I’ve been writing season previews for a long time. Everyone writes season previews. There’s not much I can say that others haven’t said. The Braves are really bad. The Cubs are really good. The Red Sox are hard to predict.
Rather than predicting an order of finish or giving each team championship odds, let’s try something new. Here’s the order in which each team’s hopes of a 2016 championship will be dashed and they’ll start thinking about 2017:
1. Braves– This team started thinking about 2017 long before spring training. When Andrelton Simmons left town, they were thinking about ’17. When Shelby Miller left town for an exciting package of young talent, they were excited about 2017. Heck, when Jason Heyward left town after the 2014 season, they were probably thinking about 2017. And on September 8, when they find themselves 25 games out of the NL Wild Card with 24 to play, their hopes will be officially nil.
2. Phillies– One nice thing I can say about the 2016 Phillies is that the Braves might be worse. The Phillies also have some intriguing young pitchers. But Jeremy Hellickson is starting on Opening Day, which means they’re thinking about… I don’t know… 2010? It isn’t 2016.
3. Padres– A year ago, the Padres were making waves, signing Craig Kimbrel and Justin Upton and Matt Kemp and Wil Myers and dreaming of a tile in 2016. Here’s the thing about Kemp and Myers… they’re not that good. Now Upton and Kimbrel are gone and there’s not much to like about this team. Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner should still be interesting in 2017, which is what the Padres will be thinking about when they’re mathematically eliminated on September 12.
4. Reds– I remember watching a Reds team with a young Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto and Jay Bruce and thinking they were going to be in the spotlight for a long time. They had their run- all the way to a postseason date with Roy Halladay- but they seem to have disappeared faster than they rose. Votto and Bruce are still around, for better or worse, but with Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani headlining the pitching staff, this team’s probably thinking about 2018.
5. Brewers– Your guess is as good as mine whether the Reds or the Brewers are the worst team in the otherwise-loaded NL Central. Wily Peralta is starting on Opening Day for Milwaukee this year. I assume that’s pronounced like Willie Mays’s first name, but I prefer to think it’s like Wile E. Coyote’s. When wily veteran Peralta starts for the Brewers, fans start dreaming of 2017.
6. Athletics– Unlike the stars-and-scrubs National League, every team in the American League has reason for optimism in 2016. The one that seems to require the rosiest glasses to view as a contender is Oakland, which has Sonny Gray, some interesting positional depth options, and… not much else. After Gray, their highest-ranked player in my top 100 for this year was Josh Reddick at #125.
7. Rockies– The A’s are probably better than the Rockies. But the Rockies get a bunch of games against the Padres and a handful against the other four putrid teams at the top of this list, so they should win more games. Still, their sights will be on 2017 by the All-Star game and by September 17, when they’re 14 games out of the Wild Card race, they’ll be officially done.
8. Twins– Minnesota had every reason to go into the 2015 season looking ahead to 2016, but they hit well and ended up contending for the playoffs for most of the season. With Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton in the lineup all year, they should hit again, but they don’t have the pitching to hold up with the other teams in their division, all of whom either made moves to get better this offseason or just won the World Series. I think they’re a last-place team, but it’ll be September 18 before they’re ready to give up on 2016 and go find some pitching for ’17.
9. Tigers– Detroit has the pieces in place to believe they’re a contender in ’16. Adding Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton made this team worth watching, particularly if there’s any old Justin Verlander (or is it young Justin Verlander) left. They’ll be buyers at the trade deadline, but they’ll be thinking ’17 by September 20.
10. Marlins– The Marlins are probably a weaker team than all the AL teams above, but they’ve got just enough to believe the NL Wild Card is a possibility for half the season, particularly as they beat up on two lowly division rivals. Once Jose Fernandez makes his annual DL visit, they’ll start trading away pieces, but it won’t be official that they’re out until September 21.
11. Rangers– Texas is a popular pick to win the AL West after doing so in 2016. If Yu Darvish comes back healthy, they’ve got two aces and some intriguing young talent, but they’re still counting on production from Cecil Fielder’s and Delino DeShields’s kids, as well as Mitch Moreland’s parents’ son, Mitch. Fans will cling to hope most of the year, but not into the final week.
