monolith sports - 2017 MLB PREVIEW AND PREDICTIONS

2017 Major League Baseball Predictions

Jon Nava 

April 4th 2017


Monolith Sports' baseball expert Jon Nava brings you his predictions for the outcomes of the 2017 baseball season. Three words.  Nava Knows Baseball.

2017 Major League Baseball Predictions
* - denotes wild card

American League East

1. Boston Red Sox
2. Toronto Blue Jays*
3. New York Yankees
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Tampa Bay Rays

Why the AL East will finish this way: 

Boston made themselves stronger with the addition of All-Star lefty Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox. Despite not having last year's Opening Day starting pitcher David Price till at least mid-May and losing designated hitter David Ortiz to retirement, the staff still has stalwarts like reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz. The offence is a well-oiled machine with the likes of DH/first baseman Hanley Ramirez, shortstop Xander Boagerts and outfielder Mookie Betts leading the way.  Possible rookie-of-the-year candidate Andrew Bennintendi will man left field, a quandary in seasons past.  Toronto's strength, formerly their offence, is now led by a pitching staff that boasts five potential pitching aces (Marco Estrada, 20-game winner J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano). The best of the lot - Aaron Sanchez, last year's American League ERA leader - slots in as the fifth starter in the Blue Jays rotation.  An offence that has bludgeoned their way to consecutive playoff berths was weakened somewhat by the free agent defections of Michael Saunders and Edwin Encarnacion; their replacements (Steve Pearce and Kendrys Morales) could ably fill their numbers by producing in the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.  New York is probably still a year away from serious contention (and the Bryce Harper sweepstakes), but youngsters like slugging catcher Gary Sanchez may hasten that development. After being traded to Chicago mid-season and winning a World Series title, fireballing closer Arroldis Chapman returned to the Bronx. Chapman, along with towering righty reliever Dellin Betances, will be part of a formidable back end of a bullpen.  Baltimore snuck into the wild-card game last season after a late surge, but their inability to improve in the offseason may set the Orioles back in the division. Re-signing AL home run champion Mark Trumbo on the relatively cheap was the club's major move. Centre fielder Adam Jones comes off a strong showing at the World Baseball Classic, while the club's MVP, closer Zach Britton, is still waiting to get the call during the AL wild-card game.  Tampa Bay needs a bounce-back season from starting pitcher Chris Archer, who was hit hard in 2016, leading to his worst statistical year ever. No recovery needed for franchise player Evan Longoria, who in 2016 had one of his better offensive seasons in recent memory. Both Archer and Longoria could find themselves trade bait if the team is in the back of the pack by mid season.

American League Central

1. Cleveland
2. Detroit Tigers*
3. Kansas City Royals
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Minnesota Twins

Why the AL Central will finish this way:

Defending AL Champion Cleveland made it to the World Series thanks to great starting pitching, a terrific bullpen (now with a full season of Andrew Miller!) and an opportunistic offence. The first two remain the same, but the offence has upgraded due to the return of injured outfielder (OF) Michael Brantley and the free-agent signing of first baseman/designated (1B/DH) hitter Edwin Encarnacion.  Encarnacion, the main prize of the 2016 free agent market, only strengthens an offence that finished fifth in MLB in runs scored (second in the AL).  Shortstop (SS) Francisco Lindor and utility infielder Jose Ramirez (slated to start the season at second base due to the shoulder injury of incumbent Jason Kipnis) are the linchpins of an outstanding infield, while the return of starting pitchers Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco should bolster a starting staff led by 2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber.  Detroit's sluggers - 1B Miguel Cabrera, 2B Ian Kinsler, and DH Victor Martinez - are one year older, but show no sign of slowing in the offensive department.  The corner outfielders in Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez provide power, but centerfield may be a problem after dealing Cameron Maybin.  The starting staff is solid, thanks to a resurgent 2016 by Justin Verlander and last year's AL Rookie of the Year, Michael Fullmer.  The Tigers will look to have a bounce-back 2017 from starter Jordan Zimmerman, as he was hit hard in his first AL season after spending all of his major league career to date in the National League with Washington.  Kansas City was dealt a blow in the offseason with the passing of their ace starting pitcher Yordano Ventura; replacements such as former Chicago Cub Jason Hammel and ex-Seattle Mariners pitcher Nate Karns will try to help fill the void.  Left-handed starter Danny Duffy, who impressed at the World Baseball Classic, will helm the Royals rotation.  Another Royal who impressed at the WBC and seems poised for superstardom is first baseman Eric Hosmer, a sweet-swinging left-handed bat with a penchant for driving in the big run.  The lineup will also welcome back third baseman Mike Moustakas after an injury-lost 2016.  Slugging additions to the lineup like ex-Cub Jorge Soler and free-agent signee Brandon Moss will add power to a team that historically has problems hitting home runs.  The South side of Chicago may not see the success that their NL North siders had in 2016, but the White Sox are on the rebuild that the Cubs had before finding that World Series title last season.  Second baseman and number-one prospect Yoan Moncada was the central piece in the deal that sent ace Chris Sale to Boston, but he may not be ready until later in the 2017 season.  Other incumbents that may provide value for deals are slugging corner infielders Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier, while present ace starting pitcher Jose Quintana may also be dealt for the rebuild that started with Sale.  Minnesota is hoping that their young hitters produce this year - third baseman Miguel Sano and outfielder Byron Buxton are the most prominent names - because their pitching staff is very thin, both starters and relievers.  All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier provides power in the lineup, but he could be dealt for prospects by the All-Star break. All in all, it could be a long season in the Twin Cities.

