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Best-case/worst-case scenarios for every MLB team in 2016

question-marks-300x300You know the adage that is hammered into every team preview column at this time of year: Hope springs eternal. That hope is then extinguished pretty early for some teams. Really, really early for others. But we should all be optimists in March.  So, here’s what I consider to be the best-case scenario for each team on the field this season.

However, I’m also a realist. “Winning the World Series” isn’t a down-to-earth possibility for everyone. Conversely, there is no chance that the Cubs — even the Cubs — will lose 100-plus games. Consider this list a sensible results spectrum for each team. “Sensible results spectrum” just doesn’t sound catchy as a title.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Best Case: All that action in December pays off as Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller head a staff with a good amount of complementary talent. Patrick Corbin more closely resembles his 2013 form. The offense remains potent, and 36-year-old Brad Ziegler follows up a solid 2015 by continuing to make hitters pound the ball into the dirt. A division crown is very possible, and a trip to the NLCS isn’t out of the question.

Worst Case: This is basically a repeat of the 2015 Padres: Winning the offseason doesn’t promise success over the summer. Miller has an understandable regression, turning the rotation into Greinke followed by a bunch of guys. The offense will still be productive, but the likes of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas don’t do enough to support Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Who knows if this will all mesh? If it doesn’t, third place is where they will land

Atlanta Braves

Best Case: For some teams, winning right now isn’t really what’s best for the club. The Braves are one such team. What’s best for them is seeing some of their young players (Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, etc.) provide hope for the future, a healthy Freddie Freeman, and a lot of losses so they can maximize their draft pool and couple Dansby Swanson with another No. 1 overall pick.

Worst Case: Freeman battles more injuries. Atlanta’s green pitchers get thoroughly battered around the league. Coming out to Turner Field only serves to remind fans how the Braves are technically deserting Atlanta and a relatively young ballpark to get their hands on some more sweet, sweet public money where a lot of rich white folks live. No hope.

Baltimore Orioles

Best Case: Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Weiters, J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez. This team should lead the sport in home runs, so that’s cool. If the starting rotation can be league average collectively, the O’s can slide their way into a Wild Card spot.

Worst Case: The starting rotation is as much of a tire fire as many expect. That unit lost Wei-Yin Chen and basically replaced him with a Yovani Gallardo who is becoming more hittable. Weiters still can’t shake the injury bug. In the game’s deepest division and bereft of an arm they can depend on to stop a losing streak when the strikeout-happy bats are slumping, Baltimore could find itself in last place comfortably

Boston Red Sox

Best Case: What was supposed to be in 2015 comes to fruition in 2016. All of the vets are able to stay healthy. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez endear themselves to Red Sox Nation. David Ortiz gets one more shot at October magic. The duo of David Price and Clay Buchholz dominate, and the back end of the bullpen with Craig Kimbrel is no longer a point of great consternation for the Sawx. This squad has World Series potential

Worst Case: Another huge letdown. Price remains great, but the rotation otherwise is a mess. Buchholz hardly makes it past 100 innings again. Carson Smith’s elbow injury subtracts a critical late-inning weapon. First base becomes Ramirez’s latest comical defensive venture. With Sandoval, people talk more about his fat than his bat. Father Time continues to wear on Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Fourth place and another finish behind the Yankees.

Chicago Cubs

Best Case: Every Cubs fan knows what the best-case scenario is for 2016 and none of them want to talk about it, fearing a jinx. The lineup is packed with dangerous hitters. The rotation has a superb top three in Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey. The bullpen looks good enough with Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and the versatile Adam Warren. So long, Billy Goat Curse.

Worst Case: This team seems like a lock for the playoffs more than any other in MLB. Maybe the young hitters can’t handle the pressure of expectation. Maybe Jason Heyward spends the whole season pressing to prove he is worth $184 million. Maybe some incredibly bad and surprising injury luck strikes the Cubs. Maybe the back end of the rotation comes up short. That’s a lot of “ifs,” none of which show any signs of actually occurring. It’s not insane to think that if the Cardinals and Pirates are both really, really good, the Cubbies could end up in third. But I have a hard time wrapping my head around that.

Chicago White Sox

Best Case: Todd Frazier is exactly what the doc (or the Hawk) ordered, delivering some much-needed pop around Jose Abreu. Adam Eaton carries over his hot second half from 2015, and … hey … is that Avisail Garcia actually looking like he belongs in the majors? My stars!  On the mound, Carlos Rodon has a true breakout campaign, and the bullpen solves its problem with holding leads. If that happens and a little bit more, second place is attainable.

