2017 NFL Mock Draft

NFL-draft.jpg

Alright- before showing the best picks for each team in the first round, I must make a quick disclaimer: these picks are what should happen… not what will happen. I’ve taken into account the teams’ most relevant needs and which players can best fulfill those needs. Some teams’ won’t prioritize correctly, or more likely, will overvalue certain prospects. That said, let’s take a look at what should happen this Thursday.

1      Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett, DE Texas A&M

The Browns have needs across the board, but before considering a potential signal-caller, they’ve been desperate to find a prolific pass-rusher. Garrett has proven he has big-play ability, and his 6’5″ 272-pound frame is very hard to stop. He is strong and elusive with all the talent needed to succeed in the NFL.

2      San Francisco 49ers – Soloman Thomas, DT Stanford

The 49ers are in a similar boat as the Browns. Finishing just 1 game above the league’s worst team, they need help. I’d start with improving on the NFL’s worst run defense. The enormous Thomas can do just that. A big presence inside, he can plug gaps or even force the QB to scramble if he waits too long in the pocket. A matchup nightmare, Thomas could make waves in the NFL sooner rather than later.

3      Chicago Bears – Jamal Adams, S LSU

Speaking off poor run defense, the Bears have struggled for years with their lackluster secondary. Jamal Adams possesses extraordinary vision and can fast become a staple of Chicago’s defense. His soft hands and incredible instincts add up to a deadly combination for the Bears’ opponents.

4      Jacksonville Jaguars – Jonathan Allen, DE Alabama

This is tricky because the Jaguars have such a glaring need on defense, but QB Blake Bortles needs help in the backfield. Even though RB Leonard Fournette is on the board, I still think Allen is simply too athletic to pass up. Allen provides a daunting edge rush and his quick hands accumulated 4 turnovers in his last season with the Tide. It’ll be interesting to see how he matches up against the bigger offensive linemen, but excelling like he has in the SEC is as good as it gets.

5      Tennessee Titans – Marshon Lattimore, CB Ohio State

The Titans need receivers and solid defenders to match those receivers. With such a deep secondary class, Tennessee would be foolish to pass on the best cornerback in the draft. Lattimore is a natural-born leader with an excellent man-to-man resume as a Buckeye. With so much wide receiver depth throughout the AFC South, Lattimore’s talents will be quickly utilized to help the Titans make a playoff push in 2017.

6      New York Jets – Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson

I’ll tell you right now that this won’t happen… and that’s too bad. Watson is a gifted quarterback with precision passing and admirable size. I think he is the next Cam Newton and any team with a QB need will be sorry if they let him go. The Jets desperately need a quarterback of the future, as they have failed for the last decade to find a firm passer to lead their offense. No one is better than the reigning national champion Deshaun Watson.

7      Los Angeles Chargers – Malik Hooker, S Ohio State

With one of the best offenses in the AFC, the Chargers need help on defense. Hooker was a ball hawk in his one season as a starter at OSU, hauling in 7 interceptions for 3 touchdowns. While this looks great on paper, his inexperience makes him a very high-risk pick. However, I’m sure the Chargers loved their last 1st round pick in Joey Bosa. The former Buckeye went on to win DROY honors, and L.A. can hope Hooker does the same this year.

8      Carolina Panthers – Leonard Fournette, RB LSU

After an incredibly disappointing 2016 campaign, Carolina will try to bounce back in 2017. The Panthers would be delighted to see an exceptional talent in Fournette still on the board. As Jonathan Stewart struggled through injuries last year, Fournette could do more than compete for the starting job. With the potential to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, Newton and Fournette could be an exciting duo that take Carolina back to the top of the NFC South.

9      Cincinnati Bengals – Reuben Foster, ILB Alabama

This pick is tough because of the controversy surrounding Foster’s diluted sample at the NFL Combine. With the off-the-field issues becoming a problem, his draft stock could plummet. However, I’m going to take a chance and say that the Bengals throw him a bone due to their aging defense. A bright young linebacker is just what they need. Besides, with Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones and Vontaze Burfict’s character issues, Foster could fit right in.

10      Buffalo Bills – Forrest Lamp, OG Western Kentucky

The Bills need to improve in their secondary. With the top 3 prospects off the board, their best option is Gareon Conley. However, with the alleged rape allegations against him dropping his stock even further, the Bills can settle for an enormous pass-blocker. Lamp will be a Day 1 starter for this offensive line and allow the Bills to seek defensive help in rounds 2 and 3.

