellinger in this spot, coming off of his 2019 MVP campaign. This is more about how good Mookie Betts is, though. Mookie is coming off of a 4 year run that’s one of the best we’ve seen in a long time. In 2018, he slashed .346/.438/.640!!! while driving in 80 runs and hitting 32 homers, all while missing 26 games that season. Combining Mookie’s offensive abilities with his special glove, and you get the best player in baseball not named Mike Trout. If the Dodgers can lock Betts and Bellinger up long-term, we’re looking at a possible dynasty if they can finally get over the hump.

Arizona Diamondbacks

2019: 85-77 – 2nd place

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 33-27 (89-73 in full season)

The Diamondbacks, like the Brewers, are a team who has been able to rebuild without tanking. The additions of David Peralta, Ketel Marte, and Christian Walker, have proven to be true diamonds in the rough. Arizona must see their window of opportunity starting to open, and grabbed Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun this offseason. The move will allow Ketel Marte to return to 2nd base, and Calhoun is an improvement in right field. The big move in the offseason was signing 30-year-old pitcher Madison Bumgarner and filling out the rotation. The D’Backs aren’t going to challenge the Dodgers for the NL West crown, but a wild card spot is certainly in play.

Hitter to Watch: Ketel Marte

Marte was a great surprise in 2019, hitting .329, knocking 32 Home Runs and 92 RBI’s for a good Arizona team. A back injury cut Marte’s season short, but all word from Spring Training says he’s healthy and ready to go. The switch hitter will usually bat 1st or 2nd in the lineup, with protection behind him. Moving to the less stressful 2nd base should be a relief for the back.

San Diego Padres

2019: 70-92 – 5th place

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 29-31 (78-84 in full season)

The Padres didn’t make a huge free agent signing for the 3rd straight year, but they did get better. They were able to trade for an elite hitter in Tommy Pham and really exciting hitting prospect in Trent Grisham to go along with additions to the pitching staff with righthander Zach Davies and lefty Drew Pomeranz. Adding these pieces to a loaded farm system and young talent, including Fernando Tatis Jr., makes the Padres a lot of people’s pick to take a leap this year. I’m not sure they are ready for that playoff run, but they’re definitely getting closer.

Hitter to Watch: Fernando Tatis Jr.

Tatis emerged as a potential superstar last season in his 84 games, slashing .317/.379/.590 while hitting 22 home runs and driving in 53 RBI’s and 16 stolen bases in about half of a season. Tatis is another in this young class of great hitting shortstops, and the left side of that Padres infield, between Tatis and Machado, looks dangerous for years to come. The two biggest things that worry you about Tatis is his strikeout rate, along with his defense. These are things that should both come with maturity and experience as the game slows down.

Colorado Rockies

2019: 71-91 – 4th place

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 25-35 (68-94 in full season)

The Rockies have 3 legitimate stars on the roster: Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and Charlie Blackmon. What else do they have on the roster? Literally nothing else. The Rockies were bad last year and made zero attempt this offseason to get any better. The superstar on the team, Nolan Arenado, is unhappy and wants out of Denver. Things are not looking up for the Rockies.

Hitter to Watch: Nolan Arenado

The 3rd baseman is a legitimate superstar playing on a bad team. If this were the NBA he would have forced a trade in the offseason. In 2019, Arenado slashed .315/.379/.583 with an OPS of .962. That was the 5th year of a 5-year run that has seen Arenado hit at least 37 home runs and knock in 110 RBI’s. Doing all of this while being a consistent glove at the hot corner. The question this year is how hard does Arenado play, knowing he’s on a bad team. His faith in the organization appears to be at all time low. It’s hard to imagine he doesn’t put up huge numbers anyway.

San Francisco Giants

2019: 77-85 – 3rd place

Mike’s Projected 2020 Wins: 23-37 (63-99 in full season)

It’s safe to say the Giants are officially rebuilding. They are expecting a down year. The Bruce Bochy era is officially over, and with it, one of the most underrated dynasties ever. They did bring in some rotation pieces on one-year deals that could cause them to surprise some people this season, but the loses of Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith will hurt the staff significantly. Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Buster Posey, once relied on for the run of dominance, are at the very back end of their careers. I can’t see this going well for the Giants.

Hitter to Watch: Mike Yastrzemski

Honestly there isn’t much to be excited about with this Giants lineup. While there are experienced veterans like Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, and Brandon Crawford, I can’t see any of those guys giving us any exciting moments this season. Yastrzemski had a decent rookie season and has the looks of the next guy up in San Francisco. In 107 games he hit 21 homers and tallied 55 RBI’s. He isn’t exactly a Mike Trout type prospect, but he’s what the Giants are working with this season.

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