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glass Half-Full

Glass Half-Full Thoughts on Every MLB Team for 2020 Season – Bleacher Report

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    The schedule is shorter, but this still looks like the Dodgers' year.

    The schedule is shorter, but this still looks like the Dodgers’ year.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The 2020 season is finally upon Major League Baseball. And since everyone starts off with the same record, every team in the league has an excuse to think happy thoughts.

    Just in case, we figured we’d do it for them.

    We’ve come up with glass half-full thoughts for every team on the eve of the 2020 season. This mostly involved seeing the best in the league’s likely contenders. For other clubs that don’t inspire as much optimism, we highlighted silver linings that they have going for them.

    We’ll proceed in alphabetical order by city.

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 85-77

    Though nobody in the National League West came close to the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019, the Arizona Diamondbacks were the only other team in the division with a winning record.

    Notably, the D-backs still won more games (31) than they lost (22) after trading Zack Greinke on July 31. It wasn’t surprising that they subsequently loaded up for 2020 by adding Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun over the winter.

    Even sans Mike Leake following his opt-out, Bumgarner fits into one of the NL’s better starting rotations. Marte and Calhoun, meanwhile, will deepen an offense that was already solid with MVP candidate Ketel Marte at its heart last season.

    In a 162-game season, Arizona would probably be no match for Los Angeles. But in this year’s 60-game season, the Snakes might just get hot enough to pull off a stunning upset.

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 97-65

    Things haven’t gone great for Atlanta since it capped off a second straight division title last September.

    Atlanta was knocked out of the first round of the playoffs and then lost Josh Donaldson to free agency. More recently, opt-outs by Nick Markakis (here) and Felix Hernandez (here), Freddie Freeman’s illness, Cole Hamels’ triceps injury and the failed signing of Yasiel Puig have cast a cloud over the club’s summer camp.

    Nonetheless, Brian Snitker’s roster is marked by a deep offense centered on newcomer Marcell Ozuna and incumbent stars Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. The latter, in particular, will be an MVP candidate this year if he builds on his near-40/40 season in 2019.

    When Hamels returns, he’ll fit into a rotation headlined by budding ace Mike Soroka. Factor in a bullpen that’s deeper than it was in 2019, and Atlanta is arguably still the team to beat in the NL East.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 54-108

    The Baltimore Orioles can’t possibly lose over 100 games for a third year in a row. So, at least they have that going for them.

    And who knows? They might even be better than you think.

    The bright spots in Baltimore’s lineup include a .300 hitter (Hanser Alberto), a 30-homer slugger (Renato Nunez), a slick defender (Jose Iglesias) and an intriguing prospect (Austin Hays). In slugger Ryan Mountcastle, the O’s have still another up-and-coming prospect who’s this close to making his debut.

    On the mound, John Means was an All-Star in 2019 and hard-throwing right-hander Hunter Harvey looks like a potential closer in the making. So while the Orioles won’t be good this year, these parts and others could at least make them watchable for a change.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 84-78

    Given the volatile nature of their pitching staff, the Boston Red Sox are looking at a difficult road to contention even despite this year’s shortened schedule.

    And yet it’s not out of the question that they’ll be able to hit their way to October.

    Yes, 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts exited the picture when the Red Sox cynically traded him to the Dodgers in February. But the Red Sox still have J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, who had a .931 OPS and 101 home runs between them in 2019.

    Apart from them, youngsters like Andrew Benintendi, Alex Verdugo and Michael Chavis bring some upside to Boston’s lineup, while Jackie Bradley Jr., Mitch Moreland and Christian Vazquez are standout defenders who also have some power. If this lineup gets in a groove, watch out.

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 84-78

    The Chicago Cubs fell short of expectations last season, and then their offseason basically began and ended with their hiring of David Ross as their new manager in October.

    Such things make it easy to have low expectations for the Cubs in 2020, yet they’re arguably the team to beat in the NL Central.

    Assuming his back issues clear up, Anthony Rizzo will join with Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber to form one of the best offensive cores in the NL. The Cubs likewise have a major X-factor in Ian Happ, who was red-hot at the end of 2019.

    Further, nobody should underestimate Chicago’s starting rotation of Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood. Health permitting, All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel is a prime bounce-back candidate after his rough debut on the North Side last season.

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 72-89

    Whether the Chicago White Sox are good enough to finish ahead of the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland in the AL Central is debatable.

