Each baseball season seems to bring about all sorts of twists and turns. How will this new season surprise most baseball experts? Here are three teams that, whether surprising or not, will probably be a lot better than they were last year along with a look at their MLB futures.
1. Washington Nationals
Odds To Win World Series: +850
The Nationals just couldn’t put together the pieces last season. They were particularly weak on offense and did not get the production from the lineup they were looking for, but their starting pitchers weren’t as great as they were in 2012, either. This was mostly an offense-based problem, but there were plenty of sources of frustration on the team, no matter where you looked. The back end of the bullpen proved to be a constant point of inconsistency. Washington came on strong in September and finished with a respectable record, barely entering the wild card race for a brief period of time, but it was all much too little, much too late. This season, Washington hopes that the strong finish to 2013 can point the way to a complete season, much as the team experienced in 2012. With the addition of starting pitcher Doug Fister to the rotation, Washington figures to be able to shut down other teams. It’s the batting order that has to regain its edge in order for the Nationals to thrive.
2. Miami Marlins
Odds To Win World Series: +22500
Will the Marlins win the National League East or make the playoffs? The MLB odds show it’s not very likely. Yet, because Miami was so awful this past season, the Marlins have nowhere to go but up. More specifically, they could gain quite a lot of wins relative to where they were a season ago. A 15-game improvement generally means a lot in baseball from one season to another. An 85-win team becoming a 100-win team makes the difference between being a non-playoff team and a playoff team. A 76-win team becoming a 91-win team makes the difference between a non-factor in a race and a factor in a race, whether that team makes the playoffs or not. The Marlins aren’t poised to make either one of those kinds of jumps, but with Jose Fernandez pitching and Giancarlo Stanton crushing baseballs, Miami could very possibly come close to being a break-even team by the end of the season. Do not be too shocked if that happens, because the young talent on this team stands out.
3. Los Angeles Angels
Odds To Win World Series: +2200
Shouldn’t this team be better than it has been the past two seasons? Shouldn’t this team be contending with the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics in the American League West? Shouldn’t Mike Trout and Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton be able to cover up at least some of the weaknesses on this roster and pitching staff? Maybe the Angels won’t be the clear class of the A.L. West the way they used to be a few years ago, before Texas came along and won back-to-back American League pennants. Maybe the Angels won’t ultimately make the playoffs. However, this team should not be sputtering along the way it is.
One of the biggest problems for the Angels last season was their bullpen, which blew lots of late-inning leads, and more specifically, lots of multi-run late-inning leads. If the Angels get even modest improvements from their pen, they should make a seven- or eight-win climb up the standings. If they get other contributions elsewhere on their roster, they can also make a 12- or 15-game improvement from last season.