These teams are better than you realize

April 6th, 2022

Preseason favorite selections are usually the “safe” picks -- teams that have had multiple recent trips to the postseason and are presumed to be headed for a return. But what about the teams lurking in the background, getting little to no attention, but might be better than we think? gathered to discuss which underrated clubs could surprise us this season -- and maybe even jump into a division race.

Alyson Footer, moderator/editor: Ahead of Opening Day, we tend to spend a lot of time talking about the teams we know will be good -- dominant, even. The Dodgers are obviously a force. Blue Jays look to be, as well.

But I think there are more than a few teams that might surprise us with good seasons. The first team that comes to my mind on our All-Underrated list has to be the Tigers. Last year, I recall someone on our staff (ahem, rhymes with Lark Meinsand) wondered if they’d win 60 games. They ended up with 77 wins and probably could have broken even if not for an absolutely dreadful April. Shouldn’t they be ready to make a push this year?

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter: So now I’m getting crushed for questioning a team that ended up below .500? Wow, tough crowd.

That said, I think the Tigers will take a bigger step forward this season. Spencer Torkelson appears to be the real deal, and Riley Greene will be up once he’s healthy. I’m a huge Casey Mize fan, and oh yeah, they added Javier Báez, Austin Meadows and Eduardo Rodriguez. I think Detroit stays in Wild Card contention for most of the season. If a few things go right, the Tigers could even sneak into the postseason.

Anthony Castrovince, reporter/columnist: A very wise person said they were closer to contention than most people think.

I'm glad they took advantage of their financial flexibility to build around what looks like a good core. The focus is understandably on Torkelson and Greene (once he recovers from the fractured foot). But so much is going to come down to the young arms in the rotation taking a step forward.

Footer: I think it comes down to this: If the young arms start off well and everything comes together as planned, they'll contend. If they need more time/seasoning, it could be a long second half.

Feinsand: Agreed. It all comes down to the young arms. If Mize, Skubal and Manning can succeed, so can the Tigers.

Footer: The White Sox will be good, but they have vulnerabilities, too. I would like to think the AL Central race will be a little more compelling this year than it has in past years.

Castrovince: I think we're already seeing the White Sox' vulnerability a bit with the Lance Lynn and Garrett Crochet injuries. Their depth rotation options were questionable prior to the Johnny Cueto signing (and he’ll need some time to get up to speed).

Feinsand: I think the Twins sneak back into that race, as well. Almost everything that could have gone wrong for them last year did. Adding Carlos Correa and Sonny Gray is big, and I think Gary Sánchez will have a strong season as a DH, not having to worry about that whole defense thing.

Castrovince: Most people seem to be rating Chicago as the biggest shoo-in for a division title. As soon as that happens, my ears perk up.

Feinsand: I don’t buy it. I haven’t done my official predictions, but I’m still wavering on the AL Central. I just don’t know if I have the guts to pick Detroit or Minnesota given their own deficiencies.

Footer: The extra Wild Card gives me a little hope for Detroit. I do not think they will win the division.

Castrovince: I wish the underlying metrics were better for Mize and Skubal. Ultimately, we need to see more from them to feel good about the Tigers turning into an instant contender. But they have a lot of talent.

The White Sox are undoubtedly the best team, but they are a bit vulnerable if they have another wave of injuries.

Feinsand: It won’t shock me if Luis Robert wins the AL MVP Award, however.

Even the Royals got a little better this winter. The AL Central could be compelling. Not that I think K.C. can win it, but they won’t be an easy out for those other teams 19 times.

Castrovince: The Royals belong in the underrated conversation. Their power and speed lineup could be a lot of fun. Just hard to trust the pitching staff, ultimately.

Feinsand: I agree, though being underrated could translate into 75 wins instead of 60. Kind of like the Tigers last year.

Footer: I think that translation applies to our debate. A 15-win swing isn't nothing.

Feinsand: In that case, put me down for the Royals being underrated. Bobby Witt Jr. is going to be special. If the White Sox stumble, this division could be quite entertaining.

Footer: Some of our optimism about the Royals probably stems from the simple fact that we know they know how to rebuild and win. They've done it and won two consecutive pennants and a World Series, so I fully believe they can do it again.

Feinsand: Zack Greinke going back to K.C. is just fun. It’s the AL’s version of Pujols/St. Louis.

Footer: How about the Marlins? Are they underrated? I tend to shy away from putting them in this category, only because of the three or four years in a row I kept predicting they’d be “sneaky good” only to find them in last place at the end of the season. But I have to say, I like this roster and I like the moves they made in the offseason.

Feinsand: That pitching staff is quite good. They’re not household names, but those guys can chuck it.

I loved the Jorge Soler addition. Veteran power bat who has been through the wars. I think he did OK in the World Series last year, too. How can you not love a team whose 2-5 hitters are a combined 1,000 lbs?

Castrovince: I heard from, I think, every Marlins fan when I didn't rank the Fish in my top 10 rotations. They're not there yet, but they're in good shape to make a case for that list this season. And though they should have been in the market for Nick Castellanos, they had a productive offseason for the lineup.