Worst Case: Frazier can only do so much, and outside of him and Abreu, where’s the rest of the offense coming from? The rest of the lineup doesn’t get on base enough, and Eaton falls back toward the mean after putting up a .412 BAbip in the second half of last year. Who is going to fill the shoes team leader Drake LaRoche?? The White Sox’s rotation makes no progress, leaving Chris Sale and Jose Quintana as their only steady starters. Last place. Dadgummit! 

Cincinnati Reds

Best Case: The Reds find a buyer for Jay Bruce. Their fans enjoy a full season from Devin Mesoraco and the artistry that is Joey Votto in the batter’s box. Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani pick up the whiffs in bulk. The future arrives in Robert Stephenson and Jesse Winker, with encouraging returns. Positive signs during a rebuild. And many bowls of Skyline Chili.

Worst Case: Votto continues to get criticized for his patience at the plate. Stephenson stays in the minors because he still doesn’t have much of an idea where his pitchers are going. Bryan Price’s F-words to the media outnumber the team’s number of victories. Tumult.

Cleveland Indians

Best Case: Following offseason surgery, Michael Brantley returns shortly after Opening Day to lead a one of the best and most balanced offenses in the American League. They provide enough support for the game’s most powerful starting rotation. Carlos Carrasco finishes within the top five of the Cy Young voting, and Trevor Bauer finds a way to walk fewer than 3.5 men per nine. A Central division title.

Worst Case: The pitching staff remains solid overall, but the back half crumbles as Bauer looks more like a lost cause. Brantley’s shoulder remains a nuisance all season. The offense stumbles because it can’t pick up the slack without him, leading fans to question why their team didn’t do more to upgrade the lineup beyond bringing in Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Juan Uribe and Marlon Byrd. Buried deep in third place.

Colorado Rockies

Best Case: Nolan Arenado. They have that. He’s worth the price of admission. And for now, they still have Carlos Gonzalez’s awesome swing. Jon Gray’s development should come along smoothly if his current ab strain doesn’t linger. Yeah, they are going to finish last in the West, but it’s not all bad. Trading Gonzalez would further deepen a top-10 farm system.

Worst Case: Any major injury to Arenado. The pitching staff in general. Jose Reyes. Knowing that the Rockies have a higher payroll than the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Astros. Clinical depression.

Detroit Tigers

Best Case: Health permitting, this is a daunting team on paper. The top half of the lineup still looks studly. A power surge Nick Castellanos would make an already deep offense even more so. The triumvirate of Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez is rock steady when they are on. Plus, the rebuilt bullpen will undoubtedly reduce Tiger Fan’s heartburn in the late innings. Back in first.

Worst Case: Of course, health doesn’t always permit. Sanchez and Victor Martinez, both of whom have spent plenty of time with trainers in recent seasons, have dealt with nagging ailments this spring. Verlander is also an injury risk. Without him and Sanchez, that rotation falls apart quickly, and the Tigers are suddenly reliving 2015. Maybe 2016 won’t be as bad, but it won’t be good. Fourth place.

Houston Astros

Best Case: The offense with the second-highest OPS last season returns almost entirely intact, especially once Evan Gattis returns from February hernia surgery. There’s room for improvement as Carlos Correa and George Springer mature, and the ‘Stros get a full season of Carlos Gomez. The pitching staff from front to back is extremely deep. This team can reach a World Series if the youngsters don’t wilt and if Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers carry over their success from 2015’s second half. This team has youth, depth, talent and a taste of playoff experience on its side.

Worst Case: Following a 60-inning jump in workload from 2014 to 2015, Lance McCullers, who is already on the mend, seems destined for a long-term injury. The starting rotation could be rather middling behind Dallas Keuchel, and Ken Giles is not yet a top-tier closer. But barring a rash of DL stints, it’s difficult to envision Houston being worse than third in the West.

Kansas City Royals

Best Case: Repeat? Well, sure. It could happen. This is largely the same team that won it all. Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist are gone, but the Royals didn’t need them to romp all over the AL Central last year. The bullpen, sans Greg Holland, still looks very fearsome. Yordano Ventura has plenty of ace qualities, and after many of us looked like fools for calling the Royals’ 2014 success a fluke, why should we doubt them again?  

