2018 MLB Season Preview

The Chicago Cubs are about to take on the Miami Marlins in the first game of the 2018 MLB season!  This year the league decided to schedule every team to play on Opening Day, which allows every team and their fan base to get in on the fun as the season kicks off.  Last year, two teams with long histories of late post-season stumbles, the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, gave us a fun-filled World Series that saw the ‘Stros bring home their first ever championship to a city still dealing with the recovery from Hurricane Harvey.  The team is incredibly confident that they’ve got the ability to repeat this year—brazen comments from star pitcher Justin Verlander made that very clear—but many teams have the talent to make the trek to the title.  Will Houston be able to hang on to the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of this year, or will another team manager to snatch it from their grasp?  Here are my predictions for the upcoming season:

 

National League

 

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers (#1)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Colorado Rockies

San Francisco Giants

San Diego Padres

This division isn’t weak per se—I think the AL Central is the worst in the baseball, and the NL East is a (somewhat) close competitor—but LA should have no problems with cruising to the top here.  Their rotation gives me a bit of concern, since they’ll have to depend on some back-end starters that have an extensive injury history, but Clayton Kershaw and their loaded young line-up anchored by Corey Seager are good enough to make it work.  I would have put the Giants second, but the fact that they could be without their top two starters for up to two months will put a real dent in their ability to get something going this season.  As such, I’ve got the D-Backs at number two here.  They’ve got one of the best players in the game in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and a decent supporting cast, with a solid rotation headlined by Zach Greinke and a good sidekick in the line-up in AJ Pollock.  That being said, I don’t think said line-up is balanced enough to get them into the post-season—it’ll be close, but I think they’ll miss out.  The Rockies, meanwhile, have the opposite problem—their batting order, anchored by Nolan Arenado, is loaded with solid hitters, and they’ve got a pretty good bullpen.  Their rotation, though, outside of Jon Gray is a little shaky, and will see them drop down the pecking order in this division.  The Padres will bring up the bottom—they have an interesting mish mash of players with some decent bats, the most prominent of which is new signing Eric Hosmer.  However, they have the worst of both of their rivals’ worlds: neither their rotation nor their order have much depth.  They’ll linger at the bottom until their top ranked farm system produces some MLB-caliber players.

 

NL Central

Chicago Cubs (#2)

Milwaukee Brewers (#1 WC)

St. Louis Cardinals (#2 WC)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Cincinnati Reds

The Cubs were well on their way to their second straight appearance in the World Series before running into the buzz saw that was last year’s Dodgers.  To level up and try to topple their rivals, they took two of their pitchers, starter Yu Darvish and reliever Brandon Morrow.  They have enough talent to hang with LA, but they have a significantly more difficult division, so I don’t think they’ll be able to quite match their record.  They’ll be closely followed by the Brewers, who made two of the biggest moves this past off-season in acquiring outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich.  They’ll come into a line-up that already features some strong performers, like slugger Ryan Braun and versatile Travis Shaw.  Their rotation doesn’t have any real high-end arms, but they’ve got enough firepower in their bats to carry them to the post-season.  The Cardinals, meanwhile, made a major outfield addition of their own, bringing in Yelich’s former teammate Marcel Ozuna and creating what is arguably one of the most talented trios in the game.  They have some serious injury concerns with their pitchers, most prominently with former ace Adam Wainwright and key reliever Luke Gregorson—but as is the case with the Cardinals of the modern era, they are incredibly balanced in every aspect of the game, and should have enough to get back into the play-offs.  The Pirates would have had enough to challenge them for that second wild card spot, but they got rid of two players who were arguably their best in righty Gerrit Cole and longtime outfielder Andrew McCutchen.  If they catch fire early on they could make some real noise, but expect them to deal away some of their remaining replacement-level players to restock their farm system.  The Reds, meanwhile, have Joey Votto and… not much else.  They’ll have ample opportunity to reload with high draft picks over the next couple years; here’s to hoping they’re good again before Votto retires.

