Last season, a 108-year-old curse was ended but can the Cubs do it again? Plus Cleveland look strong, Mike Trout is Mike Trout, and Boston could miss out

Hotly tipped team that will do badly

Boston. This is a tough pick because theres a lot to like about the Red Sox lineup, and they could have a tremendous starting rotation. But of all the highly regarded teams in baseball this year, none has a bigger potential to implode than Boston. David Prices elbow problems should terrify the Red Sox, as should Chris Sales delivery, which seems to be a ticking time bomb even if it has held up so far. If all goes well, Boston is a legitimate threat to win the World Series, but there are just enough questions about the durability of the rotation, and players like Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, that this team also could tumble in their first season without David Ortiz. LC

Whats more fun than watching hopes in Beantown burn from afar? Chris Sale is an elite arm, but David Prices diminished elasticity means a bounce-back season is less likely. Will Rick Porcello be Cy Young quality again? How will their lineup adjust to the 1.000+ OPS hole in Papis old lineup? My guess is not as well: these Red Sox smell like third place. DL

The Texas Rangers paced the American League with 95 victories last year despite one of baseballs worst bullpens and ho-hum starting pitching beyond the one-two punch of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. One reason was the resurgence of future Hall of Fame third baseman Adrian Beltre, who rolled back the years with 32 home runs and 104 RBIs. Another: the Rangers were historically lucky, as their 36-11 record in one-run games might suggest. Not even Beltre, who turns 38 next week, will be able to compensate for the Rangers question marks in the outfield and the back of the rotation. BAG

St Louis Cardinals. The ever-contending Cardinals will miss the postseason for the second year in a row. Dexter Fowler was a solid addition to the top of the lineup, but St Louis did little else to improve a team that still relies heavily on Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Jhonny Peralta, players whose best years are now well behind them. DG

Surprise package that will make the playoffs

Seattle. Not only will they make the playoffs, they can win the division. The Mariners will hit, and they should be able to squeeze enough good performances from a veteran staff in a pitchers park to win at least 90 games. If Edwin Diaz is anything like he was last year out of the bullpen, the Mariners can finally go to the playoffs for the first time in Felix Hernandezs career. LC

If youre in the camp that believes Pittsburgh missed their opportunity to win a World Series, then returning to the playoffs in 2017 may be something of a surprise. If Andrew McCutchen bounces back into MVP form, if Gerrit Cole bounces back from three stints on the disabled list, if the one-time shark tank has enough bite, Im saying theres a chance. DL

The Seattle Mariners are fresh off an 86-win season, so its not as if theyre coming out of nowhere. But core players Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are all in their thirties, which is perhaps why general manager Jerry Dipoto was inspired to make 14 trades in the offseason more than any team in two decades including the addition of back-end starters Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo. Look for the Ms to end baseballs longest postseason drought as they play into October for the first time since 2001. BAG

Miami Marlins. Is it likely? No. But heres how it could happen: a healthy Giancarlo Stanton hits 50 home runs and leads a powerful offense along with fellow outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. Then team owner Jeffrey Loria, looking to sell the Marlins for top dollar before he become the US ambassador to France, adds some pitching to push Miami over the top. DG

Tim Tebows chances of making the majors are as likely as

the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl. LC

the Mets turning down a clear business opportunity, and thats not going to happen. The Amazins brass brought Tebow in for a farcical spring training run longer than any team wouldve, and if theyre willing to do that a September call-up isnt out of the question. In fact, I suspect the ink is already drying on Tuesday-night-with-Tebow ticket package pamphlets. DL

… No. Just, stop. I like Tebow. He reminds me of Rasheed Wallace in that everyone outside the locker room seems to have a million problems with him, but youd be hard-pressed to ever hear a teammate say a bad word about him. Hes a tireless worker and a positive presence and hell be good for those kids to be around. I look for him to settle into sort of a player-mentor role: kind of like a Crash Davis without the bat speed or the promiscuity. But the only way he makes it to the show is if he buys a ticket. BAG

the Mets needing some extra cash. Say the Mets are out of the playoff race when rosters expand in September, and they can call up a certain famous minor leaguer who managed to muscle 15-20 home runs over the wall in his first professional baseball season. The resulting ticket and jersey sales from Tebow playing at Citi Field for a week would earn the Mets a year of Bobby Bonillas salary. DG

Can anything beat the Cubs victory last year?

