Ranking The Teams 12-7: My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018

Welcome to Part 4 of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Although the season has started, I am still finishing this series.  I will also have my first Red Sox Report article of 2018 coming soon, as well as coverage on NFL free agency and the upcoming Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins games.

Last time, I covered the teams that are in the middle of the pack, and haven’t really decided what direction they want to head in.  I looked at how they did this off-season, how they’ll do this season, and where they are headed.  I also discussed best and worst case scenarios for each team and projected their records and division placements. Today I will do the same for the contending teams, but rather than talking about where they are headed (which is somewhat obvious to me), today I will be discussing what is holding them back from dominance.  Read below to find out who these six teams are and what to expect for them this year.

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Boston Sports Mania MLB Pre-Season Power Rankings

Friday, March 23: Ranking The Teams 30-25, My Version: Who’s In The Basement?

Sunday, March 25: Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: Teams That Will Struggle

Monday, March 26: Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Monday, April 2: Ranking The Teams 12-7, My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018?

Wednesday, April 4: Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up*

*My pre-season Baseball Bits are also up.

12. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins

Off-Season Review

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The Twins quietly put together a strong off-season after acquiring Jake Odorizzi and signing Logan Morrison at the last minute.  They also signed Lance Lynn to add to a rotation that will be without Ervin Santana and new signing Michael Pineda to start the season.  With Odorizzi and Lynn on board, it will be a respectable rotation throughout the season and could take the League by storm when Pineda and Santana return.  Morrison is here to upgrade at the DH position over Kennys Vargas, who only got his job back because Byung-Ho Park was a bust in 2016. They also added Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed in the bullpen to replace Glen Perkins, who retired.

The Case for the Twins

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The Twins will be able to contend.  Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are primed for breakouts, Brian Dozier has emerged as a veteran leader, and Logan Morrison, Jake Odorizzi, and Lance Lynn are nice additions that put this roster in position to continue to contend after surprisingly cracking the playoff field in 2017.  But the competition for the AL Wild Card will be tougher this year after the moves that have been made by the Angels and Red Sox to make their own Wild Card cases.  The Red Sox could even challenge the Yankees in the AL East, but the Yankees are likely to make the playoffs either way.

What’s Holding Them Back

A month ago I would have said rotation depth problems, but now I think they have a bigger problem at shortstop.  With Jorge Polanco suspended for 80 games, they will have to start Eduardo Escobar, who has struggled in recent years and is not 100% proven as a starter.  I honestly don’t think they were ever doing great at shortstop.  I thought the combination of Polanco and Escobar was okay, but I’m not even so high on Polanco anyways.  They also have problems in the bullpen.  Signing Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed help, but they lack depth, and will Rodney and Reed succeed with their new team?
Best Case Scenario: Buxton and Sano breakthrough, Minnesota’s late off-season moves pay off, and the Twins quietly sneak to the top of the AL Central.
Worst Case Scenario: The injury-riddled rotation lacks depth and gets tired, the new bullpen additions do not help all that much, and the lineup fails to have much more than another decent year as the Twins finish in a distant second to the Indians, just above .500.

Projected Finish: 87-75, 2nd in AL Central

11. milwaukee-brewers Milwaukee Brewers

Off-Season Review

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After coming inches away from a playoff berth in 2017, the Brewers made some upgrades in hopes of a playoff run.  They did not add the ace they desperately needed, but they did sign Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, and Jhoulys Chacin (Gallardo has since been released).  Chase Anderson and Zach Davies could also step it up in the rotation until the injured Jimmy Nelson returns.  They could re-assess at the trade deadline if needed.  They did add to the bullpen by signing Boone Logan and Matt Albers though.  They could still use a closer.  They also added to their outfield by signing Lorenzo Cain and trading for Christian Yelich.  As a result, Ryan Braun will be able to help out at first in addition to playing outfield.  Eric Thames is no longer an everyday starter, but Braun is, and he will see a lot of starts at first and in the outfield.  They could’ve also added Neil Walker back, but should be fine at second between Jonathan Villar and Eric Sogard as Walker joins the Yankees.

The Case for the Brewers

Milwaukee could make a serious run in 2018, or they could bust.  It’s hard to predict, but I have them somewhere in the middle.  Cain and Yelich will prove to be nice additions among others.  But if the Brewers were really hoping to contend, they would’ve considered adding an ace, a closer, and a second baseman.  They have various holes in the roster that will hold them back.  This is a good team with a nice roster that includes a lot of great pieces.  But they could still use some fine-tuning before they make a run.

