Untimely injures and misfortunes of exponential proportions are a huge part of the sports universe. That’s quite obvious. Some teams react to such situations more effectively than others. Essentially, it’s called “securing depth.” Other teams, however, place the majority of their eggs into one proverbial basket and when the injury bug comes crawling, an entire component of their roster and typically all of their championship aspirations, are crippled (see New York Mets below).
Whether it be injuries, collective underachieving play or just hell, just bad luck, these three teams, who’ve all seen a fair amount of success in recent years, were on the wrong side of the .500 line in 2017. But looking ahead, there are some positive inclinations surrounding these clubhouses that they can be right there in the mix for a potential playoff push this upcoming season.
Spoiler alert: The race for divisional supremacy in baseball this upcoming season projects to be so marginal (and noncompetitive), that these three teams will have their playoff hopes tied solely to wild card appearances.
Regardless, here are three squads that will see bounce back seasons in ’18.
San Francisco Giants
The Bruce Bochy Era in San Francisco has seen such a magnitude of success since 2007 (902 wins, 3 World Series rings), it’s hard to fathom that they could manage to lose almost 100 games (98) in a given year, so long as the roster was primarily intact and Bruce had anything to do with it.
So what happened in The Bay last year?
The offense was completely punchless. Check out these MLB ranks:
- Runs Scored (639) = 29th
- Batting Average (.249) = 23rd
- On Base Percentage (.309) = 29th
- Slugging Percentage (.380) = 30th
The team struggled to get on base consistently all season, which of course led to their puny run total. Buster Posey posted typical “Buster Posey” numbers (.320, 12 HR, 67 RBI, .400 OBP, 4.0 WAR), albeit with slightly lower run production, while the rest of the team disappointed. Some of the regular position guys, particularly Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence, all had seasons that were below their statistical career average or missed some significant time. If you want a failed season, look no further than a team that averages 3.94 runs per game, which the Giants did.
Combine all of that with a pitching staff that produced mediocre numbers and that’s your road map to 98 losses. Team ace Madison Bumgarner threw only 111 innings and delivered his worst statistical season (4-9, 3.32 ERA, 2.9 WAR) since 2012. Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Cain, Matt Moore and Ty Blach combined to underachieve as well. Heck, Samardzija led the team with only 9 wins and a 4.42 ERA (of qualified arms). The back end of the bullpen was out of sorts as well, with Mark Melancon (4.50 ERA) and Sam Dyson (4.03 ERA) suddenly becoming extremely hittable and converting only 25 of their 33 save attempts.
The Giants made a couple of big splashes during an otherwise cold MLB offseason, by bringing in both Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria. While heavy names, the moves were clearly a sign that the Giants are going all-in with the “win now” approach, since this isn’t exactly 2013 anymore, when both players were at the peak of their baseball powers. Still, those two guys will make a positive impact and are clearly upgrades over what was in place last season. However, age is certainly not a strength of this Giants teams, as they will feature one of the oldest rosters in baseball.
Given the competition in what’s now considered the best division in baseball, I don’t see the Giants reaching the postseason this quickly, on the heels of a 98-loss campaign. The new additions will help, the pitching can’t possibly be that bad again and I think they’ll have a respectable bounce back season to the tune of an extra 20 wins. Of course, being firmly entrenched in “win now” mode with aging stars, finishing close to .500 won’t be considered quite enough success for the previously established standards set for the Bochy Era.
New York Mets
As referenced above, the New York Metropolitans were indeed one of those clubs that held a very non-diverse portfolio, relying much too heavily on their young pitching studs and failing to establish an offense that could keep pace. As poor luck would have it, the injuries (once again) decimated almost the entire rotation and the Mets lost more games (92) than they had since 2009.