Forgotten in the euphoria of the Cubs win in Game 7 was the bedlam in Cleveland when Rajai Davis hit his game-tying home run in the ninth. Watching the fans in the stands going crazy as they tried to end their own 68-year championship drought, it was obvious that Indians fans torment is as real as that of Cubs fans maybe even more so. Cleveland winning the World Series in Cleveland would be something to see. LC

Probably not, which is exactly why they shouldnt have won in the first place. Now were left with the fanbases of the two formerly cursed teams, the other being the Red Sox, believing that they can actually win the World Series on a regular basis. Sadly, the Indians curse of 68 years doesnt have the same curb appeal. DL

Of course not. But a repeat title would be nearly as rare. Only three National League clubs have ever repeated as World Series champs: the 1908 Cubs, the 1922 New York Giants and 1976 Cincinnati Reds. BAG

No. The Cubs winning was the one downside to the Cubs winning. A storyline that linked generations of baseball fans came to an end. Now the next best thing for baseball is if the lovable losers become an unstoppable super-dynasty that fans can love to hate. DG

Does baseball need speeding up?

Absolutely. The problem is that baseball wants to make games quicker while not addressing the thing that makes games last so long: the endless taking of pitches and running up pitch counts. Assuming that MLB only wants to shorten game times while not sacrificing offense, they should limit mid-inning pitching changes and coaching visits to the mound. Thats at least a start. Calling both a high and low strike would help more. So, too, would ending instant replay. LC

Yes, the offseason is way too long. Im all for speeding up its winter hiatus and extending the season to at least 170 games with the first contests taking place in spring training locales. That or playing the World Baseball Classic every two years will work just fine. DL

For a institution as allegedly as hidebound as baseball, it sure hasnt been shy about mucking with the formula through the years. In 1887, the National League changed the rules to give a batter four strikes. Chaos ensued and they changed it back for 1888. Time will tell if the commissioners latest tweaks will make a substantial difference in pace of play. But it says here the product is just fine as is. If youre that bored, go play Candy Crush. BAG

This question always rankles old-time, baseball diehards who see it as asking if the sport needs to change to survive. They then get defensive, point to attendance numbers and last years World Series ratings as evidence baseball is doing just fine, and eventually the conversation gets longer than a Red Sox-Yankees game. But just because baseball is good doesnt mean it cant get better. Increasing the pace of play should be a priority. DG

American League and National League MVP winners

Mike Trout and Anthony Rizzo. Trout because hes the automatic choice here baseballs best player and a man without a glitch. Rizzo is a less obvious pick but hes just as dangerous as his team-mate Kris Bryant (last years winner), and a better selection than Colorados Nolan Arenado, given that the Rockies probably wont be a contending team. DL

With 32 home runs, Mike Trout will become the youngest player to hit 200 homers, braking Mel Otts record, and giving him a shot to beat Alex Rodriguez mark of 400 home runs by age 29. Oh yeah, and Americas least intriguing weather enthusiast will win the MVP. Youd love to see a spectacular, acrobatic third baseman like Nolan Arenado complete for an NL MVP, but to do that the Rockies must either be competitive or Arenado has to blow the competition away, Trout-style. Those are long shots, especially in a league with Kris Bryant. If the young Cub plays anything lie he did, last season, while playing as many positions as he did last year, hell likely repeat. DL

Mike
Mike Trout: a sure-fire American League MVP. Photograph: Gary A Vasquez/USA Today Sports

