After a long, cold winter, the calendar has finally flipped to April indicating the start of Major League Baseball. Opening Day marks a time of hope and optimism for fans around the country despite what the analysts and experts have to say. As a long-time fan, I fall into the same trap every year, but understand that the season almost never goes as expected. Here is a preview of how I think the season will play out.
AL East- Toronto Blue Jays
The only thing standing in the Blue Jays way is their pitching staff. They have a loaded offense that features reigning MVP Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitzki. By all measures the best middle of the order in all of baseball. In addition, they are getting back starting pitcher Marcus Stroman who went 5-0 with a 2.72 ERA over 7 starts last season (including the postseason). If he can step up and be the ace they expect him to be, they will be in good shape to repeat as division winners. This is the closest division in all of baseball in terms of all 5 teams and they should beat each other up all year long. It wouldn’t surprise me if the division winner hovers around 90 wins and is decided in the last week, if not the last day of the season.
AL Central- Kansas City Royals
I want to pick the Indians to take the Central. Their pitching rotation is one of the scariest in all of baseball with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco (who you will hear about later), Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer. But their hitting just isn’t quite there yet. The emergence of sensational shortstop Francisco Lindor would be big for them, but the wild inconsistency of Carlos Santana and a weak outfield will hurt them (Rajai Davis, Tyler Naquin, and Marlon Byrd).
The Royals lost a bit of pitching with the departure of Johnny Cueto, but even he was not the same pitcher in KC that he was in Cincinnati. This team just knows how to get it done and has one of the best coaches in the league in Ned Yost. He knows how to get the most out of his guys and the Royals should take care of this division by a few games at least.
AL West- Texas Rangers
The Astros seem to be the sexy pick this year after coming within 5 outs of downing the would-be champion Royals in the ALDS. Carlos Correa very well could win the AL MVP in his second full season and he makes up half of the best double play combo in baseball with Jose Altuve. But their pitching is too much of a question mark for me. On paper it seems OK, but outside of AL Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel, what can they expect? Colin McHugh clearly will not win 19 games like he did last year with a 3.89 ERA, and can Doug Fister bounce back in Houston after the worst year of his career? Maybe. But, I believe the Rangers lineup is potent and will cause big problems in a division not known for its pitching. The middle of their lineup displays Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Ian Desmond, and underrated Mitch Moreland. Combine them with young speedsters like Delino DeShields and Rougned Odor and that’s a frightening lineup. This isn’t the popular pick, but I like their roster top to bottom more than the Astros in a division race that should be very tight deep into September.
NL East- New York Mets
In this day and age, pitching reigns supreme, and the Mets have a lot of it. Their rotation is the best in baseball and it’s not even close. Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom should be fighting each other all year for Cy Young votes, and Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz should emerge even brighter this year after showing us last year what could lie ahead. The Mets also have a solid offense, but were carried in the second half by OF Yoenis Cespedes who had a line of .291/35/105 (Batting Average, Homeruns, RBI’s). His career average is .271/27/92). However, comfort and a change of scenery can be important in baseball and he managed to hit 17 homeruns and 44 RBIs over 57 games with the Mets, which translates to 48 Homers and 125 RBIs over 162 games. Will he have these numbers? Probably not, but I am a believer that guys can be elevated by their surroundings, which is what we saw with him last season. The only team that could give them a run is the Nationals who poached former Mets playoff hero Daniel Murphy in the offseason and will get a full season of 3B Anthony Rendon. But their wildly inconsistent pitching staff, outside of Max Scherzer, will spell doom for this team in the dog days of August and September. This divisional race could be closer than expected, but the Mets pitching should carry them to the postseason.
NL Central- St. Louis Cardinals
What?! What about the Cubs?! Did you see who they signed this offseason?! Yes, yes hear me out. Let’s see what the Cardinals lost and gained. OF Jason Heyward left for the Cubbies and so did pitcher John Lackey. However, Heyward will be replaced by a full year of youngster Stephen Piscotty whose season last year projected over 162 games reflects a line of .305/18/100 compared to Heyward’s full season of .293/13/60. On the other hand, the loss of John Lackey was significant, but they replaced him with Mike Leake, who is a very solid pitcher himself and should provide over 200 innings with an ERA in the low to mid 3.00’s. Plus, the Cardinals seems to have some voodoo magic when it comes to pitching, as seen by Lackey’s reemergence last year, so don’t be surprised if Leake also opens some eyes this year. In other word, the Cardinals are not much different from the 100-win team last year, plus they are getting back ace Adam Wainwright. Could I be dead wrong about this pick and the Cubs win 100+ games and easily take the division? Absolutely. But there is something to be said about consistency and the Cardinals have epitomized that word for the last 5-10 years despite major adversity. Call it a hunch, call it history, but I’m taking the Cardinals by a small margin here.
