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MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Five intriguing teams to watch in 2020

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Diamondbacks Padres Baseball

San Diego’s Manny Machado, right, celebrates with Tommy Pham after hitting a two-run homer against Arizona during last Saturday’s seventh inning.

This baseball season will be different than any season in quite some time. The shortened 60-game schedule creates a sprint to the finish as opposed to the normal 162-game marathon. And the expanded playoffs will welcome more teams to October than ever before. Eight teams from each league make the playoffs: each division winner, each second-place finisher, and two wild cards. The division winners get to pick their first-round opponents.

With more playoff teams, some exciting teams who’d normally be on the cusp of the playoffs will be squarely in the mix this season. Here are five teams to keep an eye on this year.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox appear poised to finally reap the benefits of their long rebuild. Their offseason acquisitions of Edwin Encarnacion, Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel signal the team is ready to go for it in 2020. The top of Chicago’s lineup could go toe-to-toe with anyone in the AL Central: Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, José Abreu, Grandal, Encarnacion, and Eloy Jimenez. Keuchel and Lucas Giolito front a rotation with lots of potential. The questions lie with the bullpen and the back of the lineup. The South Siders have even more young talent already up (Luis Robert) or on the way (Nick Madrigal). If they live up to potential, the White Sox should be a playoff team for the first time since 2008, and could push Minnesota for the division crown.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have had the hitting needed to compete for several years now. Joey Votto has been a model of consistency for a long time, though he’s shown some signs of aging the last couple seasons. Eugenio Suarez has been an all-star caliber bat for a few years. Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas signed on in the offseason, giving the team two more quality bats. Some lineup turnover has left some question marks elsewhere, and the team will need some young players to rise to the occasion. But the big problem in recent years, pitching, seems to have finally turned a corner. The Reds seem to finally have a playoff-caliber rotation, with Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo leading the way. If Cincinnati’s bullpen proves effective, the Reds could be a playoff team. And in an NL Central with no truly dominant teams, there’s no reason the Reds couldn’t win the division title.

San Diego Padres

The Padres aren’t close to the National League West favorites, the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the Padres flashed a lot of potential last season. Fernando Tatis Jr. is one of the top young players in the sport. Manny Machado remains one of the top two-way players in baseball. Kirby Yates emerged as one of the top closers in the game. Chris Paddack looked like a potential future ace. San Diego continued to build around that core, and could be in the playoff mix this season. The pitching staff, mostly young, needs to continue improving. New pieces Tommy Pham and Trent Grisham need to be upgrades from the departed Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot. Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers need to rebound and improve. Plenty of questions remain, but this is a solid team. If nothing else, the Padres’ collection of young talent will make them exciting watch. A playoff berth would be San Diego’s first since 2006.

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels have the best player in baseball, Mike Trout. His presence alone makes their games exciting. They added third baseman Anthony Rendon in the offseason, giving Trout better protection in the lineup than he’s had his entire career. The Angels lineup has the potential to be really solid. Pitching is the big question mark. Shohei Ohtani returned to the mound for the first time since 2018, and although he had a rough first start, he has the stuff to be an important arm. If Ohtani, Andrew Heaney, Matt Andriese and Dylan Bundy can give the Angels enough quality outings, they could easily make the playoffs.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have a really exciting cast of young players. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has serious power, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. proved to be a reliable bat last season and can play several positions, Bo Bichette showed a lot of promise in his few months in Toronto in 2019, and Cavan Biggio turned in a really solid rookie season last year. The Jays added Hyun-Jin Ryu from the Dodgers to bolster the rotation, a move that gets this team even closer to competing for the playoffs. But pitching questions still linger, and it remains to be seen how the young players will follow the strong 2019 efforts and how they handle pressure.

Follow me on Twitter @SethTow. Follow us on Instagram @StarDem_Sports.

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