How did we wind up with just two superteams instead of seven?

In the offseason, I wrote about the seven superteams — the seven teams that appeared easy picks to make the playoffs. FanGraphs projected all seven to reach 92 or more wins. What happened to the super seven? We ended up with two superteams and four good teams. Five of them might still end up winning their divisions, one has clinched a wild card … and one will go home as a major disappointment.

Boston Red Sox
FanGraphs preseason projection: 92-70
World Series odds on March 28: 12/1 (7)
Current record: 106-51
Offseason suggestion: Sign J.D. Martinez, don’t sign Eric Hosmer, don’t trade Jackie Bradley Jr. to clear room in the outfield for Martinez.

In the end, the Red Sox did sign Martinez and it worked out even better than many anticipated — remember when there were minor concerns because he hit so many home runs to right-center and those might turn into long outs at Fenway Park? Of course, the Red Sox vastly exceeded expectations, setting a franchise record for victories and winning the most games since the Mariners won a record 116 in 2001.

  • With their lead over the Brewers shaved to a half-game and just days left to play, the Cubs are feeling the heat in the NL’s strongest division.

  • They tried, they contended and they came up short. What’s on tap for the nine who must now head back to the drawing board?

1 Related

What went so right? I would point to three targets:

1. The American League ended up so top-heavy, with so many bad teams that it made sense that a team might have a season like this. The Red Sox have gone 15-2 against the Orioles, finished 15-4 against the Blue Jays and cleaned up against the National League East in interleague play (16-4). Against the four other AL playoff teams, they’re actually two games under .500 (with a season-ending series against the Yankees).

2. Mookie Betts. He was projected as about a six-win player and is instead closing in on an incredible 11-WAR season. That’s five additional wins right there.

3. Good health. The only position player with a significant stint on the disabled list was Rafael Devers, and he’ll still play 120 games. The only major injury on the pitching staff was Drew Pomeranz (yes, Chris Sale missed most of the final two months, but he’ll still end up making 27 starts).

Wednesday

7 p.m. ET on ESPN — Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals

8:40 p.m. ET on ESPN+ — Philadelphia Phillies at Colorado Rockies

9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN — Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks

Thursday

8 p.m. ET on ESPN+ — Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals

Friday

2:20 p.m. ET on ESPN — St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs

7 p.m. ET on ESPN — New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox

8 p.m. ET on ESPN+ — Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals

Saturday

4 p.m. ET on ESPN+ — Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds

Houston Astros
FanGraphs preseason projection: 100-62
World Series odds on March 28: 17/4 (1)
Current record: 100-57
Offseason suggestion: Get ready to replace Ken Giles, find a left-handed first baseman/designated hitter (like Lucas Duda), consider adding a starter under team control beyond 2018 since Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton would be free agents at season’s end.

I thought the Astros might sign Yu Darvish, but instead they used their organizational depth to trade for Gerrit Cole, who has had an outstanding season, going 15-5 with a 2.92 ERA. They never did pick up that additional left-handed bat, but lefty-hitting Tony Kemp turned into a useful bench guy (posting a .357 OBP) and righty-hitting Tyler White has provided depth at first base and DH with a .948 OPS in 200 plate appearances. As for closer, Giles did indeed struggle and was eventually shipped out of town in a deal for Roberto Osuna.

So the Astros will end up where we projected, although it wasn’t easy with the A’s pushing them into the final week. They also didn’t get there exactly as projected. The offense, which was historically great in 2017 compared to league average, struggled at times and had some injuries, and ranks fifth in the AL runs. The pitching, however, took over and dominated.

Get this, courtesy of Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats & Information: The Astros have allowed 520 runs through Monday. With six games remaining, that’s a pace of 540 runs in 162 games. Since the AL instituted the DH in 1973, the fewest runs allowed in a non-strike season is 551 by the 1974 A’s.

New York Yankees
FanGraphs preseason projection: 94-68
World Series odds on March 28: 13/2 (3)
Current record: 97-60
Offseason suggestion: Sign Mike Moustakas, avoid Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta and sign a second-tier starter like Lance Lynn.

Those suggestions were made after the team had already traded for Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees did add a veteran third baseman, trading for Brandon Drury, but after he went down with vertigo issues early in the season, Miguel Andujar stepped in and has produced a higher OPS than Stanton.

What’s interesting is the Yankees exceeded that projected record — which felt a little conservative (I had them at 99 wins) — even though Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez have combined for just 78 home runs, not the 120 some felt they could reach. Andujar and Gleyber Torres helped pick up the slack and Luke Voit has been a monster down the stretch. The rotation was never the house of horrors some thought it might be, and general manager Brian Cashman added Lynn and J.A. Happ in-season for additional depth.

The Yankees didn’t crush the Orioles and Blue Jays quite like the Red Sox — they went 25-13 against those clubs — but they’ve gone .500 or better against every team they’ve played except Boston (the Red Sox lead the series 9-7). They’ve faded a little in the second half — the injury to Judge and Luis Severino’s struggles have been the primary reasons there — but the Yankees are what we thought they were: lots of home runs, good bullpen and solid enough rotation.

