Stupid change in opening day ruining my schedule, he mumbled angrily to himself.
I liked being able to write this column on Sunday morning, with the first game of the season scheduled for that night. This everybody starting on Thursday thing I’m much less enamoured of.
Anyhow, here we are again, season preview time. Every team gets no more than two sentences (though they are, admittedly, often extremely long sentences), and are listed in the order I believe they will finish within their respective divisions. West to East, AL first. Here we go.
Houston Astros — This is an easy pick, as the Astros remain baseball’s strongest overall organisation for the moment. They have one of the majors’ strongest cores, Kyle Tucker on the immediate horizon, Forrest Whitley a bit further down the road, and enough depth there’s no reason to believe they won’t rule the roost in the AL West for at least several more years.
Oakland Athletics — The A’s were one of the best surprises in the game last year, but have enough talent on the position player side to avoid being a one-year wonder, between a legitimate MVP candidate and a lineup that goes legitimately six deep. The pitching will be the big concern, and they’ll be leaning on tons of new-wave tactics, not to mention hoping for the cavalry to come as the season goes on, to make up for their lack of obvious high-level solutions.
Anaheim Angels — They managed to lock Mike Trout down for what should be the rest of his career, and have both the game’s best defensive shortstop and best two-way player on the roster to complement the Mickey Mantle of the 21st century. How they manage to keep not winning is beyond me, but looking at the overall state of their roster I think they’re going to manage it again this season.
Texas Rangers — The Rangers remain one of the more enigmatic teams in baseball right now, seemingly stuck in near-rebuild mode but also not that far from what looks like a contending roster. The pitching looks mostly old and mostly shaky, and when your biggest addition to the offense is Asdrubal Cabrera in 2019 it doesn’t exactly scream ‘pushing your chips in’ at the going for it table.
Seattle Mariners — Unlike the Rangers, the Mariners seem mostly set on their direction, and Jerry DiPoto got mostly solid returns for the pieces he sold off in this latest reset/retool/rewhatever the M’s are going to try and sell to their fans this time, which essentially removed 90% of the excitement Seattle fans could look forward to. Still, it seems rough to tell baseball’s now longest-suffering fanbase to be patient, because this time tanking and rebuilding is going to work.
Cleveland Indians — Yes, the Indians spent most of the offseason not upgrading, and seemingly even considering if they could trade in some present value for future, in order to maybe ease whatever transition period may be coming as Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco inevitably begin declining. Even without big offseason moves, though, Cleveland may have the best five player core in baseball, and they have enough assets to go out and find an upgrade in the outfield or bullpen at the trade deadline this year.
Minnesota Twins — The Twins have made an admirable effort the past few seasons to push themselves in to legitimate contender territory, but they, much like the Cardinals, have been hampered by an inability to obtain a true star player, and a parallel failure of their top prospects to develop to that level. Buxton/Sano/Kepler no longer looks like the kind of nucleus it did once upon a time, but Jose Berrios still has ace potential, Nick Gordon is on the cusp of becoming a real contributor, and the Twins’ roster overall has benefited from steady additions and improvements.
Chicago White Sox — It seems like the White Sox are eternally on the come these days, but this year they should some real, actual improvement, if not quite enough to make them a contender just yet. They have one of the more athletically exciting rosters in the big leagues, and this is the year Eloy Jimenez will make his way to this big leagues, but there’s still so little pitching that it’s hard to see them taking that next step until they find some.
Detroit Tigers — The announcement of Michael Fulmer’s impending Tommy John surgery was just the latest piece of bad news in the neverending hangover that has been the past few years of Detroit Tiger baseball. There are some intriguing potential trade pieces on this current roster, but the team as a whole is bad, will be bad for a while still, and it is only the presence of the truly moribund Royals in the division which will keep Detroit out of the cellar.
Kansas City Royals — Speaking of the truly moribund Royals, here they are, ready to push for 100 losses again and ruin lots of Western Missourians’ summer. Success looks like it will be a long, long way off still in Kansas City, and the most interesing storyline surrounding the Royals this season will likely be if Adalberto Mondesi’s 2018 improvement was real, and if so, if the Royals decide to try and build around him or decide they’re so far away they would be better off with the return he would bring in a trade.
Boston Red Sox — This is one of the toughest calls for me to make, as I’m picking the Red Sox to just barely hang on to their division crown again this season despite a bullpen that was mediocre last season outside of one or two star pitchers and was then allowed to degrade further over the offseason. It’s hard to argue against Boston’s core, though, as Betts/Bogaerts/Benintendi/Martinez/Sale/Price might be the strongest single collection of talent on any one roster in baseball.
New York Yankees — It seems a trendy pick around baseball this year to put the Yankees back atop the AL East, the Evil Empire fully reborn, but I’m not there quite yet. They might have the majors’ scariest bullpen and a lineup featuring more power than, well, the ‘27 Yankees, but the starting pitching looks to be a serious potential problem, particularly with the upside hit their season took when Luis Severino went down.