American League West

1. Houston Astros
2. Texas Rangers
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
5. Oakland A's 

Why the AL West will finish this way:

The time is ripe now for Houston to take the division.  Their offence, already led by middle infielders (and possible MVP candidates) Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa got stronger with the additions of veterans Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Brian McCann.  Youngster Alex Bregman will provide hitting at third base, while outfielders George Springer and Nori Aoki will provide on-base ability and speed both at the top and bottom of the lineup.  The starting pitching staff needs to return to the 2015 form that brought them to the postseason that year.  Dallas Keuchel, the staff ace and 2015 Cy Young Award winner must rebound from a 2016 that saw him fail to break double digits in victories along with a 4.55 ERA.  The bullpen has a solid 1-2 combo in Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson, as the former will be the closer for the Astros.  2017 may be Texas' last hurrah at contending for the division title, but they sure won't be going down without a fight.  The team is led by 2B Rougned Odor and first-ballot Hall-of-Famer at 3B Adrian Beltre.  The Rangers will also have a full season of trade deadline acquisition Jonathan Lucroy at catcher, a definite upgrade on the position in years past.  Left-handed starter Cole Hamels helms a rotation that is also anchored by right-hander Yu Darvish.  The latter is looking to rebound from an injury-plagued 2016, as the Rangers will need his arm to stay neck-and-neck with Houston.  Seattle made a late charge for a wild-card berth with their offence - 3B Kyle Seager was the biggest surprise while 2B Robinson Cano and DH Nelson Cruz having their perennial outstanding offensive seasons.  The offseason acquisition of SS Jean Segura gives the M's a good bat and some speed at the top of the order.  Their starting pitching needs be a little better than last season; while ace Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma recorded double-digits in wins, their ERA climbed almost to 4.00.  Youth will be served in the M's pitching staff as lefty starter James Paxton shows promise and a 97-mph fastball, while reliever Edwin Diaz showed off his electric stuff in the second half of 2016 to become the unquestioned closer.  Los Angeles has the best player in baseball, but are only beginning to build a team around that player.  The aformentioned player, outfielder Mike Trout, is on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats, with his second MVP trophy in three seasons.  Acquistitions such as slugging 1B Luis Valbuena and CF Cameron Maybin will help the offence, but the pitching staff has many question marks.  Nominal number one starter Garrett Richards has the statistics but does he have the makeup (and the sturdiness, given his health concerns) to be the ace of the Angels staff?  Will Ricky Nolasco repeat his late-season successes in Anaheim?  Will Matt Shoemaker become the Marco Estrada of the AL West?  Those questions will be answered throughout the season.  More questions arise in Oakland, the primary one being will staff ace Sonny Gray come back from injury?  Outfielder Khris Davis and 3B second-half sensastion Ryon Healy will provide pop in the cavernous Coliseum, and offseason acquisition Rajai Davis may once again lead the AL in stolen bases.  Starter Kendall Graveman, acquired in the Josh Donaldson deal to Toronto, looks like the emerging ace if Gray is sidelined again during 2017.  

