Pitchers and catchers finally reported last week, meaning it’s officially time to be excited about baseball again. So, again, us here at the Collegian staff don our Nostradamus caps and try to predict the upcoming season.
National League East- Wade Crawford
Last year, I predicted that the Nationals would run away with the division, leaving the Mets and Marlins to fight over second place. The Nationals then proceeded to fall on their face (and Miami, for that matter), leaving the Amazin’ Mets as the division (and, eventually, league) champion. This year, I have to go with the defending squad. The Mets have a scary rotation—and they’re only getting better. Yoenis Cespedes will keep the offensive firepower up, and who knows, maybe even actually pick up some fielding ability along the way. As far as second place, that’ll go to Washington. With Dusty Baker being an improvement over Matt Williams, the Nationals squad will probably be better. However, the power of their rotation and Danny Espinosa’s facial hair won’t propel them past the reigning champs. The real fun in this division is who will occupy the bottom, with the Marlins, Braves, and Phillies all limping out squads reminiscent of Major League. But this isn’t Hollywood, and Charlie Sheen isn’t anyone’s closer (yet), so these teams will be far away from the top squads in the division.
National League Central- Joseph Edmunds
Last season, the NL Central was stacked. They featured the league’s only 100 win team (the Cardinals), and the top three teams in the division owned the top three teams in the entire league. It can’t be said for sure that the division will be as dominant this season, but they will be strong again, that’s for sure. In my prediction last year, I said it was the Cardinals division to lose. Now, I don’t feel confident saying that. The Cubs look to be the cream of the crop in the division this season. However, their success hinges on their core of young players performing as well as they did last season, and continuing to improve as they are expected to. There is a clear cut line in the division: the Cardinals, Cubs, and Pirates will all be contending for playoff spots, while the Reds and Brewers will be trying to float through rebuilding seasons, and won’t be in contention. If Adam Wainwright can come back from his injury and dominate like he has in the past, I think the Pirates won’t stand a chance in keeping up with the Cardinals and Cubs, and will be fighting to earn a wild card spot in the postseason. Between the top two, it’s a hard choice. The Cardinals have been at the top more consistently than any of the other teams in the division in recent memory, and have a solid team to do it again this year. However, the raw talent on the Cubs roster looks tough to beat. This year, the Cubs will narrowly beat out the Cardinals for the division championship, but the Cardinals will make the postseason in a wild card spot.
National League West- Mason Morgan
It’s pretty dope that I get to preview the division with this year’s World Series winner. No seriously, this is happening, it’s an even year. The Giants won in 2010, 2012 and 2014, it’s going to happen again. They have the best infield in all of baseball and it’s completely homegrown. They signed Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Denard Span, who will all probably be awesome. As far as runner-ups go, the Dodgers are your best pick. They have some interesting questions though. How much will their young guys (Joc Pederson and Corey Seager) contribute? Can Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda fill Zack Greinke’s old spot? What is a Yasiel Puig??? Questions aside, they will still be relatively better than the bottom three for sure. Arizona is playing the part that San Diego played last year, where they spend a bunch of money and trade a lot of prospects without addressing real holes such as a middle infield. Also, investing in starting pitchers in a hitters’ park is not ideal, just ask Colorado. The Rockies will try and find future homes for Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon. Meanwhile, the Padres are stuck with the lesser of the Uptons, a punchless offense and good live arms decomposing in San Diego because the front office still believes they can contend. Congrats San Francisco, it’s good to finally see something go your way.
American League East- Justin Guglielmetti
As a member of the most inclusive fan base in sports, I welcome you all aboard the 2016 New York Yankees hype train! You better hop on soon, because tickets will only be available for a limited time once the Bronx Bombers start decimating the league. Behind the greatest bullpen ever assembled (Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman? Come on!), the next generation of pinstriped greats in Luis Severino, Aaron Judge and Greg Bird, and contributions of wily old veterans like Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira, I fully expect this team to win 90+ games and compete for the pennant. Right on their heels will be the Toronto Blue Jays, led by reigning MVP Jared Donaldson and a historically great offensive lineup. The Jays’ rotation will be reeling with the loss of David Price, but their bats afforded them by far the highest run differential in the majors last year and the best record after the All-Star game. Expect a Wild Card appearance in 2016. Price’s addition to Boston will make the Red Sox a dangerous team and a threat to return to the postseason for the first time since their 2013 World Series win. I think they will fall just short of the playoffs this time around but if key contributors like Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval bounce back from disappointing seasons and Mookie Betts develops into a legit MVP candidate, the AL East will be housing three juggernauts. Behind the upper tier of the division are two also-rans in the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays. Neither is lacking in talent, but players with a bad injury history and the unfavorable condition of playing in MLB’s most competitive division will push their championship hopes back to 2017. Keep an eye out for some emerging superstars though: Orioles third baseman Manny Machado could steal the MVP out from under the nose of his position and division rival Donaldson and the Rays’ Chris Archer will be one of the preseason favorites to take home the Cy Young.
American League Central- Matt Rechtien
I’m still haunted by all the wrong predictions that I’ve made as Sports Editor. I’ve yet to pick the Super Bowl winner, and last year’s baseball prediction… I don’t even want to get into that. Which makes me pretty upset that I got the American League Central because it’s one of the more difficult divisions to get a read on. First things first, the back-to-back AL Champions and reigning World Series Champs, Kansas City Royals are back with almost the same team as last season. And for the second straight season, most writers have them with under 80 wins this season. Part of their success last season was their strong bullpen and three players having career best seasons. People kept saying that their luck was going to run out, and they won a World Series out of spite. Everyone’s saying the same thing this year, but I have to stick with the champs, they’ve proven me wrong too many times. It’s not going to be easier for them this year, because the rest of the division made moves in the winter to try and catch up. The White Sox will be the biggest challenger for KC, because, after the dead-last finish in runs-per-game last year, they shipped off most of their infield for newcomers Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie who should add some more power to their lineup. The Tigers will only be as good as Verlander and Cabrera play because their depth stops after their new additions of Upton and Zimmerman. The Indians shored up their middle defense to avoid a collapse like last season, but I don’t see them making a run. And the Twins, well they’ve got Buxton to look forward to at least.
American League West- Greg Diskin
Ever since the Astros arrived in the AL West in 2013, they have been seen as one of the weaker teams going into every season. This season changes all of that. The Astros are coming into 2016 with one of the youngest teams in the league and players like Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve that will be top players in the league for years to come. Their pitching rotation is strong with 2016 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, a Tulsa native, and newly signed Ken Giles leading the bullpen. The Astros’ neighbors, the Rangers, will finish in a close second and snag a wildcard spot in the AL. Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish are one of the most exciting 1-2 punches in the MLB and they basically have brought back their lineup from last season, which was good enough to win the division. The Mariners will finish around .500 and miss out on the playoffs. I think Cano will have a bounce back year and Felix Hernandez will resume being Felix Hernandez again, but their bullpen is too much of a question mark to predict. The Angels will finish fourth with Mike Trout leading the team, but their remaining roster leaves a lot to be desired. If the A’s weren’t in such turmoil and were doing as well as many predicted last season, the Angels would be a distant last place in this division. The A’s will finish last because they did not make any moves to try to get any better. Their offseason was stagnate with average players leaving and average players coming in and unless a prospect has an otherworldly performance, I don’t see that changing.