It’s March. People would rather talk about shady college basketball shenanigans, bracketism or ology or something, This Is Us and my first child’s due date (the 14th in case you still plan on sending a gift or advice or whiskey). But we’re thinking baseball! And the other things too. But also, baseball!
Believe it or not, there are some things I’m outrageously bad at in this thing called life. I’m terrible at remembering names, I will always ignore that part of a first conversation with someone new. I’m awful at Spanish, sacapuntas will always be the furthest my language comprehension takes me. I’m horrible at anything that involves hands-on anything – this includes tools, measurements, understanding basic construction, really everything that a man should be good at. Guess I’m bad at being a man. I’m stupidly bad at responding to texts, emails, telegraphs, SOS’s. The Titanic would have also sunk on my watch. On a slightly less extreme level, I offer nothing to group texts unless someone offers to buy us lunch.
Out of desperation to stop this exercise here, I’m also really bad at following through on my yearly attempt for MLB power rankings. Every single year since I could talk (exaggeration, I’m good at those) I have made a power rankings post in February or March, promising to right the demons of my blogging past to follow up weekly or bi-weekly with updated power rankings that take us into the postseason. Enter that same, empty promise here.
And on that note, my first power rankings OF WHAT I HOPE TO BE A BI-WEEKLY THING once the season starts up in April. One thing that is important to keep in mind here is that this offseason has been particularly dumb. Usually this time is when teams sign important role players, however, big names like Jake Arrieta remain unsigned as the calendar snowballs towards March. So, a lot could change between now and Opening Day. Also, these are very subjective and often the first installment of a power ranking makes the curator look like a dumb idiot. For the record, I may be dumb but I ain’t an idiot.
1.Houston Astros, 2017 Record : 101-61
Well aware of how un-sexy it is to pick the defending world champs as the number one team in all the land, how freakin’ good are the Astros? They essentially added Gerritt Cole and full season Justin Verlander to what might be the major’s finest starting rotation with Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. They also led the league in team batting last season at .282. So, when the defending champs don’t lose any major pieces of their league best offense and return the best shortstop in the game fully healthy to the lineup and improve their starting rotation to the degree that two solid pitchers (Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh) head to a solid bullpen, you just play your cards and rank them first. Houston’s 2018 season would be a massive disappointment if it resulted in any way other than becoming the first franchise to repeat as world champions since those late 90’s Yankees.
2. Chicago Cubs, 2017 Record : 92-70
The Cubs were two games under .500 at the All-Star break last season, facing injuries, adversity and bad breaks that any World Series champ would. Yet, Chicago showed tremendous confidence and strength by recovering from a dreadful start, finishing September 20-10 en route to another NL Central division crown. The fact that their NLCS loss to the Dodgers was viewed as such a disappointment is a testament to the current state of baseball’s favorite “losers”. On paper, this team is far and away the most talented team in the National League. Yu Darvish replacing Jake Arrieta will be one of the best baseball moves to come from this offseason.
3. Cleveland Indians, 2017 Record : 102-60
Interestingly enough, the Indians underplayed to their Pythagorean win-loss record of 108-54 last season, despite scoring over 800 runs, employing the AL Cy Young winner and ripping off a 22 game winning streak. BUT, that was so last season. Cleveland lost Carlos Santana TO THE PHILLIES, BAYBAY!! Replacing him in the lineup will be difficult and it looks like Yonder Alonso will get to fill those shoes. But even still, the Indians might have the best infield outside of Houston in all of baseball. Jason Kipinis is a fine defender and can give you 25-35 doubles a season, Francisco Lindor is making a case to become the game’s best all around shortstop and Jose Ramirez is coming off a breakout .318/.374/29HR/83RBI season at third. The Indians play in the worst division in baseball – we all know they’ll be in the postseason for a third consecutive season. What they do there is what will matter.
