2016 MLB preview: A summer to remember

Anthony Rizzo will be an MVP candidate on a club roster that is looking to claim the World Series (Lisa Blumenfield/Getty Images)

Alex Salucco
Connector Editor

In an opening week where we have seen cancelations, back-to-back-to-back homeruns, and a team with one hit winning a game, the rest of the show will not disappoint. With last year’s World Series Champion Kansas City Royals breaking a thirty year drought, smaller market teams have their eyes peaking forward to October baseball.

AL East – If you were looking for Red Sox love, you came to the wrong place. This is Toronto’s division – and it is not even close. With a lineup including Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, and the reigning AL MVP, Josh Donaldson, you almost do not need pitching.

They should be better on the mound however, with Marcus Stroman back and healthy, and the emergence of Aaron Sanchez. Even if the pitching isn’t great, they had the best run differential in all of baseball last year at 1.4.

I give the Sox a wildcard nod with Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts leading the way, but nothing more.

AL Central – The Royals will make the playoffs this year, but only as a wildcard team. I’m high on the White Sox this year because of the low-risk, high-reward deals they made to add to an already talented squad.

They acquired an MVP candidate in Todd Frazier, and an all around infielder Brett Lawrie for virtually nothing. Chicago also added veteran backstop Alex Avila to handle a talented staff headlined by two lefties, Chris Sale and second year breakout player Carlos Rodon.

We all know about Sale’s pedigree, but Rodon has the stuff to be the best pitcher on the south side this year.

AL West – Houston we no longer have a problem. The team with the second lowest payroll in baseball, the Houston Astros, will win the AL West and win the most games in the American League.

With Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers and reigning Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, they could have the best 1-2-3 in the AL. Don’t forget the bullpen addition of Ken Giles and that potent offense anchored by 21 year-old Rookie of the Year, Carlos Correa.

Jose Altuve is arguably the best second basemen in the league, Carlos Gomez is on the roster for the entire season, and players like George Springer and Preston Tucker have come into their own.

With last year proving to the league that a low salary team can make the playoffs, this season is about proving to themselves that they are here to stay.

NL East – With everyone talking about the Mets’ pitching staff, and rightfully so, people are forgetting about the Nationals. I have the Mets down for a playoff berth, but they don’t take the division this year.

With a star studded staff of their own, the Nats are led by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. They are not a team that needs to score many runs, but this offense has the potential to cause some damage.

Of course there is Bryce Harper, last year’s MVP of the National League, but there’s more. With Werth and Zimmerman having down years you would expect them to return to form, and the addition of Ben Revere in center is an upgrade defensively and at the top of the order.

This team’s success comes down to one player, and it is not Harper, it is Anthony Rendon.

After receiving MVP votes in 2014, his 2015 campaign was plagued with injuries. Assuming Rendon returns to form, the 22 year-old can help this team finally meet expectations.

NL Central – I’m going to make this quick – Cubs, Cubs, Cubs. They acquired free agents such as Jason Heyward and John Lackey, more importantly they took them from divisional rival, St. Louis.

When you add guys like that along with Ben Zobrist to a team that won 97 games last year, it’s almost unfair. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta – the list goes on and on.

The one problem this team could face is bullpen issues. I don’t expect Hector Rondon to last the full year.

NL West – This is a three-team race for a division that I believe will send two teams to the playoffs. Led by Connector sports editor Kyle Gaudette’s pick to win the MVP, Buster Posey, the Giants will win the division.

Rotation additions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Smardzija will give Madison Bumgarner some help and take pressure off of a weak bullpen. But the more intriguing race is for the wildcard: Arizona or LA?

Will the additions of Zack Grienke and Shelby Miller be enough that the D-Backs need? Sure Paul Goldschmidt is a perennial MVP candidate but where’s his help? With A.J. Pollock fracturing a growth plate in his left elbow for the second time, they could have to go the whole year without him.

I think LA gets the second wildcard. The staff is going to go through some growing pains, but with Clayton Kershaw going every fifth day, you have to like your chances. Can they score?

Well, they are as talented offensively as any team in the league. Led by veteran Adrian Gonzalez, the young core of Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, and rookie Corey Seager need to produce.

World Series prediction – Cubs over Astros in six games. I may be biased, but as long as the Cubs get some bullpen help at the deadline then Steve Bartman will finally be forgiven.

Editor’s note: This article was written before Kyle Schwarber’s season-ending injury, but the predictions still hold.

I am a proud graduate of Beverly High School and a senior at UMass Lowell majoring in English and minoring in digital media. In addition to being a staff writer and the Managing Editor for The Connector, I am also the Sports Director at the college's radio station, WUML. If you want to talk to me directly about any of my works, feel free to email me at Alexander_Salucco@student.uml.edu. Catch me every UMass Lowell Hokcey home game on 91.5 fm.

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