With baseball season upon us, Big League Stew is in full preview mode. We’re doing previews of each team and we’re examining some of the biggest questions heading into 2017. Today: A roundtable discussion about which teams could surprise you in 2017.
A new season means a chance to rewrite your story. Perhaps that means breaking a playoff drought. Or making up for that hugely disappointing season. Or just opening a stadium and being better than everybody expects.
This time of year, everybody from fans to pundits think they know what will happen in the season ahead. That means we’re due for some surprises. As our MLB season preview coverage continues, today we’re talking about surprise teams. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan and Tim Brown are chiming in above and the Big League Stew crew is adding its two cents below.
The idea of a “surprise” team is relative. Is it a team that surprises us and makes a deep playoff run? Yes. Is it a team that’s expected to be horrible but is actually decent? Yes, that too. Are the Colorado Rockies — the consensus “surprise team” nowadays — really a surprise team if people have been picking them since December? Maybe, maybe not.
Here’s who intrigues us:
If there’s one team that could surprise us by not being as terrible as everyone is assuming, it’s the Braves. When you look at their lineup, it’s sort of sneaky good, almost. It’s full of guys who were everyone’s favorite players five years ago. Matt Kemp, Brandon Phillips, Kurt Suzuki, R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon (OK, he’s everyone’s favorite player now, but you get the idea). Their best days may be behind them, but doesn’t mean all their good days are gone. And to those guys, you add players like Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte. I’m not saying the Braves will win their division or a wild-card spot, or even climb too far out of the basement. But if everything breaks just the right way, the Braves could be truly surprising. (Liz Roscher)
The Twins are not going to challenge for a playoff spot this season. Finishing at or above .500 is a longshot too, but they’re going to be better than most people think coming off a 59-win season in 2016. I’m expecting a breakout season from Byron Buxton, which should help get the offense on track. If Jose Berrios can put it together too, they’ll have a solid anchor in the rotation. Those two players taking positive strides would be huge for Minnesota, and could instantly make them a surprisingly fun team to watch. (Mark Townsend)
Is it a surprise to expect a team that won 86 games to be good again in 2017? Maybe not. But would it be a shock if the Mariners made the playoffs for the first time since 2001? Now we’re heating up. That’s exactly what I’m predicting this season. The team’s core of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez are all getting older, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if general manager Jerry Dipoto went all-in at the deadline to fortify this team before all those players start to decline. Dipoto might make a ton of moves either way, but there should be some urgency behind his decisions this year. For as great as he’s been, King Felix has never reached the playoffs during his exceptional career. That changes in 2017. (Chris Cwik)
Everybody’s saying the Colorado Rockies are the surprise team in the NL West and maaaaaybe. I’m still skeptical about the pitching. It seems to me like the D-backs are the team in the NL West that have a better chance of upping their 2016 win total. The D-backs lineup might not have all the pop of the Rockies, but you can’t go wrong with Paul Goldschmidt and a healthy A.J. Pollock. Jake Lamb is on the upswing too and David Peralta, also healthy, should be better than last year. Where the D-backs could be much better is their rotation. I just don’t see Zack Greinke or Shelby Miller being what they were in 2016. Add Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray, who quietly struck out 218 batters last season, and the D-backs could be just as good as the Rockies. A playoff team? Probably not. But not a 69-win team either. (Mike Oz)
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