One last thing, if I could: Let’s pick some wild aspirations for the season. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s to expect nothing but a complete surprise. You saw the Royals climb the mountain and win a World Series? Doesn’t mean they’ll continue that success. The Penguins won a Stanley Cup so it’s time for a newcomer to win? Give them two. So, for all the potential Cinderella sleepers out there, all it takes is an injury to your rival and a deadline pickup of Chris Archer to push your surprising dream forward. Let’s take five wild swings at the plate as to what will happen over the course of this season:
1) Cole Hamels returns to Philly
I’ve seen this somewhere else, but I like the idea of Hamels being sent back to Philadelphia as Texas realizes they’ve lost the season. He’s a beloved home-grown star that can spark the old stomping ground like he did for Texas when he arrived there in 2015. Throw him into the mix with Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta and you have the makings of a return to postseason glory. At the very least, if the Mets stumble, the Phillies would be fools not to consider going after any stud pitcher. Why not their prodigal son?
2) Chris Archer stays put in Tampa.
With all the rumors swirling around the hottest pitchers in the league, Chris Archer resides near the top of most lists. Much like Hamels, there’s potential for Archer’s team to flail, especially since Tampa offloaded much of their best veterans in the offseason. The best remaining player is Archer, and he commands the mound. However, the asking price could be too high, as Archer has dealt with forearm injuries in the past and his ERA can fly dangerously higher than expected. That being said, he fits well in Tampa and could prove to be the veteran leadership that can usher in a new era. I think it’s about 50/50 whether he stays or not, but I’ll be less surprised if he still wears the baby blue next April.
3) The Giants clinch a wild-card spot in the final week.
Now, my standings may not reflect this prediction, and it’s certainly a wild one. Also, maybe it’s just the fact that I turn 32 this July, but I’m feeling like there’s a lot of dismissal of older players who could certainly put in good time on an ailing team. Jayson Werth just signed a minor league contract with Seattle, but a dozen other players may have to turn in early retirement. Since the Giants are all nearly 30+ there’s a lot of talk that there was no forward momentum in replacing the aging core of a once-proud dynasty. Then injury hit not one, but three pitchers. My thinking is that Madison Bumgarner is still the magician he’s always been and once he returns in late May he’ll put on a show. They’ll prove the naysayers wrong and make the end of September exciting as they knock the Padres back while stealing a few from the Dodgers to slip into that second wild-card in an exciting finish.
4) Martin Prado is traded to the….?
Last year, I unsuccessfully picked Todd Frazier as my niche mover that would shake up a New York Mets team. Instead he turned his thumb down for their neighbors in the Bronx. Nevertheless, I’m happy Todd finally made his way to Queens…even if I was off by a few months. For this year’s role player that I think will make a big difference, let’s look at Martin Prado. He’s on the sinking ship Miami, and once he returns he’ll hit as many home runs as he can to prove he needs out of south Florida. The Marlins can get a decent prospect return for him, and he can help….let’s say….the Angels. Yes, Anaheim picked up Zack Cozart in December to help in the corner infield position, but he’s a natural shortstop. This prediction comes with a possibility of injury to either Cozart or the man beside him, Andrleton Simmons. It also doesn’t have to necessarily be a starting gig for Prado, as he’s nearing 35. Make him the best bench player you have and he’ll come in for clutch moments late in the ALCS.