    But then again, the White Sox don’t need to achieve all their hopes and dreams this season. It would be good enough if they so much as finished with a winning record for the first time since 2012.

    To this end, they rightfully used the winter to flesh out their lineup around incumbent stars Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu. Edwin Encarnacion and Nomar Mazara will bring power to the party, while Yasmani Grandal and newly extended prospect Luis Robert will help on both sides of the ball.

    The White Sox have a bit more uncertainty on the mound. But at the least, it’ll be fun to watch Dallas Keuchel rack up ground balls while Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease light up the radar gun.

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 75-87

    The Cincinnati Reds scored only 4.3 runs per game in 2019, so it’s little wonder that they opened their checkbook for new bats over the winter.

    Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos each got $64 million contracts and Shogo Akiyama signed for $21 million. The first two offer plenty of power, while Akiyama is more of a prototypical leadoff man.

    Yet even as good as Cincinnati’s offense is now, the club’s rotation is still its star attraction. Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo are ace-caliber pitchers, and Trevor Bauer will be as well if he can turn the clock back to 2018. For their part, Wade Miley and Anthony DeSclafani are perhaps the best back-end starters in the NL.

    If the Reds offense can handle so much as a supporting role, the starters can spearhead the organization’s first trip to the postseason since 2013.

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Record: 93-69

    Because the Minnesota Twins are coming off a year in which they clubbed 307 home runs and won 101 games, they’re justifiably entering 2020 as the favorite to win the AL Central.

    Be that as it may, don’t rule out Cleveland as a candidate to take them down.

    In the process of securing its fourth straight season of at least 90 wins, Terry Francona’s squad actually had a winning record (10-9) against Minnesota in 2019. And that was without significant contributions from key players such as Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.

    Kluber is gone now, but Carrasco remains as part of an elite rotation trio alongside Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger. After finding his stroke in the second half of 2019, Ramirez should be able to help Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana anchor an underrated lineup.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 71-91

    Things got pretty ugly for the Colorado Rockies in 2019, and they didn’t do much to right the ship over the offseason. Heck, it’s a small miracle that all the Nolan Arenado trade rumors didn’t amount to anything.

    Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to completely write off the Rockies as a possible contender.

    In Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies still have a trio that posted a .940 OPS and 108 homers last season. And they could get plenty of help offensively if Daniel Murphy stays healthy and rookie Sam Hilliard keeps the power coming after mashing 42 homers in the minors and majors in 2019.

    As always, expectations for Rockies pitchers can only go so high. But in Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland and German Marquez, they have a talented rotation trio to serve as their staff’s backbone.

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 47-114

    “Bad” doesn’t even begin to describe what the Detroit Tigers were last season. And frankly, they’re not looking a whole lot better for 2020.

    But hey, at least Casey Mize should be seen in Detroit this year.

    The 23-year-old is barely two years removed from going to the Tigers with the No. 1 pick of the 2018 draft. Yet he was always projected to move quickly through their system, and he’s done so with the help of a 2.71 ERA over 26 minor league starts.

    With plus control of a three-pitch mix that’s highlighted by a devastating splitter, Mize has the goods to be in Detroit’s rotation right now. And from the sound of things, nothing would make manager Ron Gardenhire happier.

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 107-55

    Even though it feels like it’s been years since MLB lowered the boom on the Houston Astros for their sign-stealing scheme from 2017, they’re still Public Enemy No. 1.

    But if anyone’s waiting and hoping for the Astros to get their comeuppance on the field, here’s the problem with that: They’re still really, really good.

    They’re maybe not as good after losing Wade Miley and super-ace Gerrit Cole to free agency, but they still have Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke atop their rotation. They also boast one of the American League’s best bullpens.

    Their offense, meanwhile, is basically the same unit that they had in 2019. As in, the same offense that nearly matched the legendary 1927 New York Yankees in weighted runs created plus.

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 59-103

    It’s a safe guess that the Kansas City Royals won’t be any good this year, in part because their pitching staff isn’t much better than the unit that posted a 5.20 ERA in 2019.

    Their offense, on the other hand, could be fun to watch.

    In the middle of it is slugger Jorge Soler, who demolished the Royals’ previous club record by smashing 48 home runs last season. The Royals also have Whit Merrifield, who’s good for a .300 average with power and speed, and Hunter Dozier, who broke out with 26 homers in 2019.

