Ranking The Teams #6-1, My Version: Super Six?

I understand, this a little late, as Opening Day was Thursday, and the Red Sox didn’t look so great Thursday even though they are a part of this Top 6.  But I figured I’d finish this series since there’s only one article left.

Welcome to the final article of my 2019 MLB preseason power rankings.  This season, you could argue the Super Seven that was discussed a few years back still exists, except with different teams.  The Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, and Yankees have remained elite, and despite declines by the Nationals, Indians, and Dodgers (probably) , new powerhouses in this league have arised.  The Braves should be regular contenders now, the Cardinals could make a run with 1B Paul Goldschmidt here for the long run, and the Phillies should be competitive with Bryce Harper.  But Philadelphia isn’t quite on the level of these other teams.  So unless the Dodgers do stay elite after all, I think the Super Seven will become a Super Six.  I will be discussing those six today and pointing out the Achilles Heel of each team. Click the links below for other articles in the series (I will add them as I post them):

 

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2019 MLB Preseason Power Rankings Series:

Ranking The Teams #30-25, My Version: The Bottom of the Barrel

Ranking The Teams #24-19, My Version: Who will have to Wait till Next Year?

Ranking The Teams #18-13, My Version: Who else Misses out on Playoff Contention?

Ranking The Teams #12-7, My Version: Who has Playoff Chances?

Ranking The Teams #6-1, My Version: Super Six?

I also released my 3rd annual preseason Baseball Bits!

 

6. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

The Case for the Cardinals

The Cardinals haven’t made the playoffs in a few years, sure. But the veterans they kept around from their last playoff run, like Matt Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Yadier Molina, are still reliable contributors. They have also boosted the team with younger talent, including SP Jack Flaherty, OFs Harrison Bader and UT Jose Martinez, and SS Paul DeJong. After adding star in Goldy, the Cardinals have the tools they need for contention. But how far can they go in such a tough division? They will have to get past their division rivals that are also contending, the Cubs and Brewers.

The Achilles Heel

The Cards’ rotation looks alright and its young core will keep the rotation elite for a long time.  But right now they lack an ace.  I don’t believe they can be a World Series contender without one.  Whether they need a trade to find an ace or someone steps up as time passes, this could hold them back from serious contention and should be priority #1 for GM Steve Keim.  Maybe Martinez could be a good trade piece now that 1B Paul Goldschmidt is on board.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 2nd in NL Central

5. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox

The Case for the Red Sox

The defending World Series champions had a relatively quiet off-season. They did retain most of the team from 2018 that won 108 games. But the bullpen has been their biggest issue, even with Craig Kimbrel. Without Craig Kimbrel, there is even more pressure on the rotation to succeed. This is especially true regarding Chris Sale and David Price. After Sale’s extension, both will be expected to to shine every start in order to be worth the money. Each start costs about $1 million dollars. Regardless of this pressure, the Red Sox should at least secure a Wild Card spot if they can’t beat out the Yankees in the AL East. They are still one of several powerhouses in the league.

The Achilles Heel

With Craig Kimbrel on the way out, the closer role is up for grabs.  But if you look at the active pitchers on the roster, it’s hard to imagine any of them as a consistent closer.  If the Red Sox wanted to repeat, they would’ve invested more in this bullpen rather than focusing so much on the rotation.  They need to add a closer unless Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, or someone else steps up soon.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 2nd in AL East

 

4. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves

The Case for the Braves

The Braves’ rebuild began to pay off last season as their younger players broke through. This off-season seemed quiet, but they filled a gaping hole at third by adding Josh Donaldson. They also brought back OF Nick Markakis, and they have reportedly been targeting a reunion with CL Craig Kimbrel. This small series of moves could make a big difference in Atlanta. These moves, alongside development of OF Ronald Acuna Jr. and 2B Ozzie Albies among other should transform the Braves from solely a division contender into a World Series contender. The Braves are my World Series winner this year. I expect 1B Freddie Freeman, Albies, Donaldson, and others to combine to make for one of the best lineups in the league.

The Achilles Heel

Health is definitely a concern, especially considering the fact that Atlanta will start the 2019 season with two starting pitchers on the IL.  Donaldson is also injury prone, and if he goes down, Johan Camargo is the next best option at third base.  I don’t trust Camargo as a starter.  If the team stays healthy in the long run, they could be serious contenders.  Otherwise, they could be in a bit of trouble.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 1st in NL East

 

3. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs

The Case for the Cubs

The Cubs may have been quiet this off-season, but a healthy Yu Darvish will boost the rotation, the bullpen has plenty of depth despite questions at closer, and the lineup is looking pretty solid. Their decision to move Javier Baez to shortstop full time and put Ben Zobrist at second is very smart, as SS Addison Russell was inconsistent and had some character issues. The Cubs have dominated in the National League ever since their World Series winning year in 2016, but with a health a concern and the division getting tougher, will the Cubs be able to keep up the good work?

The Achilles Heel

The Cubs were unable to do much this off-season, and they could have used another outfielder.  LF Kyle Schwarber and RF Jason Heyward are viable starters, but they are very streaky and inconsistent.  Albert Almora Jr. is the best option in center field.  Chicago should have added another center fielder to start over Almora some days and fill in for Heyward and Schwarber during slumps.

Projected Finish: 94-68, 1st in NL Central

 

2. new-york-yankees New York Yankees

The Case for the Yankees

After pairing new slugger Aaron Judge with Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees underperformed in 2018. Yes, they made the playoffs and won 100 games. But they were overshadowed and eliminated by their bitter rival, the Boston Red Sox. This year, the Red Sox will be without their star closer, while the Yankees fixed up a problematic rotation and built one of the most stacked bullpens in history. This will allow the Yankees to propel past the Red Sox and win the AL East. But in Boston and New York, it’s all about championships, and the Yankees aren’t will have to work for a World Series victory, even with the stacked roster.

The Achilles Heel

The Yanks have some nice pieces in their infield.  But if Troy Tulowitzki and Greg Bird fail to stay healthy, they are left with D.J. LeMahieu as their best infielder.  Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar have not reached their prime yet, and Luke Voit must still prove that 2018 was not a fluke.  So I’m a bit concerned in terms of infield depth for the Yankees.

Projected Finish: 94-68, 1st in AL East

 

1. houston-astros Houston Astros

The Case for the Astros

The Astros are two years removed from their World Series victory, a result of a 5-year rebuild that made the Astros one of the MLB’s worst for a good 2-3 year span. Now, the Astros are still one of the league’s elite teams, but they lost some of their starting rotation depth this off-season, forcing two starter-turned-relievers back into the rotation. They did bring in OF Michael Brantley and UT Aledmys Diaz, filling the hole UT Marwin Gonzalez left. Though Houston took a slight step back this off-season, I still have them as my AL West winners and the team with the best regular season record. Considering the young core they have put together in the last several years, they should be elite for a long, long, time now.

The Achilles Heel

Evan Gattis is no longer on the team, which means Tyler White must be trusted as Houston’s regular DH.  This could be a prove-it situation for White, but if White struggles, what then?  They could bring Gattis back, or they could just put Diaz back there.  They could even call up Kyle Tucker to play DH.  This one’s an easy fix, just something to keep an eye on.

Projected Finish: 96-66, 1st in AL West

That’s all for this year’s preseason MLB power rankings.  Come back at the end of April  for my first 2019 set of monthly power rankings.

MLB 2019 Predictions: Who will Follow in Houston and Chicago’s Footsteps Post-Rebuild?

