Beyond the Bison: Pilot

Doug Hendry, Senior Editor

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With the first week of the 2016 MLB season almost in the books, it’s never too early to think about who could be division leaders by the year’s end. The Kansas City Royals will aim to make it to the World Series for the third straight season, while everyone else will try to block them out from winning it all.

AL East:

In a division that has often been well-fought by all teams down to the wire, this looks to be a two-team race in 2016. The Toronto Blue Jays seem to be favorites to take the American League East due to their offensive firepower. Their 891 runs ranked them first in runs scored for the 2015 MLB season–127 more than the team ranked second. Four big names come to mind when accrediting those 5.5 runs per game–Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, and Troy Tulowitzki. If injuries don’t slow them down, and the pitching holds up adequately, Toronto should have no problem taking the division. Still, Baltimore will be looking to say something about this, and Chris Davis will be the man who can change Baltimore’s fortunes after signing a seven-year, $161-million deal in the off-season.

AL Central:

Now, here’s one thing that can be said about predictions–some of the picks can be incredibly off. Many experts predicted Kansas City to have a losing record last season, and they ended up winning the World Series. This year? It’s the same story. I don’t see Kansas City dropping all that much–with their excellent pitching staff, the Royals can shut down the strong American League offenses and take this division. The squad’s main opposition will come from Detroit. The Tigers may have finished last in the division last season, but the talent is obviously there. Justin Upton was brought in during the off-season to team up with four-time American League batting champion Miguel Cabrera. If Detroit can meet its expectations, it could become a 90-win team again.

AL West:

Talk about missing expectations. Los Angeles, Seattle, and Oakland, Calif. were all seeking playoff runs in 2015, and yet all three missed the playoffs. The Oakland Athletics even sported an abysmal 68-94 record, the worst in the American League. Will new leaves be turned over in 2016? I don’t see it happening. The Houston Astros have finally made the turn after being the laughing stock of the MLB, and with so much young talent at the plate and in the field defensively, Houston is looking at a long run at the top of the AL West. Twenty-one-year-old Carlos Correa has been in early talks for an MVP candidate, and he could fuel Houston to its first division title since 2001.

NL East:

There isn’t too much to like in the worst division in baseball. Yes, the New York Mets went to the World Series last season, and although they will be one of two teams fighting for the division title, a World Series run is unlikely. The Washington Nationals are trying, once again, to bring all of their talent together, and this could be their year. Bryce Harper finally became the player people expected, as he and Mike Trout are unquestionably the two best, brightest stars in the game. Overall, Washington’s starting rotation fuels their hope for the division title, with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez highlighting the rotation. I see Washington taking the National League East this season, but we also can’t forget the Miami Marlins, whose third-place finish was its highest in the division since the Florida Marlins days in 2010.

NL Central:

This division is what baseball is all about. The National League Central has had so many exciting division and wild card races down to the final day of the regular season, and I don’t see that changing this year. St. Louis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh will all be fighting for the division title, and maybe even 100-win seasons; it’s very possible that all three teams will make the playoffs. The Cardinals have consistently topped this division, but may be on a small decline; ace Adam Wainwright will have to anchor an injury-plagued pitching staff. The Cubs have everything coming together, with newcomers Jon Lester and Jason Heyward joining their young talent in Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. Now, they just have to make sure it all works out on the baseball field. Finally, the Pirates have one of the best players in the game in Andrew McCutchen. The perfect explanation of a five-tool athlete, McCutchen will be fighting for another National League MVP season.

NL West:

Unfortunately, the National League West won’t be as exciting as the NL Central. The Arizona Diamondbacks made a few moves to try and move up in the division, but star outfielder A.J. Pollock just injured his elbow and had surgery, an early blow to Arizona’s division hopes. The Los Angeles Dodgers are probably in the best position to take the title. Clayton Kershaw is still dominating on the mound, and the batting order from one to nine is pretty balanced. It’s definitely possible they can repeat their 92-win season from a year ago.

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