    Yet Kansas City’s best highlight machines might be Adalberto Mondesi and the newly acquired Franchy Cordero. Though neither has been very reliable to date, both have shown tantalizing speed and power when they’ve been healthy.

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 72-90

    Specifically with regard to their moundstaff, whether the Los Angeles Angels have enough to hang in either the AL West or AL wild-card races is subject to debate.

    Their lineup, however, is one that no pitcher will look forward to facing.

    If they had been teammates in 2019, three-time AL MVP Mike Trout and newcomer Anthony Rendon would have combined for a 1.044 OPS and 79 home runs. Shohei Ohtani is a dangerous hitter in his own right, and a healthy Justin Upton should remind everyone that he is, too.

    It also shouldn’t be long before top prospect Jo Adell is in the fold. Though the Angels have resisted rushing him to the majors, his Trout-ian skill set is bound to force their hand sooner rather than later.

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 106-56

    For a second there, it was looking like the Dodgers’ trade for Mookie Betts could result in him playing a grand total of zero games for them.

    Now we know he can play at least 60 games in Los Angeles, plus however many games the Dodgers inevitably play in October.

    Between Betts, fellow MVP Cody Bellinger and All-Star Joc Pederson, the Dodgers boast the best outfield in baseball. And there’s plenty of offensive depth around them, notably highlighted by slugger Max Muncy and Rookie of the Year favorite Gavin Lux.

    The Dodgers don’t have quite as much pitching depth following David Price’s opt out. But with co-aces Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw atop their rotation and closer Kenley Jansen leading a talented bullpen, they nonetheless have the kind of pitching depth that other teams can only dream of.

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 57-105

    The Miami Marlins’ 2020 season figures to look a lot like their 2019 season. As in, not very good overall but at least highlighted by exciting pitching.

    At its peak, Miami’s starting rotation had a rock-solid 3.92 ERA at last year’s All-Star break. That was mostly thanks to Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith, who are back atop the club’s starting five this year.

    After them come Jose Urena and Pablo Lopez, both of whom have live arms. Rounding things out is Jordan Yamamoto, whose diverse pitch mix includes just about everything short of the proverbial kitchen sink.

    This could also be the year that Sixto Sanchez makes his major league debut. With sharp command of a lethal fastball-changeup combination, he’s earned comparisons to Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez.

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 89-73

    The Milwaukee Brewers had one of the stranger offseasons of any team. They were busy bringing in players, but in the process they lost Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas to greener pastures.

    What’s left is a team that’s definitely good, but which also has some odd-fitting parts. And in a 60-game season, there’s only so much time for everything to congeal into a cohesive whole.

    Still, any team that has Christian Yelich can’t be too bad. All he’s done since the 2018 All-Star break is slash .342/.436/.705 with 69 home runs.

    If Yelich does his thing while Keston Hiura builds on his 2019 breakout, Lorenzo Cain turns his clock back to 2018 and Ryan Braun settles in at designated hitter, the Brewers might at least hit their way to a third straight postseason.

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 101-61

    It was possible to have high hopes for the Twins heading into last season, but it’s doubtful that many saw an all-time home run record and over 100 wins coming.

    Much to their credit, the Twins didn’t back off over the winter. On the contrary, they doubled down.

    Their best move was bringing in 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson to be a part of the “Bomba Squad.” Another 307-homer season is obviously out of reach, but opposing pitchers won’t like navigating through Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano, Mitch Garver and Minnesota’s other regulars.

    While Twins hitters figure to do most of the heavy lifting, the team’s pitching staff also looks built for the long haul. Thanks to newcomers like Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey, Minnesota has more depth on the mound than it did last year.

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 86-76

    Ever since Noah Syndergaard was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery, it hasn’t been easy to argue for the New York Mets as the favorite in the NL East.

    And yet even without “Thor,” there’s the exciting possibility of what this Mets team could be.

    Because the DH will mean more at-bats for Dom Smith and a healthy Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets should have a deeper offense than last year’s Pete Alonso-led unit—which was darn good in its own right. Their rotation, meanwhile, still has back-to-back Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and All-Star Marcus Stroman.

    Though it was a disaster in 2019, New York’s bullpen has legit talent. Seth Lugo is coming off a breakout year. And if they can find the same magic that they collectively had in 2018, Edwin Diaz, Dellin Betances and Jeurys Famila will be a lockdown late-inning threesome.