The time has finally come.  If you are reading this, the NFL season is over, both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have signed, and Spring Training has begun.  After a long off-season, baseball is finally back, and it is time for my MLB 2019 Predictions.  I will be predicting each team’s win-loss record, sharing my projected playoff bracket, and sharing some award predictions.  My projected World Series winner is a team that began rebuilding a couple years after the Astros and Cubs rebuilds and has now followed in their footsteps to contention.  Keep reading to find out who that team is and how they will achieve a World Series victory.

Part I: Projected Records

American League

AL East

  1. new-york-yankees New York Yankees (94-68) (2nd Seed in AL Playoffs)
  2. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox (93-69) (4th Seed in AL Playoffs)
  3. Toronto_Blue_Jays Toronto Blue Jays (80-82)
  4. Tampa_Bay_Rays Tampa Bay Rays (75-87)
  5. Baltimore-Orioles-Logo Baltimore Orioles (67-95)

2018 was Boston’s year.  They built up the roster preparing for a World Series, and now the damage is done.  Expect a mild World Series hangover due to the departure of closer Craig Kimbrel and the loss of momentum.  If Kimbrel returns, they may be more equipped to repeat.  But right now, as much as I hate to admit it, the Yankees have the most talent in the division.  Their rotation depth issues are finally fixed, the bullpen could go down in record books, and the lineup is still flooded with big hitters, including the superstar duo of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge.  Expect New York to win the division this time around, but the Red Sox should still easily score a Wild Card spot.

Image result for stanton and judge

Toronto should be moving quickly in their rebuild thanks to a talented group of prospects including the leagues #1 prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  Now, they are an extra starting pitcher away from becoming a sub .500 team close to contention.  Remember, they are just a couple years removed from the start of a rebuild.  But this group of prospects will give them a respectable major league roster by the end of the season.  With Toronto on the rise, the Rays will take a step back.  The Rays never really replaced 1B C.J. Cron, OF Carlos Gomez, or reliever Sergio Romo.  If they want to keep using an opener, they’ll need to beef up the bullpen.  Otherwise, expect significant regression in 2019.  They were right on the verge of contention in 2018.  Had they beefed up the roster a little more, they might have had playoff chances this year.  But instead, they’ll sit towards the bottom of the AL East.  However, the Orioles will remain in the AL East basement after a 47 win season.  The Orioles finally began a full rebuild in 2018, but this may be a long, painful rebuild considering their 2018 final record.

AL Central

  1. cleveland-indians Cleveland Indians (89-73) (3rd Seed in AL Playoffs)
  2. chicago-white-sox Chicago White Sox (82-80)
  3. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins (80-82)
  4. kansas-city-royals Kansas City Royals (68-94)
  5. detroit-tigers Detroit Tigers (66-96)

Despite an underwhelming off-season, the Indians should be able to stay atop the AL Central.  In most other divisions, the Indians would have to fight for a Wild Card spot, but in the AL Central, they should have an easier route to the playoffs, as none of the other teams in their division are ready for contention.  Despite coming up short in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, the White Sox made several improvements this off-season that can assist their young core in the next step towards contention.  If they add a starter or two and another infielder, they could be chasing the Indians for the division by 2020.  The Twins won’t see a significant improvement this year, but hopefully the return of SP Michael Pineda and better years from Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton will help them move up the standings slightly.

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That leaves the Royals and Tigers, two rebuilding teams, in the basement of the AL Central.  With Billy Hamilton on board and some of their younger players ready to start, the Royals may see slight improvement.  But it will take a couple years for the Tigers to do the same.

AL West

  1. houston-astros Houston Astros (96-66) (1st Seed in AL Playoffs)
  2. la-angels-of-anaheim Los Angeles Angels (86-76) (5th Seed in AL Playoffs)
  3. oakland-a's Oakland Athletics (80-82)
  4. texas-rangers Texas Rangers (73-89)
  5. seattle-mariners-logo Seattle Mariners (70-92)

Image result for michael brantley astros

Though the lineup will be better with the addition of LF Michael Brantley, the Astros’ rotation took a significant hit thanks to the free agent departures of Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton and an injury to Lance McCullers Jr.  If the rotation does well without Morton and Keuchel, the Astros could win another World Series.  No matter what, I think they’ll win the division, but if the rotation struggles I wouldn’t expect a deep playoff run.

Image result for mike trout and angels lineup

The Angels will also sneak into the playoffs in an extremely top-heavy American League. In my eyes, the American League will have three 90+ win teams: the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox.  That leaves the door open for slightly above average teams like the Angels to make the playoffs.  Led by Mike Trout and the rest of the big-hitting lineup, they’ll snag a Wild Card spot.

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The Athletics will take a step back this year after a playoff appearance in 2018.  The rotation will be without Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton for a good portion of the season.  Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada cannot lead this rotation alone.  Plus, the only Jed Lowrie replacement the A’s were able to find was former Rangers utility man Jurickson Profar.  The losses of Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Joyce will also make an impact on the team.

Image result for gallo and mazara

That leaves the Rangers and Mariners.  The Rangers won’t improve much quite yet despite an experienced rotation and a core led by outfielders Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara.  They’ll need to undergo a full rebuild before significant improvement can occur.  The Mariners are starting that process, though they still boast a respectable MLB roster.  They could’ve probably contended this year if it weren’t for the start of a rebuild.  But instead, they gave up some of their most talented players in exchange for minimal top prospects.  The less talented roster will put the team into a situation similar to that of their division rivals, the Rangers.  Despite a respectable roster with experience, the team won’t be talented enough to produce above average seasons.

National League

NL East

  1. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves (93-69) (2nd Seed in NL Playoffs)
  2. philadelphia.phillies  Philadelphia Phillies (92-70) (5th Seed in NL Playoffs)
  3. washington-nats Washington Nationals (84-78)
  4. new-york-mets New York Mets (83-79)
  5. Related image Miami Marlins (61-101)

Image result for freddie freeman

This will undoubtedly be the most competitive division in baseball.  I see a young, but emerging Braves team repeating as the division winner, led by a big year from Freddie Freeman, significant contribution from new 3B Josh Donaldson, and a bounce back for SP Julio Teheran.  In 2018, the Phillies were a star or two away from greatness.  This off-season, they added C J.T. Realmuto, OF Andrew McCutchen, SS Jean Segura, and most of all, OF Bryce Harper.  Led by Harper, the lineup will be loaded with talent, leading to a big year.

Image result for bryce harper phillies

The Nats and Mets will also contend.  The Nats made up for Harper’s departure by boosting the rotation with SPs Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez.  To add to it, they signed 2B Brian Dozier.  Even without Harper, they should still be in good hands with Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, and others.  After adding 2B Robinson Cano among other stars, the Mets should also stay in contention, at least for this year.

Image result for robinson cano mets

The only team that’ll be out of this hectic NL East race is the Miami Marlins.  The Marlins sold their entire outfield plus Dee Gordon and J.T. Realmuto in trades within the last two off-seasons.  Without Realmuto, they will remain one of the worst teams in the league.

NL Central

  1. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs (94-68) (1st Seed in NL Playoffs)
  2. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals (93-69) (4th Seed in NL Playoffs)
  3. Related image Milwaukee Brewers (86-76)
  4. cincinnati_reds_logo Cincinnati Reds (80-82)
  5. pittsburgh-pirates Pittsburgh Pirates (69-93)

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I know people are concerned about the Cubs due to uncertainty about Yu Darvish’s health.  But regardless of Darvish’s health, I think the Cubs have one of the best rotations in the league.  Add in an underappreciated bullpen and a respectable lineup, and the roster begins to look underrated.  I do have confidence that Darvish will be alright though.

