Spring Training 2018: Power Ranking Every MLB Division from Best to Worst

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2018

Spring Training 2018: Power Ranking Every MLB Division from Best to Worst

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    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Not all MLB divisions are created equally.

    The Arizona Diamondbacks won 93 games last season and had to settle for playing in the NL Wild Card Game against a Colorado Rockies team that also calls the NL West home.

    Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs claimed a division title with 92 wins, and both the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros were the only teams with winning records in their respective divisions.

    So which division is baseball's best?

    That's what we set out to answer.

    The projected win-loss totals from FanGraphs were included for each team, but those were simply reference points, not the deciding factors.

    The final goal was to order all six divisions from deepest to thinnest based on expectations for each one's five teams for the upcoming season.

1. NL West

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    Corey Seager
    Corey SeagerPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    FanGraphs Projected Standings

    1. Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68)
    2. San Francisco Giants (83-79)
    3. Arizona Diamondbacks (82-80)
    4. Colorado Rockies (79-83)
    5. San Diego Padres (73-89)

                

    Outlook

    The NL West was the only division with three playoff teams last year, and that could be the case again in 2018.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers led the majors with 104 wins and didn't have much heavy lifting to do this winter after spending big to bring back Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Rich Hill a year ago.

    Scott Alexander and Tom Koehler have been added to the relief corps to replace Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson—the only significant moves of the offseason outside of a salary-dump trade that brought Matt Kemp back to the team.

    After Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger won back-to-back Rookie of the Year awards, top prospects Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo are next in line to make an impact as homegrown rookies.

    The Arizona Diamondbacks lost hired gun J.D. Martinez and closer Fernando Rodney but could be a stronger team thanks to a rebuilt bullpen that includes setup ace Archie Bradley moving into the ninth-inning gig.

    A healthy season from A.J. Pollock in a contract year could make a huge difference, and the starting rotation should again be one of the best in baseball after breakout seasons from Robbie Ray and Zack Godley.

    Eliminated in the NL Wild Card Game last year, the Colorado Rockies replaced Greg Holland and Pat Neshek with Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw at the back of the bullpen while also re-signing lefty Jake McGee.

    They leaned heavily on a young rotation last year, and that can be a double-edged sword.

    All of those young pitchers are capable of taking another step forward, but they also have a limited track record that makes it tough to know exactly what to expect from them.

    The San Francisco Giants are also looking to contend after a disastrous 98-loss season.

    Adding Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Tony Watson and Austin Jackson no doubt gives them an improved roster, but how improved?

    They could add 10-15 wins and still miss the postseason.

    And at the bottom of the standings, we have the San Diego Padres, who have a bright future with one of the best farm systems in the league and some good young pieces starting to establish themselves on the MLB roster.

    Even with the Eric Hosmer signing, though, they are still a few years away.

2. AL West

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    Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve
    Carlos Correa and Jose AltuveDavid J. Phillip/Associated Press

    FanGraphs Projected Standings

    1. Houston Astros (101-61)
    2. Los Angeles Angels (84-78)
    3. Seattle Mariners (82-80)
    4. Texas Rangers (80-82)
    5. Oakland Athletics (79-83)

                 

    Outlook

    The Houston Astros won 101 games last season on their way to a World Series title, and they have to be considered the favorites to win it all in 2018 too.

    A full season of Justin Verlander and the offseason addition of Gerrit Cole gives them a starting rotation that stacks up to any in baseball, while an offense that led the majors in runs scored (896), batting average (.282) and OPS (.823) returns all of the major players from a year ago.

    The bullpen was the one area that was not a clear strength in 2017, and Hector Rondon and Joe Smith's additions, as well as having Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh start the season in relief roles, should help there as well.

    Who is their biggest competition for the division title?

    The right answer might be no one, but the Los Angeles AngelsSeattle Mariners and Texas Rangers all have the potential to be wild-card contenders.

    The Angels improved significantly with the additions of Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart, as well as a new extension for August waiver pickup Justin Upton.

    Equally important will be healthy seasons from Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs in the starting rotation. It's the bullpen that looks like the biggest question mark, as the team is lacking the shutdown arms that have become such a key piece of the postseason puzzle.

    The Mariners have a potent offense made even more dangerous by the speedy Dee Gordon's addition at the top. Their starting rotation is suspect at best, though, and they are lacking in quality depth.

    As for the Rangers, they will experiment with a six-man rotation and hope to get the most out of guys like Doug Fister, Bartolo Colon, Mike Minor and Matt Bush.

    All three of those teams could make a push for 90 wins, and all three could struggle to post a winning record.

    The Oakland Athletics might not be ready to contend just yet, but they won't be pushovers.

    They won 75 games last year and closed out the regular season with an impressive 17-7 stretch. They have quietly made some nice additions this offseason and have one of the league's better farm systems at their disposal as well.

    Everyone is still chasing Houston, and it's hard to see anyone catching them.

3. AL East

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    Giancarlo Stanton
    Giancarlo StantonLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    FanGraphs Projected Standings

    1. New York Yankees (94-68)
    2. Boston Red Sox (93-69)
    3. Toronto Blue Jays (86-76)
    4. Tampa Bay Rays (78-84)
    5. Baltimore Orioles (75-87)

                    

    Outlook

    The rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox is back in full force.

    Prior to 2017, the last time both teams reached the postseason in the same year was all the way back in 2009.

    Now they look poised to battle it out for the AL East title for years to come, with established cores of dynamic young talent on both sides.

    After settling for second in the standings and a wild-card berth last year, the Yankees went big this offseason through Giancarlo Stanton's addition.

    The Red Sox countered with the signing of J.D. Martinez, which the team announced via Twitter on Monday. Those two sluggers will take aim at two of the league's more homer-friendly home ballparks.

    The starting rotations could be the determining factor in where those teams fall in the standings.

    The Toronto Blue Jays look to have the best chance of making it a three-team race.

    Healthy seasons from Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ could again make the rotation a major strength, and they are better positioned to handle injuries to the lineup with the additions of Yangervis Solarte, Randal Grichuk, Curtis Granderson and Aledmys Diaz.

    Jaime Garcia and Seung Hwan Oh are also nice, low-cost additions to the pitching staff.

    Despite a major offseason sell-off that included trading Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, Steven Souza and Corey Dickerson, the Tampa Bay Rays still have enough talent to avoid the cellar.

    They have long been a team that goes as far as their starting pitching can carry them, and even with Odorizzi playing elsewhere, they still have the arms to be win some games.

    The same can't be said about the Baltimore Orioles.

    After posting an MLB-worst 5.70 starters' ERA a year ago, this team was not an Andrew Cashner away from relevance.

    It could be a busy trade deadline if they fall out of the hunt early, with Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Adam Jones and Brad Brach all staring down free agency.

4. NL Central

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    Kyle Hendricks
    Kyle HendricksGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    FanGraphs Projected Standings

    1. Chicago Cubs (94-68)
    2. St. Louis Cardinals (87-75)
    3. Milwaukee Brewers (79-83)
    4. Pittsburgh Pirates (76-86)
    5. Cincinnati Reds (72-90)

                      

    Outlook

    Let's start by saying the 79-83 projection for the Milwaukee Brewers seems incredibly pessimistic.

    Sure, they haven't added the impact starting pitcher many expected them to target, but they did add Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to a roster that won 86 games a year ago.

    Getting Jimmy Nelson healthy following shoulder surgery and back to where he was at least year when he quietly emerged as the staff ace will be key.

    They will join the St. Louis Cardinals in trying to chase down the reigning champion Chicago Cubs.

    The Cardinals swung a blockbuster deal to add Marcell Ozuna to the middle of the lineup, giving them their first archetypal power hitter since Albert Pujols departed in free agency in 2011.

    While a lockdown closer was not acquired, they did add Luke Gregerson, Dominic Leone and Bud Norris to the relief corps, and Alex Reyes' return could also have an impact on the bullpen.

    That being said, the Cubs are still the leaders in the clubhouse, with Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood added to the starting rotation and Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek acquired to anchor the relief corps.

    The Cubs led the majors in runs scored after the All-Star break last year, and there's still plenty of room for a number of players on the roster to take forward steps.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates followed up three straight postseason appearances with back-to-back losing seasons, and that led them to trade away Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole this offseason, signaling the end of an era.

    Can the Cincinnati Reds overtake them in the standings?

    The offense is rock-solid—led by Joey Votto and with top prospect Nick Senzel knocking on the door, so it will boil down to whether some of the team's young starting pitchers can step up and establish themselves as long-term rotation pieces.

5. NL East

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    Bryce Harper
    Bryce HarperNick Wass/Associated Press

    FanGraphs Projected Standings

    1. Washington Nationals (90-72)
    2. New York Mets (81-81)
    3. Philadelphia Phillies (74-88)
    4. Atlanta Braves (72-90)
    5. Miami Marlins (65-97)

                         

    Outlook

    The Washington Nationals were the only team in the NL East with a winning record last year, claiming the division title by 20 games over the Miami Marlins.

    With Adam Eaton back healthy and full seasons of Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle at the back of the bullpen, improving on last year's 97-win showing is not out of the question.

    Throw in the sense of urgency surrounding this team given Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez are impending free agents, and they have to be counted among the NL favorites.

    For the New York Mets, the 2017 season was a perfect storm of injuries and disappointing performances.

    They have the talent to be a wild-card contender, assuming they enjoy a bit better luck in the health department this time around.

    Jacob deGrom was the only pitcher to exceed 120 innings last season, so a healthy year from Noah Syndergaard and the addition of Jason Vargas will go a long way.

    The offense also added depth, with Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Adrian Gonzalez signed in free agency.

    The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves have promising rebuilds in place, and both could improve on their respective 66- and 72-win seasons.

    Carlos Santana was the first big-money signing since the Phillies blew up their roster, while the Braves' stable of young pitching talent is climbing closer to the MLB roster.

    And then there's this year's version of the Marlins.

    If nothing else, there's a good chance J.T. Realmuto will make his first All-Star appearance this season after the roster was blown up around him.

6. AL Central

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    Corey Kluber
    Corey KluberTony Dejak/Associated Press

    FanGraphs Projected Standings

    1. Cleveland Indians (93-69)
    2. Minnesota Twins (82-80)
    3. Detroit Tigers (70-92)
    4. Chicago White Sox (66-96)
    5. Kansas City Royals (66-96)

                

    Outlook

    The Cleveland Indians won the AL Central title by 17 games last season over the wild-card Minnesota Twins, and they will enter the season as heavy favorites once again.

    A starting rotation that ranked second in the majors and first in the AL with a 3.52 ERA returns intact, and a healthy season from Danny Salazar could make it even better in 2018.

    The offense should again be among the best in baseball as well, even with Yonder Alonso replacing Carlos Santana at first base. The young duo of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez both finished in the top five in MVP voting last year, and there's no reason to think they won't be in the conversation again.

    As for the Twins, adding Jake Odorizzi to the starting rotation and getting another step forward from budding ace Jose Berrios should be enough to keep them in the playoff hunt.

    The bullpen was rebuilt with the additions of Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke, while they also took advantage of the slow-moving market to add slugger Logan Morrison on a one-year, $6.5 million deal, per ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

    The continued development of homegrown players like Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler will be the key offensively, and the performance of the starting rotation could determine whether they are playing in October again.

    It's the rest of the division that earns the AL Central the bottom spot in these rankings.

    The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are in the early stages of what figure to be lengthy rebuilds.

    Those two teams' rosters have been stripped down over the past six months, and the next few years will be about cultivating young talent and being patient.

    As for the Chicago White Sox, they are a little further along in their rebuild but still not ready to contend.

    It should be an exciting year on the South Side, as prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech push closer to joining what is an intriguing young core.

    The AL Central could have two playoff teams, but it could also have three 90-loss clubs.

                   

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.