Published On: Thu, Mar 1st, 2018

5 non-playoff teams from last season poised to bounce back in 2018

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It’s evident the performance of certain teams will fluctuate each season. Last year, in dramatic fashion, three clubs in particular – the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, and Minnesota Twins proved this to be true.

In 2016, the Twins lost a league-leading 103 games and nine more than any other team in baseball. Arizona was close with 93, followed by the 87-loss Rockies. A calendar year later, all three qualified as wild-card teams, improving to a combined win differential of plus-62.

Following a stagnant offseason that forced most of the league’s best free agents to sign later than anticipated, teams that missed out on October baseball will look to replicate the success of, and perhaps displace Arizona, Colorado, and Minnesota for postseason spots in 2018.

Here are five teams that could rise from the proverbial ashes and return to the playoffs:

*Projected records courtesy of FanGraphs

New York Mets

2017 record: 70-92

Projected 2018 record: 81-81

Few teams experienced a more drastic fall off than the Mets last year. After reaching the World Series in 2015 and qualifying for a wild-card spot the year after, injuries completely ravaged the team.

The 2016 campaign was a great indication of what the Mets’ starting rotation can do when healthy (minus Big Sexy, of course). The group finished with a league-leading 3.58 FIP and 18.0 WAR. In 2017, however, only Jacob deGrom made more than 30 starts, followed by Robert Gsellman (22). Offensively, Yoenis Cespedes (the 135 wRC+ and 3.2 WAR player of a year ago), was limited to 81 games, while Michael Conforto suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in late August.

With an eye on 2018, the Mets had a nice offseason, reuniting with Jay Bruce while signing Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez, reliever Anthony Swarzak, and lefty starter Jason Vargas. These additions, Thor tossing heat, and improved health should lead to a bounce back.

Toronto Blue Jays

2017 record: 76-86

Projected 2018 record: 87-75

Projections should be taken with a grain of salt, but FanGraphs sure like the Blue Jays’ chances of returning to the postseason in 2018.

General manager Ross Atkins’ approach to the offseason should be commended, though much of the talk has surrounded Josh Donaldson‘s impending free-agent status in 2019. All that matters right now is the present, and with Atkins adding some much-needed infield depth in the form of Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte, as well as low-risk, high-reward pieces in Randal Grichuk, Curtis Granderson, Jaime Garcia, and Seung Hwan-Oh, the Blue Jays should compete for an AL wild-card spot.

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98

Projected 2018 record: 82-80

As the Rockies and Diamondbacks surged in 2017, the Giants – an organization with three World Series titles since 2010 – tied the Detroit Tigers with the most losses in all of baseball. With an incredibly loyal fan base and a desire to get back to its winning culture, the front office heavily pursued Giancarlo Stanton all winter, then went out and acquired Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria in separate trades.

Outside of those new additions, all of the Giants’ success will run through ace Madison Bumgarner, who missed three months last season with a shoulder injury he sustained in a fluke dirt bike accident. The NL West, once again, will be highly competitive. This time, the Giants appear to be well prepared to make a run with elite reinforcements at their disposal.

Los Angeles Angels

2017 record: 80-82

Projected 2018 record: 84-78

When two-way Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani announced his decision to sign with the Angels, it triggered excitement, in large part due to him joining the world’s best player in Mike Trout. However, it’s what the Angels did in addition to Ohtani that could lead to their first trip to the postseason since 2014.

General manager Billy Eppler replaced Yunel Escobar (0.8 WAR), Danny Espinosa (-1.0 WAR), and Cliff Pennington (0.4 WAR) with Zack Cozart (5.0 WAR) and Ian Kinsler (2.4 WAR). That, along with Ohtani’s projected 3.6 WAR and a full season of Justin Upton, should push the Angels to one of two wild-card spots.

St. Louis Cardinals

2017 record: 83-79

Projected 2018 record: 87-75

In 2017, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cardinals were the only teams with winning records that failed to qualify for the postseason. Sure, the Brewers added Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, but until they sign or trade for a top-tier starter, the Cardinals – a group who finished 2017 with a superior 87 Pythagorean wins – have an edge.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, and Washington Nationals should repeat as division champions. That leaves the Cardinals to compete for one of two wild-card spots. The red birds stand out because of a well-balanced lineup that features All-Star outfielder Marcell Ozuna, breakout star Tommy Pham, and the criminally underrated Matt Carpenter. Owning one of the deepest starting rotations in all of baseball is also in the Cardinals’ favor, only this time, it will include former top prospect Alex Reyes, who returns after missing the 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery.

The Cardinals, an organization that prides itself on consistency, should have no problem finishing 2018 with its 11th straight winning season. October baseball will follow.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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