Did anybody catch up to the Cubs?
Sure the Red Sox seemed to improve on their 93-win season by adding one of the game’s best pitchers. And the Indians, a team that took the Cubbies to 7 games in the World Series, got two of their starting pitchers back from injury, and also their best player, Michael Brantley, back from shoulder surgery. And even the Mets and Nationals in the National League look ready to challenge the Cubs with their healthy pitching staffs. But to be honest, no team made a huge move to turn the tide away from the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs.
As a matter of fact, the thing that helps these teams more than any additions they made to their clubs, is the departures made by former Cubs. The Cubs will miss starting pitcher Jason Hammel, who left in free agency. The closer spot is no longer a strength with Aroldis Chapman leaving for New York. And although catcher Wilson Contreras is undoubtedly an upgrade offensively, David Ross’ pitch calling and locker room presence will be missed.
Still, Las Vegas has the Cubs as favorites to repeat as World Series champions, as they don’t see the defections as too large a problem for such a talented team. This writer however sees it a little differently, as he sees a team that was within a game of losing the World Series 3 times, and instead of getting better, the Cubs have regressed just enough for other teams to once again have a legitimate shot at knocking off the North-siders.
Can the Red Sox end the AL Central’s streak?
The American League Central has represented the AL in the World Series the past 3 years, and 3 different teams from the division have played in the Fall Classic the past 4 years. So who can stop this division’s grip on the American League?
The Astros seem to have the talent, but they did last year too and we saw how that played out. The Rangers could possibly put an end to the years of Central domination, but that’s only if Yu Darvish can stay healthy, which is a total guessing game at this point. That leaves the Red Sox as the best challenger for the AL Central.
Boston’s lineup is strong, and their starting pitching is even stronger. The question now becomes does John Farrell’s team have enough grit to compete with teams like the Royals, Tigers, and Indians, that have toughness as their #1 quality? That has yet to be seen with such a young team. But the problem definitely isn’t talent, as the Red Sox have more than any AL Central team can boast.
Will the Astros regroup?
In 2015 Houston surprised many on their way to an 86-win season, a win in the Wild Card Round of the American League playoffs, and a narrow series loss to the eventual world champion Royals. Last year they started off as the sexy pick to win the World Series by many “experts” (but not this one). That didn’t turn out so well for the Astros as they ended up finishing in 3rd place in the West and missed the postseason in a disappointing season.
The Astros gave up 83 more runs than they did the previous season, and their offense became a two man show with Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa putting the team on their back in hopes of making the playoffs.
Luckily for Houston they should be getting a better season from star pitcher and former Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel, who is finally healthy after dealing with injuries during 2016. A full season from starting pitcher Chris Devenski could be a big help as well.
However, the only way this season is considered a success for Houston is if the Astros are able to not only win their division but win a playoff series as well. Can they do that with a tough Texas team in their division. A lot of “experts” are once again picking them to do so, but this one isn’t sold just yet.
Is this the Nationals’ year?
The Nationals seem to be so close to really contending every year. They have the pitching staff, with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, and Gio Gonzalez all being All-Stars. Offensively the team is set, with a top-5 lineup loaded with young talent and proven players.
So then is this the year? That description sure makes it sound like it is. The key to the Nats’ success this year all comes down to one thing: health. The starting pitching, namely former #1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg has to stay off the disabled list and on the mound. If he can do that the Nationals can win.
Right now they have the lineup, and they certainly have the pitching to make a deep run into the playoffs. The question remains, can they get it done when it matters the most?
- Mike Trout –
The Angels outfielder is the best player in baseball, it’s as simple as that. The only person who could make an argument against that is Clayton Kershaw, and even then most people would take the Angels’ superstar. It would take something special for Trout to not win the MVP, and nobody is getting a triple crown to steal it away from him again.
- Jose Altuve –
Altuve has led the American League in hits the past 3 seasons, an impressive stat, as are his 5 straight seasons with at least 30 stolen bases. The reason it is going to be tough for Altuve to win the MVP this year, besides trying to unseat the best player in the world, is that the 26-year old shares the spotlight with teammate and fellow star infielder Carlos Correa.
- Manny Machado –
The Orioles’ star 3B has seen his HR numbers increase since his rookie year, and if Machado can improve on his 37 home runs in 2016 and maybe jump his average up another 6 points to get it to an even .300 we could be looking at a player who not only leads his team to the thick of the American League Wild Card race, but also the player who becomes the next AL MVP.
