Schaeffer: Cubs have a pennant in the bag, but not a World Serie -


Schaeffer: Cubs have a pennant in the bag, but not a World Series

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ST. LOUIS ( -- 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:

Brenden Schaeffer

NL West: Dodgers

The NL contenders from last year should mostly stay the same, but if any division produces a surprise, it’s probably the West. The Dodgers and Giants are loaded again, but the D-backs and Rockies should both improve off 2016 disappointing campaigns (the Padres will remain horrendous). Colorado added Ian Desmond to join a dynamic lineup and Jon Gray leads a young pitching staff that will decide whether the Rockies can do more than linger at mediocrity. Paul Goldschmidt and a healthy AJ Pollock is a good launching point for Arizona, but it’ll need a better Zach Greinke to take the reins of a young pitching staff. Still, the edge goes to the heavyweights. In what could be a close race come September, the Dodgers outpace the Giants. The starting rotations match up pretty evenly–both feature Cy Young contenders–but the Giants offense can’t match the depth and breadth of the Dodgers attack (Corey Seager: MVP candidate?). LA takes it.

NL Central: Cubs

After a supreme history of losing, the team once cursed by Murphy the Goat reverse-engineered Murphy’s Law for its world championship run. Nearly everything broke right for the 2016 Cubs, including impeccable health for a pitching staff that far exceeded expectations (if you saw that season coming from Kyle Hendricks, you’re either delusional or his mother), and touted prospects developing better than even the world’s greatest leader could have hoped. Now Chicago gets Kyle Schwarber back, but they have to stick him in somewhere the field; add the loss of Dexter Fowler, and the defense could be a juggling act for Joe Maddon. The Cardinals trimmed the 17.5-game gap by wooing Fowler, but Alex Reyes’ injury renders St. Louis’ pitching depth tenuous. The return of Lance Lynn, and rebound seasons from Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, could elevate the Cardinals back to October–but dethroning the Cubs seems dubious. The Pirates didn’t do enough this winter to project as a threat, but young power pitching (Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow) could arrive to keep them competitive. Neither the Reds nor Brewers are there yet–though Milwaukee could rise to mediocrity. It won’t be as easy for the Cubs this time around, but they possess a comical hoard of offensive firepower and veteran pitching with enough left in the tank to repeat in the Central.

NL East: Nationals

The East features the Marlins, Phillies and Braves–teams still building, rebuilding, and… well, whatever the Braves are doing. Jokes aside, imagine facing a more unique trio than Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia and RA Dickey. Behind its makeshift rotation and core of young hitters, I’ve got Atlanta knocking on the door of 80 wins. Beyond that, this is another race between the Nationals and Mets. If everyone stays healthy in that Mets rotation, it’s the most dangerous group in the league–but that’s just not going to happen. Ultimately, Washington’s rotation will be the more impressive bunch. New York’s offense also lacks the high-end punch that Bryce Harper and Co. (Trea Turner is a stud) can provide. If the Mets stays remotely healthy, they could threaten for a wild card–but the Nationals run away with the East, making it the least contested NL division.

Wild Card 1: Giants

Wild Card 2: Cardinals

Pennant Winner: Cubs

AL West: Rangers

There isn’t any doubt: the Astros have the highest ceiling in the AL West. Their lineup, led by Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, is stupid strong, and features a mix of winning veterans (Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann). If Houston’s young pitching performs at its best, it’ll be tough to slow down the Luhnow Express. But as good as the Astros can be, they need to prove they can slay the Rangers before I pick them to do so. Texas ran away with the West last season, and returns a solid lineup, a pair of front-end starters (Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels), and an electric bullpen. I’m not sleeping on the Mariners, I just don’t see the Texas teams slipping enough to allow them into the division conversation; Seattle is a wild card dark horse. Angels fans have only two things to look forward to this season: Mike Trout and Albert Pujols’ 600th home run. The Athletics are always an enigma, but I’d be stunned if their variance of possible outcomes includes a division title. Texas, forever–Arlington, in this case.

AL Central: Indians

Does the Central have any contenders besides the defending AL champs? While the Indians are loaded with young, burgeoning talent, the rest of the division is stuck in transition. The Royals are hanging onto their championship core by a thread, with several key pieces hitting free agency after 2017. If Kansas City is competitive in July, it could make one last push; if not, the Royals could sell. The Tigers have some thump, but need Justin Verlander to sustain his revival in front of other promising starters for the Tigers to avoid a buy-or-sell identity crisis. The White Sox and Twins are neck-deep in rebuilds, and should offer some easy Ws to push Detroit or KC toward 85 wins. That won’t be nearly enough to catch Cleveland, whose pennant-winning roster gets even better by adding Edwin Encarnacion. The Indians win their division by the widest margin in the league.

AL East: Red Sox

The deepest division in baseball, the AL East is hard to project. While the Red Sox should coast to the crown with their ridiculous rotation (Price, Porcello and Sale? Stop it) and potent lineup, the intrigue comes in slotting the other teams. The Yankees are in a holding pattern until some post-2018 free agent signings blend with their impressive crop of prospects to form a super-team–but the Bronx Bombers won’t be too shabby this year. The Orioles consistently defy expectations, so it’s hard to count Baltimore out of a wild card (use Britton this time if you get there, Buck). The Blues Jays definitely have the talent to get back to the playoffs, but because of crowded quarters, they don’t crack my list. In a rare instance where I buy into PECOTA predictions, I have the Rays sneaking into the wild card game as the most improved AL club. Chris Archer has ace potential; if Jake Odorizzi and Blake Snell perform, Tampa might have something. Just hang onto Evan Longoria to lead this group of relative unknowns and platoon players to a playoff berth so I can break out my vintage Devil Rays cap.

Wild Card 1: Astros

Wild Card 2: Rays

Pennant Winner: Red Sox

World Series: Red Sox over Cubs

Boston is the most complete team around. It’ll be either a man with a Cy Young on his mantle, or Chris Sale making most of the postseason starts, and without Big Papi, the offense will enjoy excellent production from a slew of young stars. The Red Sox will knock off the Cubs, thus ending a grueling nine-month championship drought for the city of Boston.

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