11      New Orleans Saints – Mike Williams, WR Clemson

With a real need at defense, I chose Williams to replace Brandin Cooks at receiver following the trade with the New England Patriots in the offseason. With so many defensive backs taken, I would expect the Saints to press their luck on the defense and give Drew Brees another speedy option to throw to. With this pick, Williams and Michael Thomas could be one of the best receiving duos in the country in 4 or 5 years.

12      Cleveland Browns – Mitchell Trubisky, QB North Carolina

Many think Trubisky will be the first QB off the board with this pick, but I have the Jets claiming a more talented Watson with pick 6. Regardless, the Browns desperately need a quarterback that can lead Cleveland out of the huge hole they’ve created. It’ll be a long process, and Trubisky is a young, unproven prospect. But look for the Browns to roll the dice on the strong dual-threat quarterback.

13      Arizona Cardinals – Haason Reddick, ILB Temple

Here is where we transition from rebuilding to playoff contention. The Cardinals have a lot of weapons with a 37-year-old quarterback. If either Watson or Trubisky is still available, I expect Arizona to pick them up here. If not, Reddick is an underrated utility man that can plug gaps and become a long-term solution for a stout defense. Reddick has an innate ability to disrupt plays with a pass rush as well as drop back in zone. With the linebacker position covered, the Cardinals can look for Carson Palmer’s backup and more receiving options in later rounds.

14      Philadelphia Eagles – Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford

McCaffrey is a perfect fit for Philadelphia. He has the size of Lesean McCoy and the quickness of Darren Sproles. The Eagles love a pass-catching back, and McCaffrey has shown his versatility time and time again at Stanford. A proven winner, the Eagles can’t go wrong with this man on their roster.

15      Indianapolis Colts – Derek Barnett, DE Tennessee

The Colts have said they’re looking to improve in the trenches, so the next best defensive end is Barnett. That’s not a knock on him either; he’s a talent edge-rusher with great snap anticipation that can improve a below-par pass defense for the Colts. His size and athleticism will set him apart in this draft class. Plus, you gotta love SEC experience.

16      Baltimore Ravens – O.J. Howard, TE Alabama

An unconventional TE, Howard is a strong receiver with great hands who can hold his own on the block too. While the Ravens continue to age and trend in the wrong direction, Howard could hopefully be a viable option for Joe Flacco for years to come. Anything can happen in the Baltimore green room, and Howard is a safe pick with eyes toward the future.

17      Washington Redskins – Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State

With the carousel of running backs going around in Washington, what could be better than adding a national champion with unstoppable juke moves and quickness? Cook is known for his vision and acceleration and can do amazing things in open space. He’s a perfect fit for the Redskins’ spread offense and this pick lets the management focus on defense for the remainder of the draft. Perhaps they could even trade their soon-to-be backup running backs for better picks.

18      Tennessee Titans – Corey Davis, WR Western Michigan

Let’s hope they don’t go with John Ross. Yeah, I know he broke the combine record and whatever. Had you heard of him before that? No, of course not. Instead, go with a perennial top WR pick with Davis and solve the issue of not having a true #1 receiver. Marcus Mariota and Davis could be an exciting tandem that can work together throughout their illustrious careers.

19      Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Takkarist McKinley, DE UCLA

McKinley is a fiery kid with explosive snap anticipation. He uses his wide frame to his advantage and has a never-quit attitude. As long as he doesn’t run himself out of gas, his ability to disrupt the pocket and stop the run could be monumental for the Tampa Bay defense.

20      Denver Broncos – Cam Robinson, OT Alabama

Robinson is a powerful run-blocker that is everything the Broncos need. Denver loves size and heart, and Robinson has plenty of both. As the John Outland Trophy winner for best interior lineman, expect Robinson to fill a much needed role in the trenches for the Broncos as they try to get back in the postseason.

21      Detroit Lions – Charles Harris, OLB Missouri

With so many needs at the defensive end of the ball, Harris can solve a lot of problems. He can play anywhere on the line, or lay back as a linebacker. His size and quickness coupled with outstanding IQ will be a valuable asset to the Lions’ crippled run defense. If Detroit wants to make waves in the postseason, expect a few of their top picks to help out their defense.

22      Miami Dolphins – Jarrad Davis, ILB Florida

The Dolphins’ run defense ranked 30th last year, and though they were able to acquire Lawrence Timmons, the addition of Davis makes for scary opposition for the competing backs. Not only can Davis stop the run, he has great hands and can run man-to-man with slot receivers to shut down passing attacks as well. Davis will feel right at home if he stays in Florida.

