By MIKE FERKO
The 2016 Major League Baseball season is now upon us as spring training games are underway in Florida and Arizona. Despite the fact that preseason baseball has just commenced, both fans and experts are already making predictions and projections for the upcoming campaign. With that being said, here is an outlook on what to expect in each division this year.
Beginning in the NL East, the reigning division champion New York Mets appear to have a well-rounded team. The front office added to their position player depth in the offseason to complement their star-studded pitching staff; they appear to be hungry for another World Series appearance, and this time they want to win it all. The Washington Nationals seem to be the only real competition for the Mets in the division, due largely in part to their excellent pitching staff and scary offense, led by 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper. While the Phillies and Braves seem to be in rebuilding mode, the Marlins may pose some of a threat with a healthy ace in Jose Fernandez, a healthy Giancarlo Stanton, and a young team in general playing every day.
Moving westward to the NL Central, the Cubs not only appear to be the heavy favorites to win the division, but many experts believe that they have a good chance at taking home the 2016 World Series trophy. Don’t count the St. Louis Cardinals out though, as their mostly homegrown team is usually met with success every single year. After missing most of 2015 with a torn Achilles, Adam Wainwright is back as the ace of the Cardinals staff, giving them an even better chance to compete with the Cubs. Don’t forget the Pittsburgh Pirates though; an impressive 98 win season in 2015 can easily be repeated by them this year. Expect the Brewers and the Reds to be in the cellar of the division this year, as both are currently in rebuilding mode.
Into the NL West, it looks like there is going to be an entertaining race this year between the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers have a great all around team, led by a strong lineup and arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw. The Arizona Diamondbacks are ready to compete with an offseason full of acquisitions, including signing 2015 CY Young candidate Zack Grienke and trading for starter Shelby Miller. The San Francisco Giants also bolstered their rotation, adding Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. Don’t forget that it’s an even year as well, and the Giants have won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Many fans hope this trend will continue.
In the American League, the East is usually an exciting division for fans because each team has seen the playoffs within the last few years. The Toronto Blue Jays have arguably the best lineup in baseball, including Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson. The New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, and Boston Red Sox all improved their rosters this offseason and are ready to compete with the Blue Jays. The winner of this division could end up being determined in September; expect an exciting race.
The Kansas City Royals reign in the AL Central as the 2015 World Series Champions. Despite their goal to defend their title, it isn’t as secure as fans and players might believe. The Detroit Tigers, who unexpectedly finished last in the division last year, made a splash in the free agent pool by signing starting pitcher Jordan Zimmerman and outfield slugger Justin Upton. They also added closing pitcher Francisco Rodriguez to solve their closer situation, which has been inconsistent for the past few years. The Minnesota Twins lasted until the last few regular season games before they were eliminated, so expectations are high in their clubhouse. The Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians are the other two teams ready to give Kansas City some competition; the Indians did not make many moves this offseason yet were content with their young and talented team, and the White Sox made a big move by acquiring former Cincinnati Reds third base superstar Todd Frazier. This division, like the AL East, is truly up for grabs.
The Houston Astros shocked the baseball world last year by making the playoffs. After years of poor baseball, the Astros played to an 86-76 record. Their young and incredibly talented team was in control of the west for most of the 2015 season until the Texas Rangers swiped the division title away from them right at the end of the season. Many believe that the Astros will be in full control of the west this year though due to their impressive showing last year. With the young talent they have, it is difficult to imagine how their players will be once they reach their prime. The Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels, and Oakland Athletics all seem too inferior to the Rangers and Astros, but they do have the pieces and potential to put together solid seasons, possibly giving the two previously mentioned teams a run for their money.
While fans and players are currently enjoying spring training baseball under the sun, many experts are questioning who will reach the playoffs in 2016. There are a lot of high expectations for many teams this season, but it is a long, grueling summer which usually contains many ups and downs. It should be known that making predictions in this game is difficult to do; this is baseball, anything can happen.