Striplv Magazine - The Sexiest Magazine on the Planet, Issue 0417

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Page 36 of 79

NL EAST With the Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies all coming off of disappointing seasons (all three finished below the .500 mark), the rebuilding process continues in those cities. Despite some roster moves here and there, none of the three pose a threat to capture the division crown, but they can play spoiler. The biggest setback for the Marlins has to be the loss of pitcher José Fernández, who was killed in a boating accident last September. In an era when quality pitchers are a commodity, Fernández will be hard to replace as he was 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA. While catcher J.T. Realmuto and outfielder Christian Yelich are ready to become breakout stars, it just won’t be enough for the Marlins to climb higher than third place. This leaves the New York Mets and Washington Nationals to battle it out for the top spot in the division. The great Mets teams of the past have always had great pitching, and heading into spring training the Mets have three solid starters in Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, and Matt Harvey. But will that be enough to unseat the Nationals who remain virtually unchanged since last year, and who had the second-best record in the NL after the Cubs? Perhaps if Zack Wheeler can finally return after two years on the shelf following Tommy John’s surgery the Mets would be the favorite, but that might be wishful thinking. Bryce Harper, the potential comeback player of the year, could help the Nationals once again win the NL East—this time in the final week of the season, just squeaking by the Mets. But, even though the Mets won’t win the division, they will earn one of the two NL Wild Card spots. NL CENTRAL The defending world champion Chicago Cubs, who won 103 games last season, are poised for another 100-win season. With the exception of outfielder Dexter Fowler, the team returns for the most part intact. If outfielder Kyle Schwarber stays healthy all season and performs even close to what he did in last year’s Fall Classic, that can be the stuff MVP seasons are made of. Unless the Cubbies completely fall apart this season, the only team that has the potential to give them a run for the division crown is the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that signed Fowler, but the division crown will be based solely on their pitching. Top prospect Alex Reyes’ future looks bright, and Carlos Martinez is pretty solid as the ace of the staff. If Adam Wainwright can return to form like he was in 2013 and 2014 where his ERA was under 3 (last year it was 4.62), and he won 19 and 20 games respectively, and if Lance Lynn, who missed all of last year, can return with even a decent showing, then the Cardinals could make a run for the playoffs in a Wild Card spot. Like the Braves, Marlins, and Phillies, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds all finished under .500 last year, and despite making some roster moves, none of these three (except perhaps the Pirates) are expected to reach the .500 mark this year. With all things considered, look for the Cubs to be the only Central Division team heading to the playoffs. NL West Last year the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants were the only two teams in the Western Division to finish above .500. At the end of the season, only four games separated the two teams, with the Giants ending up taking a Wild Card spot. The San Diego Padres finished 23 games off the pace last year in the cellar of the NL West. With Andrew Cashner, Matt Kemp, James Shields, and Melvin Upton Jr. all gone, young players like Luis Perdomo and Hunter Renfroe will lead the charge, but it just won’t be enough. The Padres are rebuilding, and for 2017 the best role they can play is spoilers. While the Arizona Diamondbacks have the nucleus of a solid team behind starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, while their young, everyday players are overall getting better. However, they are still a year or two away from gelling as a serious playoff threat. The Colorado Rockies, led by third baseman Nolan Arenado who tied for the league lead in home runs in 2015 and 2016, have all the makings of a potential Cinderella team. With outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon returning after career making years and shortstop Trevor Story getting in a full season after his 2016 NL “Rookie of the Year” bid was cut short due to injury, their batting lineup should produce a lot of runs. Add that to a pitching staff that includes sophomore right-hander Jon Gray, righties Tyler Chatwood and Chad Bettis and left-hander Tyler Anderson, and you have four twenty-something starters who are coming into their own. However, like Arizona, their roster is a year or two away, so unless they mature faster as expected, expect the Diamondbacks to finish third. That brings us back to the Dodgers and Giants. Reminiscent of the battles these two franchises had throughout the 1950s when they both played on the East Coast in the shadow of the Yankees, look for the Dodgers and Giants to once again slug it out for first place in the NL West. However, this year should be a reversal of fortune as the Giants will take the division title while the Dodgers get a Wild Card spot.

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