Spring Training is in full swing, and well - thanks to the World Baseball Classic, we have semi-actual baseball on the TV daily. Sign me up. This tournament was better than I was expecting it to be, and I'm thankful. With that being said, we are officially two weeks away from real, MLB Baseball. The perfect time to declare bold, and likely incorrect predictions. Here are mine, feel free to share your own.
Let's start with the National League:
NL East: Washington Nationals
There is a way that the Mets could pitch their way into winning the division, but a lot would have to break their way. Scherzer and Strasburg are two dynamic top of the line aces. Bryce Harper is a top bat in the league and the newly acquired Adam Eaton should get on base plenty at the top of the line-up, Trea Turner? Over 3 wins in 73 games. .370/.567/.937 in his half-year debut, with a 147 wRC+. Let's try not to focus on the fact Max Pentecost was taken 2 picks ahead of him in 2014. There has been whispers of the Braves contending, but it won't happen this year. Hopefully they will keep the rebuild going and don't try to push things too quickly.
NL Central: Chicago Cubs
Defending World Champs. Jake Arrieta in his walk year (though they have proven that that doesn't actually motivate players at this level), as he and Jon Lester lead a solid rotation. Like many teams, they lack depth past the first 5 so a healthy rotation is always important. They have some young arms on the horizon, but most are a little further away. The system is stocked with position players that could be utilized to bring in additional help throughout the year. Jeimer Candelario, Ian Happ, and Eloy Jiminez are names to know, even if they end up elsewhere via trade. I'm skeptical of Kyle Schwarber being a good defensive outfielder, but he'll definitely hit enough that it won't matter. Most would say that St. Louis would be the top contender, but I think Pittsburgh could make some noise. They have a top-tier outfield with Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, and Andrew McCutcheon - with top prospect Auston Meadows waiting in the wings. They have pitching upside as well in the form of Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow.
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
Sure seems like I'm taking the obvious here, but it's hard to bet against the favourites. A healthy Clayton Kershaw is easily the best pitcher on the planet, and the team has stockpiled a large number of MLB quality starters. Depth is especially important for LA, as their rotation all carries injury risk. They should have enough depth the withstand a high amount of injuries, Arizona, San Diego are both non-contenders, and the Rockies seem to have hit an injury stretch before the season can begin. San Francisco could do San Francisco things, but it's an odd calendar year so I will bet against them.
NL Wildcard 1: Pittsburgh Pirates
I raved about them when I should have been talking about how good the Cubs are, but I think they will be a tough team to beat. I don't see two wild card teams coming out of anyone one division, so this spot is between them and the Cardinals and I'll take the talent they have assembled in Pittsburgh.
NL Wildcard 2: New York Mets
The Braves are a couple of years away, as are the Phillies and Diamondbacks. The Marlins - as I'm typing this Giancarlo Stanton just hit a moonshot in the WBC- would need a lot to happen for them to sneak in. I really like Christian Yelich though. The Rockies will always be looking for pitching, though they do have a talented line-up. It wouldn't surprise me if they did end up having a good year though. The Mets have Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz, Harvey and Gsellman/Lugo, with a Zach Wheeler potentially returning. I think they'll win enough games against Miami, Philly, and Atlanta to slide into the second seed.
Al East: Boston Red SoxThe injury bug may have struck the Red Sox early, with David Price and Drew Pomeranz dealing with arm issues in Spring Training. Past that, they have acquired a stellar bullpen and a line-up that is probably best in baseball. Baseball America's #1 prospect Andrew Benetendi is ready to step into the middle of the Sox order already containing Betts, Boegarts, HanRam, JBJ and more. Chris Sale is likely the best pitcher in the American League and should fit in at the top of their rotation.
Al Central: Cleveland Indians
Essentially the same team that went into extra innings in game 7 against the Cubbies, and they added Edwin Encarnacion and the potential health of Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Micheal Brantley. Sounds like Jason Kipnis might miss some time, which could cause them to shift Jose Ramirez to second base while slotting Lonnie Chisenhall (or Yennsy Diaz) at third, leaving the potential for one of Greg Allen or Bradley Zimmer to start in the bigs. If there is a room for improvement on the club, it's in the outfield.
AL West: Seattle Mariners
I really like the Houston Astros, and they are definitely going to be able to hit, but I also liked what Seattle did during the past off-season. Drew Smyly was a breakout candidate last year, and he's appeared to have added a couple ticks to his fastball in the WBC. While that may not be sustainable, he is moving into a bigger park with one of the best outfield defenses in the league, with Martin-Dyson-Haniger. They have a fellow breakout candidate of their own in Candian James Paxton, who posted the 5th best FIP in the MLB last year. Cano, Seager, and Cruz should continue to slug in the middle of the order.
AL Wildcard 1: Houston Astros
Springer, Altuve, Correa, Beltran, Bregman, McCann, Reddick, Gurriel, Aoki. That line-up probably contends with the Sox of the best in baseball, and they easily have the talent to win the division. A bounce back year from former Cy Young winner Dallas Kuechel would go a long way to solidifying a rotation that has some question marks. Lance McCullers and Joe Musgrove both have solid stuff but lack the history of dependable innings in the major leagues. Apparently Charlie Morton is good now, and is set to join Mike Fiers and Collin McHugh to round out the rotation.
AL Wildcard 2: Toronto Blue Jays
Kinda burying the lead a bit here, but I do think the Jays have enough talent to be in contention for the wildcard spot. The lineup should score runs, though I am a bit worried about the lack of depth in the rotation if the injury bug does strike. You could say that about a lot of teams though, including the Red Sox, who might have to test their depth a bit earlier than they would like to. Detroit has enough talent to contend as well, especially if Micheal Fulmer and Daniel Norris take any further steps in their career, The Texas Rangers will also be involved, and Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and New York can't really be counted out, either. The wildcard race should be wide open this year.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Jake Arrieta
NL ROY: Dansby Swanson, JP Crawford, Cody Bellinger
NL MVP: Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Trea Turner
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, Corey Kluber
AL ROY: Andrew Benetendi, Bradley Zimmer, Jose de Leon
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson
World Series: Los Angeles Dodgers over Houston Astros
Clayton Kershaw finally gets his ring. He deserves one. They have a ton of talent, and it all comes together as Kershaw outduels Jon Lester in game 7 of the NLCS to bring the Dodgers back to the World Series since, well, since: