The American League
In the American League, it’ll be tough to unseat the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros, who are led by reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and reigning MVP Jose Altuve, respectively. The main story, though, is that the Super Powers are back: the Yankees finished two games behind the Red Sox last year, and both have a postseason bone to pick with the Astros. They’ve been pushed to the background for a few years by the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, and Houston Astros — get this: for three years, from 2014-2016, the Red Sox and Yankees combined for ZERO postseason wins — but no more! Both teams have a new manager and a new (presumably) cleanup hitter, and the two teams will likely trade leads in the top spot for most of the year. Who will come out ahead? You’ll have to read below. And watch for the next six months.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
1. Houston Astros
This is an easy one. Their stars are all young, and they get a full season of Justin Verlander, plus Gerrit Cole, who rivals Rich Hill and Gio Gonzalez as the best #3 starter in all of baseball. Carlos Correa, George Springer, and reigning MVP Jose Altuve comprise the best up-the-middle trio since… probably ever. And you gotta love their Jewish third baseman Alex Bregman; his presence balances out the anti-Semitic pronunciation of ace Dallas Keuchel’s last name.
2. Los Angeles Angels
An astonishing amount of the team’s success rests on Japanese import Shohei Otani’s shoulders. If he is both a great pitcher and a great hitter, this team is playoff-bound. If he’s neither, they’re not, and they’ll continue to waste our generation’s Willie Mays. Simple as that.
I know I’m obsessed with Mike Trout, but look at this side-by-side comparison of the first six seasons of the best players of my lifetime:
Barry Bonds: .275/.380/.503, 176 HR, 46.8 WAR
Alex Rodriguez: .315/.384/.583, 236 HR, 46.9 WAR
Albert Pujols: .332/.419/.629, 250 HR, 46.2 WAR
Ken Griffey, Jr.: .302/.379/.536, 189 HR, 40.2 WAR
Then there’s Trout’s first six seasons: .306/.410/.566, 201 HR, 54.1 WAR
Remember how good those other four guys were? Trout’s better.
3. Oakland Athletics
I’ve got them as a sleeper team. Khris Davis has the second most home runs over the last two years (85 to Giancarlo Stanton’s 86) and their two rookie Matts Olson and Chapman could have a major impact. Chapman’s third base defense rivals Josh Donaldson as the best in baseball this side of Nolan Arenado, and Olson looks like a true power bat at first base. And you never know what magic Billy Beane has up his sleeve… or down the corridors of Oakland’s decrepit stadium.
4. Texas Rangers
It’s a toss-up between these two bottom feeders. It wasn’t so long ago that the Rangers were (literally) fighting the Blue Jays in the playoffs two years in a row, but then they traded Yu Darvish, Adrian Beltre finally got old after getting his 3,000th hit last year, and all of a sudden this team just isn’t that good anymore. Expect Cole Hamels to be a Dodger or an Angel by August.
5. Seattle Mariners
I want video footage of Robinson Cano eating cake while he watches the Yankees in the World Series.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
1. Cleveland Indians
Even as a Yankee fan, I was shocked to see the Indians lose in the first round last year. Regardless, it was a good year in Cleveland, and not just because of the 22-game winning streak. Jose Ramirez proved he’s for real, Francisco Lindor continued to establish himself as one of the twenty or so best players in baseball, and, judging by his up-and-down career, Jason Kipnis is due for a good season in 2018. Their pitching staff — rotation and bullpen — is probably the best in the game, and they’ve got something to prove after heartbreaking defeats to the Cubs and Yankees the last two postseasons.
2. Minnesota Twins
A surprise playoff team last year, they’ve added to their pitching staff with Jake Odorizzi. Their defense is terrific, especially center fielder Byron Buxton, and if they can make Miguel Sano realize that he’s a designated hitter in third baseman’s clothing, they could be even better this year.
3. Chicago White Sox
Perennially underrated Jose Abreu is the leader of a quickly rebuilding team. Trades with Boston and Washington for Chris Sale and Adam Eaton netted the White Sox an extraordinarily diverse group of young players, and some of them — Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada come to mind — may be ready as soon as this season.
