The breadth and volume of a baseball season causes a lot of leveling, for individual players and teams alike, but it also creates opportunity for a few surprises.
Sometimes it’s one guy who steps forward, like Chris Taylor for the Dodgers last season, and sometimes it’s a team that reaches the postseason just a year removed from an abysmal finish, like the Twins reaching the wild-card game last season after losing 103 games in 2016.
The individual breakout candidates have been tallied here already, so now it’s time to name the two teams who, after missing the playoffs in 2017, are most likely to nab a postseason spot this year.
First, the National League:
The Phillies finished 31 games behind the Nationals in 2017 and 21 games from a wild-card spot, but thanks to an infusion of young talent on offense and a dramatically weakened division in the NL East, there’s a path for Philadelphia to claim a wild-card spot this October.
Though they have not had a winning record in the past six seasons, the Phillies were a constant presence in the postseason between 2007 and 2011, and they are building toward a return to fall baseball. A big part of this return will be the handiwork of burgeoning stars Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco.
Whether new manager Gabe Kapler will propel his team or prove a stumbling block remains to be seen, but he’s inheriting a young and talented roster. Across the infield, only first baseman Carlos Santana is older than 27, and he’s hardly a grizzled veteran at just 31. And the outfield is just as young. How it will do in 2018 is admittedly a question mark because this is an offense that did few things well last season, ranking near the bottom of the league in runs scored, home runs, batting average, strikeout percentage and walk rate. Such are the perils of youth.
But don’t expect the Phillies to repeat this in 2018; they have several players on their offense who will contribute to a turnaround. Take Hoskins, for example. The 2014 fifth-rounder popped up in mid-August to hit 18 home runs and rock a near-.400 on-base percentage in 50 games. Despite playing in just a fraction of the season, he was worth 2.2 WAR. A prime candidate to take the bulk of the starts in left field, Hoskins will be a difference-maker for the Phillies offense.
And he’s not alone. The 25-year-old Franco is entering his third full season in the majors, and despite a significant drop-off on offense from 2016 to 2017, his struggles last year were largely caused by flailing at sliders during the first two months of the season. Franco’s bat stayed rather cold until late May, and then things gradually improved — though he still finished the season hitting just .186 against the slider and whiffing at the pitch nearly 20 percent of the time. Franco has some work to do there, but despite his other shortcomings at the plate he still hit 24 home runs in 2017 and upped his walk rate while dropping his strikeout rate from the previous year.
Outfielder Odubel Herrera also possesses the potential to swing the offense, albeit with some scary peripherals with his bat. He may have slashed .281/.325/.452 in 2017, but he did so while walking only 5.5 percent and striking out more than 22 percent of the time. Thankfully, Herrera is a major boon on defense, worth 20 defensive runs saved through three seasons.
Why the Phillies could make a surprising playoff run in 2018
Sporting News | Feb 21