Somehow, the 2016 World Series is already nearly six months in our rearview mirror. Baseball season is back, and people are wondering if we can have any story better than that of last year’s 108-year-drought-ending Chicago Cubs. The fear for many like myself is that we’re due to return to the old ways of big-money dominance by the likes of the Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals, and Dodgers. But that doesn’t mean 2017 will be devoid of heartwarming moments. Maybe the Seattle Mariners or Washington Nationals will make their first-ever World Series appearance. Or maybe the Miami Marlins will win a division title for the first time in franchise history. Whatever the case, let’s dive into some predictions:
American League East
The Red Sox have won the 2017 World Series… on paper, anyway. Will in translate to on-field success? Probably. But this division won’t be a runaway, either. The Yankees have had 24 straight winning seasons. The Orioles and Blue Jays still figure to hit over 200 home runs. And every year, defying conventional wisdom, the Rays give everyone else fits. But this appears to be Boston’s division to lose.
1. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox loaded up on free agents and traded for Chris Sale, but no one seems to be talking about the loss of David Ortiz. Will all of their young stars have dominant years once again? Will Rick Porcello win 22 games? Adding Sale is huge, but don’t expect quite the same magic up and down the lineup. The Red Sox were also lucky that they really had no key injuries last year, and lost three strong relievers in Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler, and Junichi Tazawa. However, a healthy return of Pablo Sandoval will go a long way.
2. New York Yankees
These aren’t the late-90’s Yankees, but this is a much better team than people realize. The rotation is rock-solid, and the dominant bullpen is almost back intact, minus Andrew Miller. Adding Matt Holliday will help add a veteran presence to the lineup, and the infusion of youth will pay off as early as this year, although more likely in 2018 and beyond. But the 2017 Yankees are a playoff-caliber team, which is a scary thought.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
The Edwin Encarnacion departure leaves a hole in the lineup, and it’s fair to wonder if the rotation can have the kind of year it did in 2016, especially young Aaron Sanchez. The Jays will compete, but they may have missed their chance with two straight ALCS losses.
4. Baltimore Orioles
It’s easy to annually discard the Orioles’ chances, because this team continues to find a way and has a strong lineup and bullpen. But Chris Tillman’s shoulder is cause for concern, as is the pen’s ability to have the kind of stellar year it did a year ago. But Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and Zach Britton make this team exciting to watch.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays could easily finish third, but this team, despite having plenty of young talent, is constantly changing while pinching every last penny. They’ll pitch well and play good defense, but it’s unlikely to net them more than 80 wins.
American League Central
1. Cleveland Indians
The Indians return their World Series roster intact, plus Encarnacion and, possibly, the healthy return of Michael Brantley. The bullpen will be stout with a full year of Miller Time, and Terry Francona’s bunch should play with a chip on their shoulder and a sense of unfinished business. If nothing else, the Tribe should win a second straight Central crown.
2. Detroit Tigers
You could argue that the Tigers’ core is aging and the window is closing, but this is still a talented team with one of the league’s best lineups. Justin Verlander appears to be back to his star form, but there are still major question marks with the bullpen. The team will need big years from the rest of the rotation (Zimmermann, Fulmer, etc.) and from closer Francisco Rodriguez.
3. Kansas City Royals
Speaking of windows shutting, is this it for the Royals? Perhaps. But many core players are still intact, and this team has a never-say-die attitude. The once-vaunted bullpen is thinner, with Kelvin Herrera to serve as the closer in the absence of Wade Davis. Expect the Royals to hang around all summer, but probably not until the end.
4. Minnesota Twins
Finishing out of the AL Central basement would be an accomplishment for the Twins. Byung Ho Park could have a nice year, though.
5. Chicago White Sox
Chicago already waived the white flag by trading Sale, so it will be a lean summer at Guaranteed Rate Field (yes, they seriously call it that now).
American League West
1. Houston Astros
This is a pretty open division, but the Astros look great on paper. They surprised everyone in 2015 but took a slight step back in 2016. Offseason additions of Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick, and Brian McCann give this team a strong chance to win its first division title in the Junior Circuit. If Dallas Keuchel bounces back to his Cy Young form of 2015, this team could contend for the pennant.
2. Seattle Mariners
Is this finally the year that baseball’s longest postseason drought ends? It’s been 16 years since Seattle joined the party, and the lineup has plenty of thunder in the middle. Can the pitching hold up? Can King Felix get back to his dominant ways? There are some question marks, but the balanced nature of the division gives fans in the Pacific Northwest hope.
3. Texas Rangers
The Rangers were very lucky in a 2016 in which they seemed to win all the close games. That figures to even out a little in 2017, even though the club still looks good on paper. But Adrian Beltre is banged up, and Cole Hamels isn’t quite the ace he used to be. Yu Darvish needs to have a big year.
