Happy Opening Day, everyone.
All 30 teams start on even ground. I’m going to look at how each shakes out over the next six months. I already predicted award winners in the last column, if you’d like to see how wrong those turn out.
Do the Dodgers finally win the NL? How will the Cubs respond to success? Can Cleveland return to the World Series? Is Boston worth the hype?
I’ll try to answer. Also, be sure to check out JR Hernandez’s latest “Angry Dodgers Fan” podcast (@JRHernandezLA). We discussed our MLB picks, in addition to the Dodgers roster, fan base and more.
So let’s get this thing moving.
— Noah Syndergaard (@Noahsyndergaard) March 30, 2017
New York, 91-71
I couldn’t decide here, but when pressed on the podcast, I went with New York. I fully expect the East to be the closest race in the National League. It’ll come down to game 162.
With the Mets, it’s about getting healthy and going into the postseason with momentum. If New York is at full strength, the trick becomes mustering just enough offense. If it can, this might be the best team in the league.
Noah Syndergaard is a star. I picked Matt Harvey to win Comeback Player of The Year, and also took Yoenis Cespedes as MVP. Steven Matz grows into a No. 2 starter, giving the Mets four frontline guys to throw at you. Injuries will undoubtedly occur, and while they could cost New York the East, it won’t matter if the team emerges healthy at the right time.
Bryce Harper bounces back and Washington acquires a closer at the deadline. The Adam Eaton trade pays off, as he thrives at the top of the lineup. Stephen Strasburg stays healthy and pieces together one of his best seasons. There’s a lot to like about this Nationals team, but their past playoff performances remain fresh on our minds. Like the Dodgers, their success will be judged strictly by the postseason.
Miami would have the most sleeper potential in the NL if it had anything in the rotation. The Marlins offense will challenge for best in the senior circuit, but it won’t matter because they can’t slow down the opposition. I’m taking Miami at .500, and it’s hard to see the pendulum swinging one way or another. The team is too talented to sell, but its minor league system is too weak to acquire significant help. Miami made offers to Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman last winter, and it appears as though it’ll have to use that money on a starter or two next Christmas.
I’m high on this Braves club, and taking the over on their 73.5 sounds like easy money. Atlanta won 20 of its final 30 games in 2016, with contributions from midseason adds Dansby Swanson and Matt Kemp. While Kemp’s production will fluctuate, Swanson will assert himself as Brandon Crawford-lite. My Rookie of The Year pick guides the Braves into their new ballpark with hope. Atlanta added several veteran innings eaters as well, allowing them to patiently assess their young arms.
Philadelphia is still rebuilding, but it’s assembling a young, talented rotation that’s already paying dividends. Vince Velasquez might be a trade candidate (for some reason) after the Phillies included him in talks last winter. Philadelphia has a roster of prospects and veterans trying to re-discover their place in the league. That will make for some exciting baseball and probably another intriguing July for the soon-to-be competitive Phillies.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 3, 2017
St. Louis, 84-78
This division is divided into three parts.
- The Cubs sit in a class by themselves. The defending champions will run away with the Central and start preparing for the playoffs early.
- The Cardinals and Pirates will jockey for second – and wild card spots. Pittsburgh is expected to rebound from last season, as is Andrew McCutchen. If the Pirates start slow, he could be wearing a different uniform by Aug. 1. The Cardinals will compete as always, but this team isn’t as deep as usual. Dexter Fowler was a nice signing, but St. Louis doesn’t have enough talent to win the wild card. Concerns about Mike Matheny grow louder as the Cards fall just shy of another postseason berth. So congrats Cards fans, you may now expect your team to win the World Series.
- The Brewers and Reds know they won’t compete, and they’re fine with that. But teams are in the midst of overhauls. Milwaukee will be more entertaining, and it will surely be one of the more dangerous teams on the base paths. Midseason and September call-ups will be the highlight of Brewers fans’ season. Cincinnati has less to be excited about in 2017. Nick Senzel will be a foundation piece, but he won’t be in the majors this season. The team has a few young arms to sort through, though Anthony DeSclafani’s injury is worrisome. Oh, and they have Joey Votto, which is something. Maybe he can break Barry Bonds’ walk record?
