As we have written before, Major League Baseball currently has seven teams that tower above the rest: the Dodgers, Astros, Indians, Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Nationals. A month before the season starts, it seems safe to pencil all of them into a playoff spot.
But baseball is famously unpredictable, with the year rarely playing out the way we expect it to. So with that in mind, we asked our writers which of baseball’s big seven is most likely to miss the playoffs. Here are their answers:
Which of Major League Baseball’s top teams is most likely to miss the playoffs?
Joe Lucia: Five divisions have a clear favorite. The one that doesn’t is the AL East, with the Yankees and Red Sox standing head and shoulders above the rest of the division but not standing too far apart from one another.
And that’s why I think one of those two teams could end up missing the playoffs. If the balance of power shifts too far in favor of either of those teams, the other one could get knocked further down the division and into the thick of a wild-card race that could end up realistically involving around eight teams. And when you get thrown into a tight race for a playoff spot like we typically see in the wild-card races, weird stuff can happen and a team can fall off.
That being said, I think the Red Sox are the more likely of the two teams to struggle because of the uncertainty surrounding their rotation. Can Drew Pomeranz and David Price both stay healthy? Can a healthy Price actually perform like the Cy Young contender he’s been in the past? Who is the real Rick Porcello? I’m not sold on the Yankees being the juggernaut that many expect, but it’s easier for me to see the Red Sox struggling to the point where they miss the playoffs.
Ian Casselberry: Maybe Brian Cashman was right and the Yankees are “The Little Engine That Could.” The attempt to frame his powerhouse roster as the plucky upstart to the Boston Red Sox juggernaut is laughable. The Yankees lineup was already formidable before adding Giancarlo Stanton. With Stanton, that batting order is practically The Avengers, especially 1 through 5. Maybe even 1 through 7, if Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks match their 2017 production.
However, I do wonder if the starting rotation is fragile. Luis Severino was outstanding last season, becoming the ace the Yankees expected. But Masahiro Tanaka was inconsistent, plagued by a shoulder injury, raising the question of whether he can survive a full season healthy. Does CC Sabathia have another resurgent season in him? And I’m probably selling Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery way too short. Gray, especially, pitched better than his record and ERA indicated. And Montgomery had an impressive rookie season.
If any of those pitchers falter, do the Yankees have the depth to cover it? Luis Cessa and Chance Adams are on hand in the minors, so the answer could be yes. But starting pitching depth could be the difference between the Yankees and Red Sox winning the AL East and making it to the postseason.
Of the other five teams that look like contenders, the Yankees are the only one who face serious competition from the Red Sox. (That could also be framed the other way, with Boston being strongly challenged.) And we’re talking about the only club of the seven powerhouses who didn’t win their division last year, getting to the postseason instead as a wild-card. Chances are the Yankees will earn one of those two wild-card bids. But the Twins and Angels could make that difficult, especially if the Red Sox manage to keep the Yankees down in the standings.
Andrew Bucholtz: I think it’s the Red Sox, as they have a clear divisional challenger in the Yankees and have some age and injury concerns. Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez are both 34, Mitch Moreland is 32, and splashy new signing J.D. Martinez is 30, as is Eduardo Nunez. It’s not hard to envision age catching up to some of these players. On the pitching side, I like Chris Sale, but I have concerns about David Price and the rest of the rotation.
The Red Sox have lots of good younger players as well, of course, from Mookie Betts to Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi, and I think they’ll still be a pretty good team, but many projections (including Fangraphs) have them finishing behind the Yankees in the AL East. While they’re still likely to wind up in a wild-card slot, those can be fragile; a few slumps here, a streak from another team there, and it’s gone.
So while there’s still an excellent chance the Red Sox will make the playoffs, they seem more likely to me to potentially miss out than any of the other projected top teams.
Alex Putterman: I agree with everyone above that the answer to this question is probably an AL East team, since that’s the division that figures to be the most competitive. But in the interest of mixing things up, I’ll set aside the AL East and pick someone different.
Let’s talk about the NL Central. The Cubs enter the season as the clear-cut favorite, having added Yu Darvish and other useful pitchers to a 92-win roster, but unlike some other top teams, Chicago will face serious competition. The Cardinals and Brewers both finished in vague shouting distance of the Cubs last season, and both got better this winter, with St. Louis adding Marcell Ozuna and the Brewers picking up Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain.
Both teams have holes and question marks, but both also figure to hang around the playoff hunt deep into the summer. The Brewers and Cardinals each have history in recent years of coaxing performance from unlikely sources, and if a couple things go better than expected (Jack Flaherty breakout? Ryan Braun bounceback?) the NL Central race could remain interesting for a while.
So although I think the Cubs are the division’s best team and its likely champion, I also think they could get a serious push from behind.