MLB could see new division winners after offseason shakeup

Sam Allery, Reporter

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Will the Cubs be able to repeat their victory?

For the first time in 108 years, the Cubs will be defending champions this season. After months of offseason trades and signings, many teams look much different than they did at the season’s end. While some teams are aiming to make the playoffs, others will settle for nothing less than a championship.

Here is each division’s breakdown of who is favored to win and what separates the winning team from the rest.

 

American League East

Last season, the Boston Red Sox won the AL East by four games over the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles.

The Red Sox added all-star pitcher Chris Sale to their roster in the offseason, but they also lost their long time slugger David Ortiz when he retired. However, the team still has other all-stars like Dustin Pedroia and David Price.

The rest of the division, however, could overthrow the Red Sox,  despite their all-star roster. The Orioles have Manny Machado, who MLB Network named one of the top 10 players in baseball, and the Blue Jays have outfielder Jose Bautista, although Edwin Encarnacion left them for the Cleveland Indians this offseason.

The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays finished at the bottom of the division in 2016. The Yankees’ strongest force is their bullpen, but they also have the highest ranked farm system in the American League. The Rays lost 94 games in 2016, this being largely because the highest batting average on the team was .273 and the lowest Earned Run Average was 3.54.

 

American League Central

The American League champion, the Cleveland Indians, won the AL Central in 2016 by eight games over the Detroit Tigers.

With hitters like Mike Napoli and 2016 rookie Tyler Naquin, the Indians have proven themselves as an offensive force to be reckoned with. They added Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason, and pitcher Corey Kluber has been a Cy Young award candidate in each of the last two seasons.

The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals have also claimed AL Central titles in the last few years despite coming in second and third last season. For the Tigers, all-stars Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera [Top 10 Player according to MLB network], and J.D. Martinez have helped the team produce. The Royals’ Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Salvador Perez have given the team an offense that it hasn’t had since the 80’s.

While the Chicago White Sox were as far behind the Indians as the Royals, the Minnesota Twins were 35.5 games behind the Indians last season. The White Sox lost two of their best players, Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in the offseason, but they still have slugger Jose Abreu and pitcher Jose Quintana. However, the Twins have one of the greatest hitting second basemen in the league, Brian Dozier.

 

American League West

Carlos Correa bats against the Rangers in Arlington. Correa has been leading a new wave of power hitting shortstops that could revolutionize the position. (AP Images/Mike Stone)

The Texas Rangers won the American League West in 2016 by nine games over the Seattle Mariners.

Texas, with two world series appearances since 2010, has become a strong competitor in the division. With veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre and ace Cole Hamels, the team is already strong, but Ian Desmond and Elvis Andrus have added some additional pop to the lineup.

The Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros have also proven themselves to be playoff contenders in recent years. All-star sluggers Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager have turned their offense into one of the most feared in the AL. Additionally,  Houston has several young stars like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, who are two of the four players who hit 20 or more home runs for the team.

The Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics were at the bottom of the division in 2016. The Angels do have Mike Trout, who is considered the greatest player in baseball, but his Wins Above Replacement was over six games higher than any other player on the team, at 10.6. Alternatively, the Oakland Athletics had no one with a Wins Above Replacement above 3.2.

 

National League East

The Washington Nationals won the NL East division by eight games in 2016 over the New York Mets.

With several All-Stars on their roster and rookie utility player Trea Turner, the Nationals look strong yet again entering 2017. Not only did Daniel Murphy come in second in the MVP voting last season, but Turner also had a 144 On Base Percentage plus Slugging percentage plus in 2016 and pitchers Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark both had Earned Run Averages below 3.00.

While the Mets were the only other team in the division to have a winning percentage over 500, the Marlins came close with 79 wins. The Mets have Noah Syndergaard, A.K.A. “Thor”, leading their staff, and they also have power hitting outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson. The Marlins tragically lost their ace Jose Fernandez last season, but the hitting forces of Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, and Marcell Ozuna.

The Phillies and Braves came in last in their division in 2016. The Phillies have ace Jerad Eickoff and hitters Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco leading the team, while the Braves have Freddie Freeman coming off a career year st first base and the highest rated farm system in baseball.

 

National League Central

Joey Votto prepares for the season while at Spring Training. The Reds play the Phillies to begin the season. (AP Images/Ross D. Franklin)

The World champion Cubs won the NL Central in 2016 by 17.5 games in 2016 over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cubs led the league in wins in 2016 with 103, and the stats of their players show how they got to the championship. Infielders Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo both had an OPS+ over 140 and the top three pitchers of the staff (Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and Jake Arrieta) each had an ERA+ of 188, 164, and 129 respectively.

Even though they were very far behind the Cubs, the Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates came in second and third in the division. The Cardinals have pitcher Carlos Martinez who won 16 games for the red birds in 2016 while losing less than 10. But St. Louis lost Matt Holliday to the Yankees in the offseason. The Pirates have All-Star and Gold Glove winner Starling Marte.

The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds both finished over 30 games behind the Cubs last season. The Brewers have veteran slugger and convicted steroid user Ryan Braun on their team who has hit 30 home runs six times in his career. The Cincinnati Reds have Joey Votto, who has a career on-base percentage of .425.

 

National League West

The Los Angeles Dodgers won the NL West division last season by four games over the San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers have been blessed with the best pitcher in baseball over the last few seasons: Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw has an ERA+ of 178 since 2011 and has averaged nearly 240 strikeouts per year. The Dodgers also have 2016 NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager.

The Giants narrowly missed winning the division last season, but the third-place Colorado Rockies finished 16 games behind the Dodgers. The Giants had two pitchers last season with an ERA below 2.80 (Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto), and MLB’s number one catcher (Buster Posey) is providing pop to their lineup. The Rockies play in the most hitter-friendly park in the league (Coors field), and it shows when they have two players hitting over .320 (Charlie Blackmon, .324, and DJ Lamahieu, .348) and third baseman Nolan Arenado hits 41 home runs.

The Arizona Diamondbacks narrowly edged out the San Diego Padres to stay out of the cellar in 2016. With four players hitting 20 home runs in 2016, the Diamondbacks are finally proving to have some pop in their lineup besides Paul Goldschmidt. While pitching in only 17 games for the Padres last season, Drew Pomeranz was their most successful player, but they also have former rookie of the year Wil Myers at first base.

The MLB season began on April 2nd.