Bleacher Report's Full 2017 MLB Season Preview and Predictions

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 29, 2017

Bleacher Report's Full 2017 MLB Season Preview and Predictions

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    With Opening Day just around the corner, the time has come to pretend to know what the future holds for the 2017 Major League Baseball season.

    Yes, it's time to make predictions. Though the baseball gods seem to demand them just so they can make so-called experts look like dunces later, they must have them all the same. And they are not to be skimped.

    So, ahead are predictions for pretty much everything. Breakout players? You bet. Statistical leaders? That too. Award winners? Also yes. Postseason teams and World Series winner? Of course.

    Go ahead. Catch 'em while they're hot.

Young Non-Rookie Breakout Stars: Bregman and Gray

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    Alex Bregman, Houston Astros

    Alex Bregman was arguably baseball's No. 1 prospect when he debuted with the Houston Astros in July. Then everyone seemed to lose interest in him when he got off to a slow start.

    Well, he rebounded from that to post a .931 OPS over his final 39 games. And with one of the lowest ground-ball percentages in the game, he showed a swing that's perfect for the Launch Angle Age. There's power in his future, and it should arrive as soon as, oh, immediately.

        

    Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies

    The bad: Jon Gray has a 4.79 ERA in 38 career starts. The extra bad: He's tasked with pitching at Coors Field, which is like a competitive dancer having to perform on a bed of nails.

    But then there's the good: Gray whiffed 9.9 batters per nine innings last year and found an extra gear in the final two months. He has the stuff to keep that up and pitch like an ace even despite his thin-air disadvantage.

Biggest Names Traded: Cobb, Dozier, Frazier, McCutchen, Quintana, Robertson

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    Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays

    Nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Alex Cobb could help the Tampa Bay Rays contend this season. What's more likely is the Rays will struggle to keep up and then try to get something for the right-hander before he becomes a free agent.

        

    Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins

    Brian Dozier's name was a constant presence in offseason trade rumors. Though nothing materialized, the Minnesota Twins are going to be flooded with calls from teams in need of Dozier's power this summer.

        

    Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox

    It's like this: The Chicago White Sox are rebuilding, and Todd Frazier is a power hitter who's a free agent at the end of the year. He should keep a bag packed.

        

    Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

    The Pittsburgh Pirates seemed to be this close to trading Andrew McCutchen over the winter. Though nothing happened, the saga doesn't seem over yet. The Pirates will keep McCutchen if they contend, but their chances of doing so look iffy. The 2013 National League MVP will be as good as gone if they're out of it by July.

        

    Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox

    Since Jose Quintana is under contract through at least 2018, the White Sox don't need to be in a hurry to trade him. But going off the latest from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the left-hander being dealt is a matter of when and not if.

        

    David Robertson, Chicago White Sox

    David Robertson is under contract through 2018 as well. But he's also a talented reliever, the likes of which are always in demand around the trade deadline. He'll be moved.

Batting Triple Crown Leaders: Goldschmidt, Bryant, Arenado

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    Batting Average: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

    This pick didn't work out last year, but it's worth another shot. Paul Goldschmidt hit .321 in 2015 and only slumped to .297 in 2016 because his batting average on balls in play reversed course. That looks suspiciously suspicious, so here's suspecting a course correction in 2017.

        

    Home Runs: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

    Kris Bryant went from 26 home runs in 2015 to 39 in 2016 in part because he's a big, strong man. But there's also his swing, which is made to get under the ball and now features more consistent consistent contact. He should have more dingers in him.

        

    Runs Batted In: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

    Apologies for going with the safe pick, but...come on, man. Nolan Arenado has captured two straight RBI titles for good reason. Namely: He's a really good hitter who plays half his games at Coors Field and who has two excellent table-setters (Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu) batting in front of him.

Pitching Triple Crown Leaders: Sale, Kershaw, Darvish

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    Wins: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

    Chris Sale should be the same ol' Chris Sale in 2017. It's what's different that should deliver him more wins. Two things he didn't always have in Chicago were run support and good defense. He'll have both in Boston.

