The Stew's MLB look ahead: Major storylines for 2017

Big League Stew

We made it! It’s officially 2017, which means a new year filled with new hope and, most importantly, a clean slate in the win-loss columns, is upon us.

The dawning of a new year also means it’s time to start looking forward rather than backwards. Though before you do that, we strongly suggest you check out our respective retrospectives from the wild and wonderful year that was 2016 in Major League Baseball.

Over the last three days we’ve covered our person of the year, the best home runs, and the very best moments. It serves as a nice lead-in to what we’re presenting today, which is what we’re most looking forward to in baseball during 2017. Believe us, there’s no shortage of intriguing storylines, ranging from postseason possibilities to prospects and potential fireworks. It all but guarantees another memorable year.

Will the Cleveland Indians finally win the World Series?
With the Cubs finally winning the World Series, the longest championship drought in the sport now falls on their opponent: The Cleveland Indians. Cleveland overcame a number of significant injuries to even make it to the postseason, and then somehow tore through their opponents and forced a Game 7 with a Cubs team that looked far stronger on paper. They nearly won the whole damn thing, too, as Rajai Davis hit an incredible game-tying home run in the eighth inning of that contest.

While Cleveland didn’t come out ahead in 2016, there’s room for optimism going forward. Michael Brantley, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco should be healthy going into next year. Having any of them in October may have been the difference in the outcome of such a tight World Series. But Cleveland isn’t content with just those returns. No, for the first time in a while, Cleveland opened its pocket books and signed a premier free-agent. Edwin Encarnacion will man first base for the Indians in 2017, giving them one of the most well-rounded teams in the majors. After coming so close to a championship in 2016, the Indians aren’t going to let anything stop them in 2017. (Chris Cwik)

Boston’s acquisition of Chris Sale could position them to dominate again in 2017. (Getty Images)
Boston’s acquisition of Chris Sale could position them to dominate again in 2017. (Getty Images)

How good can the Red Sox be?
The most fascinating team in baseball in 2017 will be the Red Sox: Big Papi’s gone, Chris Sale has arrived, Pablo Sandoval is doing the new-year-new-me thing with impressive results.

The rest of the team? It just includes the MVP runner-up in Mookie Betts, the reigning Cy Young in Rick Porcello, the impressive bats of Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., plus impressive youngster Andrew Benintendi. Oh, and David Price and Craig Kimbrel and others.

The question is whether the Red Sox can avoid the pitfalls of so many much-hyped teams before them, if they can avoid disappointment and be better than the Indians this time. We won’t know until October, of course, but until then it’ll be great drama to watch unfold.

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry will be front and center in 2017. (Getty Images)
The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry will be front and center in 2017. (Getty Images)

What’s next in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry
You thought this rivalry was intense before? I suspect we haven’t seen anything yet. Especially since the Cubs finally ended that little World Series drought and clearly established themselves as baseball’s best. That put the Cardinals in clear chase mode for the first time in a long time, which could put some in the front office and in the fanbase on edge.

Meanwhile, the Cubs are the hunted now, and they know no team will be more determined to knock them off than St. Louis. Factor in Jason Heyward and John Lackey moving from St. Louis to Chicago last winer, Dexter Fowler leaving Chicago for St. Louis this winter, and there are enough simmering storylines here to guarantee fireworks. It’s no wonder this rivalry will be featured on Sunday Night Baseball at least three times this year. (Mark Townsend)

Trea Turner was one of baseball’s biggest breakout stars in 2016. Who will follow suit in 2017? (Getty Images)
Trea Turner was one of baseball’s biggest breakout stars in 2016. Who will follow suit in 2017? (Getty Images)

The continued rise of young players
Did you notice that baseball is getting younger? It feels that way, at least, and it’s great. In 2016 watching players like Trevor Story, Gary Sanchez, Michael Fulmer, and Trea Turner hit their strides was a singular pleasure. We’re watching the future of baseball come alive before our eyes. There are more surprises in store in 2017 as players like Yoan Moncada, J.P. Crawford, Andrew Benintendi, and Dansby Swanson get full seasons to show what they’re made of. And there’s probably a player or two that will blow us all away that I haven’t even mentioned. That’s the point! Trevor Story came out of nowhere and hit a zillion home runs. I can’t wait to find out what 2017’s rookie story will be. (Liz Roscher)

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