-The K Zone-
Written by Ian Joffe
April 1st, 2017 (but it’s not an April Fools joke, trust me)
2017 Playoff Picture:
Well, the most surprising thing here is that there are not many surprises. The Cubs and the Indians are by far the best teams in their respective, and the Cubs barely top Cleveland overall in the world series.
In the AL, the Red Sox seem to be the team to beat in the East. They bulked up on starting pitching, and still have a killer lineup. The team will be successful even if Price pitches 130 innings and with David Ortiz retired.
As noted earlier, the Indians have an incredibly deep, young, strikeout-centered rotation. Their hitting was already pretty good, and the addition of EE makes it a force to be reckoned with. Cleveland also boasts the best bullpen in baseball, highlighted by super-reliever Andrew Miller.
Houston was a difficult pick to win the West, due to the extreme lack of certainty in their rotation. But, I believe Keuchel will greatly improve on 2016, even if he does not return to Cy-Young form (which I do not expect him to), and this may be the year that Lance McCullers stays on the field and produces for a full season. They will likely either recieve great contributions from rising young starters, or trade said starters for stability, like Jose Quintana. My lack of awe for the Rangers played a part in my choosing of Houston over them, as their lineup and starting pitching both lack depth.
Texas still qualifies for a wild card spot. Despite their shortcomings, the team has many advantages, such as strong defense and a good middle-of-the-lineup and 1-2 punch starting pitching punch. Toronto, however, seeds higher than them, after succeeding in 2016 with one of the most underrated rotations. The team lost Encarnacion, but still control such power threats as Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, who I expect to bounce back.
Starting pitching carries the Red Sox over the Rangers in the ALDS, while Texas emerges victorious in the wild card game, based on their front-of-the-rotation talent (such is the nature of the 1-game playoff). Cleveland, the best team in offense, starting pitching, and bullpen, makes quick work of the Rangers and Red Sox to advance to the World Series.
Like many others, I have predicted great success for the Nationals multiple years in a row now, but they always seem to choke when the pressure is on. Still, I predict them to secure the 2-seed in the National League, beating up on a imporved yet still weak NL East. Not only does the roster begin with two starters capable of Cy Young production, but the lineup features a myriad of MVP candidates from breakout stars Trea Turner and Daniel Murphy (both of whom I expect to have sustained success), to comeback candidate Bryce Harper.
While I respect the rosters of St. Louis and Pittsburg, there is little to no argument that they may match the Cubs. I fully expect them to win another 100 games (did somebody say 107-110???) and their outstanding pitching and hitting should lead them through the season and the playoffs.
The NL west should be an interesting battle to watch overall. I believe four of five teams (sorry San Diego) have a legitimate shot at contention. Yet, the Dodgers will rise above the field, which features the pitching-starved Rockies, injury/poor transaction-plagued Diamondbacks, and lineup-lacking Giants. The Dodgers should expect above average lineup production, and excellent starting pitching, from the obvious Clayton Kershaw, to the incredibly underrated Rich Hill, to the Japanese star Kenta Maeda, to plenty of depth and potential in Urias (expect a mid-May callup), Ryu, Kazmir, and McCarthy.
The Giants are not flashy, with a consistently great ace and a declining catcher, but with a new closer they should be able to put together a playoff-worthy 2017. I do not expect more than 88 wins, if that, but they have something the rest of the their division lacks: starting pitching consistency and depth. Unlike the low-risk Giants, the high-ceiling Mets could go on to win 98 games and a world series, or every single starter could get Tommy John Surgery over one week, and they could win 78 games. I split the difference here, assuming that some of their incredibly talented starting rotation stays healthy, and some gets hurt. Often overlooked is the Mets SP depth, containing Statcast star Seth Lugo, breakout performer Robert Gsellman, and 20-month-absentee Zack Wheeler. Meanwhile, they should have just enough offense to support their young studs.
The worse team will once again win the Wild Card Game in the NL, when Madison Bumgarner single-highhandedly defeats the Mets. But, they will quickly fall to the the Chicago juggernaut in the NLDS. The 2016 rematch of Nationals vs. Dodgers may be the most exciting series of the NL bracket, with two incredibly evenly matched teams. However, I expect Washington to win this round, with a fully functional Bryce Harper. But, the Nationals will go the way of the Giants, and lose to the Cubs’ superior pitching and hitting, allowing the Cubs to once again advance to the World Series.