4. Washington Nationals, 2017 Record : 97-65
Just so happens that the Nationals play in the second worst division in baseball, and have for quite some time. Like five years. Yet, they have as much to show for it as a participation ribbon. Still looking for their first trip to the NLCS, this could be the final seasons in the Nationals window of contention with Bryce Harper, the golden child. Set to enter what will surely be a record setting contract year after the 2018 season, Harper actually has something to prove in my opinion. Would I sign him if I had the chance as an owner? Of course. But his cost comes with some drawbacks. Harper has only played in over 140 games twice in his six year career. Also, for as much glory as the guy gets, Harper has yet to drive in 100 runs in one year, has only eclipsed a .300 average twice and has posted two sub-2.0 WAR seasons. I mean, he’s good but is he that good?
5. Los Angeles Dodgers, 2017 Record : 104-58
104 wins and a National League championship wasn’t enough for this title-starved Dodgers nation. This team needs to win a title. The Manny Ramirez-Matt Kemp teams weren’t able to do it a decade ago, the Eric Gagne teams couldn’t do it in the early 00’s. The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988. They’re like the Cowboys of baseball. For as much prestige they get hate they receive from the common fan, they haven’t really done much of anything for a while. But a full season from the game’s best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw, you dimwit) would certainly help get this team back to the World Series. He’d like that.
6. Boston Red Sox, 2017 Record : 93-69
Boston needs to hold off the Yanks for AL East control. The Yankees finished just two games behind the Sox last season but added the reigning NL MVP and home run champ, Giancarlo Stanton, to a lineup that also boasted the 2017 AL home run champ. So Boston, who already ranked dead last in the American League last season in team long balls, brought in JD Martinez at a much cheaper rate than Stanton. Martinez brings 45 home runs, 104 RBI and a .303 batting average from 2017 to the Sox offense, a spark that Boston absolutely needed in an otherwise lifeless offseason. This season’s Red Sox-Yankees race has the potential to be the most engaging since last decade.
7. New York Yankees, 2017 Record : 91-71
A lot of people who are SO much smarter than me are picking the Yankees to win the 2018 World Series. But the Mayans believed the world would end in December 2012 (it didn’t), Kyrie Irving thinks the world is flat (it’s not) and Americans think Donald Trump is capable of rational thoughts and actions (he isn’t). Thus, MLB experts are WRONG on this Yankees hype. The Bomber’s lineup is predicated on a few things (focusing on the offense because I actually ❤ the rotation) that I’m not so hot on. One, although he easily won the Rookie of the Year award and led the AL in walks and homers, Aaron Judge had a rather dismal second half last season. And his postseason performance, albeit his first, was forgettable. Judge struck out 27 times in 57 plate appearances, or you know, 47% of the time. But two, the amount of question marks in this lineup would make an english teacher rowdy. Can Greg Bird stay healthy all season? Is Didi Gregorious the real deal? Will Stanton have the same success in the American League? Is there a quality second or third baseman on this roster? Of course, the answer to all of these will probably be ‘yes’ and I’ll look like a scrub in October but that risk comes with the paycheck.
8. St. Louis Cardinals, 2017 Record : 83-79
So, that’s it on the real title contenders. About seven deep in baseball. But these next few teams could be that surprise fringe team that sneaks into the championship series. For St. Louis to rank the highest of the bunch, they need to figure out their backend bullpen mess. Luke Gregerson figures to be the guy to start the season, with all 16 of his saves and 9 blown saves. So that’s promising. But this year will be key for Mike Matheny if he wants to manage in 2019. This Cardinals franchise is too proud to miss the postseason three years in a row.
9. Los Angeles Angels, 2017 Record : 80-82
The Angels scored one more run than they allowed last season, always a fun quick stat. Though they’ve employed the best player in the game since 2012, LA’s other team has only made the postseason once (in 2014, and they essentially were steam rolled by the Royals). But this could be the first season in Mike Trout’s career where all eyes won’t be on the two-time AL MVP. Bringing in Shohei Ohtani will give the Angels some much needed additional star power. But it will be interesting to see how they utilize the two way player. As recently as 2016, when Ohtani was 21, he batted .322 with 22 home runs and a .416 OBP. Impressive. But he also threw 140 innings, posting a 1.86 ERA with 4 complete games and 174 strikeouts. I mean, c’mon.
