After a bitter and cold offseason featuring one of the most frigid free agency periods in memory, we have almost arrived at the proper Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. I always get giddy this time of year, for one, because it means my birthday is right around the corner. But truly, the start of the baseball calendar has always felt like the beginning of the new year to me more than January 1st ever did.
Even though it’s one of the laziest things a writer can do to put words onto a screen, it is undeniably a fun exercise to try to predict what will happen before the season starts. If nothing else, it gives you something to look back on in October and make fun of me for when 75 percent of these predictions inevitably go to shit. With that in mind, let’s get it…
AL EAST CHAMPION: New York Yankees
Let’s get my homer stuff out of the way nice and early. Yes, I am a die-hard Yankee fan. And yes, this is a prediction that is partly being made because it’s what I want to see happen. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a logical argument to be made to back this up.
Obviously, the Red Sox are the defending champions not just of the AL East, but all of baseball. And as Ric Flair put it best, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” That’s never been more true than in MLB’s current divisional scheduling format when the teams play each other head-to-head 19 times a year.
The Yanks are dealing with some pretty major injury concerns to begin the season, particularly with their pitching. Luis Severino, Dellin Betances and C.C. Sabathia will all be on the mend instead of on the mound to start the year.
But an offense that set an MLB record for home runs a year ago actually has a lot of room to improve. The improvement would rely upon getting a bounce-back year from Gary Sanchez, a healthier one from Aaron Judge, and a less schizophrenic one from Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankee bullpen is still the best in the game, whereas the Sox’ pen minus Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly is almost certainly going to cost them a few games this season.
AL CENTRAL CHAMPION: Cleveland Indians
I’m going with the chalk pick, as tempting as it is to pick the Twins to unseat Cleveland here. This really all comes down to starting pitching for me. The starting five of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber is one of a few rotations that can lay claim to the title of best in the bigs.
The question is going to be whether this team can score enough runs to support them. With Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes all gone from the lineup, it puts a lot on Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis to do the heavy lifting.
The bullpen is a bit suspect too without Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, but the Central has been, and still is one of the weaker divisions in the sport. Like I said, the Twins are a tempting pick, but I’m gonna take the team with the better pitching to finish the 162-game grind with a slightly better record. But I would not be surprised if this was one of the tighter races down the stretch.
AL WEST CHAMPION: Houston Astros
This one feels like the most “well, duh” pick of the division champs. The Oakland A’s are coming off a 97-win year and will likely be a tough team to play once again this season. But the Astros are just too damn good. It’s hard to find a definitive weak spot on this squad. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer all have room to improve from their 2018 numbers, and I’d be willing to bet that all three will.
Sure, they lost three extremely capable starters in Dallas Kuechel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers. But Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are still very much there. Collin McHugh, Wade Miley and Brad Peacock may not be the kind of names that make opposing lineups shudder, but Houston’s coaching staff has done a remarkable job in recent years of getting the best out of seemingly every arm they have. All that said, this team is my pick to finish the year with the best record in the sport.
AL WILD CARDS: Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins
Whichever team between the Yankees and Red Sox doesn’t win the AL East is a slam dunk pick to take one of the wild cards in the American League in my mind. As for the other WC spot, I’m predicting it will go to a team that (as I mentioned) I toyed with choosing to be a division winner in the Twins.
This is a team that captured a wild card spot two seasons ago, and has made some key additions to their offense this offseason. Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop and Marwin Gonzalez are all guys that will provide Minnesota with the kind of bats that make them capable of putting up runs in bunches. Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson give them a solid 1-2 punch at the top of their starting rotation.
The Twins are bound to get a strong push from the A’s and perhaps even the Tampa Bay Rays for this playoff spot, but give me Minnesota as the team that will likely get the bricks blown off of them in a Wild Card Game match-up against the Sawx.
NL EAST CHAMPION: Washington Nationals
I’ve made a point of not looking at any other prediction pieces before doing my own, and I wonder how many pundits have written off the Nats after not only losing Bryce Harper, but losing him to another team in what currently stands as the most wide-open division in baseball. But despite being branded with the reputation of playoff chokers, Washington often finds a way to at least get there, last season notwithstanding.
Make no mistake, this team still has a lineup that packs a punch, and a lot of those punches will come from guys who are going to be mainstays for years to come. Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Anthony Rendon are top of mind in that category. And oh yeah, their pitching rotation is money with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the newly acquired Patrick Corbin leading the way.
