Okay, full disclosure time, and an admission I should probably be slightly ashamed of.
I was rooting for Vlad Guerrero Jr. to hit a home run last night.
Now, to be clear, I wasn’t hoping for Jack Flaherty to throw his only really bad pitch of the night; I didn’t want to see him hang a breaking ball right in the kid’s wheelhouse. That part sucked. But I did actually say, out loud, to my television, “Just throw him a fastball over the plate, Jack, and let’s see what happens.” I was hoping to see Montreal’s favourite baseballing son challenged right down the pipe, and see who came out on top.
So yeah, for once in my life, I was sort of rooting against the Cardinals. I’m not really ashamed, either. That was magical. Baseball won’t be back to Montreal for probably another year, and there’s no better way that could have ended. Sometimes you have to just enjoy being a part of a Moment, even if it is, in fact, someone else’s Moment.
Also, holy shit did the pitchers ever look good last night. Admittedly, there were enough called strikes on pitches that appeared to be low, appeared to be outside, or appeared to be both that I think a whole lot of pitchers could have been successful (I also wonder if hitters were having a tough time seeing the ball in that particular stadium, because absolutely no hitters really looked comfortable in either game), but that doesn’t change the fact we saw a trio of Redbird starters completely steamroll the opposition.
Also also, I miss the Expos. I ordered a satin Expos jacket from Mitchel and Ness a couple years ago. I wanted it in white, but they only had blue. It was a really dumb way to spend a hundred and fifty bucks. It’s still pretty great.
Second thing: I want to take this opportunity to publicly congratulate Josey Curtis on becoming the new site manager. She’s said all along her goal in life is to write about baseball professionally. The passion is undeniable, and I think she’ll be a great steward of the site.
I was also relieved that, despite a longer transition process than we’ve had in the past, the job ultimately went to someone who was already part of the staff. Much like the team we cover here, I feel a huge part of the strength of this site over the years has been a fairly large amount of continuity. And no, I don’t mean me specifically being the only remaining link to Larry Borowsky’s original site. But with the exception of the exceedingly brief tenure of Mike Grabowski, every site manager has come either from the ranks of writers already on staff, or was hand-picked by the previous manager to take over in the case of Dan Moore inheriting the mantle from Larry originally.
At no point have we had someone come in from completely outside the staff and community and take over a group of people they know very little about. Dan was a community member and blogger in his own right before taking over, Ben Humphrey actually came back from self-imposed exile to rescue the site from disaster (and me from making a huge mistake and accepting the managing editor position), Craig was brought in by Ben and then stepped into the top role, and now Josey moves from contributor to the big chair vacated by Craig. Every site head has been fully immersed in the culture of the place before taking over the top job. I think that is a very good thing.
Speaking of continuity, I’ve been doing season previews in the form of two-sentence team descriptions since 2014, which makes this a fifth annual installment. It continues to blindside me over and over just how long I’ve been hanging around this place.
As always, teams are listed in order of finish, division by division.
Let’s go....West to East this time, shall we?
American League West
The Astros are really effing good.
Look, not every team actually needs two whole sentences, okay?
They have the best player in baseball, one of the three or four best shortstops in the game, and they just hit the jackpot when the most talented non-MLB pitcher on Earth decided he’d like to play for them for essentially free. It’s basically one big, long experiment to see how much good fortune a franchise can overcome to still fail.
The A’s have two up and coming star-level players in Matts Chapman and Olson, an excellent farm system with exciting players like Franklin Barreto and A.J. Puk, and a few really smart additions to the roster like Stephen Piscotty. It’s going to be so much fun watching them all get sold off over the next few years.
I got fooled last year, thinking the Mariners had made enough incremental, smart changes to their roster to make a real run at the division before night closed in on them. Jerry DiPoto has continued to try and piece together a competitive roster via dozens of moves to gain a marginal win or two, but Seattle is facing a brutal, long rebuild, particularly if they continue to deny the fact said rebuild is coming and don’t make moves to get a head start on it soon.
