By: Ryan Knoblauch, who you can follow on twitter here @RKnobsauce
Winter is gone and Spring is upon us. This means that the baseball season is here and summer is soon to follow (hooray sun!) Like most people, I typically get excited for Opening Day and the start of the season, and lose interest or lend a casual ear to what is happening during the dog days of summer. After the All-Star break is when I really start to pay attention to the season, especially if the Royals are in contention for a playoff spot. (The way things have started that doesn’t look likely, but it’s still very early and there is still hope in some of my predictions.) The trade deadline usually provides some off the field drama, as teams make chess moves to better their franchises for the present and the future. Finally, the real drama starts in September when division and wild card races heat up. I still vividly remember the final day in 2011 when four games were being played to determine two wild-card teams. Three of those games finished within 15 minutes of each other in one of the craziest finishes to a baseball season ever. And October is the 2nd best month for sports (behind March…hooray basketball!) when you have college and pro football in full swing along with playoff baseball. But enough of me droning on, let’s take a look at each of the division and make some predictions on how the season might play out.
I’ll attempt to make it shorter than my Royals preview, which by way, if you haven’t read… check it out HERE!
Once again, I’m a good news first guy so let’s take a look at the American League first, where (SPOILER ALERT) I think the World Series Champ will come from. Sorry Cubs fans…
NOTE: Since the season has started my initial thoughts on a few teams have changed, but I will try to indicate, where injuries and other circumstances have caused a shift in my thought and not get too caught up with a 5 game sample size from the first week.
This division was ultra-competitive last year and it nearly cost them two playoff spots. FOUR teams were vying for either the division title or the two AL wild-card spots. In the last month of the season those teams beat the living shit out of each other and nearly everyone lost ground on the other AL teams. The Yanks traded pieces off at the deadline for what they thought was a lost season, but somehow found themselves trying to claw their way into the playoffs with two weeks left. They would ultimately be the odd man out as the Red Sox separated late and the Orioles and Blue Jays did just enough to squeak in over other AL teams. I mention the 2016 results in part because I think it is likely to happen again in 2017 but perhaps with a worse outcome for the dvision. The Red Sox continued to add pieces and look like one of the AL favorites for the WS after acquiring Chris Sale. The Yankees young prospects continue to develop. They traded away Aroldis Champan last year, one of the leagues best relievers, for prospects just to sign him again in the offseason. Such a Yankee move. Although catcher Gary Sanchez will now be out 4 weeks so that may hurt my prediction of their final standings slightly. The Rays should be slightly improved as some of their young pitching struggled last year and should bounce back. I expect the Blue Jays and the Orioles to take a slight step back, but still be competitive. However, I say that almost every year with the Orioles and the somehow keep winning. Buck Showalter is the man.
Division Winner: Red Sox
Sleeper pick: Yankees
Did you know the AL Central has represented the AL in the WS for the last three seasons? 2014-Royals, 2015-Royals, 2016-Indians. It’s not a pattern…yet, but after this season, bitch it might be. Last year the Indians looked like one of the best teams in the AL late in the season, and proved it by getting to the 9th inning of game-7 of the WS before the eventual loss to the Cubs….*whisper* and this team is better. Scary thought, huh? The Indians lost key offensive weapons Mike Napoli, WS almost hero Rajai Davis, and coo coo for Coco-puff Crisp (name Trade Mark pending). Other Indians news 2017 additions include former Blue Jay star Edwin Encarnacion, Austin Jackson, and they also get Michael Brantley back, who was injured most of last year. This might be the least competitive division in the MLB this year. I’ve already written on the Royals 2017 (seriously I’m going to hawk it to you until you read it), and no other team is worth more than a sentence. The White Sox are rebuilding and have shipped off nearly every valuable piece they don’t have locked to a long term deal. The Tigers nearly made the wild card last year, but many of the familiar names that have made them so good in the past are starting to get really old. Finally, the lowly Twins actually have some interesting prospects but they are still a year or two away and they’ll need pitching help before they will contend. No doubt who I’m picking in this division, if their pitching stays health gotta be the…
Division winner: Indians
Sleeper: Royals (hey I’m biased, get over it)
This division could be a pretty fun race. The Astros, after disappointing start to 2016, got hot in the 2nd half of the year and damn near made the wild card. The Rangers ran away with it for most of the season before things got interesting towards the end. I think those two will be fighting for the division crown again this year. The Astros are still really young, and Dallas Kuchel looks back to form after a disappointing year last year. The Rangers added Mike Napoli and didn’t lose anyone too important. The Mariners were a trendy pick to make the playoff last season, and some expert says this is the year they finally get over the hump. I’m not buying it. They haven’t done it before so what makes me think they can do it this year? An aging King Felix who has already been hurt once this year? Even with the addition of Jarod Dyson’s bat and legs, I don’t see it. I love you “That’s What Speed Do,” but I don’t think you are the missing piece to the Mariner’s playoff chances. The Angel’s have Mike Trout… and that’s about it. Their franchise is searching for what to do next as their farm system is also slim picking and it could ultimately lead to one of the biggest trades in MLB history. The A’s roster fluctuates so much it is difficult to keep up, but Khris Davis looks like a sweet player and they have acquired some young pitching the last few years so maybe Billy Beane is gearing up for money ball 3.0.
Division winner: Astros
Sleeper: Angels, as in they are literally asleep and might not even be aware that the season started
The Braves opened a new stadium this season, and realized you need fans to fill a brand new stadium. So they also opened their checkbook and were one of the busiest teams this offseason. The acquired Brandon Philips from the Reds and also signed several veteran pitchers they hope still have something left in the tank. Inculding fan favorite, Bartolo Colon who seems to have stumped father time for the TIME being (sorry lame pun) and finally acoomplished one thing his career has never seen, which you have to see to believe. They should be improved but it will be difficult to contend with the top of the division. The Nationals will be a WS favorite as new additions Adam Eaton and Matt Wieters looks to help them get over the hump. The Mets season will hinge on the health of their stellar rotation, but re-signing Yoenis Cespedes was a good move to help the offense keep up with their pitching. Miami and Philly should round out the bottom. The Phillies slowly shipped off some of their veterans the last few season and are starting to develop some promising young pitching. They will be competitive, but probably a year or two away from any major play.
Division winner: Nationals
This division might be the most boring race in the whole league. The Cubs are really, really, good, and also really really young. With their farm system, current roster, and deep pocket book, they should contend for the foreseeable future. However, they aren’t my WS champion pick this year. It is really freaking hard to repeat in baseball. It hasn’t happened since 2000 when the Yankees bought their Championships (OK, they had a pretty good homegrown core as well. Don’t get butt hurt Yankee fans). If there is a team to do it, this is the best chance anyone has had in a while. The Cardinals deserve a few words as they were competitive last year and somehow seem to be competitive every damn year. I don’t get it. Every time they have to ship off stars, they find some name in their farm system to plug-in, or some free agent to be awesome the second he puts on a Cardinal uniform. Maybe it’s some kind of voodoo devil magic, or maybe they are cheaters . Either way, the self-appointed “Best Fans in Baseball” typically don’t have many bad seasons to watch in St. Louis. The Pirates, are signing up for one more run at a Wild Card game disappointment. They plan to challenge the 90’s Bills record for giving their fans blue balls. Their solid core has slowly been depleted over the last few years, and it is only a matter of time before they have to ship off super stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole to restock the farm system. Brewers and Reds are both rebuilding and should be a non-factor. I’m sad I even wasted that many words on either of them.
Division winner: Cubs
Sleeper: Cardinals (every damn year they do it)
This division might be my favorite division race this year. Similar to the AL East, I think every team in this division will be good and they will collectively beat up on each other like a Wrestlemania match until a victory emerges from the depths. However this does not include San Diego, who will be really, really, REALLY bad. In fact, the payroll of their active roster is collectively less than Clayton Kershaw will make this year. Don’t believe me? Look here. Speaking of Kershaw, if you have a healthy one of those guys lying around it, turns out it makes your team a lot better. The Dodgers have a pretty solid roster even WITHOUT one of the best pitchers of our generation. They will be a WS contender, and many experts have them as the next best team behind the Cubs. San Francisco always figures out a way to win but 2017 is an odd year on the calendar so we can’t expect a WS run. Arizona and Colorado are the interesting teams in this division. The Diamondbacks had good pieces last year but underachieved. They still have Zack Grienke and some good offensive weapons and I think they will be much improved. The same can be said for Colorado. The offense is really good and full of young stars like Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado. If they can find some pitching they might actually be competitive past the trade deadline.
Division winner: I’ll give the Dodgers but this will be a fun one to watch.
Sleeper team: Diamondbacks
WC – Yankees
WC – Rangers
WC – Cardinals
WC – Diamondbacks
World Series: Indians over Nationals
2065 WORDS, ABOUT 200 LESS THAN MY ROYALS ARTICLE. TOLD YOU I’D MAKE IT SHORTER!