The MLB is back this weekend, meaning that for the next six months, some form of professional baseball will be played almost every day for the next six months. Without further ado…
- Red Sox
- Blue Jays (Wild Card)
The AL (B)East is back as each of these teams have a strong chance to finish .500 or better. The Red Sox remain the toughest team in the division, but probably won’t reach last year’s 93-win plateau. Mookie Betts leads a potent offense and is the odds-on favorite to finish second to Mike Trout in the AL MVP race. Hanley Ramirez should continue his offensive renaissance now that he no longer has to play the field. Andrew Benintendi should be a unanimous Rookie of the Year winner if he stays healthy. The offense will struggle without David Ortiz, but should still finish in the top five in runs scored. The pitching staff should be seen as a strength after the trade for Chris Sale, but David Price’s health and Rick Porcello’s inevitable regression raises concerns for a team that does not have a lot of starting pitching depth in the upper minors or the bullpen outside of Craig Kimbrel.
After hitting a career high 30 homers in a pitcher’s park in Kansas City, Kendrys Morales will thrive in Toronto, filling Edwin Encarnacion’s spot perfectly. Devon Travis and Marcus Stroman, both finally fully healthy, have breakout years. Troy Tulowitzki continues to struggle outside of Coors Field and gets injured again. The Jose Bautista decline continues and Aaron Sanchez takes a minor step back after outperforming his peripherals and leading the AL in ERA in 2016.
The Yankees could be a surprise team if their starting pitching behind ace Masahiro Tanaka holds up. Luis Severino lack of a third pitch will cause him to struggle again, but he will become a bullpen ace, allowing the team to shop Dellin Betances at the deadline. The Yankee offense has real potential as Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Matt Holliday, and Aaron Judge should all push 30 home runs. Factor in the highly-anticipated debuts of Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier and the shutdown bullpen led by Aroldis Chapman, and the rebuild in the Bronx shouldn’t last as long as some analysts may think.
The Orioles continue their homerun or nothing offense and Manny Machado further cements himself as a top 5 player in the game. While everyone focuses on Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, Jonathan Schoop quietly slugs a career high 35 homeruns. Their pitching lets them down as neither Dylan Bundy nor Kevin Gausman approach their ace-like expectations.
Tampa Bay will finally revamp their farm system by trading away Evan Longoria and Chris Archer at the deadline. Alex Cobb finally stays healthy and is a top 30 starting pitcher. Kevin Kiermaier’s offensive stats catch up with his defense, earning him some MVP votes and making his 6 year $53 million extension look like a steal.
- White Sox
With a healthy Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Michael Brantley, and Yan Gomes back, the Indians waltz through the regular season and win the division by 10+ games. Corey Kluber shows no ill effects from his extended workload in the 2016 playoffs and Francisco Lindor solidifies himself as an MVP candidate. The Indians also help to reinvent the modern MLB bullpen as Andrew Miller and Cody Allen split the closing role, as manager Terry Francona decides to play with matchups in the late innings.
Miguel Cabrera easily puts up another .300-30-100 line but it isn’t enough to save an aging Tigers team. J.D. Martinez rakes when healthy, which lands him a $100 million contract with a non-contender in the offseason. Justin Verlander proves that his comeback is real, but at 34 years old, he isn’t the Cy Young candidate he was last season. Justin Upton continues to frustrate fans and ownership with his streaky play and the Tigers look to shop him for prospects at the deadline.
Danny Duffy proves that last year’s breakout was no fluke, but the lackluster crop of veterans behind him in the rotation drive the Royals to mediocrity. Eric Hosmer has his best year to date, but still fails to reach 30 homers. Out of the race by midseason, Kansas City looks to cash in on Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain’s contract years and package them both to a contender at the deadline. Kelvin Herrera makes fans forget about Wade Davis and entrenches himself as a top 5 closer in the league. Jorge Soler, the Royals’ return in the Davis trade, posts a quiet 25 homer .270 season leading fans and analysts alike to wonder whether he’s over or underrated.
