In the last five seasons, 21 of the 30 teams in MLB have appeared in the postseason. While this parity has been good for the game as a whole, the other side of the coin is that teams have had trouble maintaining success on a year-to-year basis. With that in mind, here are five teams that fared pretty well in 2014 that could take a step or two back this season.
(89-73, 2nd in AL Central and Wild Card team in 2014)
The Royals were one of the feel-good stories of last season, ending their 29-year playoff drought and coming up just one game short of winning the World Series. Kansas City is still relatively young, so shouldn’t this team be considered a strong candidate to potentially repeat as AL champions?
Well, a lot went right for the Royals during both the regular season and their magical postseason run that saw them open the playoffs with eight straight wins. For one, Kansas City posted a run differential of plus-27 during the regular season, which was the second lowest (St. Louis, +16) of any team in the playoffs. Secondly, staff ace James Shields and long-time DH Billy Butler are both gone, with Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales expected to fill their spots.
Kansas City’s bullpen was lights out last season and while pretty much everyone is back, it’s too much to expect an encore performance in 2015. Kansas City also is still waiting for former top prospects Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to live up to their billing, which puts even more pressure on veterans like Morales and new right fielder Alex Rios to produce at the plate.
The Royals have gotten worse, at least on paper, while the White Sox have clearly improved and the Indians and Tigers should remain competitive in the AL Central. It may be too harsh to call Kansas City a one-year wonder, but the Royals will be hard-pressed to follow up their memorable and magical 2014 ride.
(88-74, 2nd in AL West and Wild Card team)
After winning the AL West in 2012 and ’13, the A’s took a slight step back last season but still claimed one of the wild card spots. However, the 2015 A’s look nothing like the team that won 88 games in ‘14 following a flurry of moves orchestrated by general manager Billy Beane.
So much has changed on this roster that of Oakland’s eight All-Stars (including Jeff Samardzija who arrived via trade before the All-Star break and Jon Lester, who was acquired on July 31) only two of them remain. The pitching staff still has Sonny Gray at the front, but a bunch of question marks after that, while the projected starting infield is made up entirely of newcomers. The bullpen is basically intact, although incumbent closer Sean Doolittle is likely to miss the first few weeks of the season due to a shoulder injury.
Despite the success Oakland has enjoyed the past three seasons, the A’s never were able to break through in the playoffs. As a result, Beane decided to maximize the return on his most valuable assets, turning over a large a portion of his roster in the process. Beane’s hope is that the roster churn will result in another stretch of extended success, but don’t be surprised if this team takes its lumps this season.
San Diego Padres
(77-85, 3rd in NL West)
The Padres have made plenty of headlines this offseason, as first-year general manager A.J. Preller wasted no time in making over the roster. A series of moves brought in a new outfield in the form of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, along with an All-Star battery in catcher Derek Norris and workhorse starter James Shields.
San Diego has generated a fair amount of buzz leading into Opening Day, but there are still several reasons to be leery of the Padres breaking through and emerging as legitimate challengers to the defending World Series champion Giants and big-spending Dodgers in the NL West. For one, while the offense should certainly be improved compared to last season, it also wouldn’t take much considering San Diego was last in the majors in both batting average and runs scored in 2014.
Plus, each of the Padres’ new big bats has their own warts — Matt Kemp’s inability to stay healthy, Justin Upton’s swing-and-miss tendencies, Wil Myers’ lack of development — and team defense could be a season-long issue. Also, outside of Shields, who has a lot of mileage on his arm, the starting rotation is full of equal amounts of potential and question marks, many of them health-related. Put it all together and it seems like there are a lot of “ifs” when it comes Preller’s new-look Padres.
(79-83, tied for 2nd in NL East)
The Braves went from NL East champions and 96 wins in 2013 to a 79-83 afterthought last season. Unfortunately, things will probably get worse this season, as Atlanta hired former Indians and Rangers general manager John Hart as its new president of baseball operations to oversee the club’s makeover in preparation for christening its new stadium in 2017.
The first thing Hart set out to do was change the Braves’ offensive image, trading Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis away, leaving Freddie Freeman to anchor a makeshift lineup. The pitching should be solid with several talented starters to call on and Craig Kimbrel closing things out, but scoring runs figures to be even more of an issue for a team that struggled in that department in 2014.
The Nationals are clearly the class of the NL East, but the changes the Marlins made and the Mets’ emerging rotation could end up pushing the Braves farther down the division standings. Atlanta should have enough pitching to finish ahead of Philadelphia, but considering the Braves’ success over the past five seasons that also should tell you plenty as it relates to the not-so-sunny outlook for 2015.
New York Yankees
(84-78, 2nd in AL East)
Derek Jeter is no longer wearing pinstripes, but there will be no lack of “veteran” leadership for the Yankees this season. In fact, only one projected starter is less than 30 years old, 25-year-old Didi Gregorius, Jeter’s replacement at shortstop. One of the older teams in the majors last season, the Yankees actually got even longer in the tooth with the re-signing of second baseman Stephen Drew (32) and the return from suspension of Alex Rodriguez (turns 40 in July).
And while age is just a number for some older players, the unfortunate reality is that several of the Yankees’ elder statesmen simply aren’t aging well. Carlos Beltran (.233-15-49 in 2014), Mark Teixeira (.216-22-62) and Brian McCann (.232-23-75) all struggled last season to produce in accordance with their large contracts. There’s no reason to expect a big turnaround this season and there isn’t a wealth of young, promising prospects waiting in the wings to take over either.
The starting rotation may be a bit younger, but young or old there are plenty of health-related concerns surrounding Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. The back end of the bullpen should be in fine shape with Dellin Betances and free-agent acquisition Andrew Miller finishing games off, but how many opportunities will they get?
To put it simply, the Yankees are getting older, they’re not very deep and both the Red Sox and the Blue Jays have made significant upgrades. Yankees fans aren’t used to their team not winning the World Series, let alone competing in the AL East, but the 2015 edition has the look of a pretender not a contender.