We've covered teams on the decline and teams well out of contention. Today we'll be looking at teams on the rise and whether they've got the peices together for a playoff run.
A debate broke out late last season as to whether the Diamondbacks surge to the top of the NL West was by fluke or design. The Giants bottoming out certainly played a role, but a youth movement is afoot in the desert and it only got better in the offseason. The acquisition of Trevor Cahill sures up an already good rotation, Jason Kubel gives them more top-of order on base potential and the Justin Upton/Miguel Montero tandem looks like a winner. They could make a race out of the West again.
Best Asset: RF Justin Upton. Look out for: SP Daniel Hudson. Strategy: Fluke? Maybe, but this team got a taste of winning and not all the cylinders were working. If Ian Kennedy continues to pitch like an ace and Aaron Hill can rediscover his swing, this club could be knocking on the door come October again. Projected Finish: 3rd NL West.
In one of the off-season’s more perplexing moves the Padres shipped Mat Latos to the Reds for Edison Volquez and a handful of prospects. No knocks to Volquez but he’s been hit or miss; the Reds dumped a question mark for a young fireballer with a promising future. Their rotation is young, cost-effective (at least for a few more years) and good. If all the cogs in their lineup work like they did last year, these guys could surprise in an NL Central that got considerably weaker.
Best Asset: 1B Joey Votto. Look out for: SP Mat Latos/Aroldis Chapman. Strategy: Pitching is the key to success in the NL and the Reds have got some. With Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder gone to greener pastures, the Reds should be able to work over weaker divisional lineups. Projected Finish: 1st in the NL Central.
The word of the day in Florida is ‘new.’ New stadium, new name, new uniform, new manager, new faces. The Marlins went out and spent this offseason like the world was ending and the on-paper results look good. The core was already there; we’ve seen what LoMo and Giancarlo (Mike) Stanton can do. If Hanley Ramirez can stay healthy he’ll have both of them and Jose Reyes to bat around. Meanwhile, Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano join an already solid rotation and Heath Bell will take over as a bona fide closer. The fish added parts in all the right places and will be ready to contend in 2012.
Best Asset: SP Josh Johnson. Look out for: RF Giancarlo Stanton/SP Anibal Sanchez. Strategy: Let loose. The Marlins can play. They can score runs, they can throw strikes and they can win games. Don’t be surprised to see them run away with the wild card. Projected Finish: 2nd in the NL East.
Kansas City Royals
2013: that’s the year floating around in baseball circles that the Royals will be a force. Obviously we’re a season shy of that but the lineup is looking better and better. Power lives where it should at the corners with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas poised to at least learn if not breakout. Experience in the outfield is a plus and though their rotation looks spotty now, in a year’s time it will be loaded with top end talent like Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi.
Best Asset: A young core, under team control for a while. Look out for: Anyone under the age of 25. Strategy: KC has been playing the waiting game for a while but they’re almost there. Put the AL Central on notice; when the farm finally comes full bore in the bigs, these guys will contend. Projected Finish: 3rd in AL Central.
Toronto Blue Jays
It seems like only yesterday the Jays were imploding a team they thought could contend but couldn’t. Now they’re back on the rise with young guns Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia holding down three key positions and Jose Bautista holding down the rest. They added some veteran arms to their pen and have a lot of young depth present and waiting in the wings of their rotation. The only trouble now is getting past a very tough AL East.
Best Asset: RF Jose Bautista. Look out for: 3B Brett Lawrie. Strategy: There is more balance in Toronto then there has been in years past. Several players (Rasmus, Lind, Lawrie) have yet to max their potential so the ceiling is high. This club could contend anywhere else except the AL East; to compete they will require the collapse of another club which is out of their control. Projected Finish: 4th in the AL East.
The baseball world blinked and the Nationals went from an also-ran to a contender overnight. They have a full-loaded six man rotation that can hurl and a bullpen that can hold it down. Their lineup does have some question marks; it lacks on base potential which means it lacks runs but how many will they really have to score if they’re only giving up three or four a game? Once top prospect Bryce Harper (literally number one on the list) is added to the equation this could be a dangerous club.
Best Asset: A front-to-back lights out pitching staff. Look out for: RF Bryce Harper. Strategy: If the Nats can add a top of the order bat they can go far. They have to try to contend in one of baseball’s toughest divisions but things are looking up. Projected Finish: 3rd in the NL East.