MLB 2017 Season Preview

Amid the madness of college basketball, the heating races of the NBA, and the immense coverage of the NFL that seems to never end, baseball season is quietly approaching. Last fall provided us with one of 2016’s greatest stories, so it will be tough for this upcoming campaign to match up. Nevertheless, the 162-game marathon of Major League Baseball always finds a way to keep things interesting, and here we will somehow attempt to predict the happenings of the next seven months.

By Evan Kolin (’18)

Awards Predictions

AL MVP: Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros

The obvious selection here would be Angels outfielder Mike Trout to reel in his third MVP of the past four years. Despite the AL’s Los Angeles squad not making the postseason since 2014, Trout remains baseball’s best player by a landslide. Nevertheless, I am going to avoid that clear-cut pick and hand over the honor to another young superstar: Jose Altuve.

Altuve is right up there with Trout in the discussion of best all-around talent in the game. The Venezuela native finished 2016 with an AL-leading .338 batting average to go along with 30 steals and career highs in home runs (24) as well as runs batted in (96). Although he stands as one of MLB’s shortest players at a less than intimidating 5’6”, Altuve has still been one of baseball’s top performers over the last three seasons. And with the Astros set to win their first division title since 2001, it should be their tiny-yet-powerful infielder who finally gets recognized for his outstanding accomplishments.

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals

Two seasons ago, Bryce Harper finally brought the hype to reality by bringing in his first NL MVP award following a campaign that produced a .330 batting average, 42 home runs, and 99 runs batted in. His next season, however, didn’t prove as successful. Despite the Nats staying atop the NL East all year, the team’s superstar lagged along with 24 homers, 86 RBIs, and a dreadful .243 average from the plate.

But now, Harper is ready to rebound. The 2010 first overall selection will be heading into free agency next winter, and if he really wants the $400 million that he says he’s worth, he is going to have to show that his 2015 self represents his talents moreso than his disappointing 2016 season. And in professional sports, where it’s all about the money, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it’s that potential paycheck that drives him to his second Most Valuable Player.

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox

In 2014, Sale displayed flashes of superstardom, as the commanding lefty posted a miniscule 2.17 ERA to go along with 208 strikeouts in 174 innings of work. From that season onward, many predicted that the Florida Gulf Coast alum would go on to become the AL’s version of Clayton Kershaw and would sweep the awards table for years to come. However, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

Sale has certainly been an elite starter, but has not produced an ERA below 3.34 since that 2014 campaign. He’s been impressive with his strikeout numbers-totaling 507 over the past two years-but the 6’6” former reliever still has no Cy Young to his name. That will change this season. Sale’s move to Boston could provide some transition issues similar to that of David Price’s introductory campaign, but I fully expect the Lakeland, FL native to get through any of that possible adversity and prove that he truly belongs among MLB’s elite.

NL Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco Giants

Although Madison Bumgarner has been more widely known as one of baseball’s most dominant postseason pitchers ever since his insane 2014 World Series against Kansas City, the North Carolina native has quietly been dominating the summers as well. The 8th year starter hasn’t had an ERA over 2.98 since 2012, and has strung together three consecutive seasons of 200+ strikeouts.

Clayton Kershaw will be the yearly NL Cy Young favorite for as long as he lives, but sometimes it’s boring to predict the same result year after year (though the Dodger lefty hasn’t actually brought home the award since 2014). So this time around, we’ll just avoid Kershaw one more time and hand over the Cy Young to his NL West counterpart 380 miles to the north.

AL Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi, LF, Boston Red Sox

Andrew Benintendi currently sits as Baseball America’s number one overall prospect, and for good reason; in 151 minor league games, the swift outfielder hit .312 with 20 home runs, 107 runs batted in, and 26 steals. The Arkansas product also impressed in his 34 contests with Boston last fall, posting a .295/.359/.476 line (AVG, OBP, SLG) that included 31 hits as well as 14 for extra bases.

Benintendi was selected seventh overall by the Red Sox in the 2015 draft, and has rapidly risen up the ranks since then. He is set to be Boston’s everyday left fielder for 2017, so that should give him enough time to exhibit why he could be the game’s next young superstar.