 

NL East

Washington Nationals (#3)

Philadelphia Phillies

Atlanta Braves

New York Mets

Miami Marlins

This is a huge season for the Nats—Bryce Harper is widely expected to leave the nation’s capital after this season and they haven’t won a play-off series with the star right fielder on the roster, so this might be their only real chance to fulfill their potential.  Harper anchors a good line-up, and the Max Scherzer-Stephen Strasburg duo is perhaps the best in baseball; that’ll be enough to win the division, but I think the Cubs and Dodgers are just a bit deeper and will finish with better records.  Behind them, the young Phillies are a popular dark horse in the race for a wild card spot this season.  Unfortunately, I still think they’re a year or two away—Jake Arrieta was a good addition, as was Carlos Santana (he’ll take some pressure off of budding star Rhys Hoskins)—but I still think they’re lacking another solid rotation arm.  They’ll be competitive before long, though.  In the now, they’ll be fighting for that wild card spot alongside the Braves, who I expect to surprise some people this year, and the Mets.  I think Atlanta’s rotation is underrated, and there are enough solid hitters around superstar Freddie Freeman for Atlanta to make some noise in the standings, and that doesn’t even take into account top prospect Ronald Acuna.  As for the Mets, they certainly have enough talent to be among the best teams in the game, but the best teams are able to stay both healthy and consistent, and this team is always bound to be unable to accomplish at least one of those things.  As for the Marlins… the less said about them, the better.  Take pity on Starlin Castro and JT Realmuto.

 

American League

 

AL West

Houston Astros (#3)

Seattle Mariners (#2 WC)

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Oakland Athletics

Texas Rangers

Houston was a feel-good story last year—in the midst of the crisis their city was facing in the rebuild from the hurricane that decimated property across the South, the ‘Stros played incredible play-off baseball to pull out their first World Series in team history.  This year, they’ll get a full season from Justin Verlander, as well as from another star righty in the form of former Pirate Gerrit Cole.  Almost any other year they’d be good enough to earn a number one seed, but the Yankees are so good, and the Indians play in such a weak division, that they’ll have to settle for being number three.  The Mariners, meanwhile, are one of the more underrated teams in the game—sure, they have the longest play-off drought out of any team in the four major sports leagues in the US, and they’ve underperformed relative to their talent level for years.  But they also added Dee Gordon to a strong line-up headlined by Robinson Cano, and while former ace Felix Hernandez is on the way down, others, like Mike Leake and James Paxton, are on the up.  I expect this team to sneak into that second wild card spot.  To do so, they’ll have to fight off their division rival Angels, who made the biggest splash this off-season with their signing of Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani.  They’ve also made some less heralded moves, such as signing Zach Cosart and trading for Ian Kinsler, to boost their push.  However, I just don’t see their pitching staff as being good enough to warrant a play-off berth.  The bottom two will consist of the Rangers and A’s.  I’ll give the advantage to Oakland, who had the 5th best offense in the league during the second half of last season, over the aging Rangers, who have a very uncertain rotation and an offense that, outside of Adrian Beltre, won’t really strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.  They could flip-flop, but regardless, I don’t expect either team to be very good.

 

AL Central

Cleveland Indians (#1)