Worst Case: The Royals’ offense finally suffers with Alcides Escobar at the top. Ventura continues mixing and matching great starts with head-scratching ones, and the rotation behind him is entirely average. That group could get hurt badly by the strong offenses in the AL Central. Third place, which is now a huge disappointment for the Royals. How quickly the times change.

Los Angeles Angels

Best Case: With Mike Trout, all things seem possible. Albert Pujols stays healthy and pulls another .280-30-100 out of his hat. Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney keep the pitching staff afloat. Kole Calhoun … is pretty good. Sigh. The fans want a playoff experience, especially with the cost of this team, but a season where the Angels just stay in the hunt for a full six months may be as much as they can ask for.

Worst Case: This could be the worst team in the American League. Pujols’ feet remain a big problem. Past he and Trout, who scares you in this lineup if you’re an opposing pitcher? God forbid something bad happening to Trout. Jered Weaver is morphing quickly into a batting practice pitcher and practically wishing for neck surgery. If Richards doesn’t recapture his 2014 form, the staff will be left without a truly dependable starter. A $162 million payroll for last place? It’s possible. 

Los Angeles Dodgers

Best Case: The core of this lineup — Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig — could be so formidable. The Dodgers won’t beat your brains in, but they don’t have to. They just have to score enough with their balanced offense to support Clayton Kershaw and Co. Even without a second ace, this staff has myriad quality arms it can throw at you, especially once Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu recover and once Kenta Maeda acclimates to this level. Plus, the Dodgers could always call upon their loaded farm system for reinforcements. World Series or bust.

Worst Case: With Brett Anderson and Mike Bolsinger already ailing, the Dodgers will rue letting Greinke slip away. Scott Kazmir is fighting velocity issues, and McCarthy and Ryu may not be totally right until 2017. Suddenly, that depth the Dodgers are counting on evaporates in a hurry. The offense loses its most dynamic threat as Puig gets injured again. Justin Turner experiences a significant decline following his magical ’14 and ’15 campaigns. Joc Pederson continues to be more swinger than hitter. In the non-hypothetical world, L.A. will be without Andre Either into June at the earliest, and Howie Kendrick may start the year on the disabled list. With the Diamondbacks’ and Giants’ improvements on paper, the Dodgers could have quite a battle to reach the playoffs and come up short.

Miami Marlins

Best Case: Fun. Dee Gordon creating havoc on the basepaths. Giancarlo Stanton obliterating pitches. Jose Fernandez’s starts are must-see TV. Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are entertaining youngsters with upside. And Miami may be witness to Ichiro Suzuki’s 3,000th MLB hit this season. The Marlins probably aren’t good enough to make the playoffs in the top-heavy National League, but there are quite a few reasons why they will be fun to watch all year.

Worst Case: At least the Marlins know they won’t finish lower than third in the NL East. Stanton has already been bugged by knee pain this month. If he and Fernandez aren’t able to do their jobs consistently, Miami is doomed to another sub-.500 season, even with a bunch of wins over the division’s bottom feeders. This franchise doesn’t have a single top-100 prospect. The loss of Carter Capps is a real bummer for the bullpen. Gordon’s average will probably take a sizable dip, and the back of the rotation remains a bumpy ride. On those bad nights, hopefully the Miami fans can enjoy their still-fresh stadium without letting the obvious get to them.

Milwaukee Brewers

Best Case: Full seasons from Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy — at least until one or both are traded to assist the rebuild. The starting rotation lacks a star but has a decent amount of upside. The sooner Orlando Arcia arrives, the better. It’s gonna be a bad year for the Brew Crew as they continue their rebuild, but at least their fans — and those tuning in via MLB.com’s Gameday Audio — get to listen to Bob Uecker

Worst Case: If anything happens to Braun or if Arcia’s development plateaus, this becomes the most uninteresting team in baseball. Straight boredom.

Minnesota Twins

Best Case: Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano are legitimate stars. Then include Byron Buxton, Byung-ho Park, Max Kepler and Jose Berrios. They will all be playing together very soon. Imagine if the kids hit their ceilings. It may not come together completely in 2016 — another second-place finish with no playoffs is the sunny outlook — but the thought should leave Twins supporters drooling. The future is bright.

