Tucked between the National Collegiate Athletic As- sociation Basketball Final Fours, the Masters and the beginning of the National Basketball Association play- offs the Major League Baseball season is upon us.
The season had its earliest start ever and is suffering weather-outs all over the place and playing a lot of games in blistering cold that probably should be postponed.
Be that as it may I’m writing my annual column on my outlook on the seven-month season that always seems to start and end in climate not conducive to play- ing baseball.
The seven-game event featured pitching, hitting, fielding, base running and drama on both sides that set the stage for several late-night, early-morning finishes that caused a lot of discussion around water coolers and social media outlets
American League West
I will first look at the American League West Division where last year’s victors Houston plays.
The Astros again appear to be the best team in the league with an outstanding pitching staff led by Cy Young pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander.
The Astros also added a strong arm in Garrett Cole over the winter and with a line-up featuring Most Valu- able Player Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yuli Garriel and George Springer the team is strong again not only hit- ting-wise but also defensively.
The Astros will be challenged this year by the Los An- geles Angels, who will be one of the two most scruti- nized teams in baseball this year due to the addition of Asian phenom Shohei Ohtani, a hitting and pitching star, who has burst on the scene causing quite a stir.
Mike Trout and Albert Pujols bring much to the plate for the Angels and with those three in a hitting lineup the team could challenge Houston if the rest of the pitching staff holds up.
Seattle could also make some noise in the division if their hurlers could help Felix Hernandez and their hit- ters supplemented Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.
Oakland and Texas in my opinion are out of the West picture as the A’s continue to experiment and the Rangers pitching staff is a mess.
American League East
On paper, the New York Yankees should blast their way to this division title with a murderous row that in- clude last year’s National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton, young sluggers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, and swatters like Greg Byrd and Brett Gardner to go with them.
Pitching might be a problem and the key may be closer Anoldis Chapman, who will probably be called on a lot. How he holds up will be decisive to the Yankees’ record.
Because the Yankees’ biggest challenge in the division doesn’t appear to have any pitching problems.
The Boston Red Sox have Cy Young winners David Price and Rick Porcello and an always-potential Cy Young hurler Chris Sale to head the division’s best pitching staff — especially when you add closer Craig Kimbel.
he B Gang line-up of Xander Bogarts, Andrew Beninlendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts can score runs which could cause the Yankees to be chasing Boston all year instead of the other way around.
The only other team in the division that might raise an eyebrow is Baltimore with a line-up that includes Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Trey Mancini.
Tampa Bay and Toronto each have some good players but too many parts of puzzles that would have to come together for either team to be a division factor.
American League Central
This could well be a one-team-show all year.
The Cleveland Indians — with a Cy Young winner in Cory Kubler and a potential winner in Carlos Carrasco (along with closer Andrew Miller) — have the best pitching staff in the division.
With hitters like Edwin Encarnation, Francisco Lin- der and Michael Brantley heading the offense, the In- dians may be the team that wraps up a division the earliest.
Minnesota still has Joe Mauer, Detroit still has Miguel Cabrera and Chicago still has Jose Abreu, but none of these teams have enough to go with those players to re- ally challenge the Indians.
Kansas City may not even be able to challenge these teams in the Central.
National League West
I will start in the National League with the West, where last year’s league champion Los Angeles Dodgers team came from.
I feel those Dodgers should be favored again, because it all starts on the mound and L.A. has some mound power.
Clayton Kershaw is one of the best throwers in the game, if not the best, and he is complimented with starters Rich Hill, Huyn-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda and Alex Wood.
Added to that, Kenley Jensen is a top closer.
If Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig stay healthy the offense will provide enough runs for this staff to carry them to the division title again.
Arizona should provide the most competition in the division with Zack Greinke and a healthy Patrick Corbin heading the starting pitching spots.
Closer Brad Boxberger is a plus and a batting order with Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb in the middle of it can score runs.
Talking about scoring runs, the Colorado Rockies can do just that with their order that includes Nolan Are- nado, DJ LeMahieu, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon.
But it’s doubtful the Rockies pitching can hold up to make them a divisional factor.
The same can be said for San Francisco and San Diego. Both teams have hitters, but where oh where has the pitching gone? Especially for the Giants who had a top staff for years.
National League East
This is no doubt Major League Baseball’s best divi- sion.
Washington is loaded hitting- and pitching-wise.
Reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and G.O. Gonzalez form a solid starting circle and closer Sean Doolittle is the man to end things up.
One of baseball’s best hitters, Bryce Harper, tops a scoring row that includes Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams and Michael Taylor that can produce those scores.
The team that will challenge the Nationals in the East is the New York Mets.
Truth be told, if the starting rotation of Jacob de- Grom, Matt Harvey, Stephen Matz, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler stay healthy, the Mets could win everything including the World Series
In the past that’s been a problem though.
Atlanta and Philadelphia are also in this division and will win a lot of games.
Veteran Freddie Freeman and youngsters Julio Teheran, Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies top a Braves roster that could provide fun.
The Phillies helped themselves adding Jake Arrieta to their pitching staff and Carlos Santana to their everyday line-up that includes youngster Rhys Haskins. That could make them interesting.
The Miami team has been gutted, making it hard for many people to be interested at all in them.
National League Central
Chicago should win this division, having added Yu Darvish to their pitching rotation to go with Jon Lester and Jose Quintana.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo lead a potent offen- sive line-up to keep the Cubs in good shape in that cat- egory.
St. Louis seems to always hang around and Matt Car- penter and Marcell Ozana will help them do so this year.
Milwaukee will score runs with hitters like Ryan Braun, Eric Thames and Lorenzo Cain, as will Pitts- burgh with sluggers like Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco and Adam Frazier, but pitching for both teams will be a problem.
The same goes for Cincinnati, which probably has one of the game’s best players in Joey Votto and a long- ball man in Adam Duvall. They just don’t have the pitching to be contenders.
My pick of division winners in the American League is Houston in the West, the Yankees in the East and Cleveland in the Central.
The Angels and the Red Sox will be the Wild Card teams.
The playoffs will afford much fun and Houston again will outlast them all to represent the league in the World Series.
In the National League, the Dodgers will win the West, Washington the East and Chicago the Central with Arizona and the Mets being the Wild Card teams.
I’ll pick the Nationals to take the National League title but watch out for the Mets if that pitching staff stays healthy.
Neither Washington or New York can beat the Astros though. It’s Houston in a repeat.