Wednesday, March 31, 2021

2021 Pre-Season Profile: Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves continued to show in 2020 that they are one of the best young teams in all of baseball, coming one win away from making the World Series.  Can they continue to take steps forward in 2021?

#10 - 2nd in NL East, WILD CARD, lose in Wild Card Game
MIH - Marcell Ozuna
MIP - Cole Hamels
PTW - Kyle Wright

2020 Results
#6 - 35-25, 1st in NL East, lost in NLCS
I thought 2020 was due to be a step back for the young Braves roster.  Instead, they leapt forward.  I thought Cole Hamels was going to be a factor, and he pitched one game.  Marcell Ozuna had a big year, but not as big as league MVP Freddie Freeman.  Their young pitching stepped up, and that was after Opening Day starter Mike Soroka went down with an injury in his third start.  This all just proved how talented this team truly is and how high their ceiling is going forward.

Additions / Subtractions
Despite the big 2020 season, the Braves still understand the need for some veteran pitching to mentor the young aces they are developing.  So they went out and picked up Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton to pitch alongside the kids.  The other big move was re-signing Marcell Ozuna.  The only real subtractions from the lineup were Adam Duvall leaving for the Marlins and the retirement of Nick Markakis, moves that made room in the lineup considering there is no DH this year.  They did lose some key bullpen arms in Mark Melancon and Darren O'Day.

Most Important Hitter
Dansby Swanson
The Braves' lineup is pretty loaded with stars.  From Freddie Freeman to Marcell Ozuna to possibly the best of them all in Ronald Acuna Jr., this lineup can produce runs.  The breakout star among stars last season was Dansby Swanson.  He put together his best season to date at the plate and trailed only Freeman and pitching phenom Max Fried on the team in WAR (his highest WAR mark of his career despite it only being a 60 game season).  The question is whether or not the former number one overall pick can replicate that level of production for a full 162.  If he can, he becomes yet another weapon opposing pitchers have to deal with in this lineup.

Most Important Pitcher
Will Smith
The Braves always have a plethora of starting pitching, but the real question mark this season is the bullpen.  Closer Mark Melancon and specialist Darren O'Day left this team in the offseason and weren't really replaced.  So who is the closer?  How will they end the brilliant games their starters will pitch?  The most likely option, and the option the Braves need to emerge, is Will Smith.  A former All Star closer with the Giants, Smith has shown he can be an impact arm at the end of a game, something no one else in the bullpen has really proven.  If he can establish himself as the guy, all the other arms in the pen can start to find their role.  If he can't, it might be bullpen by committee which rarely ever works.

Prospect to Watch
Cristian Pache
After a taste of the big leagues in 2020 as a 21 year old, Cristian Pache will be the Opening day starting centerfielder.  Ranked the 12th best prospect in baseball, Pache is an elite defender (which earned him a spot on the postseason roster last season) that is still learning how to be an impact bat in a lineup.  He has shown some great progress and could be the next great young star in the Braves lineup.

2021 Prediction
1st in NL East, lose in NLDS
Emerging from the mayhem of the NL East in 1st place is going to be no easy task, but the Braves seem to have the depth and the youth to do it.  With that said, I think come October some of that youth could hurt them from making a deep run this season, especially considering how strong some of the other contenders are.  It might be a quick exit, but the Braves are a powerhouse that are here to stay for awhile.

Fearless Prediction
Ronald Acuna Jr. wins the NL MVP.
Somehow, Ronald Acuna Jr. is just entering his age 23 season, and he has already established himself as a perennial MVP candidate.  He won Rookie of the Year in 2018, finished 5th in MVP in 2019, and finished 12th in MVP in 2020 despite missing some time with injury and his teammate taking first place.  This could be the year he emerges with the crown.  What will help him is the development of Cristian Pache so he doesn't have to play centerfield anymore.  Being in rightfield might be a little less taxing and might be able to preserve some health.  Either way, it should be a big year for Acuna.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

2021 Pre-Season Profile: New York Mets

The New York Mets made huge headlines over the offseason with a new owner and a new superstar.  Now the expectations are ridiculously high for this team that was under .500 in 2020.  Will they be able to reach those expectations?

