Predicting If Each MLB Playoff Hopeful Will Overachieve or Underachieve in 2017

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2017

Predicting If Each MLB Playoff Hopeful Will Overachieve or Underachieve in 2017

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The MLB Opening Day clock has ticked to the one-week mark. The exhibition schedule is winding down, and things are about to get real.

    Before they do, let's run through each postseason hopeful and predict whether they'll underachieve or overachieve in 2017, based on spring performances, injuries, last year's results and a dash of gut feeling.

    To define "postseason hopeful" and set the bar for underachieving and overachieving, I've used FanGraphs' projected standings, placing the Mason-Dixon Line at the Kansas City Royals.

    That means some bubble teams (Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland A's) got a prediction, while others (Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies) missed the cut.

American League West

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    Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout.
    Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout.Tim Warner/Getty Images

    Houston Astros (FanGraphs' projected record: 90-72)

    The Astros bolstered their offense this winter, adding catcher Brian McCann, outfielder Josh Reddick and outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran to a core that includes All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve and burgeoning superstar shortstop Carlos Correa.

    They did little to improve their rotation, which posted a pedestrian 4.37 ERA, and are instead relying on a bounce back from 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel.

    Keuchel's ERA rose from 2.48 in 2015 to 4.55 in 2016 as he battled shoulder inflammation.

    The good news? He's surrendered just two runs in 12 spring innings while holding opposing hitters to a .220 average. 

    An ace-level Keuchel married to a deep, potent offense should be enough to send the 'Stros past the 90-win plateau and to their first division title since 2001.

    Verdict: Overachieve

    Los Angeles Angels (FanGraphs' projected record: 83-79)

    The Angels made some decent if unspectacular ancillary additions around AL MVP Mike Trout, picking up outfielders Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere, infielders Danny Espinosa and Luis Valbuena and right-hander Jesse Chavez.

    They're also banking on a return to form from Garrett Richards, who threw 34.2 innings last year while dealing with an elbow issue but has appeared healthy and flashed high-90s velocity this spring.

    The Halos will likely be better than last season, when they finished 74-88 and 21 games out. With questions in the back of the rotation and bullpen, however, a return to .500 seems like a high-water mark, even with Trout doing Trout things.

    Verdict: Underachieve

    Seattle Mariners (FanGraphs' projected record: 83-79)

    The Seattle Mariners made a flurry of trades this winter, adding shortstop Jean Segura, infielder Danny Valencia and outfielders Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger, among others. They retain a robust middle of the order, featuring Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

    That said, their season hinges on the right arm of Felix Hernandez.

    King Felix tumbled from his throne in 2016, posting his highest ERA (3.82) and fewest innings pitched (153.1) since 2007. The six-time All-Star, who turns 31 in April, has looked good in the Cactus League, allowing three earned runs and one walk with 10 strikeouts in 11 frames.

    That and a balanced lineup should keep the M's in the playoff mix and allow them to match or exceed last season's 86-76 finish.

    Verdict: Overachieve 

    Texas Rangers (FanGraphs' projected record: 83-79)

    The two-time division champion Texas Rangers have a sterling 1-2 rotation combo in Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, who is looking to stay healthy over a full 162-game grind.

    They lost veterans Mitch Moreland and Carlos Beltran but added old friend Mike Napoli. An offense that scored the seventh-most runs in baseball last season should again produce.

    The back of the rotation is unsettled, and Texas didn't do as much as Houston, Los Angeles or Seattle to remake its roster.

    Still, they're coming off a 95-win season and deserve the benefit of the doubt.

    Verdict: Overachieve 

    Oakland A's (FanGraphs' projected record: 78-84)

    The Oakland A's and Moneyball guru Billy Beane have bucked expectations before, so be careful with scoffing at their status as postseason hopefuls. 

    Still, in a deep division, the A's will need things to break right to improve dramatically on 2016's 69-93, last-place showing. 

    Put the lat injury that has cost ace Sonny Gray most of the spring in the "things not breaking right" column, especially after he wobbled through an injury-depleted 2016.

    Oakland could surprise, but the safe money is on Beane and the Athletics unloading at the trade deadline.

