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Jake Giles, Staff Writer

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With spring training underway, it’s about time to take a look at the 2017 MLB season. Can the Chicago Cubs go back to back after a 108-year drought? What teams are looking to compete in the playoffs? Will the Cardinals get back into post-season play?

First, let’s break it down division by division.

AL West

            The most likely division winner out of the former smallest MLB division is looking like the Houston Astros. With all-star second baseman Jose Altuve and the slugging young shortstop Carlos Correa up the middle, the Astros have an above average lineup along with a very underrated starting rotation. Headlined by Dallas Keuchel, who is likely to bounce back after a rough 2016 campaign, the rotation also features Collin McHugh, Mike Fiers and Lance McCullers Jr., all candidates for a breakout 2017 season.

The teams to look out for in the West are the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers. The Mariners, who have been projected to have playoff level seasons the last couple of years, could make a run for the money this season led by veteran second baseman Robinson Cano. Texas, led by vets Jonathan Lucroy and Adrian Beltre along with ace Yu Darvish, could also sneak into the playoffs as well.

AL Central

After blowing a 3-1 World Series lead to the Cubs, the Cleveland Indians are primed for a great 2017. The team brought in 34-year old slugger Edwin Encarnacion and regains superstar centerfielder Michael Brantley from the DL. Putting those two in an already outstanding lineup, featuring the likes of Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis up the middle, the Cleveland bats should be fearsome this season. The pitching staff should be just about as fearsome featuring ace Corey Kluber and fireball reliever Andrew Miller. If everyone can stay healthy in Believeland, the Indians could be headed back to the Series.

Teams to watch in the Central are the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins. After back to back American League Championships, the Royals dipped in 2016, but it was likely just an off year. WIth power bats Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas along with the young southpaw Danny Duffy, the Royals are a very likely Wild Card candidate. The Minnesota Twins were the worst team in the league last year finishing with a franchise worst 59-103 record. However, the Twins are stacked with young talent. Hard-hitting third-baseman Miguel Sano and former top prospect Byron Buxton have the potential to become annual all-stars in the near future. In order to compete this year, the Twins will need some young players to step up and take the team to the next level.

AL East

The Boston Red Sox are the team to beat in the East. After trading two of their top prospects, one of them being arguably the top prospect in all of the MLB, for ace starter Chris Sale, they should have a formidable rotation. Put that together with an incredibly talented young outfield, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and top prospect Andrew Benintendi, the Sox should compete this year.

Teams to watch in the East are the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays. New York is looking very different from previous years as Jeter and A-Rod have hung up their cleats. However, young slugging catcher Gary Sanchez made an impression last year, along with first baseman Greg Bird. If Masahiro Tanaka, their ace, can stay healthy and these young players can step up, the Yanks could steal the Wild Card. The Blue Jays have always been in the back of everyone’s minds come October, and that is not likely to change. Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson should continue to rake while Marcus Stroman, if healthy, could have ace potential this season. The Jays have a shot at the playoffs yet again, but the challenge for them will be advancing to the Series.

NL West

            Headlined by Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in the MLB right now, the LA Dodgers rotation looks to lead the team back into the playoffs. The rotation also features young guns Kenta Maeda and Julio Urias, while the lineup still flaunts powerful young bats in Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, and last years NL rookie of the year Corey Seager.

The NL West is going to be a very tight division. The dark horses of this division are the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies. If either of these two teams are not good this season, they are very likely to be playoff contenders in the near future. The D-Backs, led by first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt have a very young and talented lineup and an all-star ace in Zack Greinke. San Fran has almost always has a good team since that 2010 World Series win, and this year is no exception. Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto should lead a very solid rotation, while catcher Buster Posey can lead a slightly less solid lineup. The Rockies, who acquired veteran second-baseman Ian Desmond, will add to an already stacked lineup, most notably featuring Nolan Arenado, a likely MVP candidate this year. If they can overcome their poor pitching rotation, the Rockies could be a playoff team.

NL Central

            I know we live in St. Louis and I know you all love your Cardinals, but here’s something to consider: The Cubs are better. Coming off of their first World Series win in 108 years, the Chicago Cubs have a very good shot at defending their title. Nearly everyone in the starting lineup still has room for improvement, which is scary seeing that this is pretty much the same squad that won the World Series.

Of course I would probably be stoned in the street if I didn’t mention the St. Louis Cardinals, so, two teams to watch in this division are the Cards and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Every year it seems like the Redbirds could be a playoff team, but last year that didn’t turn out to be true. However, if Carlos Martinez can reach his full potential to be an ace this year, and some of the young talent can step up in the lineup, the Cards could secure a Wild Card spot. The Pittsburgh Pirates are another breakout candidate this year. They moved star Andrew McCutchen to right field after a subpar 2016, but he is likely to bounce back this season. Led by Gerrit Cole, the rotation doesn’t look outstanding, but they may be able to get the job done and earn a ticket to the playoffs.

NL East

Right now it looks as if the Washington Nationals will run away with the NL East division title. With an outstanding rotation led by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, opposing bats will have a hard time hitting anything. 2015 MVP Bryce Harper and young shortstop Trea Turner can lead a versatile lineup to a playoff berth. As long as the important pieces remain healthy, the Nats could definitely win 90+ games.

The teams to look out for are the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies. New York has been very clutch in the past, even winning the National League title in 2015, but falling short to the Royals. They’ve got a great young rotation, headlined by Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard, but they don’t have enough firepower in the lineup to be a first place team. The Phillies could be a playoff team if everything goes right, but there’s also a very good chance that they are terrible. However, they have two great young pieces in third-baseman Maikel Franco and righthander Aaron Nola who could both become big names after this season.

Playoffs

It looks like the AL will give us the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox as division winners. The wildcard is likely to be a fight between Kansas City and Toronto. I would guess that Cleveland has the best record, Boston has the second best and Houston has the third. That would matchup the Astros and the Red Sox and Cleveland would play whoever wins the Wild Card game.

I think that Toronto would beat KC in the one game Wild Card series, but would lose to the Indians in the ALDS. The Red Sox would put up a fight against Houston, but I think the Astros prevail in that series. In the ALCS, between the Astros and Indians (which would be an enticing series), the Indians win and defend their American League title.

The NL would have the Dodgers, the Cubs, and the Nationals with the Wildcard game between the Cardinals and either the Mets or the Giants. I’d say the Cardinals win the Wildcard and move on to play the number one seed Cubs in a very exciting series while the Dodgers and Nationals battle it out. The NLCS is probably going to be Cubs and Nationals and I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Nationals win taking them to their first ever World Series, though I think they will lose to the Indians in an exciting 2017 World Series.

 

 

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