See you on Monday, Clayton. pic.twitter.com/Y6wrG1rcTW
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) April 2, 2017
Los Angeles, 92-70
*San Francisco, 86-76
San Diego, 61-101
The Dodgers win their fifth NL West title in a row. Led by Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and MVP finalist Corey Seager, L.A. pulls away from the Giants and Rockies after a tight first half race. The Dodgers have the best depth in baseball. They have chemistry, balance; can beat you in a variety of ways. It’s hard to imagine them losing this division.
San Francisco and Colorado are vying for second. The Giants made one big addition – closer Mark Melancon – to address their glaring weakness. It’s a solid roster, but not as scary as year’s past (then again, that’s what San Francisco does). The Giants will claw their way to a wildcard, but with minimal financial availability and lesser farm depth, the trade deadline could push another team ahead.
That team might be Colorado, which has the money and prospects to make a move at the deadline. I’m buying the Rockies hype, even if we may be a year early. Bud Black wins Manager of The Year for guiding the team to a winning season in his first 162 games in the dugout. The Rockies make that step this year, then target the postseason in 2018.
Arizona is the most interesting team here. Under new leadership, perhaps the talent in place prospers and the Diamondbacks are a pseudo Wild Card contender. Or maybe the organization realizes this is a longterm project, which means selling. A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt and others could fetch valuable returns and hold heavy influence on the pennant races. The team will probably try to move Zack Greinke as well, but that’s a tough pitch.
San Diego is the worst team in baseball. But if you enjoy watching prospects take their beatings and learn the MLB, the Padres are an interesting watch. Otherwise, it’ll be a stayaway. Their rotation is the worst in the majors. Outside Wil Myers, the lineup is full of players who aren’t quite ready to make an impact. San Diego is setting itself up for a bright future, but this is the phase that’s hardest to endure.
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) April 2, 2017
New York, 83-79
Tampa Bay, 77-85
Boston will win this division. The only question is by how much. The Red Sox had the best offense in the majors, and despite the retirement of David Ortiz, return a formidable lineup again. The team paid a bounty for Chris Sale to switch socks, so it has to hope he avoids the “Boston market” adjustment period that’s hurt other acquisitions. It’s debatable how good the Red Sox will be, or if this is a World Series favorite, but it’s clear Boston is the class of the AL East.
Toronto is the safest bet for second. Edwin Encarnacion is gone, but the Blue Jays still possess a special blend of offense and pitching. I took Aaron Sanchez as the AL’s surprise Cy Young winner, but Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman play just as large roles in the team’s success.
New York and Baltimore have several variables. I’ll take the Yankees to finish ahead because a) their upside is higher and b) the Orioles may be forced to sell. New York, for the first time in my life, is stocked with young, exciting players signed to cheap deals. It’ll be strange watching the Yankees without several overpriced, bloated deals of guys who starred elsewhere. The rotation will hold New York back from a surprise playoff berth, but the lineup and bullpen give the team a foundation heading into the offseason.
The Orioles are in a tough spot. Even if the team is a fringe contender, it must consider selling. Zach Britton and Chris Tillman are eyeing free agency. Blank checks will be handed to Manny Machado in the 2018 offseason, including potentially from the rival Yankees, which may push Baltimore to trade him (possibly to a team it thinks could extend him). Manager Buck Showalter is nearing retirement, and a rebuild will almost certainly force him out.
Tampa Bay is the worst team in the division, but should still be competitive. The Rays are in a youth movement emphasizing pitching. As the East develops into an offensively heavy division, Tampa Bay is zagging to everyone’s zigging. It might pay off in another season or two, but the Rays won’t be a factor past July in 2016.
— Francisco Lindor (@Lindor12BC) March 31, 2017
Kansas City, 78-84
It’s Cleveland and everyone else. The Indians, like Boston, are the runaway favorite in their division. Detroit and Kansas City look like second wild card fodder at best, while the other two are focused on development. Cleveland’s challenge will be managing health and Andrew Miller’s innings. The team is loaded top to bottom and owns the assets to make another July move.
The Tigers are above average, but not much more. If Detroit floats around .500, similar to Baltimore, it could opt to sell. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander are signed to massive salaries that are hard to move, especially midseason. Ian Kinsler, however, could hold appeal to several teams (though few contenders have holes at second base). Detroit likely keeps the status quo, then faces the tough decisions in November.
