by Zach Seyko
The 2016 Major League Baseball season is finally upon us, and there could be a shake up this year after an array of interesting moves from several franchises occurred throughout the offseason. The traditional contenders will be challenged for the two spots in the 112th World Series. Teams like the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays look to leave their mark this year, and build upon their surprising ascension from the previous season.
Let’s start by breaking down the American League. The East is completely up for grabs because there is currently not a clear front-runner. Even an overlooked team like Baltimore has a shot at the AL East Pennant. The Boston Red Sox are widely considered the favorite due in part to their acquisitions of all-star pitchers David Price and Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox struggled to close out games a year ago, as relief pitcher Koji Uehara was limited with injuries. Price provides that front-line starter that Boston needs to boast a talented lineup featuring rising stars Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. The Red Sox finished with the sixth-worst team earned run average last year. Baseball spectators and fans will see a much noticeable difference in Boston’s pitching results.
The Blue Jays, another playoff hopeful team, will continue to field one of the league’s top offenses. Highlighted by Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays have one of the most feared offensive units. While they do lack pitching, Toronto’s goal is to out-hit teams and have done so successfully. Aside from the loss of stolen base threat Ben Revere, Toronto’s line up remains almost identical to the team that lost in the 2015 American League Championship Series to the eventual World Series Champions in the Kansas City Royals.
Kansas City is striving to conquer the near impossible and win back-to-back World Series for the first time since the 1977 and 1978 New York Yankees. Similarly to the Blue Jays, the Royals’ line up and rotation does not look too different from the prior season. The Royals, against a majority of odds and rumors, resigned outfielder Alex Gordon to maintain the team climate that the players in KC have grown so accustom to. The Royals biggest strength comes from their bullpen as they shut down opponents in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Relief pitcher Wade Davis was an integral part to the Royals championship run and he returns as their full time closer.
Looking to challenge the Royals for their division crown are the Cleveland Indians. Baseball expert analysts have claimed that the Indians will sport the best rotation in the MLB this season. It might be difficult to believe at an early glance, but combined with the efforts of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, the three-headed pitching monster can contend for a wild-card spot if they all remain healthy. Managed by veteran leader Terry Francona, the Indians hope to shake things up in the AL Central.
Over in the AL West, Texas teams are favored to control the division. Both the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers are talented enough to re-enter the playoffs are their berths from 2015. Rangers’ manager Jeff Banister has the ball club headed in the right direction. In Houston, the Astros are a dark horse favorite to appear in the 2016 World Series. Pitcher Dallas Keuchel was one of the 2015 season’s biggest surprises and will continue to improve. The Astros are a home run hitting team and are not afraid to swing the bat, as they were tops in team strikeouts last season. Shortstop Carlos Correa, in his sophomore season, will be battling in the AL MVP race. The second year pro is the face of the Astros’ franchise. His all-around talent can and will guide the Astros to a playoff berth in 2016.
Moving onto the National League, the NL Central took the league by storm with three playoff entrants courtesy of the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. Last season, the Cardinals won 100 games, ultimately overcoming devastating injuries to significant players like Matt Holiday and Adam Wainwright. St. Louis will be even nastier in 2016 if their core talent can stay healthy with their blossoming young talent. Emerging players in Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk stepped up in a huge way and made excellent strides in their fast development. But, this team fell to the young, super talented Cubs squad led by 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant. Bryant is not alone in his quest to break the Cubs’ World Series curse. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has created what could be an MLB dynasty in three years. The former Red Sox General Manager added Jason Heyward and John Lackey to the roster in an attempt to do what a Cubs team has not accomplished for 108 years and counting.
Although the Cardinals and Cubs seem utterly too dominant for division competition, do not write off the Pirates as they have made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons with a limited budget. The Pirates, like other good teams, pride themselves with superb pitching behind Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. The Pirates also possess one of the league’s most talented farm systems with young talent excitedly waiting for their shot to play in the majors. Pittsburgh’s young, but ready prospects could make or break their playoff chances.
After a very disappointing 2015 campaign, the Washington Nationals are poised to recapture the NL East pennant and potentially the World Series ring as many people predicted them to win it all. Bryce Harper displayed his true superstar abilities last season by winning the NL MVP award unanimously. Like their interdivision rival the Mets, the Nats have a stellar rotation filled with aces across their starting spots. One was left open by the departure of fan favorite Jordan Zimmerman, but the Nationals did not have the cap space to retain their guy as he signed with the Detroit Tigers in the offseason. His spot will most likely be filled by top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito. Giolito has amazing potential and could fuel a Nationals playoff run.
Similarly to the AL East, the AL West is up for grabs, but only between the Diamondbacks, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. The Diamondbacks were heavy spenders in free agency and bolstered their pitching through trades, as well. The D-backs swiped Zack Greinke away from LA by offering him 33 million a year in a six-year contract. Arizona also acquired Shelby Miller from the rebuilding project Atlanta Braves. The Dodgers fired Don Mattingly in an effort to get over the past early playoff exits. Dave Roberts is hoping to change the chemistry and lead an extremely talented team headlined by three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and NL Rookie of the Year favorite Corey Seager.
The MVP and Cy Young races will be close ones yet again, but would not be overtly surprising if former award winners took home the prizes in 2016. Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Harper are the favorites for the AL and NL MVP awards, while Kershaw is almost the consensus choice as of right now for the NL Cy Young award. The AL Cy Young is up for grabs, but Price, Kluber and Keuchel are names to watch.
When the season concludes in late 2016, I predict that Cubs, Dodgers, Mets, Royals, Blue Jays and Astros will win their respective divisions, while the Cardinals, Nationals, Rangers and Red Sox will hold the wild card positions. My final prediction is that the Chicago Cubs will finally break the curse and defeat the Houston Astros in five games in six games in the 2016 World Series with Bryant the as the World Series MVP.
Categories: Volume 97 Issue 9 Sports