#14 - 3rd in NL East
MIH - Robinson Cano
MIP - Edwin Diaz
PTW - Kevin Smith

2020 Results
#21 - 26-34, 4th in NL East
The Mets were not that bad in 2020, but they got stuck in the crazy NL East where they were tied for the worst record in the division with the defending champion Nationals.  Jacob deGrom followed up back-to-back Cy Young seasons with a 3rd place finish, they had a bounceback season from Robinson Cano, and several young players had breakout seasons like Brandon Nimmo and Dominic Smith.  So although the final record doesn't show it, there were definitely some good things that happened in 2020.

Additions / Subtractions
If there was one move this offseason that revitalized an entire organization that had nothing to do with the roster, it was definitely the announcement of new owner Steve Cohen in Queens.  If there was one move this offseason that revitalized an entire organization that did impact the roster, it was the Mets trading for Francisco Lindor.  The Mets also added to the rotation with Taijuan Walker via free agency and Marcus Stroman who is back after opting out last season.  This will make up for Steven Matz signing elsewhere.  They should also be getting back Noah Syndergaard at some point this season too.  The biggest subtraction might have been a blessing in disguise when Robinson Cano was suspended for the season for steroids.  They will miss his bat in the lineup, but they enjoyed having the extra $24 million to spend in free agency.  Overall, the offseason went about as good as possible for the Mets.

Most Important Hitter
Francisco Lindor
Of all the players in the league, the most pressure might be on Francisco Lindor to singlehandedly turn around a slumping franchise.  He has to try and do that while also being in the final year of his contract.  Many think it is a foregone conclusion he re-signs with the Mets, and contract negotiations are currently ongoing, but the biggest storylines with the Mets revolve around him.  Can Lindor really make that much of an impact?  Was he worth the steep price they paid to get him?  Will he be in Queens beyond 2021?  This is by far the most important hitter on the team this season.

Most Important Pitcher
Marcus Stroman
We all know Jacob deGrom is possibly the best pitcher in baseball, but he can't pitch every day.  The rotation needs depth, and it needs more than one ace to compete with some of the elite rotations in the division and the National League in general.  With Syndergaard still recovering from an injury, this has to start with Marcus Stroman.  When Stroman is right, he is one of the best pitchers in the game.  The best example of this is probably the near no hitter he threw in the WBC Championship a few years ago.  However, the Mets have only seen him for part of 2019 before he opted out of 2020.  He needs to come back and show he is ready to be dominant again.  This is also his contract year, and if he wants to get the big pay day, this year has to be him at his best.

Prospect to Watch
Khalil Lee
The Mets are ranked the 19th best farm system in baseball.  They have some decent talent in their system boasting 4 Top 100 Prospects.  The problem is none of it is very close to the majors (you can probably thank the Cano for Kelenic trade).  The player most likely to impact the big league roster this season is Khalil Lee.  Lee is the 7th best prospect in the Mets system and was the key piece the Mets received in the Benintendi to KC deal this offseason.  He has the makeup of a solid big league outfielder, and with the lack of depth in the outfield for the Mets, he could be called up at some point and get a chance to show what he can do.

2021 Prediction
2nd in NL East, WILD CARD, lose in NLDS
I think the Mets have done enough to make themselves a serious contender in this division again, even with as competitive as it is going to be.  Francisco Lindor should breathe life and excitement into this team, Pete Alonso should bounce back after a slight sophomore slump, and with Syndergaard coming back mid-season, they should be getting healthy and dangerous at just the right time.  I have them grabbing a Wild Card spot, and knowing that Jacob deGrom is probably pitching a Wild Card Game, they should take down any lineup they face, even if it is the Padres.  They might not get much farther than that, but this will be a huge step forward for a franchise that finally might be competing with the Yankees for notoriety in the Big Apple.

Fearless Prediction
Robinson Cano has played his last game in the big leagues.
Robinson Cano's career was on a Hall of Fame path just a few short years ago.  He was the best second baseman for about a decade, he revitalized a Mariners franchise and almost singlehandedly made them relevant again, and he continued to show he was one of the most natural baseball talents of his generation.  Then he was suspended for steroids in 2018, missing a huge chunk of the season.  Then the trade to the Mets happened, giving him a fresh start back in New York.  Although 2019 didn't go great, 2020 showed the Mets there was still some life in that 37 year old bat.  Then this offseason he received his second steroids suspension, this time knocking him out for an entire season.  If this season is as successful without him as it is looking to be, the Mets might want to move on, even though he is still under contract for 2 more seasons after 2021.  Also, after a full season suspension, baseball might just be done with him, and one of the greatest players of the 21st century so far might be sent off and never heard from again.