        

    Earned Run Average: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Though Rich Hill is a sneaky pick to finish with a better ERA than Clayton Kershaw, only one of them will finish with enough innings to qualify for the title. The only other thing to know is that Kershaw has a 1.88 ERA since 2013. He's good at pitching.

        

    Strikeouts: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

    Since 2012, Yu Darvish has a higher rate of strikeouts per nine innings than any other starter. All he has to do is stay healthy, and he'll come close to or maybe even go over 300 strikeouts. With Tommy John surgery now two years behind him, that's doable.

American League Award Winners: Benintendi, Stroman, Trout

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    Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox

    As the No. 1 prospect in the sport for MLB.com, ESPN.com and Baseball America, Andrew Benintendi is the obvious pick for American League Rookie of the Year. He showed with a .295 average and .835 OPS in 34 games last year that he can handle the big leagues, and he can do even better in his first full season.

        

    Cy Young Award: Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays

    The recent triumphs of Rick Porcello, Dallas Keuchel and Corey Kluber demonstrate the AL Cy Young Award race favors upstarts. Marcus Stroman fits the bill, and not just because he's a 5'8" dude with a chip on his shoulder. He has talent to spare, and adjustments that led to a hot finish in 2016 should carry over into a dominant 2017.

        

    Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

    Mike Trout already has two Most Valuable Player Awards. He should arguably have as many as five. He's still only 25. And he's on pace to be the best player in history. So, yeah.

National League Award Winners: Swanson, Kershaw, Harper

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    Rookie of the Year: Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves

    Though Dansby Swanson doesn't have Benintendi's upside, he's a similarly safe pick for NL Rookie of the Year. What he lacks in upside he makes up for in polish, as he's ready to be a good hitting and fielding shortstop right now. Plus, the NL Rookie of the Year race may not provide much competition.

        

    Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

    It's not just that Kershaw has been awesome for years. He's also getting even better. He whiffed 301 batters in 2015 and had a 1.69 ERA with an unfathomable 15.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio when he was healthy in 2016.

        

    Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

    Take a second to recall Bryce Harper's 2015 season.

    [Pauses for a second.]

    There, now you remember how good he can be. And with a 1.230 OPS and eight home runs this spring, he looks ready to be that good again.

Cinderella Team: Los Angeles Angels

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    The Colorado Rockies would've been the pick here a couple of weeks ago, but they've since been swallowed whole by the injury bug. So how about those Los Angeles Angels?

    Though they lost 88 games in 2016, some of that was due to hard luck. They can gain a few wins just from that swinging back in the other direction.

    The Angels should also benefit from offseason upgrades. Danny Espinosa, Cameron Maybin, Luis Valbuena and Martin Maldonado add much-needed lineup depth and, more importantly, upgrade a defense that ranked 21st in efficiency last year.

    This will be a big help to a pitching staff that, while short on solid pieces, has decent upside if Matt Shoemaker and Garrett Richards stay healthy. 

    In all, there's enough in Anaheim to take the Angels from a 74-win team to better than an 85-win team. That would be good enough for wild-card purposes.

Most Disappointing Team: Texas Rangers

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    The Texas Rangers led the AL with 95 wins last year in part because they had a tight relationship with Lady Luck, outpacing their projected record by 13 wins.

    Their 36-11 record in one-run games is a great, big red flag.

    "Performance in one-run games is almost entirely—though not exclusively—a matter of good timing and luck, not skill," Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight wrote.

    There are more reasons to worry about the Rangers than just their built-in regression risk.

    While their Adrian Beltre-led lineup appears to be fine, it'll need to be better than fine to make up for the club's pitching most days. Darvish and Cole Hamels are an excellent rotation duo. After them, though, Texas' rotation is...well, not good.

    Plus, the AL West is deeper this year. The Rangers are due for a tougher fight that will leave them battered and bruised.

AL East Champ: Boston Red Sox

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    The Boston Red Sox no longer have David Ortiz in their lineup, and their pitching staff will be without David Price to start the season.

    But they'll be fine.

    Even without Big Papi, the Red Sox are still going to score runs. Everyone else from the club's top-ranked 2016 offense is returning for 2017, including MVP runner-up Mookie Betts. Full seasons from Benintendi and Mitch Moreland can help replace Ortiz's production on aggregate.

    The Boston rotation will miss Price while he's gone, but he's supposed to be back in May. Sale and Porcello can hold the line until then. Once Price returns, the Red Sox will run out a solid starter every day.

    Of course, there's a possible scenario in which Price's left elbow doesn't get better and the Boston rotation and bullpen pay the price.

    But even then, the Red Sox will have enough to win an AL East that's long on decent teams but short on great ones.

AL Central Champ: Cleveland Indians

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    Honest question: Can anybody name another great team in the AL Central besides the Cleveland Indians?

    It's hard, isn't it? The Detroit Tigers have many stars but too many scrubs. The Kansas City Royals bear little resemblance to their 2014 and 2015 selves. The White Sox and Twins are rebuilding.

    So, Cleveland it is.

    The defending AL champs are not without their own question marks. Perhaps the biggest is how guys like Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen will bounce back from heavy 2016 workloads. And Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar have durability questions of their own.

    Nonetheless, the 2017 Indians look even better on paper than the 2016 Indians did. So given a choice between their downside and their upside, the latter is the easy pick.

AL West Champ: Seattle Mariners

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    The AL West is the division that splits your narrator's mind in twain.

    One side believes the hype for the Astros at Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs. The other side sees the AL West as a wide-open race that anyone could claim.

    So, the heck with it. Seattle Mariners, this one's yours.

    The Mariners are returning most of an offense that ranked third in the AL in runs last year, except Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager shouldn't have to do as much heavy lifting this time. Jean Segura is in to play shortstop, and Mitch Haniger is a promising upside play in right field.

    Alongside Jarrod Dyson and Leonys Martin, Haniger is also part of a much-improved outfield defense. Seattle outfielders won't be responsible for minus-27 defensive runs saved again, which can only help Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and Drew Smyly.

    If they do their jobs—knock on wood—MLB's longest active postseason drought will end in style.

AL Wild Cards: Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels

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    Wild Card 1: Houston Astros

    The problem with the Astros is they didn't do much to repair a rotation that compiled a 4.37 ERA last season.

    Otherwise, they're too good to miss out on the postseason entirely. Their lineup now has more depth around Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, and their solid defense and deep bullpen help ease some of the unease about their rotation.

        

    Wild Card 2: Los Angeles Angels

    There's going to be a whole bunch of teams in the mix for the AL's second wild-card spot, including the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles from the AL East, the Tigers and Royals from the AL Central and the Angels and Rangers from the AL West.

    For the sake of consistency with past statements, the Angels get the nod here.

NL East Champ: Washington Nationals

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    This is an even year, right?

    [Checks.]

    Oh. Dang it.

    But also, whatever. The Washington Nationals are still going to be good.

    Consider that they finished fourth in the NL in runs despite dealing with a malfunctioning Harper for most of last season. That speaks to the lineup depth they had, and now they can look forward to a revitalized Harper and full seasons from Trea Turner and Adam Eaton.

    The Nats also had the second-best ERA in the majors last year. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark will do their part to keep that up, and even the bullpen deserves some optimism. What it lacks in big names, it makes up for in upside with guys like Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen.

    Washington won 95 games last season. A high bar to clear, to be sure. But the Nationals can do it.

NL Central Champ: Chicago Cubs

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    Oh, don't look so surprised.

    All the Chicago Cubs did last season was win 103 games and the World Series. They did those things because they were good at everything. Hitting. Pitching. Fielding. Catchphrases. You name it.

    If there's a reason to be concerned about the 2017 Cubs, it's that they don't have much depth underneath a starting rotation that was worked hard last season. But like with the Indians, the names in said starting rotation are too good for doubts to rule the day.

    It's also amazing to think we might not have seen the best of Chicago's young lineup. Bryant still has some untapped potential, and guys like Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and Javier Baez have more than just some untapped potential.

    To boot, the Cubs are guided by the world's greatest leader. Apparently.

NL West Champ: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Based on the last four years, there's a 100 percent probability the Los Angeles Dodgers will win the NL West in 2017.

    Credit where it's due, the San Francisco Giants will be more of a worthy challenger this season. A bullpen that routinely ruined everything in 2016 now has Mark Melancon. That's worth a few wins.