From their projected rotation, here’s how the body of work actually panned out:
- Syndergaard: 30.1 IP (1-2, 2.97)
- deGrom: 201.1 IP (15-10, 3.53)
- Harvey: 92.2 IP (5-7, 6.70)
- Wheeler: 86.1 IP (3-7, 5.21)
- Matz: 66.2 IP (2-7, 6.08)
Outside of the only full-time employee, deGrom, the others sport a combined record of 11-23 with an ERA of roughly a million and a half. Not good. With innings (and performance) at a minimum, the likes of Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Rafael Montero and Chris Flexen were forced into action. In a move that could be deemed necessary at this point, only yesterday the team signed 2017 All-Star Jason Vargas (18-11, 4.16 ERA) to bolster the depth of a pitching staff that constantly finds themselves hampered.
The bullpen is still a bit suspect and all indications point to first-year manager Mickey Callaway going with a closer-by-committee approach to start the season. Both Jeurys Familia and A.J. Ramos have closed games effectively in the past.
The lineup looks solid from top to bottom. A middle-tier offense last season added some major pop by adding Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez and bringing back Jay Bruce. Yeonis Cespedes is healthy and paid, Asdrubal Cabrera can still hit and outfielder Michael Conforto very quietly hit 27 home runs last year in only 373 at bats. Callaway inherits a slightly aging, but potentially very potent everyday lineup, with some depth. This team will definitely score some runs.
In projecting the New York Mets to be a much better team in 2018, I’m formulating a similar strategy as the team did last season… I’m relying on a much healthier, happier and higher-performing pitching staff, with the hope that most of these guys at least make it over the 100-inning plateau. If they’re tossing regular innings, they will be effective. The talent is absolutely there. They also have the offense to post some impressive numbers, but if the pitching gives much of it back, like last season, it could be another long one at Citi Field. But I expect some good health from the rotation and the offense to be one of the better ones in the league. The Mets will rebound in 2018 and find themselves at least chasing one of the wild card spots.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels of Los Angeles won’t qualify so much as “rebounding” in 2018 as they will “rise to the occasion,” since they weren’t exactly a terrible team in 2017 with a record of 80-82. And no, my expectations aren’t solely because they won the Shohei “Babe Ruth of Japan” Ohtani sweepstakes, though, him, his 100+mph fastball and ability to pinch hit at an elite level, will certainly help the overall cause. I mean, he’s difficult to ignore, given that platforms like ESPN’s Angels team page are literally wallpapered from top to bottom in Ohtani coverage. Every single move the guy makes. We get it, he’s good.
Much like the Mets above, I’m anticipating an increase in health within the starting rotation and that the key additions made in the offseason will make an immediate impact, especially on offense, where the Angels found themselves in the middle-to-bottom of the pack. Bringing in Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart shores up the infield, while making Justin Upton rich for a long period of time could help him settle and re-produce some powerful digits. Albert Pujols can still rake, Luis Valbuena has some raw power and Martin Maldonado could have a nice year with regular playing time. Oh, and there’s that Mike Trout kid, who I hear is decent.
The pitching is the big question mark for this group, but having Ohtani’s electric stuff at the front of the rotation is a huge upgrade (even if he hasn’t faced MLB hitting before). Garrett Richards is two injury-plagued seasons removed from outstanding 2014 and 2015 campaigns. He’ll likely get the ball on Opening Day and if he regains that form, the Angels will hit the ground running. Matt Shoemaker definitely has the stuff (a career 3.87 ERA with a ridiculous 2014 season behind him) but his ’17 season was filled with injuries. JC Ramirez had a solid season and Tyler Skaggs has yet to live up to his potential… yet. The pitching was primarily a Top 10 unit a season ago, but again, health is the key.
Unlike the Mets (and Giants), I think the Angels will reach the playoffs this season, as they’ll secure one of the American League wild card spots and definitely have a chance to win 90+ games. While they’re not a true “bounce back” candidate, they’ll go from 80 wins in 2017 to 90+ this season, ending their 3-year playoff drought. Once they’re in, who knows what kind of sneaky damage Ohtani and the Trouts could do.