Here is the view from early April of what the pennant races should look like in early October, after all the dust has settled on what should be a memorable 2016 regular season.
NL East: The Mets have dominant starting pitching and good defense, so they can afford a punch-and-judy offense in a big home ballpark. Once again the Gnats have retooled and have a new manager and the MVP, but the same holes, good enough for second place and a Wild Card trip to the playoffs. Miami has Stanton and a healthy Jose Fernandez and should be better, in third. My beloved Phillies are on the long road back, with Mikail Franco taking his place as one of the new generation of stars, but the loss of Aaron Altherr in a thin OF hurts. The Bravos are a year behind in their dismantling, and still have to hit bottom before rebounding. They will suck in their tanking year.
NL Central: No one thought the Red Sox would ever win until they did, and the same holds for the Cubs. They have the best team in the Division and the League, and a great manager. They’ll get to the World Series this year, and what happens then is anybody’s guess. You have to admire the Pirates for doing more with less than anybody else, but their pitching is stretched too thin. That leaves the depleted Cardinals, who will resemble the team that limped home last year, and not the front-runners from last Spring. The Brewers won’t be competitive, and the Reds have been in fire sale mode, with nothing left. They look like the Sixers of baseball
NL West: The baseball Giants are a trendy pick in an even year, but I resisted, until the Snakes lost A.J. Pollock, and the Trolley-Dodgers began looking like a M.A.S.H. unit. This should still be a close race, but it looks like AZ and LA will be fighting with one hand (presumably in a sling?) tied behind their respective backs. Oh yeah, the Padres and Rockies are in this Division too – as cannon fodder for the good teams. Neither has any chance of competing this year. Or next year. They suffer in the strange twilight of not yet hitting bottom and no plausible road back.
AL East: Intriguing. I seriously think that any one of the five teams could win the Division under a plausible scenario. My personal favorite has to be the Blue Jays, who have a lineup of sluggers and still solid pitching; although these things are not won on paper. The Rays have improved remarkably and steadily, and part of that is just getting good pitchers healthy again and playing great defense. That thing about not winning on paper applies to the Red Sox, who improved themselves and are sentimental favorites in Big Papi’s last year; but will fall short. Sure the Yankees spent some money, as per usual, but they have age and holes in the lineup and pitching staff and at closer. Which brings us to the Orioles, who are good enough to be competitive, but not good enough to win.
AL Central: I like the Motor City Kitties as a rebounding dark horse this year. Last year, they didn’t deserve to be favorites, but were not a dreadful as their record. Another fascinating dark horse is the Twinkies, who have slowly built up a nucleus of talented young players and smart free agent acquisitions. The Champion Royals get no respect; but that’s their fault, for not replacing Cueto or Zobrist. And the Native Americans probably deserve better than fourth place, but they fall slightly short in talent. Even the Pale Hose look to be better, and in truth this may be a year when no team in this Division wins or loses more than 90 games.
AL West: I fully expect Houston to continue their remarkable improvement, with all that young and improving talent, right into the World Series. They are very good and getting better. Their closest pursuer should be the instate rival and defending champ Rangers, who could finish second this year with last year’s record. Look for the Mariners to be improved. The Halos look old and depleted to me. And you’ll notice all the talk of Billy Bill has died down since the A’s tanked; although in fairness that may be because the other teams have borrowed the approach.
Wild Card: In the NL it’s the Gnats over the Pirates. While over in the AL the Royals beat the Twinkies.
LCS: Cubs over the Mets in seven memorable games for the NL crown. in the AL, it’s Houston over the Blue Jays in an equally-exciting seven games.
WS: These curse things, Bambinos and Goats, tend to last about a century. The Baby Bears win a World Series over a Houston team that has a few titles in its future.