2017 MLB Predictions

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Well folks, here we are! The 2017 season has arrived (today is Opening Day in fact, so I realize I’m a bit late on this.) I debated all offseason on whether to do a predictions post, but in the end, and by the end I mean about 4 minutes ago, I decided why not? So, here goes it, my prognostications for this year:

AL EAST

  1. Boston Red Sox – They’re loaded. Having David Price banged up to start the year won’t help, but picking up Chris Sale will, as he historically has dominated the division.
  2. Toronto Blue Jays – Balanced and potent. They should be in the picture.
  3. Baltimore Orioles – Talented and consistent, and Buck Showalter will keep them relevant.
  4. New York Yankees – Could easily finish higher. 2-5 in this division could end up anywhere.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays – Should be competitive, but an overall lack of offense will likely keep them at a distance by September.

AL CENTRAL

  1. Cleveland Indians – Like Boston, they’re loaded and hungry. Will the 69-year World Series drought come to an end?
  2. Kansas City Royals – Injuries decimated them last year. If healthy, they should contend.
  3. Detroit Tigers – Getting older, but don’t count them out just yet.
  4. Minnesota Twins – Imploded last year but they have lots of youth and talent. If they can gel, they can finish higher.
  5. Chicago White Sox – Finally in a needed rebuilding mode and seem to be doing it right. Some feel there’s still enough there to be competitive all season, but it could be a rough year on the south side, especially if the long-rumored trade of Jose Quintana actually happens.

AL WEST

  1. Houston Astros – Good talent mix up and down and they’re ready to win. Dallas Keuchel is the key cog in their rotation. If he bounces back, it’ll be a huge plus for them.
  2. Texas Rangers – Solid, though may need to find an arm or two. Should be in the race all season.
  3. Seattle Mariners – Could be a sleeper team. Balanced lineup, little gray area on their pitching staff, but they feel ready to win this year.
  4. Los Angeles Angels – Should be better if they stay healthy but not quite ready to challenge the division.
  5. Oakland Athletics – The rebuild continues.

NL EAST

  1. Washington Nationals – Will we see the Baker Effect part II? Lots of pressure for this team to advance in the playoffs. They have the roster to do so.
  2. New York Mets – The most formidable starting rotation in the bigs, but they must stay healthy. If they do, this team could be extremely dangerous.
  3. Miami Marlins – Talent to be competitive, but depth and potential emotional hangover from the tragic death of Jose Fernandez will be factors.
  4. Philadelphia Phillies – Continuing rebuild, but trending up. Could grab a few more wins than people expect.
  5. Atlanta Braves – Lots of people seem high on this team to finish middle or upper in the division. They still are likely a year away, but like the AL East, positions 2-5 could be in any order.

NL CENTRAL

  1. Chicago Cubs – The defending World Champs are the best team in baseball, unequivocally. Sustaining that success now becomes the challenge, but this team has the depth, youth, flexibility and brains to do so.
  2. St. Louis Cardinals – Instantly better with the signing of Dexter Fowler, but losing Alex Reyes for the season was an unexpected blow. Still, there’s enough here to remain in the playoff picture.
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates – Arguably the best outfield in baseball and plenty of promise in the infield too. Will it be enough to climb back into the race?
  4. Milwaukee Brewers – Need pitching. Likely a mid-lower division finish looms.
  5. Cincinnati Reds – The full rebuild continues.

NL WEST

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers – Strong overall team and Dave Roberts proved in his first year as skipper he’s a trusted leader. If Rich Hill steps up to solidify their rotation, another division title awaits for these guys.
  2. San Francisco Giants – Picking up Mark Melancon was huge for them to bolster their bullpen, but a lack of big bats in their lineup could be a detriment. Still, a team of very good, dependable players will keep them on pace with the Dodgers all year.
  3. Colorado Rockies – Another potential sleeper team who could surprise. Pitching is always a question mark here, but there is a very potent lineup and solid defense that could enable this team to win.
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks – New managers always bring some new questions, but overall a lack of depth will be a major hurdle come the dog days of summer.
  5. San Diego – In rebuild mode.

