ON THE ROAD TO ST. LOUIS -- Today I will join thousands of other bloggers, websites, pundits, etc. in making my so-called "expert" predictions for the upcoming season (this was originally going to run tomorrow, but with three regular-season games today, I moved it up). If you have been here for the last 12 years, you'll find this prediction format familiar -- and yes, you'll find most of this text familiar too (copy/paste being a useful tool). For those of you new to BCB, read on.
I started this format 25 years ago, when I was passing out my annual predictions to any of my friends who were willing to read them either with or without scoffing, because I found it both more interesting and challenging to do than traditional predictions. Even more so, if you're here I don't need to insult your intelligence by telling you who the ballclubs' best hitters, pitchers, etc. are. You already know. Instead, you'll find a pithy word or phrase describing the hitting, pitching, defense and intangibles of the thirty contenders for October glory.
I'm also not going to "predict" award winners. How hard would it be for me to sit here clacking away on a keyboard and be master-of-the-obvious by telling you that Kris Bryant is a top choice to repeat as N.L. MVP or that Clayton Kershaw has an excellent chance to with the N.L. Cy Young? Just before the 2016 season started, would you have predicted that Rick Porcello would win the A.L. Cy Young Award? Last March, did you predict Michael Fulmer would win the A.L. Rookie of the Year in 2016? (No. No, you did not.)
And in any case, anyone using the search function here can come back here in October and tell me how wrong I was. Further, looking back at the six years of predictions here from 2004-2009, I note that I picked the Cubs to make the playoffs every year and to win the World Series every one of those years except 2006. Obviously, that was the optimist in me, not the realist, and although they did make the postseason in two of those years, those predictions were... well, not so smart. I didn't make that choice the last six seasons, but now that the Cubs are the defending World Series champions... well, read on.
I actually did all right last year. I had four of the five N.L. playoff teams, missing on the Dodgers, and I had the Giants winning the West. In the A.L., I had three of the five (missed on the Indians — most did! — and Orioles).
But I did pick the Cubs to win the World Series (over the Rangers instead of the Tribe), so I’ll take credit for getting that right.
I am, in fact, on the road from Arizona to St. Louis as you read this. I won’t make it in time for tonight’s opener, but I will be at Busch Stadium for the games Tuesday and Wednesday.
Without further ado, my picks for 2017.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
1) NEW YORK METS
Hitting: Returning (even though some were unwanted)
Defense: Very good
Intangibles: The healthy pitching staff is key to winning
2) WASHINGTON NATIONALS (2nd wild card)
Pitching: Whither Max Scherzer?
Intangibles: Dusty. Always Dusty.
3) MIAMI MARLINS
Hitting: Much better than you think
Pitching: Replacing Jose Fernandez won’t be easy
Defense: Good enough
Intangibles: Will they draw if they win?
4) ATLANTA BRAVES
Intangibles: Spiffy new stadium (if anyone can get there!)
5) PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Pitching: Slapped together
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
1) CHICAGO CUBS
Hitting: Still young, now with WS experience
Pitching: Mostly solid, bullpen questions
Intangibles: The drought over, they need to be hungry for two in a row
2) ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Hitting: Dexter Fowler, good leadoff guy
Pitching: Hoping they’re like 2015
Intangibles: Dexter Fowler, good clubhouse guy
3) PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Intangibles: Can they recover from last year’s decline?
4) MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Hitting: Who doesn’t like booing Ryan Braun?
Intangibles: In the middle of a rebuild
5) CINCINNATI REDS
Defense: Not good
Intangibles: Bryan Price, worst manager in baseball
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
1) LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Intangibles: Have won four straight division titles
2) SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (1st wild card)
Pitching: ... they are healthy...
Defense: ... they will be tough to beat.
Intangibles: As always, Bruce Bochy
3) ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Intangibles: If the pitching holds up, this could be a surprise team
4) COLORADO ROCKIES
Pitching: Uh, next question?
Defense: Very good
Intangibles: Spiffy new manager
5) SAN DIEGO PADRES
Hitting: Who are these guys?
Intangibles: Still no real direction
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
1) BOSTON RED SOX
Hitting: They will miss Big Papi
Pitching: Not for Sale at any Price
Defense: Good enough
Intangibles: Need to stay healthy
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (1st wild card)
Hitting: Missing Edwin Encarnacion
Pitching: Counting on Marcus Stroman
Intangibles: Might be the last playoff run for this core
3) NEW YORK YANKEES
Pitching: Bullpen yes, rotation no
Intangibles: Joe Girardi has brought mediocre teams into contention
4) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Pitching: Do they finally fill their potential?
Intangibles: Just never seem to have what it takes to make the next step
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS
Pitching: Some likely will be traded
Intangibles: Never enough cash to compete
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
1) CLEVELAND INDIANS
Pitching: Man, that bullpen...
Intangibles: Now they have the longest WS drought. How will they handle it?
2) KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Pitching: Very familiar
Intangibles: Trying to win again before Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas leave as FA
3) DETROIT TIGERS
Hitting: Led by the always-powerful Miguel Cabrera
Pitching: Led by a rejuvenated Justin Verlander
Defense: Uh, next question?
Intangibles: Do they rebuild now that Mike Ilitch has passed away?
4) MINNESOTA TWINS
Hitting: Better than you think
Pitching: Who are these guys?
Intangibles: Paul Molitor seems out of his depth as a manager
5) CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Intangibles: A lot less clubhouse drama
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
1) TEXAS RANGERS
Pitching: Whither Yu Darvish?
Intangibles: Five postseasons in last seven years
2) HOUSTON ASTROS (2nd wild card)
Hitting: Lots of young stars
Pitching: Reminiscing about 2015
Defense: Very good
Intangibles: Three years ago, Sports Illustrated had them in the 2017 World Series
3) SEATTLE MARINERS
Intangibles: GM Jerry DiPoto made dozens of moves. Will any of them work?
4) LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Intangibles: Lots of money tied up here in old players
5) OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Hitting: Guys named Davis
Defense: In that ballpark?
Intangibles: Billy Beane has more work to do
Giants over Nationals and Blue Jays over Astros in wild-card games.
Division series: Cubs over Giants, Mets over Dodgers in N.L. Red Sox over Blue Jays, Rangers over Indians in A.L.
Championship series: Cubs over Mets, Rangers over Red Sox.
And the Cubs will defeat the Rangers and win their second straight World Series.