It’s easily arguable that the AL and NL have never been more different. In the NL, there are seemingly 7-8 teams that believe they can win, while the other 7-8 teams are fighting for the first overall draft pick. In the AL, at least 14 teams or possibly even all 15 teams can enter the season believing they can win the league. Here’s an in-depth look into each division, less than a week before opening day.
AL East: The division with the most parity, it wouldn’t be a surprise for any of the 5 teams to win the division. The Yankees and Red Sox both bolstered their bullpens getting possibly the two best closers in the game in Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel respectively. The Orioles kept their 8th and 9th inning guys in tact by re-signing O’Day. Tampa Bay got a much needed bolstering to their offense when they added Corey Dickerson over the off-season. Toronto lost David Price (to the Red Sox) but still have the most dangerous power lineup in the game that features Donaldson, Bautista, Tulo, and Encarnacion. However, for all the holes that were shored up during the off-season, each of these teams still has a glaring weakness. Can Toronto find enough decent pitching to support their offense? Can the Yankees continue to get production from their older guys? Can Boston get productive seasons out of Sandoval, Ramirez, and continued production out of David Ortiz? Do the Rays have enough hitting even with the addition of Dickerson? Can the Orioles get good starting pitching from a team who’s ace is Chris Tillman, and relies heavily on Ubaldo Jimenez and the newly added Yovani Gallardo? All these questions are why these 5 teams all feel like they can win the division. Health may very well be the deciding factor which team wins as none of these teams can afford a loss to any of their key players. In a highly contested division, Toronto will win the division because of their ability to score runs, masking their weakness of starting pitching.
Prediction: Toronto, New York, Tampa Bay, Boston, Baltimore.
AL Central: This division is headlined by the Royals and for good reason. They have made the World Series each of the last two years, and will enter this year as the defending champions. Yet they still don’t get the respect they deserve. People are talking about the Indians winning the division because they have the best rotation in baseball and now have a defense led by a shortstop wizard in Francisco Lindor. Another possibility is Detroit bouncing back from last year with a healthy Justin Verlander, and Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez leading an offense that added Justin Upton during the off-season. Byron Buxton leads a Minnesota team that might be the one team in the AL that doesn’t have a solid chance of winning because they aren’t a particularly strong hitting or pitching team. The White Sox are my AL sleeper team because they boast an ace in Chris Sale and a slugger in Jose Abreu, and they added Todd Frazier during the off-season. If Carlos Rodon can become as good as his potential says he can be, this team could be dangerous. Of course, those 4 teams need to find a way to beat the Royals who don’t have the most talented roster, but have a great bullpen and play great defense. In the division that hosts the most teams with a great amount of potential, the proven Kansas City Royals will win the division again, although look for any of these teams to be a surprise, especially the White Sox and Indians.
Prediction: Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota
AL West: The AL West is home to the MLB’s best player in Mike Trout who is on a team that disappointed last year. The Rangers were the MLB’s hottest team entering the playoffs last year and have a great lineup and solid starting pitching a second basemen in Rougned Odor who might become the best hitting second baseman in baseball. The Oakland A’s highest salary belongs to Coco Crisp, but their best player is their ace, Sonny Gray. Although they seeming reload every year, this is the year where they just do not have enough to compete and will not challenge for the division or a Wild Card spot. The Mariners added Steve Cishek to hopefully provide stability to their bullpen. If King Felix has anything left in the tank, this is the year to give it because Nelson Cruz won’t be getting much better and Kyle Seager is going to have his breakout year. One of the best stories in baseball in recent years is the turnaround of the last team in this division, the Houston Astros. Between 2011 and 2014, the Astros lost 416 teams for an average of 104 games a year. Then in 2015, the Astros went 86-76 and won the Wild Card game. The breakout season for ace Dallas Keuchel was only overshadowed by the entrance of the game’s next best player in shortstop Carlos Correa. Texas and Houston will be the top two teams and Texas will win the division, but Houston will get into the playoffs by winning the Wild Card game again.
Prediction: Texas, Houston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland.
NL East: The Nationals were the favorite by a wide margin entering last season. If the division titles were handed out at the beginning of the season, the Nationals would have won. Unfortunately for the Nats and their fans, the season had to be played and because of it, the Mets came out of nowhere and won the division. Led by their young stud starting pitching, their fans are even more excited to see what their staff can do this year. The Miami Marlins have Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton. If those two can stay healthy, between the two of them they may equal around 25-30 wins. Throw in the batting champ Dee Gordon and promising outfielder Christian Yelich, and this team has the potential to challenge for the division. They just need their players to stay healthy and this team could be dangerous. The other two teams in this division are the worst two teams in baseball. The Phillies 5 years ago were the favorites and a 100+win team. Now they are a team that is going to fight to not lose 100 games. The Braves are in the same boat, although they will likely be better because they have a star in Freddie Freeman. They also made the best move during the off-season bringing in two top prospects and a serviceable outfielder for a #2 pitcher. The Mets behind their young and impressive starting pitching will win the division, with the Marlins being close behind.
Prediction: New York, Miami, Washington, Atlanta, Philadelphia.
NL Central: This division is generally regarded as the best division in baseball. They may not be the best division, but they have 3 teams that can legitimately make a case as being the best team in baseball. St. Louis lost Adam Wainwright early last season and proceeded to have one of the most dominant staffs in baseball history. The Cubs made it the furthest out of the 3 teams and did it with the best pitcher in baseball last season and a young lineup of hitters that can smash baseballs. The Pirates have had the unfortunate luck of facing Jake Arrieta and Madison Bumgarner in each of the last two wild card games and have come out on the wrong side each game. The Pirates are led by one of the best outfields in all of baseball, and will need a healthy and productive Jung Ho Kang if they want to be a contender this year. Just like the NL East, there are 3 good teams and 2 really bad teams. The Reds last year set a record for most games combined started by a rookie pitcher. Joey Votto may have had the best half of baseball ever that nobody knew about because he was on such a bad team. It will be a while before the Reds are any good again. The Brewers are in a similar situation. Ryan Braun is an elite player, but outside of him and Jonathan Lucroy, they don’t have many players that are going to be able to contribute to help make a playoff push. This division should once again be a three team race.
Prediction: St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee.
NL West: This division lately has been owned by the Los Angeles Dodgers and their ace Clayton Kershaw. The loss of Greinke is really going to test the depth of this staff, and new manager Dave Roberts inherits players that have promise and are already proven veterans. Their biggest rival, the Giants, spent lots of money in the off-season bringing in Cueto and Samardzija. In addition, they have one of the best postseason pitchers ever and a homegrown infield that might be the best in baseball. If the Giants didn’t have the craziest off-season, it’s because the Diamondbacks did by stealing Greinke from the Dodgers and trading away two top notch prospects for Shelby Miller. Combine that with Paul Goldschmidt and Arizona looks like they might be able to contend this year. The Rockies on the other hand will not contend even though they have a superstar in Nolan Arenado. They should be able to score runs again (thanks to playing at Coors Field), but they will have lots of trouble keeping other teams off the scoreboard. Look for the Rockies to have another disappointing season. The Padres win the award for the most confusing team in baseball. After their busy off-season last year, they traded away some of those key acquisitions and are going to rely on Matt Kemp and Melvin Upton for a lot of offensive production this year. Their bullpen is suspect and their infield isn’t great either, but their ace Tyson Ross has all the tools to be a top 10 pitcher in baseball. If the even year magic continues, this division should be the Giants’ to lose.
Prediction: San Francisco, Arizona, Los Angeles, San Diego, Colorado.
World Series Prediction: San Francisco defeats Texas in 6 games.