The baseball season is a very long one. Spanning 162 games, divisions across the league are constantly shuffling leaders and Wild Card spots. Throughout the year, different teams can get hot and cold and it is often hard to predict who will end up on top by the end of it. It is such a streaky sport that both winning and losing streaks can often get blown out of proportion by the media.

Oftentimes there are teams who are popular World Series picks that look great on paper at the start of the season, but don’t even make it to the postseason. Then there are the teams that fly under the radar and stay with the pack most of the season until they finally find a way to sneak into a playoff spot. Most of the time, the teams who make it into the playoffs and then eventually to the World Series are the teams that get hot at the end of the year. Once a team starts winning a lot in August and September, that momentum usually carriers over into October.

Successful teams generally have a few things in common. Good teams usually have a good balance of young talent and experienced veterans. Having both playoff experience and raw talent is a great formula for winning. Then there is pitching. Good pitching always leads to playoff success. What good is it if your team can hit but can’t pitch? Once you run into an elite pitcher, you’re doomed. The last thing is situational hitting. You can’t always be looking for the big home run. In close ball games in October, you need to be able to advance runners with productive outs and clutch hits. Some teams just seem to always have these formulas figured out.

AL East: Boston and Toronto

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The AL East is one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. The Yankees are way too inconsistent to beat out some of the other teams in the division. The Rays always seem to play hard, but I think they lack the talent to compete with everyone else. The Orioles will be right up there with both the Jays and the Red Sox, but I think they will fall short. The Orioles, Jays, and Red Sox all have great offenses, but what separates the good teams from the great teams is always pitching. The Blue Jays and Red Sox have great lineups and solid pitching.

Who Will Win The AL East?

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

As I mentioned earlier, both teams these have formidable lineups. The Red Sox hitters have been on an absolute tear to start the year. David Ortiz, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. are all batting extremely well. Toronto’s core hitters have been struggling. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion are all batting well below their capabilities. I don’t think either of these hitting trends will keep up. The Red Sox hitters could very well end the season with great stats, but they are playing out of their minds right now. I don’t see Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion all batting below .260 when the year ends. In spite of the drastic differences in how these teams are currently performing, the Blue Jays are not far behind the Sox. I think that’s an indicator of who the better team is.

Winner: Toronto Blue Jays

AL Central: Kansas City and Chicago

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

I think we can count out the Twins. The Tigers have an incredibly powerful lineup, but their pitching staff, including ace Justin Verlander, are not consistent. The Indians have a balanced team, but I don’t think they’re on the same talent level as the Royals and White Sox. The Royals have good starting pitching and arguably the best bullpen in baseball. The White Sox have a great starting pitching one-two punch in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Both lineups are well balanced and have players who can fill multiple roles.

Who Will Win the AL Central?

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

These teams are both going to be very competitive. The Royals are coming off a season where they won the World Series. Their current squad is almost identical to their team last year and they’re still a scrappy team that plays great defense and rarely strikes out. I love the balance in the lineup of the White Sox. Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier are great power hitters in the middle of the order, and are surrounded by good contact hitters in Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera. However, the White Sox are still growing. The Royals have championship experience. Down the stretch in August and September, every game is a big, and those are the games the Royals know how to win.

Winner: Kansas City Royals

AL West: Texas and Houston

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For the second year in a row, I think this will come down to the two Texas rivals. The Mariners are currently right behind the division leading Texas Rangers, but aside from Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz in the middle of their order, I am not a huge fan of their team. Their pitching is mediocre, and now with Felix Hernandez on the disabled list it will dip even lower. The only thing I like on the Angels is Mike Trout, and the Oakland A’s just don’t have the talent. The Astros have struggled this season, but have as much talent from top to bottom on their team as anyone in the American League.

