February means a lot of things in the world of sports.
The NFL season is nearly at its end, with only the Super Bowl remaining to be played; the NBA season is at its midway point, and in two weeks will have its All-Star weekend; in college basketball teams are entering the home stretch of the regular season, with each team trying to start trending upward to reach peak performance at the right time.
It also means that we are moving closer and closer to the start of the next year in Major League Baseball.
Even though we are still two months away from first pitch between the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates on April 3, we are only 13 days away from when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training.
Odds on which team is the favorite to win this year’s World Series have practically been available since the Kansas City Royals recorded the last out in the 2015 Fall Classic.
Since we’re inching closer to the beginning of the season, I think it’d be a good idea to give my predictions for the upcoming campaign. Today I’ll give my overall predictions of what I think will happen, and then over the next few weeks I’ll go division-by-division and go into more detail.
- The Royals will three-peat at AL Champs
After not making a trip to the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1985, the Kansas City Royals have made it to the Fall Classic each of the last two years.
KC was not able to get the job done against the Giants in 2014, but last year completed the task by defeating the Mets in five games.
I don’t see any reason to believe the Royals won’t be kings of the AL once again this year.
Kansas City brought back outfielder Alex Gordon and signed pitcher Ian Kennedy over the offseason to go with the same core of players that brought the franchise the title last year. At the moment, I don’t see a team giving the Royals a run for their money.
- The AL East is anybody’s to win
The most wide-open division in baseball is the AL East. Any team can win, and any team can finish in last.
Boston improved by picking up pitcher David Price, but the rest of the rotation is suspect. New York has one of the best bullpens in baseball, but with an average starting rotation, and with the recent injury to first baseman Greg Bird, it will be an uphill battle all season.
Tampa Bay has added a few role players over the offseason, but lack consistency in its lineup.
- Mike Trout reminds us who’s better between him and Harper
Trout, in my opinion, is more of a dynamic player with his defensive ability and consistency at the plate, whereas Harper is the flashier player.
Harper had an incredible season last year and won the National League MVP award, rightly so. Meanwhile, Trout continued to put up numbers at a great pace, scoring over 100 runs and hitting 25+ home runs for the fourth-straight season, good enough for second in the AL MVP voting behind Josh Donaldson.
This year will be different, though.
Pitchers will adjust and pitch Harper differently. Pitchers have tried adjusting to Trout and haven’t figured it out.
Trout is the face of baseball, and the best young player in the game for a reason.
- Chris Davis wins the AL MVP award
The Baltimore Orioles paid a lot of money to retain slugger Chris Davis this winter. Because of that, he will be expected to play up to his contract, meaning MVP-caliber stats.
Similarly, the success of the Baltimore Orioles rests on his shoulders.
If Baltimore is in contention for a division crown this season, it will be due to ‘Crush’ Davis’ production. Other players like Manny Machado and Adam Jones are certainly important, but Davis’ contract heightens his importance to the franchise.
Davis’ numbers were back up last year after an abysmal 2014 season. I expect more of the same from Davis this coming season as he’s back in the hitter-friendly Camden Yards.
- The Cubs will win the NL Central for the first time since 2008
The team from the North side of Chicago hasn’t brought a baseball title back to Wrigley Field since 1908. Many thought last year could be the year that the Cubs won that elusive title, but instead were defeated in the NLCS by the New York Mets.
So what did the Cubs do? They spent the money, and are now not only the favorites to win the National League Pennant, but the World Series as well.
Further more, the Cardinals and Pirates failed to make big moves themselves.
I’m not ready to say that the Cubs are my pick to win it all in 2016, but they are my pick to win the NL Central.
- The Dodgers won’t make the playoffs
Why is it that the Los Angeles Dodgers just scream mediocre?
Sure the Dodgers made the playoffs each of the last three seasons and had a winning record in all five seasons under Don Mattingly, but Mattingly’s dismissal shows the very real truth that in today’s world of sports regular season success plays second fiddle to what you do in the postseason.
Over the last two decades, Los Angeles has made the playoffs nine times. Six times the Dodgers have lost in the first round, and the organization has not made it to the World Series since 1988.
And how did management attempt to fix their problems this offseason?
Firing Mattingly and replacing him with Dave Roberts, who only had slightly more coaching experience than “Donny Baseball” did when he took over in 2011; allowing Zack Greinke leave in free agency to go to a team inside your division; re-signing 37 year-old Chase Utley to a one-year deal and re-signing Howie Kendrick, who’s production has dropped off mightily over the last few years.
Clayton Kershaw got bamboozled. Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in the game, continues to watch his organization surround him with inferior, aging talent, while division rivals like the Giants and Diamondbacks get better.
At best this team will finish second in the NL West, but that will be 10+ games off the pace of San Francisco.
- A team not named the Nationals will win the NL East
The only division that might be a bigger crap shot than the AL East is its NL counter part.
Despite Harper, the reigning MVP who is arbitration eligible at the end of the season, what is exciting about this Washington Nationals team? Sure the team added players like Ben Revere and Daniel Murphy over the offseason, but let’s not get fooled by Murphy’s 2015 post-season success.
Sure the Nats have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez front lining the pitching rotation, but that’s an injury-prone Strasburg and a Gonzalez who took a bit of a step backwards last year in the nation’s capital.
Much like the Dodgers in the West, the Nationals scream underachievers.
- Paul Goldschmidt wins the NL MVP award
For the first time in a few years there will be constant attention paid to the Arizona Diamondbacks this season, due in large part to the additions of Greinke, Shelby Miller and Jean Segura.
While that’s good for the organization as a whole, you can argue it’s the most beneficial to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt has household-name talent. He will be a consistent 30+ HR, 100+ RBI guy once the organization puts the right pieces around him.
They have started to do that this offseason.
With the added attention in Phoenix, Goldschmidt will shine, and potentially lead his team to a postseason appearance.