Will make it because: They will re-sign Jordan Halverson, Lane Traver is coming off his best career season and Aaron Adams will have a nice bounce back season -- meaning this already offensive abundant team in JAL 17 will be even better in JAL 18. Defensively, the Waves no longer have Adam Clark as their ace pitcher, but that will actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise because it will force owner Anthony Nusbaum to bring in somebody new that could potentially be better than Clark anyway. Yes Clark was good pitcher for this team for several seasons and lead them to the NC Finals as such twice, but let's face it, he got smoked both times he got there and was likely never quite good enough to win the Waves a title.
Won't make it because: Anthony Nusbaum will stubbornly insist that JAL 18 is Lane Traver's chance to finally be given the keys to the car and be named an ace pitcher for the first time in his career. Traver proved in JAl 17 he's capable of picking up some wins and generally keeping games vs playoff caliber teams competitive, but he's simply not a #1-level arm. Jordan Halverson will also take advantage of his unexpectedly successful JAL 17 and use it either sign with a championship level team or someone who offers to pay him a lot more money than the Waves are willing.
Will make it because: Scott Coleman is legit good enough to take a team full of anybody and make them good. We saw him do this in JAL 15 and 16 with the Wrecking Crew and we'll see him do it again in JAL 18, only lucky for him, this team is better than those Wrecking Crew teams he used to carry. Ethan Erickson is a vastly underrated batter and James Manthe and Cody Gibson are quality "glue guys" that are also very hungry for a playoff trip. The pride of trying to be "the group" that leads this franchise to it's first ever playoff appearance will be a motivating factor no other team will have.
Won't make it because: The American Conference is loaded! Even if the Sasquatches finish 5-3, that might not be good enough. It hasn't been the last two seasons. The Sasquatches also have no stock money to play with this offseason and have next to nothing in the bank currently. How the roster looks right now (baring unforeseen trades or something) is pretty much how it's going to look Opening Day. It's a good roster, but not a great one. In the AC, you have to be darn-near great.
Will make it because: After the Stock Check Lottery the Storm could very well have more money than anyone else and if they play their cards right with it, they could land restricted free agent Josh Burckhardt. Keith Bunn isn't a great pitcher, but he got better as the JAL 17 season wore on. In JAL 18 he could be solid enough to get a good offensive team into the postseason, but better yet, the Storm's supposed best player, Eric Keele (who was on the Storm's roster their last 2 games this season, but didn't play) actually suits up and becomes the next big thing that he's been talked up to be by new-comer player Nate Bullock (who same as Keele, was on the Storm's roster their last 2 games this season, but didn't play). In short, the Storm will be good because either 1) they land All-Star Josh Burckhardt or 2) the players they already have who are supposed to be good finally suit up and prove it.
Won't make it because: Neither of the above scenarios occurs and the Storm are left SOL. In their failings to sign Josh Burckhardt the Storm will turn around and use a bunch of their fat stack of stock money on a multi-season deal with Nick Proudfit (they plan to re-sign him anyway, only now they'll give him much more money because Proudfit will have the leverage of knowing they whiffed on Burckhardt and desperately need him back). If not Proudfit, they'll spend it on somebody or multiple somebodies like him. They'll do this because they'll figure if they at least spend money something good might happen, only it won't because now the Storm will have not quite enough stock money in the bank anymore to use in a mid-season trade --- like the Sasquatches did to get Coleman in JAL 17. Thus the Storm will start JAL 18 a crappy team and end it a crappy team as well.
Will make it because: If not the Storm, the Bison will steal Josh Burckhardt from the Express in free agency and go from arguably the best offensive team in the league to the undisputed best offensive team in the league. Zachary Warren is not a dominate pitcher and Burckhardt has made clear his intentions to pitch, so a mix of the two could also make for a more effective defense than the team currently has in just Warren. Even without landing Burckhardt though, this team has a case for the playoffs in JAL 18. They went 4-4 this season and were one 3-0 loss to the Rapids away from making it. Warren and Liepa (two best players on team) were rookies and now have a full season of experience under their belt.
Won't make it because: Warren throws a slider virtually every pitch, which served him well in his rookie season, but unfortunately now everyone has seen it -- on tape and in person. His inability to effectively throw other pitches will lead to a higher ERA in JAL 18 (10.10 in JAL 17) and as we all know, a double digit ERA in JAL simply doesn't get it done. The Bison are at their best when the active players consist of Liepa, Kjose and Warren, but for some reason the Bison also feel the need to have 6 other players on the roster (who are all pretty much average to below average players). If there are games next season where more than just a couple of those extra 6 players are active it gives Kjose, Warren and especially Liepa less at bats -- and that's not a good recipe for success.
Will make it because: For the first time since JAL 12, this team and particularly Kyle Godinho are going to have something to prove. Missing the playoffs is never a good thing, but quite frankly the Express are probably going to be a better team for it in JAL 18 than they would have been otherwise. As general manager, Godinho will probably do everything he can to keep Josh Burckhardt (with or without having to use Bird Rights) and the same roster that was one pitch away from winning the title in JAL 16 and should have been contenders in JAL 17 will remain intact. Godinho, Deyo and Burckhardt is a title caliber team but it's not deep. With Coleman gone the Express will probably look to sign a new player that fits their needs better -- and when was the last time the Express signed someone bad? Never. They're pros at that.
Won't make it because: If Burckhardt does jump ship, the Express are going to be very scarce offensively. If he stays and Godinho lets him pitch some games (Godinho has been on record saying he'd let Burckhardt do this if he stays) JAL 18 could become a JAL 17 repeat -- as in, the team is still good, but not having Godinho, the GOAT, pitch all games comes back to bite them in the rear. Surely they won't make that mistake again though, right?
Will make it because: The Wrecking Crew will be under new ownership and almost certainly have a completely different roster from top to bottom in JAL 18. Whenever a new front office takes over a team they typically go about rebuilding the roster by signing mostly all brand new to the league, rookie players. When this happens the Wrecking Crew will probably strike gold, or at least something good in at least 1 of their new 4-5 players --- and hey, if that player happens to be another Trevor Goforth, well than the Wrecking Crew will be in great shape!
Won't make it because: If you look at JAL history, teams in total "start over" mode never fare too well in their first season (with the one exception of the JAL 12 Express). Look at the Bambinos, Rapids, and most recently the Lawmen. In each of their first seasons with a "new era" of players they weren't that good. In season 2 of that era though, they got really good. In all likelihood, that's what will happen with the Wrecking Crew, especially since they will have only a small amount of stock money to play with this offseason thanks to the team's former management which got the franchised stripped all $50 of stock money they had via a penalty. Even if the new owner wanted to go after veteran free agents, he/she won't have the cash.