MLB opening day: An optimist's preview of the 2017 MLB season

On opening day, hope springs eternal for all MLB fans.

Now more than ever in Major League Baseball, fans are seeing what the NFL and NBA dreamof: true parity.

Big-spending teams don't always win. More franchises are putting together cores of high-quality young players who are leading a new generation of stars, something fans haven't seen in a long time.

MORE: Grading every MLB team's offseason

With so much talent across the sport, teams can come from outta nowhere like a Randy Orton RKO and upend contending squads.

Taking into account the current standings (everyone's 0-0 on opening day), here's a list of best-case scenarios for 13clubs in 2017.

MLB opening day: 2017 predictions

Winners

Chicago Cubs

2016 finish:103-59 (won World Series)

2017 PECOTA projection:92-70

The outlook:There areno secrets this year. The Cubs are your reigning, defending World Series champs, and they're going to be in contention for a long, long time.

All of their top young talent is controllable — in particular, JavierBaez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Addison Russell are all under team control until at least 2021.

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The rotation is the team's main question. The Cubbies' starting pitchingremains largely unchanged, though, which is good, considering they won the whole shebang last season with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey as the top four.

Everything should click once again, which means there'll be another deep October run.

The optimist says . . .The Cubs will challenge for the National League pennant in a year in which all of their young position players takeanother step forward. The pitching will hold up as Arrieta returns to Cy Young form.

New York Mets

2016 finish:87-75 (lost NL wild-card game)

2017 PECOTA projection:87-75

The outlook:This is the year, Mets fans. Well, it has been that way for a few years, but that's why windows exist, right?

Aside from a recent, seemingly benign injury to Steven Matz, the Mets'; rotation is going to live up to the hype: Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler have all hit stride during spring training. Harvey's velocity has returned, and he was caught sucking face with Adriana Lima in Florida in March, so he's already in midseason form.

Offense is the Mets' primary question. They'll hit home runs, but they need Jay Bruce to be the Jay Bruce of the first four months of 2016. The Mets ranked second in the National League in home runs last season but ranked near the bottom in just about every other offensive category.

Home runs are great, and they'll get New York to the dance, but when a team is facing some of the best pitchers in its league in October, it will need more than just dingers.

The optimist says . . .On the back, bat and arm of Yoenis Cespedes and a revitalized — and healthy —rotation, the Mets stave off a dwindling Nationals club, win the NL East and go on a deep October run. They have the arms to do it, and they have the bats to score enough.

Cleveland Indians

2016 finish:94-67 (lost World Series)

2017 PECOTA projection:92-70

The outlook:The Indians added first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion to one of the better offenses in the American League. With Michael Brantley on the comeback trail, the lineup could become even tougher.Last year they overcame injuries inthe rotation late in the regular season and in the playoffs; Carlos Carrasco was out with a fractured hand; Danny Salazar nursed a sore elbow;Trevor Bauer fought a drone and lost. All three are expected to be ready for the start of this season.

Plus, Andrew Miller still exists in the bullpen. Their pitching is above average top to bottom, healthyand unchanged from last season.

This might be surprising, but it's hard to see the Indians suffering a hangover from last season's World Series collapse. Players like Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor won't allow that.

The optimist says . . .Terry Francona is one of the few managers in baseball who can get his squad to shake off a crushing World Series collapse, and the addition of Encarnacion will push Cleveland to the top of the AL once again.

FOSTER: 17 bold(ish) predictions for the 2017 MLB season

Boston Red Sox

2016 finish:93-69 (lost ALDS)

2017 PECOTA projection:87-75

The outlook:The Red Sox had the best offense in all of baseball last year; now, with one of the best 1-2 starting pitcher combinations in the American League in David Price and Chris Sale, they're going try to stifle the bats of their division rivals as they battle for the East Division crown.

The optimist says . . .Price will be much more comfortable this season with Sale around following a huge offseason trade. The offense will be even more dangerous with AL Rookie of the Year pick Andrew Benintendi playing every day. The Red Sox will likely challenge the Indians for the top spot in the American League.

Los Angeles Dodgers

2016 finish:91-71 (lost NLCS)

2017 PECOTAprojection:96-66

The outlook: Led by 2016 NL Manager of the YearDave Roberts, LA has plenty to look forward to this year.

For one, it still has the best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw. He was hurt for much of last season, but he should be the Kershaw of old in 2017. His work in the playoffs last season should be encouraging to the team and its fans.

LA re-signed KenleyJansen, so the back end of the bullpen is locked down. It also has enough trade chips to make a move for more relief pitching should the bullpen need help during the season.

The optimist says . . .The Dodgers are as legit as it gets. New second baseman Logan Forsythe will provide needed grit, and they'll have tons of options off the bench thanks to the best depth in the National League. They'll be in contention for a penant.

Middle of the pack

New York Yankees

2016 finish:84-78

2017 PECOTAprojection:82-80

The outlook:The story here is the Bombers' youth, of course. It's all anyone is talking about.