NL West- San Francisco Giants
2010- World Series Champions. 2012- World Series Champions. 2014- World Series
Champions. 2016- World Series Champions??? Maybe not. But I do believe they take care of this division. Outside of the Mets and Indians this could be the best pitching staff in the bigs. This offseason, they added Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija who are both coming off disappointing seasons. However, they are still valuable assets in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. Pair them with ace Madison Bumgarner, and veterans Jake Peavy and Matt Cain and this could be the best pitching staff the Giants have had since their 2010 World Series team. Over in Phoenix, the Diamondbacks are much improved with the addition of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, but simply do not have a deep enough offense to keep up with the dominant pitching in the NL West Division. The Dodgers should pose the most serious threat here, but need production from guys like Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson. Both have shown tremendous potential in their first few seasons, but have yet to put together full seasons of success. Also, the back end of the pitching rotation remains a major question mark between guys like Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda. Overall, the Giants have the best pitching staff and a very underrated lineup that finished with a team batting average of .267 last year (4th in MLB).
AL Wild Card Game- Astros vs. Red Sox
The Astros are the best AL team remaining on the board and the Red Sox boast a new staff ace of David Price. IF the Sox can stay healthy, which has been a major problem for them recently, expect them to be there in October with a young, exciting core of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts.
NL Wild Card Game- Cubs vs. Nationals
Okay, so here are your Cubbies! They are arguably the best team in baseball and could easily win the division, but for reasons mentioned above I liked the Cardinals to win the NL Central. I picked the Nationals to outpace the Dodgers for the second wildcard spot behind a deeper pitching rotation and reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper.
MVP/CY Young Award Winners:
AL MVP- Manny Machado
This pick may come as a bit of a surprise, but he should have gotten more consideration last year than he did. Hidden on a sub-par Orioles team, he hit .286 with 35 homeruns and 86 RBIs. The RBI total is slightly lower than normal, but like Bryce Harper (who won the NL MVP with 99 RBIs), it was a matter of opportunity in a less-than-stellar offense. He only had 114 at bats with runners in scoring position as opposed to AL MVP Josh Donaldson who had 136. Machado’s power numbers have steadily increased each year he has been in the majors, (excluding 2014 during which he sustained a major knee injury). I would not be surprised if he progressed to a line of .300/40/110, which would put him right in the thick of MVP consideration.
NL MVP- Paul Goldschmidt
This is straight up one of the best players in baseball and nobody really knows who he is. How many players consistently hit over .300 with 30+ homers and 100+ RBIs? You can count that list on one hand these days. In 2015, Goldy put up a line of .321/33/110. In 2014, he was hurt after 109 games, but his numbers over 162 games would have been .300/28/103. And in 2013, he went .302/36/125. These types of years are reminiscent of guys like Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols in their prime, with slightly lower power numbers. This is the year I think he will eclipse 40 homers and force people to take notice of his production.
AL CY Young- Carlos Carrasco
This is a true underdog. Coming off his first really solid season, what makes me think he will ascend to CY Young status? First of all, it doesn’t hurt that everyone in the Indians organization raves about the guy. He has amazing stuff and proved last year for most of the season that he has the poise to pitch at this level. He combined a unique mix of ground ball pitching and strikeouts that finished him 20th overall in groundball rate in the majors last year (52.57% of outs) and 4th overall in strikeout rate (29.59% of outs). That means over 82% of his outs come via strikeout or ground ball. This compares relatively similar to last year’s NL CY Young award winner, Jake Arrieta, whose ground ball rate was 57.07% and strikeout rate was 27.13% (84% of his outs overall). Now, Carrasco needs to pitch more innings (only threw 183 2/3 last year), which is a result of him not getting as deep into ball games, but this usually comes with experience and time. His teammate, Corey Kluber, shot onto the scene to win the AL CY young in 2014, why can’t Carrasco do the same?
NL CY Young- Clayton Kershaw
The fact of the matter is that this guy is a beast. AS long as he stays healthy, he is a virtual lock for 230 innings and 250 strikeouts, with the potential for 300 strikeouts like he had last season. He had the third best ERA in the league last year (2.13), the second best strikeout to walk ratio (7.17) and was third in walks and hits per innings pitched (0.88). He easily would have won the hardware last year if not for the fact that Zack Greinke had the lowest single season ERA (1.66) since Greg Maddux in 1994 (1.56) and Jake Arrieta had 22 overall wins and a 0.75 ERA over his final 15 starts for a surprising Cubs team. Without Greinke in town, we will see just how valuable and dominant this guy is and he will emerge as the most dominant arm in all of baseball.
NLCS- Cubs over Giants
ALCS- Blue Jays over Astros
World Series- Cubs over Blue Jays