As mentioned in our American League predictions, we understand how silly predictions can be, but they can be a lot of fun. The Houston Astros are patiently waiting for their opponent in the World Series, so let’s go get them one.
Disclaimer: before I share my prophecies, I have decided to create a stipulation for myself. Because so many predictions are stale and are usually based on the results from the season prior, when picking division winners and individual awards, I cannot pick any of last year’s winners to repeat. I did however give myself the flexibility to include last season’s divisional winners into the Wildcard slots instead.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
2015 Winner: New York Mets
2016 Winner: Washington Nationals
It was the Nationals’ division to win and it was definitely theirs to lose. And they did, as the streaking Mets got hot when it mattered most, while the Nationals were bickering at each other and the best player in baseball was getting choked by a crusty, old veteran teammate.
Nevertheless, the Nats still have reigning MVP and best player in baseball (per FUBAR) Bryce Harper on the team and new manager, Dusty Baker, who is known to get the most out of talented but underachieving teams once he takes over.
Of course, the Mets will still make the playoffs as they might have a historic starting rotation in the making. And if Yoenis Cespedes can duplicate his stellar performance at the end of 2015, this team might really go far.
The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies might have exciting futures, but for this season, both clubs will be playing for high draft picks. But both teams have players worth monitoring. For the Braves, it’s Arodys Vizcaino who will attempt to fend off veteran closer, Jason Grilli. Vizcaino’s average velocity hovers close to 98 mph. Not bad for a Tommy John Surgery survivor. For the Phillies, Maikel Franco carries with him an explosive bat.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
2015 Winner: St. Louis Cardinals
2016 Winner: Chicago Cubs
This division is very top-heavy. But it is doubtful that all three teams will reach win totals in the high 90s again. And it definitely feels like the changing of the guard is occurring in this division as the Cardinals, one of the most flexible franchises in baseball for a more than a decade, might struggle to plug-in players for old or injured starters.
On the other hand, the Cubs are young and their championship window is more open that a 24-hour convenience store. The depth and maneuverability on the team is ridiculous as they have multiple players who can easily play multiple positions on any given notice. They have reigning NL Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta anchoring the rotation and every single one of their relief pitchers had an average velocity above 90 mph last season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will once again field a very good team in 2016. Unfortunately for them, they play in a very tough division, but they do have the best outfield in baseball, led by Andrew McCutchen. They might also get some young arms from their farm system to help them out in the stretch run as well. Another crack at the Wild Card spot is very possible.
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers hired David Stearns who comes from the Houston Astros. So we all know what that means for the Brew Crew. On the bright side, they get to watch Domingo Santana get a full year to develop in the majors.
For the Cincinnati Reds, I’m still holding out hope that Jumbo Diaz will eventually overtake J.J. Hoover for the closer’s role. Until that happens, Brandon Finnegan will be the player to watch as he gets a chance to be a full-time starter, hopefully for a full year.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
2015 Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
2016 Winner: San Francisco Giants
It’s an even year, therefore it’s a foregone conclusion the Giants will win the World Series. Or so the myth goes. For right now, let’s give them the division.
It should be a three-team race between the Giants, Dodgers, and the Diamondbacks, but the Dodgers have issues in their pitching staff and the D’backs lost one of the best players in baseball, A.J. Pollock with an elbow injury. Luckily for them, they still have Paul Goldschmidt on the team whose combination of plate discipline, speed, and power makes him a prime MVP candidate.
The Giants had a very busy winter as they attempted to improve their ball club. The rotation looks better than last year, but arguably their biggest signing was Denard Span as they get an established leadoff hitter who has unquestionable speed around the base paths. The one knock on the roster is that they are an older team compared to their rivals, but most importantly, they also have lots of experience in winning.
I was high on the Dodgers for most of the offseason until mid-March when inconsistency from their rotation throughout the spring had me sour on them. Things were made worse when they lost catcher Yasmani Grandal with a forearm injury. But the Dodgers still have a solid team on their hand and are almost guaranteed victory whenever ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw takes the mound.