Image result for paul goldschmidt cardinals

The Cardinals should be Chicago’s biggest concern, as I expect the Cards to be knocking on Chicago’s door in the NL Central.  With Paul Goldschmidt on board, they will combine their young, exciting pitching staff with a star-studded lineup and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.  Meanwhile, despite adding C Yasmani Grandal, I expect the Brewers to take a step back.  I don’t trust 1B Jesus Aguilar or Jhoulys Chacin to repeat their strong 2018 seasons.  With the rotation depleted and the lineup looking a little less overpowered, Milwaukee will fall behind as the NL Central competition gets more intense.

Image result for joey votto yasiel puig reds

Meanwhile, the Reds will begin to take steps toward contention, led by new OF star Yasiel Puig and long time Reds 1B Joey Votto.  They added a lot of experience to the rotation as well, so that should help.  That leaves the Pirates in the division’s basement as they begin a rebuild.  Their rotation should look pretty good this year, and when Gregory Polanco gets healthy, the outfield will thrive as well.  However, I don’t fully trust Trevor Williams yet, and in such a tough division, I can’t see this rebuilding team finish very well.

NL West

  1. colorado-rockies Colorado Rockies (89-73) (3rd Seed in NL Playoffs)
  2. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers (85-77)
  3. sanfran-giants San Francisco Giants (84-78)
  4. san diego-padres San Diego Padres (71-91)
  5. arizona-dbacks Arizona Diamondbacks (68-94)

Image result for kershaw and buehler

I think this might be the year when the Dodgers are finally dethroned.  Despite a strong rotation led by Clayton Kershaw and the young Walker Buehler, the bullpen lacks depth beyond Kenley Jansen.  In addition, they traded Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp for next to nothing.  It does open up space in the outfield but the team will take a step back as a result.   The infield already lacked depth with Brian Dozier leaving.  Failing to sign Bryce Harper after the Puig/Kemp trade just made the depth problems worse.

This will allow the Rockies to win the division.  Their rotation isn’t amazing, but they’ll be able to manage thanks to hitter friendly Coors Field and a strong bullpen to back the rotation up.  It’s the star-studded lineup that will lead them to a division victory.  The Giants are also closer to contention than you might think.  They quietly boosted the rotation this off-season.  This will add to their strong bullpen and allow them to achieve a winning record despite a subpar lineup and questionable outfield situation.

Image result for manny machado

Even though they signed Manny Machado, the Padres won’t contend unless they significantly upgrade the rotation.  Plus, they should have better luck contending once Fernando Tatis Jr. is in San Diego for a full season.  They will finish ahead of the D-Backs, who will take a significant step back without Goldschmidt.  That leaves SP Zack Greinke as the best player left, and there were trade rumors surrounding Greinke as well.

Part II: Playoff Bracket

Screenshot 2019-03-02 at 10.14.45 PM

When the Cubs won the World Series back in 2016, they set a precedent in the MLB.  Their 5-year rebuild led to a World Series victory, and this has become a formula for World Series titles.  The Astros, who were already following this formula, won the next year in 2017.  Now, I think the Braves will be the next to do this.  Their rebuild didn’t feel as long, because prospects like Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. developed quickly.  But there are still more top prospects on the way, and thanks to this first wave of young talent, the Braves will be able to contend before their rebuild is finished.  I think they may even be World Series ready.

The Bryce Harper-led Phillies, Atlanta’s division rival, will challenge them for the National League.  Led by their HR-hitting duo of Stanton and Judge and upgraded rotation, the Yankees will come close as well.  But I think the Braves are capable of outperforming these teams.

The Cubs and Astros should still be competitive in these playoffs and stay competitive down the stretch.  But I think they will have their playoff runs cut short by a Red Sox team looking to repeat and a Phillies team looking for validation that Bryce Harper was worth the money.

Part III: Awards

Below are my projected finalists for the AL and NL MVPs, Cy Youngs, and Rookies of the Year.

AL MVP

1. Jose Ramirez CLE – Ramirez has emerged as one of the league’s premier power hitters. Expect him to come through at the plate on a more consistent basis and contend for the AL MVP award.

2. J.D. Martinez BOS – At the age of 31, I cannot see Martinez quite repeating what he did in 2018. But he will put up another consistent, 40-homer year despite just falling short of the MVP after playing over half of his games at DH.

3. Jose Altuve HOU – Altuve will return to MVP form after a 2018 that was subpar for his standards. His season will be highlighted by a hint of power mixed in with his speed and ability to get on base frequently.

HM: Giancarlo Stanton NYY

NL MVP

1. Nolan Arenado COL – His 8-year extension will be motivation to live up to expectations in Colorado. Expect an dominant offensive year to go along with his elite defensive skills.

2. Freddie Freeman ATL – Freeman will help lead a young Braves team to the first World Series of what could make for the MLB’s next dynasty. After emerging as the top first baseman in the league last year, he will contend for the MVP as his offensive stats continue to increase.

3. Christian Yelich MIL – After winning NL MVP in 2018, Yelich will run with the momentum and top off the prime of his career with another dominant season.

HM: Starling Marte PIT

AL ROTY

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. TOR – This top prospect has the genetics and he’s been all out dominant in the minors. Expect him to make it up to Toronto early, earn the starting job at third and do the same in the majors, contending for Rookie of the Year.

2. Kyle Tucker HOU – Tucker may not have a starting job – yet. But he showed flashes of potential in 2018 and could get some time in the outfield or at DH in 2019.

3. Eloy Jiménez CWS – Another top prospect who needs just a few weeks in AAA before a major league call up. After that, expect him to earn a time share in the outfield and eventually (after a strong start) a starting job.

HM: Forrest Whitley HOU

NL ROTY

1. Peter Alonso NYM – If Alonso has a strong Spring Training, look for him to compete for the first base job as Todd Frazier, Jed Lowrie, Amed Rosario, and Robinson Cano split time between second, shortstop, and third. Cano could try playing first, but having Alonso there from Opening Day could be beneficial. I see him breaking out in his rookie year and winning NL Rookie of the Year.

2. Fernando Tatis Jr. SD – Tatis Jr. isn’t MLB ready yet, but I think he’ll make an immediate impact if they bring him up when the time is right. I could see a Hosmer-Kinsler-Tatis-Machado infield working out well. Luis Urias will have to wait until 2020 for another starting job.

3. Mitch Keller PIT – The Pirates’ first four starters have their jobs locked down. But if Keller gets off to a strong start in the minors, look for him to challenge Jordan Lyles for the #5 slot in the rotation and contend for NL Rookie of the Year.

HM: Victor Robles WSH

AL Cy Young

1. Corey Kluber CLE – Kluber heads into 2019 with something to prove. He needs to convince the Indians that he’s worth the money to keep around. The Indians don’t have much money to spend, so Kluber will need to put up a Cy Young-caliber year in order to do this.

2. Chris Sale BOS – If Sale can get healthy and stay healthy, he’ll be the best pitcher in this league. But he always ends up collapsing at the end of the year, so I have slightly more confidence in Kluber. However, maybe Alex Cora can figure out a way to allow him to stay healthy all year. If Cora can figure this out, Sale’s definitely worth re-signing.

3. Tyler Skaggs LAA – A healthy Skaggs showed potential last season, especially early on. With no clear ace atop the Angels rotation for 2019 and Shohei Ohtani restricted to just hitting, expect Skaggs to step it up and emerge as LA’s new ace, something they have longed for since Garrett Richards began to decline after LA’s 2014 playoff appearance.

