2017 MLB season predictions

Movie quote of the day:

“You kids shouldn’t play so rough. Somebody’s going to start crying.”

– Mr. Blonde, “Reservoir Dogs” (1992)

With the Major League Baseball regular season starting tomorrow, it’s time for me to give my season predictions. As usual, keep in mind that I don’t like to pick a reigning champion or award winner – mostly because the odds aren’t great for a team or player to repeat. Also, it’s easy to pick the same division winners and playoff teams from last year, but I actually tried to think outside the box and make some bold picks.

Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor reacts after hitting a solo home run. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

American League award winners:

MVP: SS Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
Cy Young: SP Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays
Rookie of the Year: OF Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox

AL division winners:

Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

AL East – Boston Red Sox

I tried to find another team in the division that could unseat Boston as the AL East champions because the Red Sox have never won back-to-back division titles. However, barring any injuries to Boston, I can’t see it happening. The Red Sox had the best offense in the league last year – led by Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, and Xander Bogaerts – and averaged 5.42 runs per game. Even though David Ortiz is no longer in Boston’s lineup for the first time in 13 years, I think the Red Sox will still be fine without him. As for the pitching, despite having AL Cy Young award winner Rick Porcello, the pitching was still hit and miss last year – mostly because David Price and Craig Kimbrel weren’t their usual selves. However, the Red Sox made the biggest acquisition in the offseason by trading for Chris Sale (3.00 career ERA) to bolster their starting rotation, and added capable veteran Tyler Thornburg (2.87 career ERA) to the bullpen.

Bottom line: Boston has an excellent combination of talented youths and veterans, and is led by a good manager. The Red Sox are certainly good enough to win a pennant. However, in today’s league, it’s all about having the better bullpen, and I’m not sure Boston’s is good enough to get by Cleveland in the postseason.

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

AL Central – Cleveland Indians

I can’t see anyone in the AL Central division giving Cleveland a serious challenge for the title. Cleveland’s offense was one of the best in the league last year – and that was without left fielder Michael Brantley and catcher Yan Gomes for most of last season. The Indians still have quality veterans Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana. With them, a healthy Brantley and Gomes back in the lineup, and newly acquired power-hitter Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland’s offense should only improve. Also, Cleveland’s starting pitching rotation – led by Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber – is one of the best in the league. The unit had an average age of just 28 last year and still had an average ERA of just 3.79. On top of that, Cleveland’s bullpen is even better than its starting rotation – ranking in the top five in ERA last year (3.45 ERA).

Bottom line: Despite not being at full strength, Cleveland still managed to make the World Series last year. The Indians arguably have the best pitching in the AL, they could even have the AL’s top offense this year, and they have a great manager with Terry Francona. Unless there’s a major hangover from losing the World Series, this team has all the pieces to make another run.

Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano runs the bases after hitting a solo home run. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

AL West – Seattle Mariners

Not many people realize that Seattle has a very underrated roster that is filled with veterans – probably too many. I picked the Mariners to make the playoffs last year, but they finished just three games shy of the last wild card. Seattle’s offense ranked in the top 10 in the league in runs scored and team batting average – and is led by the capable trio of Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Nelson Cruz. The Mariners’ front office also made 14 trades – the biggest one being the acquisition of shortstop Jean Segura – in the offseason and now has built one of the deepest lineups in the league. The starting pitching rotation is led by the dynamic duo of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton as a solid third option. The bullpen is probably the biggest weakness of this team. Outside of Steve Cishek and Edwin Diaz, it appears to be more quantity over quality but it still returns five relivers from last year.

Bottom line: The AL West division is wide open for the taking – and the time is now for Seattle. The Mariners’ veterans aren’t getting any younger. They have the depth and the pieces to be competitive in a tough division, and to make the postseason.

Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista celebrates with Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki after hitting a solo home run. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

AL first wild card – Toronto Blue Jays

The identity in Toronto in recent years has been to have a high-scoring offense – ranking in the top 10 in runs scored each of the last two years. The Blue Jays should have another excellent offense this year led by former AL MVP Josh Donaldson, and All-Stars Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and Russell Martin. Even though Edwin Encarnacion left for Cleveland, the Blue Jays added veteran bat Kendrys Morales to help replace his production. However, I think the real story in Toronto is that this team could have one of the best starting pitching rotations in the AL. Aaron Sanchez has developed into the clear-cut ace, and the rest of the rotation is solid with J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, and Marcus Stroman. The bullpen could be an issue after Brett Cecil and Joaquin Benoit left as free agents this offseason. That being said, for as good as Toronto’s offense should be, the bullpen should still be a good enough to retain leads.