23      New York Giants – Ryan Ramczyk, OT Wisconsin

The Giants couldn’t dream of a better pick. With a huge need for a left tackle, why not a huge Ramczyk to protect Eli Manning’s blindside? A veteran at the position, Ramczyk excelled for Wisconsin in his senior season and his skills should translate well to the next level. His strong arms and quick feet will make it incredibly difficult for defensive ends to get to Manning. And we all know what Manning can do when given so much time in the pocket…

24      Oakland Raiders – Marlon Humphrey, CB Alabama

What better way to sure up a porous secondary than with the 5th Alabama player taken in the first round? With so much press coverage for Bama’s big men, Humphrey has flown under the radar as a ball-hawking corner. His speed will match up with the best receivers and it’ll be hard for QBs to thread the needle through his lightning-quick hands. Another perfect pick that Oakland needs to take advantage of.

25      Houston Texans – Patrick Mahomes, QB Texas Tech

Patrick Mahomes. The hometown kid. After a tumultuous offseason in which they let Brock Osweiler go, the Texans need a new man to lead their offense. No one would know Mahomes better than a Texas team with a QB need. Voila. Here’s to hoping Mahomes is ready to step up and compete for the starting job, but being thrown into the fire too early could be detrimental to the organization.

26      Seattle Seahawks – Garett Bolles, OT Utah

Seattle needs help on the offensive line. Period. They should take the best one available. Bolles has great footwork and can move laterally to stop the quickest of pass-rushers. Giving Russell Wilson time to throw to his many targets will improve an already impressive attack. Hopefully, the extra few seconds will also give running back Thomas Rawls enough time to break free more often.

27      Kansas City Chiefs – Kevin King, CB Washington

More defensive help on the way! The insanely fat King came out of nowhere last year to show what he’s capable of. Leading the Huskies to their first College Football Playoff proves he knows how to win. If the Chiefs want nothing more than a solid CB to match up with the fast WRs of the AFC West, look no further than Kevin King.

28      Dallas Cowboys – Tre’Davious White, CB LSU

Another corner goes to Dallas. After losing a multitude of defensive backs in free agency, White’s leadership could fit in nicely. He has the speed to go one-on-one with the best of the NFC East, as well as can learn from a Super Bowl contending team. There’s a lot of pressure to win in Dallas, but so is there at LSU. White will be ready to handle the attention that comes with donning that blue star.

29      Green Bay Packers – Adoree’ Jackson, CB USC

After a horrendous year at cornerback, Green Bay will very likely target the best available at this point in the draft. Jackson has been a highly-touted prospect since high school, and America should be excited to see what he can bring to the NFL. The Packers can look forward to his tight man-to-man defense, and picks-a-plenty.

30      Pittsburgh Steelers – John Ross, WR Washington

I know, I know. I said Ross is overrated. Well, the Steelers still need more receiver threats. If anyone can go out and catch the deep ball, it’s this man. If nothing else, his speed can spread the defense and free up space for Antonio Brown and company. With Martavius Bryant still indefinitely suspended, the Steelers would be wise to firm up their most prized position. Later, look for them to draft a quality backup for Roethlisberger.

31      Atlanta Falcons – Taco Charlton, DE Michigan

If there’s anything the Super Bowl taught Atlanta, it’s that they need more pass-rushers. Enter Taco Charlton. One of the most prolific defensive ends in the Big Ten, Charlton can make an immediate impact on the line for Atlanta. With the extra threat to help keep opposing quarterbacks at bay, the Falcons can make another run at their first title.

32      New Orleans Saints – Quincy Wilson, CB Florida

Finally, the 6th and final CB selected in the first round goes to the Saints. After selecting a talented receiver with their first pick, a quality corner can help their struggling pass defense. Look for them to build on this in later rounds as they try to find ways to solve the offensive firepower of the NFC South.

Other Players to Watch:

Malik McDowell, DT Michigan State

Zach Cunningham, ILB Vanderbilt

David Njoku, TE Miami

T.J. Watt, OLB Wisconsin

Budda Baker, S Washington

Jourdan Lewis, CB Michigan

Deshone Kizer, QB Notre Dame

Gareon Conley, CB Ohio State

Alvin Kamara, RB Tennessee

Evan Engram, TE Ole Miss

 

Advertisements

2017 NBA Playoffs Predictions – Round 1

2017-04-136-15-35.jpgThe bracket is set, and the road to the Larry O’Brien Trophy begins this weekend. There’s a lot to watch for, as the defending champs look to retain their crown, while the runner-ups try to avenge their infamous 3-1 blown lead. Meanwhile, resurgent teams will attempt to shake things up. Let’s take a look at how the first round will go down.

Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Portland Trailblazers (8)miozr6.jpg

The Trailblazers’ reward for outlasting the Denver Nuggets for the last playoff spot is a date with the 2-time defending Western Conference champions. This Warriors team is, of course, a little different from years past. Kevin Durant has made a huge impact this season, and although he was recently sidelined with a knee injury, he has returned to the lineup just in time for the playoffs. The Blazers feature a 3-point barrage of talented point guard Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Allen Crabbe. However, expect Golden State’s sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to match them shot-for-shot.

Prediction: The only question is whether or not Portland can win a game at home. I’ll say yes- Warriors cruise in 5.

Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)9644226-nba-utah-jazz-at-los-angeles-clippers-850x560.jpeg

The Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers finished with identical 51-31 records, but the Clippers were able to snag home court by winning the season series 3-1. That might be very appropriate for how this series will go. Both also have identical 29-12 home records, among the best in the NBA. With both teams suffering playoffs droughts (Jazz haven’t won a playoff game since 2010; Chris Paul is about to have the NBA record for most playoff games without appearing in the Conference Finals), it’s going to be a question of who wants it more. At the end of the day, it’s L.A.’s veteran shortcomings vs. Utah’s youth and inexperience.

Prediction: A hard-fought series goes the distance, just like these teams’ regular season battle – Jazz wins Game 7 in OT.

Houston Rockets (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)russell-westbrook-james-harden-960.jpg

If you only have time to watch one series, make it this one. The two best players of the 2017 season are going head-to-head on and off the court. All season experts have weighed in on whether the Rockets’ James Harden or the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook should be MVP. Now, the two will have a chance to go 1-on-1 in a grudge match after the votes have been cast. Westbrook is a machine, breaking the great Oscar Robertson’s once unbreakable 41 triple-doubles in a season record by 1. Without Durant in OKC, he has really shined as a premier player and the focal point of the Thunder. But Harden’s supporting cast as boosted Houston to get 8 more wins and home court advantage.

Prediction: An incredible back-and-forth series ends in game 6, Rockets advance.

MVP Prediction: PLEASE give it to Russell Westbrook. Not even a debate in my mind… just saying.

San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)nba_g_spurs_grizzlies2_mb_576_413727864.jpg

The Grizzlies have made an impressive 6-straight playoff appearances, but the Spurs have only missed the playoffs once since 1989. I’m not sure anyone can comprehend how incredible that is. Even Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls “only” made the playoffs 14 times in a row and, at best, 20 appearances in any 27-year span. So, it’s fair to say this isn’t coach Gregg Popovich’s first time around the block. With Tim Duncan retiring, Kawhi Leonard has stepped up and had an incredible year. He does it all and never stops hustling from the opening layup to the clutch buzzer-beaters. Mike Conley Jr. will have a big series, but the Grizzlies will have their hands full with this tough opening draw.

Prediction: Get your brooms ready, Spurs easily sweep past the Grizzlies in 4.

Boston Celtics (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)8987159-jimmy-butler-isaiah-thomas-nba-chicago-bulls-boston-celtics.jpg

This matchup of all-time great franchises will exceed expectations. Jimmy Butler’s Bulls are far more talented than their record implies, and they have serious upset potential. Also, the Eastern Conference has been much more evenly competitive than the West this year, and this series will prove it. Skillful 5’9″ point guard Isiah Thomas led Boston to a surprise run at the #1 seed, but they face a very tough matchup with Chicago. Butler and Thomas are both incredible athletes that make their teams better. The game will be won when the Celtics have the ball. Boston can score in bunches and have shown excellent ball movement through Thomas, but Chicago’s claim to fame has always been scrappy defense and getting rebounds.

Prediction: After splitting the season series, Boston wins the tiebreaker in game 7.

Washington Wizards (4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)USATSI_8366858.jpg

What seemed to be an epic collapse by the Hawks turned into a solid rebound as they clinched the 5 seed by winning 4 of the last 5 games. Meanwhile the Wizards have held steady as the 4th best team all year. Streaky vs. Consistency. In the long run, you’ll always pick the consistent back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Two pure athletes, they average 23 PPG a piece, and Wall averages over 10 assists per game as well. It’s a true asset to know exactly what you’ll get from D.C. every night. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s front court of Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard have been dominant in the paint. But when either has an off night, it affects the entire team.