HM: Justin Verlander HOU

NL Cy Young

1. Max Scherzer WSH – Expect Scherzer to emerge as the top pitcher in the league this year when Jacob deGrom takes a slight step back in his age 30 season. Scherzer has not let his age define him, and if anything, he has only gotten better with age. I don’t see a decline happening anytime soon for Mad Max, and he has another Cy Young year or two still ahead of him.

2. Clayton Kershaw LAD – Kershaw has dealt with lingering injuries, but when he’s on the mound and healthy, he has looked like the same Kershaw we’re used to seeing. Despite injuries, he has posted an ERA under 3.00 in each of the last 10 seasons. As usual, I expect Kershaw to contend for the Cy Young, especially if he remains healthy.

3. Julio Teheran ATL – Teheran hasn’t looked like the ace we thought he would be since 2014. But he is still just 28, and as long as it happens in the next year or two, I could definitely see him return to ace form and lead a young Braves rotation.

HM: Stephen Strasburg WSH

That’s all for this year’s MLB predictions.  Stay tuned for more Red Sox and baseball coverage soon.

My 2018 MLB Playoff Bracket/Predictions

The MLB Playoff Bracket is set after yesterday’s tiebreaker games, and the MLB playoffs begin tonight at 8:00 PM.  Above is my complete bracket for the MLB Playoff Challenge.  Below is a brief look at each match-up.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

American League

AL Wild Card Game

new-york-yankees (4) New York Yankees over Oakland Athletics (5) oakland-a's

Oakland’s pitching staff has been better this year, but I do not see their rotation as an elite playoff rotation.  The Yankees lineup will tear this pitching staff apart, led by the home run hitting duo of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

ALDS

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over New York Yankees (4) new-york-yankees, 3-2

The Yankees have given Boston a hard time, so I think this series will be close.  The Yankees have been able to dominate against certain Red Sox starters such as David Price.  But the Red Sox have the home-field advantage, and they have two MVP-caliber players in their lineup, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.  The Sox lineup has the depth and talent to outdo the Yankees pitching staff.

houston-astros (2) Houston Astros over Cleveland Indians (3) cleveland-indians, 3-0

The Astros have most of what they had in last year’s World Series: a stacked lineup filled with youth, power, and speed and a dominant playoff rotation.  They come in to this series with a weaker bullpen though.  Both of these lineups are playoff-caliber, but I see this series as a battle of two of the league’s top rotations, the Astros led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, and the Indians led by Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco.  These games will be low scoring, but I see the Astros sweeping as their lineup is able to manage the tough opposing pitching more easily.

ALCS

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over Houston Astros (2) houston-astros, 4-3

The Astros have one of the best rotations in the league plus an amazing lineup.  But the Red Sox have one thing Houston doesn’t.  A strong closer in Craig Kimbrel.  If their rotation can hold up for a good portion of the series and their offense gets going like it has for a lot of the season, I think they can do something they haven’t done much of this year: beating the other elite teams.  The Red Sox have taken advantage of their easy match-ups, but it’s time for them to step it up when it matters.

National League

NL Wild Card Game

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Colorado Rockies (5) colorado-rockies 

The Rockies lineup is very talented, but despite improvement in 2018 that got them here, I don’t see their pitching holding up on the road against a well-rounded Cubs team.  Chicago will take advantage of the Rockies’ weak pitching staff, get out to an early lead, and their pitching staff will be able to help the Cubs hold it easily.

NLDS

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Milwaukee Brewers (1) milwaukee-brewers, 3-1

The Brewers rode their momentum to a division title.  They have a young, talented lineup that’s mostly a product of the 2017-18 off-season and a huge MLB Trade Deadline.  But I think this Brewers lineup is containable, and if there’s any pitching staff in the National League that can contain them, it’s the Cubs.  The Cubs should also thrive offensively against a young Brewers rotation that’s still developing.

los-angeles-dodgers (2) Los Angeles Dodgers over Atlanta Braves (3) atlanta-braves, 3-1

Led by young talent, the Braves pulled out an NL East victory.  However, I think they rode easy division competition to this victory.  Their rotation is okay, but I don’t see their lineup as playoff caliber. The Nationals would likely be here if they weren’t so hampered by injuries this season.  They may have won it all.  But the Dodgers can contain a young, developing team like the Braves.  Led by Trade Deadline acquisition Manny Machado, Their lineup has the power and talent to give this Atlanta rotation trouble, and their deep pitching staff will benefit them significantly.  I see this series as an easy win for the Dodgers.

NLCS

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Los Angeles Dodgers (2) los-angeles-dodgers, 4-3

This will be a very interesting series.  The 2016 World Series champion against the 2017 World Series runner-up.  The Dodgers still have a World Series-caliber roster.  Their rotation is more than capable, and they come in with a stronger offensive attack this year.  But the Cubs have a deep, young lineup, and although they might struggle against this solid Dodgers rotation, I could see them taking advantage of a weak Dodger bullpen.  The Dodgers will put up a serious fight, but I think the Cubs pitching staff can contain them for a good portion of the series.

World Series

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over Chicago Cubs (4) Chicago_Cubs, 4-3

I think this is the year for the Red Sox.  Two of Boston’s last three World Series titles were partially due to momentum.  The Cubs have a World Series caliber roster.  They haven’t seen the Red Sox yet, and they may very well be a better team.  The NL was a very competitive league, while the AL was a league of extremes.  Chicago’s record may very well be an NL equivalent of the Red Sox’s record.  

But I think the Red Sox will ride the momentum they gather in the ALDS and ALCS to win the World Series. Their pitching will need to finally hold it together, but I think they are capable, as long as they can rely on the momentum this talented lineup gathers.  It won’t be easy against a strong, well-rounded Cubs team, but I don’t think Red Sox Nation should give up hope.

That’s all for my MLB Playoff Predictions.  Stay tuned for more baseball articles.

 

Red Sox @ Yankees May 8-10 2018: Series Preview

Image result for red sox-yankees

The Red Sox have had it easy in terms of their schedule over the last week and a half.  They played the Rays, Rangers, and Royals, taking 7 of 10 during that stretch.  But now they face the Yankees, who have won 15 of 16 against some of the AL’s best.  They swept the Twins, Indians, and Angels, and nearly swept Houston.  They have been boosted by the emergence of Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, and are doing fine without 1B Greg Bird.  How will they fare against Boston, the only AL team that still has a better record than the Yankees?  They will fight for not just the AL East crown, but the American League crown in this series.  They are arguably the two best teams in baseball right now, which makes this intense rivalry even better.

Previous 2018 Results

The Red Sox have already played the Yankees once this season at Fenway Park.  The Yankees had even more injury problems and did not have Gleyber in the majors back in mid-April when this series occurred.  Despite losing Xander Bogaerts to the DL shortly before the series, the Red Sox, who had started 8-1 due to spotless pitching and an easy schedule, took advantage.  They took 2 of 3 in the series.  The Red Sox lineup had dominated in Game 1 to bring the Sox a 14-1 win.  David Price had a rough Game 2 and left early with an injury.  But the Red Sox attempted to come back, and after Tyler Austin spiked the infielder sliding into 2nd, Joe Kelly got revenge when he hit Austin.  It ended in a bench-clearing brawl that got Kelly and Austin suspended.  Porcello continued a strong start in the 3rd game as the Red Sox won, 6-3.  I did a recap of that game when the Sox and Bruins won important games on the same night.