Bottom line: I won’t be shocked at all if Toronto wins the AL East for the second time in three years. Even if they can’t surpass Boston, the Blue Jays should still have no problems finding a way to make it back to the postseason. They still have the ability to score a bunch of runs, and this could be the best starting pitching rotation they’ve had in years.

Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) celebrates with second baseman Jose Altuve (27) after making a defensive play at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

AL second wild card – Houston Astros

Houston was a huge disappointment last year. Many, including myself, picked the Astros to make the World Series in the preseason, and they didn’t even make the playoffs. However, I expect a turnaround in Houston this year. Despite having talented young players like Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Alex Bregman, part of the problem last year was offensive woes. Houston ranked in the bottom half of the league in runs scored and team batting average. The Astros’ front office made a lot of moves this offseason to acquire veterans Brian McCann, Josh Reddick, Nori Aoki, and Carlos Beltran to help bolster the offense. The starting pitching was also a major problem last year as the team ERA dropped from 3.71 in 2015 to 4.37. I expect former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and young stud Lance McCullers to bounce back and help get that ERA back down this season. The bullpen wasn’t an issue last year though – ranking in the top 10 in ERA in the AL – and the Astros return almost every reliever.

Bottom line: Despite its offensive and starting pitching problems last year, Houston still managed to win 84 games and finished just five games behind for the second wild card. Similar to Boston, Houston has a solid mix of talented youngsters and veterans in the clubhouse – which is crucial to making a run in the postseason.

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

National League award winners:

MVP: 3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
Cy Young: SP Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
Rookie of the Year: SS Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves

NL division winners:

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

NL East – Washington Nationals

I would argue that Washington never reached its full potential last year. The Nationals’ offense really struggled – including Bryce Harper and Jayson Weth – and ranked in the bottom half of the league in batting average. They relied almost too much on their pitching, but they still found a way to win 95 games. Probably the only bright spot for Washington’s offense last year was Daniel Murphy – who led the team in batting average, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage, and hits. I don’t expect Murphy to keep being as hot as he’s been the last year and a half, but I also don’t expect Harper and Werth to struggle this year as much as they did last year. After adding veteran hitters Matt Wieters and Adam Lind, if Harper and Werth bounce back and have better years, the Nationals should be able to swing the bat better – and therefore, score more runs. I wouldn’t expect Washington’s pitching to drop off either. With Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Toark, the Nationals still boast one of the best starting pitching rotations in the NL – and the bullpen is almost just as good.

Bottom line: I think the window is starting to close with this team. I’m not sure Washington has consistent enough hitting to make a run in the postseason, and Bryce Harper will be a free agent after next season. However, the Nationals still have the pitching and enough pieces to win the NL East for the fourth time in six years.

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant hits a home run at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

NL Central – Chicago Cubs

For the first time since 1909, the Chicago Cubs will enter the regular season as the defending World Series champions. The Cubs are the favorite to win the World Series again this year – and rightfully so. They return almost every key player from last year’s championship squad – Jake Arrieta, Jon Lestor, Kyle Hendricks, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, and reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant. They also get Kyle Schwarber back from last year’s injury and they acquired talented relief pitcher Wade Davis in the offseason. Chicago’s pitching shouldn’t be an issue either. The unit is led by Arrieta, Lestor, and Hendricks – each of them have been Cy Young finalists the last two seasons. The bullpen has plenty of depth too. It seems that there’s no weakness for the Cubs. However, if there is one, I’d say it’s not having a true leadoff hitter. I think Chicago will miss Dexter Fowler’s presence at the top of the lineup. Even without Fowler, the Cubs should still have one of the top offenses in the NL.

Bottom line: I hate saying anything is “a lock.” However, Chicago winning the NL Central division is about as close to a lock as it gets. The Cubs have the hitting, pitching, farm system, and manager to get it done again. They’re on the verge of a dynasty, and I think they win this division easily this season.

