Earlier today, the 2017 MLB season began down in Florida, when the Tampa Bay Rays toppled the New York Yankees in a 7–3 ballgame. For many, though, the memories of last year’s amazing events still remain fresh—the incredible individual feats of pitching and power. The dramatic wild-card finish. The enthralling, and almost entirely unexpected, runs of the Cubs and Indians, the two teams that, at the time, had the longest championship droughts in the Big 4 American Sports leagues. The drama-filled Game 7, capped off with raucous celebrations of long-suffering Cubs fans that saw their team’s legendary World Series curse broken. Can this season come close to repeating the extraordinary events we were lucky enough to witness last year? Is it possible for the Lovable Losers to repeat, or will another team get their hands on the Commissioner’s Trophy next season? As the champs get ready to defend their title, here are my thoughts on what the upcoming season will look like:
Los Angeles Dodgers (#3)
San Francisco Giants (#2 WC)
San Diego Padres
Coming off a year that was supposed to belong to the even-year dominating Giants, it’s abundantly clear that the Dodgers are the class of the West. Sure, they might be a serious Clayton Kershaw injury away from falling off a cliff, but the team managed well when the lanky lefty was hurt last year, and now that their whole staff is healthy, LA has a shot at competing for a championship. The Giants recognized that they had a bullpen issue last year, and while their biggest signing, closer Mark Melancon, will help in that area, it’s still a little shaky. That being said, their rotation is fantastic, and they have a very strong and versatile infield, and those things will allow them to eke out a wild-card spot. The next two teams are fairly interchangeable; both clubs have bona-fide superstars that are surrounded by incredibly inconsistent teammates. I think Arizona has a bit more talent on paper, so I put them above the Rockies, but if Bud Black is able to work miracles with Colorado’s pitching staff, they might be a real dark horse in the race for the post-season. At the bottom we have Black’s most recent employer, the Padres, who are… not going to be very good. Outside of Wil Myers, AJ Preller’s team is doing a lot of experimentation—they’re keeping three Rule 5 draft picks on the roster, for example—and the club has both eyes set on the future. It’ll be between them and the Twins as to who the worst team in the game will be.
Chicago Cubs (#1)
St. Louis Cardinals
The poaching between the top two teams in this division is going the opposite way this year—the Cardinals took the Cubs’ center fielder, Dexter Fowler, from Chicago—but the defending champs are still stacked throughout their line-up. They also, along with the Giants and Mets, have one of the best rotations in the NL, and I expect those hurlers to carry them to the top seed in the league (read a more detailed preview of the Cubs’ season here). The Cards won’t have enough to push the Lovable Losers for the division, since their own rotation isn’t all that consistent, but the talent in the batting order is there, especially with the addition of Fowler, to boost them into the post-season. Unfortunately, San Francisco’s deeper pitching staff will be enough to see them keep the Cards out of October for the second straight season. The Pirates have a good top two in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, but their youth will prevent them from having enough to carry the struggling Andrew McCutchen and his teammates to glory. The Brew Crew and the Big Red Machine will battle to be among the worst teams in baseball. I’ve got a little more faith in the Brewers—Ryan Braun and Eric Thames make a threatening duo, and the team is absolutely unstoppable on the base paths, while all the Reds seem to have going for them is veteran slugger Joey Votto—but like I said, neither club will inspire their respective fan bases. I expect them to “compete” for a top-5 pick come season’s end.
Washington Nationals (#2)
New York Mets (#1 WC)
The Nats were the best team in the NL last season not named the Cubs, and that came with a relative off-year for face-of-the-franchise Bryce Harper. However, they faltered in the play-offs, again, and now, with Harper’s future in Washington, the team will be in full win-now mode. With new acquisition Adam Eaton coming in and allowing Trea Turner to play full-time at shortstop, Washington has a loaded line-up that could push the Cubs at the top of the Senior Circuit. The Mets, meanwhile, don’t have anywhere near as certain of a batting order, especially in regards to their infield, but with a (mostly) healthy rotation filled with dominating righties, they’ll be able to make the post-season as the top wild card. Below them, the Marlins are making steps in the right direction to move away from their standard blow-out sale if their team falters in the prior season, but unfortunately, the tragic loss of ace Jose Fernandez leaves their rotation short of enough ability to get them over the hump this year. Rounding out the division, the Braves and the Phils are in full re-building mode. Atlanta much further along than their northern rivals, already having an established ace (Julio Tehran), a star slugger (Freddie Freeman), and a future stud up the middle (Dansby Swanson). They, like the Rockies, have the potential to break out this year, if some pieces fall into place, but it’s more likely that they and the Phillies will be towards the bottom of the league this year.
