Season Overview: The American League and the National League couldn’t be more different, and that’s not a comment on the designated hitter. The AL has four teams that would have to lose half their roster to injury in order to miss the playoffs, while the NL has only one team that I would bet the farm on making the playoffs. Since the leagues split into three divisions 25 years ago, neither league has ever been as top heavy as the AL is right now.
Meanwhile, Dodger shortstop Corey Seager and Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez seem like the most likely candidates for Comeback Players of the Year,Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have enormous contracts to live up to, and boy is that Twitter feud between Rob Manfred and Mike Trout’s defenders fun to watch. It’s like baseball’s own Trump vs. Conway. Also, I don’t understand why Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel remain unemployed. If an NL East or Central team picks them up, that team would immediately become that division’s favorite in my book.
Let’s get to it!
National League West
This is the one team in the National League that I’m most comfortable predicting will make the playoffs, both because they’ve won two straight pennants and because the NL West isn’t as competitive as the East and Central.
The team’s general makeup remains the same: A.J. Pollock replaces Yasiel Puig and Corey Seager replaces Manny Machado, who was Seager’s own replacement last season. Dodger fans are undoubtedly disappointed that they didn’t sign Bryce Harper, but this is basically the same team that has won back-to-back pennants. And we’ll finally get to see what much-hyped 22-year-old outfield prospect Alex Verdugo has to offer. Any Clayton Kershaw decline is likely to be matched by Walker Buehler improvement, and they’ve added noted headhunter Joe Kelly to the bullpen. Cody Bellinger will continue to improve — he’s only 23 — and Justin Turner is the most underrated player in baseball. LA is not without weaknesses, but they’re the surest bet in a wide-open National League.
The Rockies have made the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in their history, and given that they finally have a pitching staff that seems to understand pitching in Coors Field — if Kyle Freeland pitched in a pitcher’s park, we’d consider him among the best in baseball — I see no reason they can’t contend for a third straight season. It’s nice to see the rest of baseball picking up on what I’ve been saying for several years: Nolan Arenado is the best third baseman I’ve ever seen (apologies to Chipper Jones and Adrian Beltre).
You could throw a dart at the rest of the division to guess who will finish third, fourth, and fifth. I picked the Giants in the hopes that Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, and Co. have some magic up their sleeve for Bruce Bochy’s last season in San Francisco.
Their superstar first baseman and all-star center fielder are gone, but the pitching staff, led by Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, is solid enough that they’ll be respectable as they rebuild their offense.
Yes, they landed Manny “I’m-Not-Johnny-Hustle” Machado. Yes, they supposedly have the best farm system in either league. And yes, Eric Hosmer and Ian Kinsler give them one of the best defensive right-side-of-the-infields in baseball. But this ain’t a contending team yet. Not by a long shot. If they get anywhere near 80 wins, they should be very proud of themselves.
American League West
I told you this league was top-heavy. The Astros have won the West each of the last two seasons and we haven’t even seen the best of Carlos Correa yet. Losing Charlie Morton from the rotation is significant, but they’ve still got a helluva pitching staff led by Gerrit Cole in his walk year and the newly-extended Justin Verlander.
This is more of a prediction that the Athletics will fall back to earth than that the Angels will be serious contenders. Bullpen upgrades like Cody Allen and the addition of slugger Justin Bour will help, if only incrementally. The second wild card in the AL is likely to be wide open, so the Angels have a shot. They do have Mike Trout, a real-life Roy Hobbs, if Hobbs hadn’t gotten shot.
It’s been six months since the A’s lost the AL Wild Card game and I still have no idea how they won 97 games last year. Their rotation is a patchwork of starters who would have been middle relievers in another era. Their bullpen is good and they have human highlight reels on defense at third base (Matt Chapman) and center field (Ramon Laureano), so they’ll compete for the second wild card again. Just don’t expect 97 wins.
I’m going with Texas over Seattle based purely on their very slightly superior rotation. It’s also a little bit of a bet on right fielder Nomar Mazara’s untapped potential.
