You Can’t Have It Both Ways

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With the start of the NBA Playoffs right around the corner, the subject of “resting” in the league is front and center. This past decade has seen teams more than ever occasionally rest their star players for at least one contest during consecutive games on consecutive nights, or stretches of four games in five nights. The godfathers of resting are the San Antonio Spurs as their head coach Gregg Popovich has been known to occasionally sit out his star players during consecutive nights in the hopes of keeping his squad fresh for the postseason. Popovich has at times drawn the ire of the NBA over this as he’s not a fan of how the league schedules games at times. But even with the resting of key players, the Spurs will still take the court and give maximum effort which more often than not has led to victories. However the same cannot be said for other teams around the league.

There hasn’t been a team around the NBA that isn’t currently on the resting bandwagon as it is the new fad in the league. And whether they know it or not, this practice is damaging the NBA’s image.

Resting has been brought into the spotlight due to the fact that we’ve seen marquee teams such as the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers invoke this practice during nationally televised games. On Saturday February 25 against the Chicago Bulls and Saturday March 18 versus the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cavaliers rested some of their key players such as LeBron James. Cleveland would go on to lose both contests by a combined 48 points. On March 11, the Warriors would rest a trio of All-Stars in power forward Draymond Green, point guard Steph Curry, and shooting guard Klay Thompson as they lost to the Spurs 107-85. Each one of these contests were marquee games that were televised on Saturday night on ABC, but the product was far from being top of the line.

Adam Silver

In recent years NBA players have complained about having too many back-to-back games which is something that league is addressing. NBA commissioner Adam Silver is attempting to spread out the 82-game regular season slate for each team in order to not have as many consecutive games in consecutive nights, but led by James, is it time that the players hold up their end of the bargain.

As the NBA has its new television deal with their national broadcast partners in ESPN and Turner Sports, player’s salaries have skyrocketed. This was illustrated last summer when guard Tyler Johnson received a four-year, $50 million to remain with the Miami Heat, or point guard Mike Conley Jr. resigning with the Memphis Grizzlies to the tune of $153 million over five years which is the richest contract in NBA history. James who got tired of taking less money throughout his NBA career is receiving $30.9 million this season. But when players signed their names on the dotted line, there were responsibilities that came with it as well.

At times James feels that he has been unfairly scrutinized by fans and the media, but as the face of the NBA, it comes with the territory. James wants to win titles, but when the NBA advertises you being available for a marquee game and you’re not performing, it sets a bad precedent. ESPN and Turner were willing to overpay in order to bank roll your product thus you owe it to them, along with the sponsors who back them, and the fans to perform. It’s not right to expect fans to spend their hard earned money to pay top dollar to watch an NBA game, but instead be relegated to watching a glorified D-League contest.

James and other NBA players will complain about the riggers of the regular season in the NBA. But in previous eras of basketball, the NBA and its teams didn’t provide their players with the amenities that the current league has such as chartered flights, meals, five-star lodging, and state-of-art facilities, which includes top notch trainers as well as physicians. Players such as Hall of Famers Bill Russell, Karl Malone, and Michael Jordan never asked their respective coaches to have a night off in order to preserve themselves for the postseason as they competed on a nightly basis. And these players never made excuses either if they came up short in the playoffs as they always embraced the challenge of competing.

Current stars in the NBA such as James approached the league about extending the All-Star break from three days to seven days in order to have time to rest, along with spending time with their families due to the riggers of All-Star weekend. Silver granted them their wish, while he is also opening to cutting down the consecutive games on consecutive nights and it’s time for the players to put the excuses to bed. But the players haven’t been living up to their end of the bargain which includes the All-Star Game becoming a glorified walk through with each side scoring nearly 200 points.

Yes the riggers of an NBA season are taxing on a body, but that comes with the territory. Every player in the NBA is there because they want to be as it is not a requirement. And if you can accept the money of these billionaire owners, then you also accept the responsibilities that come with it. I guarantee you that if players were only compensated for the actual games that they played in, this whole resting aspect would go out of style like the jheri curl. But like everything else, it has become a problem due to overkill.

For years the NBA had a problem with flagrant fouls and fighting until “The Malace At The Palace” in 2005 and now brawls in the league are a thing of the past. Former NBA commissioner David Stern did fine the Spurs for resting in the past, and you can expect Silver to attempt to flex his muscles in the same way on the entire league in order to put a stop to this practice.

I understand that Silver works for the owners, but he also has to answer to the corporate sponsors who have forked over money and they have to protect their bottom line. It’s going to be complicated to find the proper answer to fix this problem of resting, but the best way to solve it is to begin the process of brainstorming.

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Ripe For The Picking?

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Gennady Golovkin

The past few years have seen Gennady Golovkin become a sensation on the boxing scene. Golovkin’s sparkling record of 37-0 includes 33 knockouts which has made him a fan favorite. Golovkin currently possesses the WBA, WBC, IBF, and IBO Middleweight Championships as he is the king of the division. But what has hurt Golovkin throughout his career is that most of the big names in boxing haven’t been overenthusiastic as far as climbing into the ring with him due to to his awesome punching power. One fighter that comes to mind is Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who like Golovkin is a dominate middleweight.

Alvarez is the current Ring Magazine and Lineal Middleweight Champions, while he is also in possession of the WBO Junior Middleweight Title. Alvarez has a professional record of 48-1-1 and like Golovkin he is known for his punching power which is evident by his 34 career knockouts. Golovkin and Alvarez have been the top two middleweights for the past five years, but they’ve yet to meet inside of the ring. However that could be changing soon.

Canelo Alvarez

Theoretically the fight between Alvarez and Golovkin should have happened two years ago. But Alvarez’s promoter Oscar De La Hoya and his Golden Boy Promotions have been playing the old cat and mouse game.

Alvarez is literally De La Hoya’s “Golden Boy” as he is the company’s meal ticket. And after Alvarez suffered a loss to Floyd Mayweather in September 2013, De La Hoya has gone to work as far as protecting his top fighter.

Alvarez has gone on to fight good contenders such as Erislandy Lara and Miguel Cotto, but no one who De La Hoya feared losing to which is why a fight against Golovkin has consistently been put on the back burner. But that might not be the case that much longer.

Last September, Golovkin scored a fifth-round TKO of Kell Brook after Brook could not answer the bell for the sixth round. This was due in part to punches that Golovkin had administered in the first round to Brook’s eye. However Brook was dishing out his fair share of punishment to Golovkin as some observers had him winning the fight. Prior to the contest, there were rumors circulating that Golovkin had been dealing with an illness leading up to the fight. And if those rumors were true it gave something to the conversation of him not being sharp against Brook.

But this past Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Golovkin had the opportunity to once again display his ability as a knockout artist when he took on Daniel Jacobs. Jacobs stepped into the ring with a sparkling record of 32-1 and he wasn’t expected to be a pushover for Golovkin.

Jacobs was sent to the canvas by Golovkin in the third round, but he was unfazed. For the remainder of the contest Jacobs took Golovkin’s best shots in stride and even took the time out to taunt his undefeated opponent on several occasions. Jacobs was able to keep Golovkin off balance by switching back and forth between fighting orthodox and southpaw. Jacobs was also able to land flurries of combos that Golovkin has never had to deal with before which at times bewildered him. And when it was all said and done, Jacobs became the first fighter in nine years who was able to go the distance with Golovkin as he ended his 23-fight knockout streak.

Golovkin was able to score a controversial unanimous decision over Jacobs as many people (myself included) felt that he lost. Now Golovkin has had consecutive fights against quality fighters who have made him look human and whereas De La Hoya has made Alvarez avoid the notion of climbing into the ring with Triple G, it could be happening sooner rather than later.

Golovkin is 34-years of age and as that awesome punching power might be beginning to fizzle it is just the opening that De La Hoya needs. Alvarez is 26-years of age and as he is in the prime of his career, it has been very easy for De La Hoya to put of a fight with Golovkin off in order to benefit his fighter.

But this wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve seen this tactic in boxing as for years Mayweather backed away from fighting Manny Pacquiao until Pacquiao’s skills began to diminish which led to Mayweather climbing in the ring to face him in May 2015 as he secured an easy victory. A big problem in boxing is that promoters too often are more concerned with protecting a fighter’s record as opposed to giving the fans what they want which is to have the best face the best, and that would mean more money for everyone involved.

Oscar De La Hoya

So now when Alvarez faces Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on May 6, there will be a big buzz in Las Vegas for the fight. And if Alvarez is able to secure a victory over Chavez Jr., De La Hoya will almost instantaneously claim that Alvarez is ready to face Golovkin because he knows that he loves the chances of his fighter winning right now. And for boxing fans, they would finally get to see Golovkin take on Alvarez. However with the skills of Golovkin apparently fading, we more than likely will get a watered down version of the contest.

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Mercedes Versus Red Bull

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As the start of a new Formula One season is right around the corner, it’s time for another chapter in the battle between Mercedes AMG Petronas and Red Bull Racing. Mercedes has won the last three Constructors Championships with Red Bull’s last title coming in 2013. The last three years have also seen a Mercedes driver win the Formula One Championship as Lewis Hamilton took home the title in 2014 and 2015, while Nico Rosberg literally took the title home in 2016 as he surprisingly announced his retirement from the sport last year at the age of 25. Albeit that Hamilton and Rosberg were teammates, they engaged in a fierce battle on the track as Rosberg was tired of playing second fiddle to Hamilton who is a three-time champion. But even as good as Hamilton and Rosberg have been for Mercedes, it didn’t prevent Red Bull from surging towards the end of the 2016 Formula One season.

Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo has been driving for Red Bull since 2014 and he has four victories to his credit. In 2014 and 2016, Ricciardo finished third in the driver standings to Hamilton and Rosberg, while he had eight trips to the podium last year. Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate is Max Verstappen who made his debut with the team last year at the Spanish Grand Prix. Verstappen was only 18-years old at the time and he would go on to win the race as he was totally unfazed by racing on the big stage. Verstappen would not win anymore races last season, but he would podium seven times in all to finish fifth in the standings as the future looks bright for he and Ricciardo at Red Bull.

Like the entire racing world, Mercedes would be thrown for a loop with Rosberg’s shocking retirement. However Mercedes would scramble to find Rosberg’s replacement as they signed Finland’s Valtteri Bottas who raced for Williams Martini Racing last year. But aside from Rosberg’s departure, technical director Paddy Lowe also left Mercedes to join the Williams Martini team. And could the departure’s of Rosberg and Lowe be just the opening that Red Bull need to overtake Mercedes here in 2017?

Toto Wolff, Lewis Hamilton

But in spite of the upheaval at Mercedes, they still have Toto Wolff who is the minority owner and executive director, along with Hamilton who is arguably the best driver on the circuit. Over the last three years Hamilton has taken home the checkered flag 31 times with his stiffest competition typically being Rosberg. The rivalry between Rosberg and Hamilton reached a boiling a point last year which at times left mangled cars on the track. And as something had to give, Rosberg walked away from the sport after winning his title.

