Carney: Cubs over Astros for second straight title |

Carney: Cubs over Astros for second straight title

With the start of the 2017 Major League Baseball regular season just one day away, I honestly can’t contain my excitement much more. Anyone that knows me knows how much of a passion I have for the game of baseball and just how much of a “fan” I become during the summer months when baseball is the only thing worth watching.

You can find me most days in the summer with MLB.TV playing on my laptop, or listening to game broadcasts through my MLB At Bat app on my phone.

But despite being my favorite sport to follow, getting this close to the regular season is one of my least favorite times of the year because that means it’s time to make predictions on division winners, wild cards, MVPs, Cy Young winners and the World Series champion.

While in theory trying to predict winners is fun, more often than not in this business you end up wrong — way wrong. Take for example, my Panthers over Broncos prediction last spring, or my Arizona Wildcats pick for March Madness just a few short weeks ago. But hey, I wouldn’t really have it any other way because I get to cover and watch sports for a living, even if I end up wrong 9 times out of 10 when it comes to predicting things.

So, with that said, here we go on my 2017 MLB predictions:

We’ll start off in the American League, because I think it’s much more clear who the top dogs in the AL are compared to the National League.

In the AL West I have the Houston Astros emerging as the division winner on the strengths of arguably the league’s best offense and on a resurgent year from the starting staff, not to mention a deep bullpen with a ton of swing-and-miss guys. Along with the Astros, I have the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners coming out of the AL West to earn a Wild Card berth.

Texas has a terrific offense as well and a great 1-2 punch at starting pitcher with Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, while the Seattle Mariners have a deep rotation and a lineup that happens to be overlooked right now, considering some of the other offenses in the division.

On top of that, I have Houston second baseman Jose Altuve — one of my favorite players to watch in today’s game … all 5’7” of him — winning the AL MVP over Angels’ superstar Mike Trout.

In the AL Central, it’s pretty clear to me that it’s the Cleveland Indians — last year’s runner-up to the Chicago Cubs in an epic seven-game World Series — high atop the division and then a considerable gap between the rest of the clubs. Cleveland lost only Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis from last year’s pennant-winning club while adding the likes of Edwin Encarnacion in free agency and a healthy Michael Brantley back into the mix in the outfield.

The starting staff is just as deep as last year and the bullpen looks like a monster with Andrew Miller still in the mix coming off of a great postseason run out of the pen.

In the AL East, I originally had the Boston Red Sox as a lock to win the division after an offseason in which they traded for Chris Sale in a deal with the White Sox, but the subsequent injuries to fellow starters David Price and Drew Pomeranz, plus the retirement of David Ortiz has me very skeptical about the Red Sox even being a playoff team this year.

All of that leads to me picking the Toronto Blue Jays winning the division thanks to arguably the best starting staff in the AL with Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano and JA Happ, and one of the best offenses in baseball, highlighted by Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales and Troy Tulowitzki. I just think the Blue Jays have too much of everything not to be the best team in the division at the end of the season.

So to recap: In the AL I have the Astros, Indians and Blue Jays winning their divisions with the Rangers and Mariners earning Wild Card spots. To reach the World Series, I have the Astros topping the Indians for the AL pennant.

As far as a Cy Young winner goes in the AL, I’m going with Cleveland’s Corey Kluber to win it for the second time in four seasons.

Over in the NL, I have the San Francisco Giants winning the NL West due to great starting pitching from Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, a fixed bullpen with the signing of closer Mark Melancon and a steady offense that always seems to get a lot of production out of guys that you least expect. Looking at you, Jarrett Parker.

I wanted to pick the Los Angeles Dodgers here because of Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager and Justin Turner, but I have serious concerns about the starting staff behind Kershaw and an overtaxed bullpen coming off the most usage in baseball over the last two seasons.

However, I do have the Dodgers earning a Wild Card berth, along with the Colorado Rockies.

Yes, you read that right. This is the year the likes of Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzales, Trevor Story, Jon Gray and the Rockies reach the postseason, even if it is a one-game playoff.

Get excited Rockies fans!

In the NL Central, it’s pretty clear that the Cubs are the best team in baseball, and very well should be for the next 4-5 years. That team is absolutely stacked that it almost doesn’t seem fair. But that’s what happens when Theo Epstein, the world’s greatest leader per Forbes Magazine, is in charge of a club.

But seriously, there’s nobody close to the Cubs in the Central. The Cardinals should be much better than last year, but that’s not getting close to the Cubs, and my beloved Pirates, well, they will likely miss the playoffs for the second straight year after probably trading Andrew McCutchen this summer. Sigh.

Anyway, it’s clearly the Cubs. Find me someone who thinks it won’t be the Cubs in that division and I’ll show you a mad man.

In the NL East, I’m going with the Washington Nationals, who are just a notch below the Cubs when it comes to accumulated talent in one club.

Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg … it’s just not fair. If anyone is going to challenge the Cubs for the NL pennant this year, it’s the Nationals.

I also have Harper winning the NL MVP this season, having a year for the ages after struggling so much last season.

So to recap: In the NL I have the Giants, Cubs and Nationals as division winners with the Dodgers and Rockies earning Wild Card spots. To reach the World Series to play the Astros, I have the Cubs beating the Nationals.

As far as a Cy Young winner goes, I’m rolling with a healthy Clayton Kershaw, who happens to be the game’s best pitcher by miles.

In the fall classic, I feel that we’re set for another amazing seven-game series, and for the second straight year I have the Cubs — possibly America’s team at this point — winning the whole darn thing again.

Wouldn’t that be something? Two straight titles after going 108 years without winning one.

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