Between radio and television, I took in about 180 baseball games last season. Most of them were watching the Cleveland Indians, but I followed the league closely enough that I’m willing to classify myself as a “not-so-casual fan.” Here are my predictions for this year’s campaign:
American League East: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox carried the East last season, and despite very new concerns over pitcher David Price’s elbow, they appear to be a team that can at least repeat their division win, if not improve a bit over the season.
The Red Sox have a cadre of young talent in players like Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., as well as veterans like Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia. While the absence of David “Big Papi” Ortiz will leave the offense a little worse off, the Sox are still unlikely to struggle at the plate.
As for pitching, the addition of Chris Sale to an already solid staff should shore up any concerns about a team whose playoff appearance in 2016 came to an abrupt 3-game end. The Sox clinch a shifting A.L. East and win 94 games.
American League Central: Cleveland Indians
The easiest division pick in baseball (even over the Cubs), and that’s not just because I’m an Indians fan. The American League Central is weakening quickly, with both the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins in full-on rebuilding. Kansas City’s window of contention appears to have closed and the Detroit Tigers are aging. An already dominant Cleveland team should only further outclass the A.L. Central in 2017.
The Tribe has stepped up as well, replacing veteran Mike Napoli, who had a productive year in 2016 but fell off in September and the Postseason, with the best hitter in the league in Edwin Encarnacion. This huge free agent signing will reduce the number of Tribe strikeouts while providing a boost in both batting average and power in the middle of the lineup.
Add in that the Indians should have a healthy starting rotation as well as a healthy catching duo (which lacked in production in 2016), and they appear to be a significantly stronger team than they were during last year’s World Series run. If All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley can contribute in any meaningful way, the Tribe of 2017 could be truly special.
The Indians win the A.L. Central going away and cruise into the postseason with 99 wins.
American League West: Houston Astros
The Astros had a lackluster campaign in 2016, but the tools are still in place in Houston to make a playoff run.
The team spent $20.1m in the offseason, the most of any club in the Majors, including adding veteran hitter Carlos Beltran to their roster. If their rotation can pitch up to expectations, the Astros could transform from a middling team just over .500 into a serious postseason threat.
Add in the fact that the Texas Rangers won an inexplicable number of 1-run games in 2016, a feat they’re likely not to repeat, and the Astros seem to be in good position to win the A.L. West. I think it’s a competitive division, and the Astros finish with 92 wins.
A.L. Wild Cards: Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees
The pick of the Yankees may end up being my dumbest of 2017, but I think the young core developing in New York has potential, and if the Yankees brass agrees, they’ll be buyers at the trade deadline. Never discount the Yankees if they’re spending money.
As for the Mariners, I think they also benefit from a weakened Texas, and it’s apparent that a Wild Card spot is unlikely to come out of the rebuilding A.L. Central. All of the pieces aren’t there in Seattle, but I think they can sneak in.
National League East: New York Mets
The Mets are a scary team to face with a healthy pitching rotation, and that actually appears plausible in 2017, unlike their injury-riddled 2016 campaign which still yielded a wild card berth.
The Mets were recently hit with some bad injury news, involving third baseman David Wright’s shoulder. Wright has missed substantial time in recent years due to injuries, and the Mets have performed regardless. I doubt 2017 will be any different.
This is a team that will live and die by the health of their starting rotation. I think it holds together, and the Mets clinch the N.L. East with 94 wins.
National League Central: Chicago Cubs
The best team in baseball in 2016 remains the best team in baseball in 2017. The Cubs had a few changes in the offseason, but the front office in Chicago has built this team for the long haul.
While the 2016 campaign was punctuated with stories about whether the Cubs could “break the curse” or set a new record in wins (they accomplished one of those goals), the 2017 Cubs look a bit weaker all around. The loss of a serviceable Dexter Fowler will cost them some speed, and the pitching staff is still aging.
Expectations are ridiculously high for a healthy Kyle Schwarber, and it seems unlikely he’ll meet them. That being said, the Cubs aren’t the Vegas favorites to repeat for no reason. The Cubs win the N.L. Central as baseball’s only 100-game winner.
National League West: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers surged past the San Francisco Giants to win the N.L. West in 2016, and I think they’ll repeat a little more easily in 2017.
While I think the Rockies will improve in the West, the Giants will likely dip a little, leaving room for a more comfortable late season run from L.A.. The Dodgers’ formula is simple and proven — let Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager be the stars they are.
I don’t have much to say about the team that Vegas gives the 3rd-best odds to win the whole thing in 2017, they’re going to be good. I see them taking the N.L. West with 97 wins.
N.L. Wild Cards: Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals
The Nationals have been consistently on the verge of greatness and 2017 doesn’t look to be any different. The pieces are all there for a playoff run, and if the Mets’ starting rotation falters, even a little, they may win the division.
As for the Cardinals, they found themselves on the outside looking in in 2016 thanks to a dominant Cubs team. Thanks to a little Cubbie regression and some stronger play outside of the division (as well as a weakened San Francisco), I see the Cards making their return to the postseason.
American League Championship: Cleveland Indians
The best team in the American League got better, so it’s hard not to predict another pennant for the Indians. They steamrolled through Boston and Toronto in 2016, and while I think the Red Sox put up a better fight in October of 2017, the Indians have the look and feel of a repeat contender.
National League Championship: Chicago Cubs
While the Cubs didn’t get any better, per se, they didn’t regress enough to put their status as baseball’s best team in jeopardy. I see their path to the Series looking pretty similar to 2016’s, with the Dodgers providing a decent test on the way to the Fall Classic.
World Series Champions: Cleveland Indians
Call me a homer, call me sentimental, call me biased, but I think the pieces are in place for a Cleveland World series win in 2017.
Last year’s Tribe managed to push the Cubs to the 10th inning of Game 7 with 2 of their best starting pitchers injured, their All-Star outfielder out for the season, effectively no production at the plate from the catcher’s spot, and their “big bat” in Mike Napoli going quiet in the postseason. If even a couple of those problems are solved in 2017’s postseason, the Tribe can make some history.
When the Cubs won in 2016, the Indians became the record holders for longest World Series drought in baseball. History repeats itself, and another drought will come to an end in 2017.