Baseball is beautiful in the sense that any team can get hot and immediately be in the mix for a postseason berth. Every year, it seems like a few teams make major improvements from the year before regardless of if it was expected to happen.
In 2011, the Arizona Diamondbacks went 94-68 and won the NL West a year after going 65-97 and finishing in last place. The Baltimore Orioles did something similar from going 69-93 in 2011 to 93-69 in 2012 and snapping their 15-year playoff drought. Last season, the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies shocked the baseball world by battling each other for the second NL Wild Card spot up till the 161st game of the year, with the Rockies clinching the spot by one game.
It doesn’t matter if a club makes the postseason as long as they improve drastically from the previous season. How the next season goes will say whether the previous year was legit or a fluke, and 2018 has its share of clubs that could make noise when nobody expects them to compete.
1 Oakland A’s (75-87 in 2017, 5th in AL West)
The Oakland A’s have been going through a rebuilding process since 2015 but last season featured a flux of rookies that helped the A’s go 75-87 to finish the year. It was still a last-place finish, but Oakland proved they could be a force, possibly as soon as this season in an AL West division that expects to see the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels compete for the division the next few seasons.
The A’s have a balance of youngsters and veterans in the lineup and rotation going into 2018. Led by power slugger Khris Davis and outfielder Matt Joyce, the A’s expect to pose a threat to opposing pitchers over the course of the season. Rookie Matt Olson hit 24 home runs in his time with the club last year, 13 of them in September, and Chad Pinder should also be a key piece in the lineup when healthy.
As for the rotation, Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman look to be the top two pitchers. Graveman was on the disabled list for a good chunk of the season but was good when he was on the mound. Flamethrower Jharel Cotton looks to bounce back and stay in the rotation as well after posting a 5.58 ERA in 24 starts.
If the A’s can get the rotation struggles out of the way, this team could easily take second place in the AL West and fight for an AL Wild Card spot.
2 Toronto Blue Jays (76-86 in 2017, 4th in AL East)
Being bitten by the injury bug never helps a ball club over the course of the season. Losing Josh Donaldson at the beginning of the year set the stage for more players spending time on the DL which included Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, and Russell Martin.
A break out year from Justin Smoak wasn’t enough to keep the club in contention either. Smoak blasted 38 home runs with 90 RBI while hitting .270, all career bests. Donaldson’s return from the DL didn’t make a difference either, even though he finished the year with 33 home runs and also hit .270.
The rotation was also hit by the injury bug, starting with 2016 AL ERA champion Aaron Sanchez landing on the DL three separate times. JA Happ also spent a fair amount of time on the DL, making only 25 starts and posting a 10-11 record after winning 20 games in 2016.
If it wasn’t for the injury bug, the Blue Jays would’ve been okay last season. It’s hard to say whether they would’ve made the postseason but they would’ve been serious contenders for one of the wild card spots. If all gets off to a good start this season, the Blue Jays could make noise with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for a playoff spot.
3 Philadelphia Phillies (66-96 in 2017, 5th in NL East)
It’s clear the Phillies are expected to be contenders by 2019, but like the Brewers last season, the Phillies could put themselves a year early if all goes well. The Phillies have two top prospects in Scott Kingery and JP Crawford that could debut as early as this season, but the team is expected to get back to their winning ways after 2019.
Adding Carlos Santana gives the Phillies more power in the lineup but bounce-back seasons from Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco will be key to the Phillies' success this season. Franco struck out less than 100 times last season in 154 games played, which is a positive sign towards a potential rebound, but there is still work to be done. As for the catching duties, Jorge Alfaro made a strong case in a short stint that he could be the primary catcher over Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp, but we’ll have to see what manager Gabe Kapler decides who gets the primary duties this season.
Pitching-wise, the Phillies made a statement to the rest of the NL East by signing Jake Arrieta to a three-year deal. Arrieta will bring his winning experience from his time with the Chicago Cubs to a young Phillies club looking to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and help mentor a young rotation led by Aaron Nola.
The Phillies have plenty of young arms in the rotation behind Arrieta and the bullpen isn’t something to scoff at either. Hector Neris thrived in the closer’s role last season and Luis Garcia and Edubray Ramos will likely take on set up roles in the later innings after putting up good numbers from last season. The Phillies aren’t a dark horse but if all goes well, they could easily compete for a wild card spot in the NL.
4 San Diego Padres (71-91 in 2017, 4th in NL West)
The Padres have been doing whatever it takes to bring winning ways back to San Diego the last few years but haven’t been successful. They barely missed the playoffs in 2007 and nearly won the NL West in 2010, but haven’t put up a winning season since. Now it only looks like a matter of time before the Padres consistently put themselves in the postseason picture.
They have one of the top farm systems in baseball but on paper, they also have one of the best teams taking the field in 2018. The additions of Eric Hosmer, Chase Headley, and Freddy Galvis provide upgrades in the infield on the offensive spectrum and Wil Myers now has a team that’ll offer better support in the lineup.
The pitching staff is something to be concerned about but having young pitchers isn’t terrible either. This year will be a learning process for the pitchers as they learn how to step up and take leadership in the clubhouse and perform to the best of their abilities on the field.
It’s hard to imagine the Padres winning the NL West in 2018 but three years from now, it could be possible. The Padres will have to get through the rest of the division, including the newly revamped San Francisco Giants lineup that includes Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, if they want to compete for a playoff spot. Adding bats to the lineup will not help them win but if the club gets themselves in a good spot by the All-Star Break, they could add a pitcher who can help them in the long run.
5 St. Louis Cardinals (83-79 in 2017, 3rd in NL Central)
The Cardinals may have posted a winning season last year, but they missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season. After watching the Brewers nearly make the playoffs, the Cardinals took advantage to retool their roster this offseason to compete with their division rivals.
St. Louis added outfielder Marcell Ozuna in a trade with the Miami Marlins this offseason and brought in Luke Gregerson to take on closer duties in the bullpen. Ozuna had a breakout season with the Marlins last year, hitting .312 with 37 home runs, and will provide a boost to the lineup that failed to have a hitter hit over 25 home runs last year.
Gregerson will provide consistency to the back end of the bullpen, which struggled closing out games in 2018. Gregerson had the worst season of his career last year in terms of ERA at 4.57, but he has a career 3.02 ERA in nine seasons. He hasn’t been a closer since his days in San Diego but if the opportunity presents itself, he still has the ability to take on those duties.
The Cardinals will have to get past the Cubs and Brewers if they want to reach the playoffs but a productive offseason puts them back in the mix to compete for a wild card spot. Like the Padres, this team is good on paper but the real key is being able to transfer paper talent onto the field, hoping to reach the playoffs once again.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?