By JOHN FELTMAN
A team looking for their first World Series crown in over 108 years has a 3 run lead in the eighth inning, with the world’s most dominant relief pitcher on the mound. Chicago Cubs pitcher Aroldis Chapman, who hadn’t allowed a home run since the middle of June, gives up a two run home run that barely stays fair down the left field line to Cleveland Indians outfielder Rajai Davis. How can you not be romantic about baseball? With the entire city of Chicago holding it’s breath, the Cubs prevailed in the 10th inning and won it’s first world championship since 1908.
It’s that time of year again. The freshly cut grass, the noise of the crowd, and the crystal clear blue skies. Baseball is back, and the 2017 season is now only a few days away. A long 162 games season gives each of the thirty MLB teams new hope of winning a World Series title. Many teams were busy this offseason, making big trades and signings in order to improve their rosters. With that being said, let’s look ahead to my predictions of the 2017 MLB season.
American League Division Winners: Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians
The Boston Red Sox made the biggest splash of the offseason by trading for Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale. With the addition of Sale, the Red Sox rotation is fully loaded with David Price and 2016 American League (AL) CY Young award winner Rick Porcello. Outfielder Mookie Betts finished second in the American League MVP voting, Hanley Ramirez driving in over one hundred runs, and Shortstop Xander Bogaerts hit well over .300. Even with David Ortiz retiring, the Sox are the clear-cut AL East division favorites.
The Houston Astros will not take 2017 for granted; as this is the year they will show off all of their young minor league talent that has been hyped up for the last several years. Shortstop Carlos Correa has already become a star, and is entering his third season as a big leaguer and third basemen Alex Bregman will be entering his first full season. With the additions of veterans catcher Brian McCann and designated hitter Carlos Beltran, the Houston offense will be very scary. Having Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa all at the top of your lineup will give any big league pitcher a nightmare. If Lance McCullers can stay healthy, the Astros rotation should be just good enough to win a lot of games. I see Houston winning the AL West, and potentially eclipsing 95 wins.
The Cleveland Indians are coming off a 2016 World Series campaign where they fell short to the Chicago Cubs in seven games. What’s scary is, their team is in better shape than it was last year. With Mike Napoli departing for Texas, the Indians wasted no time in replacing him by signing former Toronto Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion. With Michael Brantley finally returning from nagging injuries, the Indians lineup is even better than it was in 2016. Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor and Edwin Encarnacion will lead the charge of this offensive powerhouse. Not only that, but the pitching rotation is expected to be fully healthy and lights out. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar will be strikeout machines if they all remain healthy. We also all remember Andrew Miller’s dominant postseason performance, and yes he is back and ready to give hitters nightmares in the back end of that bullpen. I predict the Indians to return to the World Series this season, looking for some vengeance after last year’s heartbreak.
American League Wild Cards: New York Yankees, Texas Rangers
The New York Yankees are in the midst of a rebuild, but now have a roster full of young talent. With their farm system ranked as one of the best in baseball according to MLB.com, the future is certainly here. With first baseman Greg Bird coming back after missing the entire 2016 season due to a shoulder injury, he adds a big bat to the middle of the Yankees lineup. Along with outfielder Aaron Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez, the Yankees power numbers should not disappoint. The bullpen remains strong as they signed Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman to a 5-year deal, just 6 months after trading him to the Cubs at the deadline. If they could score enough runs and figure out some of their pitching rotation issues, The Yankees could end up being the biggest surprise team throughout all of baseball. They have enough talent to make the postseason if all goes according to plan.
The Texas Rangers unfortunately are in a division with the Houston Astros, so even winning ninety games may not be enough to win a division crown this season. However, I expect them to be a good baseball team. With ace Yu Darvish returning for a full season, he could very well be the favorite to win the AL CY Young award. With Cole Hamels following Darvish in the rotation, I think their pitching will be just good enough to win a lot of games. The offense will be lead by third baseman Adrian Beltre, second baseman Rougned Odor and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, as in that ballpark in Texas can end up producing a lot of high scoring games. I expect the Rangers to easily make the wild card, just falling short to the Astros in the American League West.