12. Orioles– As has been the case for years in the AL East, where all five teams have a division title since 2010, every team has reason to hope this year. That said, the Orioles bring no starting pitching to the table, so they’ll have to be carried by Manny Machado, the bullpen, and a bunch of dingers. It’s not impossible, but they’ll be sheepish at the deadline due to all the traffic ahead of them in the standings, and by September 24, they’ll be dreaming of future glory.
13. Diamondbacks– Greinke! Miller! Goldschmidt! Pollock! Uh oh, I’m running out of Diamondbacks I can name! Arizona can hit a little and on some days, they’ll pitch to match. But there’s a lot ahead of them in the NL West, so they’ll be restocking for ’17 by September.
14. Angels– One of the great tragedies of modern baseball is that Mike Trout has never won a playoff game, and that he’s on a team that’s hard to root for to do so. Just by showing up, he gives his team hope every season, and the Angels should hover around .500 all year in a division where no team will be far from it. Their season will end on the same day as that of the…
15. Mariners– Another team with several stars, but with lesser players like Adam Lind, Seth Smith, and Ketel Marte and being asked to play key positions, Seattle is good enough to hang around awhile, but we’ll have crowned an AL West champ by September 25.
16. White Sox– We’ve reached the portion of the program where all teams will finish above .500. Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon will rack up a lot of wins with Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier smacking balls out of the Cell. Pale Hose fans will be believers until September 27, when the Wild Card is clinched.
17. Rays– On that same day, Tampa’s offense will finally prove insufficient to accompany their quality pitching staff onto the October stage. With a younger Evan Longoria or a more effective Brad Boxberger, it could have been a different story.
18.Yankees– Those of us who pop champagne when the Yankees are formally eliminated every year will have to wait until September 30, when a loss to the Orioles and a Royals win in Cleveland gives the last playoff spot to Kansas City. They’ll try to add Wade Davis in the offseason to bolster their bullpen.
19. Cardinals– The other team whose demise many will celebrate will finally fall victim to their underwhelming offseason on October 1, when the Pirates beat them and claim their fourth straight Wild Card berth. St. Louis will have to settle for 89 wins, more than all but one American League team.
20. Dodgers– Baseball’s biggest payroll will be enough to win 90 games, but the Giants will take their 91st when the Bums visit on the last day of the season, October 2. Clayton Kershaw gives up one hit in eight innings, but it’s a Joe Panik homer and the only run of the ballgame. ‘Cause, you know, Kershaw can’t handle the big stage.
21. Royals– The defending champs host the Red Sox for a one-game playoff on October 4. Kansas City’s air of postseason invincibility finally meets its match when a resurgent Hanley Ramirez hits two home runs. We all underestimate Kansas City again in 2017.
22. Mets– Last year’s other World Series participant is this year’s other Wild Card Game loser. The Pirates, who have played in this game every year since 2013, win it for the second time, as the Mets had to burn deGrom, Harvey, and Syndergaard in the stretch run and a one-game playoff with the Nationals.
23. Pirates– Pittsburgh’s reward for winning the play-in game is a date with the 104-win Cubs, who dispatch of them in three quiet games, ending the Pirates’ season with a 9-1 drubbing at PNC Park.
24. Red Sox– Boston bounces all the way back to the playoffs thanks to big things from Mookie Betts, newcomer David Price, and a revamped bullpen, but they can’t get past Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar in a short series.
25. Blue Jays– Toronto wins the AL East with a win over Boston on the last day of the season, but they don’t have the pitching to keep the Astros at bay in a five-game Division Series. Dallas Keuchel holds them to two runs in the clinching game.
26. Nationals– Washington wins a one-game playoff after a thrilling division race, but they don’t leave enough in the tank to beat the Giants, who win their 10th straight postseason series (excluding Wild Card games).
