I’ve been meaning to make a post for several weeks, highlighting my predictions and projections for the 2019 season. With 10% of the season in the books, it’s still early enough to make substantive predictions and projections. Here are my thoughts about the Senior Circuit for the 2019 season.
I had a feeling that the Dodgers were the best team in the National League coming into this season. Three weeks into the season, my opinion hasn’t changed. Their lineup is deep, if a little lefty-heavy. But Corey Seager looks like he’s fully recovered from last year’s injury and Cody Bellinger is playing like an MVP in the early going. What’s more, the lineup has been substantially lengthened by the fast starts of “role players” like Kiki Hernandez and Austin Barnes. This lineup is deep and can beat you in a number of ways.
As good as the offense has been, it’s the pitching staff that really sets the Dodgers apart. They have seven legitimate starting pitchers and a bullpen filled with power arms. The Dodgers can probably afford to manage their starters much like they have the past few seasons: taking advantage of the 10-day IL (formerly the DL) to give their starters plenty of rest in-season. I’ve watched this team a lot in the early going and they’re the real deal.
While I thought the Brewers would win the Central, I didn’t expect them to rival the Dodgers as the best team in the league. But I’m telling you: this team is going to score in bunches. Christian Yelich looks primed to defend his MVP award, launching baseballs into the stratosphere with ease. He’s a joy to watch, even as he mashes against my beloved Cardinals. But this isn’t just a one-man show. Mike Moustakas is a sneaky pick to lead the league in home runs. So is Travis Shaw. Jesus Aguilar hasn’t even started hitting yet and this lineup is still one of the league’s best.
Losing co-closer Corey Knebel takes some of the shine off of Craig Counsell’s bullpen, but this is still a strong squad. Jeremy Jeffress is poised to join Josh Hader at the back end and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the club add another power arm this summer. But if I were the Brewers GM, I’d be tempted to go all in and make a run at erstwhile free agent Dallas Keuchel. The Brewers have a glaring need in their rotation and Keuchel, while far from dominant, could provide plenty of quality turns in the regular season and could give Milwaukee 4-5 capable innings in a postseason start. There have been rumblings about the Brewers trading for Madison Bumgarner, but Keuchel can be had today if they’d just write the man a check. Regardless, this team is very good.
The National League East should be a fun division as there are four legitimate contenders vying for first place. I don’t think the Mets will be there all year, but I applaud their new GM for making some interesting moves. And you can’t count out any team getting 40% of their starts from Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndegaard. (Of course, Syndegaard likely won’t make every start. But I digress.)
The Phillies were projected to be about an 84-win team BEFORE signing Bryce Harper to his (then) record setting contract. But the Harper signing was just the final piece in what was a highly successful offseason for Philly. They also added Andrew McCutchen, JT Realmuto, Jean Segura, and David Robertson — four veterans that should be better than league average at their respective positions. This is another team that could probably use either Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel. Either signing could really push the Phillies into the upper tier in the National League. As it stands, they are still my choice to win this division by an eyelash.
Even though they lost Harper to their division rivals, the Nationals still spent heavily to invest in a starting rotation that should make them competitive. I think the Corbin signing was an overpay, but he was clearly the best starter on the market. Scherzer, Corbin, and Strasburg in a short series…ouch. Juan Soto will do his best to make Nats fans forget about #34, but the Washington hitter most primed for a career year is Anthony Rendon. He looks like a man on a mission this spring.
And what’s funny is that NOBODY seems to be talking about the Braves, the reigning division champs. That’s probably just fine with Brian Snitker and crew. I think the Braves are a solid starter away (Keuchel???) and I don’t see Ozzie Albies as a growth stock but they could still very easily repeat as division winners. Ronald Acuna and Freddie Freeman could be vying for MVP honors before the season is over.
So my division winners are L.A., Milwaukee, and Philly. When it comes to the wild card, I’m taking Atlanta and St. Louis, but who knows. I really think the Cardinals are much improved. Paul Goldschmidt gives them the impact bat they’ve been seeking for the past few years and I expect Marcell Ozuna to bounce back to his 2017 form. As always, the key will be the performance of the bullpen. If the early returns are any indication, the St. Louis ‘pen likely won’t be championship-level, but they should improve as the season progresses.
For the record, I love what the Padres are doing. Sure, they’ve overpaid for Hosmer and Machado, but they’ve augmented those moves by calling up their best young players to try and open the competitive window a bit sooner. In an era when GMs routinely hold back their best players to avoid starting their arbitration clocks (ahem, Vlad Guerrero, Jr.), the Padres are playing their best players NOW in an effort to field a competitive squad. What a novel idea. In the same way, I respect what Cincinnati did this offseason. I love how they bought low on Sonny Gray and Yasiel Puig. Those two moves could be huge.
NL MVP pick: You’re probably crazy to pick anyone other than Yelich right now, but I’m going to pick Harper. Dude looks motivated and I think he’ll carry Philly to the playoffs.
NL Cy Young pick: It’s probably Max Scherzer. But if I had to take a dark horse, I’d take Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals. He’s going to win one of these awards one year. Might happen early.
NL Rookie of the Year: Nick Senzel, Reds. Not sure if he’ll play 2B or CF, but he should be a fixture in Cincy for years to come.