Prediction: Wizards make quick work of Atlanta, advance in 5.

Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6) raptors-bucks.jpg

Giannis Antetokounmpo has had a phenomenal campaign for Milwaukee. Definitely the MVP of the Bucks, he’ll surely settle for the league’s Most Improved Player. That said, the red-hot Raptors are going to be hard to stop. They’re 12-2 since March 17, and have won 4 straight coming into the postseason, including a rout over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. The tandem of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan light up the stat sheet and can overpower anyone. With Antetokounmpo controlling just about every aspect of the Bucks, it could be relatively easy to shut him down.

Prediction: Bucks play well and force the Raptors to play hard, but Toronto still sweeps.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)dm_170402_nba_cavs_pacers.jpg

The Cavaliers are firmly at the center of the NBA’s attention. Lebron James and the Cavs look to make their 3rd straight Finals appearance (James’s 7th!), while the Pacers try to derail Cleveland’s hopes of a repeat. Don’t count on any funny business. Although Cleveland limps into the postseason the losers of 4 straight, they know how to win when it matters most. The Cavaliers have simply too much talent from top to bottom to be ousted this early by Paul George and company. I wouldn’t worry yet if I were a Cleveland fan, but the Conference Semifinals could prove to be a challenge if they don’t gather enough momentum with this dream matchup.

Predictions: Cavaliers overcome early deficits and prevail in 5.

2017 MLB Predictions

ny_g_yankee_stadium_d1_576.jpg

With a few games underway this season, it’s as good a time as any to post my predictions for the 2017 season. If you haven’t already, feel free to check out my in-depth previews of every MLB team by clicking on the division listed below. Let me know what you think about my prediction for your favorite team! Without further ado, let’s take a look at what will happen this summer.

x- clinched Wild Card                                                                               y- clinched Division                                                                                 z- clinched Conference

AL East Preview 2017

  1. y- Boston Red Sox
  2. x- Baltimore Orioles
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. Tampa Bay Rays

AL Central Preview 2017

  1. z- Cleveland Indians
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Minnesota Twins
  5. Chicago White Sox

AL West Preview 2017

  1. y- Houston Astros
  2. x- Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland Athletics

NL East Preview 2017

  1. y- Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Philadelphia Phillies
  4. Miami Marlins
  5. Atlanta Braves

NL Central Preview 2017

  1. z- Chicago Cubs
  2. x- St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Cincinnati Reds
  5. Milwaukee Brewers

NL West Preview 2017

  1. y- Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. x- San Francisco Giants
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. Colorado Rockies
  5. San Diego Padres

Playoffs:

AL Wild Card – Orioles at Rangers

The Orioles’ bats outlast Texas pitching, survive and advance.

NL Wild Card – Giants at Cardinals

Madison Bumgarner is too much once again, Giants move on.

AL Division Series

Orioles vs. Indians – Baltimore’s great run ends at the hands of Francona’s dominant rotation, Indians in 4.

Astros vs. Red Sox – In a high scoring 5 game series, Red Sox prevail in Fenway.

NL Division Series

Giants vs. Cubs – In this NLDS rematch, the Cubs fight off Cueto in game 1, lose to Bumgarner in game 3, but have enough to clinch the series on the road in game 4.

Dodgers vs. Nationals – And in this rematch, the Nationals finally pull through and win a hard-fought game 5.

AL Conference Series – Red Sox vs. Indians

In a series I’m already looking forward to, the Red Sox get back to the World Series behind Chris Sale and some clutch rookie performances in 6 games.

NL Conference Series – Nationals vs. Cubs

The Nationals’ dream ends short, Cubs sweep to try to repeat as champions.

World Series Prediction: Red Sox beat Cubs in 6 games.

