So the Cubs are favorites to repeat as World Series champions, just like they did back 1907-08, which was their most recent championships before this past season.But favorites are always easy to find in the spring. The challenge in March is to unearth the overlooked teams who will be forcing
So the Cubs are favorites to repeat as World Series champions, just like they did back 1907-08, which was their most recent championships before this past season.
But favorites are always easy to find in the spring. The challenge in March is to unearth the overlooked teams who will be forcing the baseball world to pay attention come October.
While the world of analytics and oddsmakers will spend Spring Training touting the likes of the Cubs, Dodgers and Mets in the National League, and the Red Sox, Indians and Astros in the American League, the real fun is trying to figure out who will crash the party this fall.
The search begins with finding a key player who has hit on hard times but is ready to rebound. Here are the sleepers who could provide a wakeup call in each division in the season ahead:
AL East: Orioles
The O's aren't a favorite of the numbers crunchers, but they are coming off five consecutive winning seasons, during which they have made three postseason appearances. Baltimore is a good landing spot for lefty Wade Miley, who was an in-season addition from Seattle a year ago. Miley has the ability to stabilize the rotation behind Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman at the top. He is coming off a season in which he was 9-13 with a 5.37 ERA and 12 quality starts. In the four previous seasons, however, Miley was a combined 45-44 with a 3.92 ERA and 76 quality starts.
AL Central: Royals
After winning the World Series in 2015, the Royals find themselves projected to 71 wins -- second fewest in the big leagues to the 69 wins of the Padres -- by Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system. But Kansas City never has been a team that the numbers crunchers have embraced, even when it was winning back-to-back AL pennants in 2014-15. The Royals were beset with injuries during last season's fade, including the loss of third baseman Mike Moustakas, who was in his 27th game of the season when he suffered a torn ACL in a collision with outfielder Alex Gordon. That came a year after the former first-round pick had enjoyed a breakout during Kansas City's World Series run. Moustakas has the added incentive of potential free agency next offseason.
AL West: Angels
After finishing as low as fourth place for the first time this century, the Angels are looking for a recovery from a rotation that was beset with injuries. Leading the list of anticipated strong returns is Garrett Richards, who went a combined 28-16 with a 3.18 ERA in 2014-15 before tearing his right UCL in his sixth start last season. Instead of undergoing Tommy John surgery, however, he opted for stem-cell treatment and was back on the mound in the instructional league.
NL East: Marlins
Two seasons removed from signing a 13-year, $325 million contract, Giancarlo Stanton is looking to provide the Marlins a return on their investment. Limited to 193 games, a .250 average and 141 RBIs the past two seasons combined, Stanton is only 27, and he is motivated to make good on his end of the deal.
NL Central: Pirates
In seeing their streak of postseason appearances snapped at three, the Pirates suffered a series of significant injuries. More than anything, however, they missed the production of Andrew McCutchen, who had been a top-five finisher in NL MVP Award voting for the four previous seasons. He hit a career-low .256, and his 79 RBIs were his fewest since 2010. To add to his motivation, McCutchen was told this offseason that he would be moved from center field to right field -- a perfect challenge for one of the game's best competitors.
NL West: Rockies
The Rockies have an explosive lineup, a top-flight defense and a youthful rotation filled with strong arms. However, they have historically struggled to get the final six outs in a game. Enter Greg Holland, who is coming off Tommy John surgery and has been reunited with pitching coach Steve Foster, who was the Royals' bullpen coach in Holland's rookie season with Kanasa City. Holland converted 93 of 98 combined save opportunities to go with a 1.32 ERA in the 2013-14 seasons, but the elbow started to ache in '15, which resulted in Holland turning over ninth-inning duties to Wade Davis and undergoing offseason elbow surgery. Holland brings a track record that gives Colorado reason to feel that he can be productive on the mound and provide a good influence on potential closer Adam Ottavino, who returned last July from Tommy John surgery himself.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.