Major League Baseball features a pretty level playing field. Last season, each division had at least two teams with winning records, and no division featured more than two teams with fewer than 75 wins.
However, only one division sent three teams to the postseason and had four teams finish above .500. And that division tops our power rankings again heading into the 2017 season.
How the six stack up:
USA TODAY SportsAdam Hunger
Providing the power: The Red Sox are legitimate World Series contenders after winning 93 games last season and acquiring a third ace in Chris Sale. The Blue Jays and Orioles both earned wild cards last season and are talented enough to do so again despite a couple of key losses (Edwin Encarnacion and Matt Wieters, respectively).
Weighing it down: After a 94-loss season – its worst since it was still known as the Devil Rays – Tampa has had three consecutive losing campaigns and appears destined for a fourth, especially if Chris Archer and/or Jake Odorizzi are dealt.
X-factor: If the youth movement progresses and the rotation is effective, the Yankees are a dark horse after finishing strong last season as an 84-win fourth-place squad.
USA TODAY SportsEvan Habeeb
Providing the power: The Astros and Mariners had among the busiest and most productive offseasons in the majors, while the two-time defending division champion Rangers lost a bunch of talent. This has the makings of a three-team race, with Houston the clear favorite if its starting pitching rebounds.
Weighing it down: Seemingly stuck in neutral in their latest rebuilding phase, the A’s are thin in the pitching department even when Sonny Gray, who will begin the season on the DL, is healthy.
X-factor: The Angels quietly bolstered their lineup (Cameron Maybin, Danny Espinosa, Luis Valbuena) this offseason, but their success will depend upon the rotation, which features three starters (Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs) returning from injuries.
USA TODAY SportsThomas B. Shea
Providing the power: The race between the Nationals and Mets could come down to which team can stay healthier. Assuming the injury bug is kept at bay, Washington has the superior lineup while New York has the arms advantage – but each should reach the playoffs again.
Weighing it down: Although they seasoned their roster with some veterans (Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, Clay Buchholz), even the most optimistic outlook for the Phillies is a finish near .500. In fact, the Braves’ rebuild is advancing so well that they should overtake Philly.
X-factor: The Marlins’ lineup is loaded, but it’s their question-filled rotation that will make or break the franchise’s chances of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2003.
USA TODAY SportsTommy Gilligan
Providing the power: The Cubs are heavy favorites to repeat as World Series champions and are positioned to contend for years to come thanks to an elite young nucleus. And after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010, the Cardinals will shave a few games off the division deficit and contend for an NL wild card.
Weighing it down: There’s reason for optimism in Milwaukee, but the Brewers lack the pitching and hitting to hope for anything more than a run at .500. Meanwhile, things could get even worse before they get better for the rebuilding Reds.
X-factor: After their string of three consecutive playoff appearances ended in 2016, the Pirates are talented enough to challenge the Cardinals for second place but vulnerable enough to fall behind the Brewers into fourth.
USA TODAY SportsDennis Wierzbicki
Providing the power: The Dodgers are the favorites to win a fifth consecutive division title, though they clearly have bigger goals, as they still haven't advanced to the World Series since 1988. Hoping to break their odd-year jinx, the Giants addressed their biggest need by signing stopper Mark Melancon.
Weighing it down: It will take more than one season for the new front office and coaching staff to clean up the mess in Arizona, and the depleted Padres should finish with the worst record in the NL – if not the majors.
X-factor: The Rockies are this year’s trendy sleeper pick, mainly on the strength of a loaded lineup and a bolstered bullpen. But expectation are awfully high for a young rotation that still must pitch at Coors Field.
USA TODAY SportsJoe Camporeale
Providing the power: Last season’s AL pennant winners are even stronger after adding Edwin Encarnacion, keeping their bullpen intact and welcoming back Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and (hopefully) Michael Brantley from injury. As for the Indians’ competition, the Tigers – coming off an 86-win season – are talented enough to be a threat if they get their pitching in order and keep their aging bones off the DL.
Weighing it down: Although loaded with promising young talent, the Twins will field a largely unproven lineup that is at least a couple years away from contention. And despite the pause button being pushed for now, the White Sox’s sell-off will continue.
X-factor: The bulk of the Royals’ championship core remains intact, though it could be torn apart if the team gets off to a slow start and decides to deal some combination of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar – all of whom are pending free agents.