There's a case to be made for the D-backs having a nice rebound season in 2017. Don't be surprised if the Angels bounce back, too. Also, the Pirates, Rays and Rockies shouldn't be overlooked.This is baseball's new landscape, one of the ingredients that maybe make this the best time ever
There's a case to be made for the D-backs having a nice rebound season in 2017. Don't be surprised if the Angels bounce back, too. Also, the Pirates, Rays and Rockies shouldn't be overlooked.
This is baseball's new landscape, one of the ingredients that maybe make this the best time ever to be a fan. Worst-to-first -- or something close -- isn't all that rare.
Last season, five teams improved by at least 10 games -- the Red Sox (15), Indians (13), Tigers and Nationals (12) and Mariners (10). This is a byproduct of a sport in which 22 of 30 Major League teams have played at least one playoff series the past five seasons.
Here's another way of looking at it -- the Dodgers have won the National League West four years in a row. Only three teams -- the Cubs, Rangers and Blue Jays -- have made it into a postseason series each of the past two seasons. Two in a row, that's it.
In a larger sense, this parity means that every team has hope. Not pipe-dream hope, but real hope. So at some point late next season, we'll look at the standings, slap our foreheads and say something like, "Never saw that coming."
Let's look at five teams that had losing records in 2016 and could turn things around in 2017:
The Rays have one thing virtually every team in baseball is attempting to acquire -- dominant pitching. Here's what's less obvious: They've made significant progress in putting together an offense to support their pitching.
Tampa Bay's infield is great. Its catching will be in solid hands when newly signed Wilson Ramos returns from knee surgery. Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier is one of the best defensive players in the game.
What the Rays' baseball operations staff is wrestling with is finding productive corner outfielders and a designated hitter. If Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr. are as good as projected to be, the problem is solved. If they're not, Tampa Bay could have some of the same issues it has had the past three seasons, during which the club has been 24th, 25th and 27th in runs.
But the Rays have enough pitching to trade a starter for a bat. Regardless, if they stay healthy in 2017, they've got a chance to compete for a playoff spot.
General manager Billy Eppler has had a very productive offseason in getting Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere for left field, Danny Espinosa for second base, Jesse Chavez for the starting rotation and Martin Maldonado at catcher.
In this whirlwind of moves, Eppler has significantly upgraded his team's defense and filled his pressing needs. Now, if the Angels get a healthy and productive season from No. 1 starter Garrett Richards, they're probably good enough to be in the mix in the American League West.
The Rockies probably have never felt better about their rotation than the one they're projected to have on Opening Day 2017: Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and German Marquez. Bettis, 27, is the oldest of the group, meaning they all can grow together and learn to accept that pitching in Coors Field is different.
Colorado has superstars at third base (Nolan Arenado) and in right field (Carlos Gonzalez) and watched a new generation of impact players emerge in 2016 in shortstop Trevor Story, outfielder David Dahl and catchers Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy.
In a division with the Dodgers and Giants -- and the rapidly improving D-backs -- the Rockies have a tough road back to the postseason. But they're close to being good enough to get there.
Presuming good health (for a change), the D-backs are strong at first base (Paul Goldschmidt), center field (A.J. Pollock), right field (Yasmany Tomas) and left field (David Peralta). Those four are the foundation of a potentially solid offensive team.
Now, about that pitching staff. There are intriguing options behind No. 1 starter Zack Greinke: Taijuan Walker, Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley, Robbie Ray and Matt Koch. And as badly as Shelby Miller struggled in 2016, he's only 26 years old and averaged 187 innings and a 3.27 ERA from 2013-15. To think that he can't still be a productive Major League starter is silly.
Are the Pirates as good as the Cubs and Cardinals? Probably not. Are they good enough to make the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons? Absolutely. They have a very good outfield with Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, and a rotation with a solid top three in Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova. Tony Watson anchors a good bullpen. And the Bucs have one of the best managers of his generation in Clint Hurdle.
For Pittsburgh, the issues are staying reasonably healthy and competing, while allowing top prospects first baseman Josh Bell and pitcher Tyler Glasnow to develop. As painful as it would be to see McCutchen playing somewhere else, the Pirates do have 21-year-old Austin Meadows on the cusp of the Majors.
Few franchises have been operated better or more efficiently the past four seasons. Nothing is likely to change in 2017.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @richardjustice.