There you go, folks. We’ll see how it shakes out as the season progresses and check in at the All-Star break to see how my semi-educated guesses are playing out. Enjoy the season!

 

Photo Credit: http://bsndenver.com/it-is-time-for-major-league-baseball-to/

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Examining the Potential MLB Rules Changes

To put it mildly, Major League Baseball is doing rather well right now.

The sport has maintained a high level of popularity, and is enjoying a period of extremely strong financial stability. Moreover, the 2016 season was one of it’s finest in years. With the two teams with the longest championship droughts in baseball squaring off in the World Series, engaging in an epic battle capped off by the greatest Game Seven of all time, it was arguably the best thing that could have happened to an already stalwart state of baseball.

But hey, what’s the point of having a boat if not to rock it?

Baseball is a business after all, and like any business, you strive for health and growth. Health isn’t a problem right now for MLB as we just examined. Growth is the goal here, in the form of gaining new fans by way of increasing the pace of play. This, however, could likely come at the price of alienating as many, or more, fans than might be gained. More on that later. Back to the boat-rocking.

This budding tidal wave comes in the form of several proposed, and potentially proposed, rules changes, ranging from the possibly sensible to the ludicrously absurd. Let’s take a look at each one a little closer and how they may, or may not (or, in some cases, shouldn’t) work.

  1. Raising the strike zone. The idea here is to put more balls in play and thus create more offense. We get it, offense is sexy. Data shows that umpires have increasingly called low strikes below the knees, and by raising the zone to above the kneecap (essentially two inches from it’s current location), this likely creates favorable counts to hitters and gives them more chances for contact.
  2. Eliminating the four intentional walk pitches. This one seems to be the most likely to actually be implemented, but how much impact would it really have on pace of play? In 2016, there was only one intentional walk every 46 1/3 innings, or one every 5.2 games. That tells me the effect that eliminating the four soft lobs would have on speeding up the game would be negligible. Perhaps they could utilize it on a case-by-case basis. Say a game is already running very long and there is an IBB in the late innings. In that instance it may make sense to just forego the four tosses. But doing it every time would not only not speed the game up, it would eliminate the chance of a wild pitch, or one in the zone that the hitter could get to. Such things are rare, but entertaining when they happen.
  3. New extra-innings scenario. Dear Baseball Gods, please don’t let this one happen. Starting extra innings with a runner on second base is ridiculous. Teams should attempt to score runs the same way whether it be the first, or ninety-first inning.
  4. Shortening games to seven innings. Really? Who came up with this gem? This isn’t Little League here. I’d be shocked if this ever gets much support.
  5. Decrease the regular season schedule to 154 games. This has been talked about for years, and it may happen someday. The six-game difference would have several impacts, resulting in more days off during the season, and certain improved travel scenarios. Also, the shorter schedule would greatly decrease the likelihood that the World Series bleeds into November, where the threat of wintery weather for Midwest and east coast teams is always near. (Then again, April weather can be unfriendly too.)
  6. The Pitch Clock. This one is already present in college and Minor League Baseball with some success in shortening game times. Whether this tactic makes it to the Majors remains to be seen.
  7. Automatic Strike Zone and Base Sensors. Am I the only one who shudders at the thought of an automated system of governance for our game? Those who hate the Don Denkinger’s of the world may support these high-tech solutions, but purists will despise them. Bad calls, unfortunately, are part of the game and although ideas like this are sound, it takes certain elements of chance, one of the very founding principles of baseball, away. The human element should be kept in decision-making, and the use of high-def cameras, slow-motion and replay review should help keep umpires on the field where they belong.

While some of these potential changes to the rules are interesting, will they really help the pace of play enough to bring new fans to the game? I think this is a risk vs. reward scenario that MLB needs to look at. While gaining new fans is always rewarding, the risk of possibly alienating the long-time fans and purists is worse. These are the diehards who have no qualms about shelling out their money for tickets, apparel, books, decor, etc. To risk losing any number of that group outweighs the odds of gaining new fans because you throw a few new toys on the field, or start extra innings with a runner in scoring position like some silly off-the-cuff rule in a college drinking game.

Like most fans, I’m all about improving the game of baseball. Just as long as it remains the game of baseball.