Sunday afternoon, baseball fans around the world rejoiced as Francisco Liriano served up the first pitch of the 2016 MLB season, kicking off the long 162 game season that will result in someone winning the World Series come October. While all 30 teams and their fan bases are optimistic this season, only one team can lift the World Series trophy at the end of the season. Below are my predictions for each of the six division winners, who would be guaranteed a playoff berth by winning their division come the end of the season.
AL East: Toronto Blue Jays
Coming off a close loss to the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS last season, the Jays are retooled and ready to compete again, hoping this time to advance one round further to the World Series. Despite the loss of staff ace David Price, one of the strongest lineups in the league that feautres powerful bats such as Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki will be sure to terrorize AL East pitching staffs all season long.Coupled with budding star Marcus Stroman taking over for Price as the staff’s ace, the Jays should fare well in an otherwise weak AL East.
AL Central: Kansas City Royals
The defending champs are looking to repeat as World Series Champs, as they return much of their core from a team that has represented the American League in the World Series the past two seasons. A fundamentally sound team, the Royals can do it all. The lineup features bats that can effectively score runs in many different ways, and their play in the field backs up their bats. A deadly pitching staff that features closer Wade Davis and relievers Joakim Soria and Kelvin Herrera should allow the Royals to stay in close games and see much of the same success they have seen the last few seasons.
AL West: Houston Astros
Last season, the Astros failed to win the division but still made the playoffs, beating the New York Yankees in a one game playoff to win the wild card. An unsuccessful campaign in the ALDS leaves this young Astros team hungry for more this season, and I believe they are capable of taking the division crown from the Rangers. Middle infielders Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve look to continue their ascension to superstardom and lead a lineup that has the ability to hit for both power and contact. Starters Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh finished first and second in Wins in the AL last season respectively, and look to carry Houston to the promised land.
NL East: New York Mets
After falling just short of a World Series title last season, the Mets return hungier than ever to win it all. Arguably the best pitching staff in the league will carry the team, as Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon will strike out batters left and right. What will determine the success of this team is the efficiency of the bats in the lineup, as the Mets cannot afford a stunt in the development of young star Michael Conforto or a drop off in production from elder statesmen Lucas Duda and
NL Central: Chicago Cubs
Is it finally the season the Cubbies break the curse? Many in Chicago believe so, and why not with so much talent up and down their depth chart. The addition of Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward to a lineup that already features Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo is enough to concern pitching staffs across the majors. Coupled with a strong bullpen and starters capable of giving the team strong innings (Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey), manager Joe Maddon and GM Theo Epstein may have developed the perfect formula to bring the title to Wrigley.
NL West: San Francisco Giants
It is an even year after all, and the World Series Champions from 2010, 2012 and 2014 look to continue their winning trend and take the title in 2016. Buster Posey, Joe Panik and Hunter Pence look to lead the Giants lineup that may not have enough depth behind their starters but features star power when all are healthy. What is most dangerous about the Giants is their pitching staff that, top to bottom, has pitchers that can fool hitters on any given night. Madison Bumgarner is the ace but behind him, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain are all capable of shutting down opposing hitters.