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April 02, 2016

Crystal ball time: How the 2016 baseball season will unfold

The Major League Baseball season gets underway today.

Yes, it’s difficult to imagine the Phillies playing meaningful games in September. But they are still in much better shape than they were a year ago, with a rebuilt farm system filled with near-MLB-ready talent and new people in place running the show, led by president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak.

Among the most interesting plot lines for the Phillies this season are when people can expect to see some of those aforementioned prospects (we tackled a couple in the PhillyVoice Phillies Predictions) and who the team will select with the first-overall pick in the MLB Draft in two months.

Beyond Philadelphia, there are plenty of fun storylines that will actually involve the teams playing in games during the course of their respective 162-game schedules.

Will the Nationals (who put together a rotation that many thought would rival the 2011 Phillies last year) be a huge disappointment again? Will Clayton Kershaw reclaim the Cy Young Award he seems to win every year? Is this finally the year for the Cubs?

Can the Royals sustain their success in a wide-open American League? Will the Red Sox or Yankees emerge again as serious contenders? Is reigning American League Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa already the best player in his league? Is it a given the Giants will win the World Series because it’s an ‘even’ year?

Here’s one man’s attempt to sort through some of those questions (teams listed in order of predicted finish; asterisk notes Wild Card winners):

NL East

New York

This might be the best divisional race in baseball. Sure, two of baseball’s worst teams reside here, but the Mets and Nationals will be two of baseball’s best with Cy Young candidates galore in their respective rotations. Getting Yoenis Cespedes back this winter was a boon for the Mets, who will edge out the Nats in the final weekend of the season.

NL Central

St. Louis

Eventually, the Cardinals have to miss the playoffs, right? They’ve made it to the postseason in five straight years and in 12 of the last 16 seasons. They’ll be a good team in 2016, but not a great team like their rival Cubs. Maybe this will be the year in Wrigleyville? Keep reading.

NL West

San Francisco
Los Angeles
San Diego

Arizona spent an awful lot this winter, but remember the Chicago White Sox of last year? Offseason champs don’t always translate to regular season contenders. San Francisco bolstered its pitching staff with Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, the latter who is in a prime spot to have a bounce-back year in the NL and in a pitcher’s park (in a division with two other pitcher’s parks, too).

AL East

New York
Tampa Bay

This feels like the division that bites me in the butt every year when it comes to predicting how they’ll finish. But I believe I picked Toronto last year thinking they’d trade for Cole Hamels (they traded for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki instead). Their ridiculous collection of bats (and rising young arms) will not be denied.

AL Central

Kansas City*

The Indians might have the best and more underrated starting pitching staff in the American League. A Corey Kluber-Carlos Carrasco 1-2 punch in a playoff series could be lethal. The Royals will be contenders again, and could last longer come playoff time than the Tribe, but their vaunted bullpen isn’t as strong as it used to be.

AL West

Los Angeles

The Astros and Rangers will probably finish in these two spots for the foreseeable future (but maybe no necessarily always this order) with their collection of young talent both on the MLB roster and coming through the farm system. If Yu Darvish returns to form before the All-Star break, Cole Hamels’ playoff chances are looking pretty strong. But Houston looks to be one of the most complete teams in baseball.


National League: Bryce Harper, Washington
American League: Carlos Correa, Houston

No big surprises or reaches here. Yes, Correa is that good for a player with just 99 big league games to his name. Mike Trout will surely be in the mix, and could be more deserving once again, but some BBWAA voters will still hold the number of his team’s wins against him, and the Angels will be a very average team in 2016.

Cy Young

National League: Stephen Strasburg, Washington
American League: Corey Kluber, Cleveland

Strasburg has been a pretty good major league pitcher but hasn’t quite reached the hype he brought into the league. Just as Bryce Harper broke out into superstar status last year, this will be Strasburg’s year, which will surely make his agent Scott Boras happy. Strasburg is due to hit the free agent market in November.

Rookie of the Year

National League: Corey Seager, Los Angeles
American League: A.J. Reed, Houston

Remember all of that talent in Houston just referenced in the AL West section? The Astros could afford to overpay a little for Ken Giles this winter because they have a seemingly endless supply of prospects. The massive Reed will bring his power stroke to Minute Maid Park and jump into a lineup that could rival Toronto’s formidable starting nine.

Most Surprising Player

National League: Maikel Franco, Philadelphia
American League: George Springer, Houston

Well looky what we have here: something fun for Phillies fans. Maikel Franco will be the best reason to come to the ballpark this summer (along with a variety of new chicken sandwiches along the concourse). Springer has had trouble staying on the field, but, when healthy, has 30-30 talent.

Most Disappointing Player

National League: Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles
American League: Felix Hernandez, Seattle

Remember Puig’s impressive breakout rookie year? Yeah, that was three years ago, and he hasn’t resembled that player in the last two years so the bet here is it’s just never going to happen. It’s painful putting Hernandez here – he doesn’t turn 30 until this week – but he began to show signs of decline last season. As Roy Halladay, Johan Santana and Cliff Lee have shown over the last decade, great pitchers rarely last forever. King Felix has made 30 starts or more for 10 straight years; that's a lot of mileage.

National League Championship Series

Washington over Chicago

Ah, the Cubs first trip to the World Series since 1945 (!!!) would be something, right? They’re going to be a fun team to watch and they’re going to win a lot of games and, yes, they will win the whole thing one of these years. But not this year, not after Anthony Rizzo sang a Train song during the final week of spring training. Train? That might jinx the Cubbies for another century.

American League Championship Series

Houston over Toronto

With these two lineups playing in these two ballparks, the commissioner’s office and TV executives will be foaming at the mouth after pitching has taken over the sport for the last decade. The Astros are younger and the bet here is they’ll be the proverbial hot team come playoff time, the team that goes from good to great at just the right time.

World Series

Houston over Washington

Oh look, it’s our old friends, Jonathan Papelbon and Ken Giles, reuniting in the World Series. Stephen Strasburg will play the role of 2009 Cliff Lee here, pitching his butt off and making a case for World Series MVP status. But the Nats bats, other than Bryce Harper, will come up small. And Jose Altuve will go deep off Papelbon in Game 7 for the first World Series-clinching, walk-off home run since … oh, don’t act like you don’t know. Altuve's bat flip is so high it gets caught up in the October wind and crashes off the Jefferson Memorial. Harper strangles Papelbon. The end. 

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21