Big Night For Boston: Sox, Bruins Win On Big Stage

 

How They Line-Up Now

Both teams have powerful, home-run hitting lineups.  But both of these lineups have a weak spot.  The Yankees have seen several hitters who are usually pretty good slump.  Brett Gardner, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez all have a batting average under .230.  Sanchez is batting .198.  It is balanced out by strong seasons from Didi Gregorius and Aaron Judge, as well as early success out of Andujar and Torres.  I was never too high on Gregorius, but he has really proven himself this year.   The Red Sox do not have reliable hitters at the end of the lineup.  Both regular catchers and JBJ are batting under .200, and Eduardo Nunez has also struggled.  But J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and Xander Bogaerts have all thrived and led this team.

The Red Sox have the starting pitching advantage, but not all of the pitching match-ups in this series are favorable for the Red Sox.  The Red Sox don’t have too much of a bullpen to rely on, either.  Craig Kimbrel has been flawless, but the rest of the bullpen has not always stepped it up when the starter struggles.  The Red Sox have to rely on either an offensive explosion or a spotless, long-lasting starter to win quality games.

Pitching Match-Ups

Game 1 (5/8): BOS: Image result for drew pomeranzDrew Pomeranz (1-1, 6.14 ERA)

vs. NYY: Image result for luis severinoLuis Severino (5-1, 2.11)

By no means is Severino going to be easy to face but I could see Pomeranz stepping it up on the big stage here.  Once Severino leaves, it will be the offense’s turn to make an impact.

Note: Price has been scratched from his Wednesday start due to hand numbness.  I’m beginning to agree with that 98.5 caller who talked about the stress disorder with David Price.  Can he handle the pressure of a Red Sox-Yankees game?

Game 2 (5/9): BOS: Image result for rick porcello Rick Porcello (5-0, 2.14 ERA)

NYY: Image result for MASAHIRO TANAKAMasahiro Tanaka (4-2, 4.39 ERA)

Tanaka has been pretty good this year, but Porcello has been flawless this year.  Moving him a day up brings this pitching match-up into our favor.

Game 3 (5/10): BOS: Image result for Eduardo Rodriguez Eduardo Rodriguez (3-0, 5.29 ERA)

NYY: Image result for C.C. Sabathia C.C. Sabathia (2-0, 1.39 ERA)

I like Eduardo Rodriguez.  He has very high potential, but C.C. Sabathia has been great when healthy, and I’m wondering how E-Rod will perform under the pressure of Yankee Stadium.

My Prediction: Red Sox Take 2 of 3

 

 

Big Night For Boston: Sox, Bruins Win On Big Stage

Boston sports fans needed 2 TVs on Thursday night as the Red Sox battled the Yankees in the series rubber match and the Bruins kicked off their 2018 playoff hockey against a tough Toronto squad.  Most fans likely flipped back and forth and if they were lucky didn’t miss a run or goal and both teams dominated.  The Sox have now won three in a row after more dominance today and the Bruins are on tonight so no flipping is needed.

The Red Sox topped the Yankees 6-3, winning their first series of 2018 against New York.  The Sox looked very good throughout the series.  Although both teams are suffering numerous injuries, I think this is a good sign that the Red Sox may be ready to contend for a World Series title.  Some people believed the opposite before this series, as the Red Sox had faced only rebuilding teams before their series against the Yanks.  If they can do well against the 12-3 Los Angeles Angels and start next week’s west coast road trip off right, that will continue to solidify the Red Sox position as a true contender to win the AL East again and maybe go further.

While the Bruins limped into the playoffs losing 4 of their last 5 to miss a chance to lock down the #1 seed, they returned to midseason form Thursday and dominated in Game 1.  They blew out Toronto 5-1.  The Bruins refused to let injuries hold them back, and the depth of their roster helped them.  If the Bruins can bring the same intensity for the rest of the series, the Maple Leafs may struggle to win a game, let alone the series.  The top line of Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak played extremely well and their play really shined on the power play as the Bruins were 3 for 6, scoring one PP goal in each period.

Please read on for a few more details on the big night for the Sox and B’s.

Porcello Dominant, Red Sox Cruise to Victory 

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The Red Sox came out aggressive fearing a rain-shortened game and put up 6 runs over the first 3 innings on their way to victory over the Yankees, 6-3.  Rick Porcello was dominant on the mound and had a no-hitter through six and finished with seven scoreless innings, giving up just two hits.  Porcello stayed warm waiting out a rain delay after five innings but Rick came back into the game showing no ill effects from the delay.  His no-hitter came to an end in the 7th inning when Yankees star hitter Aaron Judge doubled to break it up.

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The Red Sox grabbed hold of a lead early in the game.  Hanley Ramirez, who has been on fire of late, left the game in the 1st after being hit in the hand by Sonny Gray but that did not stop the Red Sox.  Eduardo Nunez led off in the next inning with a base hit.  The cold was giving him knee discomfort as he raced down the first base line but he decided to keep on playing.  JBJ walked to make it 1st and 2nd, and Sandy Leon drove in the run with a single.  Brock Holt got on base with another walk to load the bases, and all three runners advanced one base when Mookie Betts hit a deep sac fly, making it 2-0 Red Sox with men on 2nd and 3rd.  Andrew Benintendi then grounded to second base with the infield in.  The Yankees chose to throw home but the throw bounced in by Sanchez and allowed Leon to score.  Holt advanced to 3rd and Benny had time to advance to 2nd. Mitch Moreland, in off the bench for Hanley, drove in the fourth run with a single despite limited playing time this year.

The Sox scored again the 3rd.  Eduardo Nunez doubled to right, and JBJ hit a ground rule double to knock him in.  Sandy Leon struck out on a pitch in the dirt that got away.  Another bad defensive choice by the Yankees allowed Leon to reach as Gary Sanchez fired to 3rd but JBJ slid in safely.  Mookie Betts knocked him in with a ground ball to the right side, 6-0 Boston.  Betts ended up going 0 for 4 but he had 2 RBI on the night.

The Yankees did not score until the top of the 9th when reliever Marcus Walden gave up a bases-clearing double to Gary Sanchez with the bases loaded.  Craig Kimbrel came in to finish the job, and the Red Sox won 6-3.

Injury Update: Hanley Ramirez did suffer a wrist contusion but avoided a more serious injury.  He was out of the lineup Friday against Baltimore but returned today with a Home Run.

What’s Next: The Red Sox have taken the first 2 games against the Orioles in a 4-game Fenway series as Eduardo Rodriguez dominated again against his former team as he has struck out more batters against the Orioles than any other opponent in his career.  The Sox won easily 7-3.  Velazquez gave up just 2 runs in 5 strong innings as the Sox cruised to a 10-3 victory and weather permitting hope Sale can keep the strong pitching streak for Sox starters going.

Bruins Dominate vs. Leafs, Led By Power Play success

  

The Bruins dominated in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  They topped a strong Toronto Maple Leafs squad, 5-1, with David Backes scoring one goal and being robbed of a second.  Rick Nash also made an impact returning after a long absence.  The Bruins dominated in their power plays, scoring a power-play goal in every period.  One PP goal was during a 5-minute major power play due to a gruesome hit Nazem Kadri put on Tommy Wingels, knocking him out of the game.  Kadri is suspended for the next 3 games of the series, and if the Bruins continue to dominate, he may not play another game this season.

Zach Hyman scored the only goal for Toronto when the Leafs tied it up in the 1st period. After that, the Leafs fell out of it due to 4 unanswered Bruins goals.

Injury Update: Wingels is out for Game 2 after being hit by Kadri. Riley Nash is doubtful with an ear laceration.  Donato is playing for Wingels.

What’s Next: The Bruins take on the Leafs at the TD Garden again tonight.  It is being aired on prime time on NBC.  The Bruins have jumped out to a 5-2 lead early in the 2nd period, going 2 for 2 on the power play and scoring another 4 unanswered goals to begin the game.

