MLB: An updated prediction of the 2017 playoff picture

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We’re one-quarter of the way into the MLB season, and even though it remains too early to tell which teams will make the playoffs, here’s an updated prediction of the 2017 playoff picture.

The 2017 MLB season continues to provide surprises all throughout the league, especially with some of the division leaders. This makes the playoff scenario more intense, exciting and difficult to predict the outcomes.

And even though four months remain in the regular season, the first two months provided an insight on which teams can compete for the playoffs in 2017.

The Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Yankees are all teams that most people didn’t see leading their respective divisions at this point or even at any time in the season. But will any of these four teams finish the season in first in their division?

The element of surprise and the great unknown are what make baseball so great. Predictions are never simple when it comes to MLB.

A majority of baseball followers had the defending champion Chicago Cubs taking the NL Central again in 2017. So far, the Cubs haven’t looked like a championship caliber team. And even though the Cubs could still win the Central, the Brewers leading the division one-quarter into the season provides a testament to how unpredictable baseball can be.

Unlike any other sport, baseball’s long schedule makes it difficult to rule out any team this early. Nevertheless, after watching the first quarter of the 2017 season, let’s predict what the playoff picture will look like come Oct. 2.

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AL East

Current Standings:

New York Yankees: 26-17

Baltimore Orioles: 25-19

Boston Red Sox: 23-21

Tampa Bay Rays: 23-25

Toronto Blue Jays: 20-26

Before the 2017 season began, I ranked each division by how strong each of them looked heading into the new season. The AL East happened to rank No. 1 on that list. So far, I have mixed feelings about what’s going on in this division.

The New York Yankees are showing that their youth won’t keep them from competing. They took the league by storm and have held the AL East lead for a majority of the season.

The Boston Red Sox seemed like the clear favorite in the AL East when the season started. Even with the injury to David Price, Boston looked ready to roll with newly acquired ace Chris Sale. Inconsistencies from the entire team, outside of Sale, has them hovering above .500, right now.

Another team with high expectations, the Toronto Blue Jays, started the season off slow and are just now beginning to recover. The loss of Edwin Encarnacion hurt, but even more so with the early injuries to Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki.

For the Baltimore Orioles, the emergence of Dylan Bundy helped the O’s questionable rotation. Bundy and Tillman create a nice one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Baltimore remains just a game out of the division lead, despite a slow start from star third baseman Manny Machado and dominant closer Zach Britton spending a majority of the time on the DL.

And the Tampa Bay Rays have played just below .500 ball, so far, thanks to stellar play from both Logan Morrison and Corey Dickerson. With that said, I still expect the Rays to become sellers at the trade deadline.

Who wins the division?

Despite their slow start, the Red Sox still finish on top of the division come season’s end. If Price can return to form when he comes off the DL, the Red Sox will boast one of the best rotations in baseball.

And even though their run production sits middle of the pack in MLB, they own the third best team batting average. That can only cause the run production to increase.

The youth of the Yankees plays a bigger factor in the Red Sox winning the division. I’m not sure the Yankees’ young stars can succeed throughout the whole season.

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AL Central

Current Standings: 

Minnesota Twins: 24-18

Cleveland Indians: 24-20

Detroit Tigers: 21-23

Chicago White Sox: 20-24

Kansas City Royals: 19-26

In my preseason division rankings, the AL Central sat polar opposite from the AL East. I ranked the AL Central the worst division in baseball heading into 2017. With three teams at or below .500, the AL Central shows clear weakness outside the top two teams.

After suffering a tough Game 7 loss in the 2016 World Series, the Cleveland Indians remain one game back for the division lead in the AL Central. They’ve managed to do this despite injuries to Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.

The most surprising team in the AL Central this season is the Minnesota Twins. The Twins are the only team that holds a top spot in a division and has a losing record at home (11-13). So how are they tied for the AL Central lead? Their play on the road (13-5). Ervin Santana emerged as the ace of that staff, as well.

The Detroit Tigers own a below .500 record so far in 2017. One of the main reasons they aren’t a winning club right now has to do with the team’s combined nine blown saves in 2017.