Monday, March 29, 2021

2021 Pre-Season Profile: Oakland Athletics

Every year, the Oakland Athletics seem to outperform other teams loaded with more star power and big contracts.  Will 2021 continue their run of seemingly anonymous success?

#9 - 2nd in AL West, WILD CARD, lose in Wild Card Game
MIH - Marcus Semien
MIP - Liam Hendriks
PTW - Jesus Luzardo

2020 Results
#5 - 36-24, 1st in AL West, lost in ALDS
The A's once again put together a stellar regular season even though it was short.  Taking the crown in the AL West with a bad year from their 2019 MVP candidate in Marcus Semien and without a full season from their best player in Matt Chapman, the A's showed just how much of a collective team they are.  With that said, when everything was on the line in the playoffs, they couldn't beat the Astros even though they were by far the superior team in the regular season.  This seems to be the next step for the A's; turn regular season success into postseason success.

Additions / Subtractions
It may be a challenge for the A's to improve much this season considering what they lost this offseason.  Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks, two of their most productive players over the last few seasons, signed free agent deals elsewhere.  Outfielder Robbie Grossman also moved on.  To replace Semien at shortstop, they traded away DH Khris Davis for veteran shortstop Elvis Andrus in one of the more fascinating trades of the offseason.  They also signed Trevor Rosenthal and Sergio Romo to help fill the void in the bullpen left by Hendriks.  The only other significant move made was signing Mitch Moreland as a possible DH and depth option.

Most Important Hitter
Matt Olson
Matt Olson is another player that wasn't stellar for the A's in 2020, but he is a cornerstone of their lineup.  A Gold Glove caliber first baseman, Olson has also shown some great pop in the heart of the order.  He has the potential to continue to grow into a superstar, but he has to bounce back from the lackluster 2020.  The Two Matt's (Olson and Chapman) are the keys to so much of what the A's do in 2021.  Since they proved last season they could survive extended stretches without Chapman, that makes Olson the pick here.

Most Important Pitcher
Jesus Luzardo
The A's have a lot of unassuming but productive talent in the lineup that can match up with anyone.  If they lack one thing, it is an ace that can go toe-to-toe with any team out there.  Chris Bassitt had an outstanding year in 2020, but he is reaching the back half of his career so who knows how long that will keep up.  The future ace of this staff needs to be Jesus Luzardo.  It may be a little too early to place huge expectations on a guy like this as he is only entering his age 23 season, but he has the dynamic stuff to be a star in the league.  He was just about average in 2020, finishing with a 98 ERA+.  He needs to take a huge leap forward and be the stopper that rotation desperately needs. if they plan on having the postseason success they have been missing.

Prospect to Watch
A.J. Puk
It's about time for the A's to start retooling their farm system.  They currently boast no prospects in the Top 100 and sit in the lower third of the league in terms of overall farm system.  With all that said, I think it is finally time for A.J. Puk to break out.  This 6'7" lefty has been on the verge of stardom for several years now, but some injuries have delayed his arrival.  Now he is about to turn 26 years old and has fallen out of the Top 100 simply because who knows if he can stay healthy.  His stuff is electric though, and if he can finally put it all together, watch out!

2021 Prediction
1st in AL West, lose in ALDS
This season has the potential to look very similar to Oakland fans.  They are going to have an excellent regular season, aided by a potentially softening division.  Then they will get to the playoffs and run into some juggernaut superteams and not stand a chance.  I think playoff appearances might be the peak for this team as it is currently constructed.  Going beyond that would be an over-achievement they have not been able to reach quite yet.

Fearless Predictions
Before Opening Day 2022, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson will be traded, a new ballpark deal is done, or the A's will announce a relocation.
Both Matts are under club control with the A's through the 2023 season.  With the trajectory their careers are headed, it is only a matter of time before the A's look to unload them at their peak value before they have to pay them too much, especially considering their lackluster farm system.  Either that, or something in their situation in Oakland changes that helps them bring in more revenue and allows them to sign someone to a long term deal.  Or they get ready to leave town.  In the next 12 months, it is very likely that one of those three things happens.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

2021 Pre-Season Profile: San Diego Padres

The San Diego Padres were one of the most exciting young teams in all of baseball in 2020, and they followed that up with the most exciting offseason of any team in the league.  Will all that excitement lead to a deep postseason run in 2021?