National League East

1. Washington Nationals
2. New York Mets*
3. Miami Marlins
4. Philadelphia Phillies
5. Atlanta Braves

Why the NL East will finish this way:

Far and away, Washington is the class of the division; unfortunately this does not translate to playoff success, as their previous playoff runs ended in the Division Series.  Their strengths are numerous - outfielder Bryce Harper, a perennial MVP candidate; 2B Daniel Murphy was runner-up in the NL batting average race; SS Trea Turner would have been NL Rookie of the Year if not for the Dodgers' Corey Seager; and a 1-2-3 starting rotation in Stephen Strasburg, 2016 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark that may challenge the Cubs for best rotation in the NL.  Their questions are at closer - will it be incumbent Sean Kelley or newcomer Blake Treinen?  And where is the best place in the lineup to put newly acquired outfielder Adam Eaton?  One thing is for sure; the Nationals look poised to go deep into October.  New York made a late charge last season to make it into the wild-card game, only to be stymied by San Francisco.  Their starting rotation is their strength, led by the mighty right arm of Noah Syndegaard.  Following "Thor" is the oft-injured Matt Harvey and Jacob DeGrom, who had health issues of his own in 2016.  Yoenis Cespedes is the big bat in the lineup, while his outfield mate Jay Bruce will get a full season to prove his pop in Citi Field after arriving at the trade deadline last season.  Up the middle of the infield & outfield is solid - shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B Neil Walker and centrefielder Curtis Granderson are veterans who are well versed for a playoff run in Queens.  Miami looked ready to contend for this season until the tragic death of ace starting pitcher Jose Fernandez late in the 2016 season.  This season will show how much strength the Marlins can draw from this tragedy.  Offseason acquisitions like AL veterans Edinson Volquez, Wei-Yin Chen and ex-Reds righthander Dan Straily will try to offset the loss of Fernandez.  Oft-injured slugger Giancarlo Stanton must show his durability and live up to the hefty, long-term deal signed to prove his worth.  A strong WBC for Stanton is a possible harbinger of things to come, as it was for his Marlins teammate Christian Yelich.  2B Dee Gordon also needs to have a strong season after coming off a PED suspension in 2016.  The 2008 World Series title seems a lifetime ago for Philadelphia, as the last remainder of that championship team, Ryan Howard, was let go at the end of 2016.  Now the team is led by promising youngsters like third-year player Odubel Herrera, the centerfielder who has averaged 20 stolen bases and a .773 OPS his first two seasons.  Fifth-year 2B Cesar Hernandez had double digit totals in doubles and triples in 2016, while 3B Mikael Franco led the team with 25 home runs in his first full season.  Howard's replacement at 1B, rookie Tommy Joseph, hit 20 home runs in only 107 games.  The problem for the Phillies in 2017 will be pitching, anchored by vets Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz, whose best days are probably behind them.  Atlanta may be moving into a new ballpark, but that may be one of the few reasons to see baseball in Georgia this season.  1B Freddie Freeman is coming off a career season and seems to be trending upwards as a hitter.  Third-year outfielder Ender Inciarte won his first Gold Glove in 2016, possibly the first of many to come, while rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson is the odds-on favourite to win NL Rookie of the Year honours.  However the rebuild is on when two 40+ year-old starting pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey were the two main acquisitions in the offseason.

National League Central

1. Chicago Cubs
2. St. Louis Cardinals*
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Cincinnati Reds

Why the NL Central will finish this way:

Chicago is not a one-trick pony; the Cubs are ready to repeat after not winning a World Series in 108 years.  The core of the team has remained - NL Most Valuable Player Kris Bryant, 1B Anthony Rizzo, 2B Javier Baez, SS Addison Russell and LF Kyle Schwarber are young and in their prime.  The pitching staff shows no sign of drop-off, as ace starter Jake Arrieta looks to build up his dossier heading into his free-agent year.  Veteran starters as Jon Lester and John Lackey remain their solid selves, while Kyle Hendricks seems to be coming into his own and would be a number one starter on any other team.  The trade for Royals closer Wade Davis stems the loss of trade deadline pickup Arroldis Chapman.  Chicago will definitely go deep into the postseason this October.  As for their rivals in St. Louis, they will rebound quite nicely after missing the playoffs in 2016.  Matt Carpenter can play any position in the infield and looks slated to be their everyday 3B, along with the requisite 25-home run total to match.  The Cardinals also signed the best outfielder in the free agent market, snagging Dexter Fowler away from the Cubs; he looks to be their leadoff hitter.  Carlos Martinez is the unquestioned ace of the St. Louis starting staff, while Seung-Hwan Oh came out of nowhere to claim the closer's job when Trevor Rosenthal struggled in 2016.  The real gem on the Cardinals is shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who had a .879 OPS through only 111 games in his rookie season.  Pittsburgh's gem is not just their home field - PNC Park - but their centerfielder, Starling Marte.  Marte has won two straight Gold Glove awards and became a first-time All-Star, recording a career-best OPS of .818 in 2016.  He takes over the Most Valuable Pirate spot held by the former CF, Andrew McCutchen, who moves to right field.  Gerrit Cole is the Pirates' ace starting pitcher, but Jameson Tallion looks to impress after pitching capably in a half-season worth of starts in 2016.  Milwaukee's main addition this past offseason was signing 1B Eric Thames from the Korean Baseball League; Thames was the KBO's 2015 MVP, stealing 40 bases and hitting 40 home runs that season.  Outfield Ryan Braun remains a main offensive stalwart, bouncing back with 30 home runs in 2016.  The main offensive catalyst is 2B Jonathan Villar, the NL leader in stolen bases last season with 62. Pitching will not be the Brewers' strong suit, as their starting staff will be led by Junior Guerra and Zach Davies, two names that may not strike fear in the ultra-competitive NL Central.  Bringing up the rear in this division will be Cincinnati.  The Reds only have three players worth watching - and two of them barely hit .250 for average.   The two are outfielders Billy Hamilton - a stolen base threat who strikes out too often - and Adam Duvall, a 30-homer threat after a powerful rookie season in 2016.  1B Joey Votto is the third player to watch, but his batting eye is worth the price of admission.  Votto is an on-base machine, whether by walk or hit, and also has gap-to-gap power.  Unfortunately, the pitching staff is more excerable than the bunch on the Brewers, their main competition for the NL Central cellar.