To me I expect Hamilton to drive with a much clearer head this season as he won’t have to answer as many questions about Rosberg and I don’t anticipate any animosity between he and Bottas. Bottas will be out to prove that he deserves to drive for Mercedes, while also providing protection for Hamilton. And it will be important for Bottas to have a good showing in order to hold off the charges of Ricciardo and Verstappen who like Hamilton will be the favorites to claim the Formula One Title. But even if Ricciardo and Verstappen are unable to overtake Hamilton, a strong season on their part could see Red Bull top Mercedes for the Constructors Championship which in itself would be an accomplishment.

The action is set begin tomorrow at the Australian Grand Prix where there will be plenty of pomp and pageantry to commence a new season. But after Hamilton barely missed a third consecutive title by just five points last year, he could be extra motivated this time around which would be good for him and Mercedes, while being devastating for everyone else on the circuit.

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2017 Major League Baseball Playoff Projections

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American League

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Cleveland Indians

3. Texas Rangers

4. New York Yankees

5. Toronto Blue Jays

American League Wild Card Game: Toronto Blue Jays vs. New York Yankees

Unlike when the Yankees made the Wild Card Game in 2015, there is a different buzz around this team now.

American League Divisional Series

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox (Red Sox wins series 3-2)

This is only the fourth time that the Yankees and Red Sox will meet in the postseason, and like the previous three, this one will be worth the price of admission.

Texas Rangers vs. Cleveland Indians (Indians win series 3-1)

The Rangers have been one of the best teams in this era, but they’ve simply been unable to get over the hump.

American League Championship Series

Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox (Red Sox win series 4-2)

In a rematch from last year’s divisional round, the Red Sox will be able to reverse the tide and get back to the Fall Classic.

National League

1.Chicago Cubs

2. Washington Nationals

3. San Francisco Giants

4. New York Mets

5. Los Angeles Dodgers

National League Wild Card Game: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets

There’s no love lost between the Dodgers and Mets which should make for a very interesting and intense contest.

National League Divisional Series

New York Mets vs. Chicago Cubs (Cubs win series 3-1)

The Cubs have exercised their demons from the past and the Mets won’t be able to stop them.

San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals (Giants win series 3-2)

As talented as the Nationals are, they still can’t get over the hump in the playoffs.

National League Championship Series San Francisco Giants (Cubs win series 4-2)

Just like last year in the playoffs, the superiority of the Cubs will take over and allow them to get past the Giants.

2017 World Series: Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago Cubs (Cubs win 4-3)

In the Theo Epstein Classic, his new team in the Cubs will get the best of his old team.

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2017 National League Central Projections

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X-Chicago Cubs 101-61

Life is good right now for the Chicago Cubs as they are set to embark on the 2017 Major League Baseball season. The Cubs are fresh off of winning their first World Series Championship since 1908, and the bad news for the rest of the National League is they might not be slowing down anytime soon.

The Cubs won the World Series with a solid blend of youngsters and veteran players as this team was skillfully crafted by their president of baseball operations in Theo Epstein. Epstein began the process of building the Cubs at the conclusion of the 2011 Major League Baseball season as he inherited a team that was one of the league’s bottom feeders. And in less than five years Epstein was able to lead the Cubs to World Series glory.

The Cubs possess arguably the best infield combination that Major League Baseball has seen since the 1970’s when the Los Angeles Dodgers had Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes, and Steve Garvey, or the Cincinnati Reds of that same era with Tony Perez, Davey Concepcion, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose. And heading into a new season, this unit will once again be the fuel of the Cubs engine.

Kris Bryant

It hasn’t taken third baseman Kris Bryant that long to establish himself as one of the game’s top players as in just two seasons, he has already been named as the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 2015, while he took home N.L. MVP honors last year. Bryant is only 25-years of age and already he has become a household name as he batted .292 with 29 home runs and 102 runs batted in. Bryant’s swing is extremely effortless as he can carry the Cubs lineup for weeks at a time. And if Bryant were to somehow slip, he can lean on Rizzo right behind him in the Cubs lineup.

Like Bryant, first baseman Anthony Rizzo batted .292 while he launched 32 home runs and drove in 109 runs. Together Rizzo and Bryant give the Cubs two of the best power bats in the National League, while giving the fans on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues plenty to cheer about.

Russell was able to hit 21 home runs last season, but he must improve his batting average which was only at .238 last season, while he also needs to cut down on the errors at shortstop where he committed 14.

Second baseman Ben Zobrist is in the midst of his second tour of duty under manager Joe Maddon as these two helped the Tampa Bay Rays win the American League Pennant in 2008. Zobrist brings a good presence to a locker room, and more importantly he knows how to win. In 2015, Zobrist was traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Kansas City Royals and he was vital in their winning the World Series. Zobrist would then become an unrestricted free agent and as he signed with Cubs, he batted .357 in the Fall Classic which led to him being the World Series MVP. And even though that Zobrist will be 36-years of age in May, expect him to once again have a solid impact on this Cubs team.

The Cubs lost outfielder Dexter Fowler in free agency as he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, but they won’t skip a beat as they brought outfielder Jon Jay on board. Jay knows a thing or two about winning as he helped the Cardinals win the World Series Title in 2011, and he fits into that mode of those scrappy players that are willing to do anything to win which is something that every championship team needs.

Outfielder Jason Heyward needs to put his disappointing 2016 campaign behind him as he was only able to bat .230 with 7 homers and 49 runs batted in after signing a huge contract in free agency. The last two years have seen Kyle Schwarber be a man without a position as the Cubs haven’t committed to him as a catcher, while they’ve stuck him in left field. Schwarber has been like a deer in the headlights in the outfield, but as he plenty of pop in his bat, Maddon must find a place for him in this lineup.

The Cubs starting rotation is an embarrassment of riches as each starter has the potential to win at least 15 games. For the second time in the Major League Baseball career of starting pitcher Jon Lester, he won 19 games, and as he has a potent lineup to work with, he’ll still be one of the better pitchers in the National League. The last two years have seen starting pitcher Jake Arrieta combine to win 40 games. And with Arrieta scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season, he should be locked in on the mound. The win total of starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks has increased in each of his three MLB seasons, and the sky is the limit for him after he won 16 games last year which included him leading the N.L. in earned run average at 2.13. Starting pitcher Jason Hammel has been a journeyman in MLB, but he’s coming off of his first 15-win campaign, while veteran starting John Lackey rounds out a staff that’ll it be tough to get wins against.

As a unit the Cubs led the National League in team earned run average at 3.15 last season and their bullpen will once again be difficult to deal with. Relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman came up big for the Cubs in their run to the World Series Championship. But when Chapman hit free agency and his asking price was too high for Chicago, Epstein got creative as he traded outfielder Jorge Soler to the Royals for relief pitcher Wade Davis.

Wade Davis

Davis is another former Rays player who was under Maddon, and after arms issues took away his usefulness as a starter, he has been valuable in the bullpen. Davis was lights out for the Royals in their run to the World Series Championship in 2015, and he gives Maddon a very reliable arm to close out games.

The Cubs should expect to get every team’s best punch this season due to the fact that they are the defending champs. And unless the Cubs have themselves a World Series hangover, expect this team to be right back in the hunt to go all the way.

St. Louis Cardinals 87-75

Make no mistake about it that the St. Louis Cardinals are one of Major League Baseball’s most consistent teams. Since 2000, the Cardinals have reached the postseason 12 times, while they have a pair of World Series Championships to their credit during this span. But the Cards will enter the 2017 Major League Baseball in an unfamiliar spot as they missed the postseason for the first time since 2010, however they can take solace in knowing that the last time this happened, they would win it all in the following season.

Mike Matheny

Mike Matheny is set to begin his sixth year as the manager of the Cardinals and he’s never had a losing record. For 13 years Matheny was a Major League Baseball catcher which included a five-year stint with the Cards. And that knowledge of the game has helped Matheny have success in St. Louis. What has also helped Matheny is that he can rely on one of the best catchers in MLB to lead the Cardinals pitching staff.

The last 13 Major League Baseball seasons have seen catcher Yadier Molina control things behind the plate for St. Louis. Molina is one of the best in the business as far as calling a game for the Cardinals pitching staff, while his defensive skills are second to none. Molina has been known to throw out runners who are attempting to steal on him from his knees, while he can catch players napping at first base. Molina is a lifetime .285 hitter that always tends to get the clutch hit, and the age of 34 with him set to crack the Cardinals top 20 list for all-time wins above replacement as he’s currently at 33, it’s time to give him serious consideration to one day be enshrined into Cooperstown.

Yadier Molina

Molina’s ability to call a game will come in handy for a Cardinals pitching staff that is seeking to get back on track. Last year the Cards team earned run average of 4.08 was seventh in the National League which was a drop from where this staff has typically been in recent years.

In the off-season Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak signed starting pitcher Carlos Martinez to a five-year extension that is worth $51 million. Martinez is coming off of a 16-win campaign and he can be the future of the Cards rotation if he learns how to consistently bring it every fifth day. Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright might no longer be looked at as a National League Cy Young Award candidate, but even the age of 35, he is still a quality hurler that is capable of winning 15 games. And although that there are question marks surrounding both Martinez and Wainwright, there are even bigger ones in regards to starting pitchers Mike Leake and Michael Wacha who have been up and down just like the stock market.

Last year would see relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal lose his status as the Cardinals closer to Seung-hwan Oh. After saving 19 games and posting an earned run average of 1.92, Oh should once again be the incumbent to get the baseball from Matheny heading into the ninth inning. But if Rosenthal is able to regain the magic that saw him combine to save 93 games in 2014 and 2015, it will add depth to the bullpen in St. Louis.

Offensively the Cardinals finished third in runs scored in the National League with 779. The injury bug really got the best of St. Louis in 2016 as only two everyday players were able to appear in at least 135 games which means that there is some optimism around this squad if they can remain healthy.

Jedd Gyorko

After languishing with the San Diego Padres for three years, second baseman Jedd Gyorko appears to have found a home in St. Louis. Gyorko led the Cards in home runs last season with 30 which was also a career-high for him as he appears to be another player who has bought into the “Cardinal Way”. Three of the last four years have seen infielder Matt Carpenter be an All-Star as he is one of the scrappiest players in baseball. There’s absolutely nothing that stands out about Carpenter’s ability, but he is one of Major League Baseball’s hardest workers which has allowed him to become a cornerstone in St. Louis.

Outfielder Randal Grichuk has worked his way up through the Cardinals system and after his 24 homers last year, he could be in the mix to be an All-Star in 2017. Outfielder Stephen Piscotty was the Cardinals first round choice in 2012 and he is beginning to come into his own as he hit 22 home runs, while batting .273, and driving in 85 runs last season. And just like Grichuk, Piscotty could flirt with being an All-Star this year as both players, along with the newest Cardinal in Dexter Fowler give St. Louis plenty of range in the outfield defensively.

