We’re about six weeks into baseball season, and it’s becoming harder and harder to dismiss surprising results by saying, “It’s early.”
As the season goes on, teams off to poor starts feel more and more pressure to turn things around—before it’s too late.
With 15 MLB teams sitting at or below .500 as of Thursday morning, we asked our staff which of them is most likely to make the playoffs.
Joe Lucia: I guess I would say the Detroit Tigers, just because they play in the worst division in baseball and are only (as of Thursday morning) one and a half games out of first place. In addition to having the shortest road to the playoffs, the Tigers also have been there before and have a roster built to win right now, unlike some of the other teams hovering around the .500 mark (hello, Reds). That’s not saying that I *like* their chances, but out of all the sub-.500 teams in baseball, I think they have the best shot.
This Jose Bautista bat flip didn’t sit well with the Braves, leading to benches clearing afterward pic.twitter.com/z1qOtzs1tM
— SI MLB (@si_mlb) May 18, 2017
Deesha Thosar: The Blue Jays had a rocky start to their season, but they are finally showing signs of heat. Eight players currently reside on Toronto’s disabled list, six of whom are key components to the team we saw last year. In terms of production, Jose Bautista had his worst April since becoming a Blue Jay, batting just .178 with one home run to his name.
Soon, Toronto can expect the sky to clear. Bautista quickly hiked his average up and crushed five homers in his last 16 games. Troy Tulowitzki, on the shelf since April 22, is due back by the end of this week. Josh Donaldson will be in the starting lineup before the month ends. If Toronto’s power picks up where it left off, you can expect to see it in the playoffs.
Matt Clapp: Alright, so I don’t feel great about any of these teams, but I guess I’ll go with the Tigers. They seem like a team that will win in the low 80s on paper, but there is plenty of talent on this team with the ability to perhaps get into the high 80s if some things go in their favor.
And the biggest thing is that they play in a division that appears more winnable than, say, what the Mariners or Mets have to deal with right now. I do think the Indians will end up winning this division rather comfortably, but right now they’re just half a game up on the Tigers. So, the Tigers get at least at tad of a boost over comparable teams due to the current state of their division, and the second AL Wild Card slot may not take more than 86 wins or so. It’s not hard to see how the Tigers could have a path to the playoffs, even if it remains unlikely.
Alex Putterman: A whole lot has gone wrong for the Mariners this season. They’ve been absolutely bombarded by injuries, forcing them to use a virtual Double-A team in their starting rotation, and they just demoted closer Edwin Diaz, who emphatically failed to live up to the preseason hype. And yet, they’re only a few games below .500 and have actually outscored opponents by two runs this season. That’s a better run differential than teams like the Twins, Tigers and Angels, who are ahead of them in the standings.
Seattle has likely survived the worst of its injury crush. Robinson Cano, Mitch Haniger and James Paxton could all be off the disabled list by the end of May, with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma not far behind. And given that the Mariners haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001 and are currently saddled with an older core, the franchise is fully in win-now mode. That means GM Jerry DiPoto will surely seek trades to bolster the team’s bullpen or the back of its rotation. Better health, plus some strategic additions, could lift Seattle in a profoundly weak AL wild card class.
Ryan Williamson: My answer: the San Francisco Giants. Though last year killed off the dream of the Giants winning every even-year World Series for the rest of time, it’s still hard for me to count San Francisco out. They have a mojo about them, and Bruce Bochy is just the man. After they won that 17-inning game, the Giants have been rolling in recent days. Brandon Belt has been a machine, plus they are starting to get contributions from the pitching staff. Also, Denard Span is having more and more of an impact. With unproven teams like Colorado and Arizona at the top of the NL West, I see both the Dodgers and San Francisco making a run. So, expect to see plenty of orange towels and McCovey Cove come October.
Ian Casselberry: I’m sticking with a preseason pick that looks dumber by the day. But I picked the Seattle Mariners to win the AL West and while catching the Houston Astros already seems to be heavily in doubt (the M’s are 10 games behind and hold fourth place in the division), a wild card spot is still within reach. And the situation figures to stay that way through the rest of the season in a weak American League.
Seattle’s offense has been productive, thanks largely to Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Jean Segura. Rebounds from Kyle Seager and Danny Valencia could certainly provide a boost. But the Mariners need to pitch better and get healthy again. The injury to Drew Smyly is potentially serious, but James Paxton appears to be on his way back, while Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma should be able to return with rest. In the meantime, Christian Bergman may be an uncovered gem that can further bolster that rotation. But then there’s that bullpen…