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    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 103-59

    Whether you look at their inferior expected record or their unmatched number of injured list days, the New York Yankees had no business winning 103 games in 2019.

    That they did anyway speaks to how many useful players they had lying around, as well as to the deftness with which manager Aaron Boone used them. He must be thrilled, then, that he has a healthier and deeper roster at his disposal now.

    It’s not all good, as Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery), Masahiro Tanaka (concussion) and Aroldis Chapman (coronavirus) are out of action. Yet after missing much of 2019, sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are healthy and outfielder Aaron Hicks is back from his own Tommy John operation.

    In the person of Gerrit Cole, the Yankees also have the No. 1 starter that they lacked in 2019. That should make a major difference in the regular season, and even more so in October.

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 97-65

    The Oakland Athletics have won 97 games in back-to-back seasons. But because of those pesky Astros, all that’s gotten them is consecutive one-and-done appearances in the AL Wild Card Game.

    This year could be different.

    Above all, the A’s should thrive on an offense that produced 257 home runs in 2019 even without a functioning version of Khris Davis. He’s better now and looking forward to reclaiming his star status alongside Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Marcus Semien and Ramon Laureano.

    The A’s also have not one, not two, but three AL Rookie of the Year candidates. Catcher Sean Murphy is yet another offensive star in the making. Left-hander Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk are looking to buoy a pitching staff that will also feature a fully healthy Sean Manaea and veteran talents like Mike Fiers and Liam Hendriks.

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 81-81

    On their own, this year’s Philadelphia Phillies look pretty solid. The issue is that they look less solid in comparison to the other NL East contenders in Atlanta, Washington and New York.

    But like with the Mets, the upside is there.

    It starts with Bryce Harper, who’s out to build on a strong finish to 2019 in which he had a 1.006 OPS and 17 homers in his last 49 games. With more of that, he’ll emerge as an MVP candidate in a lineup that should also get strong support from Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Rhys Hoskins.

    The Phillies otherwise need staff ace Aaron Nola to revert to his 2018 form, when he led all pitchers with 10.2 rWAR. If he does that while Zack Wheeler finally unleashes the full potential of his electric stuff, the Phillies will have enough star power to play deep into October.

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 69-93

    Though they lost 93 games in 2019 and subsequently traded Starling Marte, if you squint hard enough the 2020 Pittsburgh Pirates start to look like a sleeper.

    Consider their pitching. Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams have solid stuff, and top prospect Mitch Keller has potential well beyond what last year’s 7.13 ERA would suggest. 

    The key will be for the Pirates to score more runs than they did in 2019, but that’s not out of the question. Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman can build on breakout seasons, and they might get help from a healthy Gregory Polanco and third base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes.

    Plus, it can’t hurt that the Pirates shook things up after their clubhouse went to rot last season. Manager Derek Shelton, in particular, could make a big difference after working under Kevin Cash in Tampa Bay and Rocco Baldelli in Minnesota.

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 70-92

    The San Diego Padres haven’t been to the postseason since 2006. For that matter, they haven’t even had a winning season since 2010.

    On the bright side, they only need 31 wins to change the latter this year. And there’s a decent chance that that’s merely this team’s floor.

    Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com is right to consider San Diego’s bullpen the best in the National League. Padres starters shouldn’t be sold short either, as Chris Paddack and fully functional versions of Garrett Richards and Dinelson Lamet have the potential to be an outstanding trio.

    Lineup-wise, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. is as good as it gets on the left side of the infield. If newcomer Tommy Pham stays healthy and Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers turn back the clock, San Diego’s offense will be a veritable steamroller.

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 77-85

    As the San Francisco Giants get ready to embark on what doesn’t look like a very promising season, there’s one big question on the mind of their fans.

    When will top prospect Joey Bart get the call?

    If the Giants leadership has its way, not any time soon. The prized catcher—he ranks as our No. 19 overall prospect—has only played in 130 minor league games since the Giants drafted him second overall in 2018. Manager Gabe Kapler, for one, thinks Bart needsa little more time to develop.”

    But with longtime catcher Buster Posey having opted out, there’s a clear opening for Bart behind the plate. It also seems like just about every player on the Giants wants to play alongside the 23-year-old not later, but now.

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 68-94

    After a strong start, the Seattle Mariners crumbled and limped to the finish line in 2019. In the process, it became clear that they’re a ways from returning to contention.

    That doesn’t mean they can’t have a fun 2020 season.

