On the surface, the 2017 Major League Baseball season looks like it may be chalk. Five of the six division winners from last season – Boston, Cleveland, Washington, Chicago Cubs and LA Dodgers – are favored in the MLB odds to repeat in the this year. But there are always a few surprises. Here are four who could battle for wild-card spots in 2017.
The Rays have some of the best young pitching in baseball – but will they hit? Opening Day went about as well as possible as ace Chris Archer looked back to 2015 form after losing a league-high 19 games last year. Archer allowed just two runs on seven hits and one walk across seven strong innings Sunday against the Yankees. He struck out five. Archer ran into a bit of trouble in the second inning when he yielded two runs after three straight batters reached base, but he settled down and allowed just one hit through the next 15 batters. The key will be not getting buried in April and May because the schedule is really tough. The Rays’ first 14 games are against AL East rivals New York, Toronto and Boston. In the month of April, the Rays will play 26 games—all against opponents who finished 2016 above .500. Through May 21, only 4 of the Rays first 46 games are against teams that finished 2016 below .500, a home-and- home series with the Marlins from May 1-4. They have only one off-day in the month of May.
Los Angeles Angels (+3000 For AL Pennant)
The Angels have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, so if everyone else is simply league average they could sniff 88 wins. Trout enters his sixth full Major League season in 2017. Last season, the 25-year-old hit .315 (173/549) with 32 doubles, five triples, 29 home runs, 100 RBI and a Major League leading 123 runs scored, 116 walks and .441 OBP. He earned his second career American League MVP Award, becoming the first player to win the award twice in an Angels uniform. He has finished in Top Two of MVP voting each of last five seasons, joining Barry Bonds (2000-04) as only players to accomplish the feat. Trout hit a two-run homer on Opening Day but go no other offensive help. Three lineup additions — infielders Danny Espinosa and Luis Valbuena and outfielder Cameron Maybin — should help Trout, but much of the Angels’ 2017 fate depends upon the elbows of Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs.
Miami Marlins (+4500 For NL Pennant)
The Marlins took the biggest gut-punch of last season, losing ace pitcher Jose Fernandez, the face of the franchise and on a potential Hall of Fame path, in a fatal boating accident. The team added two starting pitchers via free agency and trade in Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily. The former had a rough year with the Royals, with a 5.37 ERA and 23 home runs allowed in 189 1/3 innings, but he was excellent in 2014 for Pittsburgh and in ’15 for Kansas City as he helped the franchise win the World Series. He should benefit from the move to Miami’s pitcher-friendly park and the NL East as a whole. Straily, meanwhile, is an up-and- coming arm who put up a 3.76 ERA, 113 ERA+ and 4.3 WAR for the Reds last year. Just 28 years old, the right-hander cost the Marlins three of their top prospects. The Marlins might have the best offensive outfield in MLB and should hit. Will they pitch?
Arizona Diamondbacks (+6000 For NL Pennant)
Just about everything that could go wrong in 2016, when the Snakes thought they were NL West contenders, did go wrong, from star outfielder AJ Pollock’s nearly season-ending injury and the struggles of pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller. But the talent is there. Miller and Greinke were both awful, with the former losing his rotation spot for half the year and the latter finishing with a 4.37 ERA, his worst in 11 years. The D-backs begin the season with 14 straight games against 2016 playoff clubs (Giants, Indians and Dodgers) and in 17 of their first 20. Maybe karma is on Arizona’s side. In the season opener Sunday, Arizona won despite an opposing pitcher hitting 2 home runs for the first time since the Royals’ Jim Rooker had a pair of round-trippers in a 6-5 loss on July 7, 1969 at the Twins. Teams with a pitcher hitting 2 home runs had won 16 consecutive times prior to Sunday and are 61-6 since 1919.