Welcome to the 5th and final day of my MLB preseason power rankings. We have finally made it to the top of the list. The most dominant teams are here. However, each of them had one Achilles Heel. That will be revealed today. Last time, we looked at some other contenders that had problems that were really holding them back. This time, the problems aren’t as big, and because of that, these 6 teams will dominate. Let’s get started with #6.
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6. Cleveland Indians
The Indians had a very brief off-season, but the moves they did make made a big impact. They signed Austin Jackson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Boone Logan. Each of these players will help the team in a different way. Jackson is a veteran mentor in the outfield that will rotate with the younger players. His bat will be helpful for the Indians. Edwin Encarnacion will play DH or first base, and his big bat will lead the Indians lineup. Logan will be a late inning reliever and helps this bullpen’s depth. These moves make the Indians look better than before and give them that last little push that makes them AL Central favorites.
The Case for the Indians
The Indians are in store for another strong season. Despite small holes, the Indians’ lineup is looking better than before. With Michael Brantley healthy, they could kick but. The rotation’s top three will still kick butt, but there are problems in the 4 and 5 spots. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin aren’t the greatest options out there. The Indians have always had bullpen depth issues as well, but helped resolve them by signing Boone Logan and claiming Tim Cooney off waivers. The Indians made some big moves this off-season and will hope that leads to a bigger season.
The Achilles Heel
It’s hard to point out one singular Achilles Heel for the Indians. The problems they have are all pretty small, but all together, they cause bigger problems. If there was one clear weakness on this team to point out, it would probably be the outfield. The rotation and bullpen aren’t that bad and have gotten better in recent years. Most of the lineup is good, but the outfield could be a problem. Michael Brantley should be good to go, but there aren’t many significant players around him. This wouldn’t be a problem if Brantley was 100%. But the Indians don’t have a good outfielder fully healthy. Austin Jackson is getting older, and the Indians don’t have another significant outfielder to fill the last slot. The last slot will have to be filled by players who aren’t quite ready yet. The choices are limited.
Best Case Scenario: The rotation thrives and a strong lineup leads the Indians back to the World Series.
Worst Case Scenario: The rotation struggles and the lineup can’t really do that much better as the Indians fail to win the AL Central.
Projected Finish: 92-70, 1st in AL Central
5. Boston Red Sox
Much like the Indians, the Red Sox had a very brief off-season but made the most of the moves they made. With Big Papi retired, the Red Sox added Mitch Moreland to preserve the dominant status of their lineup. They also traded away Yoan Moncada and three other prospects to the White Sox but got ace Chris Sale in return. Lastly, they traded Travis Shaw away for Tyler Thornburg. Hopefully, a slimmed-down Pablo Sandoval will fill Shaw’s role. Now, the lineup, rotation, and bullpen are better.
The Case for the Red Sox
The Red Sox are my team, so it’s hard not to be biased, but this is a very talented team. The rotation is one of the best in the league now, led by three ace level pitchers who are all Cy Young candidates. The lineup is still overpowered even without Big Papi, and if the back of the rotation struggles, the bullpen is improved as well. This is a strong all-around team but could they have a weak spot?
The Achilles Heel
Yes, even teams like this have an Achilles Heel. Without David Ortiz, there is a strain put on the lineup. Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill are also gone. Hanley Ramirez will move to DH. Mitch Moreland will fill in at first. But who plays third? Pablo Sandoval has not proved himself worthy since he joined the Red Sox. Maybe now that he lost some weight, he will have a bounce back year. But it is pretty risky putting him in the full-time starting job at third.
Best Case Scenario: The lineup continues to do well, the rotation kicks butt, and the Red Sox win their fourth World Series since breaking the curse.
Worst Case Scenario: The lineup struggles without Big Papi, the rotation can’t find a rhythm, and the Red Sox struggle to make the playoffs.
Projected Finish: 92-70, 1st in AL East
4. St. Louis Cardinals
Like many good teams, the Cardinals didn’t go all out this off-season but made a couple bold moves to improve. They got the Cubs back and picked up Dexter Fowler, who will be a leader in a young outfield. Now there’s competition in a tight NL Central. They also signed Brett Cecil to add to a strong bullpen. The Cardinals are in good shape.
The Case for the Cardinals
The Cardinals couldn’t compete with the Cubs in 2016, but they have gained on the Cubs. The addition of Dexter Fowler has helped. The bullpen is also better. The rotation should improve most of all. Lance Lynn is coming back, and I could see Mike Leake bouncing back. That fills a strong rotation that will help lead the Cardinals. The lineup is also better and after this off-season’s changes, the Cardinals will compete with the Cubs.
The Achilles Heel
The one problem with this team is that there’s too much pressure on the young guys to do well. Consistency is tough for young players, and parts of their lineup include younger players like Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk. and Aldemys Diaz. You never know with these younger players. Until players reach their prime, it’s hard to foresee how they will do. That’s where the Cardinals are at, and they’ve been facing that problem since they decided to let their younger players take over.
