April 2nd: 2017 MLB Preview

Opening Day will mark exactly 5 months since the Cubs hoisted the World Series trophy, ending the 2016 season. Coming out of Spring Training, every fan is excited to see what the year holds in store for their team. The ZP: Left Fielder predicts how things will go for all 30 MLB teams, and who will make an appearance in October baseball.

NL Central:

  1. Cubs: The most complete team in the bigs, the Cubs will have no problem getting back to the postseason. Many forget that the end of June and beginning of July were miserable months last year for the Cubs, so this Cubs team has a chance to be even better than last year’s champs.
  2. Pirates: A rumor-filled offseason is usually a bad sign, but the Pirates have a deep team and a strong foundation of success. The best outfield in baseball will propel them into meaningful September games, and a core of young talent will keep the Pirates right in the thick of things.
  3. Cardinals: The Cardinals had a middle-of-the-road 2016, and are placing a lot of their hopes on Dexter Fowler, who they poached from their rivals, the Cubs. Fowler, though, had a somewhat unusually successful 2016, and will not be able to solve all of St. Louis’ problems. Look for the Cardinals to show their youth and struggle in the middle part of the season.
  4. Brewers: The Brewers are a hot pick to win a lot of games…in 2018. But, in 2017, they will have to bide their time until their young stars can really emerge. A few strong performers will continue to drive ticket sales, but don’t expect much in the way of team success in Milwaukee this year.
  5. Reds: The Reds are a bit of a mess. With the exception of first base, there is relative youth and inexperience at every position on the diamond. There may be hope that the young talent will put a good team together for the future, but this team is going to lose a lot of games and give a lot of tryouts to rookies.

HarperNL East:

  1. Nationals: The reigning NL East Champs have a deep rotation, terrifying offense, and a manager who knows how to win. The most popular prediction this year is that Bryce Harper will return to form, and, if this spring is any indication, he will return to MVP caliber performance. The only question is whether or not this team can perform well in October.
  2. Mets (WC): The Mets have some of the greatest pitching names in baseball. Except, none of them seem to be able to stay healthy. Yoenis Cespedes is a beast, and will power a strong offense, but there’s no use betting on the Mets if you can’t guarantee they will be on the field. Everyone’s safest bet is a Wild Card spot.
  3. Marlins: The Marlins could challenge the Pirates for the best outfield in baseball, and Giancarlo Stanton is going to be fun to watch, assuming he can stay on the field. With a deep NL East (and a deep National League as a whole), though, this “good” team will not be able to make the turn into greatness.
  4. Braves: The Braves are an intriguing team. They’re young talent is going to shock the league eventually, and they have a lot of strong players to bridge the gap to that youth. I would predict a higher finish, but I think the length of the summer will eventually hurt the Braves’ final results.
  5. Phillies: Last year’s Philadelphia team surprised everyone with how well they did. This year, I expect them to shock everyone with the regression. The team did little to beef up their roster, and haven’t filled any of their needs. The Phillies will stumble in their rebuild, and leave Philadelphia fans begging for football season.

NL West:

  1. Dodgers: The Dodgers were a few games away from the World Series, and spent the offseason working to keep their core intact. I expect this team to regress a little bit, but generally maintain the success of the past few years. If Kershaw can stay healthy, he will single-handedly lead this team to the playoffs.
  2. PoseyGiants (WC): The Cubs ended the Giants’ even-year streak, but this team doesn’t look like they are going to fall back into the pack. With veterans like Posey and Pence, and young stars like Crawford and Panik, expect the Giants to look more like their first-half 2016 selves than their second-half.
  3. Diamondbacks: Arizona was the hot pick for a dark horse last year, and this year isn’t getting quite as much attention. They made very smart moves in the offseason, and have a good group of players to make this an intriguing year. I expect to see the D’backs playing for a wild card spot in the middle of September, and falling just short.
  4. Rockies: Oh, poor Rockies fans. This looked like the year that they were going to try to simply outslug their opponents, and they had a lineup that looked like they just might be able to. The problem is, the injury bug has hit them hard, and their top signing, Ian Desmond, leads an all-star caliber disabled list. The Rockies will be nothing more than “fine” as they try to get healthy during the season.
  5. Padres: The Padres, or, as baseball analysts like to call them, 4-A baseball. San Diego is in for a rough year, with a lineup that feels like everyone is a rookie. The rebuild will be slow, and an all-star selection will be a joke, but at least fans will get to watch a bad team in nice weather.