The Braves, Phillies, and even the Mets could all finish within shouting distance of the top spot, but I still like the Nationals to take the prize.
NL CENTRAL CHAMPION: Chicago Cubs
This is a spot where I feel like I may be relying more on my gut than my logic. The Brewers might actually be a more “complete” team than the Cubs on paper, and the Brew Crew hold the distinction of defending champs in this division. But you’ll remember that came down to a Game 163 last season, so to say it was a close race is very much an understatement. The Cardinals will also pose a threat to Chicago, as they have absolutely made strides in improving their club.
This seems like a cop-out explanation, but to me it just feels like the Cubbies are bound to get back to the top spot in the Central this year. Joe Maddon may be my favorite manager in the sport, and the roster he’s working with feels like a nearly ideal blend of youth and experience. Their starting infield in particular is as good as most teams in the game. And I have to make at least one pick here that is based almost solely on gut feeling. Having said all of that, look for Milwaukee to pop up again a little further down in this column.
NL WEST CHAMPION: Colorado Rockies
This is pretty clearly going to be a two-horse race, as the Rockies and Dodgers are really the only teams in the NL West that are worth a damn. LA may have won the previous six division titles, but I believe Colorado is finally going to put a stop to that streak this season.
This was the other division that needed a 163rd game to decide a winner last year. And while there is no denying the two-time defending NL Champs are still a quality team with loads of depth, the Rockies are returning a very similar looking roster to last season’s while Los Angeles actually changed a lot this winter.
Gone from the Dodgers’ roster are Manny Machado, Yasiel Puig, Yasmani Grandal, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood. That’s a lot to lose. Yes, they did add A.J. Pollock, and a consistently healthy Corey Seager would go a long way toward keeping this team on top. But the Rockies are essentially the same group that took LA down to the wire last season, except with the addition of Daniel Murphy. If Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Jon Gray can pitch to their potential all year, I think Colorado has enough to finish in first.
NL WILD CARDS: Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers
This would set up a rematch of last year’s NLCS in the Wild Card Game. It would be a damn shame to have to lose one of these teams in a one-game playoff scenario, but I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen. And truth be told, it’s in this scenario that I think the Dodgers’ bid at making it to three straight World Series will come to an end.
The one thing the Brewers are lacking is a definitive ace of the pitching staff, and that is something the Dodgers undoubtedly have in Clayton Kershaw. So maybe you can chalk this up as a prediction of heart over head. That Milwaukee lineup is just so damn good, though. The guy who would likely relish this opportunity the most would be Yasmani Grandal, who left Los Angeles to sign with the Beer Makers this offseason. Imagine if he were to play a big role in sending the Dodgers packing come October. We can dream, can’t we?
ALCS Prediction: Astros defeat Yankees
Ugh. It pains my pinstriped heart to say this, but the Astros are simply the better and more complete team, plus they have had the Yankees’ number in recent history. This is the series I want though. A chance to exorcise the demons of the 2017 ALCS in which the underdog Yanks nearly knocked off the eventual World Champion Stros is surely an appetizing situation. I just don’t think the Yankees really want that smoke. Houston is too good.
NLCS Prediction: Brewers defeat Rockies
This presumes the Cubs finish with the National League’s best record, which is far from a lock, but play along with me. The Brewers beat the Dodgers in the Wild Card Game. The NLDS would then see the Rockies beat the Nationals (because the Nats don’t win playoff series, just as a general rule) and the Brewers upset the Cubs. Brewers-Rockies would be a fascinating NLCS, and honestly, predicting a wild card team to make the World Series just makes for a fun little wrinkle in this here prediction column.
World Series Prediction: Astros defeat Brewers
Of all the truly plausible World Series scenarios, this is certainly one that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would desire the least. Houston and Milwaukee aren’t exactly what you would define as large media markets. But if the Yankees can’t be there, sign me up for seven games of this series.
I’m not so sure it would happen that way, because frankly I think the Astros are simply better than the Brewers in almost every conceivable category. But there ya have it. My official World Series pick. So when the Brewers now inevitably miss the playoffs altogether or something dumb like that, you can point back at this and laugh at me.
Predictions aren’t exactly the most profound thing in the world of sports punditry, but they sure are fun to make. By all means, please sound off in the comments and let me know how wrong and stupid I am. And most importantly, HAPPY BASEBALL SEASON TO ALL!