NL West Preview 2017

NLwest1280_bkcvx8w5_yh8ttjfi.jpg

The NL West was simply outmatched in 2016. With the weird San Francisco Giants’ “even-year streak” finally broken, it appears as though West was caught in a bit of a dry spell. By that I mean there is a huge gap between the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, and the rest of the division. The Arizona Diamondbacks suffered without AJ Pollock and the Colorado Rockies could never keep opponents from scoring. Meanwhile the San Diego Padres was in a serious funk all around. Let’s take a look at who I believe will shake up the NL West picture…

 

San Diego Padres (2016: 68-94, 5th Place)wil-myers-mlb-san-diego-padres-arizona-diamondbacks2-850x560.jpg

Lineup: After a dismal 2016 in which one setback snowballed into another and another, the Padres fired president Mike Dee. Embroiled in controversy due to withholding medical information during the Drew Pomeranz trade, along with other questionable decisions, San Diego had to let him go before his contract expired. The Padres desperately need a change of pace as they’ve only finished in the top 2 in the division once since winning it way back in 2006. With a complete overhaul of both the roster and the front office in the works, no one can be sure of what to expect in San Diego. I will say that signing Wil Myers to a long-term deal was an excellent move. After an explosive season in which he was quietly one of the best first basemen in the NL, he has positioned himself to be an All-star for many years to come. However, he may have a big load of run support on his shoulders. Surrounded by relative unknowns on the roster besides mediocre infielders Yangervis Solarte and Erick Aybar, it’s going to be nearly impossible to gain any kind of momentum barring some serious breakout seasons by the younger players.

Pitching: After the loss of Tyson Ross to injury for what seemed to be for just a couple of starts but turned out to be season-ending, San Diego was behind the 8-ball from the start. Once Pomeranz inexplicably posted one of the best ERAs in the league throughout the first half of the season, the Padres sold him at a high price to the Red Sox in exchange for some younger talent. Upon releasing Ross over the offseason, it’s apparent that the Padres are ready for a fresh start. With the loss of their two best pitchers, San Diego is left with Jhoulys Chacin and Jered Weaver as their top gunners. This is troublesome because Chacin has only posted a winning record during 1 of his 8 seasons in the MLB. The story with Weaver is that back when he was a Cy Young candidate in 2012, his claim to fame was the strikeout. Now, his S09 has dipped sharply and he must rely on getting hitters to make contact on poor pitches. In other words, because he can’t get strikeouts, he pitches to contact and lets his fielders do the work.  With a completely new dynamic, it’ll be very difficult to pitch as well as he did 5 years ago.

2017 Goals: Like I said, the Padres just want a fresh start. They don’t need to shoot for the moon, but gaining valuable experience for the rookies and experimenting with different lineups can set a foundation for their future. They’re a long way off, but you have to start somewhere.

My Expectations: Already tied for the second worst record in the MLB last year, things probably won’t get much better. The good news is that they’re in the same boat as a number of other teams, but the bad news is that they literally don’t have a president as the season gets underway. No other team has as much uncertainty on and off the field as the Padres. Until they get that mess sorted out, San Diego won’t be going anywhere.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks (2016: 69-93, 4th Place)2a7adde3bc05db78d33d86004f56e904.jpg

Lineup: Bold prediction of 2017? The Dbacks will make the playoffs… and here’s why. They’re loaded at the top of the order with the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, and AJ Pollock. Arizona had plans last year to utilize these men to take control of the heart of lineup and lead them to the top. However, when Pollock broke his elbow just a game before opening day, these plans were derailed and the Diamondbacks never found their rhythm. Now, refreshed and recharged, look for them to make a huge run. It won’t be easy, as it’s a competitive league and teams like the Cardinals and Mets desperately want to be back in the postseason, but the Dbacks are a definite dark horse. With the extra year added to the grand plan, Arizona was able to strengthen Chris Owings and Yasmany Tomas to make the roster even more formidable. I know a lot of experts are sleeping on these guys, but with a new uniform and a new attitude, we might just see a new World Series contender.

Pitching: Here’s what’s going to make or break the surprise run… Zack Greinke. While in LA, the veteran was one of the best pitchers in baseball. So much so that the Diamondbacks scooped him up on a six-year deal worth $206.5 million. Unfortunately, not only did Greinke not live up to the expectations last year, he had by far the worst season of his entire career. Career highs in ERA, H9, and WHIP coupled with career lows in strikeouts and wins led to a dismal year that left Arizona looking for answers. As the sole ace on this squad, he could very well be the difference in a playoff spot or a high draft pick next June. It’s a lot of pressure, but he’s capable of handling it. Hopefully he can get accustomed to his new home in Chase Field, settle down, and get back to doing what he does best. The future of the Diamondbacks depends on it.

2017 Goals: Honestly, I don’t even think the Dbacks are worried about the postseason yet. Based on their record, it appears they’re very far off. That is not so, as they have a talented roster that rivals those of the Toronto Blue Jays or Texas Rangers. All of these teams have a talented heart, little support, and a couple of great pitchers. As the Dbacks already fit the playoff formula, they just need some wins.