Russell

AL Central:

  1. Indians: After winning the American League and owning a commanding lead in the World Series, the Indians are everyone’s favorite pick to win the AL Central and the AL all over again. I’m not a full believer in their longevity, but a generally weaker division could spell success for the Land.
  2. Tigers (WC): While the Tigers have certainly gotten old, it is impossible to ignore how good they also are. Detroit has experience and depth, and a pitching staff that, if healthy, can be lights out. This team is my darkhorse pick to contend in 2017.
  3. Royals: The Royals core that took them to back-to-back World Series appearances is going to fall apart after 2017, and this is their last chance to get something done. They’ll be good, but not THAT good, and may sell off an asset or two come July.
  4. Twins: Two years ago, the Twins were a hot pick for a young team on the rise. Now, nobody seems to want to go anywhere near them, as there are huge questions about whether those stars will come to fruition. Expect another year of growing pains, but some big performances from the young studs.
  5. White Sox: Of course, I’m biased as a Cubs fan, but everyone has been trying to tell me for years why the White Sox will be good, and I have been proven correct that they are a disaster. Maybe a sell-off will finally turn their luck? Definitely not this year…

JudgeAL East:

  1. Red Sox: The Red Sox are all in on this year, and their lineup is good enough to get them places. What started as a terrifying rotation is now looking like a question mark, but most of those arms will be able to figure it out come October. The question is not if the Red Sox can win but how far into October they can play.
  2. Blue Jays (WC): Last year looked like it could have been Toronto’s year, until Cleveland spoiled the fun. This year, the Blue Jays bring in a formidable lineup (albeit less a slugger or two), and a rotation that is low-key fierce. This will be a good year up north, and the Blue Jays will be hoping to make the next step through the playoffs.
  3. Yankees: Of any team, the Yankees have the farm system that most intrigues me. They have a stable of bright young stars, and I think all of the pieces are going to come together perfectly. New York is going to be the team to beat for years to come. I’m just not sure if 2017 is the first of those years. This will be an exciting year, but not necessarily THE year.
  4. Orioles: Every year, I predict the Orioles won’t be very good. Every year, they make the playoffs. That being said, I’m going to do my duty of predicting that this team has individual stars and not team success. Now, the ball is in their court to win a Wild Card spot, and prove me wrong yet again.
  5. Rays: The Rays have a lot of talent, and did a good job of doing it on a budget. That being said, the Rays are playing in a very tough division, and don’t have the star power to compete with the Red Sox or Blue Jays. Tampa Bay will play spoilers for the dreams of a lot of other teams, but need to put together some consistent success to make a run of their own.

AL West:

  1. Astros: Well, if Sports Illustrated says it’s your year, then it must be true. The Astros had a great offseason, and look to be in an excellent position to make something happen. Look for Carlos Correa and George Springer to lead the offense at a prolific clip, and the Astros to head into the playoffs with legitimate championship hopes.
  2. Rangers: The Rangers have been there before, and have a solid core. The Rangers also did little to get any better from last year, when their stay in October was momentary. The Rangers are the biggest swing team, in that they could be great and they could be terrible. Expect them to split the difference and compete, without actually sealing the deal.
  3. 04192015-Mariners21Mariners: The Mariners have had two offseasons in a row where they have made a flurry of moves. Seattle is about to prove, though, that not all action is good action, as the team doesn’t look all that better than the one that finished in the middle of the pack last year. It’s fair to assume they will have a similarly “fine” year.
  4. Angels: The Angels are a team that I’m itching to predict as a surprise, but it just isn’t a smart bet. The Angels have a ton of talent at most positions, but don’t have the depth to endure a long season. There will be times this summer of huge excitement, and other long losing periods. We can root all we want, but I don’t think they have 162 games in them.
  5. Athletics: The A’s are a team that often makes a lot out of nothing. That’s good news for them, as they have a particularly large quantity of nothing. There are a lot of decent players, but the sum of the parts isn’t going to blow anyone away, and the As will spend the summer as the AL West punching bag.
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