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Crystal (play) ball: Who will win it all?

March 30, 2017

The Cubs ended a title drought of 108 years last October, and many are predicting as an encore they will become the first team to repeat as World Series champions in 17 years, ending the longest stretch without back-to-back champs in Major League history.Of course, prognostication becomes relegated to the

The Cubs ended a title drought of 108 years last October, and many are predicting as an encore they will become the first team to repeat as World Series champions in 17 years, ending the longest stretch without back-to-back champs in Major League history.
Of course, prognostication becomes relegated to the back seat once the reality of the 162-game grind hits the road this weekend, starting with a Sunday tripleheader and a Monday full of openers. Sunday's action begins with an AL East battle of Yankees at Rays at 1:10 p.m. ET (ESPN, MLB.TV), followed by Giants vs. D-backs in an NL West meeting at 4:10 p.m. ET (ESPN2, MLB.TV) and culminates with one of the great rivalries in the game, the NL Central showdown at 8:35 p.m. ET (ESPN) with the Cubs visiting St. Louis as a defending champion for the first time since opening the 1909 season there.
But before we officially play ball, here's a look at how our group of more than 50 reporters and analysts sees the 2017 season playing out, with victors for each division, Wild Cards for each league and pennant winners battling it out for the title:
AL EAST: Red Sox
With lefty ace Chris Sale added to a mix that won the division crown last year, the Sox are the clear favorite to take the East again. The Blue Jays, looking for a third straight playoff berth, get the most mentions as another possible victor in the East.
AL CENTRAL: Indians
The team that came oh-so-close to winning it all last year, sending that magnificent Game 7 into extra innings before the Cubs ultimately did their championship dance, is an overwhelming favorite to repeat as AL Central champions. With the addition of Edwin Encarnacion and, at some point, the prospect of a healthy Michael Brantley returning to the fore, the Tribe stands out in the Central.

AL WEST: Astros
After dropping out of the playoff picture a year ago, the Astros are predicted to come out ahead in what figures to be a raucous AL West race. But the Rangers, the defending champions, will be right there with them, our poll says, and there is some sentiment as well that the Mariners will find a way to return to the postseason for the first time since a magical 2001 season.
AL WILD CARDS: Blue Jays and Rangers
The Jays will bring the playoffs home to Canada once again, our survey says, claiming the top AL Wild Card spot after falling short in the East. Again, the Mariners have plenty of supporters, but it's the Rangers who received the most votes to make the playoffs a third straight year. The Orioles, Royals, Tigers and Yankees are among the clubs that will also be right in the mix.
AL CHAMPION: Red Sox
The nod goes to the Red Sox, but the Indians aren't too far behind in the tally of predictions. While there were votes for nine teams, the Sox stood at the top. The Indians were the definitive second choice, and close enough to indicate they might get a chance to end their title drought dating back to 1948.

NL EAST: Nationals
The Nationals are favored over the Mets in our panel, but the Marlins -- who have a star-studded outfield featuring Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich -- could surprise. The Phillies and Braves are both young and have the kinds of rosters that could make big leaps forward as some of their talented youngsters begin to reach their ceilings.
NL CENTRAL: Cubs
With the Cubs looking like they're only getting warmed up with their first World Series title in more than a century, the consensus is that the NL Central title is theirs for the taking. Of course, the Pirates and Cardinals have been frequent playoff visitors over the past few years and cannot be counted out.
NL WEST: Dodgers
It was a closer call a year ago when our panel picked the Giants slightly over the Dodgers, and this time it's the Dodgers who come out as the favorite in the NL West, with Giants getting the next most support. The Dodgers would extend their club record to five consecutive division titles if they win it again this year. The Rockies and D-backs also got some support, and both could wreak havoc in what should be a very competitive division.
NL WILD CARDS: Giants and Mets
The Giants' core of players with so much playoff experience this decade will get some more, according to our panel. Our survey says they'll host the Mets in a reverse of last season's NL Wild Card matchup, with New York reaching the postseason a third straight year for the first time in its history. Of course, the Cardinals and Pirates both got plenty of support as well, and the D-backs and Rockies are among the other clubs lurking.
NL CHAMPION: Cubs
The Cubs are a strong favorite to win the NL pennant in back-to-back years for the first time since taking three straight in 1906-08. But don't count out the Dodgers, who have ample support as the team that would topple the Cubbies from their NL pedestal.

WORLD SERIES CHAMPION: Cubs
Ho hum, just another World Series title for the Cubs. Yes, it's the Cubbies again at the top of everyone's hit list. This time, it's the Dodgers many feel would be the team to beat them to the big trophy -- they're seeking their first trip to the Series and first title since 1988, a long drought for a franchise with 22 pennants and six World Series titles. The top two AL clubs -- the Red Sox and Indians -- were knotted in their support but well behind their NL brethren.
So there you have it: A prediction that hasn't been made in more than a century -- the Cubs are going to repeat as World Series champions. But they'll have to get out of their league first, and the AL awaits with teams that could challenge right down to the last out if they do return to the promised land.
Once those first pitches are thrown Sunday and the 162-game grind gets going, we'll see how much of it all comes true.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB.