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5 potential surprise teams for 2017

With parity around Majors, these teams could sneak into playoffs
March 31, 2017

One of the best aspects of this era of Major League Baseball is that at least 25 of 30 teams see a potential path to the postseason.Those other five teams? They're as interesting as almost any of the contenders.Kids will be fast tracked to the big leagues. Along the way,

One of the best aspects of this era of Major League Baseball is that at least 25 of 30 teams see a potential path to the postseason.
Those other five teams? They're as interesting as almost any of the contenders.
Kids will be fast tracked to the big leagues. Along the way, fans will see the outline of great days ahead.
Hope springs? Yes, in all 30 ballparks, hope does spring, and isn't that the point?
Baseball has never had this kind of parity, and that's one of the reasons we find the season-long journey so compelling.
In the past five seasons, 22 teams have played at least one postseason series. The American League has had five champions in six seasons, while the National League has had four.
Money? It's not about that anymore. In the past 16 seasons, the team with the highest payroll has won the World Series just once -- the 2009 Yankees.
The past 10 World Series winners have had an average payroll rank of eighth. No one will claim money doesn't matter. Smarts count, too, perhaps more than ever.
We begin this season with the Indians and Red Sox regarded as the best AL teams. In the NL, it's the Cubs and Dodgers.
Right behind those four teams are the Nationals, Astros, Giants, Cardinals, Mets, Rangers, Mariners and others.
No one blinks if any of them hoist a World Series trophy this fall.
In reality, the list is a lot longer. Here are five other teams to keep an eye on:
1. Rays
Tampa Bay has pitching, pitching and more pitching. That's starting pitching and relief pitching. When a team has the depth of quality arms the Rays have, it has a chance. If Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson hit well, there could be enough offense to contend.

Patience will be a must, as three projected starters -- left fielder Colby Rasmus, shortstop Matt Duffy and catcher Wilson Ramos -- will open the season on the disabled list.
Once they all return -- and it might not be until midseason for Ramos -- this could be the best lineup Tampa Bay has ever put on the field.
Regardless, there may be enough pitching to keep the Rays contending until they're at full strength.
2. Orioles
Having won more games than any other AL team over the past five seasons -- and making the playoffs three times -- it could be a stretch to say Baltimore could surprise anyone.
And the Orioles take some sort of strange pride in being picked to finish last in the AL East pretty much every year.
Well, the O's most important player -- pitcher Chris Tillman -- has a cranky right shoulder, and it's unclear when he'll be back at full strength.

Baltimore's rotation was already a question mark, with Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy being counted on to take significant steps forward in their development.
But the Orioles made the playoffs last season with a rotation ranked 19th with a 4.22 ERA. If they do that again, they will be permanently eliminated from "surprise team" status.
3. D-backs
Is there enough pitching? Do Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller bounce back? Does Patrick Corbin get back on track? Does Taijuan Walker take the next step forward? Finally, do Braden Shipley and Archie Bradley fulfill their promise?
It's pretty much that simple for the D-backs, who have an offense built around five impact players: Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, Jake Lamb, Yasmany Tomas and David Peralta.

There are questions about Arizona's bullpen, and some of the projected starters -- for instance, Shipley and Bradley -- could help out there. There's no question the D-backs are headed in the right direction with new general manager Mike Hazen in charge of baseball operations and new manager Torey Lovullo leading the team.
4. Angels
Can a team with the best player in the game (Michael Trout) and a future Hall of Famer (Jose Pujols) really be a surprise? Here's what we don't know: What will the Angels get from their top two starting pitchers, Garrett Richards and Matthew Shoemaker?
The Halos' starting rotation may be a season-long work in progress. But if Richards and Shoemaker can stay healthy, they are plenty good enough to make the playoffs.

The Angels are in an unforgiving division, the AL West, with the Astros, Mariners and Rangers all seemingly good enough to make the playoffs. But don't overlook the Halos.
5. Rockies
Colorado probably always knew it would come back to accumulating as many young arms as possible and allowing them to get a feel for Coors Field. Yes, you can throw breaking stuff there. Yes, you're going to give up some runs.
Jon Gray, Tyler Chatwood and Tyler Anderson top a list of starters that have a chance to keep the Rockies afloat in the NL West. Despite first baseman Ian Desmond, outfielder David Dahl and catcher Tom Murphy likely sidelined for most of April, Colorado may still have enough to turn a corner in 2017.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice.