Predictions for the 2016 Season

Courtesy of Tribune News Service
Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) opens the season in the bottom of the 1st inning as the Chicago Cubs play the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium on April 4, 2016 in Anaheim, Calif.

Jacob Jardel
Sports Editor
@JJardel_Writing

Major League Baseball’s Opening Day has arrived, and every team has hit the diamond to make its initial mark on the new season.

After last year’s season ended with a thrilling World Series between the American League’s Kansas City Royals and New York Mets from the National League, fans are anticipating what this new year has in store. Now is the time to put the bat to ball and see how those stories unfold.

Though the regular season will not end until fall, here are some predictions for the 2016 slate.

AL East
The Toronto Blue Jays are posed to repeat as AL East champs after returning the core of a team that took the Royals to six games in the league championship series. Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki and Edwin Encarnacion come back as one of baseball’s most dominant threesomes at the plate. While their pitching may have taken a big loss when David Price left, the team’s offense has the potential to shell opposing pitchers on a nightly basis.

One team to watch this year is Price’s new team, the Boston Red Sox. He joins a rotation that, if the lead holds, transitions into a strong bullpen, made stronger with the addition of closer Craig Kimbrel. The big storyline of the year for the Sox, though, is the retirement of designated hitter David Ortiz. Time will tell how big his bat will be this season.

The other team to watch, though, is the New York Yankees. The team boasts one of baseball’s strongest bullpens with the addition of former Reds’ fireballer Aroldis Chapman.

They also have a stacked offense that, if healthy, can do some serious damage to opposing pitching staffs. While weak on defense and potentially shaky on pitching, do not count out the Yanks.

Expect Toronto to win the division, but watch for Boston and New York to take the Wild Card spots.

AL Central
The Royals claimed their first World Series championship since 1985, and they look to become the first repeat champs since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000.

A relatively quiet offseason meant that one of the best overall lineups in baseball returns to accomplish this goal the same way as last year: offensive output and defensive support.

While their starting pitching may leave some to worry, a great bullpen can help keep the game tight late.

The only real competitors for the division crown at the start of the season are the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians. The Tigers had an active offseason to try and support Justin Verlander in the rotation and Miguel Cabrera at the plate.

If healthy, the offense can put up enough runs to give the back end of the pitching staff some breathing room. Conversely, Cleveland has the rotation to contend for a title if the bullpen holds and the position players can live up to their potential on and off the field.

Regardless, the Royals are champions for a reason. Another division title is in the future.

AL West
The Houston Astros surprised many last season with a Texas renaissance, winning a Wild Card spot and losing to the Royals in a five-game divisional series matchup after beating the Yanks.

They return a balanced team with young stars like Dallas Keuchel and 2015 Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa. The team is packed.

If healthy, the Astros could make an even deeper run.

The main competition for the AL West crown is the Texas Rangers. Ace Yu Darvish should return from Tommy John surgery in late May, giving the team one of baseball’s best one-two punches when paired with Cole Hamels.

A strong offense should make up for a subpar defense to beat out AL MVP Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels.

However, the Astros return too many young stars who, if healthy, will edge out the Rangers for a playoff spot.

NL East
The Mets are looking to get to another World Series again this year, marking their third since 2000.

However, they have not won a championship since the 1986 season.

They come into this season with arguably the most dominant pitching staff, featuring four ace-quality pitchers the team dubs Mound Rushmore, and former Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon.

Their defense may lag, but offensive boosts from the likes of Yoenis Cespedes make up for that on good nights.

The other primary competition for the division title is the Washington Nationals. They are the East’s most balanced team, with a strong pitching staff under the leadership of no-hitter machine Max Scherzer and a high-powered offense from NL MVP Bryce Harper. If they stay healthy and have their offseason pickups play to potential, the Nationals will give opponents headaches.

That said, expect the Nats to win the division with the Mets clinching a Wild Card.

NL Central
Arguably the deepest of the NL races, this division features two teams definitely vying for the coveted playoff spots.

Last year’s division winners, the St. Louis Cardinals, look to win a fourth straight title and make it to the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

They are posed to do at least one of those things with a strong pitching staff behind Adam Wainwright and the return of veteran catcher Yadier Molina.

The Cards just need to stay healthy.

The Chicago Cubs are in line to have one of their best seasons in decades. Despite the loss of star infielder Starlin Castro, the Cubbies acquired infielder Ben Zobrist and outfielder Jason Heyward to bolster the lineup.

They also signed veteran pitcher John Lackey to a rotation featuring NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and fellow ace Jon Lester.

Overall, Chicago may be the NL team to beat. They should outduel the Pittsburgh Pirates and star outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

In the end, the Cards will make the playoffs once again as a Wild Card team, but the Cubs will win their first division title since 2008.

NL West
This year’s standings look to be much closer than last year’s win from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The boys in blue hope to give legendary announcer Vin Scully a successful farewell season, and strong pitching from former NL MVP Clayton Kershaw should lead the way on this charge.

While many of their big names are on the disabled list, once healthy, the Dodgers are bound to make waves in the division.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are also in contention for the division crown this year, especially with the addition of rotation anchor Zack Greinke. Young talent will keep this team in contention, while play from star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt will make this team a power player.

However, the team to watch this year is the San Francisco Giants.

They made some key signings in former Royal Johnny Cueto and middle-rotation anchor Jeff Samardzija to help with their rotation.

They also signed Denard Span to help on offense and defense with an already solid lineup.

They pose a huge threat to any team because they have no real weakness.

Look for the Giants to take the division in a close race against the rival Dodgers.

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