National League Division Winners: New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers
Despite battling an injury bug throughout the 2016 season, the Mets enter the 2017 season almost completely healthy and ready to roll. Matt Harvey, Jacob Degrom, Noah Syndergaard, David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, Lucas Duda, Juan Lagares and Asdrubal Cabrera all missed time with injury last season. The biggest story is obviously their pitching rotation, which is arguably the best in baseball. The big four includes Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz. If all of these guys remain healthy, we’re looking at four 15+ game winners here. With David Wright’s health up in the air at this point in his career, Jose Reyes is scheduled to start majority of the games at third base. The Mets also brought back slugger Yoenis Cespedes, by giving him a big money contract. The offense is well rounded and has a lot of power up and down the order including infielder Neil Walker, outfielder Curtis Granderson and first baseman Lucas Duda. But with that incredible pitching staff, they may only need to score four to five runs a game to win over 95 games. Even though the Washington Nationals have improved, I expect the Mets to squeak out a divisional title.
The 2016 World Series Champs will look to repeat in 2017 after ending an historic 108-year drought. Dexter Fowler signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in the offseason, so the Cubs will appoint to Alberto Almora Jr. to patrol centerfield everyday. Amora Jr had a tremendous postseason, so he fills into this role quite nicely. Not only that, Kyle Schwarber is back for a full season after making a big impact in the postseason. Anthony Rizzo, 2016 NL MVP third baseman Kris Bryant, utility man Ben Zobrist and shortstop Addison Russell will lead the charge for this juggernaut offense. A strong pitching rotation lead by Jon Lester and NL CY-Young award winner Kyle Hendricks will put this team over the top once again. The biggest problem the Cubs have is the fact they have a crazy amount of talent where they may struggle finding Javy Baez playing time throughout the season. This is a good problem to have, as I expect the Cubs to lead the NL in wins and return to the World Series.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are coming off a 2016 NL West divisional title, and will once again look to claim that crown. The best pitcher throughout all of baseball Clayton Kershaw enters 2017 fully healthy and will probably win the NL CY Young award once again. The Dodgers added Rich Hill to their pitching rotation as well, and if he can remain healthy he may be the steal signing of the offseason. Kenta Maeda follows Kershaw in the rotation, which gives the Dodgers a very solid top three in their pitching rotation. Julio Urias will look to expand his innings this season, and may end up being a big contributor from the bottom of the rotation. An offense led by shortstop Corey Seager, infielder Justin Turner, and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez should give the Dodgers enough pop to win them over ninety ball games. Like I said earlier, winning baseball games is a whole lot easier with Kershaw on the mound. I think the Dodgers will once again come out on top of the NL West.
National League Wild Cards: San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals
The San Francisco Giants have always been a playoff contender in the last decade. They will once again make the postseason, but as a wild card team. This ball club has a lot of talent up and down the roster, and is very solid all around. Madison Bumgarner leads the pitching rotation and is always up there in the CY Young voting. Johnny Cueto follows Bumgarner in the rotation, coming off a tremendous 2016 season in which he won 18 games and posted a 2.79 ERA. A full year from Hunter Pence will certainly help out the Giants offense, but his health remains a question mark. Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford will help out Pence on offense and will put up very respectable numbers. I think the Giants pitching will carry them this season, as it remains their strong point. Look for the Giants in the Wild Card game later on in October.
The Washington Nationals enter 2017 with a chip on their shoulder. They are in full “win now” mode due to the uncertain future of Bryce Harper after the 2018 season. Harper is expected to become the highest paid player in baseball history, which leaves the Nationals as a big underdog to resigning him. The Nationals were busy this offseason, as they traded for Chicago White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton, who will provide speed and a high batting average at the top of their order. They also signed former Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters who will be doing the everyday catching for Dusty Baker’s squad. Their offense remains strong, despite losing Wilson Ramos (he hit .341 in 2016 for the Nats). Shortstop Trea Turner will also enter his first full season as a big leaguer, and will provide plenty of stolen bases and a high batting average for this offense. Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth will all be contributors on offense, as this offense is just as good as any teams in the NL. The pitching rotation is a question mark, as Stephen Strasburg has proven time and time again that he cannot remain healthy. Max Scherzer is the ace of this squad, and should go on to put up over 200 strikeouts once again. But, the bottom of the rotation is very shaky which may end up burning the Nats in the long run, as that is why I expect the New York Mets to win the division, but I fully expect the Nationals to gain a wild card playoff berth.