Boy, does time fly! Fly like a baseball, that is. Seems like just yesterday the Chicago Cubs were mashing their way towards history by breaking a 112-year-old curse and winning the World Series for only the third time.
Can they repeat as champions? You’ll have to wait until later to find out what I think about the playoffs, for now we’re going to talk about the league that doesn’t like designated hitters . Check out below who I think will win each division:
New York Mets – Nothing too crazy here, except for the fact that most of the Mets aren’t starting on the DL this year….except for stalwart David Wright. He may have played his last game, but the good news for the Mets is that Lucas Duda, Zach Wheeler, Jacob DeGrom and Matt Harvey are all healthy at the same time for maybe the first time ever. Of course, the real question is how rusty is everyone, but picking up the slack to start will be firebrand Noah Syndergaard leading batters like Curtis Granderson, Jose Reyes, Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. It may look the same, but that just means they have an even better shot at returning to the World Series only two years after their last.
Washington Nationals – Word on the street is that this team is regressing alongside once and future superstar Bryce Harper. I still think he has plenty in the tank (all the rumors I hear is that the Yankees want in on him) but perhaps my father is right that he isn’t meant to be astronomically good. Still, this shouldn’t mean the team is going to fade away fast. They still have ace Max Scherzer, former (brittle) ace Stephen Strasburg, solid rotation players Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark, and true 2016 NL batting leader Daniel Murphy. Vets Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman will likely regress though, only because of age, and that could bring this team down a notch. That only means a second place slot, though.
Philadelphia Phillies – If anyone’s ready to return to postseason contention, in all of Major League Baseball, it’s Philadelphia. They’ve bade their time, filling their roster with youth and experience all the same, while ditching the contracts of stars past their prime (Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz). It’s the start of a new era in the city of Brotherly Love, and while many people were secretly hoping for that to start last year, it’s finally here. I’m guessing it’s a bit bold to place the team even this high, but with Miami’s mess, and Atlanta’s rebuilding process a few years behind, Philly should come at least this high in the division, perhaps even stealing a playoff spot. The core that includes Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, Tommy Joseph and Maikel Franco is joined by veterans Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. It may not be the most potent lineup, but this year’s experience will undoubtedly lead to talk of their contention next year. I’m thinking it’s ready now, especially if Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and Jered Eickhoff can prove to be a better rotation than on paper.
Miami Marlins – First base is a mess, their catchers are not all that great, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have yet to break out, and the biggest thing hanging over this team will be the untimely death of superstar Jose Fernandez. We don’t want to dwell on what might have been, but certainly fans of the team will wish the bright young man were still with us. Instead, we’ll have a rotation of second and third spot starters including opening day choice Edinson Volquez who is starting for his fourth team in six seasons. Cool that he gets the nod, as he’s reliable, but if he’s all Miami’s got, they’re in trouble. Wei-Yin Chin will attempt to exorcise last year’s demons as well, but that’s really all there is to this story.
Atlanta Braves – For their first year in a new stadium, will the Braves rapidly ascend back into contention, skipping over the flailing Marlins? The youth factor looks hot, with Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman leading the way. Veteran pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey will assist Julio Teheran (looking actually like a better rotation than Miami) –
Chicago Cubs – Surely there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that this team could be the first repeat winners since the Yankees dominated the 1990’s. The core of this team includes Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist. Sure, they lost my favorite player Dexter Fowler to rival St. Louis, but Kyle Schwarber should have better leg luck this year, Jason Heyward has to have a statistically better season, and Albert Almora was ready to step up and take Fowler’s spot. The obvious other loss is Aroldis Chapman back to the Yankees, but I personally never thought he was such the dominant force everyone gives him credit for. He’ll likely regress, and besides, the Cubs tossed Jorge Soler to Kansas City for their best pitcher, Wade Davis. Travis Wood won’t be there, nor will Jason Hammel, having followed Soler to Missouri, but the rotation and bullpen are otherwise intact. At the very least, and that is a big least, the Cubs will dominate the division and attempt to protect their World Series victory. Weird enough that I never thought I’d say it, but I’m glad I can.
Pittsburgh Pirates – After years of dominating the division, the Cubs surged past both the Buccos and Cards to take over, winning for the first time in 107 years. The Pirates now own the second-longest drought in World Series victories, after the Cleveland Indians. They also have the longest drought in appearances, other than the Nats and Mariners, who’ve never made it in. So they’re hungry. They’re so hungry they’re not going to let the slim hope they’ve built over the past decade slip away before star Andrew McCutchen moves on with his career. I think the time is now for the black and gold to make their deepest run for a championship, and I think their best chance is now as it is. The Cards are worse than people believe, and the Reds and Brewers are non-entities. It’s undoubtedly the Cubs who will win this division, but the Pirates will compete just as well. They have a slightly bluer rotation, with Gerrit Cole leading resurgent Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow. If Jung Ho Kang never returns from Korea after his third DUI, they can always turn to 2011 WS MVP David Freese, and everyone from Starling Marte to James Harrison is underrated next to division rival equivalents. I’m going out on a limb, but I think the Pirates are going to surprise a lot of people.