National League Central
In 2013, the Kansas City Royals won 86 games and nearly made the playoffs. The next year they won the pennant, and the World Series the following year. Consider the Brewers in 2014-15 Royals territory. They’ve even got that Kansas City team’s third baseman (Mike Moustakas) and center fielder (Lorenzo Cain, who actually led NL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR last season). Throw in the addition of former Dodger catcher Yasmani Grandal and a dynamite bullpen and this looks like a team on a mission.
Kris Bryant will give Corey Seager some competition for Comeback Player of the Year, Javier Baez has ascended to the first rank, and Anthony Rizzo is a rock both in the lineup and on the field. The pitching is good but not great, and I would be concerned about the bullpen if they make it to the playoffs.
The front office did the organization a real public relations disservice with two offseason moves: bringing back wife-beater Addison Russell and signing a television deal with Sinclair, a “news” organization so steeped in propaganda that they make Fox News look like journalism. Enough Cub fans are abandoning the team, at least temporarily, that I hope the front office takes some time to consider what kind of organization they really want to be.
Paul Goldschmidt. Need I say more? Okay, I will. Matt Carpenter. Miles Mikolas. Harrison Bader. Paul Dejong. Carlos Martinez. This team is for real, y’all. St. Louis is not a town that takes losing well and they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2015. Chicago and Milwaukee will be looking over their shoulders all summer.
Remaking three-fifths of your pitching rotation is usually a sign you’re grasping at straws, but in a division that’s almost entirely up for grabs, Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, and Sonny Gray may push the Reds into contention. Gray is likely to pitch better out of the glow of the New York spotlight and who knows how many home runs Yasiel Puig might hit in a bandbox like Great American Ballpark. Losing Scooter Gennett for the first two months will hurt, but I expect this team to give Cincinnati fans some reason for hope.
They might be the best last-place team in baseball. If they were in the American League, they’d be a contender for the second wild card. As it is, they should have fun playing spoiler to the rest of the division. They end the season with three-game series against the Brewers, Cubs, and Reds. Advantage: Cardinals.
American League Central
They would be vulnerable if they didn’t play in the game’s weakest division. As it stands now, they’re likely to cruise to the division title again, but aside from Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, their offense is fairly pedestrian. The rotation is anything but, with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer, and if those guys can avoid a collapse in the playoffs, they’ve got a shot at returning to the World Series.
They’re short on All-Stars, but long on depth, so I’m going with them for second place. Byron Buxton is apparently the fastest runner in baseball — even faster than Billy Hamilton — so if he can remember how to get on base, he’s a real weapon at the top of the lineup and in center field.
This is me betting on real improvement from Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, two studs that should start to pay off for Chicago. They also have one of the game’s top prospects in outfielder Eloy Jimenez and the very steady Jose Abreu at first base.
Poor Miguel Cabrera. He’s all that’s left from Detroit’s glory days at the beginning of this decade. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s in his Albert-Pujols-in-LA phase or if he’s still got something left in the tank.
National League East
I wouldn’t be surprised if the top four teams all finished within a few wins of each other. I’m picking the Nationals to win the division because of their pitching. They’re also free of any Bryce Harper-related drama and they still have a pretty good lineup to go with that three-headed rotation monster of Max Scherzer–Stephen Strasburg–Patrick Corbin.
Stupid money. That’s what owner John Middleton said he was going to spend and he did. He gave Bryce Harper the richest contract in American sports, a record Harper held for about a week.
As with the Phillies, it’s the Braves’ pitching staff that makes me question their ability to win this very competitive division. Freddie Freeman is as consistent as it gets, and Ronald Acuña, Jr. and Ozzie Albies had stellar rookie seasons — particularly Acuña — and I think they’re the real deal.
Look, if this team could stay healthy I’d bet on them to win the division. Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, and reigning NL Cy Young-winner Jacob deGrom make up the best starting rotation in baseball. On paper. Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto are studs in the outfield, Amed Rosario looks ready to take the next step at shortstop, and if Robinson Canó can avoid getting suspended, he’s still spry at age 36. But Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier are already injured, Yoenis Cespedes’ heels don’t seem to want him to play baseball anymore, and somebody in that rotation is gonna get hurt. Canó and deGrom can’t carry this team all by themselves.
