Well, it’s finally here: Opening Day! Time for some predictions for the upcoming season. Here are the probable division winners for 2018.
AL East: New York Yankees. The Yankees were an algorithm favorite last year thanks to their run differential (which was better than Houston’s) and all they did this offseason was go out and add Giancarlo Stanton to an already fearsome lineup. Under the radar pickups Brandon Drury and Neil Walker were savvy additions. Look for Jordan Montgomery to break out in the rotation. Boston will hope to make this race a close one, but the Yankees are one of the best teams in baseball and with a pipeline of young talent on the way, they look to be in this position for quite some time.
AL Central: Cleveland Indians. All of the division winner picks are pretty much no-brainers, but this one might be the easiest of all. Cleveland’s pitching depth is unrivaled and Francisco Lindor is a star. Injuries would be the only thing that could keep Cleveland from yet another AL Central title. The Twins have postured themselves as a dark horse in the division, merely on the basis that they’re not in rebuilding mode like the rest of the teams in the AL Central.
AL West: Houston Astros. There is also little drama to this choice as well. Sure, the Angels made some noise by adding Shohei Ohtani and re-signing Justin Upton. But this division belongs to the Astros. They’re deep. They’re young. They’re the reigning World Series champions. A full season of Justin Verlander and the addition of Gerrit Cole makes their rotation one of the league’s best. And that bullpen is still lights out. 2018 might be Carlos Correa’s MVP turn.
AL Wild Card: Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. Boston takes one of these spots as a consolation prize after losing the division to the Yankees. But the other Wild Card spot will be right there for the taking. I’m choosing the upstart Twins over other possible contenders such as Toronto and Anaheim. On paper, the Twins are probably a .500 team today, but with a few lucky breaks, I could easily see them winning 87 games and nabbing the second Wild Card.
AL Pennant Winner: The playoffs are a total crapshoot, but I’ll take the Indians and their pitching over the Yankees and Astros. But really, you could make a case for any of those three.
And now for the National League:
NL East: Washington Nationals. What, you were expecting someone else? These days, the Nats winning this division is like clockwork. The Braves’ rebuild is still a year or so away; the Phillies are recklessly throwing cash this way and that in an attempt to be relevant; the Mets perpetually rely on their potential-rich but injury-riddled young pitching to carry them; and the Marlins are in full dumpster fire mode. That pretty much leaves Washington as the slam dunk pick here. Daniel Murphy’s injury hurts tremendously, but expect Bryce Harper to be even more motivated in his walk year.
NL Central: Chicago Cubs. I hate to say it, but the Cubs are very, very good. On paper, they continue to be the class of this division. The lineup is deep and continues to be augmented by reinforcements from the minors such as Ian Happ, who looks ready for stardom. The starting rotation was already good BEFORE the Yu Darvish signing, a deal that was made with October in mind. The only potential flaw is the bullpen. The Brandon Morrow signing is a good one, but relying on his brittle elbow to close out meaningful games in September / October is risky. I’m surprised Epstein hasn’t inked Greg Holland as a contingency plan. Regardless, this is a team built for contention.
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers. 2018 should be the sixth straight division title for the Dodgers — not vintage era Braves, mind you, but it’s also nothing to sneeze at, either. Last year’s team finally broke through in the playoffs and they look poised to represent the National League in the Fall Classic yet again. I think Colorado was a one-year fluke last year. Expect the DBacks to finish second in the division again.
NL Wild Card: St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cardinals made a big move to acquire Marcell Ozuna in the Marlins firesale, but many fans were clamoring for an additional move — particularly after Chicago signed Yu Darvish. But the team chose to avoid the pricier free agent additions (unless they make a splash and sign Greg Holland). But the team dealt from its surplus of outfielders to both shore up the bullpen (Dominic Leone) and provide organizational depth. I really like the direction of the club and I expect them to rejoin the postseason ranks this year. Before the Bumgarner injury, I liked the Giants as a sleeper, but I expect Arizona to slide into the second Wild Card spot.
NL Pennant Winner: Again, total crapshoot here. Might as well go with the Dodgers to repeat.
World Series champions: Los Angeles Dodgers.
Additionally, I expect huge years from Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Nolan Arenado, Trea Turner, and Jose Altuve. They’ll be in the MVP conversation all year long.