Feinsand: Avisail Garcia was a great signing. I have to admit something: I had no idea just how big that guy was. I had never stood near him in person before, but I was in the Marlins clubhouse earlier this spring, and when he walked in the room, I thought a pro wrestler was visiting for the day.

Garrett Cooper, García, Jesús Aguilar, Jorge Soler -- middle of the lineup or all-pro offensive line? I also love watching Jazz Chisholm Jr. play. That guy is going to be a star.

Footer: Any more obvious teams that should make our All-Underrated list?

Feinsand: I have a nominee: the Colorado Rockies.

Footer: I give the Rockies points for trying, but I don't think it'll turn into anything close to playoff contention.

Feinsand: Wait a moment. You just argued that the Royals can be considered underrated if they win 15 more games than most people think they will.

Footer: I don't think the Rox will improve by 15 games.

Feinsand: I’m not saying the Rockies will make the playoffs. But I think they will be an improved club. For the record, K.C. won 74 games last year.

Castrovince: Yeah, sorry, I don't see it. I'm not one of those people somehow upset with them for spending a bunch of money on Kris Bryant. He makes them more watchable and could see an offensive boost in that building. And I like Marquez and Freeland a lot. I like Rodgers. I like McMahon. I like Cron. I don't like much else going on there.

Feinsand: I was saying that people think they’ll be a 60-65-win team, so if they win 75, that’s underrated.

Castrovince: They've got their work cut out for them in that division.

Feinsand: And the Marlins don’t?

Castrovince: Perhaps. But it's a "If a tree falls in the woods" kinda thing. I was actually typing about the Marlins before you came out of nowhere with this Rockies love. They both have their work cut out for them!

Feinsand: Marquez, Freeland, Senzatela, Gomber are good. They’re not top-of-the-league good, but they know how to pitch in Colorado. Colomé gives them a veteran closer. Cron, Rodgers, McMahon, Bryant, Grichuk, Blackmon, Iglesias … that’s a professional lineup. People are predicting this to be one of the worst teams in the NL, and I don’t think that will be the case.

Castrovince: But I would still say the Marlins are more underrated than the Rockies. For whatever that's worth.

Feinsand: I’m OK with that. But the Rockies are underrated.

Here’s an interesting one: Are the Giants somehow underrated?

Castrovince: The Giants might still be underrated, yes. The most pooh-poohed 107-win team in history. They'll somehow get something out of Matthew Boyd and Carlos Martinez. Book it.

Feinsand: I have not seen anyone pick the Giants to win again. I don’t think they will, but for a team that won 107 games to be completely dismissed is crazy. I do, however, think the loss of Buster Posey will be bigger than most people believe.

Castrovince: That is a huge loss, especially because of how left-handed they are with Bryant also leaving and Longoria hurt. That's my biggest concern with the Giants, but it is kind of funny how they're generally dismissed again.

Feinsand: I think Posey’s work behind the plate is a bigger loss than his bat. Last year, folks out there were raving about his importance as a second pitching coach.

They lost Kevin Gausman. Posey retired. Evan Longoria is already hurt. And they’re not going to surprise anybody the way they did last year.

Castrovince: I still like the pitching staff. Logan Webb has It. He's a bulldog. DeSclafani is underrated. As I said, they'll probably pull some rabbits out of the hat. And Camilo Doval is going to be a Dude in the bullpen.

Feinsand: I liked the Carlos Rodón signing, but he has to prove he can stay healthy. Logan Webb is a stud. I like DeSclafani.

I have no reason to believe Alex Cobb will be any better than he was with the Angels, except for the fact that every pitcher seems to be so much better when they go to San Francisco. So he’ll win 15 games.

Castrovince: I still have no idea how they won 107 games last year, but when a team shows a consistent ability to utilize a whole roster, we have to pay attention.

Feinsand: I won’t be at all surprised if the Giants make the playoffs, but they seem to be a forgotten team after winning 107 last year. Most people have them finishing third behind the Dodgers and Padres.

Castrovince: So as long as we're talking about underrated blue-blood teams, are the Yankees underrated? Because everyone hated their offseason, yet FanGraphs gives them a 9.7% chance of winning the World Series (that's good).

Footer: I expect the Yankees to contend, and also disappoint their fans for extended waves throughout the season. I have no idea if that makes them underrated, or overrated.

Castrovince: That sounds about right.

Feinsand: You can’t call them underrated. If anything, the Rays are still the most underrated team in the AL East. Yet they’ll win 93-plus games and nobody will understand how or why.

Castrovince: OK, once we brought a 107-win team in here, I lost track of the rules.

Feinsand: The Giants’ over/under is 85.5. Crazy.

Footer: Let’s do it this way -- of all of the non-playoff teams in 2021, which one is the most underrated heading into ’22?

Feinsand: I’ll go with the Twins. They have players who have been there before.

Footer: I'm going with the Tigers.

Feinsand: I think the Tigers are one year away. Playoffs in 2023.

Castrovince: Yeah, it's probably the Twins.