Derek Jeter, you’re still my favorite owner in baseball. So far, you’re not the best.
Speaking of Jeter…
American League East
I’ll be honest: I’m not as confident as many sportswriters seem to be that the Yankees will be better than the Red Sox. Didi Gregorius will miss at least the first three months, Luis Severino is out until May, and Aaron Hicks hasn’t played in a month.
Last year, with those three guys having the best seasons of their careers, the Yankees won eight fewer games than the Red Sox. Boston did sweep an early August four-game series that seemed to clinch the division for them, and the Yankees played that series without Aaron Judge, who missed nearly two months with a wrist injury, and Gary Sanchez, who had an injury-filled and overall lousy season in 2018. Those two can carry the team when they’re healthy, and I expect a better season than the (decent and underappreciated) one we just got from Giancarlo Stanton. Throw in the additions of James Paxton and Adam Ottavino and I’m willing to give the odds to my boys in the Bronx. Barely.
The 2018 Red Sox might be the most underrated team in recent memory, and that’s saying something from a lifelong Red Sox-hater. They won 108 games in the regular season and stormed their way to a World Championship, never even giving fans in New York, Houston, or Los Angeles more than a couple of hours of hope. Even the 114-win 1998 Yankees looked vulnerable in the ALCS against Cleveland, and the 116-win 2001 Mariners couldn’t even get to the World Series, much less win it.
Now the question is: can they do it again? The 1999 Yankees won 16 fewer games than the previous year and they still won the World Series. If Boston wins 92 games this year, they might not even make the playoffs, and they’ve lost their two best relievers from 2018 (Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel) without obvious replacements. Bullpens are more important than ever in today’s game, and the Yankees have a huge edge in that department. That’s why I’m ranking Boston second. But it’s close.
As with the Athletics, I have no idea how the hell this team won 90 games last season, although I bet Blake Snell’s 1.89 ERA. had something to do with it. Snell is a great pitcher and his breakout Cy Young campaign probably wasn’t a fluke, but he’s not going to do that again. It’s a fairly open field for the second wild card, so the Rays have a shot, but I don’t see 90 wins happening again.
The three words most likely to excite a Canadian in 2019 are “Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.” (although “Naked Justin Trudeau
If they win 50 games and Chris Davis provides 0.0 WAR, they can consider the season a success.
END OF SEASON AWARDS
AL MVP: Aaron Judge (NYY)
NL MVP: Nolan Arenado (COL)
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole (HOU)
NL Cy Young: Aaron Nola (PHI)
AL Rookie of the Year: Eloy Jimenez (CHW)
NL Rookie of the Year: Victor Robles (WSH)
AL Wild Card: Red Sox over Rays
NL Wild Card: Phillies over Rockies
ALDS: Astros over Red Sox, Yankees over Indians
NLDS: Dodgers over Phillies, Brewers over Nationals
ALCS: Yankees over Astros
NLCS: Brewers over Dodgers
World Series: Yankees over Brewers
American League All-Star Team
Gary Sanchez C (NYY)
José Abreu 1B (CHW)
Jose Altuve 2B (HOU)
Jose Ramirez 3B (CLE)
Carlos Correa SS (HOU)
Aaron Judge LF (NYY)
Mike Trout CF (LAA)
Mookie Betts RF (BOS)
J.D. Martinez DH (BOS)
Trevor Bauer SP (CLE)
National League All-Star Team
Buster Posey C (SF)
Paul Goldschmidt 1B (STL)
Robinson Canó 2B (NYM)
Nolan Arenado 3B (COL)
Corey Seager SS (LAD)
Christian Yelich LF (MIL)
Ronald Acuña, Jr. CF (ATL)
Bryce Harper RF (PHI)
Kris Bryant DH (CHC)
Jacob deGrom P (NYM)