4. Los Angeles Angels
This team spends a ton of money, and wins a handful of games. It doesn’t figure to get much better, even with the best player in baseball in Mike Trout providing highlight-reel plays throughout the year.
5. Oakland Athletics
The Athletics spend no money, and will probably also win just a handful of games. Look for Sonny Gray to bounce back, however.
Mariners and Yankees
WC – Yankees over Mariners
DS – Yankees over Indians, Red Sox over Astros
CS – Red Sox over Yankees
National League East
1. Miami Marlins
Don’t ask me why — seriously. The Marlins have never won a division title in their 24-year history, but is the rest of the division really that good? The Nationals still can’t win a playoff series. The Mets are good, but will their talented young arms all hold up? It will be very hard for the Marlins to replace the production of the late Jose Fernandez, let alone his presence, but the bullpen is much improved, and the lineup is strong and can be even stronger if Giancarlo Stanton can be himself. This is easily the biggest longshot of all my picks, but I need to change things up at least a little bit, don’t I?
2. New York Mets
The Mets keep finding a way. Despite some shortcomings in 2015, they won the pennant. Despite a roster decimated with big injuries in 2016, they earned a wild card berth. Terry Collins is the game’s most underrated manager. But will Matt Harvey be the Dark Knight again? How troubling is Steven Matz’s injury? Can the lineup score runs without hitting home runs? The Mets can easily win the division, but things need to go right.
3. Washington Nationals
It gets tougher and tougher to pick teams that continue to disappoint in the postseason. The Nationals are akin to the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL or the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA. Had the Nats landed Chris Sale, we might be looking at things differently. But the closer-less Nats are still paper champions until proven otherwise.
4. Philadelphia Phillies
It’s tempting to pick the Braves, but the Phillies are so under-the-radar that they may just squeak out of last place. They are still a couple years away, but a couple of promising young starters and hitters give a glimmer of hope.
5. Atlanta Braves
Bart-lanta won’t be competing for a title this year, but hats off to ol’ Bartolo. He just keeps on keepin’ on. Dansby Swanson should win Rookie of the Year, and the new ballpark should bring some bigger crowds out. Still, don’t count on the Braves to make up for the sins of the Falcons.
National League Central
1. St. Louis Cardinals
Because it seems too obvious to pick the Cubs, I’ll go with the pesky team that is always right there at the end. Dexter Fowler jumped ship to St. Louis, and Carlos Martinez will be a Cy Young contender. The team hit a boatload of home runs last year, but there are still a few question marks in the bullpen. But can the Cubs really be as dominant as last year?
2. Chicago Cubs
The answer is maybe. This team is still loaded and could easily prove me wrong and win the Central for a second straight year. But it will be hard to recapture the 103-win magic of 2016, and like the Red Sox, the Cubs were mostly very fortunate in terms of injuries. This is undoubtedly a playoff team, division title or not.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
Another “stunner,” I’ll take the Brewers to leapfrog the sinking Pirates. Milwaukee has some promising young stars, but figures to blow plenty of leads with a bad bullpen.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
I can’t help feeling like the penny-pinching Pirates missed their big window from 2013-2015, and now have fallen way back of the Cubs and even the Cardinals. The fact that they tried to trade Andrew McCutchen is a bad omen.
5. Cincinnati Reds
Scott Feldman is the Reds’ opening day starter. ‘Nuff said.
National League West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
No one will even care that much if the Dodgers win their fifth straight NL West crown unless they get to the Fall Classic. Is this the year? How much longer can they win division titles without much more? Thankfully, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, and Kenley Jansen will stick around for a while.
2. San Francisco Giants
Uh-oh, it’s an odd-numbered year. Will that trend continue? The Giants were baseball’s best team at the All-Star break last year, yet barely made the playoffs as the second wild card. The rotation is good, the lineup is solid, and the bullpen got better with the addition of Mark Melancon. The Giants may not win the division, but they should be a playoff team.
3. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies seem to be a sexy playoff pick, but alas, they’re the Rockies. They’ll hit, then hit some more, but won’t pitch enough. A winning season is plausible, but a playoff berth isn’t likely.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
It’s going to be a long uphill battle after an incredibly disappointing 2016 season in the desert. The D-Backs will be better than last year, but that isn’t saying much.
5. San Diego Padres
If the Padres don’t finish with the worst record in baseball, the now-only-one-sport city of San Diego should throw them a parade.
Cubs and Giants
WC – Cubs over Giants
DS – Dodgers over Cubs, Cardinals over Giants
CS – Dodgers over Cardinals
Defying conventional wisdom, I’ll take a perennial underachiever over a team that never seems to lose on the big stage. DODGERS over RED SOX, 4-2 (MVP: Corey Seager)