10. Arizona Diamondbacks, 2017 Record : 93-69
Arizona kind of shocked everyone (using ‘shocked’ loosely because I bet most people couldn’t name 5 Diamondbacks players) last season, winning 93 games a year after losing 93 games. They did it with a much improved effort from their starting pitching and will need more of that in 2018 to compete in a front loaded NL West. Adding a humidor to the balls in Chase Field will help ensure that happens, but so will continued improvement from 25 year-old Robbie Ray. The left-hander was 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 218 strikeouts last season.
11. San Francisco Giants, 2017 Record : 64-98
It is wild how quickly everything can come crashing down in baseball. The Giants had the third highest winning percentage in the sport (behind only the Dodgers and Cardinals) between 2007 and 2016 and were winners of three World Series championships (2010, 2012 and 2014, otherwise known as three of my least favorite baseball seasons ever). Yet, they won 23 fewer games in 2017 from 2016, posted the second highest loss total in franchise history and ranked dead last in the majors in home runs, on base and slugging percentage. So, this team being ranked eleventh tells you two important things about the 2018 season. One, Madison Bumgarner’s healthy elbow can do wonders for a professional baseball team. And two, the drop off from real contenders to the rest of the league is quick and violent.
12. Milwaukee Brewers, 2017 Record : 86-76
The Brewers won their most games as a franchise since 2011 behind a duo of fresh offensive faces – first baseman Eric Thames and third baseman Travis Shaw. The two combined for 60 of the team’s 224 home runs and helped land Milwaukee just six games out of first place in the NL Central. But for Milwaukee to make the next leap and actually play in a postseason game, the pitching staff will need to build on their 2017 improvements even further. The club ranked ninth in the majors with a 4.00 ERA, but the majority of that performance came from a group of unproven youngsters. If righties Jhoulys Chacin, Zach Davies and Josh Hader can prove they are the real deal, the Brewers should be back in the playoff mix.
13. Minnesota Twins, 2017 Record : 85-77
The Twins were another feel good story of the 2017 season, winning 26 more games than they had the previous year and playing the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game. Minnesota has some great, young offensive pieces, most notably five-tool center fielder Byron Buxton. He should improve in his second full season, but also watch for second baseman Brian Dozier in his first contract year before free agency. But who steps up to lead the rotation in wake of Ervin Santana’s injury? Jose Berrios is a fine middle rotation pitcher, but no ace, and the back end of this rotation is akin to the back end of a Ric Flair chop (i.e. painful).
14. Colorado Rockies, 2017 Record : 87-75
Ranking them this low is a result of my trepidation for the drastic differences between the home Rockies and the away Rockies. Overall, Colorado ranked second in the league in 2017 in team batting average, third in runs scored and fourth in on base percentage. But away from Coors Field? The Rockies batted just .248, which would have placed them around 24th in the league. This offense is talented, no doubt. Might be the best infield in the NL. But how much can you trust these guys when the majority of their success come only at Coors? Because of their dominance at home, I’m sure Colorado will be in the wild card mix down the stretch (also thanks to an emerging pitching staff, rotation and bullpen included) but consistency will be key to a consecutive playoff berth.
15. Toronto Blue Jays, 2017 Record : 76-86
Employing a roster of primarily veterans comes with its drawbacks. Only four players appeared in more than 95 games last season – outfielder Kevin Pillar and his .256 batting average, first baseman Justin Smoak (with a breakout 38 home run performance), DH Kendrys Morales and third baseman Josh Donaldson. Toronto was hammered by injuries leading to a losing record in every full month except May. They return almost the same opening day lineup from 2017 in 2018, hoping for health obviously. But if the Jays are out of it by mid-summer, you have to believe they will turn into sellers as they blow up the final remaining pieces from their back-to-back ALCS teams in 2015 and 2016 that seem forever ago at this point.