27. Indians– The league’s best starting pitching leads them to the league’s best record (91-71), but the dream ends at home in Game Six of the ALCS when Lance McCullers throws seven shutout innings and George Springer goes 3-for-4.
28. Giants– In a seven-game classic between the team that can’t win in October and the team that can’t lose in October, history goes out the window when Rizzo, Bryant, and Schwarber all homer against Johnny Cueto in Game Seven.
29. Astros– Houston doesn’t have 1906 hanging over their heads, but after a five-game World Series, they’ll still have an eternal championship drought. 2017 still looks pretty good for the young Astros, whose pitching made strides toward matching the excellence of their offense in 2016 and conquered some pretty good teams in the playoffs as well.
And on the north side of Chicago, they won’t start thinking about 2017 until they qualify for the 2017 postseason, as the year 2016 will be hard to forget for Cubs fans.
In both leagues, hundreds of players already know they won’t win the MVP and Cy Young Awards and hundreds more will embrace that reality this spring. Here are the last few guys who will give up on taking home the hardware in 2016:
AL Cy Young
3. Dallas Keuchel, Astros– Keuchel has a monster year for the division champs, with a 2.80 ERA and a 2.90 FIP in 220 innings, but to convince the BBWAA you deserve to repeat, you need to be head and shoulders above the field. Keuchel never reaches that level.
2. Carlos Carrasco, Indians– Teammate Kluber is just as good, but Carrasco picks up an extra win thanks to better run support (he doesn’t face #1 starters the first several times out), and his 230 strikeouts look every bit as good as his former MVP teammate’s 240.
1. David Price, Red Sox– Price rebounds from a shaky start to lead the AL with 19 wins, enough to lead the team back to the playoffs, but not quite enough to compete with Chicago’s Chris Sale, whose 2.45 ERA, 2.60 FIP, and 5.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio all dominate the AL.
NL Cy Young
3. Jake Arrieta, Cubs– The defending winner has thrown a lot of innings he last two years. We’ll see signs of that eventually in 2016, but it won’t keep his from putting up big numbers.
2. Madison Bumgarner, Giants– It may be hard to believe, but Bumgarner’s still just 26. He’s got a lot of pitches on that arm, but he’ll hold up well enough to deliver the Giants back to the playoffs and to stay in the Cy Young conversation all year.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers– There’s never a time when Kershaw isn’t the Cy Young conversation. Whether we’re talking about whether he will win, whether he should win, or whether he should have won, he’s always in the discussion. This year, there will be some controversy when Max Scherzer wins the award in a narrow vote, based mostly on his 23 wins.
3. Mookie Betts, Red Sox– Mookie can hit. Mookie can run. Mookie can play defense anywhere. It won’t help his MVP case that he’ll play right field this season, at least as long as Jackie Bradley, Jr. justifies his spot in the big leagues. There will be Mookie-for-MVP talk into late summer.
2. Manny Machado, Orioles– Machado broke out last year. He’ll continue that excellence in 2016, hitting 30+ homers with a .400 on base percentage. Only the Orioles’ last place finish will keep him from serious MVP consideration.
1. Mike Trout, Angels– Trout will deserve it. Trout always deserves it. But when Carlos Correa hits 35 homers and steals 25 bases while playing good shortstop defense for the team that beats Trout’s Angels by seven games, the narrative will be too strong for the BBWAA to pass up.
3. Most of the Cubs– We’ll see such big things from Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, and Jake Arrieta that all of them will be in the MVP discussion all summer, but there won’t be enough separation between them to carry that buzz into award season. Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell might be the best middle infield in the game as well.
2. Buster Posey, Giants– The heart of the team that will contend for its fourth championship in seven years, Posey should always be in the MVP conversation. As he chases 30 homers in 2016, there will be buzz about a second MVP award, but he’ll be overwhelmed by…
1. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks– Goldschmidt will flirt with a .325/.425/.600 batting line all season, trading blows with Bryce Harper. Harper’s similar line on a contending team will give him a second straight MVP award. His 45 homers won’t hurt either.