Houston Astros (#3)
Texas Rangers (#1 WC)
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Astros might have been the winners of the off-season, bolstering their line-up by adding veterans Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. Their rotation is still maddeningly inconsistent, ace Dallas Keuchel included, but the revamped offense will be enough to give the team their second division title in three years. The Rangers went on a tear to end last season, ending up at the top of the Junior Circuit by a game over the Indians. However, their luck ran out in the post-season, and the issues with their pitching staff were laid bare—besides Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, there isn’t much consistency there—but Jeff Banister’s team still has enough talent to keep back the American League East teams to snag the top wild card slot. Below them, the Mariners will have a decent offense this year, headlined by the dangerous trio of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager, but their pitching staff, including ace Felix Hernandez, is too inconsistent to warrant consideration for a play-off spot. The Angels, meanwhile, have Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and… not much else. Until they can get a consistent pitching staff in place, the team will go nowhere, and risk losing Trout in the prime of his career. The A’s are going full rebuild, as they don’t really seem to have anything going for them outside of the fact that they won’t have to worry about sharing their stadium with football team in a couple of years.
Cleveland Indians (#1)
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
What I felt could have been perhaps the most competitive division in baseball last year basically being the Indians and everyone else. Now that Cleveland has improved even more, getting Michael Brantley back from injury and replacing the aging Mike Napoli with former Toronto slugger Edwin Encarnacion, the distance between them and the rest of the pack will be even greater. They should top the division, and the league, with relative ease. KC will be in a fairly similar predicament to the Marlins—they’ve got some decent talent in their line-up, and they’ve made all the right moves to try and retool their roster after last year’s disappointing campaign, but after the tragic death of Yordano Ventura, the rotation will simply be good, not great, and that won’t be enough to make up for the dent the offense will take thanks to Kendrys Morales’s departure. The Royals will fight, but eventually fall short. The Tigers seem to have too many question marks on their roster, mostly due to lack of consistency and the aging of their core, to really make a push for the post-season with their current roster, but if they can add another hitter and mid-rotation arm, they could have a slim shot. The Sox and the Twins, meanwhile, are both in the middle of (relative) full rebuilds, and they’ll both end up as one of the worst five teams in the game. I think the Pale Hose (read my more in-depth preview of their season here) probably have a little more talent on their roster than Minnesota as is, so if they don’t make any moves, I think that they’ll finish above the Twins, but if they trade two of their veteran core (Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, and Melky Cabrera), they could finish last.
Boston Red Sox (#2)
Toronto Blue Jays (#2 WC)
Tampa Bay Rays
New York Yankees
This is what I believe to be the best division in baseball. If things were to fall right, every team has a shot of making the post-season. The cream of the crop will be the Red Sox, who decided that the best way to get better after the retirement of David Ortiz was to bolster their pitching staff, which they did with the acquisition of star lefty Chris Sale from the White Sox. His presence in Boston gives the team the deepest rotation in the AL, and while they won’t have the offense to propel themselves past the Indians in Big Papi’s absence, they’ll still be a force to be reckoned with. Behind them will be The Blue Jays, who will maintain most of their incredible offense, with new acquisition Kendrys Morales being only a slight downgrade from slugger Edwin Encarnacion. That being said, the Jays don’t have the pitching staff to match up with Boston, so they’ll have to duke it out with the Orioles—whose own offense, led by Adam Jones, is also incredibly potent, and who also have a rotation with a lot of major question marks—for the second wild card spot. I think Toronto is slightly better on offense, though, so I’ll give them the play-off spot. The Rays have the opposite problem of their divisional counterparts—they’ve got the pitching to make the post-season, but not the bats. In a league where power numbers are rising, I feel Tampa just doesn’t have enough juice in their line-up to make it out of their tough division. The Yankees have an unfortunate mix of both problems—they have some good hitters and some good hurlers, but not enough of either to prevent them from being the bottom dweller in this division.
