One of the primary objectives of expanding the MLB postseason in 2012 was to give teams that might not have had much recent success a little bit of hope. It's easy to see that, in this way, it has succeeded. Every year since the postseason, a team with a losing record during the previous season has made the playoffs. And usually it's more than just one.
Here are the teams of the Wild Card Game era that made the playoffs after a losing season:
Boston Red Sox (78-84 in 2015, lost in ALDS)
Houston Astros (70-92 in 2014, lost in ALDS)
Chicago Cubs (73-89 in 2014, lost in NLCS)
Texas Rangers (69-75 in 2014, lost in ALDS)
New York Mets (79-83 in 2014, lost in World Series)
San Francisco Giants (76-86 in 2013, won World Series)
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (78-84 in 2013, lost in ALDS)
Cleveland Indians (68-94 in 2012, lost in Wild Card Game)
Pittsburgh Pirates (79-83 in 2012, lost in NLDS)
Boston Red Sox (69-93 in 2012, won World Series)
Baltimore Orioles (69-93 in 2011, lost in ALDS)
Oakland Athletics (74-88 in 2011, lost in ALDS)
Washington Nationals (80-81 in 2011, lost in NLDS)
Cincinnati Reds (79-83 in 2011, lost in NLDS)
We never learn our lesson with this, though, and every preseason, we predict the same teams to make the playoffs that made it the previous year. And every year, we're proven wrong.
Here we are again. Near the quarter-mark of the MLB season, there are three teams who finished under .500 in 2016 who are, at this exact second, in first place in their respective divisions: the Minnesota Twins, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Colorado Rockies. There are also two teams with losing records last year that have a winning record so far this year: The Los Angeles Angels and the Arizona Diamondbacks. (The Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Rays are a mere one game under .500.)
So which of these teams are going to make the postseason? Which one of them will keep the streak alive? Here's a ranking of the five teams currently over .500 that were under the mark last season, based on what I feel is their likelihood to make the postseason in 2017.
5. Minnesota Twins (19-16, 1st in the AL Central). The Twins have crawled their way atop a listless division, with the Indians off to a sluggish start and no one else looking like they have much interest in actually contending. This is a team that lost 103 freaking games last year, and here they are in first place. The key to their success has been an improved defense, a breakout season for Miguel Sano and an ability to destroy the Royals, against whom they're 5-0 already.
That's not gonna cut it, though. As Beyond the Box Score put it, "The Twins have benefitted from some good luck, some good sequencing, and two players who look like they're playing far better than they actually are." The rotation and the lineup are both bound to regress from their early-season form, and that's a problem when your peak is only three games over .500. The real problem is that the Indians are going to get this figured out and will probably still win this division by 10 or more games. But regardless of sequencing, luck or whatever, this sure beats losing 103 games. Minnesota is a great story.
4. Los Angeles Angels (22-21, 3rd in the AL West). Well, they have Mike Trout, and he's off to the best start of his career. (Trout has already been worth more to his team this season, by bWAR, than Yoenis Cespedes, Stephen Piscotty, Giancarlo Stanton and Rougned Odor were all of last season. He's very good.) It is worth noting, however, that he is the only above-average hitter in the Angels' lineup right now. Seriously, look at the OPS-plus of the Angels' starting lineup after the team's win Wednesday night over the White Sox. Remember, 100 is league average.
Maybin RF 88
Trout CF 228
Pujols DH 85
Valbuena 3B 80
Simmons SS 78
Revere LF 80
Cron 1B 47
Espinosa 2B 47
Maldonado C 106
Yeah … that's not going to get it done. Also, only one pitcher in the rotation has an ERA under 4.00. The bullpen has been fine, but still has Bud Norris as its closer. Trout is going to not only have to carry his amazing start through the season, but he's also going to have to clone himself. 2021 is going to be here before you know it.
3. Milwaukee Brewers (23-18, 1st in NL Central). There's a lot to like about the Brewers. Eric Thames has all the headlines, but Ryan Braun was terrific before being put on the DL this week, and Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana and Jett Bandy have all been pleasant surprises. And Keon Broxton has been on a tear too. This lineup is no joke.
The rotation continues to be a question mark, and the reason the Brewers are only third on this list. They've already demoted Wily Peralta, the guy who was supposed to be their rock, Chase Anderson and Zach Davies have been touched up in May and if you're expecting Matt Garza to keep up a 2.43 ERA all year … well, not even Matt Garza thinks that. Maybe Corey Knebel can just pitch every inning? The Brewers don't want to push top pitching prospect Josh Hader, though that might change if they stick around atop the division.
That might be asking a bit much. The Brewers have the feel of the 2014 Cubs, but a little better, a team that's about to make its big move in the division even if it isn't quite ready for prime time. The Pirates' early struggles have helped, and it looks like the Wild Card bubble in the National League might be a little soft. But the Brewers just don't look to have the pitching to quite hang in for the long haul. They'll be a blast to watch though.
2. Colorado Rockies (25-15, 1st in the NL West). It's worth noting that the top two teams are head-and-shoulders above the other three teams on this list. These teams look legit.
The Rockies have been one of the best stories of the first half of the season, which is pretty amazing considering how many of their hitters are off to terrible starts. Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and DJ LaMahieu have dreadful numbers so far, and star free agent signing Ian Desmond has a good batting average but some empty plate-discipline numbers behind it. Colorado's best hitter has, somehow, been Mark Reynolds.
The key has been the pitching, but not the guys you were expecting. Jon Gray was supposed to be the star, but he's on the DL. In his place, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and, especially, 22-year-old Antonio Senzatela, have been outstanding. There are reasons to worry about their sustainability -- the best K/BB ratio in the rotation belongs to Tyler Anderson, who has a 6.43 ERA -- but you can make an argument that the pitching can fall a bit as long as the offense comes around like it's expected to. And boy, don't you feel dumb about mocking the Rockies for emphasizing their bullpen in the offseason? It has been the team's signature strength, particularly Greg Holland, who has given up two runs in 18 innings.
The Rockies are wobbly and inconsistent enough in both directions to worry a little, but their struggling bats are proven producers and are unlikely to just fall off the table. Besides, they've got wins banked: They're 10 games over .500. The Dodgers will likely pass them sooner rather than later, but this team is no joke: They'll be in the NL Wild Card race deep into September. And they just might win it.
1. Arizona D-backs (24-18, 2nd in the NL West). They've been dynamite at home, and already everyone has tossed out memories of last season with Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart. Having A.J. Pollock back (until recently) has been a godsend, and both the lineup and rotation look deep, even without Pollock and Shelby Miller. Zack Greinke looks like Zack Greinke again, and Robbie Ray has, as usual, pitched better than his numbers might indicate. You look at this roster and you can't believe it lost 93 games last year.
The major issue has been the bullpen, and it's not just closer Fernando Rodney ... but it is also mostly closer Fernando Rodney. That's a fixable problem moving forward. If they can get Pollock back healthy atop this lineup, tweak the bullpen and maybe get steps forward from Ray and Taijuan Walker, you have a team that looks like a legitimate NL Wild Card contender and maybe even a challenger to the Dodgers in the division. For a team that looked as adrift as any one year ago, that's quite the leap. But those sort of leaps -- they happen every year.
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