For the first time in 108 years, the Chicago Cubs are the reigning champions of the baseball world. Now, the question is whether the Cubs can capture October (and November) magic again. But the competition will be stiff- the Indians, Red Sox, and Astros all made moves to improve. And while those four are the favorites to win the title, dark horse teams are abound. Who’s going to win the World Series? Here are my predictions for the MLB season, starting from the World Series and working back.
Chicago Cubs over Boston Red Sox– The Cubs win again in a thrilling six-game series between two historic franchise. Chicago upgraded its bullpen with the addition of Wade Davis, who replaces Aroldis Chapman as closer. The Cubs will have another year of experience under their belt and that will push them over the Red Sox. Boston will put up a good fight but will sorely miss the retired David Ortiz. World Series MVP goes to Cubs 3B Kris Bryant, who will also challenge for his second regular season MVP.
ALCS and NLCS
Boston Red Sox over Houston Astros– Boston’s bats will torch Houston, but the difference will be the pitching. New Red Sox ace Chris Sale will come up huge with two 10+ strikeout games as the Red Sox advance to their fourth World Series this century. The Astros had a down year in 2016 but their young, powerful hitters should propel them far in October.
Chicago Cubs over St. Louis Cardinals- In the battle between NL Central rivals, the Cards are eliminated by the Cubs for the second time in three years. St. Louis made small moves that could pay dividends this offseason, such as signing former Cub Dexter Fowler. If any team challenges the Cubs, it’s St. Louis.
(1) Boston Red Sox over (5) New York Yankees– The best rivalry in baseball returns to the playoffs as the Red Sox complete a clean sweep of the Yankees. New York will emerge as a playoff contender with a bevy of young talent, including catcher Gary Sanchez, but it won’t be enough to win a game against the superior Red Sox.
(3) Houston Astros over (2) Cleveland Indians– Cleveland is the best team in baseball on paper thanks to an active offseason ( new DH Edwin Encarnacion will be team’s best power hitter) and the return of aces Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, who were injured during the team’s World Series run last year. But the Tribe disappoints in October as the upstart Astros upset the reigning American League champions in five.
(4) St. Louis Cardinals over (1) Los Angeles Dodgers– The Dodgers steal away the top seed in the NL side of the playoffs from the Cubs, but it doesn’t help as the Cardinals advance to the NLCS in five games. Los Angeles should have a better rotation and healthier Clayton Kershaw, but the Cardinals have a superior manager in Mike Matheny and are due for a deep playoff run.
(2) Chicago Cubs over (3) Washington Nationals– The Nats scare the Cubs with a Game 1 victory, but it’s all Chicago after that. Washington’s rotation will struggle to be healthy during the season, but Bryce Harper will have another MVP-type season and the Nats’ bats will earn them the NL East title over the Mets.
(5) New York Yankees over (4) Seattle Mariners
My bold prediction of the season- the Mariners make the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Well, I make this prediction every year, but this offseason Seattle made some sneaky moves to improve a roster that was in serious playoff contention last year. They’ll fall short in the Wild Card Game to the Yankees and ace Masahiro Tanaka.
(4) St. Louis Cardinals over (5) San Francisco Giants
St. Louis and San Francisco are two perennial contenders who are threats to win the World Series. The problem is, only one will survive, and in this game the winner is St. Louis. San Francisco puts together a strong season backed by improved pitching and stellar managing, but meet their match in St. Louis.
Five Storylines to Watch
- How good can the Indians be?– Cleveland may have lost Game 7 of the World Series, but they look incredibly strong on paper. Last year, we were asking the limit of the Cubs, and now we’re asking the same about Cleveland. I’m not putting my eggs in the Indians’ basket due to their past issues with inconsistency and injury, but they’re the team to watch.
- Can Trout and Kershaw build their awards cases?– Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Mike Trout is arguably the best player in the game and has been for the last five years, and has two MVP awards to show for it. Across town, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw has won three NL Cy Young awards and an MVP of his own. Entering the season, both superstars are the favorites to take home their respective awards, but a dark horse, like Boston’s Mookie Betts or Chicago’s Jon Lester, could swoop in and make things interesting.
- Are the Rockies a force to be reckoned with?- Now minus Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies are still searching for their first playoff berth in almost a decade. The lineup is potent, but can the pitching staff hold up over a whole season in Denver’s thin air? As stated in an earlier column, this team bears watching.
- Is this the end for Pittsburgh, Kansas City?– For most of the 21st century, Pittsburgh and Kansas City have been laughing stocks. But a couple years ago, the Pirates and Royals ended their postseason droughts and since have been in the thick of the playoff hunt, with the Royals even winning two AL pennants and a World Series. But entering this season, both teams seem to be on the decline and are falling out of playoff contention. Can superstars such as Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain and Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen rekindle their past magic, or will both teams be sellers at the trade deadline?
- Dealing Aces?– One of the best parts of the MLB season is the trade deadline. The playoff contenders fill their needs by trading for stars, while the bad teams trade away starting players for prospects. And all the teams on the edge must make the decision between buying or selling, or staying put. This year, the focus will be on the starting pitching, as Oakland’s Sonny Gray, Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, Atlanta’s Julio Teheran and the whole White Sox rotation could serve as trade targets in the late summer. All could make a huge impact on the playoff race, both this year and in the future.
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
NL MVP: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
AL Manager of the Year: Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners
NL Manager of the Year: Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals
AL Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox
NL Rookie of the Year: Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves