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By Corey Spector

Spring Time has arrived (or so we think). Equating to the dusting off of home plate, the intense focus of a pitcher, and the smack of a ball into the fans, yes, it is baseball season.  

The Chicago Cubs, winner of the 2016 World Series and champions for the first time in 108 years, are poised to repeat with electrifying young talent that doesn’t appear to fade away anytime soon. The Cubs’ core consists of 3B Kris Bryant, last year’s National League Most Valuable Player, 1B Anthony Rizzo, SS Addison Russell, and OF Kyle Schwarber, all of whom are under the age of 27. On the mound, they pound the strike zone with 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks, who combined for 53 wins alone last season.  Closer Aroldis Chapman has left the Windy City to suit up in Yankee pinstripes, but the Cubs added additional firepower to their bullpen via the offseason signings of Wade Davis and Koji Uehara.  

Locally, the New York Mets look to emulate the 2015 season in which they made the World Series for the first time since 2000. Last season ended in a devastating Wild Card play-in game loss against the San Francisco Giants, as Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner outlasted Noah Syndergaard and closer Jeurys Familia, who relinquished the go-ahead 3-run homer to Conor Gillaspie in the 9th inning to send the Mets packing. Injuries devastated the Mets last season, as star pitchers Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zach Wheeler all were lost by season’s end.

Much of the focus on the Mets in Spring Training has spotlighted onto Tim Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner, NFL starting quarterback, and now hopeful MLBer. Tebow registered his first big-league hit on Monday, March 13, but is regarded as a long shot to make the 40-man roster anytime soon.

Team captain and mainstay 3B David Wright will attempt to remain healthy and contribute.  Back injuries have riddled one of the Mets’ all-time players and many doubt if he will be to compete on any level close to his days as an All-Star. OF Yoenis Cespedes, who signed a long term deal with the team in the offseason, aims to continue being the power bat and offensive juggernaut for the Mets he has been since his arrival before the 2015 Trade Deadline. SS Asdrubal Cabrera and 2B Neil Walker form the double-play duo up the middle, while the Mets hope 1B Lucas Duda can also stay healthy. 43 year-old P Bartolo Colon, who led the team with 15 wins last season and a fan favorite in New York, has traveled down the coastline to make the Atlanta Braves his home team this season.  

Meanwhile, the Yankees are in rebuild mode for the 2017 season, a strategy Yankee
fans have rarely observed. These are not your older brother’s Pinstripes who were always penciled in as contenders before any season began. Alex Rodriguez’s impending release will no longer be a distraction as he is taking his expertise to the broadcast studio. The Yankees will build around C Gary Sanchez, who flashed as a rookie call-up last season, smoking 20 home runs in only 53 appearances.  SS Didi Gregorius and 2B Starlin Castro are two of the team’s bright spots, so there will be no issue in the middle of the diamond.  

OF Matt Holliday, part of the St. Louis Cardinals World Series winning team back in 2011, signed a one year, $13 million deal with the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees hope Holliday imprints some veteran savvy onto the many promising young players, including 1B Greg Bird and OF Aaron Judge, and provides stability to the DH slot. The men on the mound will be familiar faces, including CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and Luis Severino.  

The Yankees look ahead to the next couple of offseasons, when they are expected to be suitors for some of the top free agents like Nationals OF Bryce Harper, Blue Jays OF Jose Bautista, Orioles 3B Manny Machado, and Mets SP Matt Harvey. It has been rumored the Yankees would be willing to offer Harper a contract that would make him the highest paid baseball player ever. An interesting storyline will be the job of Joe Girardi, whose managerial role has never been in question more.  

Around the league, the Cleveland Indians are motivated to move past the devastating World Series Game 7 home loss to the Cubs in extra innings. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are expected to be in a tight battle in the NL West once again, seemingly a competitive race every season. The Cubs biggest threat to repeat in the National League is projected to be the Washington Nationals, who possess one of the scariest one-two punches on the mound across the entire league in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. 2B Daniel Murphy and OF Bryce Harper force opposing fans to clench their teeth every time they enter the batter’s box. It should once again be an interesting seven months of baseball full of interesting and unexpected headlines.         

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