After the Cards missed out on the playoffs last year, I expect this organization to put forth the effort to get back to the postseason while pushing the Cubs in the National League Central.

Pittsburgh Pirates 84-78

From 2013-2015, the Pittsburgh Pirates enjoyed a level of success that they had been denied for a very long time. The Pirates enjoyed winning baseball for the first time since the early 1990’s which also saw them postseason bound. But 2016 would be a different story in Pittsburgh as the Pirates took a step back as they limped to the finish line with a record of 78-83.

Andrew McCutchen

A big reason for the Pirates struggles last season was that center fielder Andrew McCutchen had a down year. McCutchen batted a career-low .256 which is a far cry from a player who won the National League MVP Award in 2013. This off-season has seen the Pirates front office flirt with the notion of trading McCutchen which has yet to happen. But where there is smoke, there is also fire, and I do believe that McCutchen’s time with the Pirates in winding down. However if things are able to be smoothed over between McCutchen and the Pirates, this outfield has the makings of one of the better units in the N.L.

Gregor Polanco

Outfielder Gregor Polanco continues to emerge as a solid contributor after he hit a career-high 22 homers last season for the Pirates. Polanco also continues to flash the leather in the outfield, and if he’s able to get his batting average up, he should be able to increase his impact for the Bucs. Outfielder Starling Marte’s power numbers may have dipped last season, but he has become more of a consistent hitter at the plate with a batting average of .311, along with an on-base percentage of .362. And if Polanco is able to have a good balance this season between his power and consistency at the plate, the Pirates will be in business.

The Pirates pitching staff also needs to rebound after a down 2016. The Pirates team earned run average of 4.21 was ninth in the National League as they were ravaged by injuries.

No Pirates starter was able to make at least 22 starts last season and led by starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, this aspect must change if the Bucs want to flirt with getting a playoff berth. Cole won 19 games in 2015 and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting. But Cole was never able to recover from going over the 200-inning plateau in 2015 for the first time his career as this will be something that Pittsburgh must monitor this season.

Along with Cole, there are nothing but question marks on the Pirates pitching staff which has the look of being held together by spit and glue.

With the National League Central expected to be a battle between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, it will be hard for the Pirates to not get lost in the shuffle within the division.

Milwaukee Brewers 70-92

With the recent success in the National League Central of the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals, the Milwaukee Brewers have become a forgotten franchise. The Brewers have failed to make the postseason since 2011 as they are a middle of the pack team. The Brewers currently find themselves in a rebuilding process while they also have some aging players on their roster which doesn’t leave that much room for optimism heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season.

Craig Counsell

After taking over midway through the 2015 Major League Baseball season, Craig Counsell is set to begin his second full season as Brewers manager. The Brewers embody the kind of player that Counsell was during 15-year MLB playing career as they are a scrappy bunch that doesn’t mind being the underdogs. But does Milwaukee have a legitimate shot to be a postseason team in 2017?

As Brewers general manager David Stearns has spent the last year trading away most of the quality players, the 2017 team in Milwaukee will be unrecognizable to the casual baseball fan.

Utility man Chris Carter led the National League in home runs last year 41. However the Brewers elected to not bring him back as he joined the New York Yankees which leaves a hole in their lineup. The Brewers still have outfielder Ryan Braun who in spite of the fact that he was linked to performance-enhancing drugs earlier his career, is still one of the better players in the National League. At the age of 32, Braun was able to bat .305 last season, while hitting 30 homers. I was shocked to see that the Brewers have yet to trade Braun as he could be very beneficial to a contender. But in the interim Braun gives Milwaukee a solid veteran in the middle of their lineup as they look to stay afloat.

Jonathan Villar

One building block that the Brewers do have for the future is infielder Jonathan Villar. After being acquired from the Houston Astros, Villar was able to lead the National League in stolen bases last year with 62 as the Brewers appear to have themselves a table setter going forward.

The Brewers pitching staff only managed to get 62 quality starts last season which was 13th in the National League and there isn’t much optimism heading into the new campaign. No Brewers pitcher last season was able to throw at least 200 innings which included starting pitcher Zach Davies who led this staff with just 11 wins. And as the Brewers don’t have a prototypical ace to rely on, it will be difficult for this team to be a contender.

More than likely the Brewers won’t be a playoff team in 2017, but they will be scrappy.

Cincinnati Reds 65-97

It’s no secret that the Cincinnati Reds are in rebuilding mode as the last few years have seen them become an afterthought in the National League Central. The Reds are coming off of consecutive 90-loss seasons for the first time since 1934 and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight for the current baseball futility in Southern Ohio. Manager Bryan Price is set to begin his third season as Reds manager and as he has spent the last two years on the hot seat, he could become the scapegoat if Cincinnati is unable to get it turned around.

Joey Votto, Adam Duvall

Two of the bright spots on the Reds roster for the upcoming season are outfielder Adam Duvall and first baseman Joey Votto. Last year saw Duvall become an overnight sensation as he batted .297 with 33 home runs 103 runs batted in which led to his first All-Star Game appearance. This was Duvall’s first opportunity to become an everyday player and now it is time to see if he is ready to turn the corner and put these numbers up consistently. During the past ten years Votto has gone about his business and been the face of the franchise for the Reds as his offensive numbers put him in the mix with some of the greats who have played for this franchise. After a down 2014, Votto has once again found his groove at the plate as the former National League MVP is one of the best all-around hitters in baseball.

But as the Reds are rebuilding, it will be interesting to see how much longer that Votto will be in Cincinnati. Votto is still owed nearly $200 million on his contract which runs through 2024 and at some point you have to expect Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams to move his All-Star to a contender which would be beneficial to all parties involved.

After appearing in 159 games last season, third baseman Eugenio Suarez could be ready to become a breakout player in Cincinnati. Like Duvall, Suarez has finally gotten a consistent chance to show what he can do and he could be one of the centerpieces of the Reds rebuild. Suarez is only 25-years of age and after hitting a career-high 21 homers last season, opponents have to pay more attention to him.

But as the Reds lineup could be fun to watch, their pitching staff will once again have some questions. Last season the Reds were 14th in the National League in team earned run average (4.91), and 10th in quality stars with 67.

Starting pitcher Dan Straily led the Reds in victories last season with 14, but he was traded to the Miami Marlins in January. Starting pitcher Brandon Finnegan emerged on the Major League Baseball scene in the 2014 playoffs when he helped the Kansas City Royals win the American League Pennant. But after Finnegan was traded to the Reds, his role has been shifted to that of a starter. Finnegan does have an electric fastball, and if he is able to reach the 200-inning mark this season, there is a possibility that he could also strike out 200 batters.

Bryan Price

As the Reds more than likely will fall short of making the postseason here in 2017, I doubt that Price will be able to save his job. However the problems in Cincinnati are bigger than Price as this organization has become a train wreck.

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2017 National League East Projections

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X-Washington Nationals 90-72

Since 2012, the Washington Nationals have had one of the most talented teams in Major League Baseball, but they have struggled to live up to their potential. The Nationals have three National League East Titles to their credit since 2012, but they’ve also failed to win a playoff series. And dating back to their time as the Montreal Expos, the Nats have only won one postseason series in their 49-year history. Washington will head into the 2017 MLB season looking to buck the trend as after winning the N.L. East, they tend to really underachieve in the following season and you have to wonder if things will be any different for them now?

Dusty Baker

Dusty Baker is set to begin his second season as the Nationals skipper and he is indeed a man that knows how to get results. In Baker’s managerial career, he has now led the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, and Nationals to the postseason. Baker gets the most out of his teams, but the biggest shock in 2016 was how he got Washington to the playoffs.

The Nationals were able to win the National League East in 2016 in spite of the fact the outfielder Bryce Harper had a down year. After Harper won the N.L. MVP Award in 2015, he only managed to hit .243 with 24 home runs and 86 runs batted in last year. Harper still gave maximum effort for the Nats, but his timing at the plate simply wasn’t there. However, Harper is the kind of player that knows how to bounce back, and for the Nationals to do some damage this year, he will need to recapture his MVP form.

Bryce Harper

But as Harper was unable to live up to the lofty expectations that were placed on him, Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy picked up the slack. In Murphy’s first season in Washington, he finished second in the National League MVP voting as he batted a career-high .347 with 25 home runs and 104 runs batted in. Murphy was a motivated man in 2016 after he was spurned by his former team in the New York Mets which led to his signing with the Nats. However you have to wonder if Murphy and the Nationals will be able to go the well with that once more in 2017?

But aside from Harper and Murphy, the Nats are really high on shortstop Trea Turner. In 73 games with the Nationals in 2016, Turner batted .342 with 13 home runs, 40 home runs, and 33 stolen bases. Turner is only 23-years of age and his potential led Washington to trading infielder Danny Espinosa to the Los Angeles Angels over the off-season. Turner can be a lead-off hitter for the Nats and his getting on base in front of Harper and Murphy will be important.

Third baseman Anthony Rendon has been consistent for Washington at the hot corner, while they have a veteran presence in their clubhouse in first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and outfielder Jayson Werth. But two acquisitions that flew under the radar during the off-season by National general manager Mike Rizzo were when he acquired utility man Adam Eaton and catcher Derek Norris in separate trades.

The Nationals acquisition of Eaton got some attention due to the fact that three pitchers were sent to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for him, but he could be well worth it. Two of the last three years saw Eaton lead the American League in triples as along with Turner, he could be a valuable table setter in D.C. In five Major League Baseball seasons, Eaton is a career .284 hitter, while he also brings a scrappy element to each team in which he has played for.

Last September saw catcher Wilson Ramos suffer a torn ACL which hurt the Nats chances in the playoffs. Ramos has subsequently joined the Tampa Bay Rays, but his injury paved the way for Rizzo to acquire Norris from the San Diego Padres. Norris gives the Nats another veteran back stop along with Jose Lobaton to work with this pitching staff as they look to repeat as National League Eastern Division Champions.

The Nationals team earned run average of 3.51 was second in the National League and there is potential once for this staff to be one of the best in the business.

Max Scherzer

Starting pitcher Max Scherzer became the first Nats pitcher since Gio Gonzalez in 2012 to win 20 games en route to winning the National League’s Cy Young Award, and he should once again be a force. Scherzer is one of the better power pitchers currently in baseball which is evident by him striking out at least 200 batters in each of the last five years. Scherzer knows how to dictate the pace on the mound as he tends to get ahead of hitters in the count which paves the way for his electric fastball.

After spending 2015 between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Tanner Roark got his opportunity to pitch every fifth day for the Nationals and he rewarded the team by winning a career-high 16 starts. However 2016 was the first time in Roark’s career that he threw more than 200 innings in a season and you have to wonder if there will be any carry over to 2017?

