American League East
The Yankees have the most talented collection of starters in the division…as long as they can stay healthy. This balance of potential performance with risk has become a hallmark of the Bronx Bombers over the last few seasons, and extends throughout the roster. This year, however, the Yankees have structured themselves in a way to mitigate some the risk. In addition to building what could be a historically dominant bullpen, the team has also improved its athleticism. Such attributes are usually evident on teams that outperform the sum of their parts (like the Royals), and that’s why the Bronx Bombers are probably the safest pick to win the A.L. East.
Whereas the question about the Yankees’ rotation is can they be healthy, the Red Sox have to wonder whether their starters can be good. On Opening Day, Boston will field the best team in the A.L. East, if not all of baseball, but it’s the other four days when David Price isn’t on the mound that could scuttle their championship aspirations. Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, and Rick Porcello are not without talent, but they are each years removed from harnessing it on a consistent basis. For that reason, the division is really the Red Sox to lose, and unless two more starters (including the currently injured Eduardo Rodriguez) emerge as solid complements to Price, they probably will.
The Blue Jays shouldn’t be discounted. But, neither should the void left by David Price’s departure. Before acquiring the lefty, Toronto was basically a .500 team, so it’s hard to determine the true baseline for 2016. A healthy Marcus Stroman will help close some of the gap, but, if the 24-year old righty doesn’t immediately blossom into an ace, the rest of the rotation does not have the upside to make up for the difference. Of course, the Blue Jays lineup will hide some of the blemishes of a shaky rotation, but similar levels of health and production from the team’s big four veterans is a tall order. These concerns won’t prevent the Blue Jays from being very competitive, but it could leave them on the outside of the playoff picture.
The Rays will pitch and catch the ball, but they won’t score enough runs to win on a consistent basis. Meanwhile, the Orioles could very well lead the American League in home runs, but their own staff may allow just as many. And, when Orioles’ pitchers keep the ball in the park, catching it could be a problem. Breakeven is a reasonable goal for both teams, but it’s more likely Tampa and Baltimore will bring up the rear at below .500.
American League Central
When the Tigers traded David Price, it looked as if Detroit was beginning a lengthy rebuild, but this winter, 86-year old owner Mike Ilitch decided “win now” was a better approach. By adding Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann, the Tigers re-inserted themselves into the division mix, but how far the Tigers go will still depend on the stalwarts of the team’s recent success. If Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez can stay in the lineup, the Tigers will score a lot of runs. The big question, however, is can Detroit’s pitchers prevent them? And, the answer to that question depends upon which Justin Verlander will anchor the rotation? If the end of last year and this spring are to be believed, Verlander could be closer to his Cy Young form than the struggles of 2014. Along with an improved bullpen, that should be enough to catapult the Tigers back atop the division.
The Royals play much better on the field than they look on paper. Speed, defense and a powerful bullpen has been the formula KC has used to surprise the baseball world, but can that approach continue to yield sustained success? Kansas City has proven such skepticism wrong over the last two seasons, but players like Ben Zobrist and Ryan Madson helped them do that, and it remains to be seen whether these key departures have been adequately replaced.
The Indians’ top three starters could be as strong as any team in baseball, but a lack of depth on offense and a still questionable defense are formidable enough barriers to prevent Cleveland from reaching the next level. The White Sox are improved, especially with the addition of Todd Frazier, but that’s faint praise for a team that wasn’t very good last year. The Twins, meanwhile, are headed in the opposite direction. Although Minnesota has reason for optimism, especially regarding its young outfield of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano, a weak pitching staff (especially if Jose Berrios is kept in the minors) will result in one step back after the two forward steps last year.
American League West
In Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel, the Astros might have the best position player and pitcher in the American League, but by no means is Houston top heavy. The Astros also have good bats all around the diamond, a rotation with quality throughout, and a bullpen that was deep before the off season addition of Ken Giles. With such a well-rounded roster, Houston has the largest margin for error in the division, and, perhaps, the entire league.
The Rangers’ 2016 season could hinge on the health of returning ace Yu Darvish. If the righty can combine with Cole Hamels to form a pair of aces, Texas may hold enough cards to wrestle the division from their cross-state rivals. That’s a lot to put on the arm of one pitcher, especially an arm recovering from Tommy John surgery and not expected back until May, so a wild card is a much safer bet for the Rangers.
If ever a team needed an organization shakeup, it was the Mariners. After a disappointing 2015, the team cleaned house at the management level, but didn’t go far enough revamping the major league roster. Stars like King Felix, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz should keep Seattle relevant, but it’s hard to win a division with bench players sprinkled throughout the starting lineup. Speaking of top heavy, the Angels have two historic offensive players in Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but not much else, while the Athletics have surrounded an ace in Sonny Gray with similar mediocrity.