The Yankees are generally solid all around, although there are plenty of question marks, namely the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka is by far their best starter; after that it's Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and a collection of youngsters.

The optmist says . . .The Yankees' young talent is legit, and that group will take big steps forward this year to bolster a solid foundation for the future. The pitching will be better than advertised, which means New York will be a legitimate contender for an AL wild-card spot.

Kansas City Royals

2016 finish:81-81

2017 PECOTA projection:72-90

The outlook:This is going to be a very tough year for the Royals, on and off the field. The front office has to decide whether it will move anyone at the trade deadline.

Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmerand AlcidesEscobar can become free agents after the season. If any or all are performing well and KC wants to begin a rebuild, GM Dayton Moore will be able to trade them for young major leaguers and/or high-level prospects.

If the Royals decide to stay in the race in midseason, they could potentially challenge for a wild card. Their pitching is decent enough to keep them in contention for a while, so long as Danny Duffy continues to evolve as an ace.

The optimist says . . .The Royals will flash their 2015 World Series form for at least the first half of the season. They'll stay in the AL Central race, then fade down the stretch and settle for the second AL wild card.

Tampa Bay Rays

2016 finish:68-94

2017 PECOTAprojection:85-77

The outlook: ManagerKevin Cash will have a good handle on his club in 2017 after doing a good job with it in 2015 and coming up more than abit short in 2016.

The Rays will continue to hit a lot of home runs — they were fourth in the American League in dingers in 2016— but they'll probably be a better-rounded offensive team once Wilson Ramos joins the lineup.

Center fielder Kevin Kiermaiergives the Rays another cornerstone in addition to third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays haven't traded ace Chris Archer despite ample opportunities to do so; that's a very good thing for the franchise and its fans.

The optimist says . . .The Rays probably won't challenge in the AL East, but they'll at least give division rivals a lot of problems as they display their power in hitter-friendly parks. They'll be firmly in the mix for the second wild-card spot. Kiermaier will have his best offensive season yet as he begins living up to his new contract. Longoria will be peak Longoria.

Miami Marlins

2016 finish:79-82

2017 projection:77-85

The outlook:The Marlins surprised people early last season with how well they played. They faltered in August, though, going 10-18, and finished with a 12-14 September marred by the death of ace Jose Fernandez.

They're looking to get a full season out of leadoff man Dee Gordon this year. Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Justin Bour, Martin Prado (when he returns from a hamstring injury), Marcell Ozuna and J.T. Realmuto give Miami a pretty deep lineup.

The starting pitching isn't in the best shape, but the offense should be good enough to mask that problem even in a tough NL East.

The optimist says . . . Stanton stays healthy, Yelich and Bour emerge to complement him, and the offense is good enough to keep the Marlins in the mix for a wild card.

Surprises

Atlanta Braves

2016 finish:68-93

2017 PECOTA projection:76-86

The outlook:Even before the Braves acquired second baseman and Georgia native Brandon Phillips, they had enough offense to be annoying. Phillips could make this team more legitimate. Matt Kemp and Freddie Freeman will help the younger guys in a lineup that has a good mix of youth and veterans.

The pitching still needs to come along with ageless wonder Bartolo Colon and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey supporting ace Julio Teheran.

The optimist says . . .The Braves have enough in their lineup to be pesky. Dansby Swanson will become the face of the franchise. Besides, Bartolo's presence will ensure no Braves fanis disappointed this season.

MORE: Dansby Swanson on the Braves' 2017 outlook

Chicago White Sox

2016 finish:78-84

2017 PECOTA projection:76-86

The outlook: Even afterunloading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in the offseason, competitive years could come sooner rather than later.

The White Sox scored super infield prospect Yoan Moncada and high-end pitching prospect Tyler Kopech from the Red Sox for Sale, and they landed the majors' top pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito, and others from the Nationals in exchange for Eaton.

You won't see those three names on the opening day roster, but you'll more than likely see them when September rolls around.

The optimist says . . .The White Sox's lineup is top-heavy, but it's a really good kind of top-heavy. If they can figure out the rest of the order and make some timely call-ups, they'll finish around .500 and bug the rest of the AL Central.

Colorado Rockies

2016 finish:75-87

2017 PECOTA projection:76-86

The outlook:The Rockies will field one of the NL's best offenses, at or away fromCoors Field. What will surprise people is the starting pitching — Jon Gray will continue to improve and develop into the stalwart of the rotation for years to come. He'll mainly be backed by Tyler Chatwood and Tyler Anderson.

The injury to new first baseman Ian Desmond won't hurt too badly given the other bats in the lineup. Once his fractured hand heals, Desmond will round out a potent infield led by third baseman Nolan Arenado, shortstop Trevor Story and second baseman DJ LeMahieu. That trio will help form an effective young core over the next few years.

The optimist says . . .Under the leadership of well-respected new manager Bud Black, the Rockies will torture teams on the road with their offensive prowess. More remarkably, their pitching staff will post an ERA under 4.00. That will ensure a finish around .500.

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