By Jacob Denninger
A new baseball season is upon us. While the 2017 MLB season is just beginning, I predict that it will end with the Boston Red Sox defeating the Chicago Cubs in game seven of the World Series.
The 2017 Chicago Cubs are very similar to the 2016 Chicago Cubs, a team that scored the third most runs in the MLB and allowed the fewest. They did not lose or gain many key players during the offseason. One key player that they did lose was closer Aroldis Chapman; however, losing Chapman’s 1.01 ERA and 89% save percentage will not matter that much, because the Cubs acquired Wade Davis, a former Kansas City Royals closer. Davis has a 1.23 ERA and an 87% save percentage in the three years since he became a closer, so he should be an adequate replacement for Chapman.
The only other losses the Cubs sustained in the offseason that could potentially be damaging, are relievers Trevor Cahill and Travis Wood. Both had sub-3.00 ERAs and threw for a combined 126.2 innings in relief. Losing them could potentially weaken the Cubs bullpen.
The Cubs mostly followed an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” strategy in the offseason by doing little to change up their roster. With nothing broken for the defending World Series Champions, they could very well return to the World Series; however, they will have to beat an American League team again in order to repeat.
Last season, the Red Sox scored the most runs in the MLB and allowed the ninth fewest. Despite their spectacular run production, the Sox’s pitching was just not good enough; David Price disappointed and there wasn’t enough depth with the pitchers, so the Red Sox eventually lost to the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS.
While Boston’s strength last season was run production, they lost their biggest run producer when David Ortiz (who had 127 RBIs) retired at the end of the season. Run production seems certain to drop off, but the Red Sox will still win the World Series for two main reasons.
First, I don’t think run production will actually drop off much, as the young rising stars on the Red Sox can fill David Ortiz’s role. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr will all step up this year. Mookie Betts is coming off a stellar season with a .318 batting average, 31 home runs, and 113 RBIs.
All four of these young players are very good, and they are all still improving. With the statistical improvements they made last season, I believe they can close the gap in run production between Ortiz and his replacement in the lineup, first baseman Mitch Moreland.
The second reason the Red Sox will win the World Series is that the pitching will be extremely improved from last season. David Price, who had a disappointing 3.99 ERA last year, could improve Boston’s pitching stats just by returning to form, but new acquisitions will also be key. Chris Sale will improve the starting rotation by posting a low ERA. (He had a 3.34 ERA last year, and his career low for a full season is 2.17.) Tyler Thornburg will be the new set up man. He is coming off of a season with a 2.95 ERA. That ERA is lower than Koji Uehara’s, who Thornburg is replacing. Thornburg’s lower ERA will help Craig Kimbrel and the rest of the bullpen close out wins for the Red Sox.
Boston’s pitching should be incredibly good this year. With Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello forming the base of a strong starting rotation and Thornburg and Kimbrel as a one-two punch out of the bullpen, any drop in run production will be nullified. There are injuries to David Price and Tyler Thornburg to be aware of, but if they come back at full strength, Boston should steamroll opponents with their high scoring offense and high-powered pitching attack, and go all the way to the World Series.
In a World Series against the Cubs, the Red Sox would face the daunting challenge of defeating the defending champions, who are still very, very good. That being said, I think the pitching improvements are the missing piece that the Red Sox needed last year. They are now a complete team that is spectacular all around. The Cubs will be able to slow down the Red Sox, but not stop them. Boston’s booming bats and awesome arms will take the 2017 World Series Championship from the Cubs, four games to three.