NL Rookie of the Year: Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves

In June of 2015, the Arizona Diamondbacks made Dansby Swanson the first pick in the MLB Draft. Six months later, they dealt him to the Braves for middle-of-the-line starter Shelby Miller. That trade has proven costly for the D-Backs, as their win-now attempt disastrously failed and Swanson now heads Atlanta’s impressive rebuild.

Similar to Benintendi, Dansby Swanson made his pro debut last September, hitting .302 in 38 games for Atlanta. The former Vanderbilt Commodore is also ranked third in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list, tops among all National League players and two spots behind his Boston counterpart. All of this information should lead to similar 2017 results from the talented ballplayers, as both attempt to first win ROY in their respective leagues, and then become the next two faces that dominate Major League Baseball’s future.

Standings Predictions

American League

The Boston Red Sox made perhaps the biggest splash of the MLB offseason, landing White Sox ace Chris Sale to place atop their rotation. That impressive addition immediately labeled Boston as the American League favorites in the eyes of most, and anything short of a division title by season’s end should be considered a failure. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ rebuilding core of young talent will help them contend for just their second playoff spot since 2013. Nevertheless, their run will fall short, only the second time over the past 11 years that no AL East squad will be one of the league’s Wild-Card winners.

In addition, the Indians certainly look like the Red Sox’s greatest competitor, but the pressure of repeating 2016’s unexpected success will push Cleveland to the two spot in the AL Central and grant Detroit the opportunity of the division championship. Lastly, the AL West will most definitely be a race to focus on, with the Mariners, Astros, and Rangers all deserving of those final two postseason openings. However, it will be Seattle and Houston who end up continuing into October, sending the aging Rangers home for the fall.

AL East:

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

AL Central:

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Cleveland Indians (Wild Card)
  3. Kansas City Royals
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins

AL West:

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Seattle Mariners (Wild Card)
  3. Texas Rangers
  4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  5. Oakland Athletics

National League

Not much will end up changing throughout the NL standings in 2017. The Mets simply do not have the offense to overtake the Nats in the East, and their injury-prone pitching rotation will leave them out of the playoffs for good. Although I will keep Chicago atop the NL Central for the second straight season, it is certainly tempting to place the Cardinals above those Cubs. While winning the World Series last November may lift the burden of their supposed curse, the south side of Chicago will still be subject to an insubordinate amount of pressure as their team goes for the repeat just like they did 109 years ago.

In the West, the LA Dodgers may have one of the National League’s most complete rosters, with a menacing lineup headed by up-and-coming superstar Corey Seager and a frightening pitching corps led by the great Clayton Kershaw. Nonetheless, the Giants will be right behind Los Angeles, ready to pounce upon the Dodgers’ first fault. San Francisco may have ended their even-year streak last season, but they are still the same unit that had the most wins in all of baseball heading into the 2016 All-Star break. Thus, that NL West battle may also be something to watch out for, a race that could go right down to the wire.

NL East:

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

NL Central:

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (Wild Card)
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

NL West:

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

World Series Predictions

Houston Astros: 4

Chicago Cubs: 3

Three years ago, Sports Illustrated proclaimed that the Houston Astros would be crowned the 2017 World Series champions. At the time, the prediction was humorous to say the least, and calling it a downright joke was not out of the question. Houston finished 2014 with a record of  70-92, and had gone an atrocious 51-111 the year prior. Nevertheless, the former laughingstock of baseball transformed their mantra quickly, and by last spring SI was even willing to jump their projection up a year. That move ultimately backfired, but the Astros’ window of opportunity has not passed. They still boast an incredibly young, yet talented, lineup filled with the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer. Their rotation may be an issue, but a bounceback campaign via 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel should be enough to keep Houston in it.

On the NL side of things, the Chicago Cubs are still the most well-rounded baseball team out there, despite the distress that will come with their newfound elitism. The reigning champs lost fireballer Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees in free agency, but replaced him instantly with his righty equivalent: Wade Davis. However, even though MLB’s newest cinderella franchise may have nearly no weaknesses, the best team doesn’t win it all every single season. It just doesn’t work out that way sometimes, fair or unfair. So come next April, the Astros will be proudly raising their banner atop Minute-Maid Park, and somewhere Sports Illustrated will be smiling in the background.

World Series MVP- Jose Altuve

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