Minnesota Twins

Kansas City Royals

Chicago White Sox

Detroit Tigers

The Indians will have a fairly simple season—they get to play a bunch of games against three teams that seem to be in the midst of full rebuilds and more against a team that doesn’t quite match up well against it.  Just based on that alone, they should be able to snag the number one seed in the AL with ease.  Their season will be judged on whether or not they’ll be able to achieve post-season success, which I’ll talk about a bit later.  On our way down, the Twins are really the only other team in this division with a shot at the play-offs.  They made some smart additions this season, acquiring Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, and Logan Morrison in a flurry of off-season moves.  That being said, I still have some doubts about their line-up—they’ll need solid seasons from both Bryan Buxton and Miguel Sano, and I simply don’t think those guys are at a level where they can provide them yet.  Another year of development and another bat, though, and these guys could be a good dark horse contender next season.  Of the three rebuilders, the Royals have the most top-end talent—Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, and the newly re-signed Mike Moustakas are all still around, so that will prevent them from going into an all-out tank.  That being said, they’ll be active in trying to get rid as many guys as they can that don’t have long-term potential, so expect to see Duffy and Moustakas in trade talks come mid-season.  The White Sox, meanwhile, have perhaps the least high-end talent of any team in the division, but also have the best farm system.  Once some of their top picks reach the bigs, they should have enough to pull themselves out of the basement.  The Tigers still have Miguel Cabrera at first and guys like Jordan Zimmemann and Michael Fulmer in the rotation, but somehow contrived to finish with the worst record in the game last year, so while those guys still could be top-flight players, the rest of the team should be poor enough to let them finish with the top pick in next year’s draft.

 

AL East

New York Yankees (#2)

Boston Red Sox (#1 WC)

Toronto Blue Jays

Baltimore Orioles

Tampa Bay Rays

This division is consistently the most exciting in the game—there always seems to be at least three teams that have legitimate shots at post-season glory, and I think this year is no different.  The Yankees have gotten a lot of attention for how incredible their line-up is going to look this year, and that makes a lot of sense—it’s been a long time since a pair with as much power potential as Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge have been on the same team.  That said, I think it’s the team’s pitching staff, which is deep enough that former A’s ace Sonny Gray is penciled in as the number three starter and that excellent pitchers like David Robertson and Dellin Betances are merely set-up men for Aroldis Chapman, will carry the team to the top seed in the league.  The Red Sox will be nipping at their heels the whole season—they won the division despite some poor performances at the plate, and just added a power hitter of their own in JD Martinez.  They won’t quite be good enough to topple the mighty Bronx Bombers—I’ve got some concerns about the consistency of the back end of their rotation, both on the field and off of it with injury concerns—but they should have no issues snagging a wild card place.  The Blue Jays will be making a strong push for the other spot, especially seeing as how their star third baseman Josh Donaldson is likely to test free agency after this year.  They have an incredibly balanced batting order, but similarly to the Red Sox, I have concerns about the back of their rotation, and their top-end talent there, and in the bullpen, isn’t quite up to scratch for a play-off caliber team.  I think they, and the Twins, will just miss out.  The Orioles and Rays are both in tough spots—they have decent teams with stars (Manny Machado and Chris Archer, respectively) that rival any in the game, but they’re in a division that has what are arguably the two most talented teams in the AL.  They won’t struggle, but they won’t have enough to make the play-offs, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do with their two big names, both of whom have been in trade rumors since last fall (my prediction: Machado stays put, while Archer is traded to some team in California, with the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres all being players).

 

Awards

 

National League

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

This figures to be Harper’s last season in Washington, and I think he’ll be especially motivated to make a difference and truly establish his legacy.  His closest competitor should be a duo of Dodgers (Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager), but the slugging Las Vegas native should take the title.

 

NL Cy Young: Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

I’m kind of tired of Clayton Kershaw winning so may awards, so I went with a wild card pick here.  Martinez figures to be the ace of an improved Cardinal team, and he’s got the stuff to make a real breakthrough this year.

 

NL Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves

This is as close to a no-doubt pick as there is, really—Acuna looked incredible this spring, and he has the potential to be a superstar within a couple seasons.  No other prospect with a real chance of touching the majors this year has that potential.

 

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Adam Eaton, Washington Nationals

I admit that I’m a little bit biased with this one—Eaton was one of my favorite players with the White Sox before he was traded.  That being said, there was a reason that “Sparky” was acquired for a couple of solid prospects last off-season—he’s a very talented outfielder, and I fully expect him to bounce back and make a difference for the Nats this year.