Best Case Scenario: The rotation dominates, the lineup looks better and the Cardinals win the NL Central with ease.
Worst Case Scenario: The young team is inconsistent and struggles, leading them to miss the playoffs for a second straight year.
Projected Finish: 93-69, 2nd in NL Central
3. Washington Nationals
Unlike most good teams, the Nationals were super busy this off-season. They got two new catchers, Derek Norris and Matt Wieters. They also signed Adam Lind and traded Lucas Giolito to Chicago for Adam Eaton. They also upgraded their bullpen, signing several guys including Joe Nathan. Will these moves be enough to finally win the Nats a World Series?
The Case for the Nationals
The Nationals are in good shape for 2017. The rotation still looks pretty good and is led by the best duo of starters in the league. The bullpen did have depth issues, but after this off-season, that shouldn’t be a problem. The lineup is also looking a little bit better after an active off-season. There could be a hole at shortstop if Trea Turner can’t play there, but Turner is the likely starter. The Nats are looking better in 2017 and could run for a championship.
The Achilles Heel
The one problem with this team is the infield. When Danny Espinosa left for LA, he left a hole. Now, there are questions remaining. Can Trea Turner adjust smoothly? How will the lineup and infield fare without Espinosa? Those questions must be answered, and if the Nats can say “yes” and “good” to those questions, they will do very well.
Best Case Scenario: The lineup looks better, the pitching dominates the league, and the Nationals go on to win the World Series.
Worst Case Scenario: The off-season’s lineup changes don’t work out, the rotation fails to stay healthy and the Nats fail to win the NL East.
Projected Finish: 93-69, 1st in NL East
2. Texas Rangers
The Rangers are looking good after their off-season moves. I know a lot of people think they’ll flop, but this team can be dominant, I can’t see them missing the playoffs. They improved their rotation. They signed former Padres pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross to add to a strong top of the rotation. The bullpen isn’t as good after losing Shawn Tolleson. The Rangers also signed James Loney and Mike Napoli to fill the gaps that Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland left. They also resigned most of their key free agents, which preserved most of what they had last year.
The Case for the Rangers
This team is better than it looks. You may think this lineup is getting older, but young stars are actually taking up a good part of it. The lineup will dominate. Meanwhile, the rotation has continued to improve. After boosting the top of the rotation the last two years, they signed two more starters to fill out the rest of the rotation with Derek Holland gone. The bullpen is looking better, but does it still need work.
The Achilles Heel
If you think that the lineup is the problem, you’re wrong. The rotation isn’t perfect. It can’t do everything. The weak bullpen will be a problem. It’s lacking depth, which can’t happen when the rotation is not completely solid. This isn’t the best rotation in the MLB. They can’t do the whole pitching job, and until they find some bullpen help in Texas, the pitching staff’s depth problems will be the Rangers Achilles Heel.
Best Case Scenario: The rotation is solid, the lineup is dominant, and the Rangers find themselves in the World Series.
Worst Case Scenario: The pitching staff holds the Rangers back, the lineup declines, and the Rangers are led to finish 3rd in the AL West.
Projected Finish: 94-68, 1st in AL West
1. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs did lose Jason Hammel, but they improved their depth in the rotation and bullpen. They signed Brett Anderson and claimed Eddie Butler of waivers to help their rotation. In order to upgrade the bullpen, they also signed Koji Uehara and traded away Jorge Soler for closer Wade Davis. In addition, with Dexter Fowler leaving they signed Jon Jay. The Cubs are looking like World Series contenders for the third year in a row, can they make what they have into a dynasty for years to come?
The Case for the Cubs
The lineup here is looking as good as last year. The fifth spot in the rotation could be a problem, but this team has so many bullpen options, and a few of them could compete for that 5th starting job. This team looks ready to dominate again in 2017. Their depth everywhere else isn’t as good as last year, but the lineup is solid, the rotation could be great, and the bullpen will help fill in the pitching’s holes.
The Achilles Heel
For such a perfect team, it’s hard to find an Achilles Heel without nitpicking. There is one problem, though. The lineup should be fine, but despite good options in the bullpen, if the Cubs don’t have a solid 5th starter, then the bullpen will start to get overtired, and this will cause widespread pitching staff issues. These problems will only occur if the rest of the rotation can’t pitch a lot of innings and the 5th spot isn’t filled well., which may or may not happen. This team is spotless for the most part.
Best Case Scenario: The lineup is at its best, the rotation dominates, and the Cubs are a lasting championship winning dynasty in years to come.
Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is problematic, depth of the lineup becomes a problem, and the Cubs lose in the ALDS.
Projected Finish: 96-66, 1st in NL Central
That’s it for my preseason power rankings. Hope you enjoyed it. Comment with your feedback and predictions. Now, the first Baseball Bits of 2017 is coming soon, and be on the lookout for a Red Sox spring training article.