As Spring Training winds down and the 2015 season comes closer and closer, we’re starting to see some teams stand out from the pack in terms of mainstream predictions. Sure, everyone is pretty sure the Nationals and Dodgers will be awesome, but there are a few teams that are getting plenty of love that don’t appear to be anywhere near that elite category…yet, they’re getting just as much press. Here are five of those teams, ones that we all may be overrating a bit this spring.
Boston Red Sox
Boston spent a ton of money this winter, has a loaded farm system, and plays in a weak AL East. So it’s natural to think of them as the favorite in the division. But it’s not really that difficult to see how things fall apart for the Sox. Their rotation is being held together with bubble gum and string, and questions have also popped up about the healthy members of their starting five in Spring Training.
I’ve got questions about the team’s biggest offensive acquisitions from this offseason, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Will the pair be motivated with their new contracts? Will Ramirez be able to competently play left field? Boston’s core offensive players, Mike Napoli, David Ortiz, and Dustin Pedroia, are all on the wrong side of 30 and have significant injury questions.
If everything goes right for Boston, this is probably a 90 win team that can win the division. But there’s plenty that can go wrong without really stretching reality all that much. I don’t think the Red Sox are locks to win the division – far from it, in fact.
First off, Cubs fans have a lot to be excited about with Kris Bryant and the rest of their young prospects. A cadre of talent like this doesn’t come around all that often. However, let’s pump the brakes a bit on Chicago contending for a playoff spot in 2015. This was still an 89 loss team last year. That team got a quietly solid year from Luis Valbuena at third, Chris Coghlan’s best year since his rookie season in the outfield, and 17 dominant starts from Jeff Samardzija before dealing him to Oakland.
Samardzija will effectively be replaced by Jon Lester in the rotation, but the Cubs are still counting on solid production from Coghlan in the outfield, still hoping that an answer emerges at second base (and it hasn’t yet), and still doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing with Bryant at third base.
The Cubs are going to be better this year, but maybe we should relax with the dreams of them contending this year. The Cardinals and Pirates are clearly better clubs in the NL Central, and when you’re relying on as much young talent as Chicago is, there’s the distinct possibility of things turning south in a hurry.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels smashed their way to a 98-win regular season in 2014…and proceeded to get swept in the ALDS by the Royals in a truly depressing display for Halos fans. The team didn’t exactly stand pat this year, but they didn’t really take care of their pressing issues. After trading second baseman Howie Kendrick for starter Andrew Heaney, they didn’t exactly adequately replace Kendrick at second base.
Matt Joyce was brought in to help stabilize the outfield, but following Josh Hamilton’s shoulder surgery and subsequent relapse, he’ll have to do much more than expected at the position this year. Anaheim will also be likely be missing their best starter, Garrett Richards, on Opening Day, and there are pretty significant questions about the durability and performance of their current top five starters.
The one certainty with the Angels is that they’ll have a pretty good bullpen, something that Jerry Dipoto has seemingly been hunting for years with the team. They rolled through a tough AL West last season thanks in part to Oakland’s second half collapse, but the division is just as good this year. They won’t be able to get away with having a middling rotation and a questionable offense this time around.
San Diego Padres
Even though the Padres got a lot done this year, and still look like a much more interesting team than they were over the last few years, they’re still quite flawed. Their best infielder is arguably Clint Barmes, a defensive stud who can’t hit worth a lick. Only one of their top six infielders had a wOBA above .300 last year, and he was a 26-year old rookie in 2014.
The Padres’ outfield defense would still be bad if all three guys were playing in their usual positions. The only sure thing in the rotation is James Shields, who is 33 and could break at any moment. The bullpen will be awesome, because no matter what happens each winter in San Diego, the bullpen will be awesome.
Are they a better team? Of course. Are they a contender? Eh…they’re in the conversation, but there are plenty of questions.
This is a tough pill for me to swallow, because I’m one of THOSE PEOPLE that is high on the Mariners. I think they’re the best team in the AL West. But I also can acknowledge there are significant questions with this team, and that I could be overrating them. The big move for Seattle this winter was signing DH Nelson Cruz, a 34-year old with a PED history coming off of a fantastic year.
The rotation has fantastic potential, but the only sure thing is Felix Hernandez…and that arm has a lot of mileage on it. The team could roll out three platoons this year, which could be genius or a complete disaster. I don’t know what to make of any of the offensive starters aside from Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.
I’m still quite high on the Mariners, but I also realize their success is far from a sure thing. Remember – they’ve never made the playoffs during Hernandez’s entire tenure with the team.