AL Cy Young
- Chris Sale
The newly acquired Red Sox hurler is not only not the team’s top pitcher, but he might be just the 3rd best on the roster. Heck Sale isn’t even the top lefty on the Boston staff. So why does he win it? Because his strikeout numbers will be better than Rick Porcello’s and fellow southpaw stud David Price will miss a few starts to begin the season with elbow problems.
- Corey Kluber
After falling short in a bid to become Madison Bumgarner 2.0 in last season’s World Series, the 2014 AL Cy Young winner is primed for another big campaign. Kluber finished 3rd in the voting last year after recording 18 wins and striking out 9.5 batters per nine innings. And he trailed only former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander with 6.5 WAR for pitchers.
- Justin Verlander
Just when baseball fans around the world started to write off the hard throwing righty Verlander came back with a vengeance. He regained his velocity and turned in an All-Star year pitching his way to a 3.04 ERA, and leading the AL in strikeouts (254) and WHIP (1.001). A year like that had Verlander finishing second in the Cy Young voting, and this year Verlander will put up great numbers again, but fall just short of another regular season award.
Al Rookie of the Year
- Aaron Judge
Judge struggled at the plate last season, batting just .189, making him an odd choice for rookie of the year. However, this writer believes that Judge’s tremendous power will win out and the hard hitting Yankee won’t just be knocking on the door of the Mendoza Line, but knocking on the door of 30 HR’s and 85 RBI.
- Andrew Benintendi
In over 30 games last season the Red Sox outfielder batted .295 and posted an .835 OPS, showing both the ability to hit for average and power. All Benintendi has to do now is show that he can do that for a full year and the ROY award is his.
- Yoan Moncada
Right now Yoan Moncada doesn’t even know where he will be playing for the Red Sox in 2017. The Sox spent too much money on Pablo Sandoval to have him not be their starting 3B. Still, Moncada is too solid of a player, with too strong of a bat to ride the pine for long.
- Texas Rangers
- Houston Astros *WC
- Seattle Mariners
- Oakland Athletics
- Anaheim Angels (Anaheim is not in LA)
This year’s American League West is up for grabs between the top 3 teams. Last year’s division champ, the Texas Rangers, are looking for their ace Yu Darvish to return to his 2014 form where he was the best pitcher in the American League. Pairing him up with lefty Cole Hamels could help shut down a talented Astros lineup that features two of the best ball players in the League in Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve. Many people have the Astros as the sexy pick to win the pennant this season, but the 3rd team in the division, the Seattle Mariners could be poised to pull the upset and win a wildcard spot or even the division crown.
As for the bottom two teams in the division, the A’s and the Angels are both lacking pitching staffs capable of getting their teams in true contention of a postseason spot. Anaheim has a strong enough lineup to make things interesting if their pitching staff can go an entire season without an injury, but that is unlikely given their pension for placing pitchers on the disabled list. Oakland doesn’t have the same power in their lineup to compensate for a pitching staff that used to be a strength and is now a liability.
- Detroit Tigers
- Cleveland Indians *WC
- Kansas City Royals
- Chicago White Sox
- Minnesota Twins
This division has dominated the American League the past 3 seasons, sending a team to the World Series each of the last 3 Octobers. This year it could be a different team winning the AL’s best division though. The Tigers were looked over last year despite going 86-75, and if Anibal Sanchez can get back to his old ways the Tigers could win this tightly contested division. Of course the Tigers will have to hold off last year’s American League champion Indians who get back Michael Brantley to strengthen an already stacked lineup. And then there is Kansas City who with the help of a healthy Mike Moustakas could top both the Tigers and the Tribe for another trip to the postseason. And this is KC’s last year to try and get another title before impending free agency takes apart the team.
Meanwhile neither the White Sox nor the Twins got any better over the offseason. Chicago lost their best player, Chris Sale, as was expected. Thy are hoping Carlos Rodon can continue his post-All-Star break production to somewhat offset that loss, but even then the lineup is mediocre at best, without the top end talent needed to compete in such a tough division. The Twins are hoping that Byron Buxton produces the way just about every scout in America thought he would, but unfortunately he won’t help their below-average pitching staff.
- Boston Red Sox
- Toronto Blue Jays
- New York Yankees
- Baltimore Orioles
- Tampa Bay Rays
This division seems to have a clear favorite and an easy-to-picture #2 team, however behind the should-be-dominant Red Sox is a list of 4 teams that could make a run at 2nd place in the East and a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.