    Verdict: Underachieve 

American League Central

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    Cleveland Indians right-hander Corey Kluber.
    Cleveland Indians right-hander Corey Kluber.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Cleveland Indians (FanGraphs' projected record 92-70)

    After winning the AL pennant and charging to Game 7 of the World Series last season, the Cleveland Indians are poised for another deep run.

    The return of starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, each of whom missed significant time in the postseason, will fortify a rotation fronted by undisputed No. 1 Corey Kluber.

    "I'm telling you, if all of us can stay healthy, this rotation can do amazing things," Salazar said, per Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com. "I've been saying it, and I'll keep saying it, we have the best rotation in baseball."

    Add a lineup boosted by the addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion and a bullpen anchored by the all-world combo of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, and you have a club that could easily surpass last year's 94-win effort. 

    Verdict: Overachieve

      

    Detroit Tigers (FanGraphs' projected record 81-81)

    The Tigers eschewed a sell-off this winter, opting to keep their veteran pieces and make another run. 

    Offensive cog Miguel Cabrera dealt with a balky back while playing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, but he returned to action Sunday.

    Still, it's a reminder for Detroit that its key contributors are aging and the club is an injury or two away from implosion. 

    Detroit also has questions in the bullpen and at the back of the rotation, and it lacks the minor league pieces or financial flexibility to make significant additions at the trade deadline. 

    Verdict: Underachieve 

    Kansas City Royals (FanGraphs' projected record 76-86)

    In 2014 and 2015, the Kansas City Royals defied the projection systems and won an AL pennant and World Series championship, respectively.

    Last season, they returned to Earth, finishing a perfectly mediocre 81-81.

    The Royals made minimal noise over the winter, adding designated hitter Brandon Moss and outfielder Jorge Soler but subtracting DH Kendrys Morales and closer Wade Davis. They also tragically lost hard-throwing right-hander Yordano Ventura and attempted to patch the rotation with Jason Hammel and Travis Wood. 

    In the end, Kansas City's fortunes rest on stalwarts Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, all of whom are due to hit free agency after the season.

    If each rises to the occasion in his contract year, the Royals will be in the postseason hunt. Even with questions in the pen and rotation, a .500 finish or better is within reach.

    Verdict: Overachieve

    Non-hopeful(s): Minnesota Twins (75-87), Chicago White Sox (69-93)

American League East

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    Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts and right fielder Mookie Betts.
    Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts and right fielder Mookie Betts.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Boston Red Sox (FanGraphs' projected record 91-71)

    We can toss wet blankets on the Red Sox.

    Most notably, there's the fact that $200-plus-million man David Price hasn't thrown an inning this spring because of a sore arm.

    Let's be real, though: The Sox have a superlative lineup constructed around the new Killer B's and a bona fide ace in offseason acquisition Chris Sale. 

    They need Price to come back, and they got some tentatively good news when the lefty began throwing again Saturday, per Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.

    With Mookie Betts challenging for best-player-in-baseball status, however, and a loaded roster behind him, Boston reigns supreme in the noisy, crowded AL East.

    Verdict: Overachieve

    Toronto Blue Jays (FanGraphs' projected record 86-76)

    The Blue Jays lost Encarnacion, a significant blow to an offense that finished among MLB's top 10 in runs, home runs and OPS in 2016. On the other hand, they have third baseman and perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson.

    They also have right-hander Marcus Stroman, who broke out as MVP of the WBC with Team USA, and one of the deeper rotations in the game.

    If Jose Bautista can bounce back after a disappointing 2016 and Morales replaces some of Encarnacion's pop, the Jays should make the playoffs for a third straight year and could even challenge Boston.

    Verdict: Overachieve 

    Tampa Bay Rays (FanGraphs' projected record 83-79)

    The Rays are an easy club to root for, a small-market David surrounded by big-spending Goliaths. 

    Plus, Tampa Bay acted like a contender this offseason, signing All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos at an injury-comeback discount and holding on to top pitchers such as Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi despite persistent trade rumors. 

    Yet, the fact remains: The Rays haven't had a winning record or finished fewer than 13 games out for the past three seasons, and they didn't do enough to radically alter their trajectory. 

    A Cinderella playoff run wouldn't qualify as a shock. As with Oakland, however, Tampa Bay is more likely to be unloading assets in late July.