National League West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Colorado Rockies
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. San Diego Padres

Why the NL West will finish this way:

Los Angeles is the main obstacle for the Cubs reaching its second straight Fall Classic.  They have the NL's best pitcher in left-hander Clayton Kershaw, and possibly the league's MVP.  The re-signing of core pieces like 3B Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen will bring relief to manager Dave Roberts.  New acquistion Logan Forsythe, late of the Rays, will bring stability to the second base spot and the top of the batting order.  The sophmore jinx will not be bestowed upon 2016 NL Rookie of the Year shortstop Corey Seager, as he was the first rookie to lead the Dodgers in Wins Above Replacement (6.1) since Mike Piazza in 1993.  Starters Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill fortify the rotation behind Kershaw, while youngster Julio Urias has the makeup to be another ace.  The Dodgers are the one team to give the Cubs a run for their money come October.  The streak of San Francisco winning a World Series in even-numbered years ended last October, but it's wise not to count the Giants out of being a playoff contender.  The starting pitching boasts a quartet that rivals anyone in the majors, led by workhorse lefty Madison Bumgarner.  Righty starters Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzjia are bookended by lefty Matt Moore.  Catcher Buster Posey remains a force behind the plate and at it, while shortstop Brandon Crawford continued his exemplary play at the WBC.  Free-agent relief acquisition Mark Melancon upgrades the closer role left vacant by the departures of Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla.  Colorado has one of the best hitting infields - NL batting champion DJ Lemahieu at 2B, rookie sensation Trevor Story at SS, and All-Star Nolan Arenado at 3B.  Free agent signee Ian Desmond will bolster that infield offence, while the outfielders are no slouches at the plate; CF Charlie Blackmon combines speed and power, while RF Carlos Gonzalez is still a slugging force.  The perennial problem with the Rockies is their pitching, though young starting pitchers Jon Gray, Tyler Chatwood and Jeff Hoffman are trying to buck that trend.  Arizona has established pitchers in Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, but both had horrible seasons in 2016 whilst in the desert.  They need to rebound in order for the Diamondbacks to have a winning record.  Behind them is left-handed starter Robbie Ray, a strikeout machine (11.3 per 9.0 innings pitched).  First baseman Paul Goldschmidt remains the offensive heart and soul on the Diamondbacks, with CF A.J. Pollock and 2B Brandon Drury in complementary roles.  LF Yasmany Tomas can hit 25+ home runs, but his defence is lacking.  San Diego, though, will be sorely lacking in wins this year with the roster they have for 2017.  1B Wil Myers finally came into his own, culminating in an All-Star nod, but the Padres will be hard-pressed to score runs in spacious Petco Park.  Three rookies to watch will be outfielders Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe, along with catcher Austin Hedges.  The starting rotation is not much to witness, as some of these hurlers might as well be in the witness protection program.  Jared Weaver and Jhoulys Chacin are two new additions that fit that bill.

American League Wild Card Game: Toronto wins over Detroit

American League Division Series: Cleveland wins over Toronto / Boston wins over Houston

American League Championship Series: Boston wins over Cleveland

National League Wild Card Game: New York wins over St Louis

National League Division Series: Chicago wins over New York / Los Angeles wins over Washington

National League Championship Series: Chicago wins over Los Angeles

World Series: Chicago wins over Boston in six games

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