Brian Dozier loses 15 homers off of last year’s total (42), but the future is bright in Minnesota as both Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton breakout. Sano clubs 40 homers and Buxton hits 20 while also stealing 30 bases, but their breakouts are somewhat overshadowed by the fact that neither player hits above .250 due to their strikeout tendencies. After having one of the worst debuts in history (8.02 ERA over 14 starts and 58.1 innings), Jose Berrios regains some of his prospect shine and pitches to a formidable mid 3s ERA over the second half of the season.
In an obviously lost season, the White Sox struggle to not lose 100 games. The tear down will continue as Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, and David Robertson are all dealt midseason. Closer in waiting Nate Jones outperforms Robertson regardless. Yoan Moncada becomes a big league mainstay by June, but contact issues plague his rookie year leading some analysts to label him as a bust. Tim Anderson quietly hits 10 homers and steals 30 bags and Carlos Rodon emerges as the staff ace by finishing in the top 3 in the AL in strikeouts. Reynaldo Lopez overtakes Lucas Giolito as the Sox’ top pitching prospect, but both finish the season in the rotation.
- Astros (Wild Card)
Yu Darvish carves up the American League, pushing 20 wins and 300 strikeouts in route to the AL Cy Young award. Rougned Odor again hits 30 homers. Delino DeShields steals 40 bases. Adrian Beltre shows signs of age but still clears 20 homers and collects his 3,000th career hit sometime in June. Carlos Gomez proves that his comeback is real and has a 20/20 season, while Nomar Mazara quietly hits 30 homers and makes the All-Star team. The bullpen costs the Rangers some games, so look for the team to address that need at the trade deadline.
The Astros pitching staff, besides a breakout Lance McCullers, causes them enough trouble to trade for Jose Quintana. Dallas Keuchel never regains his Cy Young form, but is a strong #3 starter. The catcher platoon of Brian McCann and Evan Gattis nets the Astros a combined 35 homeruns. Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran disappoint, but their lack of production is mitigated by a breakout Carlos Correa who hits 30 homeruns and steals 20 bases. Alex Bregman doesn’t breakout to his full potential, but becomes a great source of counting stats as the Astros lead the league in runs scored. Ken Giles recaptures the success he enjoyed in Philadelphia and leads the league in saves.
Nelson Cruz hits 30+ homeruns, but his average falls into the .260s. Robinson Cano doesn’t threaten 40 homers again, but still bats a cool 100/25/100/.290. New closer Edwin Diaz (nicknamed “Sugar”) strikes out the side in the All-Star Game and leads all relievers in Ks and K/9. James Paxton, and his 100 mph fastball from the left side, overtakes Felix Hernandez and becomes the staff ace. Mitch Haniger reinforces the idea that spring stats don’t matter and is platooned by the end of April. Jean Segura doesn’t repeat his 20/30 season from 2016, but is one of the AL’s best shortstops and lead off men; he scores 100+ runs.
Mike Trout puts up his best season to date, easily going 30/30 and winning his third AL MVP. The steady decline of Albert Pujols continues as he once again clears 30 homers and 100 RBI, but hits below .250 for the second time in three years. Garrett Richards decision to rehab his injured elbow rather than undergo Tommy John surgery hurts him and he goes under the knife by July. Cam Bedrosian emerges as a top 10 closer going into 2018 despite his limited save chances.
Sonny Gray bounces back from his horrendous 2016 (5.69 ERA over 117 innings), but never fully regains his 2015 All-Star form and watches Sean Manaea become the obvious ace of the staff. Rookie Jharel Cotton strikes out almost a batter per inning and leads the staff in wins. Rajai Davis is on pace to steal 50+ bases but gets traded to a contender at midseason where he becomes a fourth outfielder. Third basemen Ryon Healy almost perfectly doubles his stats from his half-season in 2016, slugging 30 homers with an average in the .280s. Khris Davis once again hits 40 homers and the nation begins to pay attention to him after he beats Giancarlo Stanton and Yoenis Cespedes in the Homerun Derby.
- Mets (Wild Card)
Bryce Harper proves that 2016 was an injury-filled fluke and once again slugs 35+ homeruns with an average above .290. Daniel Murphy loses 40 points off his batting average, but the power stays and he serves as formidable protection for Harper. The true star of the offense is sparkplug Trea Turner who hits 15+ homers and steals 50+ bases while playing Gold Glove defense. Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer both pitch 200+ innings and strikeout 250+ batters as the Nationals easily win the division by 10+ games. After trying to fix their closer problem internally for the month of April the team completes another trade with the White Sox, acquiring David Robertson.