After the strong start by Gonzalez upon joining the Nats in 2012, he’s been an up and down pitcher that needs to recreate himself. Gonzalez’s velocity has dipped slightly on his pitches as it time for him to become more of a junk pitcher that locates.

Each time that starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg appears ready to turn the corner in order to become the ace in which the Nats envisioned upon drafting him first overall in 2009, he cannot overcome the injury bug. Like Scherzer, Strasburg has the potential to win 20 games, but he is still a guy that Washington must approach with the kid gloves in order to maximize his effectiveness.

All signs point to relief pitcher Blake Treinen being the Nationals closer as neither Jonathan Papelbon or Mark Melancon returned to the Nats after they combined to save 36 games last year. Treinen has only saved one game during his three-year Major League Baseball career and it will be baptism by fire to begin the 2017 campaign.

2017 will more than likely shape up as a two-team race for the National League East Crown between the Nationals and Mets. And another strong start by Washington could be just what the doctor ordered for them to win the division in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.

Y-New York Mets 89-73

The New York Mets will enter the 2017 Major League Baseball season seeking to do something that they’ve never done before which is to make the postseason in three consecutive years. After winning the National League Pennant in 2015, the Mets were expected to once again reach the World Series Title last year. However injuries plagued the Mets in 2016, but somehow they were able to secure a playoff berth. And now the Mets are hopeful to be healthy in order to make another World Series push.

Pitching was the name of the game for the Mets in 2015 for their National League Pennant, and in order for them to get back to the postseason this fall, they’ll once again have to rely on their arms. The Mets allowed veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colon to leave in free agency as he joined the Atlanta Braves being that they have plenty of young studs in their starting rotation.

Noah Syndergaard

With injuries in 2016 to starting pitchers Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz, the Mets relied on another young stud in starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard. In 30 starts last season for the Mets, Synderggard went 14-9 with a 2.60 earned run average while striking out 218 batters. Syndergaard further solidified his reputation as a big game pitcher when he struck out 10 batters, but got a no-decision against the San Francisco Giants in the National League Wild Card Game. Fans in the Big Apple have gravitated to Syndergaard due to the fact that he is fearless on the mound which is something that they can relate to.

For the second time since 2013, Harvey missed significant time due injury, and after he had shoulder surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome, the man who the fans in New York City refer to as “The Dark Knight” is looking to bounce back. deGrom falls into that category of looking to bounce backas after expecting to be just stop gap starter in 2014, he would go on to win the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award. deGrom was a big part of the Mets rotation in 2015, but an elbow injury cut his season short last year. Injuries delayed starting pitcher Steven Matz’s route to the show, but he did display his potential coming down the stretch in 2015 and the early stages of 2016 for the Mets. However the same injury bug that slowed Matz down in the minors got the best of him last year as he succumb to a shoulder injury.

But the Mets are anticipating that Harvey, deGrom, and Matz will be healthy this year to rejoin Syndergaard in the starting rotation that helped to propel New York to the National League Pennant in 2015. But the Mets do have depth in their pitching staff with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. And if there’s another injury, both Lugo and Gsellman can contribute in the starting rotation while also providing long relief out of the bullpen.

Starting pitcher Zack Wheeler was supposed to be another one of the big arms in the Mets rotation, but Tommy John surgery has kept him out of action for the last two years. The Mets are looking to ease Wheeler back into the mix, and he could be valuable for them this year out of the bullpen.

The Mets will more than likely begin the upcoming Major League Baseball season without the services of relief pitcher Jeurys Familia. Familia set a Mets single-season record in 2016 with 51 saves, but he was arrested during the off-season for domestic violence. The chargers against Familia were subsequently dropped, however this does not mean that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred won’t reprimand him for the incident.

And if Familia isn’t available to begin the season for the Mets, they do have fall back options for the ninth inning which could be Wheeler or relief pitcher Addison Reed. Prior to joining the Mets in 2015, Reed had a past life being a closer as he combined to save 104 games for the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks.

But as good as the Mets pitching is which was evident by their 3.58 earned run average that was third in the National League last year, their lineup must become better at the plate in order for this team to be a legit World Series contender.

Last year the Mets were second in the National League in home runs as they hit 218. But New York was 12th in batting average (.246) and on-base percentage (.316), while they were tied for 11th in runs scored (671). Like the pitching staff, the Mets lineup was hit hard by the injury bug which included three infielders ending the year on the disabled list.

Mets third baseman and team captain David Wright was only able to appear in 37 games last year due to spinal stenosis. The Mets are hopeful that Wright will be available more this year, but the odds are against him. Wright has only appeared in 75 regular season games over the last two years and at the age of 34, a bad back is tough to overcome in order to be an everyday player. Wright’s injury also makes it harder for him to do the little things such as make a routine throw from third base to first base, and if the Mets are able to get 100 games out of him at the hot corner, I would be shocked.

After first baseman Lucas Duda belted 27 home runs for the Mets in 2015, he only appeared in 47 games last year after he suffered a stress fracture in his back. But Duda is scheduled to become at the free agent at the end of the season, and thus I expect him to bounce back in a very big way for the Metropolitans.

Last year second baseman Neil Walker tried to make the folks in Queens forget about the departed Daniel Murphy as he belted 23 home runs which tied a career high. But like Wright and Duda, Walker’s season was cut short after he underwent a lumbar microdiscectomy. Walker passed up the option to become a free agent and instead he returned to the Mets after accepting the team’s qualifying offer for $17.2 million. And if Walker is able to stay healthy in 2017, along with providing the Mets will solid defense and a good bat again, it’ll be a win-win situation for everyone involved.

But in case that the Mets are once again hit with the injury bug, they have depth in their infield. Fans were sad to see shortstop Jose Reyes leave in 2011 as he and Wright were the left side of the Mets infield. Reyes was never the same player when he left the Mets as he has spent time with the Miami Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays, and Colorado Rockies.

Jose Reyes

Reyes dealt with domestic violence issues following the end of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. Reyes would subsequently be suspended by MLB for Colorado’s first 51 games before they designated him for assignment. Reyes would return to the Mets as they were desperate for infield help, and he gave the team some of the flashes that made him a fan favorite during his first stint in Queens.

Reyes is no longer a .300 hitter, but he still possesses some speed, while he is hungry to once again have the chance to play as he has once again won over the fans in the Big Apple. However Reyes is no longer a shortstop, but he should once again be vital for the Mets at third base with questions about Wright’s health.

T.J. Rivera could be the future for the Mets at second base and I expect him to push the switch hitting Walker for time there, while Matt Reynolds could be valuable for the team as a utility infielder; even though he probably be on the shuttle back and forth to the minors.

But the biggest move that the Mets made this off-season was to re-sign outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes joined the Mets just prior to the trade deadline in 2015, and his impact in the lineup was immediate as he helped to propel the offense which led to New York winning the National League East. In 132 games for the Mets last year, Cespedes batted .280 with 31 home runs and 86 runs batted in. Cespedes opted out of his contract, but he and the Mets would agree on a new four-year deal that is worth $110 million.

Yoenis Cespedes

Cespedes provides the Mets with a legit power bat in their lineup that they have lacked for some time as he has that rare ability to put a lineup on his back. But the downside is that Cespedes has been known to go into funks at times as well. Cespedes coming back to the Mets is a “high risk, high reward” scenario, however if it means that New York will be playing baseball in October for a third consecutive year it will be well worth it.

Last year there was speculation that the Mets would lose Cespedes in free agency which led to team general manager Sandy Alderson acquiring outfielder Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds. At first Bruce struggled with the Mets as he was pressing, but he did managed to hit 8 home runs for the Metropolitans in 50 games. However when Cespedes re-signed, it created a logjam in the Mets outfield.

Cespedes is locked in as the Mets everyday left fielder, but you’ll have Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, and Juan Lagares all vying for time at the other two positions. Lagares and Conforto will compete in center. But it’s Lagares who has the better glove, and Conforto who has the better bat. Granderson and Bruce are both veteran players who’ll each become free agents after this season. However Granderson has provided the Mets with a veteran presence in the clubhouse due to his work ethic and it would be hard for Alderson to part with him.

The Mets still have questions behind the plate with their three-headed monster in catchers Rene Rivera, Travis d’Arnaud, and Kevin Plawecki. The Mets have given d’Arnaud and Plawecki chances to prove themselves. Each player knows how to call a game behind the plate, but the Mets need more production from them with a bat in their hands as both d’Arnaud and Plawecki batted south of .250 last year.

Terry Collins

This could be the final year for Mets manager Terry Collins as there’s the possibility that he could retire. But if the Mets are able start strong and take care of their business, Collins could finish off his managerial career in style with a third straight trip to the postseason.

 

 

Miami Marlins 79-83

To call the 2016 Major League Baseball season a difficult one for the Miami Marlins would be an understatement. The Marlins were in contention for a wild card spot in the National League until they ran out of gas over the final two months. There was still optimism for the Marlins to finish with some momentum for 2017 until the morning of September 25 when starting pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident off of the coast of Miami. Fernandez’s death impacted the baseball world as well as his native Cuba. Fernandez was one of the game’s rising stars and he was rapidly becoming a legend in Miami. Marlins manager Don Mattingly had to piece things together after Fernandez died, but there was no way to hide the raw emotion of losing a person like Fernandez.

The Marlins have now had several months to digest the loss of Fernandez and move on. And as the 2017 Major League Baseball season is set to begin, the Marlins are hoping that they can get their first winning campaign since 2009.

Fernandez’s death leaves a gaping hole in the Marlins starting rotation as he put fear into every lineup in the National League East. Fernandez was 16-8 last year with an earned run average of 2.86. But no other Marlins starting pitcher won more than 9 games with an earned run average that was below 3.85. And as the Marlins don’t have another stud in their starting rotation, things will be pieced together with spit and glue. However if the Marlins starting pitching staff is able to take a lead into the late innings, they do have a quality closer to give the baseball to.

In the last two years, relief pitcher A.J. Ramos has saved 72 games for the Marlins. Ramos is a fire baller that Mattingly can rely on to close out contests. But if the Marlins do fall out of playoff contention early on, expect Ramos to become a hot commodity on the trade front.

For the Marlins to have a realistic shot at making the postseason this year, they are going to have to rely heavily on their lineup which will require everyone staying healthy and living up to their potential. The Marlins have several players in their lineup that have the potential to hit at least 25 homers, but shockinginly as a team they were only 14th in the National League last season with 128 long balls.

Giancarlo Stanton

Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is one of Major League Baseball’s best power hitters. In seven years with the Marlins, Stanton is already the franchise’s all-time leader in WAR (wins above replacement) at 27, and home runs (208). But as much stress that Stanton can put into opposing pitchers, he also puts that same fear into the Marlins front office. Only once during Stanton’s career has he been able to appear in at least 150 games. As most power hitters are prone to strikeout often, Stanton falls into that category as he could flirt with striking out 150 times this year. But one of the biggest issues with Stanton is that his batting average continues to dip as it is boom or bust with him. Last year Stanton only batted .240 as his propensity to swing at pitches out of the strike zone makes it very enticing for pitchers to get ahead of him in the count in order to make him chase pitches out of the zone.

Outfielder Marcel Ozuna is fresh off of his first All-Star Game appearance as he was one the Marlins most consistent hitters last season. Outfielder Christian Yelich is developing into one of the better contact hitters in the National League. Yelich batted .298 last season while hitting a career-high in homers with 21. Yelich should be in running to be an All-Star this season, while if he concentrates on hitting into the gaps at the cavernous Marlins Park, he could also flirt with getting at least 10 triples this year. Yelich also has one Gold Glove Award to his credit, and with his range in the outfield, he could once again have in name in the conversation as far taking home some more hardware.

After first baseman Justin Bour finished fifth in the National League’s Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, the expectation level was high for him last year. Bour hit 23 homers in 2015, but injuries limited him to just 90 games in 2016. And like Stanton, if Bour is able to remain healthy in 2017, it will provide some extra pop to Miami’s lineup.

Dee Gordon

After second baseman Dee Gordon led the National League batting in 2015 at .333, he was once again expected to be a catalyst last year. But it didn’t play out that way for Gordon has he failed a drug test which saw him miss 80 games. And now as Gordon is seeking to rebuild his reputation, he must once again reassert himself as the Marlins table setter if this teams expects to have a legitimate shot at the postseason.

It won’t be easy for the Marlins to begin the season as they’ll be on the road to face the Washington Nationals and New York Mets respectively as these are the two favorites to win the National League East. It will be tough for the Marlins to overtake either team, and I am not sure if this organization has still gotten over the untimely death of Fernandez.

Philadelphia Phillies 77-85

When Andy MacPhail became the Philadelphia Phillies president of baseball operations in 2015, he knew that he had a rebuilding job ahead of him. The Phillies lost 99 games in 2015 as they were a far cry from the team that made the postseason in five consecutive years from 2007-2011 which included winning the World Series in 2008. The Phillies roster got old and MacPhail knew that he would need to revamp it while also finding a new field general.

Pete Mackanin

2016 was Pete Mackanin’s first full year as the manager of the Phillies and it wasn’t as bad as most people expected. The Phillies had a winning record through the first two months of the Major League Baseball season before they began to fade. The Phils would lose 91 games, but they remained competitive throughout. And although that the Phillies will be fighting an uphill battle in the National League East in 2017, their effort and hard work will make them a team that you’ll be unable to forget about.

But in order for the Phillies to realistically compete, they are going to need improvement in each phase of the game. Last year Philadelphia’s team earned run average of 4.63 was 12th in the National League. Starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson was a pleasant surprise in his first season in Philadelphia as he led the pitching staff in wins with 12.

Jered Eickhoff

Starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff has plenty of potential for the Phillies. Eickhoff was one of the key prospects that Philadelphia received when they shipped starting pitcher Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers in 2015. The 26-year old Eickhoff was able to make 33 starts for the Phillies last season as he posted a record of 11-14 while his earned run average was 3.65. Eickhoff also had 20 quality starts as he recorded 167 strikeouts. Eickhoff fell just short of the 200-innings plateau, but could flirt with winning 15 games for Philadelphia this year.

Starting pitcher Aaron Nola is one of the keys in the Phillies rebuilding process, but his 2016 Major League Baseball season was cut short due to an injury. Nola was shut down after just 15 starts last year due to an injured elbow. Nola visited Dr. James Andrews who has been known to perform his fair share of Tommy John surgeries, but he instead prescribed a platelet-rich plasma injection and rest. However it will be interesting to see if Nola’s elbow is fully healed and ready to take on the riggers of making 30-35 starts over the course of an 162-game season.

The Phillies do have a solid bullpen which features relief pitchers Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez. Neris was able to strike out 102 batters in 80.1 innings in 2016 which paved the way for his 37 holds. The Phillies are Gomez’s third Major League Baseball team. And after Gomez spent six years trying to figure out his role, he now appears to be someone that Philadelphia can count on in the ninth inning. But if the Phillies were to fall out of contention, I would expect MacPhail to definitely dangle Gomez out there on the trade market to see if a contender would want his services. But this Phillies pitching staff will have its hands full as they’ll once again be asked to mask the issues of the team’s offense.

Last year the Phillies were last in the National League in runs scored (610), while they were 14th in both batting average (.240), and on-base percentage (.301). Philadelphia did acquire veteran utility man Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but his presence in Philadelphia is more about working with some of the team’s young players. The Phillies do have some young potential in their lineup; especially in the infield which could once again lead this franchise to glory.

Maikel Franco

Third baseman Maikel Franco led the Phillies in home runs last year with 25, and the age of 24, he is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. Like Franco, shortstop Freddy Galvis is coming off of a career year as he belted 20 homers. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez doesn’t possess the power of Franco or Galvis, but he’s rounding into being a solid contact hitter as he batted .294 in 2016 to go along with an on-base percentage of .371. However this trio must improve their defense as they combined to commit 33 errors last season.

Outfielder Odubel Herrera is coming off of his first All-Star Game appearance, and in a few years he has the potential to be one of the best outfielders in the National League. Herrera is a solid contact hitter who knows how to get on base which is evident by his .361 on-base percentage from last year. Herrera also stole 25 bases for the Phils in 2016 and his ability to get on base will be important for Philadelphia to hang around in the playoff race.

The Phillies will continue to be a scrappy team, but they still have some improvement ahead of them as they’re still a year or two away from becoming a legitimate contender.

Atlanta Braves 73-89

The rebuilding process of the Atlanta Braves has been a tough one as they have not had a winning season since 2013. The Braves have seen the parade in the National League East pass them by as the Washington Nationals and New York Mets are the two best teams in the division, while the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies are inching closer to contention. The Braves have lost at least 90 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1990, and as they are set to begin life at SunTrust Park in Cobb County, Georgia, the last thing that they can afford to do is to remain an afterthought.

Brian Snitker

Brian Snitker is set to begin his first full season as the manager of the Braves. Snitker replaced Fredi Gonzalez as the Braves manager last year when he was fired after the team’s 9-28 start. Atlanta would go 59-65 the rest of the way under Snitker which was enough for Braves president of baseball operations John Hart to give him the job on a full-time basis.

Even with the Braves rebuilding process, they can still lean on one of the best first baseman in Major League Baseball in Freddie Freeman to be a center piece in their lineup. After a down 2015, Freeman bounced back in 2016 to hit a career high in home runs 34, while also batting .304. The Braves have remained steadfast in not trading Freeman in spite of interest from other teams. And if the Braves are going to shock most people in order to make the playoffs, Freeman will be a big part of it.

Outfielder Matt Kemp is not the all-around player that he was when he finished second in the National League MVP voting in 2011 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he is a still a quality player. Kemp split 2016 with the Braves and San Diego Padres as he hit 35 home runs. Kemp is one of those players that is streaky, and the Braves would love to see a long hot streak from him in 2017.

Dansby Swanson

Shortstop Dansby Swanson was the first overall pick of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. But the Diamondbacks quickly soured on Swanson as they felt that he would not be the player that they initially projected him to be. However the Braves were more than happy to acquire Swanson from Arizona as in 38 games with Atlanta last season, he batted .302 with an on-base percentage of .361. The Braves hope that Swanson is not a flash in the pan as they need a lead-off hitter who’ll be able to consistently get on base in front of Freeman and Kemp.

The Braves team earned run average of 4.51 was 11th in the National League last season. Like Freeman, the Braves scoffed at offers for starting pitcher Julio Teheran who was only 7-10, but he possessed an earned run average of 3.21. Teheran would have had a better record if he played on a better team. And as there have been some upgrades to the Braves for 2017, Teheran could flirt with winning 15 games.

Behind Teheran, the Braves will be relying on some veteran arms in their starting rotation. Starting pitcher Bartolo Colon is set to begin his 20th Major League Baseball season and he has become a cult hero. Colon will be 44-years of age in May, and last year he led the Mets in wins with 15. Colon is not a hard thrower, but his rubber arm can eat up innings, while also giving the Braves a valuable veteran in their rotation whom the youngsters can lean on for advice. The Braves also signed a 42-year old starting pitcher in R.A. Dickey whose knuckleball can be very difficult to deal with when he’s on. Dickey spent the last four years of his MLB career with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he was unable to recapture the success that he had in 2012 when he won the National League’s Cy Young Award as a member of the Mets.

Relief pitcher Jim Johnson is not the player that he was when he led the National League in saves in 2012 and 2013, but he could still be valuable for the Braves in spite of the fact that he more than likely will not have as many opportunities to close out games this summer in Atlanta.

The Braves will begin the upcoming season facing an uphill battle as their first eight games will be on the road, while it will also be interesting to see how many fans will make the trek from Atlanta to Cobb County in order to watch them play.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

 

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2017 National League West Projections

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X-San Francisco Giants 90-72

2016 saw the San Francisco Giants be unable to kept their trend of winning the World Series in even-numbered years going. 2010, 2012, and 2014 each saw the Giants win the Fall Classic, and once last October rolled around you got the feeling once more that they could make a run. But after the Giants were able to get by the New York Mets in the National League’s Wild Card Game, they were over matched by the Chicago Cubs in the divisional series. The Cubs beat the Giants at their own game which was solid pitching and timely hitting.

But whereas the Giants were a playoff team in 2016, they were extremely flawed. At the All-Star break, San Francisco’s record of 57-33 was the best in Major League Baseball, however they would struggle mightily in the second half of the season as they went 30-42 the rest of the way. Now it will be interesting to see what version of the Giants that we’ll see here in 2017.

Last year the Giants team earned run average of 3.65 was fourth in the National League and they have the elements to once again be a solid unit. Starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner has emerged as one of the best in the business. Bumgarner has won 51 games over the last three years and it could be much more if the Giants either gave him run support, or if the bullpen preserved leads for him. But make no mistake about it that Bumgarner and his long pitching motion that comes from his 6’5″ frame will one again make life tough for hitters in the N.L.

2016 marked the third time in the Major League Baseball career of starting pitcher Johnny Cueto that he won at least 18 games as the native of the Dominican Republic can flat out pitch. Cueto is a wizard on the mound as he is a cross of Satchel Paige, Pedro Martinez, and Luis Tiant. Cueto is a showman, and when he’s on, good luck to any hitter that faces him.

Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija has periodically shown flashes of brilliance, but he’s been too inconsistent throughout his career to be considered an ace. However as Samardzija is set to begin his first full season in San Francisco, he can provide the Giants with depth in their starting rotation as he has the potential to win 15 games.