National League East
The Mets’ have the most talented starting rotation in baseball, which is a good thing because defense probably won’t be a strong suit. That’s what makes the team’s offense such a focal point. Although New York can compete based solely on the strength of its young arms, to truly be the division favorite, the Mets will need more consistent run production. At times, Yoenis Cespedes will carry the load all by himself, but he’ll also go through his share of prolonged slumps. When that happens, a healthy David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud will need to pick up the slack, while Michael Conforto and Lucas Duda supply home run power. After all, the more runs the Mets score, the less they’ll have to rely on the bullpen, which, as the World Series revealed, remains the team’s Achilles heel.
Even if the Mets live up to their potential, the Nationals are still good enough to wrestle the division away. Having Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper is a big reason why. Then again, because the Nationals rely more heavily on their best players, the bear case has more downside. Regardless of which team wins the division, both should make the playoffs by capitalizing on the weakness at the bottom of the division. The Marlins won’t lose a 100 games like the Phillies and Braves, but the Mets and Nats should fatten up with 57 games against the three.
National League Central
The Cubs didn’t take their 2015 success for granted. Instead, Chicago opened its pocket book and signed three big free agents in Jayson Heyward, Zobrist and John Lackey, the latter two who boast postseason success. The bullpen is probably the Cubs’ weakest component, but the addition of Adam Warren should help in that regard. Unless Jake Arrieta turns back into pumpkin, or the curse rears its ugly head, the Cubs are the most prohibitive favorite in baseball, which will probably cause great discomfort for the superstitious in Chicago.
With the defections of Lackey and Heyward, the Cubs’ gain was the Cardinals’ loss, but St. Louis has proven able to compensate for free agent departures by developing talent from within. Every organization reaches a breaking point, however, and this year, St. Louis could find itself a little thin. Adam Wainwright will help cushion the blow to the pitching staff, but lingering injury concerns throughout the rotation create some doubt. Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty also have to validate their emergence in 2015, while the loss of Jhonny Peralta and slow recovery of Yadier Molina add more uncertainty to the mix. The Cardinals have been the National League’s most successful team over the last decade, but in 2016, they have a lot to prove.
The Pirates have been nipping at the Cardinals heels for three years, and they’ll likely be in that position again this year, except now it will be for second place. While the Cubs spent the off season adding players, the Pirates saw A.J. Burnett, Todd Walker, and J.A. Happ depart. Those losses, as well as Jung Ho Kang‘s lingering injury, have contributed to the widening gulf between the Pirates and first place.
How bad will the Brewers be? It’s probably no consolation to fans in Milwaukee, but not as bad as the Reds. If there’s an odds on choice for next year’s number one draft pick, it’s Cincinnati. Not only are the Reds a serious threat to post the worst record in baseball, but the franchise record for most losses in one season is also within their grasp.
National League West
The Giants took a page form the Dodgers’ playbook by making a McCovey Cove-sized splash in free agency. The additions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija lengthen the rotation behind Madison Bumgarner, while Denard Span fills out the lineup and strengthens the team up the middle. The Giants may not have the star power of their rivals in Los Angeles, but the roster is well rounded and deep. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s an even year.
Zack Greinke’s departure was a big blow, but injuries to Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu have accentuated the loss. If Kenta Maeda can pitch as well as he has this spring, the Dodgers might able make up some of the difference, but history suggests a transition period for Japanese pitchers. If the Dodgers find themselves hurting for arms, two of the best pitching prospects of the game are within the organization. With Julio Urias and Jose De Leon waiting in the wings, the Dodgers have the ability to supply their pitching deficiency, but any delay in their arrival would lessen the impact. That doesn’t mean the Dodgers are a lost cause in 2016. By adding talented young position players like Joc Pederson and Corey Seager to a productive mix of veterans, the Dodgers should boast a formidable offense to help offset potential pitch woes. Oh…and then there’s Clayton Kershaw.
The Diamondbacks’ hope of making the NL West a three-team race took a big hit with the loss of centerfielder A.J. Pollock. Aside from Paul Goldschmidt, Pollock was the only reliable bat in the Dbacks’ lineup, so even with an improved pitching staff, it will be hard for Arizona to thrust itself into the division race. They should, however, remain well head of the bottom feeders in San Diego and Colorado. Keeping with the National League theme, the Rockies and Padres are not only battling for last place in the division, but positioning in the 2017 draft as well.
Nationals beat Dodgers in Wild Card game.
Red Sox beat Rangers in Wild Card game.
Giants beat Mets in NLDS.
Cubs beat Nationals in NLDS.
Yankees beat Tigers in ALDS.
Astros beat Red Sox in ALDS
Cubs beat Giants in NLCS.
Astros beat Yankees in ALCS.
Cubs beat Astros in World Series
Regular Season Awards
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
NL MVP: Bryce Harper
NL ROY: Corey Seager
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
AL MVP: Carlos Correa
AL ROY: Byron Buxton
Three Bold Prediction
- At the deadline, Ryan Braun will be traded to the Nationals for Jayson Werth.
- Run production in major league baseball will increase to its highest level since at least 2007 (4.8 R/G).
- After a difficult start to the season, a stint on the D.L, and facing a demotion to the bullpen, C.C. Sabathia will opt for a buyout of his 2017 option, and retire from baseball.
Click link for past predictions: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.