Division leaders after day one not likely to last long

Apr 4, 2017 3:01 AM

As this column is being written on Monday morning, the Tampa Bay Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals lead their Divisions as a result of having defeated the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs respectively in their opening games on Sunday.

With a dozen games being played on Monday involving the other 24 teams, the 2017 baseball season is officially underway as the dual Opening Days mark the beginning of the six-month, 162-game journey to the Playoffs and World Series in October.

The highlight of Sunday’s action was provided by Madison Bumgarner of the Giants. In addition to taking a perfect game into the sixth inning at Arizona, MadBum also clubbed a pair of home runs, becoming the first pitcher in history to hit two home runs on Opening Day.

The Giants – winners of the Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – were unable to repeat the feat in 2016 largely due to a vulnerable bullpen, which did-them-in in the Playoffs much as it had during the regular season.

Looking to address that area of major vulnerability the Giants sought to strengthen their bullpen with the addition of closer Mark Melancon in the offseason. Yet after taking the lead in the top of the ninth on Sunday Melancon melted down. After getting the first two batters out Melancon gave up four straight hits that enabled Arizona to score the tying and winning runs. It’s just one game in a long string of games to be played until we get to October.

Despite the loss, and the manner it occurred, the predictions that followed have not been changed nor influenced by that outcome.

Toronto is the prediction to win the AL East with Boston finishing second and earning one of the two Wild Cards. The difference may come down to how long David Price is sidelined for the Red Sox and how effective he will be once he returns.

Cleveland should win the AL Central comfortably and has the best roster in the American League and perhaps in all of baseball, including that of the defending champion Chicago Cubs.

Texas is the selection to edge Houston for the AL West title, although the Astros are the forecast to earn the second AL Wild Card. Quality at the top of Texas’ rotation with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish give the Rangers a significant edge over Houston, which does have issues regarding their starting rotation. Both teams have potent offenses.

In the Playoffs the forecast is for Cleveland to face Boston in a rematch of last season’s ALDS in which the Indians swept the Red Sox in three games. The result should be the same only this season they will meet in the best of seven ALCS and Cleveland probably will not sweep Boston but should still get past the BoSox and make it to their second straight World Series.

The National League should produce two Playoff teams – New York Mets and Washington Nationals. The Mets are the pick to win the Division on the strength of an overlooked but solid offense and a better bullpen. Both teams have injury concerns with their starting rotations but the Mets have the deeper rotation with more capable options to replace injured starters than does Washington.

The Chicago Cubs should easily win the NL Central although whether they can match last season’s 103 wins is debatable. It’s not unusual for there to be periods of complacency, especially during the heat of July and August, following winning a World Series and the goal is not to win 100 games but to win the Division and make the Playoffs, hopefully winning enough games to have the home field advantage throughout the Playoffs.

The second NL Wild Card should come from the NL West with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants dueling throughout the season for the Division title. The forecast is for the Giants to emerge on top, again on the strength of a deeper starting rotation.

Beyond ace Clayton Kershaw the Dodgers have adequate but not outstanding starting pitching. Beyond ace Madison Bumgarner the Giants have a quality starter in Johnny Cueto, and both Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore stack up nicely against their counterparts in the Dodgers’ rotation.

In the Playoffs the outlook is for the NLCS to match up the Giants and the Nationals with the Giants prevailing and reaching their fourth World Series this decade.

In the World Series the forecast is for another long drought to finally end. After seeing the Cubs’ end their drought last season by losing in the seventh game of the World Series the Cleveland Indians end their drought defeating the San Francisco Giants to win their first World Series title since 1948.

Here’s preview of three series that mark the opening weekend.

Washington at Philadelphia: The preferred plays to consider are on the Phillies as underdogs of +150 or more if facing Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg or if underdogs of +125 or more against any other Washington starter. Should there be a matchup in which the Nationals are favored by -125 or less, though unlikely, the play would be the Nats.

Boston at Detroit: The preferred way to look in this Series would be to the OVER in starts not involving Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Dustin Verlander or Michael Fulmer at Totals of 9 or less with a Total of 8.5 very attractive. Otherwise look to take either team as an underdog of +125 or more except in a matchup involving any of those aforementioned four starters. If Sale or Porcello faces Verlander or Fulmer the play would be on the underdog at +110 or more. If one part of either duo faces other than a member of the other duo the play would be on the favorite if laying -140 or less or the underdog at +150 or more.

Cleveland at Arizona: Arizona’s best chances will be against the bottom two starters in the Cleveland rotation, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer. If getting at least +125 against either Tomlin or Bauer the D-backs should be considered for a play. OVER 9 or higher can also be considered for play in starts not involving Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco.