Division forecasts as MLB Opening Day approaches

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The new season begins with a trio of Divisional contests, including the Sunday night ESPN game featuring  defending World Champion Chicago Cubs (I did a double take while proofreading that phrase) at long time rival St. Louis Cardinals. The day begins with the N.Y. Yankees at the Tampa Bay Rays followed by the S.F. Giants at the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The other 24 teams see their first action on Monday and the long 162-game regular season will be officially underway for all.

American League East

It forecasts as a two-team race between Boston and Toronto for the Division title and a two team race between Baltimore and Tampa Bay to avoid the cellar. In the middle is New York. With a projected Season Wins Total of 83.5 the Yankees are expected to extend their streak of not having had a losing season since 1992. The Yanks have flirted with a losing record in each of the last four seasons, winning between 84 and 87 games, but if their starting pitchers can stay healthy the offense, which has more youth than in recent years, could have the Yankees in contention for a Wild Card.

Boston has to be concerned about the health of David Price who is expected to miss the start of the season, but the addition of another lefty, Chris Sale, bolsters the rotation. They will miss the offensive contributions and the leadership of retired David Ortiz but their lineup remains one of the most potent in the game. Toronto will rely on the continued development of some of their young starters to complement another solid lineup.

Baltimore’s lack of anyone resembling an “ace” in a rather ordinary starting pitching rotation will have the Orioles fortunate to play .500 baseball. Tampa Bay continues to rebuild.

AL Central

This is Cleveland’s Division to lose as the Indians appear to have the best balanced roster in the entire AL. With the best starting rotation in the league, an outstanding back end of the bullpen and a solid lineup Cleveland could lead the AL in wins – their projection is 93. Their wins should be inflated by weakness at the bottom of the Division with Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox expected to finish fourth and fifth.

Kansas City still has some key parts from the team that won the 2015 World Series but the untimely death of ace Yordano Ventura will strain what was already considered a mediocre rotation at best. That leaves the Detroit Tigers as likely main challengers to the Indians, and with ace Justin Verlander showing his old form over the second half of last season and the rapid emergence of Michael Fulmer the starting rotation is a strength and should have the Tigers contending for a Wild Card.

AL West

This could feature three teams vying for the Division title with Houston, Seattle and Texas all possessing solid rosters. Houston is given the best chance to win the Division by the oddsmakers with a Season Wins Total of 90. There is maturing youth up and down the lineup with Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa both capable of being in the MVP conversation. Veteran leadership was added with the addition of Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Pitching is a concern but if lefty Dallas Keuchel can return to his 2015 form and Colin McHugh and Lance McCullers continue their development the Astros will be the team to beat.

Texas, with a projected total of 83.5 wins, features a potent lineup and a starting rotation anchored by Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, which is as good a one-two combo as there is. Seattle has been a disappointment in recent seasons but is projected to win 86.5 games. The Mariners have some concerns with age at the top of their starting rotation with Felix Hernandez showing signs of a decline last season and Hisashi Iwakuma turning 36 in two weeks.

The LA Angels have the best player in the game, Mike Trout, and a nice blend of youth and experience to surround him but there are too many question marks about the overall pitching staff, which explains why the Angels are projected to have a losing record with their wins forecast at 79. Oakland has the potential to show improvement this season with a maturing starting rotation that just needs to gain experience.

National League East

This handicaps as a two-team battle between the New York Mets and Washington Nationals. The Nats are given the edge in projected Season Wins, 91 vs. 89. Both teams’ success will hinge upon the health of their starting rotations, both of which are considered among the best in all of baseball. The Mets may have the best young starter in the game in Noah Syndergaard but the rest of the rotation has dealt with significant injuries over the past few seasons.

Washington’s rotation also has injury concerns with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. The Mets have the better back end of the bullpen but Washington has the deeper lineup and it would not be surprising if by the end of July this pair has distanced itself from the rest of the Division. Both Philadelphia and Atlanta have made strides in their rebuilding process although the Phillies appear closer to turning things around than do the Braves, but Atlanta’s Win Total is 75 whereas the Phillies are at 73.5.

NL Central

The Cubbies won 103 games with ease last season and their projection for this season is 96. Whether the Cubs exceed that projection will likely depend on how fortunate the Cubs are in avoiding significant or lengthy injuries.

Their five-man rotation made a combined 152 starts last season but Jason Hammel, who started 30, departed for free agency. Gone is closer Aroldis Chapman who was acquired at last season’s trade deadline but the very accomplished Wade Davis was acquired in a trade with Kansas City. The lineup remains one of the best in baseball with reigning MVP Kris Bryant starting just his third season in the majors. St. Louis is expected to offer the major challenge to the Cubs but with a Wins projection of just 84.5 that leaves a gap of more than 10 games between the teams projected to finish first and second.

Pittsburgh is projected third at 82.5 wins, but the Pirates showed a major decline last season, winning just 78 games after having won 98 in 2015. Cincinnati and Milwaukee are expected to finish roughly 20 games below .500 with projected Wins Totals of 70.5 and 71.5 respectively.

NL West

It is again expected to be a two-team race between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. Projected to win 94 and 88 games respectively, no other team in the Division is projected to have a winning record with Colorado (80.5), Arizona (77.5) and San Diego (66) expected to provide plenty of opportunities for both teams to contend for the Playoffs feasting on the weak. Of the two the Giants appear to have the deeper and more reliable rotation with Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore providing both quality and depth.

San Diego’s 66 projected wins are the lowest of all 30 teams, four wins less than the projected second worst team, the White Sox. The battle for third between Arizona and Colorado will come down to which team gets the better pitching. Both teams have plenty of offense and each should play more OVERs than UNDERs.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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