This is the magical time of year when all 30 MLB teams stand on an even playing field, entering the new season with a fresh slate and an endless array of optimism.
Let's fix that.
Sure, anything is possible. After all, the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals clashed in the World Series with a combined plus-78 run differential during the regular season. The Seattle Mariners, who boasted MLB's sixth-best scoring margin at plus-80, missed the postseason.
Let's not, however, feed false hope to the Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks and other cellar-dwellers who won't play October baseball. As Opening Day nears, here's an early batch of power rankings to see where everyone stands:
|MLB Power Rankings|
|2||Los Angeles Dodgers||94-68|
|4||Los Angeles Angels||98-64|
|5||St. Louis Cardinals||90-72|
|8||Boston Red Sox||71-91|
|9||Toronto Blue Jays||83-79|
|12||Chicago White Sox||73-89|
|13||San Diego Padres||77-85|
|16||San Francisco Giants||88-74|
|17||New York Mets||79-83|
|19||New York Yankees||84-78|
|20||Tampa Bay Rays||77-85|
|22||Kansas City Royals||89-73|
A select few franchises used to winning need to temper their expectations this season. Despite rich histories and richer payrolls, their windows of opportunity will start shutting.
Their modest placement in the rankings will infuriate fans of the longstanding organizations who are not accustomed to losing.
San Francisco Giants
It's an odd year, and the Giants only show up on even years. OK, that's obviously not the reason they fall significantly short in their title defense, but don't be surprised when they follow a championship by missing the playoffs for the third time in five years.
For starters, they sneaked into the postseason at 88-74 despite ranking No. 18 in team on-base percentage (.311). A solid, yet unspectacular offense will now struggle to tread water without Pablo Sandoval, who cashed in his October exploits for a big contract with the Boston Red Sox.
Every victory matters, and Sandoval averaged a 3.2 WAR per six full seasons with the Giants. While he netted a depreciated .735 OPS last season, he still provided above-average defense at third base.
They'll also start the season without Hunter Pence, who broke his arm in early March. The early timetable ruled him out for six-to-eight weeks, meaning he could miss all of April, and there's no guarantee he returns at full strength.
He's not one to take it easy during the recovery process, as noted by the San Jose Mercury News' Carl Steward:
They'll have to hope Madison Bumgarner suffers no lingering effects from tossing 270 innings last year. Unless they give unsung hero Yusmeiro Petit his rightful spot in the rotation, the aging starting staff is trending downward.
The Giants will have to again snatch one of two wild-card spots with the Los Angeles Dodgers controlling the National League West. That will prove much tougher this season with the Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and New York Mets all on the rise.
One year soon, the bottom is going to fall out on the Detroit Tigers, a team stockpiled with pricey veterans who will gradually morph from stars to financial liabilities. They won't take the full plunge this season, but they'll slow down enough for strengthening American League Central cohorts to catch up.
|SP WAR Leaders: 2012-14|
So yeah, losing him to the Washington Nationals hurts. David Price slides into the ace role, but he's followed by a decaying Justin Verlander, oft-injured Anibal Sanchez and regression-bound Alfredo Simon.
Tigers fans may not want to hear it, but Shane Greene is the key to their rotation. Last year, the 26-year-old righty amassed 81 strikeouts through 78.2 innings while netting a 2.70 ERA away from Yankee Stadium.
Of course, it won't matter unless Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are at their best. Cabrera is recovering from a fractured left ankle, and Martinez needed knee surgery during the offseason. Cabrera, 31, expressed confidence in himself and his 36-year-old teammate being ready for Opening Day.
"I'm positive we're going to be there," Cabrera told the Detroit Free Press' Anthony Fenech. "I'm positive Victor, me is going to be there. Hopefully we're going to be 100 percent, hopefully we can be on the team the first game of the season."
After hitting 46 homers from 2010-2013, Martinez crushed 32 last year. Healthy or not, don't count on him replicating that success. Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox stocked up while the Cleveland Indians are loaded with pitching talent. Detroit's four-year streak of AL Central titles is in grave jeopardy.
New York Yankees
Listen to anyone map out the New York Yankees playoff blueprint, and every sentence begins with "If."
If Masahiro Tanaka's arm is right. If CC Sabathia bounces back to provide quality innings. If Michael Pineda pitches over 100 innings for the first time since 2011. If someone successfully builds a time machine for Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez.
Well, what if the rotation once again erodes? What if a lineup consisting of only one player under 30—shortstop Didi Gregorius—regresses rather than rebounds? What if their luck runs out after posting two winning seasons with negative run differentials?
The American League East title is up for grabs, but so is last place. Anyone could easily finish first or fifth, with the Boston Red Sox expected to again ascend from worst to first.
If everything goes the Bronx Bombers' way, they can snap a two-year playoff drought. Suffering their first sub-.500 record since 1995, however, is more feasible than earning a playoff berth.
Note: Advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.