#19 - 3rd in NL West
MIH - Manny Machado
MIP - Garrett Richards
PTW - MacKenzie Gore

2020 Results
#3 - 37-23, 2nd in NL West, lost in NLDS
Everyone knew the Padres were on the verge of being a contender for several years now.  They had built up an elite farm system and were surrounding that young talent with some great veteran stars.  It was just a matter of when.  In a shortened season like 2020, I didn't see the jump happening, but it did.  Slam Diego became must-see TV, with mid-season trades for pitcher Mike Clevinger, catcher Aaron Nola, and closer Trevor Rosenthal showing they were ready to commit to this team's success.  But the couldn't win the division, despite the third best record in all of baseball, thanks to the Dodgers.  And they couldn't advance far in the postseason thanks to the Dodgers.  There's a theme here...

Additions / Subtractions
You would think a team coming off such a huge successful year like this with a farm system bursting with talent might let their talent naturally take the next step forward.  Not the Padres!  They saw that Dodger superteam in front of them and tooled up to try and take them down.  So instead they used their farm system to trade for Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove to make their rotation elite (and to make up for the injury to Mike Clevinger).  They signed reliever Mark Melancon to replace Trevor Rosenthal in the back of the bullpen.  The only real addition to the lineup was a move for depth, adding Korean standout infielder Ha-Seong Kim.  They also locked up their young superstar, Fernando Tatis Jr., through 2034!  I didn't know it was possible for the third best team in baseball to improve this much.

Most Important Hitter
Fernando Tatis Jr.
He is the league's next superstar.  He is possibly the next face of the sport.  He just signed a 14 year megadeal.  He is the 22 year old leader of the most exciting team in baseball.  He's also never played more than 84 games in a season at the big league level.  For as amazing and potentially legendary Tatis Jr. is, there are still some serious question marks heading into 2021.  He finished 3rd for Rookie of the Year in 2019, playing only 84 games due to injury.  He finished 4th in MVP in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, playing in 59 of the team's 60 games.  How will his young body hold up under 162?  All indications are that this isn't a problem, but he's never done it.  If he is able to put in a full season, all those expectations put on his back will be completely justified.

Most Important Pitcher
Blake Snell
The Padres paid a big price to bring Blake Snell in, but his career has shown some inconsistencies that make this move somewhat risky.  In 2018, Snell was out of this world, winning the Cy Young with 21 wins, a 1.89 ERA, and a ridiculous 217 ERA+.  In 2019, he struggled with some injuries and was barely above average.  In 2020, he bounced back with a strong season, but nowhere near his 2018 production.  The lasting image of 2020 was him being taken out of the final World Series game despite his complete dominance of the Dodger lineup.  The Rays wouldn't let him be a workhorse like he wanted to be, which is partially why it made sense to trade him away.  Now the Padres will probably let him be that workhorse, but can he handle it?  Even in his Cy Young year of 2018, he only pitched 180 innings.  He is coming off an injury season in 2019 and a shortened season in 2020.  Can his arm handle to workload and the pressure of what the Padres want from him?

Prospect to Watch
MacKenzie Gore
Like I said, the Padres have been using their farm system more to acquire established talent than to directly impact the big league roster.  With that said, the Padres still rank as the 6th best farm system in baseball, with 4 players in the Top 100 Prospects.  The best of these players, and probably the only untouchable prospect in their system, is MacKenzie Gore.  This lefty was my Prospect to Watch last season, and if it were a full regular season, you can be sure we would have seen him.  Everyone assumed he would have a spot in the rotation for 2021, but then the Padres went and traded for a bunch of aces.  Now their 2020 Opening Day starter barely has a spot.  With all that said, barring an injury MacKenzie Gore will play a role on the 2021 Padres at some point.  With the jump back up to 162 games, look for him to be brought up at some point to add more depth to the rotation and never look back.

2021 Prediction
2nd in NL West, lose in Wild Card Game
The San Diego Padres might have the 2nd best roster in all of baseball entering 2021.  They might be the most exciting team to watch this season with all their young talent and trades.  I will be rooting for them because they are a fun breath of fresh air.  The problem is if they have the 2nd best roster, the best roster is in their division.  That means that they will be stuck getting a Wild Card spot even though they could easily win over 100 games.  As of right now, we are back to the old playoff format, which means one Wild Card Game to make the divisional round.  I would take the Padres in almost any playoff series, but with how I have the playoffs predicted shaking out I don't like the matchup in a one game playoff.  So I see this season ending in great disappointment for the Padres, but that won't change how exciting they will be to watch.