Despite trading away Sale and Adam Eaton in the offseason, the Chicago White Sox continue to play decently. Outfielder Avisail Garcia continues his breakout campaign. The youth movement should be fun to watch over the next few seasons.

And then there are the Kansas City Royals. Just two years removed from their World Series victory in 2015, the Royals look like one of the worst teams in baseball and their record backs that statement up. Their offense isn’t playing well and as a result, they rank 30th in run production. Many of the key players from the 2015 World Series won’t make it past the trade deadline in a Royals’ uniform.

Who wins the division?

The Twins are a great feel good story right now, but I don’t see that lasting into October. Their struggles at home will catch up with them eventually and start to bring them down.

This division remains the Indians to lose. Once their rotation gains health and puts it together, watch out AL Central teams and all teams in general. The Indians are on a mission to get back to the promise land in 2017.

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AL West

Current Standings:

Houston Astros: 31-15

Texas Rangers: 24-22

Los Angeles Angels: 25-23

Oakland Athletics: 20-25

Seattle Mariners 20-26

Before the season started, I saw the AL West competing with the AL East for the best division in baseball. So far, the AL West doesn’t look like one of the strongest divisions through the first quarter of 2017.

The Houston Astros lived up to preseason hype and currently sport the best record in MLB. They’re clicking on all cylinders and that’s provided them with a nice cushion in the AL West. I’m not sure there is a better all-around team in the AL, especially with the way Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers are pitching.

Winners of 11 of their last 13 games, the Texas Rangers catapulted their way up the standings after a rough start. Two of the strongest teams in the AL reside in Texas.

The Los Angeles Angels faced similar problems early on this season that they faced last season. Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs suffered injuries again. Their three best relievers (Cam Bedrosian, Huston Street and Andrew Bailey)  are all on the DL. Once again, it’s the Mike Trout show out in Anaheim.

Out in Oakland, the Athletics are hovering a few games below .500. They won’t compete in the AL West, but they have some strong trade pieces at the deadline. Yonder Alonso sticks out most. He already has 13 home runs this season. His previous career-best in homers was nine.

And then there are the Seattle Mariners. Every season seems like it’ll be the Mariners’ year, but it never pans out. Granted, fourth-fifths of the Mariners’ opening day rotation sits on the DL. If they can get healthy, they might play better.

Who wins the division?

How can anyone pick against the Astros in the AL West? I picked them to win this division before the season started and I’m sticking with them. Even after their recent struggles against a good Indians’ squad.

Although, if the Rangers can keep up their recent success, they have a shot to compete for the West.

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NL East

Current Standings: 

Washington Nationals: 27-17

Atlanta Braves: 20-23

New York Mets: 19-24

Miami Marlins: 16-28

Philadelphia Phillies: 15-28

With the Phillies and Braves still in rebuild mode, before the 2017 season started, it seemed like this division was a three team race. So far, that isn’t the case.

The Nationals are the only team in the NL East with a winning record, at the moment. The resurgence of Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper playing like he did in 2015 has the Nats looking like one of the best teams in baseball.

Injuries continue to derail the Mets hopes of making a run at the division. And when they aren’t dealing with injuries, they’re dealing with off the field issues. To have any chance to make the playoffs, they need Matt Harvey to step up.

The Marlins are an early candidate for the most disappointing team in the NL. The loss of Jose Fernandez continues to impact this team as they continue to search for a true ace. It looks like the Marlins are in for a long season.

The Braves took a huge blow last week when Freddie Freeman suffered a fractured wrist on a hit by a pitch. He won’t return for at least 10 weeks. Without him, I’m not sure the Braves can hold on to that second spot in the East for long.

As mentioned above, the Phillies are in full rebuild mode. Cesar Hernandez continues to shine for the Phillies and shows that the future looks bright in Philidelphia.

Who wins the division?

The clearest division winner looks like the Washington Nationals. I’m unsure if any other team in the division finishes above .500.