Worst Case: The season is headlined by the continued decline of Joe Mauer, which is tough to watch considering what he used to be. There are real concerns about how Park will hit here, not just hit for power. When will the switch actually flip for Buxton? Regardless of the offense, the starting rotation isn’t nearly good enough to keep this team out of a bunch of slugfests. Last place.

New York Mets

Best Case: The starting rotation leaves nothing but scorched earth — and sawed-off bats — in its wake. But this team can also win its share of high-scoring showdowns. Neil Walker is a very suitable replacement for Daniel Murphy. With a complete season of Yoenis Cespedes and some natural progression from Michael Conforto, these Metropolitans should sport a better offense than its pennant-winning predecessor. Party like it’s 1986

Worst Case: Pitching health is always fleeting. Following a big jump in innings, the Mets need to be very careful with Noah Syndergaard. If one of the Big Three suffers a major injury, Bartolo Colon finally pitches like a 43-year-old and Steven Matz isn’t quite as good as he showed in his brief 2015 stint, the Mets’ greatest strength looks much less intimidating. The middle of the order is greatly affected as Cespedes settles back into being a 100-110 OPS+ player with a .300 OBP. David Wright’s back can’t make it through 100 games, and the best of Lucas Duda has already come and gone. Fighting off the Fish for second place.

New York Yankees

Best Case: What injury concerns? Mark Teixeira will be fine. Jacoby Ellsbury will be fine. Masahiro Tanaka will be fine. Starlin Castro provides the huge upgrade the Yanks needed at second base. Alex Rodriguez continues being a marvel. When the olds need time off, the likes of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez bring some youthful punch. But most of all, the division’s deepest starting rotation and the league’s best bullpen carry this team to an AL East title

Worst Case: Chronos comes calling. The Yankees’ lineup has a lot of talent, but almost every regular has some sort of red flag related to age or injury matters. It could all come together in some awful kind of perfect storm. Dellin Bentances and Andrew Miller feel the effects of being way overused last year. There is no team in this division that has a greater number of ultimate possibilities. In this scenario, it’s easy to see them finishing in the cellar for the first time in the Wild Card era. The good news: the Yankees’ brass can be assured that none of those pesky commoners will soil their premium seating locations, because no one will want to pay to watch this product.

Oakland Athletics

Best Case: You know about Sonny Gray’s greatness, but Jesse Hahn can be a stellar starter if he avoids further arm injuries (Update: Hahn was sent down to Triple-A a few hours after this post was published. The good news is he’s supposedly healthy. He just had an absolutely wretched spring. Ahem …).  Henderson Alvarez could return in May or June from shoulder surgery, and Rich Hill was one of the best pitchers in the game last September. Perhaps he can keep it up in his age-36 season. Nothing jumps out at you in the lineup, but if you look hard enough, you’ll see an exciting leadoff hitter (Billy Burns), a good dose of power (Khris Davis, Josh Reddick) and a possible standout player at shortstop (Marcus Semien). Leapfrogging the Angels would bring a smile to some faces.

Worst Case: That rotation behind Gray has the potential to be as ugly as the Oakland Coliseum’s plumbing situation. Alas, if only a better fate had befallen A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker. Stephen Vogt’s second-half collapse leaks into 2016 as he loses at bats to the A’s wide crop of DHs. Simply, this team is just bad and without a great outlook down the road. Dangerously close to 100 losses.

Philadelphia Phillies

Best Case: First with a bullet: Maikel Bleepin’ Franco. OK? 

Cesar Hernandez, Peter Bourjos and Odubel Herrera will be distracting on the basepaths. Also, let’s see what happens with J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and all of those Phillies prospects who should be in The Show this year. Phillie Fan should love to see those dudes play well while still winning the race to the bottom of the league — and to the top of the draft.

Worst Case: What is the worst-case scenario for the worst team in baseball? 0-162? City-wide food poisoning caused by cheesesteaks? The Phanatic’s retirement? Yeah, it would probably be the Phanatic’s retirement. After nearly 40 seasons, he/it abruptly decides to spend more time with his/its phamily.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Best Case: Anything that gets them out of the Wild Card game. There’s no need to worry about the back half of this rotation because pitching coach Ray Searage will sprinkle his magic dust on them and turn those pumpkins into rotation horses. The starters are followed by a bullpen that experiences no slump after an outstanding 2015. Once Jung-ho Kang comes back in early May, there are very few breathers for opposing pitchers facing this lineup. The outfield is packed with star talent, and John Jaso is a perfect fit leading off. If the starters behind Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano hold up, this is one of the most complete teams in baseball, capable of winning the NL Central and forging a deep postseason run.

