Doesn’t it feel like just yesterday that the Kansas City Royals were completing a World Series victory over the New York Mets? Well, with the NFL season in the books and the NBA season entering its stretch run, it’s time for MLB teams to begin spring training, which means a new season of baseball is mere weeks away. With the beginning of the season well in sight, the time to preview the new campaign has arrived.
Of course, we know that teams like the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals are expected to be top contenders for the World Series, but as previous seasons have taught us, the long haul of the campaign allows for several unexpected teams to remain in contention and shock everyone in the end. So, with that said, here are three clubs that didn’t make the playoffs last season but just might make it in 2016.
3. Cleveland Indians
2015 record: 81-80, third in AL Central
The Indians weren’t a terrible team in 2015, as they finished around the .500 mark. However, they had the pieces to be even better and make the playoffs. Their pitching staff is led by solid arms in Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber. Cleveland has great position players including Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley. With manager Terry Francona in house as well, the Indians should be able to put it all together and sneak into the postseason this year, which would mark their first playoff appearance since 2013.
Of course, the Indians do have some good competition in the AL Central, which could set them back once again. The reigning champion Royals headline the division, but the Detroit Tigers are ready to bounce back from a disappointing campaign as well. It should be a tight race in this division, but Cleveland certainly has the talent to at least earn a wild-card berth.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
2015 record: 79-83, third in NL West
Above all else, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ crazy offseason makes them think playoffs in 2016. Somewhat surprisingly, Arizona won the race for Zack Greinke to vastly improve their mediocre pitching staff. With annual MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and stud outfielder A.J. Pollock also on hand, the Diamondbacks aim to improve on their competitive season in 2015 to challenge the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers (who they stole Greinke from) in the NL West.
It won’t be easy for Arizona by any measure. The Dodgers and Giants have been consistently successful for the past several seasons and have really owned the division. However, no other team in the division is as ready to challenge the top two teams than the Diamondbacks. A division championship isn’t out of the question for a team that has failed to make the postseason since 2011.
1. Boston Red Sox
2015 record: 78-84, last in AL East
It’s probably not shocking to see the Boston Red Sox here, but for a team that really struggled to find consistency in 2015, they could have one of the bigger turnarounds in baseball in 2016 (something they’re used to doing). Since winning the World Series in 2013, the Red Sox finished last in the AL East in each of the past two seasons. Of course, before they won that title, they missed the playoffs in three straight seasons, so they are used to turning things around quickly.
With an offseason that saw them sign free-agent prize David Price and with plenty of talent around the field, including young outfielder Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and David Ortiz, there’s no reason Boston shouldn’t be in the postseason this year. Something that will work against the Red Sox will be the fact that they play in probably the most competitive division in baseball. You could make a case for the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, or Toronto Blue Jays as division winners. In all likelihood, the AL East will produce at least two (if not three) playoff clubs this season; Boston really should be one of them.