MLB: Ranking the Best Divisions in 2017

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Perhaps the greatest thing about baseball is that there is always a fluctuation of good teams, from year to year. With that, MLB divisions vary from good to bad often.

In 2016, the best division in baseball was the AL East and in 2015, it was clearly the NL Central that was best. Of course, there are surprise teams every MLB season, but based off of the previous season and moves during the offseason, it isn’t too tough to tell which divisions are the strongest and which are the weakest on paper.

Now there are injuries that occur throughout the season that factor into the success of teams. Sometimes things don’t go exactly the way teams plan. And occasionally, teams that look great on paper don’t turn out to be so great on the field. With all this in mind, it makes it a bit of challenge to see which divisions are going to be the best in 2017.

With that said, here is a prediction of the 2017 divisions, from worst to best.

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AL Central

The AL Central is going to be a one-team race in 2017. The Cleveland Indians will repeat as Central champs. The addition of Edwin Encarnacion is huge for their lineup. They’ll get Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco back to full health. Not to mention, they have the best reliever in the game in Andrew Miller. Not only are the Indians good, but the rest of the division isn’t good enough to compete with them.

The Twins showed last season that their successful 2015 season was a fluke. They continue to talk about dealing Brian Dozier before the 2017 season. The rest of the team is young and they are in the midst of a rebuild, as are the White Sox.

Give the White Sox a few years and they’ll be good again. But they just traded ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox and center fielder Adam Eaton to the Nationals. Who they received (Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and others) won’t help them win now, but they will in the near future.

The Royals regressed in 2016 after their magical 2014 and 2015 seasons. They still have most of their key players from those seasons, but this is it. A few of those guys hit free agency after next season. The need to win won’t help the Royals next season, as they’ll finish under .500.

The Tigers have the best shot at competing with the Indians in 2017. And much like last season, they won’t catch them. The Tigers tried to trade some of their veteran pieces during the Winter Meetings, but it was to no avail. They have a solid core of players, and they’ll definitely compete for the Wild Card spots, but they won’t win the division.

Prediction: 1 playoff team (Indians), 2 teams over .500 (Indians/Tigers)

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NL East

The Nationals finished tied for the second best record in baseball last season, and they have a good chance to repeat that success in 2017. There’s also a chance the Nats regress a bit in 2017. They’ll still be the best team in the division, but they have a few more question marks this coming season.

They no longer have a designated closer in their bullpen. They’ll use either Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen for save situations. They also traded two of their top pitching prospects, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, along with Dane Dunning for scrappy center fielder Adam Eaton. The move is questionable, to say the least.

There are still questions about Bryce Harper heading into 2017. If he bounces back and performs like he did in 2015, the Nats might be even better than last season.

In 2016, the Mets finished second in the NL East. They finished eight games behind the Nats for the division lead, and finished with the No. 1 Wild Card spot. The Mets should consider that successful because of the many injuries their starting rotation suffered throughout the season.

With an injury-plagued 2016 in the rear-view mirror, perhaps the Mets win the division in 2017, but they’ll have to prove they can stay healthy first.

And then there’s the Marlins. The shocking death of Jose Fernandez is still going to hinder this team in 2017. Not only is the team going to have recover from the loss of their teammate, but also their ace pitcher. Fernandez played a huge role for this team. They have a good lineup, but their rotation is weak. The Marlins have a small chance of finishing .500 and a slimmer chance of winning the East.

Prediction: 1 playoff team (Nats), 2 teams over .500 (Nats/Mets)

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NL Central

The Cubs, much like their 2016 World Series opponent Cleveland Indians, should run away with their division. The young and talented Cubs squad should play even better next season now that the pressure to win a World Series is off. Led by their strong pitching staff, the Cubs won’t see too much competition for the Central crown.

Similar to last season, the Reds and Brewers won’t play a factor in the division. The focus for these teams is going to be about whether managers Bryan Price and Craig Counsell will still be coaching by season’s end.

