Spring is upon us and the 2017 MLB season has kicked off with a lot of storylines developing even three and a half weeks into the year. The reigning World Series champs Chicago Cubs have had some impressive wins but the Cincinnati Reds are the surprise team in the NL Central manning second place. Out west, the Rockies and the Diamondbacks have had some suprisingly good pitching and lead the NL West division. North of the border, the Toronto Blue Jays are off to very slow start but the ‘Bronx Bombers,’ led by youngster Aaron Judge, are taking the league by storm. Will the Cubs be able to repeat their magic and win back to back? Will the Indians mimic the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals teams that won the World Series the year after losing it? Or can a underdog team rise above the rest and take the championship year?
Here are my predictions after three weeks have gone by this season on how each division is going to play out, a player to watch for on each team and who I have still in the pennant chase come October.
- New York Mets – 89-73 (Currently: 8-10)
The Mets when healthy, have one of the best pitching rotations in baseball, Matt Harvey is coming back from injury so he is a big X factor. Also Steven Matz’s injury early on is something that might slow down the Mets in the first half of the year. But the offense has a bit more weapons than they did last year and their bullpen is a better bullpen than the Nationals have over in Washington. For the Mets, it is really going to come down to can they score runs on a consistent basis.
Player to Watch: OF Michael Conforto – .220 BA, 12 HRs, 42 RBIs in 109 Games last year. The kid has some major league power but needs find consistency. It will be his first full season in the majors and with David Wright battling back from injuries again, the Mets certainly could use Conforto’s bat.
2. Washington Nationals – 82-80 (12-5)
The Nationals are bringing back a very similar team, minus the pitching staff. Their bullpen was depleted and they were not able to find quality replacements. The starting rotation is solid but can Stephen Strasburg be healthy all year? And can Tanner Roark pick up from where he left off last year? Offensively, Bryce Harper will need to bounce back to MVP level of play, and he has so far (.400, 6 HRs, 16 RBIs) after a down year last season. The trade for outfielder Adam Eaton will help the offense and defense but they had to give up their best pitching prospects and their bullpen will hold them back from making the playoffs.
Player to Watch: SS Trea Turner – .342 BA, 53 Runs, 33 SB in 73 games last year. Now that Danny Espinosa is gone, Turner will get a full season to start at his natural position after playing a lot of outfielder last season.
3. Miami Marlins – 76-86 (9-8)
They had enough to compete for a Wild Card spot last year but the death of SP Jose Fernandez in the offseason and the inability to replace a guy like that is going to hurt them this season. Their bullpen can very good, led by AJ Ramos and Brad Ziegler, but the starting rotation is what’s going to be lackluster. Edison Volquez, Dan Straily, Tom Koehler, Wei-Yin Chen and Adam Conley won’t be enough. Their offense, led by Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, Justin Bour and Christian Yelich, should be a fun one to watch but they will come up just short of landing a wild card spot this year.
Player to Watch: SP Adam Conley – 3.85 ERA, 8-6, 124 Ks in 133 innings last year. Conley had a good rookie campaign and the Marlins are going to need him to step and have an even better year this season with the abscence of Jose Fernandez.
4. Philadelphia Phillies – 66-96 (8-9)
The Phillies have some talented young players but not nearly enough talent to compete this year as they make their way through the rebuilding process. Expect SP Aaron Nola to have a bounce back year in 2017 but will last year’s unexpected ace Jeremy Hellickson (3.71 ERA, 154 Ks) keep up the success he had. Their offense has flashed some potential already on the year so that could be promising for Phillies’ fans in the next couple years.
Player to Watch: 1B Tommy Joseph – .257 BA, 21 HRs, 47 RBIs in 107 games last year. The Phillies have finally moved on from the Ryan Howard era and they could benefit if they get some solid production out of the 1st baseman spot.
5. Atlanta Braves – 64-98 (6-11)
Similar to the Phillies, the Braves are rebuilding and they too have a lot of young talented players, in fact the number one ranked farm system. They brought on starting pitchers Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia in the offseason to provide a veteran presence and help groom the youngsters, but their well past their primes. The additions of Matt Kemp and Brandon Phillips makes their lineup more balanced around all-star first baseman Freddie Freeman but Kemp’s early injury will put that on hold.
