MLB pennant race will feature familiar teams

Baseball fans rejoice, the MLB season is finally upon us. After what was a slow free agent market and not a lot of major changes throughout the league this year could very well be an exciting repeat of last season. Factors like the Baltimore Orioles still crushing bombs and the stellar developing outfield of the Boston Red Sox will be storylines to watch along with whether or not the Cubs will go through a championship hangover. I’ll be going over the division champs for each league and things to watch through the summer.

NL East- The East has two good teams, an up and coming team, and two still trying to rebuild.

The New York Mets and Washington Nationals will once again battle each other for top spot in the division. Every game against each other will be like a playoff game. The Mets still have virtually the same roster as the one that went to the World Series a couple years ago, just without a crucial piece: Daniel Murphy. If Bryce Harper can break out of that major slump he went through last year, I think the Nationals will eventually pull away with the title in August.

But that all depends on three major keys: Bryce Harper, the starting rotation and whether or not the infield can get on base enough to produce a heavy amount of runs.

NL Central- The division is poised for another dominant run by the Chicago Cubs, and there aren’t a whole lot of teams that can stop them. Unless the Cubs go through a Championship hangover like some teams in the past have, it will be the second year in a row the Cubs will contend for a World Series.

The remainder of the division failed to make any big splashes in the offseason. The biggest was Dexter Fowler heading from the Cubs to the Cardinals, which could actually help the Cards greatly. Fowler is a volume hitter who can provide an all-around boost to the one spot. But against Bryant, Rizzo, Baez and Zobrist among many others, it will be tough to overcome the Cubs.

NL West- The West may face another dominating year from the Dodgers, but with up and coming rosters like the Rockies, it could prove challenging.

After the Dodgers second round exit, the Dodgers were able to keep most of their team intact. The biggest loss was Howie Kendrick, a decent sized hole to fill in their already young outfield. Their rival to the north, the Giants, still have a good roster but might find it hard to battle youth that surrounds the rest of the league. Buster, Hunter and Brandon Crawford aren’t getting any younger.

The Giants success rides on their aging vets playing well throughout the whole season, and they need Joe Panik to step up into a big time role. I don’t think San Fran can play 182 full games of solid baseball, which is what they need to take the division.

I expect the Dodgers to take the pennant but not without a little struggle. Like I said before, the Rockies have an up and coming roster. If their big bats can overcome their pitching woes, they should be able to make a nice run and an exciting wild card.

AL East- There are three teams in the AL East that could advance to the fall classic: the Orioles, the Blue Jays and the Red Sox.

The Red Sox are my pick to win the division. They have a strong mix of young and old, along with an all-star caliber rotation. Their outfield is the best outfield in relation to its youth. Benintendi is ESPN’s number one prospect and has been playing great throughout spring training.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is a speedy outfielder who can cover both sides of the ballpark. And finally, Mookie Betts, who I think is the second best corner outfielder behind Bryce Harper. Betts can hit, run, and field as well as anyone in the league and reminds me a lot of Bo Jackson in his heyday.

The rest of the division doesn’t have those type of players in their lineup. The only team close are the Baltimore Orioles, but they rely too heavily on the home run ball. Don’t get me wrong; they are great at hitting it out of the park, but they are like an NBA team who relies on the three-ball. As soon as their shooters get cold, their whole season goes down the drain.

In a tough division, the skill of the Red Sox will get them a division championship, and most likely a trip to the World Series. The Orioles will follow closely but eventually settle for a Wild Card spot. Don’t count out the Blue Jays, however. They have surprised people in the past, and it won’t surprise me if they do it again.

AL Central- After a few years of domination, the AL Central has dropped off quite a bit. The Detroit Tigers have dropped after being great all throughout the decade, the Twins haven’t been good at all in my lifetime, the White Sox are rebuilding and the only bright spot are the Cleveland Indians.

The Indians made some big roster moves and certainly solidified their spot in the postseason after this past winter. The lack of competition in the division will mean an easy road to the postseason, and I don’t expect many surprises heading into the season.

The only team I could see surprising me is the Chicago White Sox, and they don’t have a good enough rotation to go far. They lack a big ace to look forward to, and the only pro is their youthful skill in the field.

Honestly, it’s hard to see anyone making it through the season besides the Indians. With the bitter taste of the Cub’s World Series champagne lingering in their noses, it’s hard to see them doing any less than going back.

AL West- I’m not going to sugar coat it; this is the worst division in baseball. Besides the Rangers, there aren’t any real bright spots in this organization.

The Astros are taking small steps to becoming great with Correa, Altuve and Keuchel, but they have no power throughout the rest of the lineup. The Rangers have a good situation with a number of hitters in their lineup, and if Yu Darvish can get healthy, they have a real shot at overcoming the Sox or Indians in the next few years.

I don’t see anything less than an easy ride through the division for the Rangers. The Astros I have a feeling will be able to overcome the doubters, like myself, and get into the wild card game but not much farther.

The league is seeing a new breed of championship teams this year. They’re youthful and powerful. The age of pitchers dominating the game is gone. The young hitters like Bryant, Machado and Harper are taking down aces one by one.

That’s why I think we’re going to see the same playoff race as before. Not enough has changed for the teams involved to drastically change anything. That’s why I think Cubs vs. Indians series two is going to happen. Cubs in six, you heard it here first.

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