This could be a long season for the San Francisco Giants.
As the 2017 Major League Baseball season is less than a month old, Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Amir Garrett is an early candidate to be the National League’s Rookie of the Year. In three starts for the Reds, Garrett is 2-1 with an earned run average of 1.83, while he has also recorded 21 strikeouts. Garrett is 24-years old and even though that his journey to MLB isn’t unique, it still is quite different.
After being drafted by the Reds in the 22nd round of the Major League Baseball draft in 2011, Garrett played two years of college basketball for the St. John’s Red Storm. And after Garrett announced that he was initially transferring from St. John’s to attend Cal-State Northridge in 2013, he would ultimately quit school and focus on playing baseball. That would turn out to be a good move for Garrett who would spend the next three years working his way up through the Reds minor-league system which was highlighted by him appearing the Futures Game in 2016.
At 6’5″, Garrett has an imposing presence on the mound and he is a guy that is playing like he has nothing to lose as there weren’t high expectations for the Reds heading into this season. But with the potential of Garrett, the Reds could be set to overachieve which is reflected in their 9-8 mark that currently has them in the mix for the top spot in the National League Central.
Garrett isn’t the first multi-sport athlete to give Major League Baseball a shot, and he also isn’t the only player to participate in both baseball and basketball. Current Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge enjoyed a 14-year playing career that saw him win a pair of NBA Titles. But before joining the Celtics, Ainge was a second baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays as he had a career batting average of .220. Pitcher Mark Hendrickson was a second round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996 as he played four years in the NBA. Hendrickson would then return to baseball as from 2002-2011, he played for the Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, and Baltimore Orioles. Current Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Pat Connaughton was a standout athlete during his collegiate days for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Like Garrett, Connaughton was a pitching prospect and in 2014, he was a fourth-round selection of the Orioles. Connaughton decided to keep his hoop dreams alive as he was a second-round choice of the Brooklyn Nets during the 2015 NBA Draft which led to him being traded to the Trail Blazers. Connaughton has participated in the O’s minor-league system and there is still a possibility that he could return to the baseball diamond.
But for Garrett he is making the most of his athletic prowess which has allowed him to pitch in Major League Baseball. The jury is still out on him as far as 2017 goes, however it is still a unique journey that he has taken, and it also doesn’t hurt that he has plenty of potential in his left arm.
As the 2017 Major League Baseball season is in its infant stage, it is clear that Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Albert Pujols is no longer the player that he once was. Pujols is 37-years of age and through 14 games he is batting .204 with a pair of home runs and 11 runs batted in. And as Pujols is in the twilight of his career being that he is no longer an MVP candidate, or in the running to hit .300, it is not stopping him from closing in on making some history.
With 593 career home runs, Pujols is closing in on becoming just the ninth player in Major League Baseball history to hit 600 career home runs and only the second Dominican-born player to do so. Pujols has 603 career doubles and by season’s end he could be in the top ten of that category. Pujols is currently 19th all-time in runs batted in with 1,928 as he is 4 away from surpassing Manny Ramirez for 18th place. And just like it is in regards to doubles, Pujols could be in the top ten of runs batted in by the end of the season. With 2,836 career hits, Pujols could flirt with reaching that magical milestone of 3,000 hits. But if and when Pujols is able reach 3,000 hits and 600 home runs, he would join Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, and Willie Mays as the only players in MLB history to do so.
When you think of Pujols one of the first words that comes to mind is fear. Ever since Pujols made his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001, he has done nothing but strike fear into the hearts of opponents. Pujols won the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award in 2001 as he batted .329 with 37 homers and 130 runs batted in. Pujols followed that up by winning three NL MVP Awards while donning a Cardinals uniform, along with leading the league in homers twice, taking home a batting title, and we cannot overlook him helping St. Louis win a pair of World Series Championships. In each of Pujols’ first ten Major League Baseball seasons he hit at least 32 home runs runs and driving 103 home runs as when he reaches the 600-homer mark later this season, he’ll join Aaron as the only two men to reach the mark, but never hit 50 home runs in a season which has made him the model of consistency in the modern game.
Pujols has not hit too many home runs of the cheap variety as they are typically of the tape measure variety. Some of Pujols classic moments at the plate include his massive shot off of Houston Astros relief pitcher Brad Lidge during the 2005 National League Championship Series, and his three homer performance in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series as he became the first player since Reggie Jackson in 1977 to do so. However Pujols has not been your prototypical power hitter being that he has never struck out 100 times or more in a season, while he is also a career .309 hitter.
Pujols’ time with the Angels have seen his production dip which includes him no longer being an everyday first baseman as injuries to his feet have slowed him down. But that hasn’t prevented Pujols from passing his professionalism and knowledge of the game to Angels outfielder Mike Trout who himself is already a two-time American League MVP and at the age of 25 is already being compared to baseball greats such as Mickey Mantle.
However for Pujols, he is capping off stellar resume that will see him one day enshrined in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Currently Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez are the only Dominican-born players that are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but that will be changing in the coming years with the likes of Vladimir Guerrero and David Ortiz on the cusp of it, and Mr. Pujols isn’t that far behind them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Y-Wild Card Berth