The Rangers’ vaunted farm system of a couple years ago simply hasn’t panned out, and Texas currently finds itself with more Rougned Odors and Nomar Mazaras than Joey Gallos. Adrian Beltre is an ageless marvel, but Cole Hamels is getting old, Martin Perez just isn’t very good, and they’re going to be counting on Matt Moore, Mike Minor, and Doug Fister all in starting roles this season, which is every bit as scary as it sounds.
The Indians return perhaps the majors’ most talented pitching staff (even minus one of their better relief arms of the past couple years), along with a pair of MVP candidates anchoring their infield. Playing in baseball’s worst division will help pump up their win total, but this is a legit championship contender.
The Twins had a good offseason, as they took advantage of a weak market to help bolster a young roster with some real talent beginning to establish itself. The Twins aren’t a great team, but they’re solid, and beating up on the little sisters of the poor that populate the rest of the Central will give their record enough of a boost to stay in Wild Card contention all season.
Okay, going to level with you: the rest of this division...it just sucks, guys. I mean, it really sucks. And trying to decide who sucks the most is brutal.
We all knew winter was coming for the Royals, and despite bringing back Mike Moustakas this looks very much like the sort of team we thought the Royals would be at the end of their window. They do have one big time trade chip in Danny Duffy, which could help kickstart their rebuild, but a farm system ranked near the bottom of baseball could spell a long process for the Royals beginning this season.
The White Sox actually have some talent beginning to arrive, and more on the way. They’re still going to be bad this season, in all likelihood, but their jump might be coming as soon as the second half of 2018.
The Tigers are in as bad a shape as any team in baseball, with a bad roster, an horrific contract on their payroll for another six years, and the ghost of Jordan Zimmermann moping around the clubhouse scaring people with the shredded remains of his pitching arm. I would suggest the Tigers tank immediately, but it seems reality beat me to the suggestion.
This is as tough a division race as there’s likely to be, but the Red Sox have Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, and a pair of excellent bounceback candidates in David Price and Rick Porcello for 2018. That pitching potential, plus the new era Killer B’s of Betts, Bogaerts, Benintendi, and Bradley, will be just enough for Boston to hold off the surging tidal wave of renewed Yankee dominance.
When you plug the Yankee starters into the lineup tool, the resulting run estimate is, “all of them.” That monster offense plus the major’s best bullpen will help prop up a rotation with way more downside risk than one might expect from the evil empire.
The Blue Jays had a quietly strong offseason, as they moved to shore up the edges of their roster with multiple small, smart acquisitions that should complement the Stroman/Donaldson/Aaron Sanchez/Kevin Pillar/Osuna core, and if there were a third wild card they would be my pick. Alas, there is not, and while the future is certainly bright in Toronto, I think they end up on the outside looking in this season.
NOW TRADE US JOSH DONALDSON!!!
The Brent Honeywell hurts the Rays’ upside in 2018 the way the Alex Reyes injury did that of the 2017 Cardinals, but they still have a dynamic front of the rotation duo in Chris Archer and Blake Snell, with Jake Faria adding further upside. Unfortunately, Tampa’s position players just don’t appear to have enough oomph to keep the club in a brutal division picture this year.
It feels like night is closing in for Baltimore, as they’re about to lose Manny Machado to free agency; in reality, though, the Orioles have already seen their best days come and go, even if they don’t realise it yet. The O’s need to tear down and rebuild in order to try and avoid the extended misery that comes with starting from scratch, but they seem disinclined to recognise that fact.
National League West
The Dodgers may be the senior circuit’s best team again this year, as they reap the benefits of their successful rebuild, camouflaged by the fact they bought essentially a loaner team to field while they rebuilt. They may have baseball’s best infield, the deepest and most flexible roster in the game, and the second coming of Mariano Rivera closing down games for them. As good as it sounds.
The DBacks were a surprise contender last year, but they have a very solid core of positional talent, anchored by Paul Goldschmidt, and a high-strikeout pitching staff that should help neutralise their very tough playing environment. They aren’t as good as they looked in 2017, but they’re a good, solid bet for a wild card spot.
