Last Year’s MLB Bottom Feeders That Could Win the World Series
Published on March 09, 2018
Baseball is a sport that has largely been defined by parity for much of its history. We see teams go worst-to-first more often in baseball than in a sport like basketball, for instance. You can try to use all sorts of numbers to help you make prognostications, but baseball is an inherently unpredictable sport.
Heading into the 2018 season, there appear to be some clear-cut top dogs. The Houston Astros, fresh off winning it all last season, look even stronger on paper heading into the new campaign. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who came within a game of a title of their own, are primed to give it another go in 2018.
The New York Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton. The Chicago Cubs picked up Yu Darvish. The Cleveland Indians are largely the same team we saw lead the American League in wins last year. The Washington Nationals, who have made a habit of routinely , are once again favored to win the NL East.
While it’d be a surprise if one of those teams didn’t wind up winning it all last season, there are still 24 other teams in the league to be reckoned with. As we saw last season with the Cubs, nothing is certain once the games are actually played.
While a team most think may wind up in the basement of the standings is unlikely to win the 2018 World Series, stranger things have happened. Which long shot bets could actually make a surprising run this season?
It’s obviously too early to jump to any definitive conclusions, but the argument can be made that the American League West is then most stacked division in baseball, top-to-bottom.
You’ve got the defending world champs at the top. The Angels, who happen to have the best player in baseball on the roster, made the splashiest move of the offseason by signing Shohei Ohtani. The Mariners have a roster packed with veterans along with some interesting new faces like Dee Gordon and Ryon Healy. The Rangers…are a team that exists.
Then you have the A’s. Oakland finished in the cellar of the division last year, but their record wasn’t awful. They still finished 75-87, which wasn’t even close to being the worst record in baseball. The A’s come with the stigma of being a small-market team that leans heavily on pitching in order to succeed.
Oakland hit 234 homers as a team, which ranked fourth in all of baseball. That’s a staggering number, especially considering they play half of their games in one of baseball’s premier pitcher-friendly ballparks.
They lost Healy’s 25 homers this offseason, but they’re definitely not lacking pop moving forward. Khris Davis has quietly emerged as arguably baseball’s most threatening power bat. He led the team with 43 dongs last year after hitting 42 in 2016.
The real intrigue here lies with guys named Matt. Matt Joyce, Matt Olson and Matt Chapman combined to crank 63 bombs last season despite the fact that Olson and . Olson hit 24 of his own in just 189 at-bats. Marcus Semien, who is not named Matt, was limited to just 85 games due to injury. In 159 games back in ‘16, the shortstop hit 27 over the fence.
Whether Oakland is relevant in the postseason race this season will depend on how the pitching holds up. The team didn’t make any notable moves when it comes to the starting staff, so Bob Melvin and co. are banking on the potential of guys like Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton to finally start living up to their potential.
Manaea is the most likely of that group to emerge as an ace. The burly southpaw went 12-10 last season, and he managed to keep his ERA under 4.00 in 4 of the season’s 6 months. Entering his third year, a breakout could be on the way.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you to bet against the Astros winning this division again. That team is still stacked. That said, if they have a championship hangover, a team like the A’s could surprise some people. They might still be a year or 2 away from making serious noise, but don’t sleep on Oakland moving forward.
If you’ve read anything I’ve written recently regarding potential sleepers heading into 2018, you’ll know I’m bullish on the Phillies. This team has been working for the past few years with an eye on the future, and this could be the season that rebuilding process finally starts to bear fruit.
As is the case with the A’s, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Phils aren’t relevant until 2019 or later. Still, I’d be remiss to ignore the strides they seem to have made over the last few years and this past offseason. The hire of Gabe Kapler comes with some risk considering his lack of experience, but he looks like he has the perfect type of mindset to help lead a young team into the future.
It also helps to have talent everywhere, as the Phillies do. Their teardown and subsequent rebuild hasn’t been as aggressive as the neighboring 76ers’ was, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen the Phils playing relevant October baseball. Philadelphia hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since losing in the 2011 NLDS to the Cardinals.