St. Louis Cardinals – Equally surprising will be the downfall of the Cardinals. After being a perennial postseason playoff, the Birds fell out last season, and I don’t think they’ll return for a while. The team has a ton of experience, but I think the pitching is a big question: Adam Wainwright is waning, Michael Wacha isn’t panning out, and Lance Lynn and Mike Leake aren’t going to step up. The only quality pitcher left is Carlos Martinez, who will quietly put in a Cy Young worthy performance on a failing team. Dexter Fowler won’t replace Matt Holliday’s power, but can be defensive, while Stephen Piscotty, Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta will only keep the team afloat. That all speaks to a middling return in October. It’s a shame, but there’s going to be a soft reboot of this team over the course of the next season or two.
Milwaukee Brewers – Zach Davies is the pitcher of the future, and we’ll see him blossom into a superstar this season. Perhaps he’ll even help the Brewers contend within a few years, or surprise this one. Ryan Braun is still here, but the rest of the team is all minor league call-ups hoping to prove themselves. I’m expecting this team to be a lot better than recent attempts, but other than those two, you won’t hear much out of the beer capital of Wisconsin.
Cincinnati Reds – What a mess. Not a San Diego mess, but this team is botching it’s rebuild. Letting Todd Frazier go hurt. Letting Jay Bruce go to a team he didn’t want to when he wanted to stay in Ohio hurt even more. Adam Duvall and Billy Hamilton may support the future by stealing a few bases, but by the time this team is having a comeback, they may be on the way out themselves. On top of that, the sense in Cincinnati is that this is a non-season, a way to go through the motions without looking like you’re bombing on purpose. It’s not even worth it with the MLB’s convoluted lottery system and lengthy minor league factory. Still, it’s no more obvious than in the rotation: Scott Feldman leading off until future ace (see, third option) Anthony DeScalfini returns from the DL. The rest are no-names, minor-leaguers lucky to get their chance.
San Francisco Giants – So the Giants are attempting to even further legitimize their dynasty of the 2010s. It’s not an even year, nor did they continue that magic, but that doesn’t mean the Cubs curse just pushed them back a little. Scissors can’t beat paper every time…if that paper is being turned into a bat used by Kris Bryant. So much like the Dodgers, San Francisco is fielding a fairly similar team as 2016 – uber ace Madison Bumgarner, somehow second best Johnny Cueto, sluggers Buster Posey, Denard Span and hopefully healthy Hunter Pence. I think it’s safe to say this is a no-brainer that there will be a battle for the division all season long, and one of the most exciting.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Everyone is touting this as the Dodgers year, as the rotation includes one of the best the boys in blue have put out in the past decade of talent: Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Brandon McCarthy and Hyun Ju Ryu. Even their depth pitcher, Scott Kazmir, would be the ace in lowly San Diego. They’ve also got arguably the best closer in baseball in Kenley Jansen (sorry Yankees), and despite bringing back virtually the same team as last year – which can sometimes cause complacency when you don’t win championships, it’s always the right time to say this could be the Dodgers year.
Colorado Rockies – Of course, that doesn’t mean we can count out up-and-coming teams like the youthful Rockies. Ten years after Rocktober catapulted the mountain dwellers further than their thin air stadium could even envision, the team has pretty much been fully rebuilt. Will this be the year they come back into contention, or will it take another to gel? Jon Gray, the potential ace for the club, begs to differ, and he has a fine rotation behind him – Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela. Sure two of those are rookies, but they still have the ever reliable bats to back them up, with Carlos Gonzalez ceding leadership to Nolan Arenado, and working alongside David Dahl, Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu and Trevor Story. Unfortunately, injuries might derail this train before it even leaves the station, as new catcher Tom Murphy, new first baseman Ian Desmond, and Dahl himself are all starting the season on the DL. Even veteran pitcher Chad Bettis had a resurgence of cancer. Hopefully we can hear good news for him and his team at the same time.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Zach Grienke would love to be back in Los Angeles right now, I’d wager. He blew his first season in Phoenix, bobbling what should have been a grand attempt at glory, besting rival giants…San Francisco and Los Angeles. Now he’ll have to face down remarks that his quality time has peaked. Speaking of which, Paul Goldschmidt isn’t getting any younger. He’s becoming the Shane Doan of baseball, without even having a sniff of the World Series.
San Diego Padres – Boy do the Padres look abysmal. While it might be nice for the south California town to be hopeful for something athletic now that their neighbor stole their football team, it won’t be so. For some reason the rebuild sputtered when Matt Kemp arrived, and all we have left now that he’s bounced to Atlanta is more of a ragtag bunch of kids than Oakland has going for them. Heck, the top pitcher and opening day starter is Rockies castoff Jhoulys Chacin. It’s a shame they’ll be throwing him right into the fire against Clayton Kershaw, because game one will be exemplary of the entire season.
Come back later today for what I expect from the American League, as well as playoff predictions!