4. Kansas City Royals
If KC has a better record than the Padres, we should all point and laugh at everyone who thought Eric Hosmer was an above average first baseman. I’ve always been a fan of his, but his $144 million contract with San Diego is laughable. The Royals will definitely miss Lorenzo Cain, who has been the best center fielder this side of Mike Trout for most of this decade.
5. Detroit Tigers
Who is even left on this team? Detroit lost employees at almost the same rate as the White House last season. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Jordan Zimmermann are the best players on this team, and… woof. I’d bet on a bit of a rebound for Cabrera, who played through two herniated discs last season, but even peak Cabrera couldn’t get this team to the playoffs by himself.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
1. New York Yankees
What, you were expecting the Blue Jays?
There’s a lot that could go wrong here. Stanton could get hurt, as he has in almost every season of his career; Greg Bird could get hurt, because… he’s Greg Bird; Masahiro Tanaka could pitch like the guy who pitched his way out of a massive contract extension last year; C.C. Sabathia’s golden age revival could prove to be short-lived; Dellin Betances could continue to be unable to find home plate (or first base) with a map; they could get little to no production from second and third base; and Aaron Judge could hit like he did last July-August, when he set a record by striking out in 37 consecutive games. Judge is basically destined to disappoint: Mike Trout is the only player in baseball history to come in first or second in the MVP voting in his rookie year and then follow it up with an equally good sophomore season. The only sure things on this team are Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius, and Gary Sanchez, who proved his explosive rookie season wasn’t a fluke with 33 home runs in 2017.
That said, I don’t expect all of those things to go wrong — though surely some of them will — and I think my boys from the Bronx will have the best record in the American League.
2. Boston Red Sox
As with the Yankees, there’s a lot that could go wrong with this team. Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are basically the only sure things on offense, and new manager Alex Cora is going to have to ease up on Chris Sale’s innings in the first half to make sure he doesn’t wear down by September. Productive seasons from Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez, and Andrew Benintendi will help, but I think David Price is the big wild card. He doesn’t have to earn his $217 million contact — though I’m sure all of New England would be happy if he did — but if he can just stay healthy and eat up innings over 30-35 ‘quality’ starts, he’ll do wonders for the rest of the pitching staff.
3. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are trying an unprecedented experiment with Manny Machado: in baseball history, no player this far into his career (this will be Machado’s seventh season) has moved to a more demanding defensive position, even one he played in the minors.
[For anyone thinking ‘Cal Ripken,’ Ripken played third for less than a season in 1982 before moving to shortstop.]
I’m very curious to see how Tim Beckham is affected by the switch from short to third. I have a feeling a lot more balls down the third base line are going to go for hits.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baltimore contend for the wild card. 22-year-old Austin Hays — my early pick for 2018 rookie of the year — could combine with Adam Jones and underrated Trey Mancini to make a very good outfield. The rotation is serviceable, the bullpen is spectacular — even with Zach Britton on the DL — and I expect Jones and Machado to have monster seasons in their contract year. Machado, in particular, is likely to have a spectacular season, prompting the Yankees, Phillies, or Cubs to give him an outrageous contract and then immediately regret it.
I would be equally unsurprised if the Orioles stink for the first three months and Machado is a Cub by the All-Star break.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
This is the year Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez have to prove they’re closer to Tom Glavine and John Smoltz than they are to Aaron Sele and Rick Helling. If they do, the Blue Jays are likely to contend into September. If they don’t, Josh Donaldson will be a Cardinal by August. I’m betting on the latter.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
I’m going to miss seeing Longoria the 19 times the Yankees play the Rays.
The National League
In the National League, the Cubs and Dodgers have faced each other in back-to-back LCS, which has only happened three other times in the last 35 years (Yankees/Red Sox 2003-2004, Cardinals-Astros 2004-2005, and Phillies-Dodgers 2008-2009). The last time two teams faced each other in THREE LCS in a row? The Yankees and Royals 1976-1978. Can the Cubs and Dodgers do it again? Can the Nationals get past the division series in what might be Bryce Harper’s last year in our nation’s capital? (These days, who wouldn’t want to get the hell out of there?)
The NL Wild Card might be the most up-for-grabs playoff spot in baseball. Last year it was the Diamondbacks and Rockies. The year before it was the Giants and Mets, and before that it was the Cubs and Pirates. There are at least seven teams (beyond the three likely division winners) who will challenge for those spots in 2018. WHO ARE THEY???