    Said fun might be amplified with the promotion of young outfielder Jarred Kelenic, who’s done nothing but raise his stock since Seattle acquired him from the Mets in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz trade. But like with the Giants and Bart, the Mariners don’t want to rush Kelenic.

    Even without him, though, the Mariners are still set to have five guys in their mid-20s in their everyday lineup: Shed Long Jr., J.P. Crawford, Kyle Lewis, Evan White and Jake Fraley. Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are two more for their rotation, all of which adds up to a promising youth movement.

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 91-71

    It might be a bad thing that the St. Louis Cardinals don’t look too different from the club that won the NL Central in 2019.

    After all, last year’s Cardinals were a subpar offensive club even with the .800 OPS and 29 homers that they got from Marcell Ozuna. He’s gone now, and the Cards made no real effort to fill his shoes with outside help.

    Then again, they may be on to something if they’re thinking no such effort was necessary. Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter can be a lot better than they were in 2019. And in Tyler O’Neill and top prospect Dylan Carlson, they have at least two high-upside pieces for their outfield.

    Otherwise, they’re returning basically the same pitching staff that finished with a solid 3.80 ERA in 2019. That includes Jack Flaherty, who finished last year with a sub-1.00 ERA in the second half.

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 96-66

    The Tampa Bay Rays won’t necessarily begin 2020 as the favorite to win the AL East, much less to represent the American League in the World Series.

    But if they did either of those things, would anyone be surprised?

    This is, after all, a team that won 96 games in 2019. That was mainly by way of an AL-best 3.65 ERA that they achieved despite injuries to aces Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow. Both are healthy now, and the two of them plus Charlie Morton are but three of many talented pitchers on Tampa Bay’s roster.

    Though the Rays offense is short on stars, it’s full of versatile defenders and platoon hitters for Kevin Cash to use as he pleases. With this much sheer depth, the Rays should be able to mix and match and, crucially, weather injuries and illnesses as well as any team in the American League.

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 78-84

    On paper, the Texas Rangers look like only the fourth-best team in the AL West. That makes them a long shot even for a wild-card berth, much less the division title.

    Their starting rotation might have something to say about that.

    It’s still headed by Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, who ranked first and third in the majors in rWAR last season. Backing them are three newcomers in two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. Together, that fivesome arguably comprises the AL’s best rotation.

    It’s less easy to think highly of the Rangers offense, but Joey Gallo ought to be on everyone’s radar as an MVP candidate. His power needs no introduction, yet it’s equally exciting that he showed off his athleticism and boosted his OBP last season. Those are the ingredients of a superstar.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 67-95

    With the Toronto Blue Jays, the only unknown at this point is when they’ll take their place as one of the powerhouse teams in the American League.

    In all likelihood, they might have to wait until next year. By then, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio will each have two years of experience. Plus, newcomer Hyun-Jin Ryu and top prospect Nate Pearson will have more time in 2021 to establish themselves as co-aces.

    But what if Toronto makes like Atlanta in 2018 and arrives a year ahead of schedule?

    It could happen if Guerrero, Bichette and Biggio take the leap to stardom this season, and if the Blue Jays are aggressive about putting Pearson and his triple-digit fastball in the big leagues. It sure wouldn’t hurt if Travis Shaw, Chase Anderson and Matt Shoemaker reverted to their best selves after difficult 2019 seasons.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 93-69

    At the outset of 2020, the Washington Nationals had more than just Anthony Rendon’s departure to worry about. What if they were undone by a dreaded World Series hangover?

    The lack of repeat World Series champions since the 1998-2000 Yankees is strong circumstantial evidence that such a thing is a real danger. The Nationals themselves don’t need convincing, as a possible hangover was on their minds last winter.

    To this end, the three-month break that baseball took between March and June may be a blessing in disguise for the defending champs. While other clubs might be worried about rust, the Nats might be glad that their players got an unforeseen chance to rest.

    If that makes a difference for Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and other stars, the Nationals could be back in the World Series this fall.

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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Google Glass 3.0? Google acquires smart glasses maker North – Ars Technica

The AR goggles market is heating up —

North picked up where Google Glass left off, and now it’s a part of Google.


  • North’s smart glasses. They look… normal?!

  • The sides are pretty beefy, though.


    North

  • It’s an easy guess where all the computer components are.


    North

  • Here’s what the UI looks like. (This image makes the UI apparently much bigger than it really is.)