Fearless Prediction
The San Diego Padres will win the NL West in 2022.
As long as the Padres stay the course and don't blow up their roster after a possible disappointing end to 2021, I could see 2022 be the season where they overtake the Dodgers as the top team in the division and the top team in the league.  Will that lead to World Series appearances?  That remains to be seen, but this team is heading in the right direction for sure.

Friday, March 26, 2021

2021 Pre-Season Profile: Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins extended their improbable postseason losing streak to 18 games in 2020.  Will the streak end in 2021?  Will it keep going?  Will they have a chance to end it?

#3 - 1st in AL Central, lose in ALCS
MIH - Byron Buxton
MIP - Kenta Maeda
PTW - Alex Kirilloff

2020 Results
#4 - 36-24, 1st in AL Central, lost in Wild Card Round
In the 2020 regular season, everything went right for the Minnesota Twins.  They won the division, they were one of the best teams in the American League, and they were well positioned to make a deep postseason run playing a team with a losing record in the first round.  Then they actually got to the postseason.  That team with the losing record was the Houston Astros who definitely know how to play in the postseason.  The Twins don't, and they were quickly swept out of the playoffs before they even realized they started.  It extended this crazy streak of playoff futility.  Now, no one remembers all the successes of the season.  All anyone remembers is how disappointing the season ended.

Additions / Subtractions
The biggest need for the Twins entering the offseason was pitching, with Jake Odorizzi leaving in free agency.  They tried to address it by signing J.A. Happ for the rotation and Alex Colome to strengthen the bullpen.  The biggest offseason moves for the Twins were the re-signing of veteran slugger Nelson Cruz and locking down the shortstop position with the slick-fielding Andrelton Simmons.

Most Important Hitter
Max Kepler
A breakout star for the Twins in 2019 was Max Kepler, who ended up garnering MVP votes at seasons end.  In 2020, Kepler was good but not great.  The Twins' lineup is definitely the strength of the team, with a mix of up-and-coming stars and established veterans.  Kepler, along with Byron Buxton, have the potential of being the stars of the Twins' roster for years to come.  A bounce back season from Kepler in 2021 should establish himself as one of the league's rising stars and a bat the Twins can rely on moving forward.

Most Important Pitcher
Jose Berrios
For years, everyone has been waiting for Jose Berrios to put everything together and establish himself as one of the most electric and dominant pitchers in all of baseball.  Although he has shown great durability and some great success in the league, making the All Star Team in both 2018 and 2019, he has yet to make himself the "guy."  In 2021, Kenta Maeda established himself as the ace of the Twins' staff, which happened because of a career year from Maeda and another good not great year from Berrios.  Entering his age 27 season, Berrios has maybe another season or two to find that dominance.  If he doesn't, he will still be a good pitcher, but the Twins need him to be an ace, not just good.

Prospect to Watch
Alex Kirilloff
My pick for the Prospect to Watch for the Twins in 2020, Alex Kirilloff would have definitely gotten his opportunity last year if not for the shortened season.  Instead, he didn't make any impact until he became the first player in MLB history to make his Major League debut by starting a playoff game.  Now, although he is slated to start this season in the minors, Kirilloff should be a regular part of the big league starting lineup at some point this season and for years to come.

2021 Prediction
2nd in AL Central, WILD CARD, lose in Wild Card Game
The Twins have a lineup that feels mostly unchanged from 2020, but they also feel like a playoff team that might be starting to lose some steam in terms of their success and dominance.  Their inability to truly upgrade, especially in their starting rotation, will keep them from winning their division, putting them in the one game Wild Card Round.  Not having the go-to ace, I'm predicting that ridiculous playoff losing streak will extend by one.

Fearless Prediction
The Twins' top starting pitcher entering the postseason is currently not on their roster.
At some point, the Twins have to recognize their need for more pitching.  At least you would think so.  Look for the to pull off a trade at some point throughout the season for a starting pitcher that becomes the ace of the staff ahead of Maeda and Berrios.  It might be a little out of character for the Twins to do so, but it could easily be a necessity for a team that might be feeling their hold on the division slipping away.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

2021 Pre-Season Profile: Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays made it all the way to the World Series in 2020 before losing to the Dodgers.  Can this roster see the same level of success in a full season in 2021?