Stay tuned for more Red Sox and Bruins coverage soon, including my latest Red Sox Report.

Crazy 8th for Sox 8th Win

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After a 7-1 start to the season for the Red Sox, things were not looking good for them today.  They were down 7-2 heading into the 8th inning, as the Rays had scored at least one run in six straight innings.  Eduardo Rodriguez had been knocked out of the game after 3.2 innings, forcing the Red Sox to use numerous relievers to finish off the game.  The bullpen struggled as Hector Velazquez, Bobby Poyner, and Brian Johnson gave up four runs in 3 1/3 innings But the Red Sox came all the way back to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 8-7 and extend their winning streak to eight games.  Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts extended their hitting streaks to 7 games each, as they led the Sox offense.

The Red Sox started off strong with a leadoff double by Mookie Betts, and Betts was driven in by Hanley Ramirez’s groundout.  But the Rays struck back quickly, with DH C.J. Cron hitting a solo homer.  Early on, Eduardo Rodriguez was doing well, striking out five batters, including the side in the 1st inning.  But the Rays were working the count and and E-Rod’s was over 70 after three innings.

While the Rays were not crushing the ball after Cron’s home run, they scored one run every inning from the 2nd all the way to the 7th. In the 3rd inning, E-Rod gave up a walk followed by a infield single that was originally ruled an out. Matt Duffy was clearly safe, so it was a smart challenge by the Rays.  The run scored on a double by Carlos Gomez.

In the 4th inning, Daniel Robertson reached on another infield single for the Rays.  3B Rafael Devers could not make the throw in time.  That was followed by a Brad Miller walk, and Adeiny Hechavarria drove in the run with a bloop single that Andrew Benintendi couldn’t quite get to.  The Rays were trying to continue the rally, as Matt Duffy singled again after E-Rod left the game, but Hector Velazquez came in to get the last out.

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Velazquez gave up a run in the next inning, as Daniel Robertson singled, stole second, and came home on Brad Miller’s base hit.  The Sox chipped away in the bottom of that inning.  They loaded the bases after a walk, a Christian Vazquez single, and another walk.  Rays reliever Ryan Yarbrough had come in to replace Andrew Kittredge after two innings. Today, the Rays reliever combo to start was game was able to hold the Sox to just two runs through six innings, but it was not easy.

With two outs in the fifth, Hanley Ramirez ripped an infield single that Adeiny Hechavarria snagged to save more runs from scoring.  J.D. Martinez followed, but struck out with the bases loaded. Martinez was the only Sox starter without a hit, but that did not keep the Sox from winning.

The Rays scored again in the 6th after Kevin Kiermaier hit a triple off the Green Monster to drive in Matt Duffy, who had walked.  Kiermaier hit the triple off of Bobby Poyner, but Velazquez was charged with the run as he had walked Duffy before leaving the game.  Brian Johnson came in in the 7th and struggled, giving up two more runs.  Daniel Robertson walked, and came home on a triple by pinch hitter Joey Wendle.  On that play, Xander Bogaerts hurt his ankle as he had to chase the ball into the Rays dugout after throwing to third before Devers was there.  He will be evaluated further on Monday, but his timetable is currently unknown. Bogaerts was helped off the field, and it was really concerning when he couldn’t leave without assistance because he has been Boston’s best hitter so far this season.  Brock Holt came in to replace him.

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Tampa scored their second run of the inning off Johnson after a sac fly drove in Wendle.  The Sox failed to get things going in the bottom of the 7th, but after Carson Smith came into the game, the Rays failed to score another run.  They loaded the bases after a walk, a Carlos Gomez single, and a walk.  But Smith escaped the inning by striking out Daniel Robertson.

This looked like it was going to be a Rays win, as after Hanley Ramirez led things off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch, the next two batters struck out and flew out.

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But with two outs, Mitch Moreland, who was a doubles machine last year, hit his first double (and hit) of 2018, driving in Ramirez to make it 7-3 Rays.  Eduardo Nunez singled and Moreland advanced to third.  Rafael Devers then knocked a ball down the third base line that bounced off the left field garage, allowing both Moreland and Nunez to score.

With that, Rays reliever Matt Andriese was done, and Rays closer Alex Colome came in, hoping to secure the 7-5 lead the Rays were still holding on to. The Red Sox had done well against Colome in the home opener. Just in case the rally continued, Cora got star closer Craig Kimbrel warming up in the bullpen next to Joe Kelly.

Image result for christian vazquez red sox

Christian Vazquez kept the rally alive with a base hit.  Devers scored, making it 7-6 Red Sox.  Vazquez advanced to second on another wild pitch.  Mookie Betts tied it up with a line single to left as Vazquez came in to score with a nifty slide to avoid the tag.  Andrew Benintendi kept the rally alive by doubling to the left field gap to drive in Betts.  The outfielders were playing shallow as Benny’s double did not reach the Green Monster. It was now 8-7 Red Sox.

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Kimbrel came in and quickly retired the side, as the Red Sox locked up their comeback victory, 8-7.  This was by far their most exciting game of the season.  The Sox faced easy opponents, but the Red Sox are now 8-1 to start the season, their best record ever after nine games. They had not even started 7-1 since 1904, a World Series-winning year.

The Red Sox head into their three-game series against the Yankees on fire.  Will they win their first series against their archrivals?  The Yankees have been depleted by injuries, and are just 5-5 after losing to Baltimore today in a 12 inning game.  With Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Brandon Drury, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, C.C. Sabathia, and Billy McKinney all injured, the Sox should certainly have the edge.

MLB 2018 Predictions: Exciting Season In The Making Despite Slow Off-Season

It is that time of year again.  Although I had to delay this article due to the excruciatingly quiet start to the off-season, my MLB Predictions are here.  Read below to find out my thoughts on who will win the World Series and how they’ll get there.  I will also be predicting who wins the major MLB awards.  Let’s get started with my projected regular season standings.  

Note: These Predictions are based on potential, but do account for the lack of real FA signings

Record Projections

AL East

  1. new-york-yankees New York Yankees 96-66 (#1 seed AL)
  2. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox 92-70 (#4 seed AL)
  3. Toronto_Blue_Jays Toronto Blue Jays 76-86
  4. Baltimore-Orioles-Logo Baltimore Orioles 73-89
  5. Tampa_Bay_Rays Tampa Bay Rays 70-92

Image result for giancarlo stanton yankees

The Bronx Bombers are back.  With Giancarlo Stanton on board, the Yankees have last year’s top two home run hitters in their lineup.  They could have a historic home run duo going.  Stanton and Judge will be surrounded by other big hitters, young players full of potential, and a respectable rotation.  

Image result for jd martinez red sox

But the Red Sox will challenge them after signing the #3 HR hitter of 2017 in J.D. Martinez.  After a long game of chicken, they finally agreed to terms on a deal on February 19th.  The Sox also brought back super utility Eduardo Nunez, who will start at second until Dustin Pedroia returns in mid-April.  Martinez, Nunez and the Killer B’s will lead the Sox to be elite contenders and compete with the Yankees.  In addition, ace Chris Sale leads a strong Red Sox rotation, one thing Boston has on the Yankees.  Sale, Pomeranz, and Porcello have led Boston’s rotation to outpitch the Yanks.    I will have an extended spring preview for the Sox coming soon, where I will try and answer some of the team’s biggest questions headed into 2018.

