The Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Theo Epstein has been in charge of rebuilding the Cubs since he took over as President of Baseball Operations in 2011. Before that, Theo Epstein was general manager of the Boston Red Sox. Under his stewardship, in 2004, the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918. Could he end two “curses” and punch his ticket into the Hall of Fame?
AL East: New York Yankees
1. New York Yankees (91-71)
2. Toronto Blue Jays (87-75)
3. Baltimore Orioles (80-82)
4. Boston Red Sox (77-85)
5. Tampa Bay Rays (74-88)
The Yankees haven’t appeared in the World Series since they won it in 2009. It feels like longer than that. Imagine how Cubs’ fans feel. Once Aroldis Chapman returns from his 30-game suspension, the Yankees bullpen of Chapman, Delin Betances, and Andrew Miller will be dominant. The starting pitchers are good enough to give manager Joe Girardi six quality innings. Starlin Castro is an under-the-radar great addition to the team. The days of Stephen Drew playing middle infield for the Yankees are over.
Toronto and Baltimore will have two of the best offenses in all of baseball, but their pitching depth is lacking. The Red Sox lack the offense and the starting pitching. They are a $200 million disaster waiting to happen. Tampa may overtake the Red Sox. Another last place finish for Boston is not out of the question.
AL Central: Cleveland Indians
1. Cleveland Indians (86-76)
2. Kansas City Royals (85-77)
3. Minnesota Twins (82-80)
4. Chicago White Sox (81-81)
5. Detroit Tigers (76-86)
This will be the most competitive division in all of baseball. It will be fun to watch. They may not be the best teams in baseball. They’re not. But this division is very evenly balanced. The top three teams are grinders and they are well-managed. I’ll take the Indians’ rotation over the other teams, except maybe the White Sox. But the White Sox are managed by Robin Ventura.
AL West: Houston Astros
1. Houston Astros (93-69)
2. Texas Rangers (84-78)
3. Los Angeles Angels (75-87)
4. Seattle Mariners (74-88)
5. Oakland A’s (61-101)
The future is now for the Astros. Only two seasons ago, this team won only 70 games. Three years ago, they lost 111 games! Carlos Correa will be an MVP candidate at the age of 21. Pretty sick. He hit 22 home runs in 387 at-bats at the age of 20. The team also has George Springer, who could easily be a 30/30 guy, if he stays healthy. Ken Giles was solid in his first year as a closer for the Phillies, but any postseason success for the Astros might come down to how Giles does under pressure.
Texas has a good offense, a good manager, and a bona fide ace. The Angels have Mike Trout and little else. Seattle’s bullpen will lose them a lot of games. How long before the A’s trade Sonny Gray?
NL East: Washington Nationals
1. Washington Nationals (97-65)
2. New York Mets (93-69)
3. Miami Marlins (80-82)
4. Atlanta Braves (65-97)
5. Philadelphia Phillies (57-105)
Now that Matt Williams is no longer the manager of the Nationals, it might be safe to pick the Nationals to win the division. That’s not to say Dusty Baker is much better. It might be a good thing Stephen Strasburg is in the last year of his contract. Baker has a reputation for burning out young starting pitchers. Bryce Harper won’t have to worry about Matt Williams benching him during games. The offense isn’t that great around Harper. Wait a minute… Jonathan Papelbon is still the Nationals’ closer?
The Mets may have a better rotation than Washington’s. In another year, it definitely will be. It will be nice to see Jose Fernandez back for a full season. Not only do the Marlins need him, but baseball needs Jose Fernandez back. The Phillies may be the worst team since the 2013 Astros. Does that mean the Phillies will win the NL East in 2019?
NL Central: Chicago Cubs
1. Chicago Cubs (99-63)
2. St. Louis Cardinals (95-67)
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74)
4. Milwaukee Brewers (71-91)
5. Cincinnati Reds (65-97)
Maybe the movie “Back to the Future II” was off by a year. By the way, Phillies’ fans, the Cubs lost 101 games in 2012. There is hope. The Cubbies may win the World Series in 2016. Their lineup is loaded — by National League standards. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber will all hit over 30 home runs in 2016. The Cubs may have the deepest starting rotation in MLB. There are no lights-out pitchers here, but some very smart, savvy ones (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks).
The Cardinals are the New England Patriots of baseball. They are always there at the end. The Pirates are a fun team to watch with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, and Josh Harrison. Marte, in particular, could make the leap into superstardom this season. The Brewers and Reds will be the punching bags of the division.
NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks
1. Arizona Diamondbacks (92-70)
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (88-74)
3. San Francisco Giants (87-75)
4. San Diego Padres (77-85)
5. Colorado Rockies (61-101)
The best player that nobody knows about may well be Paul Goldschmidt. They do play in the desert, after all. That will all change this year. Goldschmidt has hit over .300 each of the last three seasons while slugging 88 home runs during that span. His teammate, A.J. Pollock, had one of the best all-around seasons of any player last year, hitting 20 home runs while stealing 39 bases. Did I mention Arizona added Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller in the offseason?
The Dodgers have underachieved the last few seasons. It cost Don Mattingly his job. Will first-year manager Dave Roberts be any better? On a team of high-priced veterans, the Dodgers’ hopes may lie in the development of youngsters Joc Pederson and Corey Seager. The Giants are like the Cardinals who are like the Patriots. It is always dangerous to bet against them. The Padres are the Amazon.com of baseball. If a team needs a player, they check in with the Padres. The Rockies used to be fun to watch, no matter what, because of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Tulo is no longer there, and CarGo will be trade bait if he can stay healthy.
World Series Champions: Chicago Cubs
AL Championship Series: New York Yankees over the Houston Astros
NL Championship Series: Chicago Cubs over the Washington Nationals
World Series: Chicago Cubs beat the New York Yankees, 4 games to 2.
It would be poetic for Theo to earn his championship by beating the Yankees. It would be really fun if Terry Francona could somehow lead the Indians to the World Series to face Theo’s Cubs. They could toast to Red Sox owner, John Henry, afterward.