16. Seattle Mariners, 2017 Record : 78-84
Baseball has been forgiving to teams of perennial failure lately. The Royals, Cubs and Astros have all ended long standing championship droughts and only three teams haven’t made the playoffs in longer than ten years. Seattle is one of them, with the longest standing playoff drought in the game continuing at sixteen seasons after they failed to contend last year. The story is old at this point, as is the roster. If the core of Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano can’t deliver a playoff berth this year, it could be rebuild time…again. But building around an excellent left side of the infield in third baseman Kyle Seager and shortstop Jean Segura could be a good start.
17. Atlanta Braves, 2017 Record : 72-90
HEAR ME OUT! A team has jumped the standings almost every year this decade, improving by 20, 25, 30 wins in just twelve months. Why can’t the Braves, stocked with young talent, be the version of that Cinderalla in 2018? They have an ace in Julio Teheran (I think), an improving bullpen and an MVP candidate in Freddie Freeman. Their outfield is interesting, with prospect Ronald Acuna ready to prove himself in the majors, Ender Inciarte set to put up an MVP caliber season (you heard it hear first, unless he sucks) and Nick Markakis existing. I’m all in on this squad (unless they suck).
18. Texas Rangers, 2017 Record : 78-84
Adrian Beltre is putting the finishing touches on what should be a Hall of Fame career and he’s also the Rangers best player. That sentence isn’t as fun as it might sound. The 38 year-old only played in 94 games, battling hamstring injuries that will be tough to fully recover from while playing the hot corner. Even with young guys Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo stepping up offensively last season, Texas relied way too much on the home run. They 237 as a team, third in the majors, but batted just .244, 26th in baseball. And even if they can manage manufacturing more runs via small ball, they employ one of the worst bullpens in the league, second worst to be exact.
19. Oakland Athletics, 2017 Record : 75-87
This Oakland club surprised some people, finishing 17-7 down the stretch last season. Adding Stephen Piscotty will add some firepower to the offense, which still relied heavily on Khris Davis’ power and Jed Lowrie’s glove and bat (he hit an Oakland record 49 doubles in ’17). But Oakland still has some major areas to improve on – stolen bases, getting on base, team defense and a solid closer are all included on that list. And that’s a good percentage of a major league roster. Gotta move on before I demote these guys, my grandfather is an A’s fan and I can’t afford to ostracize my older demographic of readers.
20. New York Mets : 2017 Record : 70-92
Its actually impossible to believe this team was in the World Series in 2015. Injuries, terrible management decisions and having a terrible manager all added to a 92 loss season in 2017, the franchise’s worst since 2009. Success this year hinges on the health of the starting rotation. At their best, Noah Syndergard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey are one of the best trio of pitchers in the game. While deGrom was the ace, Syndergard only appeared in 7 games and Harvey battled injuries while limping through 18 starts and a 6.70 ERA. Why have any faith in this club?
21. Philadelphia Phillies, 2017 Record : 66-96
It took every ounce of rationale, self-control and smarty smarts to restrain from ranking the Phils over the Mets and A’s. Simply put, the Mets have more proven, experience players on their roster and the A’s seem a season ahead of the Phillies. But there is plenty to be excited about in Philadelphia. With the Eagles Super Bowl win, the Flyers have skated themselves up the standings and the Sixers beat the Cavaliers while accidentally recruiting the greatest player of our generation to the 2018-19 team. So what will it mean for the Phillies? Believing it means an All-Star season from Rhys Hoskins, JP Crawford, Nick Williams and Maikel Franco as well as a Cy Young from Aaron Nola and a division crown, I think we have rational expectations.
22. Baltimore Orioles, 2017 Record : 75-87
The Orioles are pegged to once again break all-time home run records as a team. No one is worried about this offense, anchored by clubhouse leader Adam Jones and second baseman Jonathan Schoop. The rotation is ugly, though. Baltimore had a team ERA of 4.97 last season, while the rotation itself posted an abysmal 5.70 ERA, easily the worst in franchise history. Somehow, the O’s were in the wild card hunt for most of the season, ultimately losing 21 of their last 28 games. Any shot at returning to the playoffs in 2018 hinges on the backs of this offensive unit.