The rest of the division is in rebuild mode, and the Red Sox and Yankees will feed on them, while the two of them compete against each other.  The Blue Jays have revamped their roster with lower tier free agents and younger players who will lead the new era of the team.  Meanwhile, the Orioles have rotation turnover issues after they lost multiple starters to free agency.  They signed two starters, but they still have rotation problems, and their lineup is still good, but it’s no longer All-Star material.  Meanwhile, the Rays have completely remodeled their roster after trading away Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, and Corey Dickerson.  They will be led by young talent on their new look roster. Although the other teams in this division look intriguing, Red Sox and Yankees are the only teams that I would consider playoff contenders in the AL East.

AL Central

  1. cleveland-indians Cleveland Indians 92-70 (#3 seed AL)
  2. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins 87-75
  3. kansas-city-royals Kansas City Royals 73-89
  4. detroit-tigers Detroit Tigers 69-93
  5. chicago-white-sox Chicago White Sox 66-96

The Indians are still the clear favorite.  They may have lost key pieces in Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce, but they made up for it by signing 1B Yonder Alonso, 1B/DH Mike Napoli, OF Melvin Upton Jr. and OF Rajai Davis.  Young outfielder Bradley Zimmer is also in the running for a starting outfield job.

Image result for yonder alonso indians

That doesn’t mean the Twins won’t contend though.  They upgraded a roster that was already strong this off-season, by signing Logan Morrison and relievers Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed as well as acquiring Jake Odorizzi from Tampa Bay.  They also signed Michael Pineda, who may return from Tommy John surgery later this year.  The Twins are setting themselves up to return to the playoffs, but they’ll have competition in the wild card race, with the Red Sox and Angels also contending.

The rest of this division will fail to contend.  The Royals lost their core players in Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Lorenzo Cain and that has led them to rebuild.  The Tigers are heading into a rebuild of their own after their older team struggled in early 2017.  However, their roster appears to be falling into place, for the most part.  They could use another infielder in the mix.  After trading away J.D. Martinez last year and trading Ian Kinsler in the off-season, the Tigers are headed in the right direction, focusing on their future.  The White Sox will rely on their young talent after rebuilding in 2017.  They are hoping that their top prospects, Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez, can make an impact at the major league level as well as prospects that cracked the majors last year.  The Indians are the clear favorites here, but the Twins could also contend, and do not be surprised if one of the three rebuilding squads in the division begins contending quicker than expected.

AL West

  1. houston-astros Houston Astros 95-67 (#2 seed AL)
  2. la-angels-of-anaheim Los Angeles Angels 88-74 (#5 seed AL)
  3. seattle-mariners-logo Seattle Mariners 83-79
  4. texas-rangers Texas Rangers 74-88
  5. oakland-a's Oakland Athletics 68-94

The Astros are still the clear favorites here.  They’ve only gotten better since last year’s World Series win, so if they have any hangover, it will only affect them early on, and won’t hit them that hard, similar to what happened to the Cubs last season.  A full season of Justin Verlander and the acquisition of Gerrit Cole will make their rotation unstoppable, and their lineup is still just as good, as prospects will fill in for what they lost in Carlos Beltran, who retired.

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The Angels will also compete though.  They arguably have one of the best lineups in the league after adding Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart as well as resigning Justin Upton.  Although the rotation is not dominant, the new two-way Japanese star in Shohei Ohtani will help them improve, and hopefully, the injury bug will not hit them as hard this year.  The Mariners will also have a decent year, but they are relying on Dee Gordon to make a smooth transition to the outfield, and the rest of their outfield doesn’t look great.

In addition, it will be hard to contend with inexperienced players occupying several starting jobs.  The Rangers aren’t going to be terrible either, but some of their best players like Adrian Beltre are getting old, and not all of their younger players will be able to succeed at the major league level this year.  I like their intriguing off-season, but unless they break out with what they have, it might be time for the Rangers to consider a rebuild.  The Athletics are hoping that they can start moving in an upward direction after their own rebuild, but I think their young players need another season or two to develop before the A’s get ready for contention again.  This year will focus on the development of their young guns like Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, and Andrew Triggs among others.  In the end, look for the Astros to repeat here and the Angels to make a run at a wild-card spot.

NL East

  1. washington-nats Washington Nationals 97-65 (#1 seed NL)
  2. new-york-mets New York Mets 86-76
  3. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves 78-84
  4. philadelphia.phillies Philadelphia Phillies 71-91
  5. miami-marlins Miami Marlins 64-98

After the Nationals cruised into the NLDS in a weak NL East in 2017, I do expect Washington to repeat.  But other teams in the division will start to make strides toward contention.  At one point, I thought this might be the year that the Marlins pounce to the top of the division, but instead, they decided to rebuild early, dealing away all three of their starting outfielders (Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna) plus 2B Dee Gordon.  Now they might very well be the MLB’s worst team on paper.

But the Mets, Braves, and Phillies are moving in an upward direction.  If they can stay healthy, the Mets added several key pieces that could lead them back to contention.  I think they are close to playoff material, but not quite there yet.  The Braves look ready to break out at any moment, but I don’t know if their breakthrough will come in 2018.  But I definitely think they will improve this season.  The Phillies may not be ready for contention yet, but this young team is setting themselves up for success.  If they continue to boost their young roster with veterans over the next couple years, we may see them return to the playoffs.

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Despite the rest of the division’s effort to contend, the Nats are still the #1 team here, and they are a World Series contender.  In his contract year, Bryce Harper will lead a powerful Nationals lineup, and their rotation might just need one more strong starter such as Jake Arrieta to lead the Nats deeper into the playoffs.  With many of their stars hitting the open market soon, it will be World Series or bust in 2018 for Washington.

NL Central

  1. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs 92-70 (#3 seed NL)
  2. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals 90-72 (#4 seed NL)
  3. milwaukee-brewers Milwaukee Brewers 87-75
  4. Image result for cincinnati reds Cincinnati Reds 79-83
  5. pittsburgh-pirates Pittsburgh Pirates 67-95

If I had to name one division that improved the most this off-season, I would say the NL Central without hesitation.  Despite losing SP John Lackey to free agency, the Cubs continued to improve this off-season with the signing of pitchers Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, and Drew Smyly (may return late in 2018).  They are a significant World Series contender.  But the division will not be easy to win as the Cardinals and Brewers have also improved.

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St. Louis signed Miles Mikolas in his return to the MLB but may need to add another starter for rotational depth.  They may even try and snag closer Greg Holland or 3B Mike Moustakas before Opening Day.  They also acquired OF Marcell Ozuna from Miami.  They will contend this year, and so will the Brewers, who despite the desperate need for a #1 starter, will be significantly better in 2018 after signing Lorenzo Cain and acquiring Christian Yelich to improve their outfield and make it dominant.  They may want to resign Neil Walker before Opening Day if they really care about winning now.  Unless they sign a pitcher or a middle infielder, I don’t see them as a lock for the playoffs, but they will contend.

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The Reds could also contend soon, but it will take another year or so for the lineup to become playoff material and the young rotation to improve.  Meanwhile, the Pirates have begun rebuilding after trading away OF Andrew McCutchen and SP Gerrit Cole.  They will not contend this year due to their rebuilding intentions as well as a serious depth problem and lack of a leader in their starting rotation.  Although Cincy and Pittsburgh won’t be in the playoff race, this strong division will be competitive as its top three teams battle for playoff berths.

