Perhaps it’s because the World Baseball Classic was so enthralling, but Opening Day of the 2017 season kind of snuck up on me. It’s just a little over a week until meaningful baseball action returns, and I haven’t given much thought to the upcoming season. Are you in same boat? Good. Boats are more fun with other people on them.
So to get prepared for the coming season, let’s go around to each division in the MLB and see who are the favorites to finish at the top, who will bring up the rear and everything in between.
2017 MLB Division Odds
Odds to win AL East:
- Boston Red Sox: 3/2
- Toronto Blue Jays: 14/5
- Baltimore Orioles: 6/1
- New York Yankees: 7/1
- Tampa Bay Rays: 10/1
“Save the best for first;” is that the saying? Because the AL East may be the one division where every team has a shot to win it. A tumultuous division that has only had one repeat champion in the last decade, the East had three playoff teams last year, and four that finished above .500.
Starting from the top, the reigning champion Red Sox were also the most aggressive team in the offseason, dealing for White Sox ace Chris Sale. Boston had one of the league’s better rotations last year, and that was with David Price having a major down year too. Should he return to form, this pitching staff will be nearly unstoppable. Combine that with a lineup that was the best at getting on base, and you’ve got a frighteningly good team on paper.
But Boston has fallen short of expectations before and with David Ortiz – the emotional leader of their team – retiring, it’s not absurd to think they could stumble into a Wild Card. Could the Jays or Orioles leap past them? Both lineups live off the long ball, though Toronto is sure to suffer in that area after losing Edwin Encarnacion to Cleveland. However, the Jays boast a far better pitching staff than Baltimore, finishing first in the American League in team ERA. If their hitters regress, the Jays can still thrive. The O’s don’t have that luxury.
Speaking of luxury, this season is gravy for the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers are just getting their loaded class of prospects some valuable at bats as the team waits to buy a championship in 2019. But these young guns are so impressive – Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and an injured Didi Gregorious – perhaps this 84-win team from a season ago could take the next step.
It would be rude not to mention the Rays, who despite a rough finish in the standings, continue to possess a ton of talented pitchers. If their offense could just perform to average levels, they’re a dangerous team.
Odds to win AL Central:
- Cleveland Indians: 1/5
- Detroit Tigers: 10/1
- Kansas City Royals: 15/1
- Minnesota Twins: 30/1
- Chicago White Sox: 100/1
Finding the favorite in the AL Central is about as difficult as pointing to Cleveland on a map. Finding a challenger in the Central though; that’s as hard as finding a good restaurant in Cleveland.
The Royals’ World Series core has one more chance before it breaks up in free agency, making them a prime sell off candidate for the deadline if things start poorly. The Tigers are talented, but old-talented: meaning they’re more of a regression candidate than a team ready to build off of their 86-win campaign last year.
The Twins weren’t nearly as bad as their dreadful 59-103 record, but they also aren’t ready to make such a substantial leap that they’ll challenge the Indians. And the White Sox fully announced their rebuilding intentions this offseason by dealing Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.
Odds to win AL West:
- Houston Astros: 5/4
- Seattle Mariners: 13/4
- Texas Rangers: 4/1
- Los Angeles Angels: 10/1
- Oakland Athletics: 33/1
This year’s Houston Astros are Evel Knievel: their jump has been highly anticipated and only a few sickos want to see them crash and burn. An AL favorite last year, this young team fell short of expectations, missing the playoff altogether and finishing third in the West. But after adding Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran in the offseason, the Astros should challenge Cleveland and Boston for top spot: anything less would be an abject failure.
The division should be a bit of an easier race this year, as virtually every projection method has the Rangers regressing from last season’s 95-win campaign. Winning an absurd amount of one-run games, Texas returns mostly the same hard hitting lineup that can’t make a throw to first when it counts. While having Yu Darvish for an entire season should help, there’s no way this team can duplicate their 2016 season.
Seattle looks to be the biggest threat, as the hard luck Mariners try and end baseball’s longest active playoff drought. Sporting the third lowest team ERA in the American League and the third most runs scored, the Mariners still couldn’t catch enough breaks to get to the dance. Seattle has a different looking rotation behind Felix Hernandez this year, bringing in veterans Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo to replace the erratic performances of Taijun Walker and Nathan Karns. Can they provide the stability at the back end to get this team over the top?
Finally, you can’t talk about the AL West without mentioning the Los Angeles Trouts: truly the most sparkling turd of them all. The reigning AL MVP will always make this team look more interesting than they are, but beyond him, they’re just your regular bad team. One that can’t pitch, field, get production out of the bottom of their lineup, and should’ve fired Mike Scioscia a year ago.
Odds to win NL East:
- Washington Nationals: 5/6
- New York Mets: 5/4
- Miami Marlins: 75/1
- Philadelphia Phillies: 100/1
- Atlanta Braves: 150/1
The last two years have been a mano-a-mano duel between the Nats and Mets for NL East supremacy. New York took the division in 2015 before Washington countered back last year. I guess you could call this season the rubber match?
What has to really stick in the Mets craw is that Washington bested them in starting pitching last season: an area New York is supposed to be better than everyone in. The problem was, the injury bug bit nearly everyone on them team outside of Noah Syndergaard. (The bug probably got to Bartolo Colon too, he just couldn’t feel it through all the skin.) But after bothering the Mets to the point of nearly missing the playoffs, that bad luck pest looks to be targeting their rival this season, as reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is battling a finger fracture this spring.
The longer Scherzer is unavailable, the more even this battle becomes. Washington already has a decidedly superior offense to the Mets; they don’t need a pitching staff that’s nearly as good too.
As for the rest, no one else is even remotely close, but at least the Phillies rebuild is coming on pretty well, and the team could take a noticeable stride this season.
Odds to win NL Central:
- Chicago Cubs: 1/5
- St Louis Cardinals: 9/1
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 13/1
- Milwaukee Brewers: 120/1
- Cincinnati Reds: 200/1
We’ll make quick work of this one. Picking a non-Chicago Cubs team to win the NL Central is as misguided as Mike Huckabee’s attempted foray into comedy. The Cubbies cleared their next division rival by 17.5 games last season and this team isn’t ready to slow down, not by that much. Even if the Cardinals can get back to their great pitching ways, it’s too big of gap to close without a great many injuries befalling Chicago.
Odds to win NL West:
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 2/3
- San Francisco Giants: 3/1
- Colorado Rockies: 7/1
- Arizona Diamondbacks: 30/1
- San Diego Padres: 100/1
The Dodgers have a gaping hole to fill at local broadcaster, but other than that, they’re looking good to repeat as NL West champs in 2017. Corey Seager is coming off a unanimous NL Rookie of the Year season, L.A. added Logan Forsythe at second base, and even if ace Clayton Kershaw can’t stay healthy this season, the Dodgers boast an incredibly deep rotation.
While they didn’t win the World Series last season, the Giants did continue their even-year trend of making the postseason. So I guess that means they aren’t going to challenge for a spot this year? Even though the team has the same strong infield and rotation as last year, and can’t conceivably blow another 30 saves in 2017? Nope, odd years dictate this team will fall short.
Perhaps from their ashes, a new challenger will rise? Like the-tear-the-cover off the ball Colorado Rockies. Along with their hard-hitting lineup of Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story, Colorado has actually managed to assemble average pitching – and that is a compliment. In that Little League World Series Park they call Coors Field, their pitchers achieved a park-adjusted ERA of 100, meaning this young staff pitched up to the league norm. If Jon Gray, Chad Bettis and company can take another step forward, perhaps the NL West could be a three-way race for once?
Photo Credit: Julie Fennell (Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/]