5 teams ready to make the leap from sub-500 to the playoffs
What do the Rangers, Astros, Mets and Cubs have in common? All four teams finished the 2014 season with a losing record but improved drastically enough to reach the postseason in 2015. (In case you’re wondering, the Blue Jays were 83-79 in 2014.) Which teams are poised to make a similar leap this season? These five franchises have the best cases … but also have questions.
MLB Photos via Getty ImagesRob Tringali
The case for: Detroit has had a stellar offseason, adding outfielders Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, closer Francisco Rodriguez and setup man Mark Lowe. Miguel Cabrera still ranks among the game’s best hitters, and J.D. Martinez is a star slugger. The case against: The bullpen finished 27th with a 4.38 ERA last season, and the bridge to Rodriguez remains a question. The Tigers need more from third baseman Nick Castellanos, a bounce-back season from right-hander Anibal Sanchez and better production from the back end of the rotation. And this is an aging team.
Getty ImagesLeon Halip
The case for: Boston addressed its two biggest needs in a big way, signing ace David Price and acquiring closer Craig Kimbrel. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts has developed into a solid No. 3 hitter and defender, and DH David Ortiz has plenty of motivation to go out on a high note. The case against: It remains to be seen whether Hanley Ramirez can play first base and whether Pablo Sandoval will recover from a miserable 2015. The young outfielders must prove their strong finish to the 2015 season was legitimate, Dustin Pedroia must remain healthy, and the starters behind Price must be much more dependable.
Getty ImagesJason Miller
The case for: Arizona has an MVP candidate in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, an emerging stud center fielder in A.J. Pollock and perhaps the majors' most underrated outfielder in David Peralta. With the additions of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, the rotation is dramatically improved (and deep). The case against: Second baseman Chris Owings, shortstop Nick Ahmed and third baseman Jake Lamb combined for 19 homers and a .236 batting average in 2015. Brad Ziegler did a nice job as closer last season but might be better off in a setup role, so the D-backs might lament their failure to land an elite closer.
Getty ImagesNorm Hall
The case for: New GM Jerry Dipoto seemingly has turned over the entire 40-man roster, and swooping in to retain right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma was key (as was acquiring first baseman Adam Lind). Nelson Cruz will continue to mash, Felix Hernandez remains an ace and second baseman Robinson Cano should be more productive now that he is healthy. The case against: It remains to be seen whether some of the new additions (catcher Chris Iannetta, center fielder Leonys Martin, left fielder Nori Aoki, left-hander Wade Miley) actually will be upgrades. And a strong argument can be made that Seattle still is the fourth-best team in the AL West, let alone the entire AL.
Getty ImagesTom Szczerbowski
The case for: A full season from ace Jose Fernandez and right fielder Giancarlo Stanton would be monstrous, Dee Gordon has become an elite second baseman, Wei-Yin Chen is a terrific addition to the rotation and the team is loaded with young talent in left fielder Christian Yelich, center fielder Marcell Ozuna and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. The case against: The back end of the rotation remains questionable, as does the bridge to closer A.J. Ramos. As much of a beast as Stanton is when healthy, he has missed 190 games over the past four seasons. New manager Don Mattingly must get Ozuna back on track mentally.