The Giants acquired starting pitcher Matt Moore from the Tampa Bay Rays just prior to Major League Baseball’s trade deadline last July. Moore got off to a slow start with the Giants as he lost his first three starts with the club before he rebounded to win three out of his last four. Moore got a no-decision in Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series against the Cubs, but if he’s able to put the elbow and shoulder issues that hindered him with the Rays on the back burner with the Giants, he could be a solid fourth starter for them.

However even if the Giants are able to get quality starting pitching here in 2017, they are going to need more production from their bullpen. Last year the Giants had 30 blown saves which led the National League, and it also became their undoing in the postseason. Giants manager Bruce Bochy was forced to go with a “closer-by-committee” as everyone in the bullpen took their turn in blowing games.

Mark Melancon

The Giants made it their business this off-season to sign relief pitcher Mark Melancon. Over the last two years Melancon has combined to save 98 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals as he was vital as far as each club making the postseason with him. But even with Melancon, San Francisco will need relief pitchers such as Hunter Strickland and Will Smith to be a bridge between the starting rotation and him.

The Giants offense also went into a nose dive during the second half of 2016 as they finished the year ninth in the National League in runs scored with 715 and they were 13th in home runs with just 130. The Giants will once again have the same light hitting lineup in 2017 as they’ll once again have to manufacture runs.

Brandon Crawford

Shortstop Brandon Crawford led the Giants in runs batted in for 2016 with 84. But even with Crawford, catcher Buster Posey, and first baseman Brandon Belt, the Giants don’t have a hitter in the middle of their lineup who can put fear into an opposing pitcher as a power threat. Outfielder Hunter Pence will be 34-years of age next month, and injuries are beginning to get the best of him as San Francisco should be thankful if they can get 125 games out of him this year.

The Giants are once again a flawed team here in 2017, but for Bochy and his team, they’ll benefit from the National League West being weak overall, and they should be able to take advantage of it.

Y-Los Angeles Dodgers 88-74

This decade has seen the Los Angeles Dodgers be one of the more consistent teams in Major League Baseball. The Dodgers last losing season came in 2010, while they’ve made the postseason in each of the last four years. But the one thing that continues to elude the Dodgers is that they still have not been able to reach the World Series since they won it all in 1988.

After squeaking past the Washington Nationals in the National League Divisional Series last October, the Dodgers found themselves possessing a 2-1 series lead in the NLCS against before the wheels fell apart. The Dodgers then had a front row seat to see the Chicago Cubs win their first N.L. Pennant since 1945. And since the Cubs were able to win their first World Series Championship since 1908, the Dodgers are hopeful that they’ll be able to end their long drought this October.

But for the Dodgers to become a legitimate World Series contender, they are going to need more depth in their starting rotation. The Dodgers team earned run average of 3.70 was fifth in the National League last season, but they were last in quality starts with just 60.

Clayton Kershaw

Starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball and he is the workhorse of the Dodgers rotation. Last year marked the first time since 2009 that he failed to throw at least 190 innings during the season as he only made 21 starts. Kershaw’s sloping curve ball can make the best hitters in baseball look foolish, and if he is able to remain healthy in 2017, a 20-win campaign, along with his fourth National League Cy Young Award are not out of the question. However Kershaw can only pitch once every fifth day as someone else in the Dodgers starting rotation will need to provide consistency behind him.

Last year as a rookie, starting pitcher Kenta Maeda went 16-11 with a 3.48 earned run average. Maeda seemed unfazed in his first Major League Baseball season after he left his native Japan. But what will Maeda be able to do for an encore after he received solid run support, while the rest of the league has a feel from what he can now do?

Behind Kershaw and Maeda, there’s nothing but question marks in the Dodgers starting rotation. Starting pitchers Scott Kazmir, Rich Hill, and Brandon McCarthy have spent nearly as much time on the disabled list during their respective careers as they have pitching. And for Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, if he’s able to get 150 innings in 2017 apiece out of this trio, it will be a blessing in disguise.

Kenley Jansen

But if the Dodgers can get to the ninth inning with a lead, they can give the baseball to one of the best closers in Major League Baseball in relief pitcher Kenley Jansen. Last year Jansen saved 47 games for the Dodgers which was tied for second in the National League, and in the process he became the franchise’s all-time leader in the category.

Last year the Dodgers offense was a middle of the road group in the National League, but that could change here in 2017. It hasn’t taken shortstop Corey Seager that long to show that he is a future star for the Dodgers. Seager was a September call up for the for the Dodgers in 2015 and also appeared in the postseason for them. But last year Seager batted .308 with 26 home runs, 72 runs batted in, and 40 doubles as he became the 12th player in the illustrious franchise history of the Dodgers to be named as the National League’s Rookie of the Year. The Dodgers have been high on Seager since they made him a first-round pick in 2012. And this year Seager has the ability to hit 35 home runs, while also becoming the Dodgers cleanup hitter as long as he is able to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump”.

In 2014, the Dodgers picked up third baseman Justin Turner from the scrap heaps. Prior to joining the Dodgers, Turner has bounced around Major League Baseball with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets. But after the Mets decided to non-tender Turner, he got a spring training invite from the Dodgers. And as Turner was joining the team that he grew up watching as he’s from Long Beach, California, he received a new baseball life.

In each of Turner’s two seasons with the Dodgers, his offensive numbers have increased which included him leading the club in homers (27), and runs batted in (90) last season. This off-season Turner would receive a new four-year deal from the Dodgers that is worth $64 million. But it will be interesting to see if Turner’s production was just a lead up him getting a long-term deal, or that has he turned the corner in his Major League Baseball career.

Outfielder Joc Pederson is another power bat for the Dodgers, and he is a player that is learning better plate discipline while improving as an overall hitter. Including Pederson, the Dodgers have a plethora of young talent in their outfield, but it all comes with question marks. Like Pederson, outfielder Trayce Thompson has the ability to hit 25 homers, but he has yet to show that he can remain healthy as in two seasons in Major League Baseball, he has only appeared in 124 games. Outfielder Yasiel Puig has never been able to live up to his full potential, and if somebody within the Dodgers organization is able to get through to him, he could be a diamond in the rough for manager Dave Roberts.

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez will be 35-years of age in May. And although that Gonzalez doesn’t appear to be power hitter that he was earlier in his career, he is still one of the better contact hitters on the Dodgers, while also possessing of the best gloves in the game at first base.

This off-season the Dodgers acquired infielder Logan Forsythe from the Tampa Bay Rays. Forsythe is a career .255 hitter, but his main contributions in Los Angeles will come on defense as he’ll spend the majority of his time at second base where he should form a solid double play tandem with Seager. Forsythe should split time at second base with veteran Chase Utley. Utley appeared to be finished during the end of his tenure with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015, but when he was traded to the Dodgers, it gave him a new lease on his baseball life as he’s originally from nearby Pasadena.

It didn’t take catcher Yasmani Grandal that long to get settled in with the Dodgers as in his first year in Los Angeles, he hit a career high 27 home runs. But Grandal’s main contributions with this Dodgers team will come behind the plate as far as calling games for the team’s pitching staff. And with catcher A.J. Ellis having been traded to the Phillies this off-season, more will be on the plate of Grandal as he must now develop a rapport with Kershaw who no longer has his personal catcher.

You can expect 2017 to feature another dose of the West Coast’s version of the Hatfields and the McCoys as the Dodgers and Giants are once again expected to stage another fierce battle in order to determine who’ll win the National League West.

Colorado Rockies 75-87

The past six Major League Baseball seasons have been a struggle to say the least for the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies have not had a winning season since 2010, while they have not reached the postseason since 2009. The Rockies have never won the National League West in their 24 years of existence and 2017 is expected to once again be a struggle in the Rocky Mountains.

After four seasons as the manager of the Rockies, Walt Weiss decided not to return in 2017. Weiss has been replaced in Denver by former San Diego Padres manager Bud Black. Black will look to have more success in Denver than he had during his nine years with the Padres as he was never able to lead them to the playoffs.

Hitting has never been the issue for the Rockies as the thin air in Denver allows them to consistently put up quality numbers on offense. The Rockies led the National League last season in runs scored (845), hits (1,544), and team batting average (.275), but their team earned run average of 4.91 was 13th.

Starting pitcher Chad Bettis led the Rockies in wins last season with 14, but he also had an earned run average of 4.79. Bettis’ road earned run average was also higher as it was 5.06 in games that were started away from Coors Field. And with a pitching staff that is once again expected to give up its fair share or runs, it will once again be on Colorado’s offense to give this team any chance.

Nolan Arenado

The Rockies belted 204 home runs in 2016 which was third in the National League and they have a bevy of hitters that have the potential to each pound out at least 30 homers. Third baseman Nolan Arenado is looking to lead the N.L. in home runs and runs batted in for the third consecutive season. Arenado blasted 41 homers last year while driving in 133 runs and he has put his name into the conversation along with Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs as far as being the best young third baseman in the game. In nine Major League Baseball seasons, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is averaging 31 home runs per season, and even at the age of 31, his bat doesn’t appear to be slowing down at the plate. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon is coming off of a career year as he batted .324, while belting 29 home runs and 82 runs batted and he should be in line for more of the same this year. Last season shortstop Trevor Story appeared to be in line to win the N.L’s Rookie of the Year Award until an injury limited hm to just 97 games. But in those 97 contests, Story showed that he is ready to be the next big power hitter for the Rockies as he blasted 27 home runs and 72 runs batted in. In six MLB seasons, infielder DJ LeMahieu is a career .300 hitter and he’s fresh off leading the N.L. in batting last season at .348. LeMahieu also had an on-base percentage of .416 as this lineup doesn’t have too many soft spots.

But the rich got richer over the winter when the Rockies signed Ian Desmond. Desmond is an infielder by trade, but he was able to reinvent himself last year with the Texas Rangers as he batted .285 with 22 home runs and 86 runs batted in. And now Desmond will join another deep lineup that he should benefit immensely from being in, while the thin Rocky Mountain air won’t hurt either. But after suffering a broken hand in spring training, Desmond’s Rockies debut will be put on hold for a few weeks.

Make no mistake about it that the Rockies will score runs in 2017. But as always will Colorado be able have enough pitching in order to remain in contention this year?

Arizona Diamondbacks 70-92

The Arizona Diamondbacks will enter the 2017 Major League Baseball season seeking their first winning season since 2011 which was subsequently their last trip to the playoffs. Since that time the Diamondbacks have been an organization without a plan as they haven’t been sure whether or not that they want to rebuild or become a contender. The Diamondbacks front office hasn’t been on the same page and thus the team has suffered as they’ve been far from a contender in the National League West. After the Diamondbacks lost 93 games last year, general manager Dave Stewart was fired, and all signs pointed to the team’s president of baseball operations in Tony La Russa getting his walking papers as well. But La Russa was able to hold on, while the D’Backs have welcomed a new general manager in Mike Hazen, along with a new manager in Torey Lovullo. But even with the Diamondbacks having new front office personnel, they’ll still be facing an uphill battle in the N.L. West.