NL MVP: Kris Bryant, Cubs
It’s hard for players to repeat as MVP award winners, but it’s also hard to be as good as Bryant when people know that you’re one of the best hitters in baseball and there’s still nothing that they can do about it. The third baseman should win this one pretty easily.
NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard, Mets
Thor was the last of the Mets’ three great starters to reach the majors, but he has quickly matured into the best of them. He only threw 183 innings last season, so he should be fairly fresh coming into the season, and should be able to dominate hitters that have yet to figure out how to catch up to his incredible fastball.
NL Rookie of the Year: Dansby Swanson, Braves
The former number one overall draft pick flashed his extraordinary talent in his 38-game cameo last season, and this year he’s got a stronger line-up around him, which will allow him to see more pitches. The wear of a full season in the bigs will certainly hinder him a bit, but that’s the case for all rookies; the Vandy product should win this with ease.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
I was torn between picking Schwarber and the Pirates star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who is certainly a better all-around player than the Cubs slugger. The two deciding factors in my decision to pick Schwarber were that it seems as if the big man will spend some significant time in the lead-off spot this season, which will give him a significant number of great AB’s, and that I have the Cubs making the play-offs and the Pirates missing out.
NL Manager of the Year: Dusty Baker, Nationals
Dusty hasn’t been the greatest fit for this Nationals team, as his more old-school ways don’t mesh with the louder, more aggressive game put forward by guys like Bryce Harper. That being said, if the veteran manager can get his team to push the Cubs in the NL, which I think he will, than he’ll deserve this award.
NL Best Offseason Acquisition: Dexter Fowler, Cardinals
Fowler’s importance to last year’s Cubs team simply cannot be understated—I don’t think that they would have won without his consistency at the top of the order and in the field. That the Cardinals were able to get him, at a far more reasonable price than they would have paid had Jayson Heyward decided to stick around, as a big win for John Mozeliak.
NL Worst Offseason Acquisition: Ian Desmond, Rockies
Desmond has always been a decent hitter, and will do well enough while batting in Colorado; that much is clear. It’s also clear that his year in Texas last year was probably an outlier, and that he’s going to be a fairly major liability in the field. That Colorado dumped so much money at him is a major surprise to me.
AL MVP: Francisco Lindor, Indians
If the Indians are to top the American League, their do-it-all shortstop will have to be at the center of everything. It makes sense to reward the best player on the best team, doesn’t it?
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Red Sox
Yeah, I picked Sale to win this last year. That didn’t work out so great. But the lanky left is getting a fresh start in Boston this year (that’s you crying, not me), and he’ll be anxious to prove his worth on a contender. Opposing hitters won’t get to take a day off, either, as none of the BoSox starters are slouches. Sale is the best of them all, though, and I think he’ll haul in the hardware.
AL Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
Benintendi looked great after being called up in September last year, and he looked great this spring, too. The athletic outfielder is incredibly well-rounded and figures to play an important role on what will certainly be one of the top teams in baseball, which should be enough to earn him this award if the stats he’ll put up and the incredible plays he’ll make aren’t enough.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Mike Moustakas, Royals
Moustakas was the focal point of a Royals team that made it to the World Series two straight years, and the team’s offense struggled mightily last year, due in large part to his absence for much of the season. His return won’t be enough to get KC back into the play-offs, but it will be enough to get him this award.
AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Indians
I used the same logic for this one that I did for having Francona’s player, Lindor, win the MVP award—it only makes sense to reward the guy that’s in charge of the best team in his respective league, right? I sure think so.
AL Best Offseason Acquisition: Jason Hammel, Royals
Hammel was often overshadowed by his big-name teammates in Chicago—and rightfully so, the righty isn’t a star— but he was a valuable innings-eater for a very good team. His durability will make him a very important commodity for a Royals team looking to fill the hole left by the death of Yordano Ventura, and at $6 million a season, Hammel is a very good fit for that role.
