Sports Baseball

Now's the time to catch baseball fever

By Torben Rolfsen

Chicago Cubs fans celebrate outside Wrigley Field after the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in game seven of the 2016 World Series on November 2, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs 8-7 victory landed them their first World Series title since 1908. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Chicago Cubs fans celebrate outside Wrigley Field after the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in game seven of the 2016 World Series on November 2, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs 8-7 victory landed them their first World Series title since 1908. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

After a thrilling 2016 postseason that ended in the Chicago Cubs' first World Series championship since 1908, and coming off a USA World Baseball Classic title (led by tourney MVP Marcus Stroman), Major League Baseball looks poised for an even bigger 2017 campaign.

Both leagues have some iconic franchises in their prime right now, with each division (except maybe one) featuring a strong leader and a challenger or two right on their heels, which should make for great drama in the pennant races.

The sport is also currently blessed with a number of young stars taking center stage early in their careers, and it looks like there are more on the way this year and next.

In sum, now is the time to catch baseball fever. Here’s a quick look at the top of each division:

NL EAST

This is shaping up as a battle between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets.

Starts by their aces, Max Scherzer (Nats) and Noah Syndergaard (Mets) are not to be missed.

The Nationals have question marks at closer, and the Mets own closer, Jeurys Familia, is starting the season with a 15-game suspension for domestic violence.

Overall, the Nats stronger batting order, combined with durability issues with the Mets talented starting rotation, makes Washington the slight favourite.

NL CENTRAL

While questions also linger about the Cubs’ new closer, Wade Davis’s arm (two DL stints in ’16), Chicago’s rotation led the majors in ERA (2.96).

Kyle Schwarber is the real deal (OF and 3rd catcher) – and now the Cubs will add him for a full season.

Dexter Fowler helps solidify St. Louis’s up-the-middle defence, and the Cards should bounce back for a wild card spot.

NL WEST

The Los Angeles Dodgers may be the Cubs biggest threat in the N.L.  Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and super soph Corey Seager is at shortstop.

The San Francisco Giants have a nice rotation led by all-everything Madison Bumgarner, and will hope free agent signee Mark Melancon can cure their closing woes.

AL EAST

The Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays lost two of the biggest bats in the league (David Ortiz and Edwin Encarnacion, respectively).

The favoured Sox made one of the biggest offseason splashes by trading prospects for Chris Sale. They’ll need him, with David Price’s health in flux.

Jays’ closer Roberto Osuna starting the season on the 10-day DL (muscle soreness) is less than ideal. It may not be serious, but could be ominous.

The rotation is stellar, but one gets the feeling the Jays bullpen might end up driving fans nuts.

AL CENTRAL

With the addition of Encarnacion, Cleveland is loaded and may run away with this division. The Indians have super-reliever Andrew Miller, and welcome the return of Michael Brantley (injured in ’16) in the OF.

Other teams in the Central are full of holes and/or are in various stages of rebuilding.

AL WEST

The Houston Astros have a stacked, deep lineup, and a nice blend of youth sprinkled with some veterans. They should be one of the most fun teams to watch in the sport.

They will be pursued by the Mariners and Rangers. Seattle has its best squad in years, and Texas will be dangerous again, but there’s a feeling they may have peaked.