With Spring Training coming to a close, Major League Baseball fans will begin to look forward to Opening Day. On April 3, the MLB season will begin, marking the 162-game pursuit of the World Series championship.
Starting in the National League, defending World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, plan to retain the NL Central Division title. The Cubs do appear to be the top dog in the NL Central after a 103-win season and retaining most of their roster, except for the loss of outfielder Dexter Fowler. Following the Cubs in the NL Central will be a toss-up between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, who both missed the postseason last year. Both teams experienced uncharacteristic pitching trouble last year, with the Pirates recording a team ERA of 4.21 and the Cardinals recording a 4.08 ERA. The NL Central will close out with the Milwaukee Brewers, who went 73-89 last season, and the Cincinnati Reds, who went 68-94 last year. Both teams are in rebuilding mode.
The NL East is a two-horse race between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. Both teams bring powerful pitching staffs, with the Nationals recording a team ERA of 3.51 last year and the Mets recording a team 3.57 ERA. Although the pitching staffs are neck-and-neck, the Nationals have the advantage if their stars can stay healthy and perform consistently. Daniel Murphy and Max Scherzer have proven that they can maintain health and perform at a high level. As for pitcher Stephen Strasburg, he has faced a career plagued with elbow injuries and is looking for his fourth career complete season. The Nationals also will rely on center fielder Bryce Harper to bounce back from the first sign of inconsistency in his young career. Following his 2015 MVP campaign, Harper finished 2016 with a career-low .243 batting average.
The NL West is another two-horse race between perennial powerhouses San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers have the upper hand due to All-Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw led the Dodgers to the second-most dominant pitching staff in baseball, as the team allowed a .233 batting average in 2016.
Expected to lead the American League East are the Boston Red Sox. Although the Red Sox play in the toughest division in baseball with three former playoff teams [Baltimore and Toronto], the Red Sox added a third All-Star pitcher to their staff. With the addition of Chris Sale, the Red Sox will have three Cy Young candidates with Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello.
The AL Central is expected to once again be controlled by the Cleveland Indians. Leading the Indians will be pitching ace Corey Kluber. Kluber is coming off a 16-win season with an ERA of 3.14
The AL West is expected to be controlled by the Texas Rangers. The Rangers bring a powerful pitching staff led by Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels. Darvish and Hamels combined for an ERA of 3.37 and 22 wins in 2016. Although the Rangers look to maintain the division, the Seattle Mariners are returning from an 86-win season and have All-Stars Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano. They can make some noise in the AL West.