By AUSTIN SHONE
Top to bottom, the Chicago Cubs are built to win. Returning MVP Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo, along with their consummate protector and Eureka-native Ben Zobrist, will wreak havoc on pitching staffs. Their pitching staff will continue to excel with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta at the front-end of the rotation will lead the Cubs to another NL Central title.
The Cardinals picked up Dexter Fowler from the Cubs, but that’s all they did this offseason. The Cards have young talent in shortstop Aledmys Díaz and outfielder Randal Grichuk, and even though they lost their big prospect Alex Reyes to Tommy John surgery, Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright are still really good. The Cardinals didn’t get better in the offseason, but they didn’t get worse either. They’ll finish second in the division.
The Pirates are moving declining star Andrew McCutchen to right field, and Starling Marte will move to center. This team has underachieved for a long time, and it’s not going to get better any time soon. Josh Bell could have a breakout year at first base, but their pitching is average at best.
The Brewers and Reds will remain the cellar-dwellers in the central. The Brewers have added power-hitting Eric Thames by way of South Korea. He should make an immediate impact and provide a little bit of protection for Ryan Braun, but the pitching staff is going to have a hard time.
The Reds will finish last because they have Joey Votto, and that’s about it. They’ll be one of the worst teams in baseball.
The NL West will be competitive at the top with the Giants and Dodgers once again. I think the Dodgers will come out on top with Kershaw and a solid group of players. Nolan Arenado will keep the Rockies right in the conversation as well.
The NL East has solid contenders in the Nationals and Mets. They’ll battle for the top spot. Noah Syndergaard is a once-in-a-generation talent on the mound for New York. and the rest of their rotation has the ability to carry them to the top of the division if they stay healthy.
The last team to repeat was the Yankees in 1999 and 2000, which says something about how difficult it is to do. The Cubs are definitely the favorite, and I think they’re going to continue to embrace the target. Like Joe Maddon says, “Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure,” and I don’t think the Cubs will. They just have too much fun winning. Cubs over Red Sox in the World Series.
BY JOSH NELSON
The Cleveland Indians claimed the AL Central last year, and the chances of them repeating as division champs are high. The Tribe still has one of the best rotations in baseball along with a lights-out bullpen. They also acquired Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason to add to an already talented lineup.
The Detroit Tigers will finish in second in the division this season. The Tigers are still a very dangerous offensive team, and its pitching is good enough with Justin Verlander anchoring the staff. Detroit should compete for a Wild Card spot.
Finishing in third will be the Minnesota Twins. Although the Twins struggled mightily last year, they have a respectable lineup. Their problem last year was their pitching, but they should regress back to the norm a bit more this year when it comes to giving up runs.
The Kansas City Royals will finish in fourth this year. The Royals need a fast start to the season, or they’ll be selling some of their key pieces at the deadline. Kansas City doesn’t have enough pitching on this team to get off to that hot start, which means they will be sellers in July.
Finally, the White Sox will finish last. When you trade two of your better players, it’s tough to compete for a division. With the trades the Sox made over the offseason, their sights are set on the future and not this season.
In the AL East, the Boston Red Sox will claim a second straight division title. The East is solid from top to bottom with the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles. All three of those teams could be a threat to Boston. However, the Red Sox have the pitching and the hitting that should be able to claim the division.
The AL West is a hard division to call, but the Houston Astros will find a way to win. Their rotation still has some questions, but they have one of the deepest lineups in the league. Expect the Rangers to be right on Houston’s tail and win a Wild Card position.
In the end, it will come down to the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Nationals in the World Series. With the Indians trying to avenge last year’s heartbreak, they’ll end their 69-year World Series drought.