#2 - 1st in AL East, lose in World Series
MIH - Austin Meadows
MIP - Blake Snell
PTW - Brendan McKay

2020 Results
#2 - 40-20, 1st in AL East, lost in World Series
I was pretty excited when I realized I successfully predicted the World Series teams and result.  The Rays rode their insane bullpen and deep roster built for playing the matchup game all the way to the Fall Classic before losing to the Dodger juggernaut.  It really felt like the Rays started to run out of steam at the wrong time.  So, they pulled their ace starter while he was dealing.  Sorry, pulling Snell in that last game still makes no sense.

Additions / Subtractions
Speaking of Blake Snell, one of the biggest storylines of the offseason was the Rays unloading Blake Snell to the Padres for a haul of prospects.  Charlie Morton also signed elsewhere, leaving a couple holes in the rotation.  They filled these holes, at least to start the season, with Chris Archer, Rich Hill, and Collin McHugh.  As far as the lineup is concerned, outside of letting Hunter Renfroe sign elsewhere, they are entering 2021 with the same lineup they ended 2020 with.

Most Important Hitter
Randy Arozarena
Randy Arozarena is technically still a prospect with rookie status in tact, however I don't know if more is expected from a "rookie" this season than what is expected of him.  That's because no one has ever had a run like Arozarena had in the 2020 postseason.  Acquired before the 2020 season in a prospect-for-prospect trade, Arozarena shocked everyone with the production he gave this lineup down the stretch.  He became the heart of their lineup, and at times in the playoffs, he was the only bat actually producing runs.  Now everyone is wondering if he is the player that set postseason records or the player that entered 2020 outside the Rays' top 10 prospects.  Not only that, but the Rays need him to be the more productive version to stabilize their lineup and give them consistent middle-of-the-order production.  A lot to ask of a guy with only 23 regular season games at the big league level.

Most Important Pitcher
Tyler Glasnow
With the trade of Blake Snell, the Rays' starting rotation has a massive hole at the top of the rotation.  The pitcher most likely to fill that hole is Tyler Glasnow.  Glasnow has proven so far in his young career that he can be an ace of a staff and dominate any lineup.  With a team that relies so heavily on their bullpen like the Rays do, having one starter that can be leaned on to go deep in games is important.  Glasnow can be that pitcher in 2021.  The Rays must feel some level of vindication boasting a rotation this season with Tyler Glasnow and Chris Archer, two players that were traded for each other a few years ago.

Prospect to Watch
Wander Franco
The Rays not only are the defending American League champions, but they also have the best farm system in all of baseball.  Boasting 8 players in the Top 100 Prospects, six of them look like they could make a big league impact this season.  Included in that list are Randy Arozarena, Luis Patino (the centerpiece of the Blake Snell trade), and potential two-way player Brendan McKay.  These three, along with middle infielder Vidal Brujan and lefty Shane McClanahan, would all carry with them a high level of excitement on their own.  However, with the possible exception of Arozarena, they are all overshadowed by the top prospect in all of baseball.  Wander Franco has a chance to hit the big leagues this year, and be an instant star at age 20.  This switch-hitting shortstop is projected to be the best hitting prospect around, able to hit for average and power.  If he gets the opportunity to make his debut in 2021, everyone better be watching.

2021 Prediction
3rd in AL East
This is the last team I have missing the playoffs.  The Rays definitely do things differently, constantly building up their farm system so they can keep trading their stars before they get paid for more prospects.  It seems to be a system they have perfected.  Their lack of reliance on their starting pitchers and total reliance on their killer bullpen is also unique and trend-setting.  However, the end of their postseason run in 2020 showed that their bullpen can run out of steam.  Also, deep playoff runs means less recovery time for the next season, and even though the season was short, their pitching staff has a chance to struggle with the short turnaround and the full 162 being an option.  Add to all this the strength at the top of this division and what they have to compete with, I have the Rays just missing the playoffs.  I hope I'm wrong because they are always fascinating to watch at the least.

Fearless Prediction
Randy Arozarena will hit less home runs in 2021 than he did in 2020.
Randy Arozarena's hot start in 2020 led to 8 home runs in 23 regular season games and 10 more home runs in the playoffs, setting records.  Now everyone sees him coming.  I think Arozarena is due for a sophomore slump in 2021.  Look for the power numbers to decline significantly and maybe even warrant a trip down to AAA at some point in the season.  Then again, I could be wrong, and he could be a top 10 player in all of baseball.