Phil Rogers

Which teams will return to postseason?

Which teams will return to postseason?

Spring Training complexes are already humming. Conversations continue between teams and the remaining free agents, but it's time to start the journey toward October.

One of the great things about baseball is that it's so unpredictable. Our insight is sure to grow in hindsight. It always does. But you don't want to wait to know what's going to happen in 2016, do you?

Let's look at the 10 teams that played in the postseason last season and their chances to return. Which ones of them have the best shot? Which ones need things to fall their way?

Organizational talent matters the most. But location counts too.

All 15 American League teams view themselves as legitimate contenders. That list is shorter in the National League, which means that teams like the Mets and Cubs will have a little more wiggle room than their counterparts in the AL, with only the Royals and maybe the Astros in strong positions.

Here's my ranking of the 2015 playoff teams, listed by the likelihood of their playing postseason games this season, along with the players that will be the barometers of success. Call it the confidence index:

1. Mets
They'll roll if:
Lefty Steven Matz stays healthy for a full season, adding another piece to baseball's best rotation. Hitters already hate facing the Mets' staff, and the emergence of Matz, along with the return of Zack Wheeler, should make them even tougher.

Matz on 2016 pitching staff

They'll struggle if: Yoenis Cespedes regresses back to his form in 2013 and '14, when he hit .251 with a .744 OPS and a 21.7 percent strikeout rate. He's the key to a lineup that looks improved up the middle with Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop and Neil Walker at second.

2. Cubs
They'll roll if:
Kris Bryant follows up his NL Rookie of the Year Award-winning season by joining Anthony Rizzo in the NL MVP Award discussion. With Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist (both .359 on-base guys last season) hitting in front of them, Rizzo and Bryant could drive in 120-plus runs apiece.

Outlook: Bryant, 3B, CHC

They'll struggle if: NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta doesn't hold up after throwing 248 2/3 innings innings in 36 starts last year. Joe Maddon shouldn't lean on him as heavily with John Lackey now working alongside Arrieta and Jon Lester.

3. Royals
They'll roll if:
Joakim Soria slots smoothly into the power bullpen headed by Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera.

Flanagan on Kennedy to Royals

They'll struggle if: Ian Kennedy can't handle his return to the AL. Kennedy started his career with the Yankees, but he has spent the past six seasons working in the NL West, which is easy on pitchers. Kennedy shouldn't feel too much pressure as he slots into the middle of the rotation fronted by Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez.

4. Astros
They'll roll if:
Closer Ken Giles (1.56 ERA in 113 games for the Phillies) makes a smooth transition from the fringes of the NL to the heat of an AL race. With Luke Gregerson moving back to the seventh or eighth inning, the Astros could have a dynamite bullpen. Right-hander Will Harris, a revelation last season, is another key guy.

Outlook: Giles, RP, HOU

They'll struggle if: AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel suffers from his workload of 246 innings last year. His body and his style of pitching suggest he'll be fine but, like Arrieta, he pushed himself harder than ever a year ago.

5. Pirates
They'll roll if:
Third baseman Jung Ho Kang recovers from his broken leg and joins Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte as a consistent run producer. Kang came to Pittsburgh after compiling an .886 OPS in nine years in South Korea. He made that translate to an .816 OPS as a rookie while moving around the infield.

Kang exits with fractured leg

They'll struggle if: Elite prospects Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon don't contribute to a rotation that is thin behind Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. Neither is expected to receive serious consideration in Spring Training, but they would be welcomed in June, when the Pirates face a 20-game test against the Mets, Cards, Cubs, Giants and Dodgers.

6. Cardinals
They'll roll if:
Randal Grichuk can be in the top five in the NL in RBIs. He ranked fifth in the Major Leagues last year in average exit velocity (94.5 mph), behind only Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Sano and Greg Bird, but he seemed beat up for much of the year, playing only 103 games. With Heyward joining the Cubs and Yadier Molina showing his age, the Cards are counting heavily on getting a lift from Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty.

Outlook: Grichuk, OF, STL

They'll struggle if: Carlos Martinez can't bounce back from his September shoulder strain to be a major presence in a rotation that will be missing Lance Lynn and Lackey. Adam Wainwright's health and Mike Leake's impact are also keys.

7. Blue Jays
They'll roll if:
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki shows why it was such a big deal when the Rockies traded him last summer. He hit .239 with a .697 OPS in 41 games for the Blue Jays, who reached the AL Championship Series on the strength of the lineup featuring AL MVP Award winner Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin. The Jays scored 127 runs more than any other AL team last year and could improve their average of 5.5 runs.

Is Tulo the best leadoff option?

They'll struggle if: Marcus Stroman is inconsistent. He's a talented, confident 24-year-old who looks like an ace. He's being counted on more heavily than any other pitcher yet to work a full season.

8. Rangers
They'll roll if:
Yu Darvish looks like himself when he returns from Tommy John surgery. The addition of Cole Hamels lessens the burden on Darvish, but it teases fans with the thought of having two top starters in a rotation that had a 4.32 ERA last season, 11th in the AL.

Outlook: Darvish, SP, TEX

They'll struggle if: Adrian Beltre regresses significantly in his age-36 season. His OPS has dropped three years in a row (.788 last season), but he offers value with his textbook fielding and unselfish approach. Teammates Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Hamilton and Mitch Moreland will all play at age-30 or beyond, so organizational depth could be tested.

9. Dodgers
They'll roll if:
Yasiel Puig connects with manager Dave Roberts and puts his nightmare 2015 season behind him. Puig flashed NL MVP Award potential when he arrived from Cuba, but he has become a polarizing figure around the organization. The talent's there, so don't be surprised if he reminds us what all the fuss is about.

Roberts on meeting Puig

They'll struggle if: Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda don't pitch well enough in April and May to ease concerns about the loss of free agent Zack Greinke. Clayton Kershaw is the only truly known commodity in a fascinating rotation mix that includes Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is working his way back from shoulder surgery last May, and 19-year-old lefty Julio Urias.

10. Yankees
They'll roll if:
Jacoby Ellsbury enters a time machine that takes him back to 2011, when he had the huge season that prompted the Yankees to commit $153 million to take him away from the Red Sox. Ellsbury, who had a .663 OPS in only 111 games last year, epitomizes the fragile nature of the lineup. Joe Girardi started Chris Young over Ellsbury in the AL Wild Card Game a year ago. Was that a wakeup call?

Outlook: Ellsbury, CF, NYY

They'll struggle if: Aroldis Chapman can't handle the potential distractions from such a high-visibility relocation in his walk year, not to mention a possible suspension and the ancillary downside of his domestic violence incident last fall. The Yankees could overshadow even the Royals' bullpen with their combination of Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, which would make life easier on a boom or bust rotation, but Chapman leaves Cincinnati as an X-factor, not a given. Otherwise he'd be with the Dodgers, not the Yanks.

Forget the Royals. If you like power arms in the bullpen, this is your team. Chapman joins Miller and Betances in a bullpen mix that should put away leads after the sixth inning. Girardi is guaranteed to be aggressive with the young relievers who work in front of the Big Three, lessening the load on Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia and Luis Severino. Starlin Castro improves a lineup that badly needs Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez to stay healthy.

The Blue Jays, improved Red Sox and ambitious teams throughout the AL serve notice that nothing's going to come easy for the Yankees. Just the way it's supposed to be.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.