You need to go back to 1909 to find the last time a Major League Baseball season began with the Chicago Cubs as the defending World Series champions.
With a 108-year non-championship streak over, the Cubs hope to extend their title streak to two.
Here’s how the 2017 season might play out:
NL EAST: Washington, New York Mets, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia. The Nats’ story is too predictable: Win in the regular season and then flame out in the playoffs. The Mets remain formidable but might be one bat short. The rest of this division wins between 70 and 80 games, and that’s not good enough.
NL CENTRAL: Chicago Cubs, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Cincinnati. Perhaps the easiest division to predict from top to bottom. The Cubs have all the pieces in place to win another championship, but do they have the hunger? The Cardinals could steal one playoff series, but they won’t be there at the end. The other three teams will be average to awful.
NL WEST: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Arizona, Colorado, San Diego. If the Dodgers find out what happens to Clayton Kershaw in the post-season, they could wrest the league title from Chicago. The Giants could be very good or miss the playoffs by a game or two. The remainder of this division is hoping to be relevant for at least half the season.
AL EAST: Boston, Toronto, New York, Baltimore, Tampa Bay. The Red Sox are the flavor of the month as spring training begins; they might be the flavor of the year when the season ends. The Blue Jays window appears to be closing, and the Yankees or Orioles could steal second place and a likely playoff spot. The Rays can’t compete right now.
AL CENTRAL: Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Minnesota, Chicago White Sox. Few teams have come as close to winning a title as the Indians did last season. Give them a second chance and they aren’t likely to make that same mistake. The Tigers need a break or two to be a legitimate contender. The remaining three teams are taking up space.
AL WEST: Houston, Texas, Seattle, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland. The Astros were the surprise of the 2015 season and perhaps the biggest disappointment of the 2016 campaign. They could be a World Series team in 2017. The Rangers and Mariners will battle for a likely playoff spot all season long. The California teams are along for the ride.
NL WILD CARD: San Francisco over New York Mets. It’s a one-game series, so predicting the winner is often nothing more than a gut pick.
AL WILD CARD: Toronto over Texas. Would a one-game playoff have the same intensity of a multi-game series with these two teams? We might find out.
NL DIVISIONAL SERIES: Chicago over San Francisco; Los Angeles over Washington: The more things change in the National League…
AL DIVISIONAL SERIES: Cleveland over Toronto; Boston over Houston: The problem with being the third-best team in the American League is a quick post-season exit.
NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: Chicago over Los Angeles. The more things change in the National League…
AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: Boston over Cleveland. This might be the most entertaining playoff series of 2017.
WORLD SERIES: Chicago over Boston. One streak lasted 108 years, so why can’t another last more than one year?