Teams that made the playoffs are the most important, but teams that barely miss can be just as fun (I can’t be the only one who takes guilty pleasure in the sad montages the day that they get eliminated). The Arizona Diamondbacks experience a Zach Greinke (and maybe even Shelby Miller) comeback, as well as a return to full health by A.J. Pollock, but the starting pitching is still not quite enough. Seattle also puts together a nice offensive year, but a starting rotation full of unfulfilled promise and a declining King Felix is not enough to reach the Promised Land. The Tigers may miss a wild card by one game. A fully healthy offense could be devastating, and Justin Verlander should have won last year’s Cy Young (and I’m more than happy to start a comment-section argument over it). But, that health has already taken a hit, as J.D. Martinez will likely miss over a month of big-league action. Propelled by healthy starting pitching and 280 K form Chris Archer, the Rays could make a late push for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, the offense is just not there. If Ray Searage continues his legacy, the Pirates may also vie for a wild card (they still won’t compete with the Cubs). The Rays can also be driven to contention through a healthy pitching staff that lives up to their potential. Unfortunately, their offense is unlikely to be strong enough.
The World Series should be exciting, as usual. The rematch aspect will add even more fun. In game one, expect the red-hot Cubs to defeat Cleveland, with Jon Lester dominating over the strong Indians lineup. Game two will also go the way of the Chicago, and will most definitely be higher scoring than the first. But, as the series moves to Progressive Field, the tables will turn, with the Indians narrowly winning Game Three, and then winning Game Four in a blowout. Game Five, a rematch of game one, will be just as close, but Chicago will once again pull away, right before the series returns to Wrigley. Facing elimination, the Indians offense figures out Arrieta in Game 6, and pulls away for a victory. A historic Game Seven will be full of Deja Vu, going into extra innings but eventually falling to the Cubs in the 11th inning, in a rare miscue by the Indians ‘pen. “Go Cubs Go” will once again ring in the ears of every MLB fan, whether that be to their greatest annoyance or greatest pleasure.
|Most Valuable Player||Cy Young Award||Rookie of the Year||Manager of the Year|
|National League||3B Kris Bryant (CHC)||Clayton Kershaw (LAD)||Tyler Glasnow (PIT)||Dusty Baker (WSH)|
|American League||CF Mike Trout (LAA)||Yu Darvish (TEX)||Yoan Moncada (CWS)||A.J. Hinch (HOU)|
I have found many of the awards, like the standings, to be relatively predictable. The young Kris Byrant should continue his power, and improve his batting average. Mike Trout brought speed at hitting back into his toolkit last season, and should continue to do so along with power and a great eye.
Clayton Kershaw is, if not the best player, is the best pitcher of our generation, and may end up as one of the best of all time. Barring injury or some kind of super-breakout from Noah Syndergaard, the now-veteran can expect his fourth award of the type. AL Cy Young was likely the most difficult decision. The league is full of well-qualified candidates to have excellent 3.00 ERA seasons, not many seem to have Cy-Young potential. Considering my lack of trust in Chris Sale, the two main candidates appeared to be Yu Darvish and Chris Archer. Darvish has shown me more in the past, so I’m selecting him.
Both rookie of the year races made for difficult choices as well. In both, I went against the conventional pick. Everything I have heard from scouts about Dansby Swanson tellls me “.280, 20 home runs, 15 steals, great defense.” Such as line is very productive, but does not tell me that he’s a shoe in for the award. My initial pick Alex Reyes having been stolen from me by a torn UCL, I turned to Tyler Glasnow. He, unlike Swanson, is said by scouts to have top of his class potential, and on awards, I tend to go for the potential pick. He didn’t stun is his brief debut last year, but had plenty of encouraging outings. In the AL, I went for Yoan Moncada. Everything about the consensus pick, Andrew Benintendi, – his .243 September BA, his .412 August BABIP – screams “.230.” I think he has a fantastic future ahead of him, but I’m doubtful that this is his year. Instead, I went for Yoan Moncada. I can’t say that I’m particularly optimistic on his either, after watching him K at what seemed to be every at bat last September. But, most hitters don’t break out in their first September, and I could totally see him pulling off a Trea Turner-esque second half, especially in the steals department.
Manager of the Year was also a little tricky, especially because my bracket looks very similar to last year’s. I went with A.J. Hinch in the AL, simply because his Astros are the only new AL team that I have making the playoffs. I went for Dusty Baker in the NL because, while his team did put together a very good 2016, I though they went largely unnoticed. Rather, I think they will make a huge story in 2017 when everyone stays healthy and produces. If the Cubs don’t reach 100 wins, the Nationals have a decent shot.
Well, those are my projections for the 2017 MLB season, I hope you enjoyed them. I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments, especially if you like a breakout team to steal one of my predictable teams’ spots. Take a look at our Top 10 Series, in which we examine the top 10 players at each position for the coming season, we put a lot of work into that and produced at least what we think are some helpful lists. To see the rest of our work right when it comes out, follow us on Twitter and Instagram. And cheers to what I’m sure will be a fun and unforgettable 2017 season!