5 MLB Teams That Won't Live Up to the Hype in 2019

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2019

5 MLB Teams That Won't Live Up to the Hype in 2019

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    Optimism reigns in Philadelphia following the Bryce Harper signing, but the Phillies face a challenging division and won't make the playoffs.
    Optimism reigns in Philadelphia following the Bryce Harper signing, but the Phillies face a challenging division and won't make the playoffs.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    There was a time when Major League Baseball was less predictable.

    Specifically, the American League used to be wide-open and would feature at least 10 teams that could go into the season thinking about the playoffs.

    Now, it's an exclusive club. The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians can be penciled in for postseason play, leaving one other team to join the party. Last year, it was the Oakland A's; this year, it could be the Minnesota Twins.

    It's difficult to look at the prime AL contenders and say one will be worse than anticipated. For the most part, this is a National League-based feature.

    Thirteen of the 15 Senior Circuit teams have at least some hope of having a memorable season, with the exceptions being the Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins. The San Francisco Giants—who dominated the early part of the decade with three World Series titles—are close to that level, but they may want to send Bruce Bochy out a winner, and they do still have Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey.

    Here's a look at five teams (four NL, one AL) that won't live up to high expectations in 2019.

Cleveland Indians

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    The Cleveland Indians were the American League standard in 2016 when they nearly defeated the Chicago Cubs in the World Series before losing the seventh game in extra innings.

    Since that point, they have been Central Division champions, but they have fallen behind the Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros and New York Yankees, and they come into the season as a clear No. 4 of the four elite AL teams.

    As the Indians go through some major changes, they are likely to be challenged by the improving Minnesota Twins in their own division. They have lost closer Cody Allen, outfielder Michael Brantley, catcher Yan Gomes and relief pitcher extraordinaire Andrew Miller.

    The losses of Allen and Miller will be especially painful for a bullpen that already ranked 25th in 2018 with a 4.60 ERA. And replacing Gomes, who had 16 homers with above-average defense, with Roberto Perez is a falloff (.168 average with two home runs in 2018).

    The heart and soul of the Indians is their star infield duo of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, who hit a combined 77 home runs in 2018. But Lindor will miss the start of the year with a calf injury, and Ramirez will likely be out as well after being carted off the field Sunday after fouling a ball off his leg. Thankfully, no bones have been broken, but these situations can linger. 

    If the Indians do find a way to finish first in their division, it will be by the skin of their teeth. Instead of winning more than 91 games, Cleveland may finish with closer to 85.

    There is still a lot to like about this team, including a potentially stellar starting rotation of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger, but the overall depth is gone, and one or two key injuries could be devastating.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    The Phillies made moves that could allow them to jump to the top of the standings, but there could be trouble down the road.

    First, the intangible that comes with signing free agent Bryce Harper. There is a school of thought that Harper is a me-first kind of player, which came to the surface in Washington and played out when he and Jonathan Papelbon went at it in the dugout, and the relief pitcher put him in a chokehold.

    Harper slumped throughout the first half of the 2018 season with the Nationals (.214 AVG and .833 OPS), and he was often sullen during that period. He seemed to brighten up after winning the Home Run Derby and came back to life in the second half of the season (.300 AVG, .972 OPS), but consistency has not been a hallmark for Harper's career (OPS over the past five seasons of .767, 1.109, .814, 1.008 and .889).

    The biggest issue for the Phillies is their inability to field the baseball (minus-132 defensive runs saved). They struggled to catch the ball last year, and no team can win consistently without being strong defensively.

    Andrew McCutchen may have had an impressive spring training, but he is a long way from the superb player he was during his prime years with the Pittsburgh Pirates. His combined 7.3 WAR over the past three seasons is less than the 7.4 he posted in 2014 alone.

    Former Yankees reliever David Robertson can look brilliant one day and awful the next, as evidenced by his roller coaster monthly ERA splits in 2018 (3.29 in April, 5.56 in May, 1.69 in June, 4.09 in July, 0.00 in August and 5.06 in September).

    Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto are impressive adds, however, and will be the keys to determining if Philadelphia matches the hype in a tough division.

Milwaukee Brewers

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    The Brewers will have to fight it out in baseball's most competitive division. While the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals are likely to be the main competition for the Crew in 2019, the Pirates were a winning team last year, and the Cincinnati Reds will be among the most improved teams this year.

    The Brewers had one of the game's best young stars in MVP Christian Yelich, who led the National League in batting average (.326), slugging percentage (.598) and OPS (1.000). He doubled his home run total from 18 to 36, his batting average jumped 44 points, and he topped his career-best OPS by 141 points.

    It's possible he regresses.

    The big issue is the starting pitching is not good enough, and while manager Craig Counsell manipulated his pitchers brilliantly last year, he may have a hard time managing staff ace Jhoulys Chacin and the rest of a below-average rotation this time around.

    Freddy Peralta is the current No. 2 starter at just 22 years old. He has a lot of talent, but that's a big ask. Brandon Woodruff is the No. 3 and expected to carry a big workload after averaging just 117 innings pitched the last two seasons. Zach Davies is in the rotation after having a 4.77 ERA in 2018. 

    Brilliant relief pitching from Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress helped the Brewers get to the top of the division, but both had heavy workloads last year, and Jeffress is already suffering from a shoulder injury. Corey Knebel (88 strikeouts in just 55.1 innings in 2018) has a serious elbow injury as well.

    It would be a surprise if the Brewers make the playoffs this year.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Yasiel Puig was a significant presence in the middle of the lineup, and the Dodgers are going to miss his .800-plus OPS and 51 combined home runs over the past two seasons. 

    Beloved hitting coach Turner Ward will join Puig in Cincinnati, as will Alex Wood (3.68 ERA in 2018) and Matt Kemp (21 HR, 85 RBI, .818 OPS).

    Star catcher Yasmani Grandal left for the Brewers, taking his 24 home runs and .815 OPS with him. Manny Machado took $300 million from the Padres.

    Combined between Puig, Kemp, Machado and Grandal, the Dodgers are missing 81 home runs from last season. A healthy Corey Seager and adding AJ Pollock will help if they can stay healthy, but that's a huge hole to fill.

    Clayton Kershaw is also no longer in his prime. Instead of a fastball reaching 94 mph or more, he now struggles to reach 91 mph. That's when he's healthy, but he will start the season on the injured list with shoulder soreness. It's possible shoulder issues will be a running theme this season.

    Kershaw could suffer a precipitous decline because he is so fastball-dependent. He has never had a good changeup, so how does he get by with his diminishing No. 1 pitch?

    Add to that an injury to Rich Hill entering 2019, who has been unable to top 140 innings in the last two years, and manager Dave Roberts will be anxious.

    Walker Buehler is one of the best young starters in baseball, but there are a lot of question marks elsewhere.

Colorado Rockies

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    The Rockies were overachievers last year. While they lost Game 163 to the Dodgers for the division title, Colorado won its sudden-death wild-card matchup with the Cubs before being swept by the Brewers in the division series.

    Colorado has seen its win total improve from 66 in 2014 to 68 in '15 to 75 in '16 to 87 in '17 to 91 last year. But that trend is about to end.

    The primary fear is the starting rotation and an inevitable regression from 2018 ace Kyle Freeland. His xFIP of 4.22 suggests he was fortunate last season, and there's little chance he'll replicate 2018's Coors Field record 2.40 ERA this season.

    It is also hard to feel confident in Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson or Chad Bettis, who posted ERAs of 4.55, 5.12 and 5.01, respectively, in 2018. As a positive, German Marquez set the franchise strikeout record by fanning 230 batters in 2018, and he was especially hot in the second half.

    However, the Rockies lost Adam Ottavino (112 strikeouts in just 77.2 innings) to the Yankees, and even if the Dodgers take a step back, this team may not be able to take advantage.