    Trouble is, the Dodgers might be the deepest team in baseball.

    Led by Corey Seager, their lineup is loaded with stars. Underneath those stars is a laundry list of quality role players. They have similar arrangements in their rotation and bullpen, where Kershaw, Hill and Kenley Jansen headline a bevy of solid arms.

    There is a suspicion that Los Angeles looks better on paper than it will on the field. Nonetheless, it's going to make a run at 95 wins and should capture its fifth straight division title.

NL Wild Cards: San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals

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    Wild Card 1: San Francisco Giants

    Had it not been for their bullpen, the Giants would have cleared 90 wins last season. That alone is a reason to believe in them this season.

    They also still have a lineup captained by Buster Posey and a rotation led by Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. There are some holes elsewhere, but not enough to bring the entire ship down.

        

    Wild Card 2: St. Louis Cardinals

    On paper, the New York Mets have enough talent to challenge the Nationals for the NL East title. But with age and durability questions surrounding their pitching staff and lineup, they'll be pushing their luck with Murphy's Law.

    The St. Louis Cardinals are no sure thing in their own right. But they're bringing back a good lineup that, thanks to the addition of Dexter Fowler, should hit and field the ball better in 2017 than it did in 2016. Their pitching staff will appreciate the latter.

American League Championship Series: Red Sox over Astros

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    Imagine, if you will, the Astros knocking off the Angels and then upsetting the Indians in the American League Division Series—and the Red Sox taking down the Mariners in the other ALDS.

    Thus, the stage would be set for a Red Sox-Astros American League Championship Series.

    Houston's best hope of beating Boston would be to copy how Cleveland did it last year: aggressively using its best bullpen arms to lock down the Red Sox lineup. From Ken Giles to Luke Gregerson to Will Harris to Chris Devenski, the Astros have the pieces to do it.

    Except Boston's best young hitters won't have the same wide-eyed look they had in October. Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and even Benintendi are battle-hardened now.

    Besides, the Red Sox can also play the bullpen game. Come the postseason, they'll have Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, Tyler Thornburg and a healthy Carson Smith. If history is any indication, they'll be especially useful on October days when Boston needs to have a quick hook ready for Price.

    With Houston's supposed advantage neutralized, this one will end quickly, with the Red Sox winning in five games.

National League Championship Series: Nationals over Giants

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    The Giants will dispatch the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Game before getting revenge on the Cubs in the National League Division Series. In the other NLDS, the Dodgers will once again look ill-equipped for October and lose to the Nationals.

    And so, it will be Washington vs. San Francisco in the National League Championship Series.

    Such a matchup would put the title-hungry Nationals to the ultimate test. They'd have to contend with the postseason titan that is Bumgarner and also find a way to tamp down the Giants' seemingly un-tamp-down-able knack for clutch October moments.

    Impossible? Hardly.

    Scherzer is a pretty good match for Bumgarner. Washington will also have the better lineup and a bullpen that will look good once San Francisco's lack of quality depth underneath Melancon is exposed.

    It'll take seven games, but the Nats will get it done and punch their ticket to their first World Series.

World Series: Nationals over Red Sox

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    The Nationals franchise (which was the Montreal Expos from 1969 to 2004) has never appeared in the World Series, and Washington hasn't experienced a World Series victory since Walter Johnson and the Senators (now the Twins) took down the New York Giants in 1924.

    Clearly, both the team and the city are due.

    A Nationals-Red Sox Would Series would have all the makings of a classic.

    Scherzer and Sale are a heck of a match. Ditto Strasburg vs. Porcello and Roark vs. Price. The Washington and Boston lineups are characterized by star power and depth. The bullpen battle could also be a push.

    Sounds like the kind of series destined to go the distance and be determined by lucky breaks. Such things are hard to predict, but this is where the point above rings true: the Nationals and Washington are due.

    That leaves just two things left to do in this space.

    The first is apologize to the Nationals for jinxing them. Seriously, guys. Sorry.

    The second, of course, is to wish everyone a happy baseball season.

        

    Regular-season stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. Spring training stats courtesy of MLB.com.

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