Mike Trout, already a two-time winner at 25, has finished either first or second in MVP voting in each of his first five full major-league seasons. No reasonable observer can dispute that hes the class of the sport. That likely contenders Mookie Betts, Carlos Correa and Manny Machado may play for better teams should only enhance his credentials. Corey Seager managed to realized the stratospheric expectations that precede a blue-chip prospect for a big-market team, delivering a .308/.365/.512 debut to win rookie of the year unanimously and finish third in MVP balloting. Look for the 22-year-old centerpiece of the Dodgers to build on that sterling freshman campaign and become only the third shortstop in 55 years to capture the NLs top individual prize. BAG

Entering his age 25 season, Mike Trout is only just now beginning his baseball prime. He should be the odds-on favorite to keep winning the American League MVP through the 2020 season, assuming America lasts that long. In the National League, Kris Bryant is the reigning MVP and is also only 25. Just imagine how Bryant and the young Cubs might play without a century of pressure on them. DG

American League and National League Cy Young winners

Andrew Miller and Clayton Kershaw. Like Trout, Kershaw is an automatic pick. Last year, Miller showed how important a great set-up man is to a team. If Miller is anything like he was last season he might not only be the Cy Young but also the MVP in a very out-of-the box choice. LC

We hear an awful lot about Noah Syndergaard wanting to be the right-handed Clayton Kershaw. Now that Thor is featuring more off-speed pitches to complement his triple-digit heat, this would seem the season to reach that plateau. And Corey Kluber: he was was less dominant in 2015 after winning the AL Cy Young, but recaptured some of that magic last season. Now hes poised to help the Tribe snap their curse while collecting another big ugly plaque. The only concern would be his workload: last year, he threw nearly 250 innings including the postseason. DL

Masahiro Tanaka joined the Yankees after a mythical 2013 campaign with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles that saw him finish with a 30-1 record including the playoffs, suffering his lone defeat in Game 6 of the Japan Series before redeeming himself by earning the save in Game 7. Hes pitched well enough in three major-league seasons when hes been healthy, but last years impressive haul of 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 31 starts augurs well for a long-awaited breakout. Three-time winner Clayton Kershaw is the prohibitive favorite whenever hes healthy, while Noah Syndergaard is the trendy pick after throwing 218 strikeouts with a 2.60 ERA in his first full season. But look for San Franciscos Madison Bumgarner, who only added to his reputation as the finest big-game pitcher of his generation last October, to build on last years career bests in strikeouts (251) and ERA (2.74). BAG

Its Chris Sales award to lose in the AL if he puts up a typical Sale season. The extra wins hell get pitching for Boston alone will be enough to sway the old-timey voter who still greatly values pitcher wins. In the National League, Noah Syndergaard should break 200 innings for the first time in what will be his third season, giving him a eye-popping stats at seasons end. DG

AL East winners

Toronto. Again, if all goes well for Boston, the Red Sox will win the division, but given Bostons rotation questions and the fact that the Blue Jays have a solid rotation themselves with an explosive line-up (expect a Jose Bautista comeback season), they are the best bet should Boston stumble at all. LC

Reggie Jackson says I see me in Torontos 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson. But with slugging Edwin Encarnacion lost to to free agency, the Jays will need a Mr-October-like season from their star. Thats possible; so is Aaron Sanchez flirting with a Cy Young. Their starters are deep, and if they stay healthy, the Blue Jays will win the division. DL

No Papi? No problem. Exit David Ortiz, enter Chris Sale. So deep are the Red Sox, they wont even miss lefty flamethrower David Price as he works his way back from a left elbow ailment. BAG

Boston. David Ortizs retirement is a blow to the offense, but a good way to counter scoring fewer runs is to give up even fewer. Enter Chris Sale. Boston sports fans have a real shot at a second championship parade in 2017. DG

AL Central winners

Cleveland. A lineup that should even be better with the addition of Edwin Encarnacion and the return of Michael Brantley? A rotation that might be the best in the American League? A bullpen that can shorten any game to six innings? Whats not to love about the Indians? LC

Well, Cleveland have already made the World Series. Now they have outfielder Michael Brantley back, and their two best pitchers, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, who were not healthy during their fall run. Add in Edwin Encarnacion and its a return to the Fall Classic or bust for Terry Franconas Tribe. DL