The Rockies invested heavily in their bullpen this offseason, and by heavily I mean, well, whatever the word for several steps beyond heavily is. The offense is just mediocre, though, and while the rotation was good in 2017 I just don’t feel the overall package is strong enough to take advantage of a potentially dominant (though with tons of downside risk as well), relief corps.
After making every attempt to complete their championship threepeat this offseason by winning the 2013 World Series, the Giants have seen their no-tomorrow strategy threatened even prior to launch by a rash of injuries to starting pitchers. It’s still possible they have enough bounceback seasons to propel them toward a playoff spot, but they’ve basically used up their entire margin for error already, and maybe a little more.
Nope, Padres still aren’t good yet. They have Eric Hosmer now, though, and maybe they’ll be good while he’s still productive enough to be seen as an important part of their return to winning.
I wish I could put the Cardinals in this spot over the Cubs, but even with the Redbirds making up a large amount of ground on the division champs this offseason the head start of Bryant and Rizzo is incredibly difficult to overcome. That said, the Cubs have shortened their window substantially with severall all-in moves, but a dynamic rotation should carry them to a mid-90s win total in 2018.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards improved more this offseason than I think nearly anyone is giving them credit for, and the have both a potential gauntlet of a lineup and a rotation with top 3-5 in baseball upside heading into the year. The wild card will be the bullpen, which features little certainty, but enough power arms that it’s possible to squint a little and see a ‘pen capable of supporting a 92+ win club.
The Brewers had a lot go right for them in 2018, with a legitimate year-early jump combining with some flukey good things to create a roster that both overachieved and overperformed, with the tough question being how much of each was really happening. They made big, aggressive moves this offseason, pushing their window closer, but lack the pitching upside to support another divisional run.
The Pirates took a big step back this offseason, but resisted the urge to tear it down completely, trying instead to shoot for a Rays-style quick rebuild on the fly. There’s enough pitching upside one could see the Pirates surprising some people this year, but more likely they feel like a decent team stuck in a division with behemoths.
The Reds have a good enough lineup to do some things, and there’s some pitching beginning to percolate up, but they aren’t there yet. They could be dangerous to a team in contention, though, any day of the week.
The surest thing in a division with a couple wild cards (metaphorically, not literally wild card teams), the Nationals have one more year with Bryce Harper in the fold to try and bring home a championship. They have enough talent not to fall off a cliff once he leaves, but they should be extra motivated to try and win with Scherzer, Strasburg, Harper and Rendon all still together.
Perhaps the most health-dependent team in baseball (if such a thing can ever be separated and graded), the Mets could, with health and bounceback seasons on the pitching side, make a serious run at a wild card spot, or perhaps even the divisional crown. And, considering the lurking presence of Syndergaard, they might be the scariest wild card opponent for any club looking to advance.
The Phils had some good things happen for them last season, and they attempted to push closer to contention this offseason by adding Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta to the fold, joining Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, and a favourite prospect of mine in Scott Kingery as exciting near-future assets. I think they’ll be better, if still mediocre, and will make a huge splash — or maybe a couple — this coming offseason as they attempt to reclaim the Eastern division after a half-decade of irrelevance.
The Braves have one of the brightest futures in baseball, with Ronald Acuna looking like a future superstar and an overall farm system picture that suggests they could shoot into the playoff picture in a huge hurry before too long here. This season, though, the pitching is still moderately wretched and the positional talent needs time to finish baking, leading to another disappointing year in the ATL.
The Miami Marlins really suck, and the franchise in general is a black mark.
Hey, like I said, not every team needs two full sentences, okay?
Wild Card 1 — Yankees, Cardinals
Wild Card 2 — Angels, Diamondbacks
Yankees over Angels
Cardinals over Diamondbacks
Yankees over Astros
Indians over Red Sox
Dodgers over Cardinals
Nationals over Cubs
Indians over Yankees
Nationals over Dodgers
Indians over Nationals