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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

5 MLB teams that can dethrone the Cubs as World Series champions

It’s easy to see why the Chicago Cubs would be favored to win the World Series for a second consecutive season. They have a great lineup, a strong pitching staff, and depth almost everywhere. However, the safer bet would be to take the field over the Cubs in 2017. That, however, doesn’t do much to narrow down who is capable of dethroning the Cubs and claiming the mantle of World Series champions for themselves.

Here is a list of five teams who have the talent to upend the Cubs — and anyone else who may get in their path — en route to the 2017 World Series title.

5) Houston Astros

The Astros are a bit of a dark horse pick, but frankly, they have some things in common with the 2016 Cubs. The obvious one is the young, dynamic core of top prospects accumulated after years of losing.

George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa are three quality players, and Alex Bregman will have every opportunity to join them as soon as this season. As the Cubs did in 2015, the Astros have augmented those players through free agency and trades with veterans like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. The result is a lineup that should be very good.

Houston’s bullpen effort may also pay dividends, though they were up and down there last season. Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson are good enough to be successful if they can be consistent.

The only shortcoming could be Houston’s rotation, but even there, they have room to grow. Dallas Keuchel was a Cy Young winner two short years ago, though depth may be an issue. If they pitch, they have a shot. A big part of that would be Keuchel returning to form.

4. Washington Nationals

The Nationals have reached perennial contender status, and that’s going to be the case again in 2017.

No team with Bryce Harper in the middle of their lineup and Max Scherzer heading the rotation can be dismissed, and Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, and uberprospect Trea Turner only add punch to the lineup. If the Nationals have a healthy Stephen Strasburg, they’ll be even better, and Tanner Roark is an underappreciated starting pitcher who offers reliable innings every fifth day.

Washington lacks depth across the roster, which could be their undoing. They cannot match Chicago’s ability to bring capable guys in to cover for injuries, but then, few teams can.

Washington has the top-level talent that you need to win a World Series, and if they make it to October and get hot, they’re certainly capable of winning it all.

3. Boston Red Sox

Boston’s acquisition of starting pitcher Chris Sale was a statement of intent, and it stands to make a 93-win 2016 team better in the pitching department. If David Price can overcome an injury scare, it’s easy to see him improving, too. That doesn’t even include Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. When you take those three into account, the Red Sox are one of the few teams capable of matching the Cubs in the starting pitching department.

Boston’s bullpen is loaded with big arms too, with Craig Kimbrel the stopper. Watch out for Tyler Thornburg, an under-the-radar trade acquisition during the offseason who struck out 90 in 67 innings while posting a 2.15 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers last season.

There’s a question as to whether the Red Sox can replace David Ortiz, and the answer is they can’t. What they can do is compensate for his loss, and developing prospects like Andrew Benintendi should be able to step in and hit pretty well immediately. Mookie Betts is an MVP candidate, and Hanley Ramirez is having a late-career renaissance at the plate.

Watch for Pablo Sandoval, who may well get another look at third base — it’s unreasonable to expect much from him, but if he can offer you anything, it’s a huge bonus for a Red Sox team that is well-equipped to make a deep run into October.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s rather easy to forget that, at one point, the Dodgers had a 2-1 lead over the Cubs in the NLCS and had held Chicago scoreless for two consecutive games. They lost at home in Game 4, blowing a chance to take a 3-1 lead to give themselves a chance to close out the series at home, and the rest is history. It’s proof, though, that the margins were fine, and had a few things gone differently, the Dodgers could have put a stop to the story of the 2016 Cubs rather prematurely.

It’s easy to see why.

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and in 2016, he finally showed signs of taking that greatness into the postseason with a dominant outing against the Cubs in Game 2.

The Dodgers return pretty much the same team with a few tweaks here and there, including a nice, low-key acquisition of second baseman Logan Forsythe. They managed to retain closer Kenley Jansen and have stockpiled an impressive array of talented, if oft-injured starting pitchers, to provide plenty of depth in case something goes awry there.

The Dodgers were within 18 innings of knocking the Cubs out of the postseason last year. They’re entirely capable of winning it all in 2017.

1. Cleveland Indians

It’s only natural that the top candidate on this list would be the team that took the Cubs to the extra innings of Game 7 of last year’s World Series. Given the historic nature of the Cubs’ accomplishment, it’s easy to forget that Cleveland had an early lead in an elimination Game 5 with a 3-1 edge in the series. They were that close to ending it, but the Cubs stormed back and pulled off a comeback for the ages.

If anything, the 2017 Indians will be better than the 2016 variety.

Edwin Encarnacion is a clear upgrade on Mike Napoli in the first base/DH role. If they get Michael Brantley back after he missed an entire season with injury, they’ll be even more potent offensively.

Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco should continue pitching at a high level, while a fully healthy, stretched-out Danny Salazar was not a luxury Cleveland had during last year’s postseason. A full season of Andrew Miller to go with Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen at the back of the bullpen will make the Indians even tougher to beat.

This team was literally one swing of the bat away from beating the Cubs in last year’s World Series. They clearly have it in them to go a step further and win the whole thing in 2017.

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