Danny
Danny Salazar is back in the mix for Cleveland. Photograph: Allan Henry/USA Today Sports

The biggest question seems to be how Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen respond to their increased workloads after last years seven-month marathon, but the Indians appear to be a class above the competition in the Central Division. BAG

Cleveland. We live in a sports world where the Cubs and Indians are heavy favorites. And legitimately so. As you may have heard, Cleveland was a game away from the World Series title last year, and to that team they add Edwin Encarnacion and a full season of Andrew Miller. They may be the best sports team in Cleveland now. DG

AL West winners

Seattle. The Texas Rangers or Houston Astros will be most peoples pick. Texas will hit, but there are some nagging questions on their pitching staff, including Cole Hamels age, Yu Darvishs durability and Martin Perezs consistency. Houston has some serious holes in the rotation if Dallas Keuchel does not bounce back and Lance McCullers is not healthy. LC

Can the Houston Astros beat the Texas Rangers? Last season the Rangers whooped on Houston in 14 of 19 games. Considering they swiped Carlos Beltran from their rivals and added Josh Reddick and Brian McCann, if Dallas Keuchel and closer Ken Giles return to form after lousy 2016 seasons, they should be able to turn the tide v Texas. DL

MVP contenders Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa will lift Houston back into the playoffs after a one-year hiatus, where they will be trendy picks to nab the franchises second ever pennant. BAG

Houston. The Astros arrived a little ahead of schedule in 2015, but they were always built to reach full maturity this season. Houstons big offseason acquisition was Carlos Beltran, and even if he suddenly realizes hes ancient in baseball years, the Astros still have plenty of young talent to hold off the Mariners and Rangers. DG

NL East winners

Washington. Theres really a lot to like about the Nationals. Unless you are unsure who will close the games. Or worrying about Steven Strasburgs elbow. Or wondering about Max Scherzers fingers. Or are curious as to which Bryce Harper shows up. Absent all that, the additions of Matt Wieters and Adam Eaton are excellent. The Nats should win a lot of games this year. LC

We need a new curse: the Nationals fit the bill. Since 2012, three playoff runs have brought zero series victories: thats what you get for running off with the Montreal Expos, and thats what Bryce Harper gets for saying that he wants to win for Montreal, a statement that is truly bananas. However, that doesnt mean they cant win the division. DL

A return to form for Bryce Harper, baseballs best one-two starters in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and a full season of 23-year-old breakout star Trea Turner will have the Nationals pulling in the Mets on a rope. BAG

Nationals. Didnt you hear that this is Washingtons year?! In baseball. (And hockey, as always. And also now in basketball, maybe, too.) Its a tough position for the Nationals to be in: even if they come out on top of the division after a 162-game slog, few will care unless they finally do some damage in the postseason. DG

NL Central winners

Chicago. Like we were going to say anyone else? Yes, there are some questions: Wade Davis is not a certainty as a closer, Jason Heyward might never be Jason Heyward again, the bottom of the rotation could be injury-prone. But still, the Cubs are very, very good, and will hold off a decent charge from the Cardinals, who quietly have one of the leagues better rotations. LC

Its hard to imagine the Cardinals being pushed out of first place again, but its a new world: the Cubs own it. True, they no longer own Dexter Fowler, who stirred a very important straw in the Cubs drink last season, or Aroldis Chapman. Regardless, Chicago are completely stacked, and should have more than enough. DL

Anthony Rizzo is 27, Kris Bryant is 25, Javier Baez is 24 and Addison Russell is 23. The Cubs were no one-hit wonders. BAG

The Cubs are the best team in baseball, and young, and the two teams closest to them in the division, the Pirates and Cardinals, didnt make any significant upgrades in the offseason. The division is over already. The rest of the teams are just playing for a wildcard spot and to get some fresh air. DG

NL West winners

Los Angeles. The Dodgers depth is so good that their top young pitcher, Julio Urias, wont even start on the big-league roster. Even with questions about parts of their rotation, a declining Adrian Gonzalez and the perplexing Yasiel Puig, LA has enough gifted young players to step into any situation and not miss a beat. LC

