Four Teams to Keep an Eye On

Four Teams to Keep an Eye On

Four Teams to Keep an Eye On
by T.O. Whenham

It seems hard to believe, but Opening Day for MLB is just days away. As we get through the final days of seemingly endless spring training, all we can really do now is set and manage expectations for teams. Spring training doesn't really mean much, but what we have seen and heard from Florida and Arizona has helped to shape out opinions of teams. During the season, and especially early on, the best chance at making a nice profit betting on baseball is through backing teams that the public isn't - those that are exceeding expectations. Expectations are hard to judge - if you look long and hard enough you can find someone who is positive or negative about any team in the league. To try to get a sense of meaningful expectations of teams I started by looking at the win totals that oddsmakers set and balanced that with general buzz factor in the media. From that, here are five teams that I expect to exceed the general expectations people have for them:

Cincinnati Reds - My optimism here is all about one thing - pitching. I am more excited about seeing what this rotation can do than any other team outside perhaps of San Francisco. The Reds don't have a lot of proven talent on the mound - Bronson Arroyo is as close as it gets, and he has seen better days. What they do have, though, is some scary good potential. Edinson Volquez was very impressive last year, and I only expect more from him this year. Johnny Cueto has the tools to be even better than Volquez. Homer Bailey has struggled to find his way, but he was highly regarded coming into the league and has upside galore. Micah Owings showed flashes of brilliance before coming to Cincy. Aaron Harang was pretty lousy last year, but he had two very good seasons in a row before that. Any one of their pitchers has the potential to win at least 15 games this year. If they can collectively get their act together and the bats help them out a bit then this team could be much better than expected.

Florida Marlins - Hanley Ramirez is right up there in the debate over the most well-rounded player in the league. Unlike last year, he may not have to be the only mega-star on this team. Cameron Maybin is just a youngster, but he's a five-tool center fielder that has had a very good spring and who comes into the season with very high expectations. Those two are surrounded by some perfectly competent pieces in the field and at the plate. On the mound I have very high hopes for Ricky Nolasco, am quickly becoming a big Josh Johnson fan, and love the upside of Andrew Miller, even if it might take a while for him to realize it. I also think that Rick VandenHurk is going to be useful - either in the rotation if he gets another chance, or as a guy that can eat innings well out of the pen. There are certainly more talented teams out there, but this team has a lot to like. The Marlins also seem to know how to rise up and surprise, and they have done it in the past with less talent.

Kansas City Royals - This has been a bit of a trendy pick and I thought people were going to totally go crazy on them, but their win total is still set at around 75, so people seem to have forgotten about the Royals again. That's easy to do after the way they have played for most of two decades, but this is a team that I expect to take big steps in the right direction this year. It starts at the top -- manager Trey Hillman is in his second year after doing very well in Japan, and this guy can really manage. He has a lot to work with, too. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are young players with the potential to emerge as elite talents. Mark Teahen could, too, though he needs to get comfortable with his new position. Add in some veteran presence in Coco Crisp, and the team should be able to score some runs. The front three of their rotation is potentially very good, too. I think Zack Grienke is Cy Young-good, and this could be the year he really starts to show that. Gil Meche and Kyle Davies are more than solid, too. Add in a functional bullpen and a very good closer in Joakim Soria, and this is a team with the potential to improve dramatically from last year, and even contend in a division that isn't particularly overwhelming this year.

Seattle Mariners - Expectations are very low for this team because they were so lousy last year. I have a soft spot for the Mariners, though, and I don't believe that they are going to be nearly as bad people think. My optimism comes from a few places. First, Ichiro still plays there. That can't hurt. He's also joined by Ken Griffey, Jr. this year. Griffey is probably beyond his best days, but he's so popular in town that he'll be a psychological boost to the team, and he's been through a thing or two as a player, too. Those two don't have to be the offense on their own, either - guys like Adrian Beltre, Kenji Johjima and Jose Lopez can do their part. The best part of the team in my mind, though, is the rotation. Erik Bedard wasn't good last year, but he is healthier this year, and he has real talent. So does Felix Hernandez, and those two could be a dynamic one-two punch. They are backed up by some good depth and a reasonably trustworthy bullpen. This team isn't going to the World Series, but they don't play in a great division and they are going to win some games.

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