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NL Central

Current Standings:

Milwaukee Brewers: 25-20

St. Louis Cardinals: 22-20

Chicago Cubs: 23-21

Cincinnati Reds: 21-24

Pittsburgh Pirates: 20-26

As mentioned in the first slide, I, like many others, saw the Cubs winning this division with ease. Other teams in the NL Central continue to challenge Chicago for the top spot.

After winning their first World Series in 108 years, the Cubs look like they’re suffering from a World Series hangover. Hovering around the .500 mark, the Cubs don’t look as strong as they did last season.

Meanwhile, the Brewers continue to play good baseball and are one of the most surprising teams, so far, in 2017. Who knows how long they can sustain this success? They might compete for one of the two NL Wild Card spots.

The Cardinals are looking to make the postseason again after missing out on the playoffs last season. Mike Leake currently holds the best ERA in the NL (2.03).

After a hot start to 2017, the Reds are coming back down to Earth. Only three games under .500 during a rebuilding season? I’m sure they’ll settle for that.

The Pirates currently sit in last place in the NL Central. This season seemed like make or break time in Pittsburgh. They seem like clear sellers heading towards the trade deadline. It also didn’t help that they lost Starling Marte for 80 games.

Who wins the division?

As great as the Brewers are playing, I just don’t seem them winning this division. I’m not sure their pitching staff can continue to produce wins for the club.

I don’t think the Cubs win this division either. They are a lock for a Wild Card spot, but not the division.

Overall, I think the Cardinals prevail in the Central. Especially if Leake continues to pitch like he has to this point.

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NL West

Current Standings: 

Colorado Rockies: 30-17

Arizona Diamondbacks: 28-19

Los Angeles Dodgers: 27-19

San Francisco Giants: 20-27

San Diego Padres: 16-31

Before the season started, I didn’t think the NL West would turn into one of the best divisions in baseball. Even with the Giants’ rough start, the emergence of the Rockies and Diamondbacks makes this a strong division.

The Rockies became the NL’s first team to win 30 games. Their high-powered offense continues to slug and their young pitching shows that it’s possible to pitch at Coors Field. The Rockies are the real deal in 2017.

Not far off from the Rockies are the Diamondbacks. After a disappointing 2016, the D-Backs are showing their true capability this season. Zack Greinke‘s dominance returned in 2017 and that’s helping the team big time.

The Dodgers continue to play good baseball again in 2017. The emergence of rookie sensation Cody Bellinger hit Los Angeles this season. He looks like the next big thing for the Dodgers.

With an abundance of injuries to start the season, none bigger than the loss of Madison Bumgarner, the Giants got off to a putrid start. A recent hot run has them looking more like the Giants of recent years. Even with that, the Giants sit in fourth place in the West.

And then there’s the Padres. Another team in rebuild mode. They have some good young players, but they won’t compete in the NL West for a few more years.

Who wins the division?

The Rockies, Dodgers and Diamondbacks are all teams that can win this division. In fact, I won’t count the Giants out just yet either, but I think they might have dug too deep of a hole to get out of.

With the Rockies’ high-powered offense, I think they win the division. Both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks won’t let that happen without a fight, though.

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Wild Card Teams

With the Astros, Indians and Red Sox winning their respective divisions in the AL and the Nationals, Rockies and Cardinals taking their individual divisions in the NL, which teams end up taking the Wild Card spots?

AL: 

Two offensive powered teams make the AL Wild Card game in 2017. The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers battle for a spot in the ALDS.

Despite the Yankees’ youth keeping them from winning the AL East, I think they still have the strength to take the Wild Card. To do that, though, they need their rotation to step up. They also need Aaron Judge to keep hitting like he is now.

As for the Rangers, I can’t see that offense not making the playoffs, somehow. If they do make the postseason, watch out.

NL: 

On the NL side of things, the Chicago Cubs make the playoffs again in 2017 but face a tougher route through the Wild Card. They’ll take on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Wild Card game.

In what was a battle to move onto the World Series in 2016, now becomes a battle of who advances to the NLDS. Kershaw versus Jon Lester in a win-or-go-home game creates a great storyline to start the MLB postseason.

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