Who Will Win the AL West?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers are a very consistent team. Their manager Jeff Bannister won AL Manager of The Year last year and makes his team play hard. They have a strong rotation from top to bottom and a lineup with proven hitters like Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, and the newly acquired Ian Desmond. The Astros are currently sitting just above last place in the division. Carlos Gomez forgot how to hit a baseball, something that I think will change as the year goes on. Their team is headlined by the middle infield of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, two of the best young players in the game today. I love the energy their team plays with, and I think that they are currently going through an early season slump, as many successful young teams do. The Astros are going to rally and beat out the Rangers in a race that could be just as close as last year’s.

Winner: Houston Astros

NL East: Washington and New York

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Most fans believe/agree that the NL East will come down to the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. They are both on another level than the other teams in their division. The Phillies got off to a surprisingly hot start, but have begun to fade. The Marlins have some good young players, but are not on a level where they can compete for the division. The Braves are going to sit at the bottom of the division all year. The Nationals and the Mets are incredibly similar teams. They both have one of the top starting rotations in baseball. They both have lineups with power from top to bottom. Together, they have formed one of the best rivalries in baseball.

Who Will Win The NL East?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

This is surely going to be one of the most heated division races in baseball. A new wrinkle in the rivalry this year is that the Mets’ playoff hero Daniel Murphy is now a member of the Nationals, and he is leading the entire MLB in batting. The pitching matchups are a headline every time these teams play. They’ll include Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez for the Nats and Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz for the Mets. The Nationals lineup has performed well so far. Aside from Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets lineup has struggled for the most part. I think as the Mets get players back from injury, their lineup will begin to pick up some of the slack. Like last year, this one is going to come down to the wire. I see last year as the beginning of a rivalry where one team will continuously have the other team’s number. The Mets will edge this one out.

Winner: New York Mets

NL Central: Chicago and Pittsburgh 

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It is always hard to count out the St. Louis Cardinals. They are constantly in the postseason because of their consistent pitching and timely hitting. However, I think this is the year that the younger Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs both surpass them. The Cubs have been a powerhouse to start the year with a combination of their lethal lineup and pitching staff led by Ace Jake Arrieta. The Pirates have come along lately thanks to the depth of their lineup led by Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte. The other teams in the division, the Reds and the Brewers, are not on the same level as the top three teams.

Who Will Will The NL Central? 

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Both the Pirates and the Cubs have similarly built teams. They have balanced combinations of home grown talent and recently acquired veterans. The Pirates have been a team on the fringe of going deep into the postseason for the last couple of seasons. The Cubs had a breakout year last year where they made it to the NLCS but were swept by the Mets. The Cubs have been building off of last year’s success, and started the season winning at a historic pace. Their pitching rotation is solid after Jake Arrieta, but it is their hitting that is their biggest threat. They get contributions from all over their lineup, even with the devastating injury to Kyle Schwarber earlier in the season. Led by Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, the Cubs will win this division by a comfortable margin.

Winner: Chicago Cubs

NL West: San Francisco and Los Angeles

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

These two rivals seem to duke it out every year. Part of that is the lack of competition from the other teams in the division. The Diamondbacks seem to have good pieces ever year, but can never put something cohesive together. The Padres haven’t threatened the division for a few years. The Rockies have a real shot at fighting for the second spot due to their hitting ability, but their pitching is too weak to truly compete. These two teams have arguably the two best pitchers in baseball in Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner. They both have good players across their lineups and pitching staffs, and have developed into one of the best rivalries in baseball.

Who Will Win The NL West? 

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

There is a major difference between these two teams that has been a contributing factor to their levels of success in recent years. While they might seem similarly built, there is a difference in culture between these two rival organizations. The Dodgers have the highest payroll in baseball and they are always a good team on paper. Yet they struggle when it matters most. Even Clayton Kershaw, a sure bet to be in the Hall of Fame when he retires, has incredibly mediocre postseason stats. There always seems to be drama in the Dodgers’ locker room. The Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner elevates his game in the postseason. Their team always seems to thrive on defense and situational hitting. The Giants are poised for another deep run in the playoffs. After all, it is an even year.

Winner: San Francisco Giants

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