Can Dodgers fans adjust to life without Vin Scully? A World Series appearance would help: a division title? Less so. They have plenty of those, four straight. The Giants will give them a run for their money as usual, and San Francisco may still make the playoffs with a deep rotation. LA must make it to the Fall Classic to call the season a success. DL

Clayton
Clayton Kershaw winds it up. Photograph: Jake Roth/USA Today Sports

The Dodgers were dogged by injury throughout last season but still managed to win the division and come within two wins of the clubs first pennant since 1988. If they can stay even remotely healthy, a return trip to the postseason should be a breeze. BAG

The Dodgers rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Hyun-jin Ryu give LA a great shot to win every game out. The lineup, bullpen and bench isnt too bad, either. It turns out you can field a pretty good baseball team for $230m. DG

AL wildcards

Boston and Texas. Even if the Red Sox rotation does not hold up as everyone might hope, Boston has such a good lineup there is no way they will miss the postseason. The same with the Rangers, who should score enough runs to make it to October even if Seattle steals the division. The Yankees are intriguing but probably dont have enough starting pitching. LC

At this point we have to believe the Orioles stacked offense and a capable bullpen is their formula to reach the postseason again. If Houston tame Texas, theyll presumably have enough to reach the post-season for the sixth time in eight seasons. DL

Seattle and Detroit. The Mariners audacious offseason will benefit from a respectable start and deadline-deal boost, while the Tigers will get one more crack at the big prize with Cabrera and Verlander at the core. BAG

Tigers and Blue Jays. Toronto suffered a big loss when Edwin Encarnacion went to Cleveland, but their offense can still score more than to support a strong, but underrated rotation. And while the Tigers have seen the Indians race past them in the Central, the window for Detroit to win during Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlanders primes is still slightly cracked open. DG

NL wildcards

San Francisco and St Louis. Both these teams will have offensive droughts especially the Giants but they both have tremendous, deep rotations that will keep them in contention the entire season. Pittsburgh might make a run at the postseason as could a resurgent Atlanta, though neither have enough pitching depth to rise into a wildcard spot. The Mets could sneak into this spot but a lot has to go right with their pitchers health-wise. LC

That would be the Mets, who will lose out on the last day of the regular season to the Giants. This time, however, theyll face Pittsburgh in the winner-take-all-playoff game, who will continue to see their postseason crushed by another ace: this time, Noah Syndergaard. DL

Two of the National Leagues winningest clubs, both in recent years and in the long haul, have deep, experienced pitching staffs built for the regular-season marathon. One will progress into the proper tournament and no one will be surprised if they make noise once in. BAG

Mets and Pirates. The Mets could very well win the NL East, and their rotation gives them a huge advantage in a playoff series. The Pirates cant realistically win their division, but their outfield of Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen should allow them to win a lot of games. DG

ALCS result

Cleveland over Toronto. Heres where Miller will be so critical and Clevelands ability to manufacture runs will be key. LC

Toronto 4-3 Cleveland. DL

Red Sox over Indians, four games to two. BAG

Indians over Red Sox, 4-3. DG

NLCS result

Los Angeles over Chicago. Last year the Dodgers came within two games of beating the Cubs to get to the World Series. That seemed to be about as good as they were. This time they will be a little better. LC

New York 4-2 Chicago. DL

Dodgers over Nationals, four games to one. BAG

Cubs over Dodgers, 4-2. DG

World Series winners

Cleveland. Sixty-eight years is long enough. The Indians came ever so close last October. They should be even better this time. LC

The Blue Jays are able to make up for a weak Canadian dollar by an extended playoff run that includes defeating the New York Mets in seven dramatic games. DL

Kershaw will make the difference as the Dodgers outlast the Red Sox in seven thrilling games between baseballs two deepest clubs. BAG

A year ago the safe bet was to say the Cubs would never win a World Series. Now it feels like taking the Cubs over the field is the way to go. DG

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/mar/31/mlb-new-season-predictions-chicago-cubs

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