Chicago Cubs
FanGraphs preseason projection: 96-66
World Series odds on March 28: 15/2 (4)
Current record: 91-66
Offseason suggestion: Avoid a risky long-term investment like Yu Darvish and instead trade for Manny Machado.

When the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series in 2016, it was easy to envision the upcoming dynasty and a possible string of 100-win seasons. After all, the group of position players that season was very young for a World Series champion, with the likelihood to get better. The Cubs would then have the financial resources and front-office savvy to build pitching staffs around that core of hitters.

It hasn’t been quite as easy the past couple of seasons — which is mostly a reminder that winning 100 games is hard, more than a knock on the Cubs. The Cubs won 92 games last year and will win a couple more than that this year. They’ll make the playoffs, although the NL Central is still up for grabs.

One thing that’s happened is the rest of the division has improved. Look at the other four teams:

2016: 37 games under .500
2017: 24 games under .500
2018: 18 games over .500

If anything, what’s impressive about 2018 is the Cubs are doing better than 2017 in a tougher division even though Kris Bryant has missed a lot of time and has just 12 home runs; Willson Contreras’ numbers are down; Addison Russell, before his administrative leave, was way down; even Anthony Rizzo is down a bit. The only young player to improve since 2016 has been Javier Baez.

The other thing is that the 2016 pitching staff was not only extraordinarily good (with great defense behind it), but probably a little lucky. Kyle Hendricks was going to be hard pressed to ever repeat a 2.13 ERA, and Jon Lester’s 2.44 ERA at age 32 was remarkable. The rotation was also extremely healthy, as the top five starters all made at least 29 starts.

As for the Cubs’ offseason moves, well, Darvish was a flop in the first year of his six-year, $ 126 million contract. Tyler Chatwood was terrible. Theo Epstein had to improvise and trade for Cole Hamels and Daniel Murphy. So maybe the 2018 Cubs aren’t a superteam. They might win the World Series anyway.

Cleveland Indians
FanGraphs preseason projection: 96-66
World Series odds on March 28: 15/2 (5)
Current record: 88-69
Offseason suggestion: “Get Manny Machado and go all-in for the franchise’s first title since 1948.”

The Indians won 102 games in 2017, and given the pathetic nature of the rest of the AL Central, winning 102 again wasn’t an unreasonable expectation. That didn’t happen even though the Indians became the first team with four 200-strikeout pitchers and Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have combined for 74 home runs and 229 runs.

Mostly, the bullpen just hasn’t been good:

2017 runs per game: 5.05
2018 runs per game: 5.02
2017 runs allowed per game: 3.48
2018 runs allowed per game: 3.99
2017 bullpen ERA: 2.89
2018 bullpen ERA: 4.48

As for the Machado suggestion, well, the Indians eventually came around on my idea and added Josh Donaldson for September. We’ll see if that pays off in October.

Los Angeles Dodgers
FanGraphs preseason projection: 94-68
World Series odds on March 28: 5/1 (2)
Current record: 88-70
Offseason suggestion: Add bullpen reinforcements.

We wrote about the Dodgers the other day. It comes down to this: They’ve had bad run distribution. They have a plus-176 run differential, best in the NL, not far off last year’s plus-190 when they won 104 games. They’ve been great in blowout games and mediocre in one-run games (22-21).

Yes, the bullpen had some big late-game losses, including a few from closer Kenley Jansen. But the lineup, which has set the franchise record for home runs, also hasn’t hit in high-leverage situations. Check this:

Low leverage: .790 OPS (first in majors entering Tuesday)
High leverage: .651 OPS (29th in majors)
Late and close: .744 OPS (eighth in majors)

As the late and close numbers indicate, they haven’t failed completely in the clutch, but they’ve obviously hit much better in lower-pressure moments. That could mean something. It could just be something that’s happened. We’ll find out in October … if they get there.

Washington Nationals
FanGraphs preseason projection: 92-70
World Series odds on March 28: 9/1 (6)
Current record: 80-78
Offseason suggestion: Upgrade catcher, add another starting pitcher (such as Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer).

The Nationals entered the offseason with major issues: catcher, rotation depth and bullpen depth. GM Mike Rizzo did nothing to address those concerns. But he did fire Dusty Baker. So what happened?

The catchers have hit .207/.299/.315. Erick Fedde, Jefry Rodriguez, Tommy Milone, Joe Ross, A.J. Cole and Austin Voth have made 28 starts with a combined 6.12 ERA. And the bullpen had questionable depth behind Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. Doolittle was great when healthy. Madson wasn’t good. Rizzo did trade for Kelvin Herrera, and he wasn’t good either and then got injured. Yes, the Nationals were a little snakebit here, but it was easy to forecast problems in the pen.

Of course, the Braves and Phillies (at least until September) were also better. The Nationals are 40-35 against the NL East. Last season, they went 47-29. In 2016, they went 51-25. And that’s how we end up with a superteam struggling to finish .500.

www.espn.com – MLB

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