Five new playoff contenders for the 2010 MLB season

While some enthusiasts will argue otherwise, there’s usually not a lot of change from one year to the next in baseball. Most pundits expect the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Angels, Cardinals, Twins, Dodgers and Rockies (all eight teams that made the playoffs in 2009) to be good again this year. MLB isn’t like the NFL where teams make unexpected playoff runs every year.

That said, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a couple of sleepers to watch out for in 2010. Below are five clubs that didn’t make the postseason last year that have the best odds (in my estimation) of making the playoffs this season.

1. Chicago White Sox
If you read the 2010 MLB season preview, you’re not surprised to see the White Sox at the top of this list. As long as Jake Peavy stays healthy, Chicago arguably has the best starting rotation one through five in the American League. (Boston fans may argue otherwise, but Boston fans can also shove off…just kidding…although not really.) But the key to the Chi Sox’s success this season lies in their offense. Yes, I’m banking on veterans Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios, Mark Teahen, Paul Konerko and Mark Kotsay to have productive years and yes, that may be asking a lot. But Gordon Beckham looks like a star in the making and the addition of Juan Pierre gives the Sox a solid leadoff hitter. I’m well aware that Chicago could finish third in a three-team race in the AL Central, but their pitching is going to keep them competitive all season and I’m willing to bet that their offense won’t be as bad as many believe.

2. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have all the pieces in place to not only compete for the AL Wild Card, but also unseat the Angels in the AL West. Along with Felix Hernandez, the acquisition of Cliff Lee now gives Seattle the best 1-2 punch in the American League outside of Boston’s Josh Beckett and John Lackey. The problem is that the lineup lacks major punch. Chone Figgins and Ichiro give the M’s quality bats at the top of the order, but can this team score enough runs on a nightly basis? The club has been built on pitching and defense but if they want to make the postseason, the Mariners will have to prove that they can overcome a powerless lineup.

3. Atlanta Braves
Many people view the Braves as favorites to win the NL Wild Card this season – and for good reason. Their starting pitching looks awfully good, especially if Tim Hudson can rebound and Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson don’t regress in their development. But how successful the Braves are this year depends on their offense. Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus and Nate McLouth are the perfect complements to Martin Prado, Brian McCann, Yunel Escobar, Jason Heyward and Melky Cabrera. But Jones, Glaus and McClouth have to stay healthy or else this team is doomed and Heyward has to be productive as a rookie. Is it asking too much for guys like Jones, Glaus and Billy Wagner to rebound? Maybe. But you still have to like the Braves’ chances this year based on their pitching and Heyward’s potential.

4. Tampa Bay Rays
If I didn’t have such a wild hair up my ass about the White Sox’s chances this year and if they didn’t play in such a competitive division, then the Rays would have probably found themselves ranked second or third on this list. But I go back and forth with how I feel about them. One moment I’m ready to crown them AL Wild Card champs and the next I’m convinced they’ll finish no higher than third in the AL East. Their pitching scares me, although I’m well aware that David Price, James Shields, Matt Garza and Jeff Niemann have the ability to keep the Rays competitive all season. I just wish an ace would emerge from the group so I can sleep better at night. The offense is stacked with guys that can hit for average (Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria), power (Zobrist, Longoria, Carlos Pena) and speed (Crawford, Bartlett, B.J. Upton), but the key might be whether or not Upton can rebound. If he can and the starting rotation is consistent throughout the year, then I’m back to thinking the Rays are a serious Wild Card contender. If he can’t and the rotation is average, then this club has a ceiling on its success in 2010.

5. Chicago Cubs
Two years ago, the Cubs won 97 games – the second most in baseball behind the Angels and tied with the Rays. Then last year, they infected themselves with Milton Bradley, Geovanny Soto forgot how to play and injuries limited Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano. This year, the Bradley infection has cleared and Soto has vowed to rebound from his sophomore slump. If Ramirez and Soriano can stay healthy, they’ll team up with Derrek Lee to form the makings of a solid offense. The starting pitching is above average too, although Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly have to stay healthy and Carlos Silva can’t be the disaster he was last year. The Cubs have their flaws, but they also have the makings of a solid club and could sneak up on teams this season. They probably won’t unseat the Cardinals in the NL Central, but a NL Wild Card berth is certainly not out of the question.

The Next Five:

6. San Francisco Giants
7. Texas Rangers
8. New York Mets
9. Detroit Tigers
10. Arizona Diamondbacks

I wouldn’t be shocked if any of these five teams made the postseason in their respective leagues, but all five of them have major flaws that they’ll have to overcome. The Giants have great pitching, but GM Brian Sabean has ruined that great pitching by fielding a horrible offense outside of stud Pablo Sandoval. The Rangers have the opposite problem – they can hit, but their pitching is a question mark. The Mets have enough offense, but the organization is cursed (if you don’t believe in curses, have a couple of beers with a Mets fan and see if they can’t change your mind) and their pitching is a joke outside of Johan Santana. The Tigers have two MVP-caliber pieces in Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, but whether or not the front office is committed to winning is a question that won’t be answered until after the All-Star Break. The Diamondbacks have a promising offense, but it’s also inexperienced and Brandon Webb’s injury is obviously a major concern.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Related Posts