The MLB season can quickly become uninteresting if you only follow your favorite team. Sure, just watching your favorite team's games is plenty baseball enough for the casual fan, but hardcore baseball fans crave interesting baseball. Everyone's already heard about how the Rockies and the Braves are going to be "underrated this season" to the point where they're probably overrated. I've compiled a list of 3 things that I think will be interesting storylines to follow heading into this season.
The Detroit Tigers
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After a dominant 4-year stretch from 2011 to 2014 where the Tigers won four straight AL Central titles, the last two years have seen the Tigers in a downward trend. In 2015 the Tigers finished with a disastrous 74-87 record, which could be explained by the lack of health from Miguel Cabrera, who only played 119 games. The only player who completed the 2015 season with the Tigers and had a sub 4.9 ERA was Justin Verlander. 2016 was a huge improvement for the cats as they finished with an 86-75 record and finished eight games back of the AL champion Cleveland Indians. Verlander had a bounce back season and Michael Fulmer put on a fantastic rookie performance. However, the biggest reason for the lack of a playoff berth was the Tiger's abysmal 4-14 record against the Indians.
This brings us to the 2017 season where the Tigers are a dark horse team to make the playoffs. Their excellent lineup featuring Cabrera and J.D Martinez could drive them to a wild card spot if Verlander and Fulmer can continue their great pitching. The most important games of the season for the Tigers, however, will be against the Tribe. In order to win the division they cannot lose 14 games to a divisional rival.
The top of the NL East
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In the 2016 campaign, the Nationals cruised to a 95-67 record, the 2nd seed in the National League and a NL East title, beating out the Mets by eight games. The road to the top will not be as easy for the Nationals this year. The New York Mets were held back by injuries, with Neil Walker, David Wright, and Lucas Duda all playing under 110 games, with Wright and Duda only playing 37 and 47 games respectively. Their pitching staff also caught the injury bug with Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob DeGrom not making it over 150 innings pitched, despite Matz and DeGrom posting ERAs under 3.40. The loss of Bartolo Colon to the Atlanta Braves will certainly subtract from the Mets potential win total, however. Problems also reside in the Nationals bullpen, who has very little help in that category, with Shawn Kelley likely being the best option as closer. Another team that could quietly compete for a wild card spot or even a divisional title is the Atlanta Braves, who added Jaime Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Brandon Phillips, R.A Dickey and a full season of Dansby Swanson. Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp, and Ender Inciarte, along with Julio Teheran could lead to a meaningful September in Georgia.
The AL West
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The AL West was won by the 95-67 Texas Rangers last season, but their insane win percentage in close games leaves many suspicious of their actual talent. They had a quiet offseason, adding only Tyson Ross and Mike Napoli. The Rangers finished with a negative run differential and had a pythagorean W-L of 82-80. One of the biggest questions for Texas this season is if Adrian Beltre can continue producing, as he will turn 38 in April. He was worth 6.5 WAR and won a Gold Glove, but Father Time is undefeated. The loss of Ian Desmond to the Rockies will also hurt. Desmond posted 2.7 WAR last season hitting .285 with 22 HRs. Yu Darvish only pitched 100.1 innings in 2016, and he will need to stay healthy if the Rangers have playoff hopes. Prince Fielder was forced to retire due to injury midseason, and through 89 games he had hit .212 with 8 home runs and 44 RBI. A full season of Jonathan Lucroy could significantly improve the catcher position for Texas, but Lucroy's production dropped in his time with Texas. Through 95 games with the Brewers, Lucroy was hitting .299 with 13 homers. In 47 games Lucroy's power spiked hitting 11 home runs, but he only hit .276.
The Houston Astros look to make some big strides after finishing a much-hyped season 84-78. With the additions of Carlos Beltran, Yulieski Gourriel, Josh Reddick, and Brian McCann the Astros could be an American League contender. Jose Altuve looks to repeat an amazing season where he won the batting title and George Springer will continue his new role in CF. The biggest key is Carlos Correa finally becoming the MVP-caliber player he can be.
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The Seattle Mariners finished in 2nd place with an 86-76 record and were eliminated from wild card contention in game 161. After a busy offseason in which they acquired Carlos Ruiz, Danny Valencia, Jean Segura, Chris Heston, Drew Smyly, and Yovani Gallardo, the Mariners are another team that could be near the top of the west. The biggest keys will be Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager continuing to produce and the pitching to continue their excellence as Seattle finished with the 8th best ERA in the MLB.
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The fourth team that could compete in the division are the Los Angeles Angels, headed by the best player in baseball, Mike Trout. After an injury-filled 2016 season, the Angels have built a team that should have one of the best defenses in baseball. After trading for Cameron Maybin and Danny Espinosa and signing Ben Revere and Luis Valbuena the Angels are ready to compete with the other three contending teams in the AL West. The Angels may not look terrifying on paper, but the best player in the game can do great things for you. The biggest key for the Angels to succeed in 2017 is the health of their pitching staff. Los Angeles had the 20th best ERA in the MLB with a 4.28 and needs health from their pitchers to win games.
So, when it's another three hours until your team plays, think about turning on one of these team's games. I could be completely wrong. The Marlins, A's and Twins might all win their divisions easily because baseball is a crapshoot and totally unpredictable. Please let me be right.