11 teams brimming with confidence

February 19th, 2016

Who doesn't love confidence? All it means is that you believe in yourself and your teammates and your franchise. You believe the vibe is right for a special season. Even better, confidence is closely aligned with happiness.
So go for it, Adrian Gonzalez. You believe in your Dodgers. You love your team. You love the vibe.
To sum up what the Dodgers first baseman said on Thursday:
• "Talent-wise, we're at the top of baseball."
• "We have probably the deepest team in baseball."
• "We have the talent and depth to win the division again."
• "We're in position to win a division like we did the last three years."
There you go. Good stuff. Sets a tone for the next nine months. If this thing finishes the way Gonzalez thinks it might, we'll remember the day when he saw it all coming together.

Optimism abounds in these first days of Spring Training. All 30 teams believe they're capable of making the postseason. Even the younger teams -- for instance, the Braves and Phillies -- have amassed so much talent that they believe they're capable of getting on a magical run.
At this time last spring, only the Astros believed in themselves. At times, they seemed to have a swagger about the whole thing, and we wondered what we were missing. They didn't see making the postseason for the first time in 10 years as a shock-the-world show. They saw it as something they'd worked for and deserved.
Who has the confidence? Obviously, the Dodgers. Who else? Let's take a look:
1. Dodgers: See above.
2. Giants: No team on the planet is more confident than this one. That's what winning three World Series in six seasons does for you. That's what having Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford does for you. That's what having baseball's best manager, Bruce Bochy, and arguably its shrewdest front office does.
Why not? Pence and Matt Cain are healthy. After an offseason in which the Giants added Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Denard Span, this team believes it's good enough to get a fourth ring.
3. Royals: Well, uh, excuse me. Confidence? Isn't that automatic for a core of players that has won back-to-back American League championships? That's only part of a larger story.
Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas came through the Minor Leagues together, and they won there, too. They weren't overnight successes in the big leagues, but when they finally turned a corner, they turned it emphatically.
The Royals are 158-99 since July 22, 2014, and that's 17 more victories than any other Major League team (Cardinals) has won in that time. As Kansas City goes for three straight pennants, it will again have one of baseball's best defenses and bullpens. The club has some questions in both the lineup and rotation, but no general manager does a better job at filling holes than Dayton Moore.
In short, this is a great time to play for or root for the Royals. They're entertaining, and they're really, really good. And they believe in themselves.

4. Cubs: They won 97 games last season and are loaded at virtually every spot on the diamond after an offseason in which they added three of baseball's most coveted free agents -- Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey.
In Jake Arrieta, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, they have a string of once-a-generation players. In Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and others, they've got potential superstars.
They've got one of the great managers in history in Joe Maddon and a farm system with more talent on the way. No manager does a better job of instilling confidence in a group.
Hang on, Wrigleyville. It's going to be a fun summer.
5. Mets: There's all that great starting pitching and center fielder Yoenis Cespedes back in the middle of the lineup and third baseman David Wright healthy. There's a winning vibe from a World Series run last season, and finally, there's Terry Collins, who finally got the credit he has long deserved for being a great baseball man, a great motivator, a great manager.
As long as Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz stay healthy, the Mets are going to feel great about their chances of repeating as National League champs.
6. Cardinals: Sure, lots of people believe the Cardinals can't hang with the Cubs this summer and that they may not finish ahead of the Pirates in the NL Central.
Here's a word to the wise: Be careful about overlooking this team. They've made the playoffs five years in a row and 12 of 16. Their core guys -- Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter -- are still productive. They've got young guys like Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk who may be stars by the end of this season. They've got some depth in the farm system and a manager, Mike Matheny, who has led his guys to three straight division championships.
The Cards didn't re-sign Hayward and Lackey, and it stings that both ended up with the Cubs. And it also stings that perhaps general manager John Mozeliak's top target, David Price, signed with the Red Sox.
But the Cardinals still have gobs of talent. They still have enough farm depth to add pieces from outside or to promote them internally. And Mozeliak has a great feel for both his clubhouse and his roster. In short, the Cubs may be confident, but the Cards don't believe any less in themselves.
7. Blue Jays: They hadn't made the postseason in 23 years when they won the AL East last season. They've still got the AL MVP Award winner, Josh Donaldson. They've got one of the best lineups in the game and a very good bullpen.
If R.A. Dickey has another productive year in him and if J.A. Happ continues his career rebirth, then Toronto could easily win the AL East again. Regardless, with Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Marcus Stroman, this is a team that believes it's going to win.
8. Astros: In three seasons, they improved from 51 victories to 70 to 86. They're a team with questions about who'll play at first and third base, but they've got farm depth and a creative general manager.
Jeff Luhnow shored up the bullpen by adding Ken Giles from the Phillies and believes that his young guys -- Carlos Correa, George Springer, Lance McCullers Jr. -- will continue to get better.
Dallas Keuchel leads a rotation that has a chance to be one of the AL's best. And making it all work is manager A.J. Hinch, who did a fabulous job making his guys ignore the noise and have a great season.
9. Pirates: They've made the playoffs three straight years, and with Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole and young talent all over the diamond, the Pirates are capable of playing with anyone.
McCutchen and Cole play with a swagger and have a confidence that rubs off on everyone. And the Bucs have one of baseball's five best managers in Clint Hurdle, he of the booming voice and unwavering belief in his guys.
To spend five minutes with Hurdle is to feel better about your entire day. And that's how pretty much all the guys who've played for him feel.
10. Tigers: General manager Al Avila overhauled and upgraded his bullpen, the Tigers' weak link for a couple of years. He has Justin Verlander back pitching at a high level and a lineup with Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez. There are questions about the back of the rotation, but Detroit has enough players who've done everything except win a championship. The Tigers believe they're good enough to finally break through, and they just might be.
11. Indians: First, there's a scary deep rotation. There's a solid bullpen. There's a potential superstar in shortstop Francisco Lindor. Slow starts have hurt the Indians the past two seasons, and that's one of the focuses of this Spring Training. The Tribe also has Terry Francona, a manager who has a magical touch in getting players to believe they're capable of doing more than perhaps they even think.