5) Giancarlo Stanton breaks Barry Bonds’ record
Hey, if all these writers can make stupidly wild predictions about the amount of home runs Stanton and Aaron Judge are gonna mash as part of the new Yankees’ Murderer’s Row, then I can call this one. I personally never liked Barry Bonds, more because of how smug he was as he approached the record books than how he juiced himself to actually achieve the feat. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were doing the same, but were at least humble (comparatively). I’m of the very old camp that doesn’t truly count Bonds’ accomplishment, and holds that Roger Maris is the true title holder. Here’s the thing that most people aren’t talking about: Stanton was two homers from tying’ Maris’ record season. Now, if you take into account the actual numbers along with juicing, Bonds record (73, 2001) stands but McGwire had two seasons better (65, 1999; 70, 1998) and Sosa even had three (63, 1999; 64, 2001; 66, 1998). I know it’s a very difficult prospect, but Stanton is only 28 at this point. Maris was 26 when he broke Babe Ruth’s record, and the three juicers were all 29 or older during their incredible seasons. I think that the perfect storm of Yankee Stadium, Stanton’s prowess and his team pushing him forward will let him accomplish that goal, whether it’s the legitimate 61 or the actual 73. Hell, it’ll make for one of the most electrifying chases in recent memory.
As for the awards:
NL MVP: Bryce Harper
NL Cy Young: Patrick Corbin
NL Manager of the Year: Torey Lovullo
AL MVP: Francisco Lindor
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander
AL Manager of the Year: Rick Renteria
Here’s how I think the standings will turn out:
1) Boston Red Sox
2) New York Yankees
3) Toronto Blue Jays
4) Tampa Bay Rays
5) Baltimore Orioles
1) Cleveland Indians
2) Chicago White Sox
3) Minnesota Twins
4) Detroit Tigers
5) Kansas City Royals
1) Houston Astros
2) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3) Seattle Mariners
4) Oakland Athletics
5) Texas Rangers
1) Washington Nationals
2) Philadelphia Phillies
3) New York Mets
4) Atlanta Braves
5) Miami Marlins
1) Chicago Cubs
2) Milwaukee Brewers
3) St. Louis Cardinals
4) Cincinnati Reds
5) Pittsburgh Pirates
1) Arizona Diamondbacks
2) Los Angeles Dodgers
3) Colorado Rockies
4) San Diego Padres
5) San Francisco Giants
As for the playoffs:
AL Wild-Card Game: New York Yankees over Los Angeles Angels
ALDS 1: Boston Red Sox over Cleveland Indians
ALDS 2: Houston Astros over New York Yankees
ALCS: Houston Astros over Boston Red Sox
NL Wild-Card Game: Philadelphia Phillies over Milwaukee Brewers
NLDS 1: Arizona Diamondbacks over Washington Nationals
NLDS 2: Chicago Cubs over Philadelphia Phillies
NLCS: Chicago Cubs over Arizona Diamondbacks
World Series: Houston Astros over Chicago Cubs
That’s right, I went with the last two winners. It’s a fairly easy conclusion to come to, but I have good reason. Much like how the Pittsburgh Penguins repeated in hockey for the first back-to-back winner in twenty years, Houston has one of the most complete sports teams I’ve ever seen. If they’re firing on all cylinders, they can take on anyone. If they can make it to the ALCS, they’ll win the World Series, in my opinion. The same goes for Chicago, at least to make it. They’re youthful, have a consistent presence in the postseason over the past few years, and they have a knack for bouncing back. Even if they’re both fairly dominant right now, there can always be surprises and I could see any of the ten teams I chose winning. I just think Houston has the best chance.
Finally, I leave you with my final thought on the season: It’s a beautiful, wonderful game that so many Americans cherish. My mom’s favorite player, Rusty Staub, passed away this morning at the age of 73. He’d been sick for some time, but he always put on a good face. During the months following 9/11 he was always around the park bringing food and other charitable donations to families of the first responders from that day. He was a goodwill ambassador in both New York and his original team’s home of Montreal. He exemplified what it means to be a great person on and off the field, and it’s odd to have his death coincide with my own mother’s retirement from teaching. I think baseball brings people together more than any other sport, and I can hope that it continues to do so for those youth that apparently seem to be falling off the game. It’s definitely been a big part of my life because of so many exciting players, and it was a big part of my mother’s life because of Rusty Staub. Let’s hope there’s a hero in a game that latches onto the heart of a whole lot of kids this season.
Let’s play ball!