As spring training begins and high-profile free agents finally find their homes, it’s a good time for some MLB predictions.
I’m going to skip the usual division-by-division predictions and make it simpler.
World Series contenders: There are seven teams that should be considered threats to compete for a championship. They are the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Astros, Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers.
That doesn’t mean another team can’t win it, but it does mean the other 23 teams, as currently constructed, are long shots.
Things seem fairly wide open between the top contenders, which makes a World Series prediction both difficult and easy. Everyone’s picking two of these teams, but deciding which two is kind of a coin flip. I’m going to predict a 2016 rematch between the Cubs and Indians.
Other playoff teams: Outside of the top seven teams, there are another seven that have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. They are the Cardinals, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Giants, Twins and Angels.
The only team in this group that would be making a giant leap from last season is the Giants. They were shockingly bad last year, but they’ve made improvements and should be much more competitive.
The Twins are the most likely team to drop out of this category. After overachieving last season, it wouldn’t shock too many people if they finished under .500.
The Cards: The issue with the Cardinals isn’t that the team isn’t good, it’s that the team isn’t good enough. The teams listed in the top tier range between being very good and great. The Cardinals are just good.
Without acquiring one more starting pitcher, the Cardinals will rely on contributions from unproven commodities. The good news for Cardinals fans is that they’ve done it before and found success.
Dark horses: Beyond the 14 likely playoff contenders, there are eight teams with the potential to shock the world. They are the Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners, Mets, White Sox, Athletics, Phillies and Braves.
The first four will rely on veterans. This is probably the last hurrah current version of the Blue Jays, Orioles and Mariners. The Mets will rely heavily on a bounce back from their once vaunted starting pitching staff.
The other three teams are in varying stages of their rebuilding projects. If things come together quickly, they could find a surprising amount of success. My top dark horse for the season is Atlanta.
Any of these dark horses could find themselves in the final group of teams at season’s end.
Also-rans: The other eight teams are likely to be going through the motions this season. The Rays, Royals, Tigers, Rangers, Marlins, Pirates, Reds and Padres have either just started their rebuilding projects or aren’t far enough along in the process to contend.
The Reds and Padres could probably find themselves in the dark horse category, but it’s too unlikely to predict. The Pirates and Rangers could find some level of respectability, while the Royals, Tigers, Rays and Marlins should rest comfortably at the bottom of the barrel.