What’s Holding Them Back

Milwaukee has a nice rotation, but the rotation lacks a #1 starter.  Signing someone like Alex Cobb would have worked out, but instead, they stayed put.  The Brewers would be in a much better position right now if they were able to sign an ace.  The Cubs added Yu Darvish.  How did the Brewers respond?  By sitting tight and calling Chase Anderson their #1 starter.  Anderson may be a good #2, but that will not work out well.  Even Jimmy Nelson is not quite a viable #1 starter, and he’s out until at least May.
Best Case Scenario: The rotation is able to survive on its own, the lineup dominates, and the bullpen surprises the league after using their new additions to their advantage.  The Brewers make a nice playoff run after clinching a Wild Card spot.
Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is nothing more than mediocre without a known ace, the lineup thrives, but struggle to figure out what to do as Eric Thames struggles and Ryan Braun cannot adjust to the infield, and the Brewers disappoint, winning less than 85 games.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 3rd in NL Central

10. colorado-rockies Colorado Rockies

Off-Season Review

The Rockies seemed pretty confident with what they have this off-season, as they did not add a first baseman or a starting pitcher.  They could have used a veteran mentor at either position.  They did bring back Carlos Gonzalez for depth though.  This off-season, CarGo’s market has been limited due to regressive struggles in 2017, but the Rockies brought him back anyway, hoping he would rebound.  In the meantime, Ian Desmond and prospect Ryan McMahon will both get time at first and the young rotation will have to survive without a veteran influence.

The Case for the Rockies

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The Rockies are coming off a strong 2017 season, where they finally cracked the playoff field.  But they haven’t secured themselves as regular contenders yet.  To contend again in 2018, the young rotation will have to at least have a decent year, and they need Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado to pick up from where they left off last season.  DJ LeMahieu, CarGo, and Trevor Story have also helped provide their lineup with the power they need to contend. Will the Rockies make the playoffs?  Tell me what you think in the comments.

What’s Holding Them Back

The Rockies play in a severely hitter-friendly ballpark, so it’s understandable if the Rockies lineup is significantly better than the rotation.  But the Rockies will have to perform well on the road to become a true playoff contender, and in most ballparks, that requires a better rotation than what Colorado has.  I think this team can make the playoffs, but they could be eliminated early once again if the pitching struggles, especially in the 1 game wild-card round.
Best Case Scenario: The young Rockies rotation exceeds their expectations, the powerful lineup dominates, and the Rockies win the NL West and get ready to make a run in the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario: Charlie Blackmon cannot repeat his success, CarGo, and other hitters begin to decline, and the Rockies struggle, finishing 4th in the NL West just below .500.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 2nd in NL West

9. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

Off-Season Review

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Much like the Blue Jays are doing now, the Cardinals have quietly rebuilt without regressing majorly.  They are already hoping to contend after beginning to rebuild in the 2015-16 off-season.  This off-season, they acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins, and were hoping to land Mike Moustakas, but lost out on him. Ozuna is an upgrade over Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, both of whom the Cardinals traded away this off-season.  However, they have been fine in their first few games as Jose Martinez continues to dominate.  Matt Carpenter can now help at third base with Martinez playing first on some days.  They also upgraded their pitching staff, signing Miles Mikolas in his return to the MLB.  They also added Luke Gregerson and Greg Holland in a remodeling of the bullpen.

The Case for the Cardinals

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The Cardinals are ready to work towards a return to the playoffs.  With a roster that is flooded with young talent as well as veterans, who they will need to win now.  They were lucky with how fast their rebuild went.  Tommy Pham, Jose Martinez, and other top prospects broke through quickly.  The Cardinals went into rebuild mode because they had such a strong farm system, and those players will help lead this team along with veterans like Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, and Michael Wacha who St. Louis either held on to from 2015 or has acquired since then.

What’s Holding Them Back

I like the Cardinals young rotation, but I feel that Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver could have used more time to develop, and Alex Reyes will need it after his elbow injury.  Reyes has even considered switching to become a late-inning reliever.  If they had signed a veteran mentor like John Lackey, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Scott Kazmir, who are all still available, to a 1-year deal, then they might be in better shape.  Signing Moose also would have helped.