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

NL West – Los Angeles Dodgers

I’ll be honest, Los Angeles surprised me last year. It just felt like the Dodgers were going to drop off after parting ways with Don Mattingly as manager last offseason. However, Los Angeles did the exact opposite and finished first in the NL West division for a fourth-consecutive season, and even gave Chicago a fight in the NLCS. If healthy, I expect Los Angeles to be even better this season. The Dodgers had an offense that ranked in the top half of the league in runs scored, plus, a starting rotation and bullpen that ranked in the top five in ERA – and they managed to retain the majority of their roster in the offseason. Los Angeles has what it takes to make a serious run at the World Series this season. The Dodgers have enough veterans and young talent, and also one of the best farm systems in the majors – which can help take some pressure off fatigued veterans, or to use as an asset when it comes to trading for better veteran players.

Bottom line: Los Angeles has owned the NL West division the last few years and I don’t expect that to change this season. I feel like the Dodgers are the Boston Red Sox of the NL – they too have an excellent combination of veterans and young, talented players. I think Los Angeles has what it takes to challenge Chicago for the NL pennant.

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

NL first wild card – St. Louis Cardinals

After losing some key pieces from a team that won 100 games in 2015, St. Louis still managed to win 86 games last year and was only one game behind from getting the last wild card. The Cardinals’ offense wasn’t the problem last year. They scored the second-most runs in the NL, and that part of their game should be better this season after signing Dexter Fowler in free agency to lead off the lineup. Uncharacteristically, pitching was the problem in St. Louis last year – mostly due to injuries. The Cardinals’ team ERA fell from 2.99 in 2015 to 4.33 last year. However, with Lance Lynn returning from elbow surgery, the Cardinals now have three guys in their starting rotation with All-Star capability – Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez being the other two. They also have proven starters Michael Wacha and Mike Leake to round out the rotation. Also, the bullpen was still solid last year despite an injury to Trevor Rosenthal, and having rookie Seung-hwan Oh as a closer. With Rosenthal coming back healthy, another year in the system for Oh, and the addition of Brett Cecil, this bullpen should only get better.

Bottom line: It’s hard for me to pick against St. Louis. The Cardinals are like the New England Patriots and San Antonio Spurs of the MLB – they always manage to get the best out of their roster and make the postseason consistently. Since 2000, they’ve only missed the postseason in back-to-back years once (2007 and 2008).

Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

NL second wild card – Colorado Rockies

Colorado is by far my boldest pick to make the postseason this year, but I feel like the Rockies could be a dark horse playoff team. First off, they should have one of the best offenses in the league this year. The Rockies ranked in the top five in the NL last year in team batting average, on-base percentage, and runs scored – led by 2016 All-Stars Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, and Trevor Story. Don’t forget that Charlie Blackmon, D.J. LaMahieu, and Mark Reynolds are also pretty good veteran hitters as well – plus, the addition of Ian Desmond will only improve an already impressive offense. However, the most intriguing part of this Colorado team is the young pitching. The starting rotation – led by Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, and Tyler Chatwood – has an average age of just 25 years old and had an average ERA of 4.33 last year. The Rockies’ bullpen is still a question mark though – ranking dead last in the league in ERA last year (5.13). The front office added Greg Holland (2.42 career ERA) and Mike Dunn (3.40 career ERA) to help bolster the unit, which should help. However, Colorado still lacks a natural closer, but after the additions of Dunn and Holland, the bullpen should be less suspect this year.

Bottom line: This roster is young, but full of potential. The Rockies will play half their games in the thin-aired Coors Field – which will be a real asset to a team that already hits the ball very well. Plus, Colorado’s pitching should be much better this season than in previous years.

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

World Series:

Cleveland Indians vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Winner: Indians

The Cubs deserve every bit of credit for winning the World Series last year and being the favorites this year. However, a team hasn’t won back-to-back championships since the Yankees did it three=consecutive times from 1998-2000. Also, I think people have forgotten that Cleveland was actually up 3-1 on the Cubs at one point in the World Series. The Indians should’ve won it all last year, but came up just short. With their pitching, the addition Edwin Encarnacion, and getting Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes back in the lineup from injuries last year, I think this team is positioned to maker another run this year, but this time they finish on top.

Thanks for reading

Shane Price
Follow me on Twitter – @priceisright53

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