The time is now. Opening Day is upon us. With rosters set and most of the free agents in new homes (sorry Pagan, can't believe you're still unemployed dude!) it's time to take a gander at all 30 teams and the 6 divisions to see how SFGiantsGuy sees them shaking out. In my 2016 predictions, I got 6 out of the 10 playoff teams correct (though not necessarily right in terms of their place in the standings) and the NL Rookie of the Year and NL Cy Young Award winner pegged. My World Series prediction of Rays vs Giants however did not com to fruition. No worries! New season, new guesses! Here we go - may the 2017 season shake out almost exactly like this...
(Division winners bolded, wildcard teams in italics)
AL East: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Yankees, Rays
AL Central: Indians, Royals, Tigers, White Sox, Twins
AL West: Astros, Rangers, Mariners, Angels, Athletics
NL East: Mets, Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Marlins
NL Central: Cubs, Pirates, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds
NL West: Giants, Dodgers, Rockies, Dbacks, Padres
ALWC: Rangers over Jays
NLWC: Dodgers over Nationals
ALDS: Indians over Rangers, Red Sox over Astros
NLDS: Dodgers over Cubs, Giants over Mets
ALCS: Indians over Red Sox
NLCS: Giants over Dodgers
World Series: Indians over Giants
AL MVP: Mookie Betts, Red Sox
NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals
AL CYA: Chris Sale, Red Sox
NL CYA: Noah Syndergaard, Mets
AL ROY: Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
NL ROY: Hunter Renfroe, Padres
A look at the AL East: The East has been a hard division to predict the past few seasons but with the Yankees committed to a youth movement and the Rays continuing to be a farm system for other teams (thanks for Matt Moore!) the cream rising to the top is much easier to see. The Red Sox had a great offense last season and it's hard to imagine it being any less stellar in 2017 despite the retirement of Big Papi. The Red Sox got the best starting pitcher available in the offseason in Chris Sale to pair with David Price and their Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and having those arms to support their powerful offense should clear a path to the top of the division. The Blue Jays let Edwin Encarnacion go and that may come back to haunt them in October but Toronto is still plenty good and should be in the running for the wildcard. The Orioles continue their strategy of having a powerful line-up with really questionable starting pitching. It worked for them last season in terms of getting into the wildcard playoff game but Buck Showalter inexplicably decided a one-game playoff was not a good time to use his best pitcher (closer Zach Britton). Not sure it'll work this season but I've written the O's off plenty of times only to see them defy logic. I'm usually a Rays supporter as I always think they'll contend considering their pitching depth but not this time. The Yankees will be interesting to watch and may surprise but they probably need one more year of their rebuild before they're ready to be serious contenders.
A look at the AL Central: The Indians were missing their #2 and #3 starters down the stretch last season, not to mention one of their most dynamic offensive players in Michael Brantley who missed almost the entire season and yet Cleveland wound up one win away from winning the World Series. Since that tough loss, they added power hitting clutch RBI guy Edwin Encarnacion, will get back Brantley, and have Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar back in their rotation. Oh yeah, they'll also have Andrew Miller for a full season. The Indians were some peoples sleeper last season. Not this season. They should be one of the AL's best teams and in a weak division, should easily make it back to October. The Royals window has all but closed but there's still talent there to give the wildcard a run. They may want to make one last run at it given the Royals of 2018 will look a lot different than the World Series bound teams of 2014 and 2015. The Tigers are another year older and they're not doing much to get younger. While they have a lot of talent still, they may have too many miles on the core group to sustain a playoff run. Fulmer and Castellanos may be part of the next great Tigers teams but Verlander, V-Mart, Kinsler, Francisco Rodriguez, and Miguel Cabrera all can't defy father time forever. The White Sox are in full blown tear down and rebuild mode so the only questions will be where does Jose Quintana wind up, how many vets get traded during the season, and when does Yoan Moncada get called up? The Twins have some intriguing young guys but their pitching is a disaster and the only thing they'll contend for in 2017 is the worst team in the American League.
A look at the AL West: The AL West could be the battle of Texas. The Rangers and Astros should be competing amongst themselves all year for the AL West crown. The Rangers have a top heavy rotation with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish and a decent line-up while the Astros have a very strong line-up and some starting pitching that is hard to gauge. They are constantly mentioned as suitors for Jose Quintana which would help them a lot but they need to get Dallas Keuchel right too. If they can do that, they will be very tough. The Mariners are searching for that magical year where they break their playoff drought. This year could be the year if things break right. But Felix Hernandez needs to be King Felix and the rest of the rotation has to keep the team in games. The Mariners could be a solid sleeper this season. They eventually will see October again one of these years. The Angels and Athletics will likely sit at the bottom of the standings in 2017. The Angels are not in an enviable position. They have the best player in the game but can't surround him with talent. It's sad to see Mike Trout waste away in Anaheim but that is what he'll be doing this season. The A's have some intriguing prospects and young pitchers (Jharrel Cotton, Sean Manea) that could make them fun to watch, but they won't be challenging for a playoff spot.
A look at the NL East: The East is a battle between the Nationals and Mets. The Marlins aren't sure what they are doing and it was an impossible task for them to fill the void left by Jose Fernandez's sad departure from this life. The Phillies and Braves are working on being relevant in a season or two and don't have real plans for contention. They both have interesting players littered all over their rosters but it would be a surprise if either contended for a wildcard slot. The Mets have their Big 5 intact. Their starting rotation may be the deepest in the game, even if it starts off missing Steve Matz. The offense should be good enough to support their starters and establish the Mets as one of the NL's best teams. But they're going to have a dog fight with the Nationals who's line-up and rotation is on par with New York's. It'll come down to health most likely as whichever team stays healthiest likely wins the division. The other should be right there for a wildcard spot.
A look at the NL Central: The NL Central used to be the Cardinals nest but there were always good teams nipping at their heels. The Cardinals are still a well run franchise but they no longer are the darlings of the division. The World Series Champion Cubs (still weird) are the new hotness. They have youth, attitude, and a ton of talent. They had the best record in baseball in 2016 and the scary part is their offense should keep getting better. However, it's realistic to believe the pitching may take a step back but Chicago should still be deep enough to conquer all division rivals. The Pirates are in an interesting spot. They have a lot of young talent emerging but will they be consistent enough for Pittsburgh to challenge for the playoffs? Here's thinking McCutchen will rebound from a bad 2016 and will lead the Pirates to a winning record that will have them fighting for a wildcard spot in September. The Cardinals are always going to contend but the Cubs and Pirates have likely passed them by unless Adam Wainwright returns to form, a tall order for an aging veteran. The Brewers and Reds will provide fodder for wins for the other 3 teams as they are both in rebuilds.
A look at the NL West: The Giants and Dodgers have owned this division for several seasons now and that won't really change in 2017. The Dodgers have won 4 consecutive division titles and the Giants once again should be their main threat for the NL West crown. The Dodgers depth helps them continue to win but the Giants rotation may be the 2nd or 3rd best unit in the National League if they all stay healthy. The division should come down to the September divisional games. The Rockies do seem interesting at the very least given that they seem to be thinking they can contend. Their pitching staff will always be strained due to the altitude in Denver but if they can keep games close, the Rockies line-up should be able to score some runs. They should be a wildcard contender this season. The Dbacks, like the Rockies, have a good line-up that can score plenty of runs. But their pitching will have to improve if they want to avoid a losing season. They have the ingredients to be a decent team but they also are essentially returning the same cast of characters that only won 69 games last season. The Padres completely have gutted their MLB talent to restock a farm system that may start producing players in a couple seasons. They will likely combat the Reds for the number one pick in the draft next season.
And dem's the picks for the 2017 season to be revisited in November or December!
Welcome back baseball. You've been missed.