AL Worst Offseason Acquisition: Jason Castro, Twins
I’m of the frame of mind that a bad team signing a good player to an expensive deal is not a very bright idea. That’s exactly what the Twins did here with Castro—he’s a great pitch framer and OK at the plate, but with an AAV of over $8 million a season, this signing just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
Giants over Mets
Wild card games frequently come down to which team has a better ace, so this one, which will be a game that sees my NL Cy Young award winner square off against one of the best play-off pitchers in recent memory. Because both pitchers are so good, though, I feel this one will be determined by who is able to crack the opposing pitcher, and since I feel the Giants have a better line-up, I think they’ll be the ones to do it. San Fran moves on.
Cubs over Giants
A re-match of last year’s divisional series, one which the Cubs were able to win by taking advantage of San Fran’s weak bullpen. Adding Melancon will certainly help, but the rest of the ‘pen still remains a question mark, and that’s simply not going to do when you’re playing a team that’s as good as Chicago. The Cubs will win again.
Nationals over Dodgers
Another match-up from last year’s post-season, this cross-country series will certainly be an intriguing one. LA was able to pull off a victory largely due to the heroics of Clayton Kershaw, who but his team on his back to make it to the NLCS. This year, though, the Nats will have a stronger line-up, and the Dodgers’ rotation behind Kershaw is uncertain as it’s been in the last few seasons. Expect Bryce Harper and Trea Turner to lift their team into the second LCS appearance in team history.
Cubs over Dodgers
Hey, look—a series that isn’t a rematch! Both teams have incredibly potent offenses and great starters at the front of their rotations. It’ll come down, then, to whether or not each team’s bullpen can close out big games. The Cubs have what amounts to the same set-up as last year, with Wade Davis in place of Aroldis Chapman. The Nats, meanwhile, might end up going with a closer-by-committee approach, and don’t really have a deeply talented ‘pen as a whole. That will make the difference in this one, and the Cubbies will advance to their second straight World Series.
Astros over Blue Jays
As I said before, the team that has typically won these wild-card games is the one that has the better starting pitcher. As good as Marco Estrada is, I think that the advantage has to go to Dallas Keuchel, and for that reason, the ‘Stros will pull this one out and advance to the divisional series.
Red Sox over Astros
I’m kind of bummed out that the way I see the season playing out has these two teams meeting in this round instead of the LCS, because I think that their strengths match the other’s weaknesses better than most play-off pairings. That being said, though, I think that Boston’s offense is strong enough to trouble the back of Houston’s rotation, and the opposite is not true. The Red Sox will win in a hard-fought series that should go to 5 games.
Indians over Rangers
I could basically use the same logic for this one that I did for the Red Sox-Astros series, except I think the weakness is more stark for Texas than it was for Houston (figure that one out). The Rangers aren’t going to be able to start Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels in every game in this series, and Cleveland’s line-up is so good from top to bottom that I don’t even think it would matter if they did, anyway. The defending AL champs should move on with relative ease.
Red Sox over Indians
I’ve made it pretty clear that I think that both Cleveland and Boston have pretty good offensive ability, and that Boston’s pitchers are pretty darn good. What about Cleveland’s? Their bullpen is second to none, but they’re going to need something from their starters to get it there, and outside of Corey Kluber, the players the BoSox will be starting have had relative success against the Indians’ starters. That gives Boston’s staff a relative advantage over their opponents, and it’ll be the members of that staff that lift their team to victory in this series.
Red Sox over Cubs
This match-up between the two teams with the oldest stadiums in baseball, and the most history of any teams not named the Yankees, will surely be a treat. I think that these two squads have the deepest rosters, 1-25, in the game, and have the best talent in the game. The difference in this one will be, as it has been for every other series that Boston will have been involved in, their pitching staff. Chicago struggled mightily when they faced Cleveland’s ace, Corey Kluber, in last year’s Series—when he wasn’t tired, at least, having had to start three games in the series. In Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and David Price, though, the Red Sox have three guys that could be considered aces, all of whom bring a different arsenal to the table. Their dominance will prevent the Cubbies from repeating and bring the Series back to Boston.