All of this is conjecture, of course. Remember, these are all predictions using the teams as they are at this moment. The 2016 World Series champion team is one or two pieces away from their perfect lineup. They may go through tragic injury or heart pumping winning streaks. For now, on paper, this is who looks to me to be the best. For the fan in me, I can’t wait for (my fantasy ace?) Adam Wainwright to hurl his first pitch past Gregory Polanco. It means spring is officially here.
So how do I think the playoffs will go? Read on to find out:
NL WC: Diamondbacks over Nationals
I’m going with both the revitalized squad and the team with a chip on their shoulder for the NL Wild-card game. Arizona will undoubtedly go much further this year than last due to the key addition of Zach Greinke. That will also be the man they rally behind for the wild-card game (given I expect the Giants to win the division). The Nationals will rally behind Stephen Strasburg, newly renewed this year and proving critics wrong after high expectations brought him down to earth the last three years. The duel will be fierce, but Greinke is truly the better pitcher, and has Paul Goldschmidt on his side. With AJ Pollock back in the lineup as well, the offense will be too much and the D-backs will eke by.
NLDS: Cubs over Diamondbacks
Of course, then Arizona will have to face off against the best in the NL this season. The trio of Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Jon Lester will be terribly dominant against the revitalized NL West squad. The Cubs not only have the pitching, but – barring injury and exhaustion – perhaps the best offense in the game. Credit the excitement brought by players like Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, and there’s a reason why the Cubs are the frontrunners for a lot of people. I’m at least set for them to make it to the second round whoever they face.
NLDS: Giants over Mets
The hot team is often the one that passes muster come October, and that was understandably the Mets last season. It was easy to see their progression from almost-rans to start the year and then blossomed their pitching into the elite group we see to start this one. With Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Stephen Matz and even Bartolo Colon (who will jump to the bullpen when Zach Wheeler returns from TJ surgery in July) the Mets are the deepest rotation in baseball. On the other side of this matchup, the Giants have Madison Bumgarner….and then Johnny Cueto is alright, with some waning Jeff Samardzija to boot. If the team is as good as it is on paper (and not as we sort of expect) they’ll have a good chance to repeat their even-year magic. On top of that, the offense is the most explosive they’ve had during this whole dynastic run. This will be Mets pitching vs. Giants bats. Could this possibly be the most exciting matchup in the National League?
NLCS: Cubs over Giants
After all this mess with great teams and stuff, we’re getting down to the bare bones. A lot of people have this NLCS match-up being Mets-Cubs, but I’m down for even-year magic and long-dormant champions. I’m buying wholesale into both storylines, and since I was a true Red Sox fan my whole life, I’m definitely down to see the Cubs at the very least make the World Series this year.
AL WC: Astros over Twins
I’m pretty sure no one expect the Twins to do this well other than myself and fans that live in St. Paul. Even they might not, come to think of it. But I’m a huge Phil Hughes fan, and I’d love to see him get the nod for a matchup opposite Dallas Keuchel. Of course, the Astros are miles ahead of Twins in a direct confrontation at this point in the season, so I’d hope the Twins at least try to add a piece or two if they’re making a run at the division late in the season to make this game more exciting than it would be if played now. There’s also virtually ever AL team looking like they could be in contention, so the whole American League is a toss-up. For now, if this is the wild card game we get, I’d be perfectly happy. I’d also fully expect Keuchel to get to the second round again for the second straight year.
ALDS: Astros over Blue Jays
In a re-match of that aforementioned second round divisional series, Houston will have to tough it out against a similarly built Toronto team. What’s different this time around, other than the lack of Price in the Blue Jays rotation, is that the Blue Jays have all the expectations surrounding them heavier than last season. Perhaps that will be to their benefit, as the pressure of using Price won’t be as ridiculous, and both teams surely have chips on their shoulders after getting a brief taste of the playoffs last year for the first time in a long time (and first for most of each team’s players). I would expect this to go for a full five games, but for Keuchel to come back around on short rest and win two.
ALDS: Rangers over Royals
With Yu Darvish returning halfway through the season, the Rangers will be as revitalized as they were when Cole Hamels came over from Philadelphia late in 2015. The Royals also have the issue that they’ve played more baseball over the last three seasons than the Rangers have, though that isn’t always a detriment (ask the Chicago Blackhawks, San Francisco Giants, Tom Brady or LeBron). I also think the Rangers are much more solid than they were last season, especially with a resurgent and healthy Prince Fielder leading the way. I foresee some overestimating on Kansas City’s part, and the World Series champs will fall in a few games early in the playoffs. Surprise, maybe?
ALCS: Astros over Rangers
The Battle for Texas plays out well in my imagination, and it would definitely make for a great storyline in October. As is to be expected given that Houston was in the NL until a few years back, the pair of teams has never faced each other in the postseason. They have had a fun thing called the Lone Star Series that pits the teams’ records against each other, which is obviously more meaningful now that they share a division. Beyond that, the Astros will likely be bitter towards their cross-state rivals, given that Texas jumped from 1.5 games back to 2.5 games ahead right at the end of 2015’s season to steal the division and get better positioning in the playoffs. Didn’t really pay off for either team, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t loath each other. Look for this faceoff to be brutal, but I expect the better team to stand tall at the end of the tunnel.
World Series: Chicago Cubs vs. Houston Astros
Remember how I said I’d be happy to just see the Cubs make the World Series? I was heartbroken in 2003 when Aaron Boone personally stopped the Red Sox from making it all the way. Then they took over the next season and the rest was history. Everything points to a Cubs victory this season, and if they don’t at least make the World Series, a lot of people are going to be disappointed. I don’t want to point to any curses or anything, but again, I’d be happy to see them there towards the end of October. Whether they win or not is actually up to more than just the Cubs. They’ll have to face the other ultimate youth movement in Houston. I expect this to be tough but heartwarming. Heck, I’d love to see Houston win their first ever championship anyway, though the better storyline is obviously the end of a century long drought in the Windy City. I’m calling it for Rizzo and my favorite center fielder, Dexter Fowler. This, even if it’s a year late by Marty McFly’s standards.