With the offseason wrapping up and Spring Training on the horizon, experts are beginning to make their picks on which teams are contenders and pretenders. Even with the plethora of big name free agents still available, most rosters are set.
Teams like the Astros, Dodgers and Yankees are considered the big favorites right now, and rightfully so. Other teams like the Cubs, Brewers and Red Sox still have their eyes set on October. The thing all these teams have in common is that they are hyped up as playoff teams. Ask any baseball fan who they think is going to win the World Series and those are the teams they’ll list.
Each year, one or two teams blow up on the baseball scene. Last year, it was Minnesota and Arizona. The year before, it was the Texas Rangers.
While I won’t build myself up as a flawless fortune teller, these are two teams baseball fans should keep an eye on.
National League: Philadelphia Phillies
While everyone in Philadelphia is currently focused on winning their first Super Bowl (good luck with that), the Phillies could make a lot of noise in the NL. The Nationals have the East locked up for now baring injury, but Philly could fly in under the radar and possibly sneak into a Wild Card spot.
One thing the Phillies have in their favor is a weak division outside of Washington. Miami has had a fire sale to end all fire sales. Atlanta still has some rebuilding to do with their roster. The Mets can’t stay healthy past April.
Washington is head and shoulders the best team in the division. In the West and Central divisions, no team can truly make that claim. The Dodgers have the Diamondbacks, Rockies and the geriatric Giants to worry about. The Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers are going to fight to the death for that divisional crown. With all these teams beating each other, the Phillies could use their easy path to their advantage.
The Phillies have plenty of young talent. Pitcher Aaron Nola saw significant improvement in his wins and ERA and will continue to blossom into the ace they see him as.
If you are looking for future All-Stars, Rhys Hoskins is the real player to watch in Philly. In his first MLB action, Hoskins hit .259 with 18 homers and had a slugging percentage of .618. Those are great numbers for a young player starting out.
These young players coupled with veterans like first baseman Carlos Santana, who hit 23 homers and had a 3.4 WAR, and relief pitcher Pat Neshek, who had a sub-two ERA last season, have potential to make noise this season.
American League: Oakland Athletics
After being bottom dwellers for the past three seasons, the Oakland Athletics have to be tired of losing.
The A’s are in a similar position as the Phillies, a losing team with young stars and a juggernaut in the lead of their division. One difference is the rest of the division. The Angels have made huge improvements and the Rangers and Mariners continue to be dangerous.
If the A’s are to have any success, it’ll be spearheaded by their two young Matts: Matt Olson and Matt Chapman.
In his first season with extended playing time, Chapman looked to be one of, if not the best defensive third baseman in baseball. In 84 games, Chapman put up a 3.6 WAR, just ahead of Manny Machado and behind former A Josh Donaldson. While he wasn’t great at the plate, he had a .785 OPS, which is above league average. For a 24-year-old, thats great.
When looking at Olson, the opposite could be said. While Olson’s glove is good, it’s his offensive firepower that makes him a superstar in the making. In just 189 at-bats, Olson hit 24 homers and had an insane OPS of 1.003, which is considered excellent. For reference, NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton had an 1.007 OPS.
These two players are stars in the making. They will be coupled with Khris Davis, who has had back-to-back 40 homer seasons.
The A’s will also have a much improved bullpen and a rotation full of potential. The A’s are set for the short-term and long-term future.
Featured image by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images
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