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
1. Washington Nationals
Hey, something’s gotta go right in our nation’s capital. When I originally wrote these predictions, Madison Bumgarner hadn’t broken his hand yet and I had the Giants going to the playoffs. I thought they’d be playing the Nats in the division series and I confess that I predicted Bryce Harper would hit a line drive that killed Hunter Strickland. Oh well. At season’s end, Strickland can buy Bumgarner a new tractor.
As for where Harper is going to sign at the end of this year? That’s a clown question, bro.
2. New York Mets
At the outset of 2017, they had seven starting pitchers on their roster. Jacob deGrom was the only one who didn’t go on the disabled list. Matt Harvey has missed half of each of the last two seasons, and their best pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, missed practically all of 2017. So did Yoenis Cespedes, while young stud Michael Conforto missed the last month. Get all those guys healthy again and they can challenge for the wild card.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
Carlos Santana and John Birch — I mean Jake Arrieta — are past their primes and even though Philly didn’t break the bank the way the Padres did for Eric Hosmer, they’ll miss those $135 million when they’re trying to woo Bryce Harper and Manny Machado in seven months.
There is some stuff to like here: Aaron Nola looks like a future ace, and they have a dynamic young outfield of Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, and 2017 rookie sensation Rhys Hoskins, who now has to prove he’s not Shane Spencer.
4. Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman’s inner monologue: ‘I was promised better teammates…’
5. Miami Marlins
Derek Jeter’s inner monologue: ‘It’s so simple. First, we find the worst play ever written. Second, we hire the worst director in town. Third, we hire the worst actors in New York… wait, am I an owner or a Broadway producer?’
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
1. Chicago Cubs
I briefly thought about putting the Brewers here. They led the Cubs for much of 2017, and as there’s usually about a 50% turnover among playoff teams from one season to the next, Chicago might be a good candidate to fall by the wayside. But then I look at their lineup of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Wilson Contreras, and wunderkind Kyle Schwarber, and I think… nah. They’re going back to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
2. Milwaukee Brewers
As I just mentioned, they nearly made the playoffs last year. Jimmy Nelson came out of nowhere to be one of the best pitchers in baseball, and they now have arguably the best outfield in the National League (though not nearly as good as the Yankees’ or Red Sox’). It seems like ages ago that Milwaukee traded then-prospects Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jake Odorizzi for Zack Greinke. That trade worked out pretty well for everybody, and now Cain is back, comprising one hell of an outfield with Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
Marcell Ozuna is a nice pickup and Tommy Pham seems like the real deal in center field, but I don’t see enough offense to overcome a decent-but-unspectacular pitching staff. For the Cards to make the playoffs, Carlos Martinez is going to have to pitch like he’s Pedro Martinez. CAVEAT: if the Orioles or Blue Jays are scuffling along at the All-Star Break, St. Louis is a good bet to land either Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson as a rental. In that case, they leapfrog Milwaukee.
4. Cincinnati Reds
If you are a young baseball player and you want to learn how to hit, watch Joey Votto. He combines the batting eye of Wade Boggs, the power of Prince Fielder, and the ability to spray hits across the field like Tony Gwynn. I heard somebody describe him as this generation’s Ted Williams, and it’s a shame that the Reds signed him to an un-tradable contract; imagine the prospects they could get by trading him to the Red Sox or Astros.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
Their streak of winning seasons and playoff appearances was all too short-lived. Even without Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, there are a lot of things to like about this team. But there’s a good chance those things will be gone by midseason’s end.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
A lot would have to go wrong for this team not to win the division. It’s nice to see Yasiel Puig finally settle into the player he is: he’s not the hitter Vladimir Guerrero was, but he’s a much better defender. The Dodgers should be happy with him. Justin Turner continues to be one of the most underrated players in baseball, starting pitchers Alex Wood and Rich Hill are equally underrated, and Kenley Jansen is dangerously close to being the next Trevor Hoffman (in other words, a great pitcher and an undeserving Hall of Famer).
