It's time for Portland to rebuild
Hello darkness my old friend...
Like MLB fans everywhere, I’ve tried to make the days before baseball's opening day go faster by reading dozens of previews, forecasts and bold predictions.
Except for one guy who says the National League will have three new division champs, it seems we’ve already decided that the Nationals, Cubs, and Dodgers will join the Astros, Indians, and the survivor of the New York-Boston battle as division leaders.
We even have a solid consensus on the wild card teams. Arizona and Colorado (unless the Brewers are for real), along with Minnesota and the lesser of the AL East combatants, will play extra games come September.
Why then must we play 162 games before the playoffs? Because there’s always that one team that surprises everybody. Maybe they don’t pick off the division leaders, but they play good, smart baseball and are fun to watch.
They are the teams we hope will make the leap and capture that second wild card, even if they don’t have much of a chance. Here are some teams I’ll be paying attention to in 2018:
Many of us wonder what Florida fans plan to do during the baseball season. Between the names Tampa Bay let go and the fire sale the Marlins held, there’s little reason to visit a stadium in the Sunshine State.
Or perhaps we don’t fully appreciate what the Rays did this off-season. Unloading Evan Longoria, Logan Morrison, Alex Cobb, Steve Cishek, Steven Souza, Corey Dickerson, and Jake Odorizzi and replacing them with a bunch of mostly unexciting names sure looked like a tank at first.
But here’s the thing. If you compare the fWAR of all the players removed from the roster and with the fWAR of the players replacing them, the difference is only one win.
Given that the Rays were a bit of a tough-luck team in 2017, that has several major projection sites predicting a run at a wild card spot with 82-84 wins.
Throw in the Ray’s experiment with a four-man rotation in 2018, and you have a team that I just have to follow. At least until the illusion is shattered.
Typically, I have a hard time watching the Angels because of their stupid name situation. Just call yourselves the California Angels and get on with it, will you?
After too many seasons, the Angels seemed to have realized that the best player in baseball can’t win championships for you if there isn’t enough talent around him.
This season, Mike Trout will play alongside the like of Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler, and Zack Cozart, each of whom represents a notable upgrade in offensive production from the players they replace. They won’t compromise their defense at all either.
Then there is “the Japanese Babe Ruth”, Shohei Ohtani, who will try to be a designated hitter and a starting pitcher for the Angels this season. His spring training was not very remarkable, but it is an interesting sideshow in what could be a boring American league pennant race.
Los Angeles (of Anaheim?) strengthened their bench, too and projects to be an above average offense and defense. Their young and unproven pitching staff keeps them from most playoff scenarios.
That staff did, however, help the Angels almost hit the .500 mark last season (80-82) despite a wealth of injuries, including Trout. It would only take a couple of more wins to compete for a wild card in 2018.
Seattle made me look positively psychic when, as predicted at the end of May, they went on a tear and climbed out of the AL West basement to challenge for a wild card.
Then, just as people were starting to notice, they collapsed again, thanks largely to injuries they couldn’t cover for. The Mariners learned their lesson.
First, they traded for Ryon Healy to fix their first base woes. Seattle ranked dead last in production from the spot in 2017.
Ichiro Suzuki was brought back to help cover for an injured Ben Gamel. They also brought back Wade LeBlanc to add some starting pitching depth and added Juan Nicasio to the bullpen. Both moves will leave the Mariners better-prepared for injuries.
But the move that will make me watch was trading for Marlins second baseman, Dee Gordon, and putting him in center field. Gordon’s speed will not only cover for any learning curve, it also puts an exciting pair of runners at the top of the order alongside Jean Segura.
Philadelphia’s excellent offseason make them worth watching. You can read the details here. St Louis’ manager, Mike Matheny, enters the season on the hot seat after missing the playoffs twice in a row. He has a slew of players looking to come back from off seasons and injuries. If they hold up, they could surprise the Cubs and Brewers.
Toronto is another team who thinks better health will put them in the wild card. With Houston, Cleveland, the Yankees, and Boston projected to finish miles ahead of all others, it won’t take much more than a .500 record to capture the second AL wild card.
That could make for lots of surprising contenders and some excitement in the standings. How exciting a bunch of .500 team can be remains to be seen? We might even see an AL team capture a wild card slot with a losing record.
But… who really knows what will happen. All we know for sure is that the umpires will yell “Play ball!” to kick off another season this week. That’s pretty exciting no matter what team you’re watching.