Nationals

A Nationals fan's guide to the AL East

Nationals

The 2020 MLB season is finally getting underway. As exciting as it is to have baseball back, the campaign will look quite different from past years. No fans, increased measures of safety during the pandemic and a 60-game sprint make it an oddly structured few months.

This year, teams will also be limited to playing teams that are in the same geographical reason. For the Nationals, that means playing the NL and AL East. While its division foes are familiar faces, Washington will also face some rather unfamiliar teams for the bulk of their schedule. Here's a primer on what you should know about the squads from the AL East.

New York Yankees: The Favorites

Besides the Dodgers, no one has better odds to win the World Series in 2020 than the New York Yankees. That's not a surprise, as New York has been on the cusp of a 28th championship in the past few years but fallen short in the ALCS.

Now, they bring back a powerful lineup that features the likes of Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton, not to mention complementing pieces DJ LeMahieu, Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier. There are more names, too. The bullpen has talent as well, with Adam Ottavino and Zach Britton headlining. Aroldis Chapman will be in the mix once he recovers from COVID-19.

Oh, also, the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a massive contract in the offseason to sure up their one "weak" area of starting pitching. Entering 2020, there really are no visible holes on the roster. New York is one of the best teams in baseball.

 

Likely 2020 outcome: Compete for a World Series, with a high probability they are one of the last teams standing.

What could slow them down: Injuries, the same thing that can derail any good team quickly. Masahiro Tanaka is expected to be back soon, but losses in the rotation or the lineup during a short season may throw them off, even if they have talented plug-in players waiting.

RELATED: CAN GERRIT COLE LIVE UP TO HIS CONTRACT?

Tampa Bay Rays: Underrated Contender

The Rays won 96 games in 2019, did you know that? One the most under-the-radar team in baseball last year, they were victims of an incredibly loaded American League. Still, they were one game away from taking down the Astros in the ALDS.

Tampa Bay's success in 2020 will largely depend on its arms. The Rays have three talented starters in Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow. The bullpen is elite as well, and the "opener" strategy that worked in the past could come back into play as well. 

Likely 2020 outcome: If all goes as it should for the Rays, they are a World Series contender that can compete with any other team.

What could slow them down: The lineup is solid and versatile, but with Austin Meadows' status uncertain for Opening Day, there are some holes. A slow start at the plate could hurt no matter how good the pitching is. Also, having the Yankees, Nationals, Phillies and Braves make up a chunk of the schedule does not help.

Boston Red Sox: In Limbo

Just two years removed from a World Series title, 2020 will be an interesting year for the Red Sox. Trading away Mookie Betts made it seem as though they were falling out of contention, but the roster shows otherwise.

In the lineup, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi lead a very formidable group. Alex Verdugo, who came over in the trade for Betts, is a rising star that could head the outfield for years to come.

It will be the bullpen and rotation that raise questions for Boston in 2020. With Chris Sale out for the year, there's no clear No. 1. There's hope Nathan Eovaldi can return to his 2018 postseason form, but no guarantee. Sixty games is a short sample size, but it could say a lot about the future for the Red Sox.

Likely 2020 Outcome: A "bubble" team that could compete for a Wild Card spot.

What could slow them down: Pitching, or just the sheer fact that their division features two of the most talented teams in baseball. 

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Toronto Blue Jays: On The Rise

The name of the game for the Blue Jays in 2020 is youth. Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vladamir Guerrero Jr. are on their way to forming a "Big 3" in baseball. Already, Bichette and Guerrero both have shown flashes of stardom early on. 

 

Toronto also once again has an ace in Hyun-Jin Ryu, though it will be interesting to see how he fares in a new division. This season may not be the beginning of the competitive window just yet, but it is coming soon.

Likely 2020 outcome: Not a playoff team, but an improvement from last season (though 60 games make it harder to tell). If all clicks, a postseason push could happen.

What could slow them down: Youth. The same thing that could propel them could lead to a few bumps, as growing pains and adjustments are common.

Baltimore Orioles: Full-On Rebuild

As NBC Sports Washington's Andrew Gillis said, a rebuild is what is happening in Baltimore even if it's not explicitly said. Baltimore isn't expected to win many games this year and that is not a shocker. There is a lot of talent in the system, but it most likely won't be on the field in 2020. John Means is one of the best stories on the major league club, but he's dealing with arm soreness to begin the season.

With only 60 games being played, it technically won't be a "long year" for the Orioles, but it will be another campaign where they sit toward the bottom of the league.

Likely 2020 outcome: No. 1 pick contenders

What could speed them up: Nothing will "slow" them in 2020, but surprise contributions or an early appearance from a prospect could bring more success. Otherwise, the unpredictability of sports is their best bet.

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