A brand new season of Major League Baseball has arrived. At this point, it is pretty obvious who should contend for a spot in the postseason come October, but anything is possible over the course of a 162 game season. Some teams could surprise the league and have competitive seasons.
Take last year for example. The Atlanta Braves (74.5), Oakland A’s (74.5), and Tampa Bay Rays (77.5) all entered the season with over/under win totals indicating they would have losing records. On the contrary, each team won at least 90 games and the A’s and Braves made the playoffs.
The following five teams have an opportunity to be the surprise team(s) of 2019 according to their over/under win totals for the season.
MLB Surprise Contenders
Pittsburgh Pirates (Over/Under 77.5)
The Pirates very quietly had a good season in 2018, finishing with a record of 82-79. They have a good core of players in Francisco Cervelli, Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco.
This team may not be as dangerous as the teams that featured Andrew McCutchen in his prime, a young Gerrit Cole, and a high-quality bullpen. That team went to three consecutive postseasons. This team is projected to finish under .500 although the NL Central will be a tough division to play in. The St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Chicago Cubs are all expected to be playoff contenders, and the Cincinnati Reds are much improved on paper.
This shows that the division is well balanced and while all of these teams should be competitive, you can expect everyone to beat each other up. If that happens, then the Pirates would just need to hold their own against the division and take care of business outside the division in order to be in the thick of a playoff push.
Cincinnati Reds (Over/Under 78.5)
The Reds have not had a winning record since 2013, but they added a plethora of quality players this off-season. They bring in Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to an offense that featured seven starters with double-digit home runs last year. They return perennial All-Star Joey Votto, an emerging star in Eugenio Suarez, and they have two big-time prospects waiting in the minors in Nick Senzel and Taylor Trammell.
The big upgrade comes in their starting rotation where the additions of Sonny Gray, Alex Wood, and Tanner Roark add tremendous stability for the team. Their rotation should be better than last season, a year in which the lowest starter ERA was 4.30. The same concept for the Pirates holds true for the Reds in terms of division versus out of division play.
San Diego Padres (Over/Under 78.5)
To say it has been a rough decade for the Padres is an understatement. They have finished below .500 every year since 2010, and they have not made the postseason since 2006.
Tides appear to be turning in San Diego. They have signed major free agents in each of the last two off-seasons in Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado. Those two will prove to be the cornerstones of this franchise moving forward as their prospect haul, featuring 10 of the top 100 prospects, starts to make its mark in southern California.
Realistically, the Padres look to be a year away from seriously contending. That being said, the NL West will be a weaker division in 2019. This is evident by the Arizona Diamondbacks rebuilding, the uncertainty around the Colorado Rockies ability to duplicate last year’s success, and the Los Angeles Dodgers attempts to cut salary in the off-season.
As a result, the Padres could make a statement this season should some of their prospects progress ahead of schedule and make an impact at the big league level.
Minnesota Twins (Over/Under 84)
The Twins have been up and down over the last few seasons. In 2014, they finished last in the AL Central, but contended in 2015, winning 83 games. In 2016, they had the worst record in baseball but played in the Wild Card Game in 2017. They took another step back in 2018 finishing below .500, so recent trends would imply a good 2019 in Minnesota.
The team is projected to finish over .500, but still well behind the Cleveland Indians, who are looking for their fourth consecutive division title. The Twins added a lot of solid players this off-season, such as Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, C.J. Cron, and Jonathan Schoop.
These players join an already talented young core and will look to make a run back to the playoffs as well as challenge the Indians for the division crown if all goes well.
Los Angeles Angels (Over/Under 82.5)
The Angels have had the best player in baseball, Mike Trout, for over half a decade, but they only have one playoff appearance to show for it. They have talented everyday players in Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart, and Albert Pujols who is still productive despite his age.
The issue has been the health of their pitching. Shohei Ohtani will not pitch this year after Tommy John Surgery. Additionally, Andrew Heaney made just six starts in 2016-2017, and he is currently dealing with elbow inflammation. Tyler Skaggs also has never started 25 games or more in a season. The team signed injury-prone veterans Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill as low-risk, high-upside additions.
Clearly, the pitching staff will be a huge question mark as the team progresses through the season. There is enough talent on the roster to contend for a postseason spot should the starters stay healthy and give quality innings.
Every season brings its own surprises in Major League Baseball. Based off of the collective talent on these five rosters and the expectations given to each of them, they appear to be likely candidates to surprise in 2019.
Embed from Getty Images