Meanwhile, the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies should once again hold down the cellar in the west. Player to watch for the Padres will be Tyson Ross, especially if he pitches very well to start the season as it will be very interesting to see if the Padres finally find a satisfying trade offer from a contending team in desperate need of pitching.
For the Rockies, even before he went into full berserker barrage mode this week, Trevor Story was the player to watch for the Colorado Rockies. Story was part of the reason the club was comfortable enough to deal away Troy Tulowitzki last season and it will be interesting to see what the team will do once Jose Reyes returns to the team.
NL WILD CARDS
The Mets travel to Pittsburgh to begin their defense of their National League pennant. Unfortunately for them, a sluggish September finish will travel with them in the most important game of the year. A wasted effort by Matt Harvey, who will be pitching on three-days’ rest and will get little to no run support will be the Mets’ ultimate finish. Gerrit Cole will get the win in this installment of the NL Wild Card game. Final score will be 6-3 as Jung-ho Kang will drive in three runs in this game.
The Pirates will advance to the next round and will meet the best team in all of baseball, the Chicago Cubs. Just like last season, the Cubs should prevail against a pesky Pirates’ team who will steal away one win, but be defeated in four games.
Meanwhile, the Nationals and Giants will square off in a rematch of the 2014 National League Division Series (NLDS), but this time Washington, led by MVP candidate, Bryce Harper, and stud pitcher, Max Scherzer, will prevail and get their revenge, three games to two.
In the National League championship Series (NLCS), the Cubs’ roster full of young, up-and-coming players should take the Nationals and the nation by storm. But it will be a veteran player who will shine brightest as his plate approach will be crucial in this series in getting on base and driving in runs. That player will be Ben Zobrist, your NLCS MVP as he will help the Cubbies advance to the World Series, for the first time since 1945, four games to two.
As mentioned in our American League predictions’ piece, the Houston Astros will represent the AL. it will be the battle of two teams who underwent grueling rebuilding projects and are two of the most influential teams in the analytics movement in baseball.
WORLD SERIES 2016
Naturally, Game One will feature the two reigning Cy Young Award winners, Jake Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel. The game will go into extra innings, but the Cubs’ depth will be the difference maker here as they take the opening game in 12 innings, final score 4-3.
Unfortunately for Houston, it will be a very frustrating series as the Cubs’ depth will be too much to overcome. Kyle Hendricks, in Game Four, will throw six shutout innings and strike out 12 overanxious Astros’ hitters. He will then come back in Game Six and pitch three more innings of relief, striking out seven more Astros’ hitters, helping the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. For his individual efforts, Hendricks will go 2-0 in the series and win the World Series MVP and will start a trend throughout baseball of teams looking for and stockpiling their rosters full of crafty pitchers with low-grade stuff.
2015 MVP: Bryce Harper
2016 MVP: Kris Bryant
Bryant looked like an established veteran at the plate last season; last year being his rookie season. With a full year under his belt, the possibilities are endless for Bryant. He will hit for 40 home runs and drive in 102 RBI for the world champion Cubs.
2015 CY YOUNG: Jake Arrieta
2016 CY YOUNG: Matt Harvey
Great nickname, big market, playing on a winning team is a recipe for baseball writers to collectively throw their votes at Harvey.
2016 Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager
After a September call-up to remember, the younger Seager will continue his rapid ascend into baseball relevance and take the top rookie spot in 2016.
2015 AL Manager: Joe Maddon
2016 AL Manager: Dusty Baker
It should be Maddon winning it again, but in this baseball universe I have created, no repeat winners are allowed. So once the Nationals do win the NL East, Baker will be the feel-good-story of the year as the “old manager” will show he still has it. Furthermore, the “old-school” sect of the baseball writers who vote for these awards will once again have their Ned Yost to rally around. A real match in baseball, pollyanna heaven.
And that is how the baseball season will unfold. I guess I should have proclaimed “spoiler alert” as a warning. Nevertheless, you should still watch anyway.