    Verdict: Underachieve  

    Baltimore Orioles (FanGraphs' projected record 81-81)

    The Orioles will score plenty of runs after bringing back 2016 MLB home run leader Mark Trumbo to join Chris Davis and MVP candidate Manny Machado. 

    The starting pitching is another matter.

    Ostensible ace Chris Tillman hasn't pitched all spring because of shoulder problems, and the options behind him aren't especially inspiring. 

    Loud bats and a stout bullpen could keep Baltimore afloat, but this may be the year the rotation takes the O's under.

    Verdict: Underachieve 

    New York Yankees (FanGraphs' projected record 81-81)

    It has been a banner spring for the Yankees' Baby Bronx Bombers.

    Catcher Gary Sanchez, first baseman Greg Bird and right fielder Aaron Judge have all looked ready for prime time, with shortstop Gleyber Torres knocking on the door.

    New York's youth movement is in full swing, and it should yield dividends for years to come.

    What about this year?

    The Yankees are shaky in the rotation after Masahiro Tanaka, while the bullpen is secure behind Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances.

    New York is probably a season or two removed from full-blown contender status, but a better-than-.500 finish is more than plausible.

    Verdict: Overachieve

National League West

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    San Francisco Giants outfielders Jarrett Parker and Hunter Pence.
    San Francisco Giants outfielders Jarrett Parker and Hunter Pence.Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Los Angeles Dodgers (FanGraphs' projected record 94-68)

    Clayton Kershaw is healthy and dealing. Shortstop Corey Seager is working his way back from an oblique injury but could follow his National League Rookie of the Year season with an MVP push.

    The Dodgers, meanwhile, are four-time defending division champions, the biggest spenders in baseball and one of the elite teams in the Senior Circuit.

    There are cracks in the facade; the outfield is an uncertain jumble, and the rotation needs to avoid the raft of injuries that hit in 2015 and 2016.

    Los Angeles is once again the best of the West, however, and 94 wins seems like its floor.

    Verdict: Overachieve 

    San Francisco Giants (FanGraphs' projected record 87-75)

    The Giants signed closer Mark Melancon to address their bullpen troubles. They have homegrown position players scattered across the diamond, including Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey.

    They have arguably the best lefty-righty rotation duo in baseball in Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. 

    On the other side of the ledger, they're rolling the dice in left field with untested youngster Jarrett Parker and at third base with Eduardo Nunez. The pen is questionable after Melancon, especially with lefty setup man Will Smith set to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.

    San Francisco could again nip at the archrival Dodgers' heels and compete for an odd-year playoff berth, but in a division that figures be more competitive in 2017, a dip toward mediocrity is distinctly possible.

    Verdict: Underachieve 

    Colorado Rockies (FanGraphs' projected record 77-85)

    The Rockies have been hit by injuries this spring, with winter acquisition Ian Desmond suffering a broken hand and outfielder David Dahl dealing with a fractured rib.

    Both should be back in the season's first couple of months, however, and the Rockies remain a credible sleeper pick thanks to an emerging rotation led by right-hander Jon Gray and new manager Bud Black, plus a lineup that paced the NL in runs scored.

    Colorado's bullpen could be a weakness, and it remains to be seen if Black can coax a consistent season out of his starters at hitter-happy Coors Field.

    There's enough talent for the Rockies to vault past .500, though, and into the wild-card race.

    "There's excitement around here, which is nice. It hasn't been like that for the last couple of years. Everyone was kind of wondering what's going to happen," third baseman Nolan Arenado said, per Denver7's Tony E. Renck. "This year we feel like we can do something special."

    Verdict: Overachieve  

    Arizona Diamondbacks (FanGraphs' projected record 76-86)

    There's a culture change afoot in Arizona, with general manager Mike Hazen taking over for Dave Stewart and manager Tony Lovullo replacing Chip Hale.

    The Diamondbacks also added talented-if-mercurial Taijuan Walker to their rotation and are expecting a full season from All-Star center fielder A.J. Pollock, who fractured his elbow last spring and missed all but 12 games of the 2016 campaign.

    They'll need bounce-backs from pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, who defined bust in their first season with Arizona.

    The Snakes are far from favorites, but with a little bit of luck they could make more noise than expected.