Like the Colorado Rockies, the Diamondbacks are going to have to rely heavily on their lineup to carry them this season. In 2016, the D’Backs pitching staff was dead last in the National League in earned run average at 5.09. Arizona believed that starting pitcher Zack Greinke would be the solution to their starting pitching issues as they gave him a six-year deal for $206.5 million. But Greinke was unable to consistently resemble the player who won 19 games in 2015 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, while leading the N.L. in earned run average at 1.66. However Greinke was only able to win 13 games while posting an earned run average of 4.37.

Zack Greinke

Some people feel that Greinke might have been “pressing” in his first year in Arizona as he wanted to show why he deserved get the big contract, but either way he will need to bounce back in a big way in order for the Diamondbacks to have a legitimate chance to make the postseason here in 2017.

This off-season the Diamondbacks did acquire starting pitcher Taijuan Walker from the Seattle Mariners in the hopes of strengthening their rotation. Walker is only 24-years of age, but he has never been able to live up to the expectations that were placed on him. However a change of scenery could be just what Walker needs.

The Diamondbacks lineup will miss the contributions of infielder Jean Segura who led the club in batting last year at .319, but was traded to the Mariners for Walker. However, Arizona will need outfielder A.J. Pollock to bounce back after his 2016 Major League Baseball campaign was derailed. An elbow injury limited Pollock to just 12 games last season and the D’Backs will need him to resemble to player who earned his first All-Star Game nod in 2015 when he batted .315 to go along with 20 homers and 76 runs batted in.

Paul Goldschmidt, Yasmany Tomas

After defecting from Cuba in 2014, it hasn’t taken outfielder Yasmany Tomas that long to get adjusted to Major League Baseball. Last year was Tomas’ second MLB season and he led Arizona in home runs with 31. Tomas will team with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to give the Diamondbacks one of the best three-four combos in the National League West. For Goldschmidt’s six-year Major League Baseball career he has averaged 29 homers per year, and like I said before, the only thing that is preventing him from being a household name is the fact that he plays on a losing team. However the hitting prowess of Goldschmidt and Tomas more than likely won’t be enough for the Diamondbacks.

Arizona’s first 14 games in 2017 will be against teams that made the playoffs last season with 11 of those coming against the Dodgers and Giants as it will more than likely be tough sledding early on in the desert.

San Diego Padres 61-101

Two of the few good things that the San Diego Padres currently have going for them is that they play in one of the prettiest cities in the United States, while they also have one of the best stadiums in Major League Baseball. The Padres have not had a winning season since 2010, and they have failed to make the postseason since 2006. The one good thing about the 2016 MLB season for the Padres was that they were able to show off Petco Park to the baseball world by hosting the All-Star Game. But as the Padres lost 94 games, they also finished in last place in the National League West. And as the 2017 MLB season is set to begin, there isn’t that much optimism as far as the Padres being a contender.

A.J. Preller is set to begin his second full season as the general manager of the Padres, and after spending 2015 attempting to buy a contender, he spent 2016 waving the white flag. The Padres have traded nearly all of their valuable players which has left manager Andy Green in a bind in order to make San Diego contend.

Wil Myers

The Padres can hang their hats on the fact that they have first baseman Wil Myers in the middle of their lineup. After Myers won the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award in 2013 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, he found himself traded to the Padres following the 2014 Major League Baseball season. After Myers missed time during his first three Major League Baseball seasons, he appeared in 157 games last year for the Padres as he hit a career-high 28 home runs. The Padres see Myers as a center piece for the future which led to both sides agreeing on a six-year extension that is worth $83 million which will keep him in San Diego through 2023.

But unfortunately for the Padres, there is not that much talent on this team aside from Myers which means that it will be a very long summer in San Diego; especially since the folks there can no longer look forward to watching the Chargers pay football.

X-Division Winner

Y-Wild Card Berth

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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2017 American League Central Projections

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X-Cleveland Indians 92-70

As good as the 2016 Major League Baseball season was for the Cleveland Indians, they are left to ponder as far as what could have been. The Indians enjoyed a postseason run that saw them sweep the heavily favored Boston Red Sox in the American League Divisional Series, and defeat the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series for their first World Series appearance since 1997. The Indians were one victory away from their first World Series Championship since 1948, but they would be the first team since the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985 to blow a 3-1 lead in the Fall Classic, and the first since the Baltimore Orioles in 1979 to lose the final two games at home as their demise saw the Chicago Cubs become a team of destiny. And as close as the Indians were in 2016, it will be even tougher for them to get back to the World Series here in 2017.

But luckily for the Indians they are led by manager Terry Francona who is one of the best in the business as far as motivating and getting the most out of his clubs. Francona won a pair of World Series Titles as the skipper of the Red Sox, and in four years with the Tribe, they’ve never had a losing record. Now it will take the ultimate coaching effort from Francona in order to get his team to move on after last year’s collapse.

In 2016, the Tribe was one of the most balanced teams in baseball and it could once again be a strength for them. Last year each one of Cleveland’s starting pitchers was able to win at least 11 games, while this unit had 81 saves which was fifth in the American League.

Corey Kluber

In the last three years starting pitcher Corey Kluber has won 45 games as he is no longer a secret outside of Northern Ohio. However after Kluber was able to win 18 games in 2014, he would lead the American League in losses in 2015 with 16. Kluber did this while he posted an earned run average of 3.49 in 2015 as he was sometimes a hard luck loser. But after Kluber was able to once again win 18 games last season, along with the Indians explosive offense, he could find himself in the mix to win his second A.L. Cy Young Award.

But even with Kluber leading the way, the strength of Cleveland’s pitching staff will once again be their bullpen. Francona has his version of “The Nasty Boys” in relief pitchers Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen. Allen saved 32 games for the Tribe last season, while Shaw was able to record 25 holds. Miller was acquired from the New York Yankees just prior to the trade deadline last year and he proved to be vital coming down the stretch. Miller struggled late in the World Series, but he should be able to bounce back as the elongated delivery coming from his 6’7″ frame makes his fastball that much more difficult for batters to pick up.

After the Indians offense was able to score 777 runs last season which was second in the American League, they should once again be fun to watch. First baseman Mike Napoli left in free agency to sign with the Texas Rangers, but Indians general manager Mike Chernoff didn’t waste anytime in finding a replacement for him as he signed first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion. For the last eight years Encarnacion has developed into one of baseball’s most feared power hitters. Encarnacion hit 239 homers while wearing a Toronto Blue Jays uniform which is third most in their franchise history. And even at the age of 34, Encarnacion will provide the Indians with a veteran slugger that can provide some of their other key hitters protection in the lineup.

Francisco Lindor

After shortstop Francisco Lindor finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, he is beginning to show his worth as one of Major League Baseball’s future stars. And along with displaying some slick fielding at shortstop, Lindor is a potential .300 hitter whose ability to set the table will be important for Cleveland.

Carlos Santana will alternate with Encarnacion at first base and being the Indians designated hitter as he looks to build off hitting a career-high 34 home runs last season. I don’t see Santana taking a step backwards as playing with Encarnacion could make them one of the best power hitting combinations in the American League.

A shoulder injury is expected to keep second baseman Jason Kipnis on the shelf to begin the season, but he is one of Cleveland’s best overall players along with being a leader. And if the Tribe is able to get off to a solid start without him, their chances will only be magnified upon his return to the lineup.

Like Lindor, outfielder Tyler Naquin is one of the young and bright stars that the Indians can lean on. Last year as rookie, Naquin batted .296 with 14 home runs and 43 runs batted in, and heading into 2017, he is seeking to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Shortstop Jose Ramirez gives the Indians another potential .300-hitter in their lineup as Cleveland has the potential to hang with the best offenses in the American League.

Right out of the chute the Indians will be on the road to face the Texas Rangers as these two clubs could once again be two of the best in the American League. The competition in the A.L. Central will once again be difficult, however Cleveland has the ability to hold their on within the division.

Detroit Tigers 87-75

After four consecutive trips to the postseason which included winning the American League Pennant in 2012, the last two years have seen the Detroit Tigers fail to make the playoffs. But after missing out on a playoff berth by just 2.5 games in 2016, there is some optimism for the Tigers heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season. And for Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, he has a veteran team that is definitely in win-now mode.

Miguel Cabrera

Since first baseman Miguel Cabrera joined the Tigers in 2008, he has done just about all that a future Hall of Famer can do. Cabrera is a two-time American League MVP which included him winning the Triple Crown in 2012 as he became the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to lead the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Cabrera will have his 34th birthday in April, and although that the Tigers will look to use him more as a designated hitter, he still has one of the best bats in baseball as he is one of the top contact hitters that the game has ever seen.

As a team the Tigers were able to go yard 211 times last season which was sixth in the American League and you can expect more of the same this season. After outfielder Justin Upton signed a six-year, $132.75 million contract with Detroit last off-season, he appeared to be pressing and thus got off to a slow start. However Upton was eventually able to get it going as his 31 homers were second to Cabrera’s 38 on the Tigers. Upton has been a very streaky hitter during his career, but with that he has the potential to put the Tigers lineup on his back for an extended period of time.

When the Tigers acquired second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Texas Rangers in 2014, they got him for his ability to be a table setter; however he has been able to do than and then some. Kinsler was able to blast 28 home runs for the Tigers last season, while he also won his first Gold Glove Award. And even at the age of 34, Kinsler is still able to get it done at a very productive level.

Even on knees that he taken a beating from his days as a catcher, designated hitter Victor Martinez can still get it done. Martinez is 38-years of age, but he still possesses the ability to hit at least 25 home runs, while giving Cabrera some protection. Since joining the Tigers in 2014 after being released by the Houston Astros, outfielder J.D. Martinez has turned into a star. In three years with the Tigers, Martinez is batting .299, while he was hit 83 homers. And I expect Martinez to have a big 2017 campaign due to the fact that he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

In each of third baseman Nick Castellanos’ three seasons with the Tigers, he has continued to improve, and as he finds himself in one of Major League Baseball’s best hitting lineups, he has the potential to become an All-Star this season.

Justin Verlander

Starting pitcher Justin Verlander has been the face of Tigers pitching for more than a decade. Verlander’s 2,197 strikeouts are the second most in franchise history, while nine out of the last ten seasons have seen him pitch at least 200 innings. Verlander is 34-years age, and what has allowed him to be able to remain around in baseball so long is that he is a very determined athlete. Several times Verlander has been written off by his skeptics, but he now combines his power fastball with craftiness to work the corners of the plate. And after once again leading the American League in strikeouts last season with 254, Verlander should once again be solid for the Tigers here in 2017.

2015 saw the Tigers lose starting pitcher Max Scherzer in free agency as it impacted their postseason chances. However after the Tigers traded outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets in 2015, they found themselves a gem in return.

