First pitch is a few short weeks away, down in Arizona and Florida, players like Yoenis Cespedes and his auto show are taking their cuts in the midst of Spring Training.
Baseball is back and once again, everything is possible until it isn’t. This season will offer several intriguing storylines. Certainly not the least of which is the prohibitive favorites to win the Fall Classic, the Chicago Cubs. It’s hard to type that previous sentence without eliciting some Back to the Future reference, given the fact that if Chicago’s North-side club were to deliver, it’d be for the first time in over a century. The last time the Cubs claimed a World Series Crown, “streaming”, involved water and a paddle.
Fortunately, the one-hundred-sixty-two games that make up the baseball season are not played on paper. The local sports talk shows would like you to believe that, dissecting finer details like ERA and WHIP, while waxing hopeful about dream rosters by way of would-be blockbuster trades. While that is a major aspect of the festivities, what we really want is to see our teams mob each other at home plate after recording the third and final out in the World Series. In a little over seven months from now, one team will be dousing each other with expensive champagne in a tarp-covered clubhouse. Before a new champion is crowned, however, let’s take a look at the five teams with the best shot at making it through the October gauntlet.
What Joe Maddon has done just up to this point speaks volumes about the importance of a talented skipper. The Cubs roster is loaded with talent, anchored by the reigning NL Cy Young award winner Jake Arietta, and his staggering 1.77 ERA from the 2015 season. On offense, Chicago boasts players like Dexter Fowler, a young centerfielder with home-run potential and some quickness on the base pads to go along with it. He bolsters veterans such as Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist. If history does indeed repeat itself, at least eventually, Cubs fans may find themselves drenched in celebratory Goose Island beer, as the parade makes its way down Michigan avenue.
Boston Red Sox
In the offseason, GM Dave Dombrowski left my favorite team, Detroit, for your favorite team. What does that mean? It means that you’re going to have a star-studded roster capable of capturing a pennant, and headlines. Dombrowski brought David Price along with him from Detroit, and his much-needed left-handed stuff. Returning veterans include Xander Bogaerts and Second-baseman Dustin Pedroia, both of whom are capable of providing balance to a lineup that also includes Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. With talent and experience at every position, the Sox will once again be a force in the AL East.
When you look at the Nationals, it’s instantly perplexing as to why this team hasn’t been collectively sized for World Series rings. Bryce Harper is a premier offensive player in the same class as guys like the maestro of mash, Mike Trout. Add in role players like Ryan Zimmerman, who accounted for 73 RBI last season, to bolster a solid offensive team.
Another year of experience for the Nats starting pitching rotation should prove beneficial. The pitching staff is filled with A-list talent. Max Scherzer is an electric Cy Young winner with excellent control of his fastball that can climb up to the high 90’s. This year will see a new president in Washington, and could see a World Series title, too.
Speaking as a Detroit native, I can tell you the city wants a world championship in the worst way. That passion comes from decade of pennant races, playoff appearances, and two ALCS titles. When you get that close, you want more, and owner Mike Illitch reached for his checkbook again in the offseason to make the dream a reality. The AL Central will once again be wide-open with Kansas City posing the only legitimate challenge to a division title. The Tigers added Justin Upton, and pitcher Jordan Zimmerman. Upton joins a stacked lineup featuring Ian Kinsler, and the ubiquitous Miguel Cabrera. Zimmerman did have Tommy John surgery in the past, but is still capable of a sub-3 ERA. He will be needed on a staff with the veteran Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez, who will look to have a comeback year. The Tigers will win their division, and potentially more.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The LA baseball scene is understandably overshadowed by the remarkable accomplishments of Mike Trout. Trout is a generational player on a team that tends to underachieve. Then there’s the Dodgers: a team with elite pitching and inconsistent offense. If Puig can come close to mimicking his explosive rookie season, that could be enough to get them deep into the playoffs for a potential showdown with the Cubs in the NLCS. With fearsome pitching from staff ace Clayton Kershaw, things are looking good for the ball players out west.
No matter which home team you root root root for, I speak for everyone when I say: Welcome back, baseball.