Selling high on aging veterans has helped the Phillies restock the farm system. We’ve heard the names Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Rhys Hoskins and JP Crawford on top prospects lists for the last few years, and they’re finally making their way to the show. All 4 are expected to open the season as starters at the big league level.
There’s also tremendous upside in the young pitching staff. Aaron Nola is the unquestioned No. 1, but Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez come with some pedigree, too. Of the 5 projected starters, Eickhoff is actually the grizzled veteran of the bunch, and he’s only 27.
Philly’s pitching staff may not quite stack up with some of the other teams in the division (notably the Nationals’ and Mets’), but it probably won’t ultimately be the cause of their demise, either.
How Philly fares may depend on how guys like Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera hit. After solid showings in 2015 and 2016, Franco tailed off miserably last season. He still hit 24 homers, but he posted an unsightly .281 on-base percentage. He’s going to have to show better plate discipline moving forward. Still only 25, though, there’s reason to expect he can resume his upward trajectory.
Herrera has been a steady producer at the top of the order, but he’s also gone through extended slumps at times. Consistency is the name of the game with him. Despite the fact that it feels like he’s been around a while, he’s only 26 himself.
Philly makes them something of a wild card. Adding a veteran presence in Carlos Santana should help stabilize things, but there are a few question marks here. Still, it’s hard to argue with the talent at hand.
Philly could be a World Series contender as early as 2020. We’ve seen teams break through sooner than expected in the past, though, so why can’t these Phils?
I was somewhat dismissive of the Rangers earlier, but that was mostly a joke. Absolutely nobody is talking about Texas this year, which makes them an inherently interesting sleeper. Texas had 2 chances to win the World Series in recent years, only to fall short both times. Since then, they’ve essentially alternated playoff seasons.
Last year, they went just 78-84, which was good for fourth in the AL West. They were 23 games back of the Astros and never looked like a real threat to nab a Wild Card, either.
Heading into 2018, the roster looks quite a bit different from the one we saw on Opening Day of ‘17. Yu Darvish is obviously gone. Ditto for Jonathan Lucroy, who was one of the most disappointing players in baseball last season. Carlos Gomez is now in Tampa.
Other than veterans like Cole Hamels and Adrian Beltre, this is a young, intriguing roster. Rougned Odor was a letdown last season, but he still flashes insane power for a second baseman. Joey Gallo remains a work in progress, but he’s another guy that may be the most potent power bat in the big leagues.
Elvis Andrus has quietly become one of the better hitting shortstops in the league. Willie Calhoun, the prize from the Darvish trade, is expected to be the Opening Day left fielder. There are questions around whether he can actually play defense, but he’s yet another plus power bat.
He’s one of the streakier hitters in baseball, but he’s also entering his third full season at the age of 22. He’s not even close to having reached his full potential, yet he’s shown plenty of flashes. He managed to drive in 101 runs last season while slashing .253/.323/.422 with 20 homers. If he makes the leap in year 3, he has all the tools to be a superstar at this level. Keep an eye on him.
We know offense is rarely a problem for this team. The pitching staff is weird, though. Hamels is the “ace”, but he endured arguably his worst season last year. His strikeout rate plummeted from 23.6% in 2016 to just 17.1% last season. He battled some health problems, but he’s also now 34. There are reasons to be concerned that he’s in decline.
The rest of the starting staff is also lacking in youth. Bartolo Colon, who turns 45 (!!!) in May, has a shot at cracking the rotation. Texas also acquired Matt Moore from the Giants and signed Mike Minor and Doug Fister as free agents. , who hasn’t appeared in the majors since an unsuccessful stint with the Angels in ‘16. He will reportedly battle for the team’s vacant closer job.
The Rangers will hit a lot of home runs, but they might also allow plenty. This is a shoddy pitching staff at best, and they’re going to see an awful lot of the Astros, A’s, Mariners and Angels. It could be a rough year for pitching in Texas.
Still, if everything breaks right, there’s reason for optimism. Maybe Hamels can rediscover his old form. Maybe Moore, Fister, Colon and Minor hold up well enough to get by. We know they’re going to hit.
It’s tough to see how they can get through this division, but the Rangers aren’t the dumbest World Series bet at +10000. They could be closer than people think.