Opening Day baseball is almost here. About five months have passed since the Chicago Cubs finally added another World Series championship, giving fans plenty of time to come down from the shock.
The Cubbies will be among the favorites to win it all again, but there’s plenty of teams in the mix — plus some that clearly aren’t. Read on for amNewYork’s projections for each of the 30 teams, sorted in predicted order of finish within their respective divisions.
Boston Red Sox
As long as left-hander David Price’s elbow trouble doesn’t keep him out for more than a month or so, the BoSox are the beasts of the East. They added lefty Chris Sale from the White Sox to a rotation led by reigning Cy Young winning righty Rick Porcello, plus youngsters Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts return to their balanced lineup.
Toronto Blue Jays
Although designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion bolted for Cleveland, replacement Kendrys Morales isn’t a significant step down. As long as Josh Donaldson remains one of the top all-around position players, the Jays will be in the hunt. Toronto will hope right-handed starter Marcus Stroman’s outstanding World Baseball Classic is a good omen.
Other than moving on from declining catcher Matt Wieters, these O’s aren’t markedly different from the 2016 club that won 89 games and secured an AL wild-card berth. Manny Machado is true cornerstone, and he’s flanked by low-average, high-power bats in Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo. Starting pitching remains a question mark that limits their upside, though.
New York Yankees
Much like last year, the Bombers’ season could go either way. Best case: Their young hitters like Gary Sanchez produce better than now-gone, aging vets and Masahiro Tanaka looks like a true ace all year. At worst, the kids struggle and the injury bug continues to rear its ugly head in the Bronx. Odds are, these Yanks need a year of seasoning.
Tampa Bay Rays
Chris Archer wasn’t as bad as his 19 losses in 2016, but the Rays need more from their top arm to avoid the cellar. Ditto for third baseman Evan Longoria, who at 31 is coming off a career-low .318 on-base percentage. Tampa Bay is several years away from a return to prominence in a crowded division.
The reigning AL pennant winners should feel confident about their chances to return to the World Series. Newcomer Edwin Encarnacion could lead the league in RBIs with Michael Brantley and Francisco Lindor setting the table for him. Corey Kluber remains among the best righties in baseball, anchoring a solid rotation and great bullpen.
The Tigers possess talent throughout the roster. Whether it’s future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera in the heart of the lineup or Justin Verlander fresh off a return to Cy Young-caliber form, Detroit can hang with any team. So why can’t they break through? This might be their last, best chance to win a pennant with their aging stars.
Kansas City Royals
Still aching from the tragic offseason death of Yordano Ventura, K.C. could be in for a rough year. The pitching just isn’t what it was when they won it all in 2015, both in the rotation and the pen. The Royals have several talented hitters, but they may decide to enter rebuilding mode and deal the likes of Lorenzo Cain or Eric Hosmer.
Chicago White Sox
Jose Quintana is one heck of a pitcher. If the 28-year-old left-hander isn’t dealt for prospects, he’s good enough to win a few games for the ChiSox on his own. Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier are 30-homer threats, and Abreu hits for solid average too. But that’s about it on the South Side. Chicago will send a team to the playoffs, but not this one.
The Twins’ future belongs to Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, but it’s unclear how quickly they can realize their potential and make Minnesota competitive again. It would help if their best pitcher wasn’t Ervin Santana. They’re probably good enough to surpass last year’s 59 wins, but that’s not the highest praise.
Although Houston took a surprising step back in missing the postseason last year, the Astros should bounce back. The young trio of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer makes this lineup fierce. Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young winner, must rebound to sure up what was a struggling rotation in 2016. Houston may pursue another pitcher at the deadline.
The M’s have a solid chance of ending baseball’s longest ongoing postseason drought of 15 years. Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz are back in the heart of the lineup, so pitching around both simply isn’t an option. But, like the Astros, front-line starting pitchers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma must recover from a disappointing 2016.
The West certainly is wild, giving the Rangers a shot at repeating as division champions. But there’s reason to question this ballclub. Adrian Beltre, who turns 38 next week, may be the only everyday player who’ll hit about .300. Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish are a superb one-two punch in the rotation, but the other 60 percent of the starts are a crapshoot.
Los Angeles Angels
Even the Halos could surprise in this wide-open division, especially with two-time MVP Mike Trout still just 25 years old. Although L.A. lacks a true ace, there’s enough depth in the rotation to be competitive most days. Albert Pujols, 37, should surpass the 600-homer mark, but his 5-year stint with the Angels will continue to disappoint.