The Red Sox have the best starting rotation in baseball, and back it up with one of the strongest lineups in the American League, led by Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia. The Blue Jays seem to be the best bet for 2nd place in the East with a solid lineup and also one of the better and more underrated pitching staffs in the Majors.
The Yankees are going to need their starting pitching to stay healthy and also for a young arm or two to step up and finish off the back end of a solid rotation. Their bullpen is fairly strong and while their lineup doesn’t feature the star power of former Yankee lineups, it’s a group that can score runs and finish in the top 10 in offense.
The Orioles are another squad that has the potential to be a player in the Wild Card discussion, as Buck Showalter always seems to have his guys ready to play. It sure helps him that the lineup in Baltimore is filled with sluggers and could realistically feature 7 players who hit 20+ home runs this season.
As for the Rays, they need a lot of players to step up. However, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that players like Logan Morrison and Derek Norris get back to playing like they did a few years ago when they were desirable free agents.
- Bryce Harper –
Has there ever been a more hyped up prospect than Bryce Harper? Well the good news, is the young outfielder has blossomed into one of the game’s best players. And while Harper took a huge step back from his MVP performance of 2015, he seems like the kind of player that will use that mediocre season as fuel to dominate in 2017.
- Corey Seager –
Who could have ever guessed that the Dodgers’ 3B would win the NL Rookie of the Year last season? Oh wait, I did. Well now I am saying that the young corner infielder will go from best rookie to one of the best overall players, and that means making a serious run at the league MVP.
- Kris Bryant –
It was only fitting that Kris Bryant got to field the final out in the Cubs’ amazing World Series run last season. After all, he was their best player, and the best player in the National League. And while it doesn’t seem like anybody is going to top Mike Trout in terms of best player on the planet for quite some time, the next best thing is this power hitting 3B.
NL Cy Young
- Clayton Kershaw –
The big lefty was cruising toward the realm of Clemens, Maddux, Johnson and Steve Carlton with a fourth Cy Young Award all but wrapped up early last season before he got shelved with a back injury. At that time, Kershaw boasted a ridiculous 16.1 K/BB ratio (145/9) and 1.79 ERA through his 16 starts. Numbers that are unheard of. If Kershaw can do something even remotely close to that again, this time for a full season, he will not only win the Cy Young, but make a heck of an argument for one of the 5 best pitchers to ever walk this Earth.
- Stephen Strasburg –
All Strasburg has to do is stay healthy. That’s it. His talent will take of the numbers, and the wins will come considering he is a dominant pitcher on a talented team. As long as he doesn’t suffer another arm, shoulder or back injury the SDSU product will make a case for the award. His “quiet” season last year consisted of a 15-4 record and 11.2 K/9. It would be interesting to see what he could do with 30+ starts in a season, if he could just stay healthy.
- Max Scherzer –
Max Scherzer was the ultimate benefactor of Kershaw’s misfortune last season, winning the 2016 NL Cy Young. The now 2-time Cy Young winner led the National League with 228.1 innings pitched, an MLB-leading 284 strikeouts, a 2.96 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, and 11.2 K/9. Ridiculous numbers, and they might be just as good this season. If so, he could give Kershaw a run for his money.
NL Rookie of the Year
- Dansby Swanson –
Last season the newly acquired Braves SS batted .302 in 38 games. The #1 overall pick in the 2015 draft is now a year older and a year more experienced meaning he might be able to improve on numbers that when averaged out for a full season would easily win him Rookie of the Year.
- Alex Reyes –
Reyes surpassed expectations in his short time in the Majors last season. In 12 games he went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 10.2 K/9. Reyes was basically unhittable coming out of the bullpen and then when he was moved to the starting rotation he stepped up and threw well in some key September starts. Now let’s see if he can do that for a full season.
- Tyler Glasnow –
The Pirates’ Tyler Glasnow’s transition to the big leagues didn’t go too smoothly. But the big right-hander had a couple of solid relief outings and finished off with a very solid start to send him into the offseason on a high note. That makes his case for ROY a very simple one: If he pitches up to his potential like he did at the end of the year he could be looking at a nice trophy by season’s end. If not, the Pirates have no hope for the postseason.
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- San Francisco Giants *WC
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Colorado Rockies
- San Diego Padres
This division features not just two of the best rosters in baseball, but two of the best managers, as 3x World Series champion Bruce Bochy is a stalwart of success in the Bay Area and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts was my choice for Manager of the Year last season. What may make Roberts’ job easier is the return of a healthy Clayton Kershaw who when healthy is the best pitcher in baseball and a heck of a weapon in this division race. Pair Kershaw’s left arm with a talented roster and Roberts managing the club and there is logic behind my pick of the Dodgers winning the West this season.
But the Giants have a talented roster as well. Madison Bumgarner isn’t far behind Kershaw as the game’s best lefty. Brandon Crawford is the most underrated shortstop in the game, and Buster Posey may just be baseball’s best player not named Mike Trout. It should be a fight at the top of the division between these two, and both the Diamondbacks and Rockies could play spoiler.
The Rockies’ lineup is absolutely loaded with Trevor Story, Nolan Arrenado, Carlos Gonzalez, and DJ La Meheiu leading the charge. If they could get some pitching they could be a threat to land a wildcard spot. The Diamondbacks are in the same boat, as their rotation needs to step up and give their excellent lineup a chance to win games.
The Padres are at the bottom of this division not because we don’t like what we see, but because we don’t know what we see yet. The outfield may have more talent than any other in the division if Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe are as good as they seem to be so far in their young careers. Those players could help stabilize a lineup that needs help, but really it’s the pitching staff that puts the Pads at the bottom of the division. They are without a single solid arm in their starting-5 and that is a problem in a division loaded with bats.
- Chicago Cubs
- Louis Cardinals
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Cincinnati Reds
The Cubs are not only our pick to win the division this season, but they are the obvious pick to win it. They have the best lineup and pitching staff in a division that would otherwise be dominated by the Cardinals. Jake Arrieta has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball over the past two seasons and heads up a strong and deep starting-5 for Chicago. Meanwhile at the plate, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo lead the league’s best lineup for game’s best team.
The Cardinals are their usual self, solid and consistently good. They have a very strong pitching staff which they are hoping to keep healthy this season, because if Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright can return to form this team may have just enough firepower to make a run at the hated Cubs.
The Pirates are good and led by a solid outfield, but with uncertainty in their pitching staff headed into the season it doesn’t look like the Central will get 3 playoff spots like they did in 2015.
Both the Brewers and the Reds are missing serious pieces to make any kind of serious run the playoffs. Neither team has a lineup or enough arms to make a move, and it doesn’t look like either franchise is on the up-and-up in terms of turning into a young talented team looking like a threat in the near future.
- Washington Nationals
- New York Mets *WC
- Miami Marlins
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Atlanta Braves
This was a tough division to pick not because of who we believe will win the division but because we weren’t sure what order to put the bottom 3 teams in. Right now the top team in the division is the Nationals thanks to a strong lineup and a pitching staff that when healthy is the best in baseball. But the Mets aren’t far behind in that department. Both teams feature strong starting pitching staffs, but it’s the Nationals’ hitting that sets them apart from their New York counterparts.
As for the other three teams it gets a little tough to differentiate them. The Marlins are without a true pitching staff, but they ranked 27th in runs scored last season and did little to change that muddling lineup. The Phillies are trying to improve on the 5th worst pitching staff in baseball, and just like the Marlins they did very little in helping change that through free agency. As for the Braves, they tried to better their team with a few pickups. Unfortunately, the addition of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon are more for fans to talk about and less for actual productivity, which will keep Atlanta near the bottom of baseball’s best.
The Rangers and the Red Sox have the best 3-man rotations and therefore are the best bets to win their ALDS series and make it to the ALCS. The championship series will be less about the pitching, because both teams feature great starting pitching. Instead, the lineups will determine this series, and the Rangers can’t match up with Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, etc. The ALCS will be a tough fought series but the Red Sox should be able pull this out because of slightly better pitching and much better hitting.
It is very tough for any team to repeat as World Series champions, especially one that needed to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series. Still the Cubs are good enough to win their 1st series against the Wildcard and meet the Nationals who are able to just get by a solid Dodgers team. This is the year where the Nationals finally break through their playoff plateau and the top 3 starters for Washington are able to pitch beautifully while Trea Turner and Bryce Harper score just enough against Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester to get win the National League pennant.
And the Winner is…
Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Joe Ross make up the best rotation in baseball for the Nationals, but come October a shortened rotation makes their strength a little weaker, meanwhile the Red Sox top-3 of David Price, Chris Sale, and Rick Porcello give them the upperhand in terms of starting pitching. The lineups are more evenly matched than one might assume, but look for a random Red Sox player to step up in the Fall Classic and bring yet another title back to Boston.
Red Sox over Nationals in 5 games