 

NL Manager of the Year: Dave Martinez, Washington Nationals

For all the good that Dusty Baker did in managing Washington during the regular season, never winning a play-off series is a big blemish on his resume.  I expect Martinez to be able to steer his team to a solid season and at least one series win, which should be enough to earn him the award.

 

NL Best Offseason Acquisition: Tyler Chatwood, Chicago Cubs

The Cubs’ signing of Yu Darvish has gotten all the headlines, but I think that, for the money, Chatwood is a significantly better signing.  He pitched well in a tough Colorado environment last year, so while Wrigley Field is no pitcher’s paradise, he should be able to take advantage of not having Coors Field as his home park and leverage that by turning in another solid season.

 

NL Worst Offseason Acquisition: Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres

I actually really respect Eric Hosmer—he’s an exceptional hitter that made things tough for my White Sox many times over.  That being said, to get a six year deal, worth a ton of money, in this money, is a big investment; that it was made by a team that doesn’t really figure to contend for a couple, when Hosmer’s salary might look slightly ridiculous, made this one a bit much for me.

 

American League

AL MVP: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge will get a ton of attention all season long, but I think that Betts will benefit immensely from the addition of JD Martinez.  It’ll free him up from a lot of pressure and allow him to excel, so that, combined with his excellent defense, should win him this award.

 

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

THIS HAS TO BE THE YEAR.  Seriously, though: the inconsistencies of the 2015 White Sox probably cost Sale a chance at this award in his last season in Chicago, and he was on track to win the award last year before a poor final two months saw him drop off.  If he doesn’t win this year, I won’t have much hope for one of the greatest lefties of his generation to ever win the award (until I stop thinking he will).

 

AL Rookie of the Year: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Ohtani’s poor performance in spring training gives me pause in picking him to win this award; he made the team, but I think that had a lot to do with his salary and name recognition than his actual value to the team at this point.  That being said, I think he’ll be able to settle in by mid-June (faster at the plate than on the mound), which is more than enough time to develop into a good enough player to win this award.

 

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Tim Lincecum, Texas Rangers

This is a bit of an ambitious pick, especially considering the struggles “The Freak” endured the last time he appeared in the bigs.  That being said, his effort to regain a real role on a pro team is commendable, and he certainly has the natural ability to make his winning of this reward entirely possible.

 

AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

The Yankees have gotten most of the attention this off-season, but remember that I have the Indians being the top team in the AL.  I think that somebody in the organization deserves to be commended for that, and I think it’ll be Francona.

 

AL Best Offseason Acquisition: Neil Walker, New York Yankees

Walker might not even be a full-time player, for the Yankees or some other team, by the time this season comes to an end.  That being said, the consistency he brings with his bat is incredibly valuable, especially at his current salary.  If he can maintain his status as the team’s starting second baseman, he could prove to be one of the most underrated signings of the last decade.

 

AL Worst Offseason Acquisition: Alex Cobb, Baltimore Orioles

I could type basically all of the things about Baltimore’s acquisition of Cobb as I did about San Diego’s signing of Hosmer—this was a big outlay for a team that doesn’t figure to be super competitive in a market that was even less competitive.

 

Playoffs

 

National League

Wildcard

St. Louis Cardinals over Milwaukee Brewers

 

Division Series

Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis Cardinals

 

Washington Nationals over Chicago Cubs

 

Championship Series

Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals

 

American League

Wildcard

Boston Red Sox over Seattle Mariners

 

Division Series

Cleveland Indians over Boston Red Sox

 

New York Yankees over Houston Astros

 

Championship Series

Cleveland Indians over New York Yankees

 

World Series

Los Angeles Dodgers over Cleveland Indians

I didn’t have enough time to discuss the play-off match-ups before I needed to publish this, so if you have any questions on why I see those playing out the way I do, or any comments on any other parts of this piece, please contact me here.

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