The one team with zero expectations for 2017, the A’s remain a work in progress. Their offseason acquisitions produced little in the way of upgrading a roster that won just 69 games a year ago. Right-hander Jharel Cotton could be in the running for AL Rookie of the Year, so that’s something. Khris Davis will threaten to hit an empty 40 homers.
Washington doesn’t have many holes. Even as 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper struggled, the Nats won 95 games in 2016. If he bounces back strong as the 24-year-old centerpiece of the lineup, D.C. could win 100 games. Reigning NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer leads a deep rotation that also includes fellow righties Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark.
New York Mets
When healthy, the Mets possess the most impressive pitching rotation in baseball. Too bad they’re never healthy all at once. From Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom to Matt Harvey and Steven Matz, the Amazin’s should witness plenty of gems on the mound. Yoenis Cespedes paces one of the better Mets lineups in a long time, although it’s still not an elite group.
The Fish could be a .500-or-better ballclub for the first time since 2009, but that’s about all that’s to be expected. Miami’s impressive outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna remains the focal point. Jose Fernandez’s sudden death in September left a hole atop the rotation that remains vacant, so pitching is an issue.
Adding a pair of 40-something starters, even if Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey are former Cy Young winners, won’t do much to make the Braves competitive. Most of the lineup, save for All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman and shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson, is past its prime. This will be another lost year.
Philly made a few veteran acquisitions to its pitching staff, but on the whole this is the same young club that surprisingly won 71 games last season. The reality is young center fielder Odubel Herrera and the Phillies are a 60-something win team that are simply duking it out with the Braves for the division basement.
The 108-year-old monkey is off the Cubbies’ backs, so now they can focus on defending their World Series crown. They’re still loaded all over. Whether it’s in the lineup (NL MVP Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo) or the pitching rotation (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta), the talent is off the charts. New closer Wade Davis will fill in admirably for Aroldis Chapman.
St. Louis Cardinals
This franchise never is down for long, if 86 wins and barely missing the postseason can be considered “down.” Signing Dexter Fowler away from the rival Cubs was a big win, if he can replicate his stellar 2016 numbers. Pitching remains the Cards’ bread and butter, and they’ve got a ton of worthy arms alongside mainstay Adam Wainwright.
The Bucs floundered to 78 wins after three consecutive wild-card berths, and its on them to prove 2016 was a blip. Andrew McCutchen’s struggles may have been tied to that, so he too must shake off a sluggish season. With 26-year-old lefty Gerrit Cole atop the rotation, the Pirates could achieve a win total in the mid-80s.
Joey Votto, one of the league’s top players, won’t be going anywhere despite being stuck on a Reds team that’s not expected to compete for years. And, with no protection in the lineup, the first baseman will continue to be among the league leaders in walks. Cincinnati’s woeful pitching staff might also lead the NL in free passes.
Ryan Braun, 33, could be on the move as the Brew Crew remain fixated on a rebuild. If he’s dealt this season, Milwaukee should be in position for a lofty draft pick next year to help bolster a deep farm system. There’s not much else to say about this ballclub, other than they won’t be fun to watch for fans in Wisconsin.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Left-hander Clayton Kershaw is his generation’s top pitcher, and his Dodgers are firmly in the mix to reach the World Series for the first time since 1988. NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, 22, leads a well-rounded lineup of veterans, including Adrian Gonzalez. Another front-end starter would help, but even now L.A. is a legitimate contender.
San Francisco Giants
The legacies of catcher Buster Posey and ace lefty Madison Bumgarner are set after three World Series titles, but the Giants could be approaching this collective’s decline thanks to an accumulation of smaller losses. That’s not to say all is doom and gloom for San Francisco. They’ll still win in the 80s and hunt for a wild-card spot in 2017.
As is typical in Denver, the Rockies’ lineup is poised to produce runs aplenty. Slick-fielding, power-hitting third baseman Nolan Arenado should be a serious MVP candidate as Colorado returns to respectability. And, as ever, pitching is the question mark. Jon Gray, a 25-year-old righty, must realize his potential.
The D-backs probably aren’t as bad as their 69 wins in 2016 would seem to indicate, but they remain outside the realistic wild-card hunt. If Arizona transcends that label, it will be thanks to a quality pitching rotation anchored by Zack Greinke. Helping matters is first baseman Paul Goldschmidt remaining a consistent source of power and speed.
San Diego Padres
The city lost the Chargers, and its baseball team is about to lose a ton of games again. Power-hitting outfielder Wil Myers might be the only reason to watch the Padres this season, but he’s not a transcendent talent either. There’s very little positive to say about the pitching staff, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen.