by: Mike Reistetter
With the Major League Baseball season less than a month away, many of the top teams have the opportunity to run away with each of their respective divisions. For the first time in many years, it seems as if there is not a clear-cut favorite to win the World Series. Even the teams who made the strongest improvements in the off-season are still so new to playoff contention that perhaps the hype-of-it-all could ware down on their mental frame, camaraderie, and championship-winning pursuits. Just ask the 2015 Washington Nationals (Sorry, Matt).
Now presenting, The Mount Messenger’s top 10 teams in the MLB going into the 2016 season:
10. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
It goes without saying that the Giants should be incredibly feared in even-numbered years. Their mini-dynasty this decade includes World Series victories in 2010, 2012, and 2014. For 2016, they’ve uncharacteristically spent big money, signing former Reds and short-term Royals ace, Johnny Cueto, and perennial 200+ inning grabber, Jeff Samarzdia, to long-term deals. The league-best battery-mates, ace starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, and all-star catcher, Buster Posey, are back, and will look to guide the ragtag team of role players and fundamental gurus back into October for the first time since 2014.
9. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Much like the Giants during their World Series winning years, the Cardinals seem to get it done without ever having to spend large or rely on brand name superstars. But the Cardinals have ace Adam Wainwright returning after missing nearly all of last season, a year in which the Cardinals still managed to hold the best record in baseball. While losing Jason Heyward to free agency, the Cardinals will depend on young outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to round out a lineup filled with established veterans like Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday. Yadier Molina, and Johnny Peralta.
8. BOSTON REDSOX
David “Big Papi” Ortiz is retiring. Boston Nation is looking to recapture glory to properly send Ortiz off, and have made numerous splashes to strengthen their team. They have secured former division rival, David Price, as their new ace, traded for elite closer Craig Kimbrel to save ballgames, and even signed former Yankee, Chris Young, as a fourth outfielder and crucial asset against left-handed pitching. The Red Sox have a powerhouse of youthful energy in the works, led by Shortstop Xander Boegarts, Outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., with beneficial guidance from World Series-winning veterans like Ortiz and second-basemen Dustin Pedroia.
7. TORONTO BLUE JAYS
While the Jays lost their second-half ace David Price to free agency, and leadoff catalyst, Ben Revere, in a trade with the Washington Nationals, the heavily right-handed and stacked Jays lineup, (consisting of Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitski, and reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson, to name a few) is ready to give more than enough run support for their young starting pitching staff. The exuberant Marcus Stroman is ready to slide into the ace role Price left for him, as the team’s pace and vibe for the season rests upon his shoulders.
6. NEW YORK YANKEES
Betances. Miller. Chapman. The Yankees took note of the Kansas City Royals’ pennant-bound formula, by adding Aroldis Chapman, the hardest throwing pitcher in Major league History to an already dynamic duo of flame-throwers in Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. While facing potential suspension for a domestic violence issue, the presence of the controversial Chapman at the back-end of the bullpen will still surely shorten the Yankees games, and minimize their reliance on a talented but injury-prone starting pitching staff. On the offensive spectrum, the Yankees acquired versatile outfielder Aaron Hicks, and former Chicago Cub shortstop Starlin Castro, 26, to play second base, complimenting Derek Jeter’s heir apparent at shortstop, Didi Gregorius, also 26, to add a youthful balance to a veteran-heavy lineup led by Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
5. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
The reigning World Champion Royals have made it to the World Series each of the past two years, and have proved they can be a feared collective group without a 40-homerun hitter or even an intimidating ace/200 innings eater. They hope Yordano Ventura can rise to the potential the back of his baseball card suggests. Plus, the one-through-nine fluidness of a lineup glued together by homegrown talent Eric Hosmer, Salvado Perez, and Alex Gordon’s, confirms their full-proof regime seems destined for October Baseball yet again, and eager to repeat.
4. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
The Diamondbacks shocked the world by prying Zack Greinke away from the division rival LA Dodgers, effectively shifting the balance of power within the NL West. Greinke, along with new import, Shelby Miller, will undoubtedly receive a more than feasible amount of run-support, as the best offensive in the National League is returning most of its core batters, including multiple top-10 MVP ballot placer Paul Goldschmidt, and AJ Pollock, AKA the best kept secret in the Major Leagues.
3. NEW YORK METS
“Yo Knows” that there’s no better clubhouse to want to be in than the Amazin’s this year, which is why the 2015 second half MVP Yoenis Cespedes decided to return to Queens. The Mets have this much-talked about “window” of opportunity, due in large part to the three headed monster of Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, and Noah Syndeergard, all in their primes and still under team control for a few years before each hits free agency (and seemingly unaffordability, in regards to the financially-crippled Mets). While October hero and veteran, Daniel Murphy, has departed for Washington, team captain, David Wright, looks to play a full, healthy season, and guide a defensively shaky team to sure up their focus in the field during the few occasions where their pitching staff is not striking out every batter.
2. WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Everyone jumped last season at the chance to declare the Washington Nationals the early favorites to win the 2015 World Series, signaling it as the year where phenom outfielder Bryce Harper would finally put it all together. While the latter half of the prophecy was fulfilled, the former half could not have strayed farther off the expected course. The injury-plagued 2015 Nationals were for the most part, a one-man wrecking crew on each side of the ball, with NL MVP, Bryce Harper, launching solo home runs and Max Scherzer getting no-decisions or losses in low scoring ball games on a weekly basis. With additions like Daniel Murphy and Ben Revere fortifying the support around Harper, and veteran manager, Dusty Baker, tabbed to command the dugout, the Nationals look to wipe the slate clean, and follow through on their 2015 projections delayed by just one year, with most of the pressure of taken off.
1. CHICAGO CUBS
The best third place team in history was ahead of schedule in 2015, when new manager Joe Madden (previously the Tampa Bay Rays manager from 2014), brought his eccentric nature and enthusiasm to the “Windy City,” inspiring elite prospects and rookies like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber to play like 10-year veterans. Superb pitching from newly acquired 2-time World Series Champion John Lester and the surprising, summer-long historic run by CY Young Award Winner Jake Arrieta. For 2016, the Cubs have also signed idyllic “saber metric” studs like Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist to add even more experience and skill to an already incredibly deep lineup led by All-star first-basemen Anthony Rizzo. The behavior of Dexter Fowler, former leadoff man and starting center fielder who backed out of a 3-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles for a 1-year, unguaranteed role on the Cubs, suggests he knows something the public is currently all-on-board to believe—that the hype attributed to the Nationals last year, will not result in a “choke-of-all-chokes” this season for the Cubs, destined to finally break the “Curse of the Billy goat” and their 109-year long World Series drought.