Kansas City falls in the same category: Mediocre team stuck with a plethora of decisions. Eric Hosmer’s free agency looms, as does Mike Moustakas’ and Lorenzo Cain’s. The 2015 world series seems like a long time ago, and the Royals are close to a transition phase. What the team does over the next year will determine its path over the next half-decade.
Minnesota is a candidate for “better than you think, but nothing crazy.” The Twins will be a fun watch, as will Byron Buxton, who needs to finally show what he’s capable of. Brian Dozier is one of the best summer trade chips, but finding a partner could be tricky. There was limited interest outside the Dodgers in the offseason. St. Louis and San Francisco reportedly were intrigued, but the Cardinals have a glut of infielders and the Giants don’t have the assets appealing to Minnesota. I talked with Cold Omaha’s Brandon Warne about the Dodgers and Twins’ Dozier talks and where Minnesota may go from here.
The White Sox deserve applause. Forever on the treadmill, the organization decided to tear it down and go full-rebuild. Similar to the crosstown Cubs’ plan, the White Sox accepted they won’t win anytime soon and committed to a lengthy rebuild. This will be the hardest season given the early stages, but there’s still promise. Yoan Moncada is now the face of the rebuild, and Chicago is handing him the keys. Its infield is actually better than you’d think: Jose Abreu, Moncada, Tim Anderson and Tim Frazier. Jose Quintana might be the best chip on the market. Frazier and David Robertson should fetch decent returns.
— Houston Astros (@astros) April 2, 2017
The race to the top of the AL West comes down to a trio of teams. Any three could conceivably win it, and it could come down to the final days. I’ll go against the grain: Houston wins it by eight games. And the Astros win a lot more than that.
Houston underwent an unprecedented rebuild that started bearing fruit two seasons ago. Last year was a disappointment, but 2017 becomes the next step. Jose Altuve wins the MVP in route to the Astros taking the division crown. Houston has more infield options than it knows what to do with, and in my mind is the primary suitor for Quintana. The Astros have talent, money and assets. That’s a deadly combination.
Seattle is due for the playoffs. It finally returns for the first time since the memorable 2001 season. I chose Seattle as my surprise team, though admittedly it’s not much of one. The Mariners have a veteran core that needs to win soon. If the team is holding steady at the deadline, a desperation trade could be on the horizon. The Mariners offense carries it back to the postseason.
Texas falls short. The rotation isn’t as impressive as it appears on paper. More than anything else, I think Texas is a fine team that’s simply not up to Houston and Seattle’s level.
The Angels aren’t a contender, but they’re moving in a better direction than 24 months ago. Past poor decisions, financially and prospect-wise, cost the Angels a chance to put a solid team around Mike Trout. The recently extended Kole Calhoun will have another underrated season, but the pitching staff is filled with risk and little upside. All that said, if the Angels play this right, they could be a competitor as early as next season.
The A’s, soon to be Oakland’s lone sports franchise, won’t be a factor. Like Minnesota, Oakland could win more games than you think, perhaps playing spoiler down the stretch. The A’s are steadily building a balanced team, just as Billy Beane prefers, but lack a franchise face. This season may provide some clarity for who’s a building block and who’s the next to be traded.
World Series Prediction: New York Mets over Houston Astros
I preface this by saying I’m usually wrong on championship predictions, so I’m doing our readers a favor and staying away from the Dodgers. This is a high risk, high reward pick, but I can’t help but love this Mets roster conceptually.
New York can pitch Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Harvey and Matz in a postseason series. If Cespedes is a true MVP candidate, the offense will be formidable enough. They’ll likely have tons of ups and downs in the regular season, but if they can hang on long enough to get healthy for October, that’s my pick to win it all.
I’m betting on Houston acquiring a top of the rotation arm, at which point they’ll be hard to beat. I could just as easily see Cleveland in this spot again but I’ll go with the Astros’ fresh legs.
L.A. has a better shot at the fall classic than any year since 1988. The Dodgers have stars, depth and the ability to go get anyone they want. The Cubs may have a hangover, New York may be injured, Washington may disappoint; or perhaps none of that matters. Los Angeles is as talented as any of them. The National League playoffs should be the tightest they’ve been in a long time.