Coming off a 95-win season, the Washington Nationals are poised to repeat as NL East champs behind their dynamic young offense and flamethrowing rotation.
Bryce Harper is still somehow just 24 years old, coming off a spectacularly unlucky season and possessed with a burning desire to become baseball’s first cultural icon since Derek Jeter retired; put his crummy 2016 in the rearview mirror and pencil him in as the early MVP favorite.
Reigning Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer might be the game’s best pitcher in a world that didn’t include Clayton Kershaw, and Trea Turner looks like the highest-upside combo of power and speed since a young Alfonso Soriano. If they’ve got one weakness at the moment it’s a glaring lack of proven talent at the back of the bullpen, but look for the Nats to shore that up in no time.
Remember when the Mets’ rotation looked like it had the makings of an all-time great pitching staff? When Matt Harvey was supposed to be the next New York megastar? When Zack Wheeler and David Wright actually played baseball? Pepperidge Farms’ members. The Mets are still equipped with a terrifying collection of arms and the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes should keep the offense in the realm of respectability, but there’s too much uncertainty here — and too much talent in the rest of the National League — to expect a third consecutive playoff berth.
Bah gawd that’s the Braves’ music! The longtime kings of the NL East won’t reclaim their crown just yet, but they are well on their way.
Freddie Freeman is going to keep raking, Bartolo Colon will begin attracting interplanetary bodies in orbit, and Dansby Swanson will prove himself worthy of the #1 pick. Atlanta will be a respectable-ish squad until July when they’ll ship off all their halfway decent vets.
It always feels crass to talk about how an athlete’s death will affect the outlook of their team, but it’s likely that Jose Fernandez’s passing will continue to haunt the Miami Marlins for years to come. Giancarlo Stanton leads a slugging outfield that might be MLB’s best if it could just stay healthy, but talent-wise, there’s nothing much left to speak of on the roster.
Philadelphia sucks. I mean I’m sure there are nice people in the city, but the Phillies aren’t some of them. Odubel Herrera is a terrific success story and Maikel Franco looks a bit like a young Vlad Guerrero if you squint hard enough, but this ballclub will find itself in the cellar in 2017.
Losing a cultural icon and lineup mainstay like David Ortiz won’t be easy, nor will going forward without David Price, the $30 million man and former Cy Young winner who will apparently miss the season due to Tommy John surgery. But don’t feel bad for the Red Sox (seriously, don’t ever, in any circumstance, feel bad for them).
Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts will lead an offense that should again be one of baseball’s best, and the rotation now includes Chris Sale in addition to reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. And that’s not to mention that the Sox are going to have a healthy Craig Kimbrel firing bullets in the pen. Anything short of the ALCS will be a failure.
Hah! And you thought I was going to be biased and pick the Yankees to win the division! No thanks, I’ll settle for the Wild Card and a clean sweep through the playoffs.
In all seriousness, the Bronx Bombers are my pick for the second wild card, loaded as they are with young slugging talent like Gary “Effing” Sanchez and Greg “It was my impression that everybody knew that the Bird is the Word” Bird, as well as a talented rotation and lights-out bullpen.
Oh, and don’t forget that Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson are all free agents after this season. Bandwagon tickets go on sale this week.
I would be piiiiissed at my management right now if I were a Blue Jays fan. After letting Edwin Encarnación walk to the Indians for less money than he could have gotten in Toronto, the Jays’ brief title window may have just slammed shut. They won’t be a bad team, still trotting out Donaldson and the most underrated pitching staff in the majors, but the Great White North should temper its expectations.
Buck Showalter uses his voodoo bullpen magic to outperform projection models every year, so I can’t say that I feel totally comfortable picking the Orioles to finish fourth. Still, I’m banking on my pet theory that Showalter has come down with the managerial yips after failing to hand the ball over to single-season GOAT closer Zach Britton in last year’s Wild Card game.
Watch the Rays to marvel at Kevin Kiermaier’s inhuman range in centerfield, or to observe Evan Longoria’s smooth swing and ponder how he fell so precipitously from “near-household name” to “wow, he’s still in the league?” despite being just 31 years old and still really good. Otherwise, don’t watch the Rays.