By Norm Elrod
(CBS New York/CBS Local) — In Spring Training, before the games count, every team has a shot at the World Series. Of course, that won’t be true come August and September, when the pennant races heat up. It might even change before the All-Start break. But for now, hope springs eternal around the majors, even if certain teams have a better shot than others.
Spring Training Report this week looks at the American and National League contenders, along with a couple of free agent pitchers and Bryce Harper’s first record with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Spring Training Contenders
The American League is looking a little top-heavy going into the season. The World Series-champion Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees are baseball’s best two teams. Both should win in the neighborhood of 100 games, but will suffer record-wise from having to play each other, as well as a solid Tampa Bay Rays team. The Houston Astros may also hit the century mark for wins, en route to taking the AL West, even with the over-matched Oakland A’s causing problems. The Cleveland Indians should run away with the dreadful AL Central and could actually end up with the top playoff seed.
The National League is wide open, and could be determined by who gets hot and who gets hurt. The Los Angeles Dodgers are favored to return to the playoffs for the seventh straight season, even without making any big off-season moves. The Washington Nationals still have the talent to win 90+ games (even without Bryce Harper), as do the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. And the Phillies (now with Harper), New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies all have a reasonable shot at the wildcard.
Free Agents Still Available
Even with Harper and Manny Machado signed, plenty of free agent talent is still in search of a team. All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, coming off a World Series championship with the Red Sox, appears near signing with the Nationals. Kimbrel is the youngest ever to record 300 saves. The right-hander would probably take over his usual role in an already-deep Nats bullpen, and push Sean Doolittle into the set-up role.
Dallas Keuchel, a quality left-handed pitcher, who won the AL Cy Young in 2015, doesn’t seem to be attracting much interest. Concerns about his fastball appear to be overblown. Keuchel could boost a lot of rotations at the right price. He may just be asking for too much money or too many years.
Bryce Harper Record
Excitement over Bryce Harper signing with the Phillies is building in Philadelphia, even if he can’t remember where to ‘bring a title back to…‘ And the $330-million slugger is already setting records, before even playing in a game. Sales of Harper’s Phillies jersey broke the first-day sales record for a jersey in any sport. He will wear #3 with the Phillies, rather than the #34 he wore with the Nationals, out of respect for the late Phillie Roy Halladay.