I was thumbing through some baseball previews over the weekend, and a thought popped into my head.
Tons of people are picking the Tampa Bay Rays to do what they did last year, which was win the AL East. Most have them at least in the top three, and easily finishing with a winning record.
This makes sense, since I doubt half the youngsters on the Rays roster are suddenly going to forget how to play baseball.
The next thing people are going to wonder is obvious: Who is going to pull this year what the Rays did last year?
Most of us aren't dumb enough to think baseball is suddenly going to be like the NFL, where teams can come from literally nowhere to play for a world championship. However, it doesn't stop us from dreaming of the next Cinderella story.
With that in mind, I figured I'd take a look at who may have a shot of coming from the depths of baseball sucktitude.
First off, it makes sense to define some rules. That will allow us to eliminate teams from being considered. A good place to start is to take out the teams that made the playoffs last year. After all, you're not coming out of nowhere to make the playoffs if you made them just one year ago.
This takes out eight teams: Tampa Bay (duh), Boston, the White Sox, and the Angels in the American League; Philadelphia, the Dodgers, Milwaukee, and the Cubs in the National League.
Next, any team that won 80 or more games in 2008 has to be eliminated. Bid farewell to the Yankees, Toronto, Minnesota, and Cleveland in the American League; the Mets, Florida, Houston, St. Louis, and Arizona in the National League.
Tampa Bay hadn't made the playoffs in franchise history before 2008. So being bad for just a year or two isn't going to cut it. Therefore, we'll eliminate any remaining teams that have made the playoffs since 2003. That means it's time for a goodbye for Detroit and Oakland in the American League; Atlanta, Colorado, San Francisco, and San Diego in the National League.
Well, we've taken out a lot of teams. In fact, we only have Seattle, Baltimore, Kansas City, and Texas left in the American League. In the National League, we're left with Washington, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.
I'll arbitrarily remove Texas (79 wins last year, no pitching whatsoever) and Cincinnati (74 wins, never as historically bad as the others on this list) from consideration. Good for them if they win, but we're looking for the odds on a real shocker happening.
In alphabetical order, here is a quick glance at each team:
Baltimore -- Great young catcher in Matt Wieters, but when will the Orioles have the smarts to call him up? I like some of their young arms, but they're a year or two away from doing what Tampa did, I think.
Kansas City -- They have some guys who can throw. As stupid as the Gil Meche signing looked, he's not a bad lead for the rotation. Greinke, Davies, and Hochevar are nice. They have a good lineup, and they're worth a second look here, I think. No, really. They could be vastly improved.
Pittsburgh -- After all these years, you'd think they could put together one decent season. It still hasn't happened, and I'm not betting on it now. That said, I think they're the second-best pick on this list. They have some young pitchers with experience, and Nate McLouth is a good table-setter at the top of the order.
Seattle -- They stole the Brewers' scouting ace as their new GM, but it's clear this is a rebuilding effort and not a quick-fix job. Not this year.
Washington -- Made a big splash by trying to sign Mark Teixiera and actually signing Adam Dunn, but they still have major problems. Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman can't drive in all the runs by themselves, and they can't drive in runners that aren't on base. Until that changes, it doesn't matter how promising their pitching is.
I'm not saying it's going to happen, but if there is to be a Tampa Bay-like turnaround by someone in the 2009 season, bet on it happening in Kansas City. The Royals have drafted well, and GM Dayton Moore has worked to rebuild the reputation of his organization. Getting Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs to help solidify the lineup was huge for them, and they didn't have to sell off the farm system to do it. Throw in young stars like David DeJesus, Mike Aviles, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon, and you have a lineup that should produce runs. I already talked about their rotation, and closer Joakim Soria was just sick last year (42 saves, 1.60 ERA, 39 hits and 19 walks in 67 1/3 innings).
The American League Central is in a bit of flux right now. Detroit had a horrible year last year, Cleveland has been making a habit out of being inconsistent, and the White Sox are a shell of the team that lucked into a division title last year.
A two-team race between Minnesota and Kansas City? I'd pay to see that happen.