5 MLB Teams That May Exceed Expectations
If the last two seasons have taught us only one thing, it's that anything can happen in baseball; just because a team doesn't appear to have the "big names" or is thought to be out of it before the season has even started, it doesn't mean they actually are out of it.
Both the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals have shown the baseball world that anything can happen over the course of a season, and even more so, that anything can happen in the playoffs.
Here's a look at five teams you don't want to write off completely. Keep your eye on them and you may just be surprised with their performance.
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Conventional wisdom suggests that, again, the Philadelphia Phillies have the NL East locked up, but, perhaps, this isn't the case.
The NL East seems to be the deepest, toughest, division in baseball this year so there will be plenty of competition for the Phillies to overcome.
One team that they will have to beat is the Washington Nationals. However, with a closure examination, it doesn't look as favorable for the Phillies as some are suggesting this matchup is.
The strength of the Nationals will, undoubtedly, be the pitching (have we seen this before...perhaps in 2010?). A rotation headlined by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman will certainly be a tough trio for any team to move past.
Having three pitchers who can consistently give such quality starts like these three can do, will go a long way in helping the team compete in the long run.
In addition, the Nationals' bullpen is solid as well, with Clippard and Storen holding down the end of the games.
With solid pitching and young hitters who are still developing (will we see Bryce Harper and if so, how soon?) the Nationals may just be a surprise team in 2012 that can make a huge splash.
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Another team in the NL East that may be being a bit over looked is the Atlanta Braves.
While the Braves are projected to finish second and compete for a playoff spot via the wild card, I wouldn't write them out of competing for the NL East title. Much like the Nationals, the Braves have a good blend of veterans and young players who complement each other very well.
The Braves moved Derek Lowe this offseason, but the main core of the team will be returning. I am particularly interested in keeping an eye on the Braves' young bullpen, specifically Kimbrel and Venters.
It's not uncommon for players to regress a bit after a year or two, growing pains of sorts, but their stuff just seems to be a cut above the rest that, perhaps, they can avoid it. Having both of them being as effective as they can be will be vital for the Braves to win the NL East and compete in the playoffs.
The Braves have some great pieces and shouldn't be written out as much as some experts have been doing so.
Los Angeles Dodgers
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The Los Angeles Dodgers' saga is slowly coming to an end, and with it, all the off-field distractions. Don't underestimate how much this can help the players focus, nor should you underestimate the motivation of a potential new owner can have on a player.
Admittedly, the Dodgers don't have as deep of a rotation as the Nationals or Braves, but they did add Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang to help create more depth than there was last year. The bullpen, however, is filled with young hard throwers that, if on their game, could close the door very quickly on opposing teams.
It also doesn't hurt to have one of the best pitchers and position players in all of baseball; of course, I am referring to Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp.
With all the focus being on the team just 50 or so miles south, the Los Angeles Dodgers may just be able to sneak into the playoffs, especially given the weak division they are in, and once in the playoffs, anything can happen.
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The Minnesota Twins are almost certainly in a bit of a rebuilding phase, but with a strong starting rotation and the presence of Mauer and Morneau anything is possible. Of course, can the latter two stay healthy? Big question mark there.
The recent past has shown that the Twins find ways to win games, and at times, have build some amazing wins out of their hat. For that alone they shouldn't be ruled out.
If the rotation can repeat and the two big guys, Mauer and Morneau, can stay healthy, the Twins may be better than some are expecting.
This may not lead to a playoff berth, but that doesn't mean they won't beat expectations still.
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With the departure of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the NL Central's power balance has completely changed, and the Reds are poised to take advantage of this power vacuum occurring.
The Reds went out this offseason and traded for Mat Latos from the San Diego Padres. It'll be interesting, however, to see how Latos fairs in a less friendly pitcher's park, but given his skill set, he should still be a very effective pitcher for them. The Reds also went out and added Ryan Madson to help shore-up the back end of the bullpen.
Also, let's not forget about some of the young(ish) talent the Reds have that can put some runs up on the board very quickly. Of course, this group is led by Joey Votto.
Ultimately, the NL Central is up for grabs and the Reds are in the best position to take advantage.