Mike Matheny and the Cardinals poise the biggest threat to the Cubs. Last season, the Cards won 86 games and finished 17.5 games back. The addition of Dexter Fowler is going to help, but with a shaky rotation, they won’t catch the Cubs. The Cards are going to contend for a Wild Card spot, though.

That leaves the Pirates. Pittsburgh finished sub-.500 last season for the first time since 2012. Andrew McCutchen had the worst year of his career, and thus trade talks about him have stirred up this whole offseason. If Cutch returns to All-Star form, this team has the best outfield in baseball. With a young pitching staff, if Cutch struggles again, expect this team to start selling at the trade deadline.

Prediction: 2 playoff teams and over .500 (Cubs/Cards)

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NL West

Since 2012, the Dodgers and Giants have ruled the NL West. It looks like that trend is going to continue in 2017.

The Dodgers retained their three key free agents in the offseason. Resigning Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Rich Hill helped the Dodgers remain favorites for the NL West title. The Dodgers are a rare team in baseball that doesn’t have a real hole to fill. They’ll win over 90 games in 2017.

Signing Mark Melancon was huge for a Giants team with bullpen issues last season. Fixing that issue shouldn’t be all that difficult. Them and the Dodgers are going back-and-forth all season for the division title.

The main reason the NL West ranks third best is due to the Rockies and Diamondbacks. The Rockies and Diamondbacks both have strong lineups and either team or both could find themselves in the Wild Card hunt in 2017.

Pitching is the main concern for the two squads. With the return of A.J. Pollock in center field for the D-Backs, they need Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to step. As for the Rockies, newly acquired Ian Desmond should hit well at Coors Field, but they need their pitching to not allow opposing batters to hit well there.

Prediction: 2 playoff teams (Giants/Dodgers), 3 teams over .500 (Giants/Dodgers/Diamondbacks)

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AL West

This division might be the most up for grabs in 2017. It’ll be a battle of who wants it more. The Rangers, Astros and Mariners all can win this division.

Texas won the division last season, but it hasn’t done much to improve in the offseason. Nontheless, the Rangers still possess one of the best teams in baseball. A strong lineup and a deep rotation makes them favorites again in 2017.

Mentioning improving in the offseason, the Astros did just that. They acquired Josh Reddick, Nori Aoki, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann to add to an already dangerous lineup. The biggest issue is their bullpen, but if that improves – watch out, AL West.

Like the Astros, the Mariners made multiple acquisitions this offseson. Jean Segura headlines a group of players suiting up with the Mariners for the first time in 2017. Besides Segura, Danny Valencia, Jarrod Dyson and Yovani Gallardo all came to Seattle. Felix Hernandez needs to step up if this team has any shot at a division crown.

The bottom dwellers of the division, the Angels and Athletics need a lot of things to go right in 2017 in order to compete for even a Wild Card spot. Comparable to most other divisions’ bottom two teams, these two are a lot better.

Prediction: 2 playoff teams (Rangers/Astros), 3 teams over .500 (Rangers/Astros/Mariners)

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AL East

Just like in 2016, the AL East will once again be the strongest in 2017. Every team besides the Rays has a chance to win this division, thus making it the best in baseball.

The defending AL East Champion Boston Red Sox added Chris Sale in the offseason to create an even stronger team. They have the deepest team in the division. The only thing missing is the production and veteran leadership from Big Papi David Ortiz, which could be big.

Remember the epic Wild Card showdown between the Blue Jays and Orioles in the 2016 postseason? These teams both still have tons of talent, but without Encarnacion and Jose Bautista in Toronto and Mark Trumbo in Baltimore, are these teams able to compete with Boston? The easy answer is no, but they’ll still be near the top all season long.

The Yankees are a young team, and somehow rebuilt and competed at the same time last season. They traded Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller for tons of near-MLB ready talent. They also signed Chapman back to the club in the offseason. The youngsters mixed with some seasoned veterans might shock the world and win this division, but they’ll have to get past the other three strong teams first.

Prediction: 2 playoff teams (Red Sox/Blue Jays), 4 teams over .500 (Red Sox/Blue Jays/Orioles/Yankees)

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