Player to Watch: SS Dansby Swanson – .302 BA, 7 2Bs, 20 Runs in 38 games last year. The former #1 overall pick will get his first full season in the majors and the Braves organization have a special player on their hands. Swanson, who hit his first career walk-off hit this year, is an early candidate for Rookie of the Year award.
- Chicago Cubs 101-61 (10-7)
No World Series hangover for the Cubs thus far and why should they? They bring back an almost identical team from the year before. They did lose closing pitcher Chapman in free agency but were able to land Wade Davis in a trade with the Royals. They get Kyle Schwarber back healthy to add to the same core group of guys in Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and company. Jon Jay is a decent replacement for Dexter Fowler at centerfield and I fully expect this team to be among one of best teams in the majors again this year.
Player to Watch: RF Jasyon Heyward – .230 BA, 7 HRs, 61 Runs in 142 games last year. Heyward was a liability offensively for the Cubs last season and they still managed to win the World Series. If Heyward can return to the player that we are accustomed to this team can be scarier than last year.
2. St. Louis Cardinals – 88-74 (8-10)
The Cardinals have gotten off to a slow start largely in part to poor performance on the mound by their pitchers, but the playoffs can still be in their sights after not making it in 2016. The addition of Dexter Fowler to the lineup is a huge plus and despite not having a lot household names, they will get back to winning the “Cardinal way” with the guys they have. Their bullpen has nice pieces but they will need to pick up the slack as well as their offense. No need to panic if you are a Cardinals fan as they should bounce back and compete for a Wild Card spot in 2017.
Player to Watch: CP Seung-Hwan Oh – 1.92 ERA, 19 Saves, 103 Ks in 79.2 innings last year. Oh will get his first full season as the closer for the Cardinals and he flashed a lot of potential last season. Despite the slow start, look for him to be amongst the most reliable closers in the league at the end of the season.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates – 79-83 (7-10)
Things have started out less than ideally for the Pirates in 2017. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen is off to a slow start this year following his worst year of his career last season (.256, 24 HRs in 2016) and the Pittsburgh offense is going to need him to come through. His teammate, Starling Marte, just recieved an 80-game suspension for testing positive with PED’s so that will be a huge blow for the Pirates. Ace Gerrit Cole needs to return to form after having a down year last season as well. Jameson Taillon is on the rise to be an ace but the rest of the rotation has come up short of expectations this year. Without Marte for half the year, I do not see the Pirates sneaking into the playoffs this year.
Player to Watch: SP Tyler Glasnow – 4.24 ERA, 24 Ks in 23.1 innings last year. If the southpaw has a breakout year, he can be an X-factor in the wild card chase by giving the Pirates some consistency at the end of their rotation.
4. Milwaukee Brewers – 70-92 (9-10)
Just like the NL East this is a top-heavy division and despite the Brewers’ hot start, they won’t be fighting for much this year. They have some young talented players to go along with veteran outfielder Ryan Braun who has been solid at the start of this sesason. Left fielder Eric Thames is off to a hot start this season but can he keep up the good play or is it just a fluke?
Player to Watch: SP Zach Davies – 3.97 ERA, 135 Ks in 163.1 innings last year. One of the few Brewers starters that has showed some potential. After a nice rookie campaign, look for Davies to improve his game this year.
5. Cincinnati Reds – 61-101 (9-9)
The Reds are rebuilding but you couldn’t tell after their hot start to this season. They traded veterans the past few years like second baseman Brandon Phillips, third baseman Todd Frazier and other, so first baseman Joey Votto might be next. Guys like Adam Duvall, Jose Peraza, Eugenio Suarez and Brandon Finnegan are all going to get plenty of playing time this year to display why they are the Reds’ future. They will have a couple no-name type guys make big contributions like starting pitcher Amir Garrett (2-1, 1.83 ERA, 21 Ks) has to start the 2017 season.
Player to Watch: SP Brandon Finnegan – 3.98 ERA, 145 Ks in 172 innings last year. Probably the only bright spot on the Reds pitching staff, but if the team decides they want more prospects, this would be one of the guys they are willing to deal.
- Los Angeles Dodgers – 94-88 (8-10)
The good news for the Dodgers is that they can’t have as many injuries as they did last year (knock on wood) to their starting rotation. Lead by one of the best starting pitchers in the league, Clayton Kershaw, they have a platoon of solid guys like Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and either Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy or youngster Julio Urias behind him. Their offense is solid too; bringing back Justin Turner in the offseason was huge, young star Corey Seager, the powerful Joc Pederson, the always reliable Adrian Gonzalez and power switch hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal. Yasiel Puig is a big X-factor, if he can be a contributor again watch out. In a tough NL West division, they probably have the best closer and one of the better bullpens which will help them win close games.
