On Tuesday, we discussed the three most confusing teams in baseball. What are the Pirates, White Sox and Diamondbacks going to do in 2016? No idea. Two of them might meet in the NLCS. Two of them might meet in the World Series. Heck, three of them might meet in the World Series because baseball will always surprise you, can't predict baseball, you never know about baseball.
So on Wednesday, the obvious corollary are the least confusing teams in baseball, which is a tricky minefield to navigate. Whereas the most confusing teams allowed me to shrug my shoulders and complain that baseball is a mystery, this format sets me up for dumb, unambiguous predictions that will look bad in approximately three months.
However, I wear these dumb predictions like scars, and the scars make me look tougher in the hotel bars at the Winter Meetings. Be proud of your dumb-prediction scars. Wear them proudly.
Here are the least confusing teams in baseball.
The Cubs will be good. I suppose there is a permutation, one simulated season out of 10,000, where the Cubs are genuinely awful, where everyone gets hurt, except for Kris Bryant, who hits five home runs and inspires scores of "What's Wrong With Kris Bryant" article every month. If the Cubs suffer, say, five or six absolutely catastrophic events or disappointments, they certainly could finish under .500. And we've all seen teams that have suffered five or six absolutely catastrophic events or disappointments. One minute you're enjoying the deepest lineup in baseball, and the next minute you're looking at a rotation with Dallas Beeler and Jonathan Pettibone, wondering what happened.
You can say this about every team.
The difference with the Cubs, though, is that they're so very young. Other than Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero, everyone in the lineup is under 30, and there are younger players behind those two who can help out. The rotation is a bit on the older side -- and they don't have the 38 different starting pitchers in reserve that the Dodgers have -- but they still look like they have a fine chance to get four different 200-inning seasons, which hasn't been done since the 2012 Reds.
What I like about the Cubs' roster is that you don't need anything but reasonable expectations to make them a great team. Kris Bryant doesn't need to improve on his rookie season and become an MVP candidate. Ben Zobrist doesn't need to repeat his best seasons. Jason Heyward doesn't have to break out offensively like we've been expecting for five years. Addison Russell doesn't have to improve a lick. Jake Arrieta doesn't have to have an ERA under 2.00 again for the Cubs to be excellent.
But you know what? All of those things certainly could happen. If Kyle Schwarber hits 40 home runs, there won't be a lot of postseason retrospectives wondering how in the heck he did it. Bryant could evolve into Super Bryant and take Russell with him. There are permutations in which everything goes wrong for the Cubs. There are a lot more where everything goes right.
I'm sure that makes Cubs fans feel totally at ease, and they're not freaking out about whatever's hiding under their bed. Not at all.
The MLB teams that are better than you think
Who has the most underrated lineup in baseball? What about the most underrated rotation and bullpen? We have answers.
The Brewers might have the worst lineup in baseball -- their cleanup hitter wasn't offered arbitration by a contending team -- but I can't get over how reasonable and effective their rotation might be. The Reds might hit a little better and pitch a little worse, but I'm not getting a 1962 Mets vibe from them. Same goes for the Braves, Padres and Rockies.
While I'm not guaranteeing the Phillies are going to lose 100 games -- that's a silly prediction for anyone to make about any team -- they're the one team out of the above that will absolutely not contend. I could see flukish seasons and Pythagorean chicanery helping the Brewers, Reds, Braves, Padres and Rockies contend until the trading deadline. I could see some of the prospects arriving ahead of schedule and forcing us to reexamine what we thought we knew about each franchise. This will not happen with the Phillies.
Here is a factlet of interest: FanGraphs projects Mike Trout to be worth 9.2 wins. They also predict the entire Phillies lineup and bench to be worth 8.4 wins.
Unlock your wildest baseball fantasies and project your absolute best season for the Phillies. Aaron Nola is an All-Star. Jerad Eickhoff is right behind him. It's starting to look exciting, and, wow, is that Maikel Franco hitting for average and power, with Odubel Herrera proving last season wasn't a fluke? Yes, yes, this is looking great, with J.P. Crawford bursting onto the scene with a Carlos Correa-like debut. What a world!
That's five good-to-great players, or about what the White Sox had before they realized they needed to fix things. About what the Diamondbacks had before they decided to spend over $200 million and set their farm on fire. It's not enough, and those are in the best case scenarios. Once you get past Crawford and a couple other minor leaguers, you're left with the best case scenarios for players like Freddy Galvis. Maybe he brings donuts into the clubhouse? That seems like a delicious best case scenario, but it probably won't lead to a contending Phillies team.
That isn't to say they're not on the right direction. They are. But if you're expecting an ahead-of-schedule season like the Astros enjoyed last year, you're going to be very, very disappointed.
You are on a bus. You prefer the train, or the plane, or just driving down the open road with the window down, but you are on a bus. It's going to be an 18-hour trip. The bus smells like a bus, perhaps with extra bus, but at least the seat next to you is empty.
You brought a book for the trip. It's not bad. Not exactly literature, and maybe not the most compelling page-turner you've ever read, but it keeps your interest. At least, until your eyelids get heavy.
Your smartphone fell in the toilet before you left, but you managed to snag a portable CD player before you left. You're listening to some of your favorite albums. Over and over again, which can get just a little tedious as you stare out the window, but it still helps.
The bus stops, and you disembark for lunch. It's a random gas station deli in the middle of the state, but it's not half bad. You ask them to hold the sprouts. They do not hold the sprouts. Whatever, at least it's not a horrible fast food restaurant. You will probably not get food poisoning. Unless they're salmonella sprouts. Which they might be.
You get back on the bus. Someone takes the seat next to you. The CD player runs out of batteries, but the book is still keeping your interest. Kind of. You wish you hadn't dropped your smartphone in the toilet. You wish you were the kind of person who could sleep on a bus. Eventually, you stare out the window. The scenery is okay.
When you reach your destination, you're greeted by the person you came to see. You're asked how the bus trip went. You reply that it could be worse, but that you're tired.
In the morning, you get up, brush your teeth, and get on the bus to go home.
You are a Mariners fan. You would prefer the train, or the plane, or just driving down the open road with the window down, but you are on a bus. So it has been. So it shall be.
Your consolation is that I could have written the same extended metaphor about the Blue Jays last year. If the Mariners do set the baseball world on fire, if the dozens of moves from Jerry Dipoto add up to a magical season, if the depth in the rotation and the top-heavy lineup make for a division-winning team, almost every baseball fan will be happy for them. Just like the Royals last year, the Giants the year before that and the Red Sox the year before that, a team will rise out of the ash pile of preseason "meh" and win the World Series.
Not one professional prognosticator picked the correct World Series champion before each of the last three seasons. It could be the Mariners this year. They have the latent talent. They fit in that warm, snug spot of could-be-good-I-guess that the other three teams were in before their championship seasons.
Curses do not exist. Baseball gods do not exist. Organizations are allowed to reshape their identities at any time.
You are on a bus ...