We’re finally underway. All the preparation, all the planning, and almost all the wheeling and dealing are done. It’s time to get out on the field and play ball!
This season looks to be a very good one. There’s a heck of a lot of parity (the sort that the NFL can only dream about), with no clear leader in five of the six divisions. It’s actually easier to list the teams that don’t have a chance at the playoffs than to run down all the teams that can honestly dream about playing in October. There’s also an immense number of good young players to watch and root for. It’s a great time to be a baseball fan.
Of course, it’s practically obligatory for even a semi-serious fan to offer their predictions for the coming season. Most of these come out before Opening Day. But since I’ve been a bit lazy (and one or two games don’t matter that much over the long haul), here’s my prognostications.
The Nationals are stacked. Even if they weren’t in this division, they’d be a lock on winning. The one challenge ahead of them is whether or not they will win 100 games. The Mets (will their pitching get enough offensive support?) and Marlins (can Giancarlo Stanton stay healthy enough to carry them until Jose Fernandez returns?) will fight for second place. The Braves are rebuilding; the Phillies… well, they probably should just give up and prepare for the future.
The Cardinals have what is perhaps the best overall organization in baseball, which is why they keep winning despite having few (if any) bona-fide superstars on their roster. A weak division has helped in the past, but this year the Pirates will give them a strong run for their money, and might even surpass them. The Cubs, having rebuilt, will nip at both their heels. The Brewers are average. Most people say that the last time to care about baseball in Cincinnati will be the All Star Game. I’m not that pessimistic; I give the Reds until August.
The Dodgers should repeat without a problem. Bandwagon Giants fans will try and use the “odd numbered year” thing to justify a poor showing this year. The truth is that the Giants of this decade have been more lucky than good (you cannot claim to be a dynasty when you’ve got a losing season – 2013 – during the span), and losing Pablo Sandoval can only hurt them. The Padres wheeled and dealed like mad, and might surprise everyone. The Rockies have to hope their stars stay healthy (a long shot), and the Diamondbacks…. hey, Paul Goldschmidt!
Overall, this is the least predictable of the divisions. The Red Sox fixed all their problems from last year and should go “worst to first”. Other than that, who knows? Can the Blue Jays survive all their injuries? Can the Orioles rebound after losing some star players? Can they Yankees defy Father Time? Can the Rays handle life without David Price and Joe Maddon?
The window of opportunity for the Tigers is about to close. This year could be their last chance for a while, especially with the White Sox and Indians on the rise. Any of those three teams could win it. The Royals got really lucky last year – don’t look for anything close to a repeat. MLB will probably be happy that there’s no October baseball in Minnesota.
The Mariners are going to challenge the Angels for dominance here. Look for a down-to-the-wire race. The A’s will make a run for it, but will probably come up short given who they’re trying to pass. The Rangers will suffer quietly and try to fight the Astros for next-to-last place.
Given what we’ve seen the past few years, anything goes when it comes to the playoffs. It’s pointless to make a prediction this early. But I confess I’d love to see a Seattle – Washington World Series, since those are the only two franchises who have yet to make it that far.