23. Tampa Bay Rays, 2017 Record : 80-82
Tampa, fresh off their best Marlins impersonation of a fire sale, will look completely different in 2018. Gone are the familiar Evan Longoria, Steven Souza and Corey Dickerson faces and in are the Kevin Kiermaier’s and Chris Archer’s of the world. Both might be two of the best 100 players in the game (might be a post coming up, might be worth it to follow @thenuggetblog, huh?) but what does it matter if the rest of the team is dreadful? It’s hard to find 80 wins again with the current state of this roster unless impact prospects like Jake Bauers and Willy Adams are ready to jump start the mini refresh.
24. Chicago White Sox, 2017 Record : 67-95
The White Sox are my pick for a long shot World Series championship based off the early odds. Of any of the clubs +15,000 or more, the Sox have the best mix of promise, easiest division and Jose Abreu. Side note, I also love Abreu this season. But for the Sox to even make a playoff push this year, they need improvements from their pitching. And with three of their projected starters yet to turn 25, ace James Shields and catcher Welington Castillo will be crucial in their development and success. Also, take Jose Abreu to win AL MVP at +15,000.
25. Pittsburgh Pirates, 2017 Record : 75-87
Andrew McCutchen’s departure is the final nail in the coffin of the short Pirates window of contention that existed from 2010 to 2015. Without even a single division title, one has to view a pretty talented Pirates roster as a massive failure. So really every piece of that era is now gone, and the team appears ready to build around first baseman Josh Bell and starting pitchers Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams. Of course, looking just at the team’s 2017 performance, nothing about that sentence is hopeful.
26. Cincinnati Reds, 2017 Record : 68-94
The Reds haven’t been good for a long time. They’ve finished last in the NL Central for the last three seasons. Honestly, not finishing last is probably their best case scenario playing in a division with the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers. But there is reason to believe the tides are turning for the franchise, which is good news for thirty-four year-old Joey Votto. Sometimes playing your entire career with one, really dreadful franchise isn’t all that cool.
27. San Diego Padres, 2017 Record : 71-91
The Padres have also been really bad for a really long time. But life was shown from the front office this offseason, signing Eric Hosmer to a massive deal. Hosmer instantly becomes their most recognizable face since Adrian Gonzalez, but the Padres won’t instantly contend in 2018 anyway. The Hosmer deal needs to be a reflection of finding an established player for the long run – the NL West is too stacked for them to make noise without their farm system coming to fruition yet. Patience in this rebuild process is surely frustrating. But soon, Padres fans, soon.
28. Kansas City Royals, 2017 Record : 80-82
Only Alex Gordon in leftfield and Salvador Perez behind the plate remain from the 2015 Royals championship lineup. The Phillies rapid decline from a title felt quick, but this feels overnight. By not bringing back Eric Hosmer or committing to Mike Moustakas, the Royals have made it clear that they are in rebuild mode (didn’t I say that for 1/3 of these friggin’ teams?). 2018 will be about clearing cap and paving the future.
29. Detroit Tigers, 2017 Record : 64-98
Detroit comes into 2018 with absolutely no expectations. But that is kind of sad. The fact that the Tigers team headlined by Justin Verlander, an able bodied Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and even young JD Martinez never won a title and never even came close except for 2012 is bitter. I don’t watch hockey, but anyone who hates Red Wings fans for their dominance in the league needs to think out of the box a little. Detroit also has an always underwhelming baseball team, an always boring basketball team, a dedicated to losing football team and a bankrupt, crime-ridden economy. So, six of one half a dozen, you know? But yeah, the Tigers are not good at playing baseball.
30. Miami Marlins, 2017 Record : 77-85
Miami could have opened this season with NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton and his 59 home runs in right field, Christian Yelich and his 36 doubles, 16 stolen bases and his .997 fielding percentage in center and Marcell Ozuna and his 5.8 WAR, 37 long balls, .312 average and Gold Glove in left. However, they will instead likely start with Magneuris Sierra and his 60 career major league at-bats in right, Lewis Brinson and his 47 career major league at-bats in center and Derek Dietrich and his career .250 batting average in left. Worth Derek Jeter’s proposed tickets price increase?
*Featured image courtesy of House of Houston*