NL West

  1. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers 95-67 (#2 seed NL)
  2. colorado-rockies Colorado Rockies 88-74 (#5 seed NL)
  3. arizona-dbacks Arizona Diamondbacks 87-75
  4. sanfran-giants San Francisco Giants 85-77
  5. san diego-padres San Diego Padres 69-93

Although the NL Central improved the most this off-season, the NL West is still the MLB’s strongest division.  This year, I think that four teams in this division will finish with a winning record, and two will make the playoffs.  The Dodgers will stay on top here.  They have managed to keep most of the players that helped them succeed in 2017, although their rotation doesn’t have the same kind of depth that it used to.  They didn’t need 7-8 viable starters on the roster though.  No team in this division has gained significantly on the Dodgers, but other teams in the division have improved.

This could be the year for the Rockies.  Their lineup will dominate, and their young rotation should continue to improve.  The rotation is also aided by a strong bullpen that will be led by new closer Wade Davis.  The D-Backs have added outfield depth after J.D. Martinez’s departure for Boston, and they will continue to contend in 2018, although I don’t think they will quite make it this time around, as the Cardinals and Brewers have gotten better and could grab a wild card.

Image result for andrew mccutchen evan longoria giants

The Giants have also improved after acquiring Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, but after a 64-98 season, I find it hard to believe that even year luck alone will lead them back to the playoffs.  They still have rotation depth problems behind their top three starters and aside from Cutch, Longo, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence, this lineup isn’t overly intriguing.  Even the Padres will improve.  Some of their top prospects have cracked the majors, and they have brought back Chase Headley and Tyson Ross in addition to acquiring Freddy Galvis.  Their biggest move of the off-season was signing 1B Eric Hosmer.  He will be a veteran mentor for this young team and allows Wil Myers to assist the young outfield.  The Dodgers are the clear favorites here, but this division is hard to predict beyond that.

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Now for my playoff predictions.

Playoff Predictions

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As you all know, I am an avid Boston sports fan.  But as an unbiased reporter, I don’t think the Red Sox have the edge on the Yankees this year.  The Bronx Bombers just have too powerful of a lineup, and despite the fact that Boston has one of the best rotations in the MLB and signed a home run hitter of their own in J.D. Martinez, it’s just not enough to compete with the “Evil Empire” in New York.  The Sox will win over the Angels in the Wild Card round though.  The Angels may have a powerful lineup, but they are nothing like the Yankees, and rotation problems will hold them back.  I have the Yankees advancing to the World Series, but only to be defeated by the motivated Washington Nationals.  Like I said, it’s World Series or bust in Washington, and I think this year’s Nats are legitimate contenders.

In the AL, the Astros will come close to a World Series return, but even their dominant rotation will struggle against the Yankees lineup.  The Astros will top a well rounded Indians team.  The Indians look good this year but will have a hard time competing with this strong Astros team.  Jose Altuve (who I could see having another MVP caliber year), George Springer, and Justin Verlander among others will lead Houston to the ALCS.

In the NL, the Dodgers will also come close to a World Series return after beating the Cubs somewhat easily in the NLDS.  But they will struggle against a strong Nats rotation, and even Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw could have a hard time against Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, and the improved Nats lineup.  The Cardinals will also fall to the Nats.  Their younger rotation will struggle on the big stage, and their lineup isn’t fierce enough this year to stop the strong Nats rotation, despite the powerful pieces they have in Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna, and Matt Carpenter among others.

The Cards do have the edge in the Wild Card round though, as their lineup will overwhelm young Rockies ace Jon Gray.  In the end, the Nats will dominate this side of the bracket and go on to win the World Series.  The window is closing for the Nats to win a title with Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and company.  But 2018 is their final shot at a World Series win in this era, and they will be driven by this fact.

To much to take in?  My video summary of this post will be on YouTube soon.  I will post the link on my blog when it is up.

Award Predictions

Below I have listed my Top 3 picks for each major MLB award.  

AL MVP

  1. Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU – After winning this award last year, I could see Altuve repeating his 2017 dominance.  He is one of my favorite non-Red Sox players and he has emerged as a star and leader on the Astros.
  2. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, NYY – On his new team, not only will Stanton pair up with Aaron Judge to create one of the best HR duos of all time, but also put up a strong average and hit not only for power but also for consistency
  3. Mike Trout, OF, LAA – Trout is always a candidate for this award, and although injuries held him back a bit in 2017, he will remain an elite contender for this award in 2018

Honorable Mention: Justin Upton, OF, LAA

NL MVP

  1. Bryce Harper, OF, WSH – Another one of my non-Red Sox favorites.  In a contract year, Harper will go from elite player to future Hall Of Famer in an all-around dominant season
  2. Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL – With the Rockies back in playoff contention, Arenado will play at MVP level in 2018, leading the strong Rockies lineup to continued success
  3. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN – I think Votto will also emerge as an MVP caliber player this year as he continues to put up great numbers despite the fact that he is older than many other all-star level players.

Honorable Mention: Eric Hosmer, 1B, SD

AL Cy Young

  1. Chris Sale, BOS – I think Sale will repeat the success he had early in 2017 with the Red Sox, and he is my pick to win the Cy Young.
  2. Justin Verlander, HOU – Verlander will emerge as a leader in the strong Astros rotation in another deep playoff run for the Astros.  He will be Sale’s #1 competitor for the Cy Young in 2018.
  3. Carlos Carrasco, CLE – I could see Carrasco returning to his dominant 2015 form this year and creating a dynamic duo in the rotation alongside Corey Kluber.

Honorable Mention: Corey Kluber, CLE

NL Cy Young

  1. Stephen Strasburg, WSH – Strasburg already returned to the ace level last year with an ERA around 2.50, and I think he could keep it up in 2018 and make a significant run at a Cy Young award.
  2. Yu Darvish, CHC – Chicago is a great fit for Darvish, and I could see him thriving in Chicago and running at a Cy Young.
  3. Clayton Kershaw, LAD – Kershaw is always a candidate for this award much like Trout is for the MVP.  He will continue to succeed in 2018.

Honorable Mention: Max Scherzer, WSH*

* For those of you who read my latest free agency article, you would know I think Alex Cobb is going to the Brewers.  If he signs in Milwaukee, he could be a significant candidate to battle for a Cy Young award.

AL Rookie of the Year

  1. Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, LAA – Who else would I put at the top of this list?  This two-way phenom is practically a lock to make the Angels roster despite the fact that he is a rookie non-roster invitee.
  2. Kyle Tucker, OF, HOU – I think Tucker could have a significant role at the major league level in 2018. He will compete for a starting outfield job when he comes up.  He is the brother of former Astros outfielder Preston Tucker.
  3. Hunter Dozier, 3B, KC – I think Dozier can make an impact at the major league level, even with Lucas Duda in line to start at first.  I see Dozier as Kansas City’s starting third baseman as long as he is successful early in the season, and I see potential in him.

Honorable Mention: Christian Arroyo, 3B, TB

NL Rookie of the Year

  1. Jesse Winker, OF, CIN – I think Winker will breakout this year as he establishes himself as a starter at the major league level.  He will compete for the Rookie of the Year award.
  2. Ronald Acuna, OF, ATL – Once Acuna cracks the majors, he has the chance to become a starter in left field, and once that happens, I see the potential for him to be great.
  3. Ryan McMahon, 1B, COL – With Ian Desmond headed back to the outfield and Mark Reynolds in the open market, there’s an open spot for McMahon at first base.  If they resign Reynolds, they could work out some sort of platoon, but either way, I think McMahon has the potential for success in the majors this year.

Honorable Mentions: Alex Reyes, SP, STL and Victor Robles, OF, WSH

 

That’s all for my MLB 2018 Predictions.  Stay tuned for more baseball articles including my spring power rankings, my Red Sox 2018 season preview, and my 2nd annual preseason Baseball Bits article.