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What's next for 2017's ascending teams? @castrovince

As hard as it is to climb the standings in baseball, it's even harder to maintain that momentum when greater expectations and pressure are placed upon a team.

That's how it is with the five clubs that most clearly outperformed the preseason conventional wisdom regarding their outlook in 2017 -- the Yankees, Twins, Rockies, D-backs and Brewers.

As hard as it is to climb the standings in baseball, it's even harder to maintain that momentum when greater expectations and pressure are placed upon a team.

That's how it is with the five clubs that most clearly outperformed the preseason conventional wisdom regarding their outlook in 2017 -- the Yankees, Twins, Rockies, D-backs and Brewers.

Here's a look at each of those five teams and where they go now that 2018 contention is counted upon.

What was supposed to be a bridge year in 2017 turned out to have the connective power of the Triborough, bringing the Yankees not just to a greater competitive state, but all the way to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Aaron Judge and the gang have quickly used up their "underdog" appeal and will enter the new year viewed as the behemoth they've once again become. They even raised their own internal bar by removing a respected and successful skipper in Joe Girardi.

Don't let the hiring of new manager Aaron Boone distract you from another compelling plot point to the Yanks' offseason: Shohei Ohtani. We don't know all of Ohtani's motivations, so it's hard to say if the Yankees are as much a favorite in the bidding as many assume. But there's no doubt they have a lot to offer the two-way Japanese talent, including at-bats as the designated hitter and opportunity in the starting rotation.

The rotation is in pretty decent shape with or without Ohtani because of the in-season acquisition of Sonny Gray, the emergences of Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery and Masahiro Tanaka's surprising decision not to opt out of the remaining three years on his contract. But the Yanks could still use another stabilizing presence in the back end, and a reunion with CC Sabathia could be in the offing.

Beyond that, the biggest question is whether the Yankees, who are trying to get under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold, will trade from their bullpen depth. But by and large, this club is in good position to enter 2018 as an AL East co-favorite with the Red Sox.

Video: Hoch on why Boone is good fit as new Yankees manager

The Twins have already surprised us plenty in recent months. But they might have more in store. The Twins' decision-makers haven't merely hinted at an aggressive approach to the offseason. General manager Thad Levine went on MLB Network Radio last week and, as the delivery man from Hop Sing's on "Seinfeld" once said, "named names."

"We're having active conversations," Levine said, "with each of the agents for [Yu] Darvish, [Jake] Arrieta, [Lance] Lynn and [Alex] Cobb, among others, including back end of the 'pen pitchers."

Even with Ervin Santana coming off one of the best seasons of his career, Jose Berrios' breakout and some strong arms on the cusp in Fernando Romero and lefty Stephen Gonsalves, a starter of the ilk of the names Levine mentioned would obviously aid the effort. It's also worth noting that the Twins are one of just three teams -- along with the Rangers and Yankees -- with more than $3 million available to offer Ohtani, and Levine has extensive experience wooing Japanese free agents -- notably Yu Darvish -- from his time working in the Rangers' front office.

Additionally, the Twins have a clear need for a closer and other bullpen support. So there's a lot of heavy lifting to be done before the Twins are viewed as a legit threat to the Indians' throne in the AL Central. But the Twins, who are free and clear of major financial obligations beyond 2018, are definitely trying to prove '17 was no fluke.

Video: Levine discusses Twins' pursuit of pitching depth

The Rockies stunned the industry with their five-year, $70 million contract with Ian Desmond a year ago. It was a signal that they felt ready to make noise in the National League West, even if the rest of the baseball world wasn't entirely sure.

Though Desmond's health and performance didn't cooperate in his first year in Colorado, the Rockies rose to the occasion behind new leadership from manager Bud Black, a young and blossoming rotation, MVP-type efforts from Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon and a bullpen anchored by free-agent acquisition Greg Holland. It got them to the NL Wild Card Game, which was a significant step for a club coming off six straight losing seasons.

Holland was good enough to walk away from his $15 million option and the Rockies' $17.4 million qualifying offer, and back-end arms Jake McGee and Pat Neshek are also free agents. So the bullpen is a key priority for a club that has elevated its payroll each of the past three years and again has money to spend.

The market for relief help is just beginning to heat up, and the Rockies will be in the center of that action. They also have to address the catching spot, with in-season acquisition Jonathan Lucroy on the open market.

Beyond that, it's an open question whether they'll utilize Desmond at first base, as initially intended, and acquire some corner-outfield help, bring back Mark Reynolds or explore a market deep on first-base options, with Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana at the top end. The Rockies are in a good spot with a strong farm system that gives them trade power should the free-agent market not prove fruitful.

Video: Morosi discusses the Rockies' offseason outlook

What we saw from Arizona in 2017 was more akin to what we expected from this club in '16. Better health, breakouts from Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Zack Godley and Archie Bradley and the midseason acquisition of J.D. Martinez and his subsequent 29 homers got the D-backs to the NL Wild Card Game in the first year under manager Torey Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen.

Now it gets tricky for the D-backs, because building off the '17 surge will be difficult while navigating around Zack Greinke's $34 million salary. Martinez was a fantastic fit, but bringing him back would likely mean having more than 50 percent of the 2018 payroll tied up in two players. And it's not just Martinez's power that must be replaced, but also the bullpen innings left behind by free agents Fernando Rodney, Jorge De La Rosa and David Hernandez. Trading Greinke doesn't seem likely, though the D-backs could conceivably deal from their starting pitching or infield depth to address their needs without spending crazy amounts of cash. We've already seen the trade approach with Arizona's swap for former Rays closer Brad Boxberger, who pairs with Bradley as a high-leverage option.

While expectations have risen with last year's result, the payroll complexities and the relatively shallow prospect pool mean Hazen will have to get creative with his roster this winter.

Video: Gilbert on D-backs acquiring Boxberger in trade

This is the only club on this list that didn't reach the postseason. But in jumping from 73 wins to 86, the Brewers kept the defending World Series-champion Cubs on their toes every step of the way in 2017. Though general manager David Stearns and Co. made in-season additions in Neil Walker and Anthony Swarzak, the Brewers opted against a more serious splurge that would have amplified the '17 effort, but compromised one of the game's stronger farm systems.

We'll see if the Brewers exercise similar restraint this winter, but the seeds of a contender are here, with youngsters like Lewis Brinson and Josh Hader potentially ready to make meaningful contributions after their initial big league trials. The Brewers have a really strong position-player core. But they need to do something for the pitching staff, which could be hindered by Jimmy Nelson's recovery from shoulder surgery, and second base, where re-signing Walker or trading for the Tigers' Ian Kinsler (a guy they had discussions about this summer) are possibilities.

Video: Footer on what Crew's path to the postseason entails

This club could be ready to be aggressive in free agency, because the $60 million owed to Ryan Braun over the next four seasons is the only onerous commitment on the books, and that means we shouldn't rule them out from the top-end of the starting spectrum in the open market. But the depth of the system means the Brewers could also swing a signature swap.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.