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
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
1. Washington Nationals
2. New York Mets
3. Philadelphia Phillies
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Miami Marlins
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
1. Chicago Cubs
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. St. Louis Cardinals
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres
National League All-Star Starters
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)