Player to Watch: RP Sergio Romo – 2.64 ERA, 14 Holds, 33 Ks in 30.2 innings last year with San Francisco. The long time San Francisco Giant signed with the Dodgers in the offseason after the Giants decided to revamp their bullpen. Romo still has some good baseball left in him and I’m sure he’d love to prove his former team that.
2. Colorado Rockies – 87-75 (12-6)
The dark horse in the MLB this year is the Colorado Rockies. In years past, this team has always had big time hitters but now they actually have a decent group of starting pitchers and relievers to go along with the offense. They added former Royals closer Greg Holland to the bullpen which could be huge if he can return to his former self coming off an injury. They also added utility player Ian Desmond which will be a nice fit in their lineup. Their starters aren’t household names but Jon Gray, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson and company have flashed some potential. Trading away Troy Tulowitzki might have been the best thing they could’ve done because new shortsop Trevor Story is the next big thing. With Story, Nolan Arenado, D.J. LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon and Mark Reynolds, its hard to find offenses any scarier.
Player to Watch: SS Trevor Story – .272 BA, 27 HRs, 72 RBIs, in 97 games last season. Probably the biggest story (pun intended) last year in the MLB was the breakout performacnce by the Rockies shortstop. His season was cut short due to an injury but many are excited to see what Story will be able to do this upcoming year.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks – 81-81 (12-7)
Everything went south last year for the Dbacks when centerfielder AJ Pollock had a season ending injury right before Opening Day and a series of injuries to other key players followed. But even then, the Dbacks had a top 10 offense last year and with a fully healthy squad, they can be another dark horse in the MLB to sneak into the playoffs. It solely relies on their starting pitchers. Grienke had an un-Grienke like year last year, Shelby Miller who they traded their first overall pick for last year was atrocious, Corbin was very inconsistent and was moved from the rotation while Robbie Ray was their one lone bright spot. They brought in Tajuan Walker who could be nice addition if the other starters hold their end of the deal. But with a fully healthy David Peralta, Paul Goldschmidt, AJ Pollock, Jake Lamb, and Yasmanny Tomas they will put up runs and combine that with some solid pitching, they will compete for a wild card spot.
Player to Watch: SP Shelby Miller – 3-12, 6.15 ERA, 1.67 WHIP. Their will be a lot of pressure on Miller to bounce back this year and rightfully so. Last offseason the Diamondbacks traded the number one overall draft pick to the Braves for Miller and he was a huge let down. Arizona showed a lot of confidence in keeping him for another season so all eyes will be on him to return to form.
4. San Francisco Giants – 78-84 (6-12)
This is going to be a tough NL West division, the toughest in the MLB, and with the latest injury to Bumgarner that will sideline him for possibly 2 months, I don’t know if the Giants will be able to recoup. Their a well put together team and the rest of the rotation in Cueto, Samarzdija, Moore and Cain are really good, but their bullpen ranked among one of the worst last year. They spent some money on improving at the closer spot but a lot of their setup and middle inning guys are young and inexperienced. They are not the type of team to score a lot of runs so if they lose a lot of close games that will hurt their playoff chances.
Player to Watch: RP Mark Melancon – 1.64 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 47 Saves last season with Pittsburgh and Washington. Last year, former Giants closer Santiago Casilla along with the rest of the bullpen really struggled to hold on to leads, especially in the latter half of the season. Bringing in a new closer was a top priorty for the Giants so all eyes will be on Melancon to be the piece they were missing last season.
5. San Diego Padres – 55-107 (8-11)
The Padres tried so hard to be good a few years ago making all those moves and the only player that remains on the roster now is all-star Will Myers. He is the only player worth mentioning on the Padres as well as they locked him up to a long-term deal. But the Padres are in the midst of a rebuild so don’t be surprised by how many games they will lose this year.
Player to Watch: 2B Ryan Schimpf – .217 BA, 20 HRs, 17 2Bs in 89 games last year. The second baseman showed off a lot of pop playing in a little over half the games last season. Schimpf has gotten off to a slow start this year but if he can make the adjustments and hit for a more consisten average combined with the power, he coud be a fun player to watch at the plate.