Outside of Noah Syndergaard, who finishes with an ERA in the low 2s and 250+ strikeouts, the Mets rotation is plagued by injuries again. Jacob deGrom is allegedly good to go, but is far from a 200-inning workhorse. Matt Harvey will continue to struggle if he doesn’t learn how to pitch without his upper 90s fastball. Neither Steven Matz nor Zack Wheeler pitch more than 100 innings due to injuries, which opens the door for Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, both of whom will be entrenched in the 2018 rotation. Offensively, the party doesn’t stop for Yoenis Cespedes who once again blasts 35 homers. In addition, one of Jay Bruce or Curtis Granderson are benched in late April to clear room for Michael Conforto, who immediately becomes the team’s second-best hitter.
Led by an in-his-prime Freddie Freeman, the Braves are baseball’s Cinderella story of the regular season but ultimately finish just below .500. Dansby Swanson does just enough offensively to stay in the top half of the lineup, but his defense makes him a household name by midseason. Matt Kemp is a reliable source of cheap power as he and Freeman once again combine for 70+ homers. Centerfielder Ender Inciarte leads the NL in hits and batting average, while also making the All Star team. Bartolo Colon continues to show that age is nothing but a number, winning 14+ games for the 5th straight season.
Giancarlo Stanton is on pace for 50 homers by the All-Star break but gets hurt again. Dee Gordon bounces back stealing 50+ bases with an average north of .300. Christian Yelich continues to add power and decides to run again resulting in a 25/15/.300 season. After A.J. Ramos is dealt midseason, Kyle Barraclough emerges as the MLB’s next 100 strikeout closer. The rotation keeps the team from competing as none of the starters in the team’s Opening Day rotation have ERAs under 4.
The Phillies continue to be terrible, but Aaron Nola becomes an ace, finishing with a sub 3 ERA. Vince Velasquez strikes out 200 in less than 170 innings, but is plagued by homeruns in the hitter friendly Citizens Bank Park. Tommy Joseph hits 30+ homeruns, but Maikel Franco doesn’t crack 20. Cesar Hernandez hits .300 and steals 30 bases. Odubel Herrera remains one of the best Rule 5 draft picks of all time repeating his 15/25/.290 line from last season.
- Pirates (Wild Card)
Jason Heyward continues to disappoint offensively, but Javier Baez becomes a regular by the end of April and goes 20/20 while winning a Gold Glove at second base. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo finish second and third in the NL MVP race. The Kyle Schwarber leadoff experiment is a success as the former first round pick posts an OBP above .370. One of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks gets hurt, leading the team to trade for former Cubs prospect Chris Archer at the deadline. New closer Wade Davis isn’t as good as he was in Kansas City, but it doesn’t matter as the Cubs easily win 100+ games again.
Andrew McCutchen is easily the least valuable of Pittsburgh’s outfielders as both Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are All-Stars. Gerrit Cole doesn’t live up to his ace potential, but Jameson Taillon does and he’s the one manager Clint Hurdle gives the ball to for the Wild Card game. Ivan Nova and Tyler Glasnow round out the surprisingly deep Pittsburgh rotation. The team overlooks Josh Bell’s defensive struggles thanks to an OBP above .350 and surprising pop from both sides of the plate.
Matt Carpenter continues his pre-injury 2016 pace by hitting 30 homers for the first time. Shortstop Aledmys Diaz proves last year was no fluke and competes for the batting title. While they don’t stand out, the Cardinals outfield trio of Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty is one of the best in the game. Carlos Martinez pitches like an ace, but the rest of the rotation is shaky as losing top prospect Alex Reyes to Tommy John surgery during Spring Training costs St. Louis a playoff spot.
Jonathan Villar proves that his breakout was no joke. His average drops below .280 but he once again manages 15+ homers and 50+ steals. Ryan Braun misses 30+ games but still hits 20 homers, while Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana’s contact struggles continue, leading one of them to get benched in favor of top prospect Lewis Brinson. Eric Thames tops 20 homers, but also struggles to hit .250 and gets platooned. Hernan Perez once again produces double digit homers and steals, becoming one of the most valuable utility men in baseball. Junior Guerra is the only member of the rotation with an ERA below 4 and is dealt at the deadline.
Jose Peraza and Billy Hamilton combine for more than 100 steals. Adam Duvall is again a cheap source of 30+ homers. Joey Votto continues to perform at a high level, but demands a trade as Cincinnati pitchers have the worst team ERA in baseball. No one on the staff finishes with more than 15 saves.
Clayton Kershaw has his best season yet, striking out 300 with an ERA below 2 and a WHIP below 0.80. Among pitchers with at least 1,000 career innings pitched, Kershaw ranks 24th with a 2.36. What’s the catch? The only other pitcher above him on that list that pitched within the last 80 years is Mariano Rivera. When all is said and done, Kershaw should go down as the best starting pitcher of all time. As for the rest of the staff, Rich Hill should be a top 15 pitcher as long as he stays healthy, which he won’t. Julio Urias dominated as a teenager. There’s no question about his stuff, but with the Dodgers expected to play deep into October, he may only pitch 120ish innings. Offensively, Corey Seager should only get better. Look for his power output to push 30 homeruns with the same solid .300+ average. Justin Turner’s late breakout looks for real. Look for him to also push 30 homers and 100 RBI. Yasiel Puig’s time in Dodger blue should end soon. There may not be a player more desperate for a change of scenery in baseball.
Nolan Arenado is the only player in baseball with 40+ homers and 130+ RBI in each of the last two seasons. Couple that with his superb defense and the only thing standing between him and an MVP award is the Rockies overall performance. If they clinch even the second Wildcard, Arenado should be a shoo-in. Charlie Blackmon will continue to be one of the most underrated players in baseball and go 20/20/.300 again. D.J. LeMahieu will once again be the best hitter you’ve never heard of. Once healthy, both David Dahl and Ian Desmond will be offensive juggernauts and could still hit 20+ homers despite a shortened season. Coors Field will continue to hamper Jon Gray’s overall ERA, but his performance, coupled with the Rockies stellar offense should make him a formidable ace. Greg Holland will have an All-Star comeback, leading a surprisingly deep Rockie bullpen.
Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto will continue their stellar performance, but once again be overlooked because of the dominance of Clayton Kershaw. Matt Moore could have a surprisingly effective season in the NL West if he gets his walks in check. Eduardo Nunez should continue his offensive outburst, provided his defense is good enough to keep him in the lineup. The Giants will need him to run so 30+ steals should be easy. Hunter Pence and Buster Posey should once again have fine seasons, but their true offensive potential will again be capped by the spacious AT&T Park.
A fully healthy A.J. Pollock will repeat his breakout 2015 stat line, cementing himself as one of the best outfielders in the game. Paul Goldschmidt will compete for the Triple Crown before fading down the stretch. Jake Lamb improves against lefties, slugging 30+ homers with an average above .260. Yasmany Tomas takes a small step back offensively, but still finishes as a top 40 outfielder. Zack Greinke once again posts an ERA over 4 as Taijuan Walker emerges as the staff ace. The Fernando Rodney led bullpen is a disaster, which blows the most saves in baseball.
The Padres will be a lot of fun to watch this year. Wil Myers will add some power and lose some speed making a 30/20 season entirely possible. Hunter Renfroe will lead all rookies with 30+ homeruns, while Manny Margot goes 10/30. Austin Hedges hits 15+ homers while playing superb defense. Once healthy, Carter Capps will take over the closer role before being dealt to a contender (Texas?) at midseason. The rotation will be an absolute disaster and the starter with the lowest ERA at year’s end won’t be on the Opening Day roster.
AL Wildcard: Astros over Blue Jays
NL Wildcard: Mets over Pirates
AL Divisional: Indians over Astros, Rangers over Red Sox
NL Divisional: Cubs over Mets, Nationals over Dodgers
AL Championship: Indians over Rangers
NL Championship: Nationals over Cubs
World Series: Nationals over Indians
MVPs: Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado
Cy Young: Yu Darvish, Clayton Kershaw
Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi, Hunter Renfroe
Comeback Player: Greg Bird, Kyle Schwarber