Michael Fulmer

In trading the slugging Cespedes, the Tigers received starting pitcher Michael Fulmer. Fulmer was a first-round pick of the Mets in 2011, but as they are a team that is currently loaded with pitching, they could afford to part with him and the Tigers were more than happy to receive him.

Fulmer started 26 games for the Tigers last season and he sported a record of 11-7 with an earned run average of 3.06 in 159 innings pitched. Fulmer became the first Tigers player to be the American League Rookie of the Year Award since Verlander in 2006, and he is poised to become Detroit’s next ace.

Fulmer has a power fastball that he can mix up with a slider and a changeup. Fulmer just turned 24-years of age last month and the Tigers are going to proceed with caution, but it would not surprise me to see him get close to pitching 200 innings this season.

However for the Tigers, there will more than likely be a drop off in their starting pitching production behind Verlander and Fulmer. Last year the Tigers pitching staff’s earned run average of 4.24 was 11th in the American League with no other starting pitcher winning more than 9 games. After starting pitcher Jordan Zimmerman won 19 games in 2013 as a member of the Washington Nationals, his career has taken a step backwards. Last year Zimmerman agreed to a five-year, $110 million contract with Detroit, but he was only able to make 19 starts. And if the Tigers are going to be a playoff team here in 2017, Zimmerman is going to need to pitch much better.

The Tigers bullpen still has been unable to shake their reputation of blowing games which is one of the issues that has prevented them from winning their first World Series Championship since 1984. Relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez was able to save 44 games for the Tigers, but he knows how to put stress on a pacemaker as he allowed 45 hits in just 58.1 innings pitched last season.

The upcoming Major League Baseball season will mark the first time that the Tigers will take the field without being under the ownership of Mike Illitch since 1991. Illitch was a very respected throughout the Detroit area and I expect the Tigers to play with tremendous emotion this season as they seek to honor him.

Kansas City Royals 85-77

After the Kansas City Royals won the World Series in 2015, they took a huge step backwards last season as injuries were a big reason why they finished 81-81. And as there is always optimism heading into a new Major League Baseball season, the Royals will be fighting an uphill battle before it even starts.

On January 22, the Royals received the tragic news that starting pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic. Ventura was only 25-years of age, and he was just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. Ventura’s death will leave a void in the Royals starting rotation, but the organization must find a way to move on.

Aside from Ventura’s death, the Royals understand that they’re a small market team which means that they have to rely on developing talent as opposed to big spending in free agency.

The small market Royals lost designated hitter Kendrys Morales and starting pitcher Edinson Volquez in free agency, while they traded relief pitcher Wade Davis and his 44 saves over the past two seasons to the Chicago Cubs. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson was sent to the Seattle Mariners as Royals general manager Dayton Moore understands the business side of operating a small market team. And as Moore will probably be trading other talented players soon, he is still attempting to field a team that can compete for the American League Central Title.

The Royals have some talented players in their lineup; however this team is not known as an offensive juggernaut which means that they’ll once again have to scrap and claw to consistently score runs. The Royals should benefit from having a healthy Mike Moustakas at third base. Injuries limited Moustakas to just 27 games last year and Kansas City missed his bat as well as his spirit in their lineup. Along with Moustakas, first baseman Eric Hosmer is the heart and soul of this team. Hosmer made his first All-Star Game appearance last season and in 2017 he will continue to be one of the best first basemen in the American League.

Salvador Perez

Catcher Salvador Perez was able to avoid an severe injury scare after a collision in the World Baseball Classic as he was playing for his native Venezuela and he is on track to be in the lineup for Kansas City on Opening Day. What Perez gives the Royals is a leader, a clutch bat, and one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. Each of the last four years has seen Perez make the All-Star team along with winning a Gold Glove which is something that cannot be lost of the Royals pitching staff.

To offset the loss of Morales, the Royals are going to need outfielders Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Brandon Moss to have solid impacts. Gordon is set to begin his eleventh season with the Royals and he has entered some rare air. Gordon’s career wins above replacement total of 32 is eighth most in franchise history, and his 278 doubles are sixth. Injuries limited Gordon to 128 games last season and he is still a vital part of this team; especially in the outfield as he is a three-time Gold Glove winner.

Like Hosmer, Perez and Gordon, Cain was a big part of the Royals championship team in 2015. And like Gordon, injuries got the best of Cain last season. But the Royals and Cain will enter in an awkward position being that he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the season. The Royals want to compete, but if they fall out of competition prior to the trade deadline, I would not be surprised to see Cain put on the trade market.

The Royals signed Moss to a two-year contract for $12 million after he had one of the best seasons of his 10-year career. Moss hit 28 home runs last year for the St. Louis Cardinals, and although that he might not be the consistent threat that Morales was, he is still solid enough to contribute in Kansas City as I see him being more of a designated hitter than an outfielder.

But one player who could be a sleeper for Kansas City in their lineup this season is outfielder Paulo Orlando. Injuries last season opened the door for Orlando to be an everyday player, and he made the most of hit as batted .302. I don’t see Orlando taking a step backwards in 2017 as he should once again be a regular in manager Ned Yost’s lineup.

The Royals pitching staff that was a big part of their run to the playoffs in both 2014 and 2015 struggled last season as I don’t see things getting any better this season. The Royals team earned run average of 4.21 was ninth in the American League last season, while they were only able to muster 68 quality starts. But if starting pitcher Danny Duffy is able to build off of his 12-3 mark from last season, it could keep Kansas City in the playoff picture.

Ned Yost

Yost is one of the best managers in baseball as far as having the idea of the pulse of his team. Yost is a hands off manager that lets the players police themselves, and his laid back approach should once again allow Kansas City to relax and hang around in the playoff picture.

Chicago White Sox 68-94

The last four years have seen the Chicago White Sox finish with a losing record, and the recent success by the Chicago Cubs which includes them winning the World Series last season means that the South Siders have become nearly forgotten in the Windy City. In five years as the manager of the White Sox, Robin Ventura was never able to get Chicago to the postseason, while they never finished higher than fourth place in the American League Central during the last four years. But Ventura cannot take all of the blame for the White Sox struggles as this is an organization that cannot figure out if they want to contend or rebuild. However it is now Rick Renteria’s turn to be the skipper of the South Siders as with the 2017 Major League Baseball season right around the corner, all signs points to the Pale Hose being in rebuilding mode.

The past five years saw starting pitcher Chris Sale emerge as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Over the last five seasons Sale won 70 games while he also got the nod to start in Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game last summer. But Sale had his issues with the White Sox front office which reached a fever pitch on July 23 when he was suspended for five games after he used scissors to destroy the team’s throwback uniform that he didn’t want to wear. Aside from trading Sale, outfielder Adam Eaton was traded to the Washington Nationals in a move that saw the Sox receive three young pitchers in Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, and Dane Dunning that the jury is out on.

The writing was on the wall for a divorce between Sale and the White Sox. And during the off-season the White Sox were able to find a trade partner in the Boston Red Sox. In exchange for Sale, the White received four players which includes infielder Yoan Moncada who received a ton of hype when he defected from Cuba, but has yet to deliver in Major League Baseball.

Todd Frazier, Jose Abreu

Moncada joins a White Sox lineup that includes first baseman Jose Abreu and third baseman Todd Frazier who if nothing else will excel in putting balls into the seats. Since making his Major League debut for the South Siders in 2014, Abreu has been one of the best first baseman, but he gets lost in the shuffle since he doesn’t play on a good team. And aside from possessing a solid glove at first base, you can also pencil him in to hit 30 home runs, while also driving in 100 runs. After the White Sox acquired Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds last year, it took him some time get going as he appeared to be pressing. However Frazier would rebound to hit 40 homers for the first time in his career. But with Frazier’s power surge came an increase in his strikeouts as he struck out 163 times last season which was the eighth most in the American League. An oblique injury has currently sidelined Frazier which could effect him to start the upcoming season; especially in Chicago where the temperature will still be cold in April.

The departure of Sale means that starting pitcher Jose Quintana is now the White Sox best option in their rotation. Quintana has a career earned run average of 3.20, but his career record is only 46-46 as like Sale, he has not always gotten run support. But if Chicago can find a way to score runs for Quintana this season, he has the potential to win 15 games. Starting pitcher James Shields is seeking to redeem himself after going 4-12 with the White Sox last year. Shields posted an earned run average of 6.77 with the Sox and as he is an aging pitcher, the time is now for him to reinvent himself if he wants to stick around.

David Robertson

In two seasons with the White Sox, relief pitcher David Robertson has saved 71 games including 37 last season. Robertson will once again be in the mix to be one of the best closers in baseball, but if the Sox fall out of contention he will become at hot commodity on the trade market.

With not that much expected of the White Sox, they will definitely fly under the radar as the focus in Chicago is on the Cubs. However the last thing that the White Sox can afford to have is another season of losing baseball on the South Side.

Minnesota Twins 60-102

After six postseason appearances over a nine-year span, the Minnesota Twins have fallen on hard times. The Twins have not made the playoffs since 2009, while they’ve only had one winning season since then either. Things went from bad to worse last year for the Twins as they lost 103 games for the first time since 1949 when they were still the Washington Senators. Heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, there is only one way to go for the Twins which is up, but how much progress can we realistically expect this team to have?

Paul Molitor

Paul Molitor is set to begin his third year as the manager of the Twins. And after the Twins overachieved in 2015 by winning 83 games, he was dealt a harsh dose of reality last year.

The biggest issue for the Twins is their lack of pitching. In 2016, the Twins team earned run average of 5.08 and 59 quality starts were each last in the American and they didn’t have one starting pitcher win at least 10 games. There isn’t that much optimism for Minnesota’s pitching staff heading into 2017 as their rotation is comprised of either youngsters such as Tyler Duffey who are trying to make a name for themselves in Major League Baseball, or veterans such as Ervin Santana whose best days are behind them.

And for the Twins, their pitching issues won’t help them in the American League Central where they’ll have to compete against two of the better hitting lineups in baseball in the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.

Brian Dozier

But if there is one thing that will keep fans in the Twin Cities excited over the summer in regards to Twins baseball, it is the bat of second baseman Brian Dozier. Last season Dozier slugged 42 home runs which was the highest single-season total for a Twins player since Harmon Killebrew hit 49 in 1969. Dozier could be setup to have another big year at the plate, however the bigger question is whether or not that he’ll finish the year in a Twins uniform?

Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey did receive some offers for Dozier over the winter, but there wasn’t anything that was enticing enough for him to pull the trigger on a deal. Dozier is under contract with the Twins through 2018. However being that the Twins are not setup to contend anytime soon, a trade for Dozier could bring back some value for them.

It should be another long summer in the Twin Cities, and the best thing that Minnesota can hope for is that they won’t get the brakes beaten off of them.

X-Division Winner

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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