Every season is filled with breakout players and teams. The 2018 season will be no different. But what teams have the best chance to make that break through? The following four teams have the best chance to make a return to relevance in 2018.
After finishing in last place in the American League West last season, the Athletics are the trendy pick to make some noise this season. With a young roster littered with some veteran contributors, the A’s could definitely fight for an AL Wild Card spot. One reason for all the optimism is their young corner infield duo.
With both Matt Chapman and Matt Olson both entering the season with starting jobs all but secure, don’t be surprised to see them combine for 50+ home runs and 150+ RBIs. In only 59 games last season, Matt Olson mashed 24 home runs. He also had a .651 slugging percentage and a 164 OPS+. That combined with a strong rookie season from Matt Chapman (110 OPS+) has the A’s feeling confident entering 2018.
While the Athletics should improve in 2018, they play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. With the World Series Champion Houston Astros, the overhauled Los Angeles Angels, and solid teams in Seattle and Texas, Oakland could struggle. But if their young talent develops, they could be a force to be reckoned with.
While the Braves finished third in the National League East last season, they posted a paltry 72-90 record. That’s not to say it was a lost season in Atlanta though. The Braves seem to be on the tail end of their rebuild, with some of their prospects finally making it to the major leagues. And its that young talent that could push them over the top in 2018.
Led by superstar (yes, superstar) Freddie Freeman, the Braves could challenge for an NL Wild Card spot next season. Freeman has developed into an offensive force for the Braves. He hit the second most home runs of his career in 2018 (28 home runs) despite playing the fewest number of games since his rookie season (117 games). He is also likely to be joined by Baseball America’s number one prospect, Ronald Acuna, sometime this season.
With Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies already in the majors, their development and the addition of Acuna has the Braves looking dangerous in 2018. When you add stud pitchers Sean Newcomb and Luis Gohara, the Braves could have the makings of another dominant dynasty.
San Francisco Giants
After years of postseason success, it feels odd to see a team like the Giants on this list. But a season after posting the fewest wins in the National League (64), nothing is a sure thing with the Giants. Even so, their off-season moves have made them a trendy favorite to return to the playoffs this season.
When you add star caliber players like Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, that’ll happen. But it’s not like the Giants were a team without talent. They have arguably the best catcher in the game in Buster Posey, and a dominant ace in Madison Bumgarner. Add in solid veterans Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, and you have a playoff caliber team. It was this core that drove the Giants to their playoff success, and McCutchen and Longoria will look to help them do it again.
This team is different than the previous two teams on this list. While the Braves and Athletics look to contend with youth, the Giants are counting on a veteran core to lead them back to the World Series. While it is a long shot for them to get past the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies (who all made the playoffs last season), it is an even year.
If the Athletics and Braves are going young and the Giants are counting on experience, the Brewers are trying to have the best of both worlds. After a surprisingly strong 2018 season, the Brewers made some even more surprising moves this off-season. With the additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, the Brewers are definitely one of the better teams in the National League.
But it’s not just Yelich and Cain that have made the Brewers contenders. Korean import Eric Thames and former Astro Domingo Santana both found their power stroke in 2017, belting 30+ home runs each. The Brewers also had a breakout season from Corey Knebel, as he provided solidity for the bullpen. Factor in the production that veterans Travis Shaw and Ryan Braun provide, and the Brewers have one of the better offenses in the National League.
The one weak spot for the Brewers is their starting rotation. Having players like Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo in the starting rotation is something to worry about. But if the Brewers can sign Jake Arrieta or even one or two of the other free agent pitchers on the market, it could push the Brewers over the top.
Feature image by Sports Illustrated.
“From our Haus to Yours