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2017 MLB Preview: Part One

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The MLB season kicked off on Sunday with the New York Yankees visiting the Tampa Bay Rays. If you’re a casual fan of baseball, you may have tuned in and asked yourself why the MLB decided to kick off the season in the half empty-janitor’s closet that is Tropicana Field. Don’t be discouraged, as this season will be an exciting one. If you need a team to root for, pick your favorite the list of teams below. If not, wait for one of the next two installments in this three-part series.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks’ fate this year will probably depend on how well Zack Greinke pitches. If he reverts to his 2015 form and posts another 1.66 ERA, his 6-year, $200 million contract will be seen as less of a bust, and Arizona may be able to compete for a Wild Card spot. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best hitters in baseball and will be called on to carry the offensive load. However, the National League West appears to be tough, and the D-Backs just don’t look talented enough to make the postseason this year.

Atlanta Braves: The Braves have shortstop Dansby Swanson, who has one of the best names in the MLB and is my pick for NL Rookie of the Year. They signed 40-plus-year-old pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey this offseason to beef up their rotation. Colon has been surprisingly effective despite being 43 years old and looking like he couldn’t pass the PACER test. Dickey continues to fill the important role as the MLB’s only current knuckleball pitcher. Atlanta will be fun to watch, but they will probably not be any good. Also, they moved out of Atlanta this offseason and into Cobb County, also known as the home of every overbearing baseball dad in the country.

Baltimore Orioles: One of the players to remember on the Orioles is closer Zach Britton, who posted an absurdly low ERA of 0.54 last season. Unfortunately for Baltimore fans, manager Buck Showalter did not remember Britton in last year’s Wild Card play-in game, as he left Britton in the bullpen despite being on in a tied, extra-innings, winner-takes-all game, which eventually ended the Orioles’ season. The Orioles also hit a lot of home runs, which make them fun to watch. Showalter’s teams usually perform above expectations, so it would not be surprising to see the Orioles claim one of the AL Wild Card slots.

Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox made the biggest move of the offseason in acquiring pitcher Chris Sale, who will join a loaded starting rotation that includes two other Cy Young candidates in David Price and last-year’s winner Rick Porcello. Outfielder Mookie Betts will be an MVP candidate and leads a lineup that looks to be stacked. The Red Sox should be World Series contenders, which means that Chris Sale will likely be another big offseason signing that turns out to be a bust (see Pablo Sandoval, Price, Carl Crawford, etc). This may or may not just be my attempt not to jinx my favorite team.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs broke the Curse of the Billy Goat last year and won their first World Series in 108 years, so we can all get ready for their fans to be insufferable as they transition from being lovable losers to cocky bandwagoners. Unfortunately, they look primed to repeat as champions this year. Swarthmore students can look to fellow nerd and Dartmouth grad Kyle Hendricks as a potential favorite player. He led the NL in ERA last year, but the Cubs are so stacked that he is their third starter, behind Cy Young candidates Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Outfielder Jason Heyward rebuilt his swing over the offseason, and looks to improve on his absolutely terrible season at the plate last year that made some fans question his $180 million contract.

Chicago White Sox: Southside Chicago’s team looks to be in the midst of rebuilding, as evidenced by their Chris Sale trade. They were able to acquire top prospect Yoan Moncada in return, whom I’ll likely get to watch back home over the summer as he plays for their Triple-A affiliate, the Charlotte Knights. Pitcher Jose Quintana will likely follow Sale and be traded at some point this summer in return for more young prospects. It’s probably not the best time right now for White Sox fans, as they have to suffer through another losing season while their cross-town rivals will likely make another deep postseason run. However, the White Sox’s time will come in the next few years, as their young prospects arrive at the MLB level.

Cincinnati Reds: The Reds have the fastest player in baseball in outfielder Billy Hamilton. He was second in the MLB in steals last year despite only having 460 plate appearances, and if he plays a full season, he will likely take the stolen bases crown. Joey Votto is still good and still plays for the Reds. Otherwise, they really do not have a lot of big names and will be riding young pitching this year, including Rookie Davis, who is another promising prospect with a great name. If the youngsters perform well, the Reds can pull off a winning season, but it’s very unlikely that they’ll be able to grab a Wild Card slot.

Cleveland Indians: The Indians hope to replicate their 2016 success this year as they chase their first World Series title since 1948. Manager Terry Francona made shockwaves through the baseball world last year, when he made the controversial decision of having his best pitcher, Andrew Miller, pitch the most important outs of a game, instead of saving him for the 9th inning. Francona’s masterful use of Miller and Cody Allen out of the bullpen brought them within one rain delay of winning a championship last year, and it will be interesting to see how Francona will use Miller and Allen over the course of a 162 game season. Cleveland’s pitching will make them a tough team to beat in the postseason, and it would not surprise me to see them make another run to the World Series this year.

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies will be really good (in two or three years). They have an outstanding amount of young talent, and they flashed some bits of greatness last year. Third Baseman Nolan Arenado will compete for the NL MVP and probably win another Gold Glove. Shortstop Trevor Story will hope to have a full season that matches his debut last April, where he hit seven home runs in his first six games. Jon Gray will lead the rotation, hoping to continue his success from last year, where he finished with the highest wins above replacement (WAR) among rookie pitchers. Pitching will determine Colorado’s success this year and the years to come, and it just does not look like they will have a strong enough rotation this year to make the postseason.

Detroit Tigers: The Tigers failed to reach the postseason for the second consecutive year last season, so many fans expected to see the front office unload some of their $200 million in contracts over the offseason. However, Detroit decided to give this roster one last shot, and the core of the team has remained relatively the same. As always, Justin Verlander will compete for an AL Cy Young award, and Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler will produce at the plate. If the core stays healthy, Detroit will be in a good spot for the Wild Card. If they have to deal with injuries to Verlander and Cabrera, they’re going to fall behind too quickly to keep up in the AL Central.

Next week, I will continue the MLB preview with ten more teams. This season is shaping up to be an exciting one, and I am looking forward to what it brings.

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