5 MLB 'Cinderella' Teams That Could Blow Past 2014 Projections

Matthew SmithCorrespondent IIIMarch 20, 2014

5 MLB 'Cinderella' Teams That Could Blow Past 2014 Projections

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    Robinson Cano's acquisition was that big for the Seattle Mariners.
    Robinson Cano's acquisition was that big for the Seattle Mariners.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Sports Illustrated projected the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox would be sub-.500 clubs in 2013. Well, the Tribe won 92 games and the Carmines finished tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for the best record in MLB.

    SI also projected the Pittsburgh Pirates to finish the 2013 regular season with 76 wins. They ended up winning 94 contests, made it to the NL Division Series and were MLB’s ultimate “Cinderella” team.

    Talk about gross miscalculations.

    To be fair, predicting how any team will perform is tricky business. Take the Toronto Blue Jays as an example. They were expected to field a very competitive ballclub after an aggressive offseason in advance of the 2013 campaign, but failed to win 75 games.

    Like I said, tricky business.

    On that note, Baseball Prospectus’ Pecota and Clay Davenport’s initial projections were recently released for the upcoming season, and after careful review, there are five teams that have a legitimate chance at being this year’s “Cinderella” squad.

    By looking at offseason acquisitions and how they could impact each team’s overall production, B/R makes the case that each one has a chance to blow past their projections.

     

    Unless noted otherwise, all traditional, advanced and team statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are from the 2013 season. Links are furnished where necessary.

5. San Diego Padres

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    Carlos Quentin will need to stay healthy this season.
    Carlos Quentin will need to stay healthy this season.Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Projected record:

    Pecota:  81-81

    Davenport: 83-79

     

    One year removed from finishing the 2013 season with a 76-86 record, the San Diego Padres will be an improved ballclub and can easily outpace their projected records.

    True, they will be without the services of Cameron Maybin until May after the center fielder went down with a ruptured biceps tendon early in spring training, according to Dayn Perry from CBSSports. When he does return, though, he will join a formidable group in the middle of the order that includes Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko.

    The bottom line is that the offense—which scored a woeful 618 runs last season—will be improved. To be sure, the stats from 2013 don’t bear witness to that statement, but when the fact that four regulars played less than 100 games is factored in, 675 runs scored in 2014 is not out of the question.

    Another thing to consider with the Padres is that the starting rotation underwent a metamorphosis this offseason. As ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick noted, pitching coach Darren Balsley now has a collection of arms that are “big and imposing and have the type of stuff that can make for a very uncomfortable day in the batter’s box. “

    As with many other teams, health will be the key for them. On that note, Headley is “about a week” away from playing after suffering a calf injury early this spring, per Jeff Sanders from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

    If the Padres improve upon their combined 16-22 record versus the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants last season, a run at the NL West is not out of the question.

4. Baltimore Orioles

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    Manny Machado is one of the most exciting players in MLB today.
    Manny Machado is one of the most exciting players in MLB today.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Projected record:

    Pecota: 78-84

    Davenport: 77-85

     

    Yes, the AL East is arguably the best division in baseball. And yes, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays all have the potential to win 90 games. That doesn’t mean that the Baltimore Orioles are destined to be a below-.500 team.

    In fact, there’s no reason why the Orioles can’t challenge for a wild-card spot if they stay healthy.

    Consider that their lineup had five regulars—Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones and Manny Machado—with a slugging percentage over .400 and more than 20 doubles with three of them hitting at least 25 home runs. On top of the firepower already in place, the Orioles went out and added Nelson Cruz this offseason. They will certainly keep up from an offensive perspective.

    The one area that really kept the Orioles from competing last season was starting pitching. To that effect, the staff had a 4.57 ERA, .266 batting average against and only pitched two complete games all season, via ESPN.com.

    To improve his club on the mound, general manager Dan Duquette gave up a first-round draft pick to sign Ubaldo Jimenez. If Jimenez performs like the ace the Orioles believe he can be, and guys like Opening Day starter Chris Tillman, Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen deliver sustained results, the rotation can be good enough to challenge the favorites in the East.

    Throw in the steady leadership of Buck Showalter along with a reliable bullpen, and the Orioles have more than enough to blow past both the PECOTA and Davenport projections.

3. Kansas City Royals

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    Billy Butler is one of the best pure hitters in the American League.
    Billy Butler is one of the best pure hitters in the American League.Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Projected record:

    Pecota: 78-84

    Davenport: 77-85

     

    Why the projection models aren’t higher on the Kansas City Royals is a mystery. Remember, this is a team that was 10 games over .500 last season and showed signs of legitimate growth.

    Now we all know the Royals can hit. Led by homegrown sluggers Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez, the lineup features six guys that have the ability to hit 20 homers, 20 doubles and drive in 80 runs.

    What the team lacked in recent years was two guys who could set the tone at the top of the lineup. Sure, Gordon was serviceable last season batting leadoff, but that is not his ideal spot in the order.

    Simply put, the Royals didn’t have enough run scoring opportunities for the sluggers in the middle of the lineup. To address the deficiency, general manager Dayton Moore traded for Norichika Aoki and signed Omar Infante this past offseason. Both moves figure to pay off for Moore and manager Ned Yost.

