Sometimes it seems so easy to predict how major league baseball season will turn out. Twenty years ago, you pick the Yankees and you’re doing ok. Couldn’t take the Red Sox or Cubs, of course, but everyone already knew that. And as time has gone on, some things have changed, naturally — the Cubs and Red Sox are both quite obvious and popular picks in 2017 and the Yankees are a youthful sleeper at best.
But other things have stayed pretty consistent for the last few years — Clayton Kershaw as the NL’s top pitcher; the Nationals leading the NL East (and then bowing out, abruptly, from their opening playoff series); Mike Trout and Bryce Harper treating the league like their own personal sandlot; and the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Red Sox going down to the wire for the AL East crown.
This year, I predict, some of those pieces to MLB’s puzzle will stay intact; but some things will change. Let’s have a look at how I envision the 2017 season playing out, division by division and then the postseason plus awards.
Boston (95-67): The pitching is there, the lineup is there. There’s a nice blend of veteran leadership mixed with youth. If they underachieve, we may truly understand how big a part of that franchise David Ortiz was.
Baltimore (89-73): Put me on the Manny Machado bandwagon. Heck, I’ll even drive. Good pitching, better bullpen, and, yes, Manny for MVP.
Toronto (86-76): All the pieces seemed in place the past few seasons. The Jays may have missed their chance.
New York (85-77): Very young club that should be fun to watch. But they’re a year away from being playoff-bound.
Tampa Bay (67-95): It won’t be pretty in Tampa this summer for Rays’ fans.
Cleveland (90-72): I see this Cleveland team as being a bit fragile — the World Series hangover, the mileage on the starting rotation, and Michael Bradley does not seem like his shoulder wants to let him play any time soon. Still, 90 wins will put them in the postseason.
Detroit (85-77): Speaking of fragile. Is there any team in the league who’s season could swing in two more extreme directions? Stay healthy, play motivated for the late Mr. I, and have a stable bullpen and the Tigers could challenge the Indians. Or watch injuries mount on the veterans, listen to rumors fly about manager Brad Ausmus’s job and this could be a bottom 5 team in the AL.
Kansas City (81-81): It was just yesterday when the Royals were the class of the division and the league. Now, KC looks like just another team trying to make the postseason.
Minnesota (68-94): The Twins have young pieces, but they’re still a ways away from competing.
Chicago White Sox (66-96): Does anyone even know the White Sox exist?
Houston (89-73): The Astros have youth that is maturing quickly — MVP-caliber Jose Altuve, superstar in the making Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Dallas Keuchel. Veteran additions like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Josh Reddick will put Houston in a great position to get to the World Series.
Texas (87-75): The Rangers have the starting pitching and power at the plate to win a lot of games. Can the bullpen close down tough, close games in September and October, though?
Seattle (80-82): For years now it seems like we’ve all been picking the M’s as the sleek, sexy pick to make the playoffs. I’m about ready to give up.
Los Angeles Angels (79-83): My argument for a few years has been — as futile as it may be — that if Mike Trout is as good as we all think, then why are the Angels not perennial playoff contenders or challenging for the pennant? I know he’s supremely talented, but you’ve got to make others around you better, don’t you?
Oakland (65-97): Billy Beane’s “moneyball” philosophy has the A’s is a bit of a rebuild.
New York Mets (88-74): Watch Noah Syndergaard this season. The young righty was forced into a leadership role on the staff with the plethora of injuries that impacted the 2016 rotation. He grew up and I look for him to position himself right at the top of the Cy Young race. I also like the combo of Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Grandson to give the Mets lineup the punch it will need. I think Granderson is capable of providing the spark that Daniel Murphy provided the Mets in their World Series run in 2015.
Washington (85-77): One of these years I expect Washington will quiet the naysayers and will win the World Series. Players like Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer, who are perennially in the MVP and Cy Young conversations — respectively, should have rings. But I’m picking them to take a step back this season. Maybe it’s what they need before making a run in 2018?
Miami (78-84): It is impossible to predict how the Marlins will respond to the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez in their first full season without their ace. And that’s just one question that presents itself. Will Giancarlo Stanton return to MVP-form after an injury-shortened ’16? Is the pitching staff strong enough? After missing out on acquiring a relief pitcher in the offseason, can the bullpen hold things together? Too many questions for what, ultimately, is an average team.
Atlanta (77-85): The Braves have potential, which starts and ends with Freddie Freeman. If the Braves could get above .500, Freeman will garner a lot of MVP consideration — and well deserved. Bartolo Colon’s addition could add some excitement and leadership.
Philadelphia (69-93): The Phils remind me a little of the Yankees — both are young and have rebuilt their teams the smart, patient ways. That said, the playoffs are not anywhere in sight this year in Philly.
Chicago Cubs (96-66): It sure smells like a repeat is in the works, but that’s no easy task. I wouldn’t worry about the regular season for the Cubbies. But can they continue to fend off opponents’ best shot every game?
St. Louis (84-78): You can never turn your back on the Cardinals. A healthy rotation will have the Cards in the hunt all year.
Milwaukee (79-83): This is a young Brewer team who should be fun to watch. The postseason isn’t realistic, but this club should entertain fans this season.
Pittsburgh (78-84): I’m sensing a bit of a drop off for Clint Hurdle’s club. The strange moves at last year’s trade deadline still make me shake my head.
Cincinnati (68-94): Like Milwaukee, the Reds are going through a major rebuild. Games won’t be won easily for this Reds team.
Los Angeles (94-68): Corey Seager will be in the running for the MVP all year. Add the fact that you have Clayton Kershaw taking the hill every fifth day and we’re talking about a team that has World Series written all over it.
San Francisco (92-70): The pitching cannot be overstated in San Fran. No team can definitively argue their starting five is better than what the Giants throw out there. If they can find consistent offense, San Francisco will be playing late into October.
Colorado (86-76): There may not be a better 2B, SS, and 3B trio in the National League. Look for Nolan Arenado to put himself in the MVP conversation. The pitching might be the downfall, but the Rockies have a lot to be hopeful about — in ’17 and beyond.
Arizona (81-81): The Diamondbacks have been under the radar due to the division they’re in. But this team might only be a year away from seriously threatening in the West.
San Diego (58-104): Then Padres are putting their faith in Will Myers and Jared Weaver. Beyond that, the Padres are steeped in uncertainty at nearly every position.
AL: Boston over Houston
NL: Los Angeles over San Francisco
Boston over Los Angeles
AL: Manny Machado
NL: Corey Seager
AL: Chris Sale
NL: Noah Syndergaard