MLB coming back to the plate

I saw my first robin on Sunday and Opening Day for Major League Baseball is less than three weeks away – I can’t wait.

Last year gave us an unexpected and thrilling seven-game World Series in which the San Francisco Giants took the series by a run over the Kansas City Royals in Game seven. 

So what will happen this year? Players are another year older and many of them have moved around via trade or free agency.

Well, here’s my not so bold prediction.

The World Series will not feature the Philadelphia Phillies or the Houston Astros. However, as last year showed, many other teams have a shot.

Starting with the Senior Circuit, I really like the Washington Nationals in the National League East. Long term, the Max Scherzer deal is going to cause a great deal of financial anguish, but this year the Nats have the best rotation in baseball with Scherzer, Steven Strasburg, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzales and Jordan Zimmerman looking to be their starting five. This is a World Series run waiting to happen and I think they do just that for their first world championship.

The St. Louis Cardinals have held a stranglehold over the NL Central in recent years, but can that continue? Watch out for the Chicago Cubs. They are young, but rebuilding and dangerous, especially with the offseason additions of ace Jon Lester and manager Joe Maddon. While I think the Cardinals get it done again, don’t be surprised if the Cubs contend for the wild card even if they still might be a year away.

San Francisco may have won the World Series, but they have the star-powered Los Angeles Dodgers and the trade-happy San Diego Padres to worry about in the NL West and they will do so without their star third baseman who took the cross-country trip to Boston. I expect the Dodgers to run away with the division on their way to the NLCS, but look for the Padres and Giants to grapple for a wild card spot with the edge going to the defending champs. 

The American League East might be my toughest Division to pick. Baltimore won the division last year, but everyone else has likely improved save perhaps the Rays, but who knows with them. Honestly I think Boston or New York comes out on top and out of those two I have to pick the Red Sox who make it to an ALCS battle with Detroit.

In the AL Central things are tightening up, but I think the Tigers have just enough to extend their run a fifth year. Justin Verlander should be back to form after the injury that hampered him last offseason and I expect him to form a dominant top three with David Price and Anibal Sanchez. That and a much improved defensive squad and a still very good offense should propel them over the wild card winning Chicago White Sox in the final days of the season before advancing to one final World Series with their aging core. 

The AL West could be the deepest division in baseball this year, with the possible exception of the East which I don’t think is as strong, which is why an improved Houston team has literally no shot. I think the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers could all win this, and nobody should count out Billy Bean and his Oakland Athletics either. Out of this group I think the Angels emerge victorious with the Rangers picking up the wild card thanks to big homers by a returning from injury Prince Fielder. 

So with my top teams picked, how about the top players?

Well, for MVP it’s hard not to assume Mike Trout continues his success in the AL, and for the NL, I think Giancarlo Stanton will just barely pull it off. His big offseason contract threatens a bad year and I don’t have his Miami Marlins picked for the playoffs, but he’s the best young talent in the league and should be just reaching his prime.

As with the MVP, I have an easy choice for the Cy Young Award. Clayton Kershaw walks away with it in the NL. The AL could form a log jam, but I think King Felix enjoys the offensive upgrades of recent years and takes home the trophy with another dominant season that nearly guides his team to the playoffs. 

Unfortunately, the story of at least the early months will be that of Alex Rodriguez. Does he come back with a chip on his shoulder wanting to prove that it wasn’t just steroids and he can still be a top hitter or does he play like a 40-year old missing his steroids and the respect pitchers used to have for him? I would expect somewhere in between but that’s just me. He’ll make a somewhat effective DH if he gets the playing time with an average likely around .260 and maybe 15 homers, but don’t look for the silver slugger. He’s done. 

On a brighter note, we’ll have the 30-somethings who put up career years and the kids who take the jump from the minors and ignite fan bases with their excitement and potential.

So who’s ready for first pitch?