    Another reason to be high on the Royals’ chances is that soon enough, Yordano Ventura will be in a major league uniform. If, for example, Justin Vargas, Bruce Chen or Jeremy Guthrie struggle, the Royals are in the enviable position of having a phenom waiting in the wings. That flexibility will surely pay dividends in July and August.

    Yes, Luke Hochevar is out for the season following Tommy John surgery, but in a bullpen that features Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, Louis Coleman and the re-invented Wade Davis, that is a loss that can be overcome.

    HardballTalk’s Aaron Gleeman surmises that losing Irvin Santana and Hochevar will lead to a surge in runs allowed and that even if the offense improves, the Royals will find themselves in the same position they were in last season. I beg to differ. The pitching is not going to fall off that much and the additions of Aoki and Infante will push the offense over the top.

    It won’t be enough to overtake the Detroit Tigers, but a run at the wild card is not out of the question. That is, of course, if the slipper doesn’t fall off in August.

2. Colorado Rockies

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    Carlos Gonzalez will play a vital role in the success of the Colorado Rockies.
    Carlos Gonzalez will play a vital role in the success of the Colorado Rockies.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Projected record:

    Pecota: 77-85

    Davenport: 71-91

     

    The Colorado Rockies will hit in 2014.

    Headlining this season’s version of demolition men are Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Michael Cuddyer. Consider that each of them had an OPS over .915 and collected at least 230 total bases. Throwing Wilin Rosario and the newly acquired Justin Morneau into the mix gives the Rockies one of the best lineups in MLB. 

    While the offense is impressive, it is not why they will surprise the folks in the NL West this season. The pitching staff is going to be a surprise area of strength.

    Sure, No. 1 starter Jhoulys Chacin—14-10, 3.47 ERA, 1.262 WHIP, 127 ERA+, 5.8 WAR—is likely to open the season on the DL, but he is outstanding when healthy. De facto Opening Day starter Jorge De La Rosa—16-6, 3.49 ERA, 1.384 WHIP, 127 ERA+, 4.3 WAR—was one of the better No. 2 starters in the NL last season. And don’t overlook Tyler Chatwood, who has the chance to be special.

    If Brett Anderson can stay healthy and the No. 5 starter (whomever that may be) can find some success, the starters will undoubtedly improve upon their worst-in-the-NL performance last season, via ESPN.com.

    Regarding the bullpen, Rex Brothers, Adam Ottavino and Boone Logan are incredible setup men who can keep opposing teams stuck in neutral during the latter innings of a game. CBSSports’ Dayn Perry went so far as to call Brothers the “best non-Aroldis Chapman left-handed reliever in baseball” while lauding the abilities of both Ottavino and Logan. Add LaTroy Hawkins to the conversation, and the Rockies are set in the bullpen.

    Just like the San Diego Padres, staying healthy and beating both the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants will determine if the Rockies can become a “Cinderella” team.

1. Seattle Mariners

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    Things are about to get interesting in Seattle.
    Things are about to get interesting in Seattle.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected record:

    Pecota: 81-81

    Davenport: 83-79

     

    The Seattle Mariners lost 15 games in extra innings and 29 one-run games in 2013. They scored less than 100 runs in three separate months and crossed the plate 130 fewer times than their opponents. What that tells us is that the slightest tipping of the scale will lead to a rather dramatic increase in victories.

    Well, consider the scales tipped.

    Not only did the Mariners sign Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract, but they added Corey Hart, who is an upgrade over Michael Morse in right field, and brought in Fernando Rodney to solidify the bullpen.

    To start, Cano’s presence in the three-hole opens up the offense quite a bit. Consider that the Mariners’ No. 3 hitters combined to produce a .229/.312/.384 slash line in 2013, per ESPN.com. Kyle Seager, who hit only .221 batting third, had an .860 OPS and scored 19 runs in only 138 at-bats from the second spot in the order.

    Adding Hart as a replacement for Morse in the field and Raul Ibanez in the lineup gives manager Lloyd McClendon a lineup that is both productive and malleable. Granted, the M’s aren’t going to have the best offense in baseball, but they should certainly score quite a few more runs than they did last season.

    Now Rodney’s acquisition completely alters the way the bullpen functions. Consider that Tom Wilhelmsen was the closer last year and with Rodney’s arrival, he can go back to the setup role he excelled in the years prior.

    The new closer’s arrival also defines the roles of Charlie Furbush, Danny Farquhar and Yoervis Medina. Too often last season, Wilhelmsen’s struggles complicated everything else in the ‘pen. And when Stephen Pryor returns from a torn back muscle, the relief corps will be that much better.

    As far as the starting pitching goes, it will be just fine. Yes, Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker will both miss at least the first few weeks of the regular season, per MLB.com's Greg Johns. When they return and join Felix Hernandez in the rotation, though, the AL West is in trouble. 

    A little more offense, improved production from the bullpen and standard performances from the top of the rotation are all the Mariners need. To be sure, that's easier said than done, but it is more than doable.