My Expectations: While my bold prediction is that Arizona will be in the playoffs, I still wouldn’t bet on it. Greinke’s 2016 season was too scary to bank on a return to form. But like I said, the talent is there, and they’re capable of making a run, I’m just not sure they’re ready to surpass the Cardinals, Mets or even their own division. But if they do make the playoffs- you heard it here first.

 

Colorado Rockies (2016: 75-87, 3rd Place)maxresdefault.jpg

Lineup: This is another team with a top-heavy roster. In this case, you look at bombers Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, and Trevor Story. While Arenado and Gonzalez have been Rockies greats who have taken advantage of the mile-high atmosphere for a few years, the organization stumbled upon rookie sensation Story last year. He lead all rookies in home runs, and placed in the top 3 in OPS, SLG, and runs. With the surprising production, Colorado exceeded all expectations last year and looks to build off that momentum. With speedster Charlie Blackmon leading off, they bring a little more balance to the roster than other top-heavy teams, and ironically that could be their downfall. While Arenado and Gonzalez are well-known superstars, the rest cannot be relied on in clutch situations as much. It’s a great thing to have balance, but when the team formula is set up for a core of strength, it can be a little dysfunctional. Nonetheless, this is an above average lineup…

Pitching: … with a well below average pitching staff. “Ace” Jon Gray starts first of the mediocre pack. Behind him in the rotation is Tyler Anderson, Tyler Chatwood, and a couple of no-namers. This is especially worrisome due to the fact that the ball flies in Coors Field like no other place in America. While this is an advantage for the Colorado hitting, it’s an extreme disadvantage for the subpar pitching staff. It’s even harder to gain confidence when you’re being rocked in your own ballpark, let alone hope to gain some momentum as the season wears on. Luckily, the Rockies were able to pick up World Series champion and two-time All-star Greg Holland during the offseason. With proven reliever Adam Ottavino setting him up, it’s nice to have stability in the bullpen. However, Holland is a bit shaky after an injury-riddled 2015 season, and a subsequent absence in 2016. Manager Bud Black is said to have him on a short leash to start the season, so even if Ottavino takes over, the Rockies should be in good shape for the 8th and 9th innings at least.

2017 Goals: Like so many other teams, the Rockies are stuck in the middle. Oddly, they’ve been reluctant to make any moves with regard to trades. In order to move up the ladder, they’ll need big acquisitions, and in order to rebuild they’d need to sell their stars for prospects. With the front office not doing either, it’s impossible to break the streak of being average. Look for big changes one way or another before long.

My Expectations: Unless the front office does something to help their ball club, the Rockies are going to drop a bit. They simply don’t have the pitching to go with their core hitting prowess. Meanwhile, Arizona does have the support they need to make their way toward the top of the division. Colorado either needs to give their guys some help, or let them go and start over.

 

San Fransisco Giants (2016: 87-75, 2nd Place)

CmzMqbLUMAAWi9w.jpg

Lineup: After winning the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the Giants’ “odd” even-year streak was finally snapped in the NLDS. It was their first playoff series loss since 2003. In fact, in all but two seasons in the history of the MLB, they’ve either won the World Series or lost to the team that went on to claim the title. With so much postseason success, it’s strange that San Francisco is often the underdog. As such, they return with the majority of the lineup that took them to the Final Four in the NL last year. They bring a well-balanced roster that can get on base, but rarely goes deep. This is evidenced by being top 5 in OBP, but bottom 5 in SLG in the National League. Brandon Belt and Buster Posey led the team in home runs, but neither hit more than 20. Posey in particular is capable of more pop, but tends to hit on top of the ball and drive it in gaps for extra base hits instead. Other notables on the roster are Joe Panik and Jarrett Parker who are homegrown youngsters that look to make an immediate impact. The left side of the infield houses Eduardo Nuñez and Brandon Crawford, two of the most reliable gloves in baseball. The Giants have a little bit of everything, and they’re more than eligible to be contenders in the wide-open NL Wild Card race.