    Verdict: Overachieve 

    Non-hopeful(s): San Diego Padres (66-96)

National League Central

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    Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.
    Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Chicago Cubs (FanGraphs' projected record 94-68)

    The Cubs are easily baseball's most complete team. They have emerging stars all over the depth chart, an excellent rotation and bullpen, and baseball's best defense.

    Repeating as champions in back-to-back seasons is hard. Since 1979, only two teams have done it. 

    Chicago has the depth and talent to become No. 3 and to blow past 100 wins in the process.

    It's possible to trail unbelievable hype and still surpass expectations. Just ask Kris Bryant.

    Verdict: Overachieve 

    St. Louis Cardinals (FanGraphs' projected record 84-78)

    The St. Louis Cardinals' spring began under a dark cloud, as top pitching prospect Alex Reyes underwent Tommy John surgery.

    In typical fashion, the Cards have depth and will roll into the season with an experienced rotation of Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha. 

    Offensively, an already balanced attack will get stronger with the addition of center fielder and on-base-percentage machine Dexter Fowler.

    The Reyes injury, as ESPN.com's Joe Peta noted, means "a plausible path to challenging the Cubs for the division has turned into more of a low-probability event."

    Still, the Cardinals should feast on the NL Central's basement teams and could reach 90 wins and a wild-card berth.

    Verdict: Overachieve 

    Pittsburgh Pirates (FanGraphs' projected record 82-80)

    The Pirates are hoping for a comeback from 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who is moving to right field. That's not the only question mark, though.

    Pittsburgh will be without the services of infielder Jung-Ho Kang, who has been denied a work visa after an arrest for DUI in his native South Korea.

    There is good news on the pitching front, with ace Gerrit Cole enjoying a resurgent spring and Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon and Chad Kuhl slotting capably behind him. 

    Catching the Cubs isn't realistic. But as with the Cardinals, the Bucs will bully the division doormats and ought to be a legitimate postseason player.

    Verdict: Overachieve 

    Non-hopeful(s): Cincinnati Reds (70-92), Milwaukee Brewers (70-92)

National League East

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    New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard.
    New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Washington Nationals (FanGraphs' projected record 91-71)

    After winning NL MVP honors in 2015 and slipping in 2016, Bryce Harper has six home runs and a 1.126 OPS this spring.

    The Nationals have a solid lineup around him starring sophomore shortstop Trea Turner and a starting rotation that should be top-notch, provided Stephen Strasburg stays healthy. 

    They lack an experienced closer, which will be a story worth following up to the trade deadline. Newly acquired Adam Eaton, meanwhile, needs to prove he's a better center fielder than the defensive metrics indicate.

    A 91-win season sounds about right for Washington, but the possibility of another monster year from Harper nudges the needle northward.

    Verdict: Overachieve  

    New York Mets (FanGraphs' projected record 86-76)

    The Mets rotation has mostly avoided injuries this spring, which counts as a minor miracle.

    Yes, lefty Steven Matz will miss a Grapefruit League start with soreness in his elbow, per James Wagner of the New York Times

    Still, the Mets plan to begin the season with Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey atop their starting corps. After a disastrous, snakebitten 2016, they'll take it.

    There are questions on offense, too, though slugging left fielder Yoenis Cespedes is back.

    Things could go very right in Queens, or they could go very wrong. It begins and ends with the arms, elbows and shoulders of the Mets starters.

    Despite the Matz red flag, I'll swallow the optimism pill and predict a tight race with Washington. 

    Verdict: Overachieve 

    Miami Marlins (FanGraphs' projected record 78-84)

    The Marlins have an enviable offensive nucleus, featuring uber-slugger Giancarlo Stanton and up-and-coming star Christian Yelich.

    They also tragically lost ace Jose Fernandez in an offseason boating accident and now feature a rotation headlined by Edinson Volquez and Wei-Yin Chen, neither of whom posted a sub-4.00 ERA in 2016.

    Then there's the potential sale of the team by polarizing owner Jeffrey Loria, which could be a fatal distraction.

    Dysfunction and disappointment have been the norm in South Beach for a while. That may change in 2017, but don't bank on it.

    Verdict: Underachieve 

      

    Non-hopeful(s): Atlanta Braves (73-89), Philadelphia Phillies (72-90)

    All statistics current as of Sunday and courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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