Best Case Scenario: The young Cardinals leaders dominate, including the rotation, and help lead the Cardinals to an NL Central win and a playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: The young rotation cannot handle the pressure, Tommy Pham cannot repeat his 2017 success as well as some of their other recent breakout players, and the Cardinals finish around .500, third or fourth in the division.

Projected Finish: 90-72, 2nd in NL Central

8. la-angels-of-anaheim Los Angeles Angels

Off-Season Review

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The Angels were one of the most active teams in the league this off-season, especially early on, when very few moves were made across the league.  They brought back Justin Upton and acquired another player from the Tigers in 2B Ian Kinsler (Upton was acquired from Detroit in a trade last season).  They added Zack Cozart too.  The combination of those three will really boost their lineup.  They had enough depth and power in the lineup for 2018 that they were able to trade away mediocre 1B C.J. Cron.  Their biggest move came early on when they signed Japanese two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who has already done great at the big league level as a hitter and a pitcher.

The Case for the Angels

The Angels are ready to return to contention after struggling over the last two years.  Their struggles were caused by the injury-riddled rotation and the lack of a strong lineup.  But now, all has changed after the Halos added some rotation depth and boosted their lineup.  The Angels will fight for a Wild Card spot, but they may be a division contender if they did not play in the same division as the defending World Series champions, the Houston Astros.

What’s Holding Them Back

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The Angels do not have much on their own roster that can hold them back.  But there are two problems: a) they do not have the same kind of talent that the dominant teams of the league have and b) they compete in a tough division that is led by the defending World Series champion, who has only gotten better this off-season.  They have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, but what other All Star players do they have?  They will face a tough schedule and that will hold them back as they struggle to compete with the best.

Best Case Scenario: Shohei Ohtani and the Angels rotation avoid injuries and dominate, the lineup returns to dominance after adding Upton, Kinsler, and Cozart, and the Angels compete for the AL West title and make a playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation’s injury problems continue, Ohtani cannot handle the pressure of MLB level pitching, and the lineup ends up underperforming, leading the Angels to another mediocre season.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 2nd in AL West

7. cleveland-indians Cleveland Indians

Off-Season Review

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The Indians were able to replace 1B Carlos Santana (lost in free agency) by upgrading with a signing of Yonder Alonso, who had a very strong season with the A’s and Mariners in 2017.  They also brought back familiar faces in Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis.  The Indians have been able to maintain a strong roster without spending too much money, as they did not lose too many people to free agency.  All they needed was one more outfielder, a little bullpen help, and a replacement for Santana.

The Case for the Indians

Cleveland is one of what is known as the MLB’s Super Seven, a group of teams that are bound for long term success after dominance in 2017.  However, I see Cleveland as the bottom team of these seven, as although they have maintained a strong roster, they have not made many upgrades after losing to the Yankees in the 2017 ALDS and losing to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series.  They will still be significant contenders and clear division favorites (despite a weak division), but do not expect a run beyond the ALDS this year.  I see an AL pennant as their ceiling.

What’s Holding Them Back

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Like I said, they could use a couple more upgrades over what they have.  Michael Brantley is getting older and is very injury prone, Jason Kipnis is declining, and the bullpen could use a little more depth to aid a strong rotation.  There are other teams that I see as much more likely World Series winners than them.

Best Case Scenario: The lineup keeps up the good work, the rotation looks dominant as it is led by two star pitchers in Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, and the Indians make a deep playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: Injuries and old age hold back the Indians as they lose the division to the Minnesota Twins and just barely snag a Wild Card.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 1st in AL Central

That’s all for this article.  Stay tuned for more Red Sox and other baseball articles coming soon.

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Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: The Dominant

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.

Missed a previous article?  Check below:

Ranking The Teams 30-25, My Version: The Ugly

Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: The Bad

Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Mediocre

Ranking The Teams 12-7, My Version: The Contending

 

Now that the series is over, you will be able to view all the articles under the “Ranking The Teams” tag.

6. cleveland-indians Cleveland Indians

Off-season Review

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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

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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 Boston Red Sox

Off-season Review

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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

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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 St. Louis Cardinals

Off-season Review

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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-nats Washington Nationals

Off-season Review

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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 Texas Rangers

Off-season Review

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 Chicago Cubs

Off-season Review

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.