Since the moment when Kris Bryant gloved Michael Martinez’s ground ball and threw across to Anthony Rizzo to end the Cubs’ 108-year World Series drought last November, Chicago was installed as the favorite for the 2017 season.There is plenty of good reason for that projection.Almost the entire 25-man roster was signed and slated to return for the coming season. The only free agents of concern were outfielder Dexter Fowler, closer Aroldis Chapman and No. 5 starter Jason Hammel.The offseason is almost entirely played out, and nothing has changed about who is the front-runner.Chapman signed with the New York Yankees, but the Cubs acquired another first-rate closer, dealing with the Kansas City Royals for Wade Davis and signing Koji Uehara, the former Boston Red Sox closer, as an insurance policy.Fowler went to the Rockies, but the Cubs signed Jon Jay to share center with impressive rookie Albert Almora.The signing of free agent Brett Anderson may prove an upgrade from Hammel, who inked a deal with the Royals.The Cubs filled every hole and also added several starters for organizational depth. The great young core players, Bryant, Rizzo, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, are now experienced and have walked the road to a championship. Why wouldn’t the Cubs be the pick?But this is baseball, and nothing is ever a lock. Some teams spent the offseason “bulking up” for a run at Chicago. Others will be healthier. Some will be both.We’ve identified five teams that are the biggest threat to a Cubs repeat — the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox from the American League and the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets and Washington Nationals from the National League — and explain why they are contenders.Los Angeles DodgersThe Dodgers won 91 games with Clayton Kershaw missing two months to injury. Imagine what they might have been if he stayed healthy. It seems as if the Dodgers’ free agents thought that way, too. Several of their key players signed back up even though they had better offers elsewhere — third baseman Justin Turner, closer Kenley Jansen, No. 2 starter Rich Hill and infielder Chase Utley.Los Angeles also added second baseman Logan Forsythe and bolstered the bullpen by replacing setup man Joe Blanton with former San Francisco Giants closer Sergio Romo on a free agent deal.Rookie of the Year Corey Seager should only be better. Right now, 91 wins seems like setting the bar low.Boston Red SoxA significant subtraction and a significant addition marked the Red Sox’s offseason after Boston was swept by the Indians in the AL Division Series. Slugger David Ortiz retired after a 38-homer, 127-RBI season. But Boston added a third Cy Young Award contender to its rotation by acquiring Chris Sale in trade from the White Sox. The top of the Red Sox’s rotation is now Sale, David Price and 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello.Boston signed free agent Mitch Moreland to play first base, moving Hanley Ramirez to DH, and the team returns every other position player from the highest-scoring offense in baseball. The Red Sox should get a full year’s worth of Andrew Benintendi, who was just anointed Baseball America’s top prospect for 2017.The Sox also made a move to shore up the bullpen behind closer Craig Kimbrel, trading with the Brewers for Tyler Thornburg, who was Milwaukee’s closer at the end of last season and had a 2.15 ERA in 67 games.Cleveland IndiansCleveland was this close to winning the 2016 World Series, losing Game 7 in extra innings. And that was with two front-of-the-rotation starters — Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco — unable to start in the postseason and stud outfielder Michael Brantley missing all but 11 games of the season because of shoulder and biceps injuries.The potential for a healthier Tribe in the postseason is there, plus the Indians made one of the biggest offensive additions of the offseason by signing free agent Edwin Encarnacion. He averaged 39 home runs over the past five seasons and is one of the biggest run-producers in the game. Encarnacion is the highest priced free agent the club has signed.The offense isn’t the only place where Cleveland got stronger. To perhaps the most impressive bullpen end game — Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen — the Indians added free agent lefty Boone Logan.One other thing is key: With so many AL Central teams in various rebuilding stages, the Indians have a shot at the best regular-season record, which this season would mean the home-field advantage in the World Series.New York MetsTop to bottom, the Mets have the scariest rotation in Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler — but only if that quintet can manage to stay healthy. That’s a real question.The Mets followed their 2015 World Series appearance by reaching the 2016 postseason even though Harvey, deGrom and Matz were all on the disabled list at the end and Wheeler didn’t make it back on schedule from Tommy John surgery. None are looking at health concerns going into spring training.New York also re-signed slugger Yoenis Cespedes, and it returns essentially the entire roster of position players. Jay Bruce struggled after being acquired before the trading deadline, but now the pressure is off. And two other regulars who missed most of the season — David Wright and Lucas Duda — should be back, albeit with question marks because of the back issues that sidelined them.The Mets also re-signed everyone to keep their bullpen intact. Closer Jeurys Familia is likely to be suspended in the early season under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy for an incident last October, but setup man Addison Reed has closing experience and should be able to fill in.Washington NationalsThe Nationals entered the past four seasons as a reasonable choice to win the World Series because of the vast talent on the roster. This year is no different, though the window for them to win is growing smaller with the impending free agency of the Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy two seasons away.The Nats have an impressive rotation with 2016 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark followed by Gio Gonzalez at No. 4. They added a great table-setter by trading with the White Sox for leadoff man and center fielder Adam Eaton. It makes the batting order very long with Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman potentially batting seventh and eighth respectively.There is one issue, though, that still may need to be addressed. Washington did not re-sign or replace closer Mark Melancon after the free agent signed with San Francisco. Shawn Kelley goes into spring training as the favorite for the ninth-inning role. The Nationals should have a chance to make a deal, but they need to shore up the back of their bullpen to reach their potential.
RALEIGH The Carolina Hurricanes will see a familiar face centering Minnesota’s top line tonight, but when former captain Eric Staal looks across the red line he won’t see many players he shared a locker […]
RALEIGH Charlotte Checkers captain and leading scorer Derek Ryan and Brock McGinn were both recalled Friday by the Carolina Hurricanes.Ryan, 29, had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in nine games with the Checkers […]
GREENVILLE, S.C. South Carolina went 15 years without hosting an NCAA championship event because of a controversy involving the flying of the Confederate flag on its statehouse grounds.It only ended that drought after the […]