There’s nothing quite like the start of baseball season. Spring is in the air, and America’s pastime is coming back. Here’s your primer on the upcoming MLB season.
*This article appears in the Spring Issue of the Allentown High School Newspaper, the Nutshell.*
Offseason Recap: The 2017 Free Agency class wasn’t the strongest class we’ve seen, but a flurry of trades and high-profile signings helped make this offseason just as chaotic as any other.
- The Rich Get Richer: The way that baseball salaries work does not make it easy to create an NBA-style SuperTeam, but one trend that permeated the MLB Offseason was that of World Series contenders acquiring the biggest possible names. The AL Champion Cleveland Indians were already heavy favorites to return to the World Series, but then they went and signed the top free agent bat on the market, Edwin Encarnacion, to a 3-year deal. Not to be outdone, the Boston Red Sox traded for ex-White Sox ace Chris Sale to bolster a rotation that features 3 aces. And when you add in the re-signings of OF Yoenis Cespedes (Mets), RP Aroldis Chapman (Yankees), OF Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), and 3B Justin Turner and RP Kenley Jansen (Dodgers) to remain with their teams, it makes it even tougher for a small-market team to contend.
- Super Bullpens Take Center Stage: Another trend that has invaded the MLB is that of the elite bullpen. For years, teams have tried to load up in their lineup or their rotation, but we have never seen a bullpen revolution like we are seeing now. The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians made it all the way to the World Series because they boasted shutdown options even beginning in the sixth inning. Teams like the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, and Miami Marlins have hopped on the bullpen bandwagon in an effort to patch suspect rotations, and the results have paid off. The home run used to be the most exciting play in baseball, but few sights are more exciting than watching a lockdown reliever strike out the side with 100+ mph heat or a big breaking ball.
- World Baseball Classic: Every four years, the best in baseball around the world come together and face off in the World Baseball Classic. The WBC is back this year and features a star-studded cast as per usual. Japan has won two of the first three WBCs, but the Dominican Republic returns as the defending champions. Despite the notion of baseball as “America’s Pastime”, Team USA has yet to win a WBC crown, and Cuba could be a surprise title threat. One thing’s for certain: some of the best baseball of the year will take place this March in the WBC. It’s sure to be a tournament you don’t want to miss.
Players To Watch: Every MLB season has its share of breakout stars. Here are the X-Factors that will make or break their team’s seasons.
- Kris Bryant/Anthony Rizzo: The duo known as “Bryzzo” couldn’t have had a better 2016 season. Bryant won the NL MVP Award in just his second MLB season (this just one season after being the NL Rookie of the Year), and Rizzo solidified his place as one of the top overall players in baseball with a 40-homer season and a clutch postseason. The Cubs have other weapons, but there isn’t a better 1-2 punch in baseball than “Bryzzo”.
- Gary Sanchez: In a year filled with amazing rookie performances, we may have never seen a rookie quite like Gary Sanchez. The freshman catcher slugged 20 home runs, hit .299, and almost single-handedly saved the Yankees’ season after he was recalled. The Yankees’ success heavily depends on what Sanchez can do for an encore.
- Corey Seager/Trea Turner: The National League quite a few standout rookies all their own, including Seager and Turner. The sophomore shortstops look like five-tool players and future MVPs. The Dodgers and Nationals have long been considered playoff chokers, but Seager and Turner are the young blood that these veteran teams need to make it to the Fall Classic.
- Chris Sale: The Chicago White Sox finally sold on Sale this Winter, forcing the 27-year-old to swap his Sox and suit up for the Boston Red Sox. The ChiSox netted a huge prospect haul in return for Sale, but all eyes will be on how Sale performs in Boston. He showed some signs of not being able to handle pressure in Chicago, but he will be expected to bring Cy Young-caliber pitching to Boston. And with fellow ace David Price’s season in doubt, the onus falls even more on the Sale to step up.
- The New York Mets Rotation: We might be cheating a bit here by focusing on the whole Mets’ rotation over one individual player, but here us out. The Mets will only go as far as their pitching can take them. If their young hurlers, led by Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Matt Harvey, can take steps forward and stay healthy, the Mets could be World Series contenders. But if they continue to miss starts due to injury, the Mets are nothing better than a wild card team.
It’s never too early for predictions. Here’s my projected order of finish for the MLB division races. (Boldface denotes projected playoff team)
|AL East||AL Central||AL West|
|1. Boston Red Sox||1. Cleveland Indians||1. Texas Rangers|
|2. Toronto Blue Jays||2. Detroit Tigers||2. Houston Astros|
|3. New York Yankees||3. Kansas City Royals||3. Seattle Mariners|
|4. Baltimore Orioles||4. Chicago White Sox||4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim|
|5. Tampa Bay Rays||5. Minnesota Twins||5. Oakland Athletics|
|NL East||NL Central||NL West|
|1. Washington Nationals||1. Chicago Cubs||1. San Francisco Giants|
|2. New York Mets||2. St. Louis Cardinals||2. Los Angeles Dodgers|
|3. Miami Marlins||3. Pittsburgh Pirates||3. Arizona Diamondbacks|
|4. Philadelphia Phillies||4. Cincinnati Reds||4. Colorado Rockies|
|5. Atlanta Braves||5. Milwaukee Brewers||5. San Diego Padres|
AL Champs: Cleveland Indians
NL Champs: Los Angeles Dodgers
World Series Champs: Cleveland Indians