Worst Case: The rotation turns into Liriano and Cole, then a black (and yellow) hole. Even worse, prospects Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon aren’t yet ready to pick up the slack. Mark Melancon and Tony Watson have some hiccups after ranking second and third, respectively, in appearances last season. The lineup should produce well, but we find ourselves still waiting for Gregory Polanco to live up to expectations. Without consistent success on the mound, the Pirates might be out of the division race by the end of August and losing their grip on a Wild Card berth.

San Diego Padres

Best Case: Tyson Ross, James Shields and Andrew Cashner still have the ability to be a nasty trio. Perhaps this is the year Wil Myers makes it through more than 90 games as he forms a nice duo with Matt Kemp. Alexei Ramirez presents an upgrade at shortstop, and Yangervis Solarte and Derek Norris do damage too. This team probably doesn’t have enough talent to challenge this division’s top three teams, but if everyone stays healthy, the Padres can be a very problematic spoiler down the stretch. Or if everyone stays healthy, the Padres can sell everyone off at the break and begin a needed rebuild. On a brighter note, they’ll host a beautiful All-Star Game. And no matter what, they will be better than the Rockies. 

Worst Case: Myers takes more at bats in rehab games than in actual MLB games, and the Pads continue to regret dealing away Trea Turner to acquire the former Rookie of the Year. Shields declines even further in his age-34 season, and Cashner’s numbers keep on not matching his stuff. Does anyone realize that Fernando Rodney (!!!!) is slated to be San Diego’s closer? Hello? Great googly moogly. The All-Star Game gets rained out.

San Francisco Giants

Best Case: Where are the Giants in the “best rotation” conversation? If they get 2014 Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, they could be at the top of the heap. They would have three aces, a steady No. 4 in Jake Peavy and then a couple of options at the back with Chris Heston and hopefully Matt Cain. Offensively, when you’ve got Brandon Belt possibly batting seventh, you know your lineup is deep. Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Hunter Strickland can shut the door once those starters get past the sixth. The Giants can win another World Series. It has everything to do with talent in all phases of the game and nothing to do with any even-year, odd-year superstitions.

Worst Case: The Giants will have issues if Cueto and Samardzija are no better than they were with their American League clubs last year. You can’t expect anything out of Cain. Belt, Denard Span and Hunter Pence may not be able to stay healthy. You can yank the heart out of this team if anything happens to Buster Posey. The NL West is going to have a fierce, season-long fight for the crown. If poor health and some disappointing mound work get in the way, San Fran will find itself at the bottom of that three-team pile.

Seattle Mariners

Best Case: Felix Hernandez is still an ace, and Taijuan Walker can be one. Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Seth Smith and Adam Lind bring a lot of power and on-base potential to the middle of the order. Yeah, Cano is 33 years old, but he was one of the game’s best hitters in the second half of last season and should have at least a couple of high-quality years left in the tank. Ketel Marte, Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin give Seattle the speed it didn’t have in 2015. If the pitchers behind Felix step up, the M’s will push for a Wild Card

Worst Case: In the past 30 years, only two pitchers have logged at least 190 innings in 11 consecutive seasons: Greg Maddux and Mark Buehrle. Hernandez is aiming to join them this year. It’s a remarkable feat, but it’s fair to wonder: Is a breakdown coming at some point? This is a rotation that includes the ever-so-average Wade Miley plus Hisashi Iwakuma, who is already surrounded by worries following an injury-shortened season and a failed physical that shot down an offseason trade to the Dodgers. Without Felix at full strength, this staff is below average. The bullpen has been reconstructed, but it’s still nothing to write home about. Cano and Cruz (36 in July) slump more often as they age. Fourth place again.

St. Louis Cardinals

Best Case: After missing most of last year due to an Achilles tear, Adam Wainwright is still a top-notch workhorse and complemented by two studs who are under the age of 25 in Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez. When Mike Leake is your fourth starter, you’re looking swell. Just when you think this team is starting to get long in the tooth, Kolten Wong, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham will rectify whatever ails the offense. Matt Carpenter remains one of MLB’s top leadoff men, and there is still life in Matt Holliday’s bat. Even in a division with two other World Series contenders, the Cardinal Way reigns at the top once again.