A note on Clayton Kershaw: in the last three years he has gone 46-15 and has led the Major Leagues with a 2.07 E.R.A. and 18.2 WAR. He has no Cy Young Awards in that span. He also has never started an All-Star Game, somehow. Is it possible the greatest pitcher of his generation is actually underrated?
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
Paul Goldschmidt continues to cement his reputation as his generation’s Jeff Bagwell, but the Diamondbacks are really going to miss J.D. Martinez. I don’t know what owner Ken Kendrick’s budget is, but if he can sign Zack Greinke to a $206 million contract, I think he should have shelled out for Martinez, who, according to FanGraphs, has been baseball’s fourth best hitter over the last four seasons (behind Mike Trout, Joey Votto, and Giancarlo Stanton, just ahead of Goldschmidt and Bryce Harper). Arizona’s rotation is good enough that they’ll be contenders, but I don’t expect another playoff appearance UNLESS they make a huge midseason trade.
3. San Francisco Giants
Madison Bumgarner’s motorcycle injury set them off on the wrong foot in 2017 and his broken hand is going to do the same this year. Damn you Whit Merrifield! (Still your favorite player, Jake Bridges?) You’ve gotta hand it to Bumgarner: the way he reacted when the ball hit his hand, you’d think he’d been stung by a bee. They’ll win more games than the 64 they won last year and I was going to put them in the playoffs, but with 40% of their rotation out for 6-8 weeks (MadBum joins Jeff Samardzija on the disabled list), I don’t see them overcoming that.
4. Colorado Rockies
Nolan Arenado. Charlie Blackmon. Jon Gray. Wade Davis. D.J. LeMahieu. Those are the sure things. They all had great 2017 campaigns and the Rockies made the playoffs (barely). For them to contend in 2018, they’re going to need some help from Ian Desmond, who missed half of 2017 to injuries; David Dahl, who missed ALL of 2017 due to injury; Ryan McMahon, who shows promise at first base; and the bullpen, which, on paper, rivals the Yankees and Indians for baseball’s best. I don’t see them making the playoffs again, BUT: don’t miss your chance to watch Arenado in his prime. He’s one of my four favorite non-Yankees to watch (along with Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Kris Bryant).
5. San Diego Padres
I already miss Chase Headley, who had a nice 3.5-year run in the Bronx. Young center fielder Manuel Margot is the best-kept secret in baseball, and outfielder-turned-first baseman-turned-outfielder Will Myers, who spells his first name incorrectly, has finally become the player Kansas City and Tampa Bay thought he would be. But since he plays in San Diego, nobody notices. Clayton Richard and Tyson Ross lead a rotation that could either be surprisingly good or a major bust. Eric Hosmer and the Padres both made huge bets on each other. It’ll be interesting to see if they were sucker bets.
National League All-Star Starters
Stephen Strasburg P (Wsh)
Buster Posey C (SF)
Paul Goldschmidt 1B (Ari)
Daniel Murphy 2B (Wsh)
Kris Bryant 3B (CHC)
Corey Seager SS (LAD)
Christian Yelich LF (Mil) — hey, there’s always one weird choice
Charlie Blackmon CF (Col)
Bryce Harper RF (Wsh)
American League All-Star Starters
Corey Kluber P (Cle)
Gary Sanchez C (NYY)
Matt Olson 1B (Oak) —again, there’s always one weird one
Jose Altuve 2B (Hou)
Josh Donaldson 3B
Manny Machado SS (Bal)
Aaron Judge LF (NYY)
Mike Trout CF (LAA)
Mookie Betts RF (Bos)
Giancarlo Stanton DH (NYY)
MLB Season Awards
AL MVP: Mike Trout (LAA)
NL MVP: Bryce Harper (Wsh)
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale (Bos)
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg (Wsh)
AL ROY: Austin Hays (Bal)
NL ROY: Ronald Acuna (Atl)
MLB 2018 Postseason Predictions
AL Wild Card: Red Sox over Angels
NL Wild Card: Mets over Brewers
ALDS: Yankees over Red Sox, Astros over Indians
NLDS: Nationals over Mets, Dodgers over Cubs
ALCS: Yankees exact revenge on the Astros!
NLCS: Dodgers over Nationals
World Series: Yankees vs. Dodgers. Hey, if we’re going to make America great again…
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