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Fierce foes: MLB's top 5 rivalries for 2017

January 31, 2017

Look, the Yankees and Red Sox had a nice run. In 2003 and '04, they gave us two classic American League Championship Series that conjured up all those old emotions associated with the Babe and Ted and Joltin' Joe and Yaz and Bucky Dent. The fuel and the fumes from

Look, the Yankees and Red Sox had a nice run. In 2003 and '04, they gave us two classic American League Championship Series that conjured up all those old emotions associated with the Babe and Ted and Joltin' Joe and Yaz and Bucky Dent. The fuel and the fumes from those ALCS storylines stayed with us more than a decade and inspired some untold number of national television broadcasts featuring the boys from Boston and the Bronx.
But David Ortiz and Alexander Rodriguez have joined the long cast of characters who have departed the game. The retooling Yanks have played just one postseason game in the past four seasons. Sure, Yankees-Red Sox will always elicit emotion, and someday the rivalry will truly ignite again. For now, though, it's hard to consider it one of the more captivating clashes in Major League Baseball.
In 2017, here are a few that rate a bit better.
Honorable mention: Indians-Red Sox and Cubs-Dodgers
There are no personal vendettas or division duels associated with these pairings, but these are the two best teams (on paper) in the AL and National League, respectively, which means there is a decent chance they encounter each other yet again come October.
FanGraphs projects 92 wins for the Red Sox and 91 for the Indians, 95 for the Dodgers and 94 for the Cubs. The Sox and the Tribe made the AL's two biggest additions with Chris Sale and Edwin Encarnacion, respectively. And as has been proven here at and elsewhere, the mere suggestion that the Dodgers might project to be better than the Cubs is an awfully effective way to rile up an internet comments section.

By the way, a Cubs-Indians rematch in the World Series wouldn't exactly be the worst thing that ever happened, either.
OK, on to the real list.
5. Blue Jays-Orioles
We could just as easily go with Blue Jays-Rangers here, given the Rougned Odor-Jose Bautista dustup last year that was induced by Joey Bats' famous bat flip in the 2015 AL Division Series. Those two clubs aren't division rivals, of course, but they have faced each other in consecutive postseason series. Bautista's return to Toronto opens the door for more intrigue and makes the Rangers-Blue Jays Memorial Day weekend matchup appointment viewing.
But in the 2016 ALDS, everybody, thankfully, was on their best behavior. The only hit-by-pitch was an honest-to-goodness slip from Yu Darvish that plunked Darwin Barney. No biggie.
Blue Jays-Orioles, meanwhile, is a matchup that's had its fair share of on-field tension in recent years, and now we've had an offseason of Bautista-related grievances from the O's perspective. Dan Duquette said he wouldn't sign Bautista because "our fans don't like him." And over the weekend, slugger Chris Davis joked of Bautista, "He's actually a pretty good dude … said no one ever." Combine that with Buck Showalter's veiled jab at Bautista's home run reactions before last year's AL Wild Card Game and the history of bad blood between Bautista and O's reliever Darren O'Day, and this one's pretty juicy.

4. Cardinals-Cubs
Last year, freshly removed from a NLDS matchup in which the Cubs ousted a 100-win Cardinals team, it appeared a rivalry that long existed only in the emotion of the respective fan bases and not in the standings struggle had finally reached its true potential. Jason Heyward's defection and public assessment of St. Louis' aging core (which the Cards themselves didn't take kindly to) only upped the ante.
Alas, while the Cubs and Cardinals did finish at the top of the NL Central standings, 17 1/2 games separated them.
Seventeen. And. A. Half. Games.
It's going to take a lot of Cardinals gains and Cubs pains to bridge that gap and make this a legit rivalry. But the poaching of William Fowler adds to the intrigue, and it's worth noting that the Cards went 9-10 against the 103-win Cubs last year, so they weren't exactly pushovers in the head-to-heads.

3. Nationals-Mets
Rivalries born out of standings circumstance rather than geography or history are rivalries, all the same. These two teams have finished first and second in the NL East (the Mets winning the division in 2015, the Nationals in '16) the past two years, and the Mets tied with the Braves for a distant second behind the Nats in '14.
Granted, in reality, those finishes haven't come with a great deal of drama. Seventeen games separated these two clubs in 2014, seven in '15 and eight in '16. There hasn't been a signature series or rift. The only compelling subplot last season was Daniel Murphy absolutely torching his old team, to the tune of a 1.218 OPS in 75 at-bats.
But with the Mets presumably healthier in their rotation and lineup and the Nationals' pitching depth in question, there is reason to suspect these two clubs will butt heads at the top of the standings again in 2017.

2. Rangers-Astros
While no list of AL West contenders is complete without mention of the Mariners and Angels, the Lone Star Series has become an undeniably compelling intrastate matchup. The Astros were in first place for 139 days in 2015 before the Rangers took over in the final two weeks. And in 2016, their head-to-head matchups made all the difference in the world. Texas went 15-4 against the Houston, and, incredibly 14 of those games were decided by one or two runs. The Rangers went on, while the Astros went home, kicking themselves all the way.
Burned though they were by the 2016 turnout, the love affair the projections systems have with the Astros is back on. FanGraphs, for one, is pegging Houston for 90 wins and first place in the AL West. Though there are still unresolved questions about the Astros' pitching staff, the club wasted no time improving its offense this offseason with the additions of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick. The goal, of course, was chasing down their Lone Star rivals. These two teams meet the last week of the regular season in Arlington. Yeehaw!

1. Dodgers-Giants
It's a rivalry loaded with history, and I'm talking about recent history. The Dodgers and Giants have finished first and second in the NL West standings in four of the past five seasons, for crying out loud. Los Angeles has four division crowns in that span, while San Francisco "only" has one ... to go with its three World Series championship rings. The Dodgers have mastered the art of depth-building and 162-game-grind survival, while the Giants have mastered the much-more-enduring art of saving their best ball for fall and absolutely terrifying their fellow October entrants (if you get a chance, ask Joe Maddon how he felt about the potential prospect of a Game 5 winner-take-all in the 2016 NLDS with Johnny Cueto looming).
That these two will do their best to get in each other's way en route to October is a given. The projections once again love the Dodgers to win the West and, as usual, see the Giants as capable of another Wild Card shakeup (if FanGraphs' projections are right, this time Madison Bumgarner will start the NL Wild Card Game at home!).
All projections aside, we know the baseball gods like us because they gave us three Clayton Kershaw-Bumgarner matchups in 2016. But if they love us (and how could they not?), in 2017, they'll give us what no prior postseason has -- a Dodgers-Giants series on the October stage.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.