Worst Case: Try as they might, St. Louis can’t find a satisfactory three-month replacement for Jhonny Peralta. Moreover, Jason Heyward leaves a void in the outfield that the kids aren’t quite ready to fill. Holliday and Yadier Molina miss significant time due to injuries.  The Cardinals have done such a terrific job of adapting when things go wrong, it’s tough to imagine a realistic worst-case scenario that ends without a playoff appearance. They haven’t missed the postseason since 2010. Remember, the Cardinals won a world championship in 2011 without Wainwright entirely and won 100 games last season when he made four starts. However, the National League has at least seven other really strong teams (at least on paper). If the Cardinals aren’t able to adjust following adversity once again, they will find themselves home for October, because a bunch of teams have the personnel to be as good or better than them.

Tampa Bay Rays

Best Case: The starting rotation lives up to its billing, and that means healthy, productive seasons from Drew Smyly and Matt Moore. Alex Cobb returns shortly after the break to give this staff another above-average arm. Corey Dickerson provides Evan Longoria the lineup protection he so desperately needs, and the Rays are able to move back into the middle of the pack in runs scored. That could be enough for Chris Archer and Co. to grab a division title.

Worst Case: Dickerson proves to be a product of Coors Field, and acquiring him for Jake McGee (along with Brad Boxberger’s core muscle surgery) deals a massive blow to the bullpen. The pitching staff behind Archer can’t stay on the field. Same goes for the perpetually ailing Desmond Jennings. The offense, even with the additions of Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce, isn’t markedly better. For the third straight year, Longoria’s stats at the plate resemble those of a mid-tier third baseman. Another long year at the Trop.

Texas Rangers

Best Case: The Rangers can mash, but the offense turns it up another notch with Ian Desmond playing with a chip on his shoulder and a full season in the majors for Rougned Odor. Cole Hamels will do what he does, but as Derek Holland rediscovers his 2013-14 form and Yu Darvish is his unhittable self once he returns from Tommy John surgery in May, the Rangers book a trip to the World Series. Not to mention, the bullpen here is deep and filthy.

Worst Case: Desmond endures a 2015 repeat. As with many TJ patients, it takes a full two years for Darvish to get back to where he was. The rest of the rotation outside of Hamels is extremely rocky. If those other guys — Holland, Colby Lewis, Martin Perez — don’t improve from last year, this edition of the Rangers will look a lot like the previous ones that were too dependent on offense for victories. Fourth place.

Toronto Blue Jays

Best Case: The game’s best offense by far returns mostly intact, and now it gets a whole season from Troy Tulowitzki. Chris Colabello is able to replicate his storybook 2015. Devon Travis gets healthy and picks up where he left off last year. The sting of losing David Price is mitigated when Marcus Stroman elevates his game to become a true frontline starter. The rotation is better than expected, especially as J.A. Happ carries over his success in Pittsburgh. Any missteps by the starters can be covered by yet another great AL East bullpen, with Drew Storen, Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil and long man Jesse Chavez. This is easily the best team in the American League.

Worst Case: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but injuries could halt any championship aspirations this team has. Tulowitzki will probably miss at least 20-30 more games; that’s what he does. Edwin Encarnacion’s preseason oblique injury hinders him throughout. The Jays’ staff really can’t come close to replacing Price’s impact, and opponents feast on R.A. Dickey, Aaron Sanchez and the back end of that rotation. Toronto’s bats will keep the team entertaining, but the lack of dependable pitching past Stroman drops them to third place.

Washington Nationals

Best Case: Another MVP year from Bryce Harper, but the real keys are getting rebound seasons from Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Tanner Roark. Shortstop looks like a weak spot, but Trea Turner is on call. The top three in the rotation can still be fantastic without question, but it would be a big, big help if Roark pitches like he did in 2014. They won’t win 100 games, but the Nats still have enough to run away with the NL East and get to a World Series

Worst Case: Those aforementioned bounce-back candidates fall flat. Ryan Zimmerman’s body continues to betray him. Speaking of which, it wouldn’t shock anyone to see Stephen Strasburg go through another DL stint or three. Basically, this team turns into Harper, Scherzer, a few bona fide good players who deal with injuries and a host of so-so players. To top it off, we get Papelbon vs. Harper, Round 2. Sweep the leg! Dusty Baker wonders why he didn’t just stay home.

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