Pitching: Where the Giants really excel is with perhaps the best complete rotation in the entire National League besides the Chicago Cubs. As a whole, they are top 5 in the NL in ERA and quality starts, and allowed the fewest walks in the MLB. Four-time All-star and perennial Cy Young candidate Madison Bumgarner leads the stellar group. Johnny Cueto is an ace too, after he had one of the best seasons of his career since coming to San Fran. The two averaged an amazing 2.77 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. Cueto actually tallied 3 more wins than Bumgarner at the season’s end, but had him beat in strikeouts with 251 in total. Behind these league giants (get it?) are workhorses Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore, and Matt Cain. You’ll notice that there isn’t a bad name in the bunch. As for the bullpen, Santiago Casilla had a rough end to 2016, and was released over the offseason. The Giants replaced him with veteran Mark Melancon. A long-time Pittsburgh Pirate, Melancon has found success as a closer at any ballpark. San Francisco is known for having a lockdown bullpen, but after a game 4 NLDS collapse, it’s a good move to make amends and strengthen one of their biggest assets.

2017 Goals: You know the Giants have established themselves enough to be disappointed with anything besides a playoff berth. However, as previously mentioned, they have not made the postseason in an odd year since 2003. So in 2017, San Francisco will hope to break the weird trend and use their strengths to the fullest to outlast the other Wild Card contenders. Actually, the Dodgers aren’t impenetrable; they could wind up with the NL West pennant.

My Expectations: As great as the Giants are, there is something eerie about their even-year trend. There always seems to be a surplus of contenders during the odd years, and 2017 is no different. They face strong opposition within the NL West and indirectly with the Mets and Cardinals. The good news is, while the Dodgers have won the NL West four straight years, they don’t have a firm hold on the division. 2017 will play out with a wild West that will come down to game 162, and the Giants could easily come out on top.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers (2016: 91-71, 1st Place)

hi-res-183600117-starting-pitcher-clayton-kershaw-of-the-los-angeles_crop_north.jpg

Lineup: As historic and dominant as the Dodgers seem, it might be surprising that their last World Series appearance was when they won it back in 1988. I believe this is due to the fact of poor match-ups. While they have won the division each of the last four years, they haven’t earned the #1 seed in the playoffs. This forces them to play a tough NLDS team early, and if they survived that, they weren’t as rested as the better team in the NLCS. So consider it crucial for L.A. to not just when the division… but win the NL. Now, it’s a tall task to unseat the defending World Champions, but the Dodgers possess an extremely explosive lineup. Young stars like Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and rookie Andrew Toles are being groomed by veterans Adrian Gonzalez and Logan Forsythe. You’ll notice I love the balance of both age and strengths. Seager can do just about anything as captain of the infield. He rarely makes errors and seems to always make the right play with high baseball IQ. Gonzalez has been around the block a few times, but he’s hardly slowing down. If he keeps up the pace, L.A. is extremely tough to beat. That said, while Los Angeles is explosive, they’re often inconsistent and streaky. With every confident win streak comes a debilitating losing streak. It’ll be important for the Dodgers to ride the high of their success and break out of slumps before anything gets out of control.

Pitching: L.A. has perhaps the greatest pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw. His accolades stretch for miles and include 3 Cy Youngs, an NL MVP Award, and 6 All-Star appearances. Despite last year’s injury-plagued season, he was still invited to San Diego for the All Star Game, and was slated to be a starter before not being cleared to play. So, despite an already-legendary career that gets better with each game he throws, he has never started the Midsummer Classic. A bevy of young arms learn from Kershaw including Kenta Maeda and Juilo Urias. These men both have stellar careers ahead of them as long as they’re learning from one of the best to ever play the game. As for the bullpen, veteran closer Kenley Jansen has 9th inning duties. Already one of the best closers in the league, the 29-year-old has ranked in the top 10 in saves over the last 3 years. L.A. also owns Sergio Romo, the former closer of the World Champion Giants. Now, he’s a key setup man to ease the pressure of the Dodgers’ starters. With so much young talent across the board, Los Angeles is a tough series for any opponent.

2017 Goals: Without a World Series appearance since 1988, the Dodgers are more than anxious to get back. It seems that they are always the class of the National League, but falter in October. It’ll be the Dodgers’ main goal to be healthy and focused as the season ends. As such, it’s a good idea to follow through in limiting Urias early so that he’ll be ready for the big games down the stretch.

My Expectations: I don’t see the Dodgers missing the playoffs, but I do see them dropping a few wins. The NL West is probably the most improved division in baseball, and it won’t be easy for L.A. to win their 5th straight pennant. Whether or not they do, I think they’ll be a 3 or 4 seed in the playoffs… and that’s not good considering how they’ve fared in the past at those spots.