JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- With just a handful of days remaining until the games start to count, it’s time to make predictions before the 2017 season begins.
Here’s how the KMOV team sees the playoff picture shaking out:
NL West: Dodgers
There’s a silly amount of talent out west in the National League. The Giants return a dangerous lineup and veteran-laden rotation while having addressed their abysmal bullpen from last season. The Rockies have a strong enough offense to hang with any team in the league and finally have a credible pitching staff, captained by Jon Gray. The Diamondbacks can’t possibly be as bad as they were in 2016, and their rotation has enough talent to put a scare into opposing lineups if they can all get pointed in the same direction.
But the Dodgers are still king. Clayton Kershaw, who is at last check a very good pitcher, is joined by Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu along with a healthy Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy. Also phenom Julio Urias is ready for more innings, even if he starts the season in Triple-A.
Combine that with the offensive firepower of Corey Seager, Yasmany Grandal, Joc Pederson, Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzalez, sprinkle in one of the game’s best closers in Kenley Jansen and baby, you got a stew goin’.
NL Central: Cubs
Losing Dexter Fowler won’t be enough to slow down the Cubs, especially since they will finally get a full season of noted baseball abuser Kyle Schwarber. Their rotation is still as strong as it gets, their lineup is a hellish assemblage of gifted hitters and they swapped closer Aroldis Chapman for closer Wade Davis. Barring major injury, viewers are going to be treated to “Go Cubs Go” (a very bad sports song) all summer.
The Cardinals will be better this season. Their rotation, despite losing Alex Reyes, will improve. Their defense will be more competent and Fowler adds much-needed speed to a lineup that could once again feature five 20-homer guys. But all that doesn’t close the 17.5-game gap from a year ago. It’s too much ground to cover.
The Pirates are staring down a blow-and-go trade deadline and have likely missed their window to compete annually for the division (98 wins in 2015 and they nearly finished third! Poor Bucs). The Brewers are on the rise but aren’t ready yet. The Reds will be tougher than a year ago, but are still plenty far away from contention. The NL Central is headquartered in Chicago for at least another season.
NL East: Nationals
The always-the-bridesmaid Nationals are poised to make a serious play for the NL pennant this season. The edition of Adam Eaton and the emergence of Trea Turner, coupled with the presence of NL OPS champ Daniel Murphy and excellent-hair-haver Bryce Harper makes Washington lineup a brutal gauntlet for opposing pitchers. Their rotation is credible, especially with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg as a 1-2 combo. They still have bullpen uncertainty, but no other team in the division has such a well-rounded roster. The Mets aren’t any different from last season, which makes their 25th-ranked offense a real red flag. Some of their problem was health, but for a team with trouble scoring runs, their rotation isn’t where it needs to be. They have the right names (Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Matz, etc.), but the history says those names aren’t a lock to pitch every fifth day. They need everything to go right to challenge the Nats.
The other three teams aren’t factors, but the Braves are worth watching simply because they have the most interesting roster in baseball. They’re mid-rebuild, which means you get to see Dansby Swanson play with Brandon Phillips up the middle. Matt Kemp is in left, but Ender Inciarte is in center. Their rotation, now home to Jaime Garcia, also features both Bartolo Colon AND R.A. Dickey, two of the three oldest players in the game. Their combined age is 85! Fascinating.
Wild Card 1: Cardinals
Wild Card 2: Rockies
Pennant Winner: Dodgers
AL West: Astros
Houston juiced their offense this season, adding Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Brian McCann to a lineup already featuring Jose Altuve and young studs Carlos Correa and George Springer. They may not have the pitching depth to make the road easy, but they have enough weapons to edge out their challengers. The Mariners retooled their roster and added some speed atop their lineup, but are still highly dependent on King Felix. The Rangers are due for a dip after overperforming a year ago and the Angels did little to improve their fortunes but add average guys to an already average roster (baseball demigod Mike Trout and Albert Pujols notwithstanding). There will likely be some back and forth atop the standings throughout the season, but after 162 games, the Astros will have poll position.
AL Central: Indians
How many teams are required for this to be an actual race? The Royals are at the tail end of a championship window that, fruitful though it was, peaked two seasons ago. They’ll likely have a lot of new names on the roster after the trade deadline. The Twins lost 103 games last season (103!). The White Sox sold the farm and began reconstruction. Only the Tigers and Indians have a shot at this thing and the even then it’s fairly one-sided. Cleveland is coming off a pennant last season and added Edwin Encarnacion to the middle of their lineup. They get Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar back from injury to rejoin Corey Kluber in the rotation, and Michael Brantley back in the outfield. Also, Andrew Miller still exists. The Tigers have a credible lineup, but very little in the rotation after Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer. Cleveland could win the Central by 10 games.
AL East: Red Sox
Despite the David-Ortiz-shaped hole in the lineup, the Red Sox still have plenty of firepower. They scored the most runs (878) and lead the league in average (.282 as a team) last season. That wasn’t all Big Papi. They also added excellent baseball man Chris Sale to a rotation that already featured David Price and Rick Porcello. That’s two Cy Young winners and a guy who has finished in the top five in voting four years in a row. The end of games will feature Tyler Thornburg and Craig Kimbrel. Toronto and Baltimore can still mash with the best of them and the Yankees are on their way back to glory, but none of them have the firepower possessed by Boston at the moment. Tampa Bay is...also in the division? No one is catching Boston without some sort of calamity befalling the Bo Sox.
Wild Card 1: Mariners
Wild Card 2: Blue Jays
Pennant Winner: Indians
World Series Winner: Dodgers
They’ve got the right mix of youth and experience, the best pitcher on the planet and a door-slamming closer. They take down the Cubs in a seven-game thriller and ride the wave of euphoria to the long-sought championship. Clayton Kershaw celebrates by throwing a baseball into the sun.