    North

  • The thing sticking out on the left side is the laser for the display.


    North

  • Another view of the laser. The laser bounces off the lens and into your eye.


    North

  • You control the glasses with this joystick ring! Crazy, right?


    North

  • The case is also a charging case. Check out how oddly the glasses fold up.


    North

  • Plugging in the charging case.


    North

  • Here you can see a power button, speaker, power LED, and pogo pins.


    North

  • More UI pictures. Here’s a point of interest.


    North

  • A map icon.


    North

  • Call an Uber!


    North

Google Hardware’s latest acquisition is North, a wearables computing company that most recently was making smart glasses that seemed like a successor to Google Glass. Google Hardware SVP Rick Osterloh announced the purchase on Google’s blog, saying, “North’s technical expertise will help as we continue to invest in our hardware efforts and ambient computing future.”

North developed and released a pair of smart glasses called “Focals,” which came the closest we’ve seen so far to smart glasses that looked like normal glasses. First, the company didn’t neglect the “glasses” part of “smart glasses” and provided the frames in a range of styles, sizes, and colors, with support for prescription lenses. The technology was noticeably less invasive, too. Google Glass’s display surface was a transparent block distractingly placed in front of the users’ face, but Focal’s display surface was the glasses’ lens itself. A laser projector poked out from the thicker-than-normal temple arms and fired into the lens, which has a special coating, allowing the projection to reflect light into the eye.

As you can probably guess from the thicker arms, all the computer components and the battery were smushed into the arms. The device worked a lot like a smartwatch, tethering to your phone for Internet and personal data. It not being a part of the Google or Apple ecosystem duopoly meant a host of app and ecosystem problems, but the glasses supported pop-up notifications, calendar viewing, weather, navigation, Uber, and some kind of messaging support. There was even Amazon Alexa support for voice commands. Like Google Glass, Focals aren’t augmented reality; they’re just a transparent display that shows flat imagery, more like a smartwatch for your face.

The other input mechanism was pretty wild: a joystick ring. You wore the ring around your index finger and could make a fist and control the tiny joystick nub with your thumb, allowing for directional navigation through the UI.

The Focals had some problems, mostly due to the particulars of the laser-beam scanning (LBS) display. The laser stuck out of the temple and reflected off the glasses lens and into the pupil. The angles wouldn’t work as a straight reflection, so a holographic coating was needed on the glasses lens to act as a tiled mirror, directing the laser light into the eye at the right angle. The effective sweet spot was incredibly small, so much so that Focals required every customer to show up to a physical store and have their head 3D scanned to allow a custom pair of glasses to be made for them. Even then, the display was tiny (North’s marketing images, showing a lens-filling image, were not accurate) with only a 300×300 resolution and a 15-degree field of view.

The Focals were anywhere from $600 to $1,000, depending on your color and prescription needs, and launched in 2019. By all accounts, the company was not doing well before Google bought it. After the January 2019 launch, Focals laid off 150 employees in February 2019, a substantial portion of the “over 400 people” it employed. Josh O’Kane, the reporter who broke the acquisition story for the Toronto-based Globe and Mail, said on Twitter, “We’ve learned the company likely sold very, very few Focals and was running out of money.” The company has planned a Focals 2.0 with a better display and lighter body, but with the Google acquisition, those products are canceled.

Google’s smart glasses contribution was, of course, the infamous Google Glass, which launched in 2012 and basically shut down as a consumer product about two years later. (North CEO Stephen Lake actually called Google Glass “a massive failure” in a 2019 tech talk. Awkward!) Most people would think of the product as dead, but Google quietly pivoted Glass to be an enterprise product for assembly-line workers, mechanics, doctors, and other professions that might benefit from hands-free computing. New Glass hardware came out as recently as 2019, with the “Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2,” which featured a modern 10nm Qualcomm SoC. With Apple reportedly building a set of smart glasses, the consumer market will probably heat up again soon.

The acquisition of North is the latest in a burst of purchases from Google’s hardware team. Google bought Fitbit in 2019 for $2.1 billion, its fifth-largest acquisition ever, and the purchase is still waiting for regulatory approval. Also in 2019, Google bought $40 million worth of technology and an R&D team from Fossil Group, a Wear OS smartwatch OEM. In 2018, Google closed a $1.1 billion deal with HTC, bringing the Pixel smartphone design team in-house.

Listing image by North

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