Tampa Bay Rays — The poor Rays just can’t catch a break; they’ve built one of the most complete clubs top to bottom in baseball, yet still appear to have very little chance at anything better than a third-place finish in the land of the giants. They do have one of baseball’s best young starters under contract for the long haul and potentially one of the best outfields in the game, though, so if either of the behemoths up top should stumble from 100 wins to the 94 neighbourhood, the Rays will be there to pounce.
Toronto Blue Jays — It’s strange, I’m really of two minds regarding the Blue Jays: on the one hand, I have very little feel for exactly how good this team will be this year, but I’m also maybe more confident of their spot in the division than any other fourth-place team. With two of baseball’s best prospects on the near horizon, the future is incredibly bright for Toronto, but this season will likely not see meaningful games in September.
Baltimore Orioles — What is there, really, to say about the Baltimore Orioles? They were one of the worst teams in the history of the game last year, and outside of maybe other teams being excited about trading for their last couple high-end relief arms, there’s really nothing to look forward to in the short term.
Los Angeles Dodgers — The two Western divisions mirror each other in an interesting way, as each division is headed by a juggernaut, then populated after that by a group of mediocre but interesting pretenders to the throne. Clayton Kershaw looking more and more like Sandy Koufax but in the bad way is certainly a hit to the Dodgers’ potential ceiling this year, but they will get back Corey Seager to add to one of the most talented top to bottom rosters in the game.
Colorado Rockies — Each of the past two seasons, the Rockies have outperformed their underlying numbers en route to playoff berths, but I’m forecasting that run will end this year, as Kyle Freeland has a much worse batted-ball year and the bizarrely expensive bullpen underperforms. The Rockies have steadily built an extremely strong core of internally-developed talent, but seem to have no idea how to actually construct a team around that core.
San Diego Padres — The Padres will likely be the most improved team in baseball this year, and there’s more on the way, but even that will not be enough to get them back in real contention just yet. By 2020, though, they might have the National League’s best infield (though Eric Hosmer may be a roadblock to that), and will be looking to bolster their starting pitching to take a run at the Dodgers.
San Francisco Giants — The error bars around what I think of the Giants are very large; there is a scenario in which a whole lot of things break right for San Francisco and they win 92 games with Madison Bumgarner in Cy Young contention and the bullpen having one of those come out of nowhere monster seasons. More likely, though, the Giants will continue to slide, and the bill they rolled out trying to extend their window the last couple years will really start to come due.
Arizona Diamondbacks — I have the DBacks as the last place club in the NL West, but I actually don’t think they’re going to be that bad; it’s just the nature of the National League right now that almost every team is trying to contend, and the results is a hypercompetitive bunched up snarl of clubs. But Arizona lost their best pitcher from 2018 over the offseason, sent their best player of the decade to the Cardinals in a trade, and just saw Steven Souza go down for the year with a knee injury; the writing is on the wall here, I think.
St. Louis Cardinals — Go on, call me a homer if you must. But I think the addition of Paul Goldschmidt to the lineup, the bump in wins Mike Shildt will bring over Mike Matheny, and what could be an absolutely terrifying bullpen will lead the Cardinals to exceed their projections and get into the mid-90s in wins. And in one of the two toughest divisions in baseball top to bottom, that should be enough to get back into the top spot.
Chicago Cubs — The Cubbies are still an extremely dangerous team, obviously, with a great core of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, and Wilson Contreras. But there are pitching problems a-plenty, clubhouse discord, and the rocket fuel Theo Epstein has used up the last couple years in the form of Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez have substantially changed the long term outlook for the presumptive dynasty of a couple years ago.
Milwaukee Brewers — The Brewers are doing some weird things currently, such as playing Mike Moustakas at second base, and I just don’t think many of those things are great ideas. They did make a very smart upgrade by signing Yasmani Grandal, but Christian Yelich will not post a 33.3% HR/FB% again this year, two of the club’s three best relievers are currently on the shelf with injuries, and the rotation has enough question marks I don’t see the Brew Crew replicating last year’s mid-90s win total.
Pittsburgh Pirates — It has been a winter of discontent in Pittsburgh, as the club really made no appreciable improvements of any sort when they were in a position to go for it at least as hard as the Reds did. Their pitching should be good enough to keep them in a lot of games, but the offense simply doesn’t have enough punch to keep them in contention.
Cincinnati Reds — The Reds were one of the more aggressive teams in baseball this offseason in trying to make upgrades, and I think those efforts will more or less pay off. However, this is still a club that lacks the kind of pitching firepower to compete with a division that features nothing but tough nights; say hello to the new Reds, same as the early 2000s Reds.
Washington Nationals — The Nationals had an eventful offseason, with their franchise face departing for a division rival while they brought in yet another stud pitcher to add to their already-remarkable collection. Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Anthony Rendon are as good a positional core as you could hope for, and the pitching is, as mentioned already, ungodly, which will lead to at least once this summer a headline somewhere reading: “Better Without Bryce?”
Atlanta Braves — The Braves feature an incredible collection of young position talent, with just enough seasoned veterans sprinkled in to break up current and future rookie of the year winner types. I have just enough concerns about John Donaldson’s health and a very talented but extremely volatile starting rotation, though, that I think they fall ever so slightly short of a second consecutive division crown.
Philadelphia Phillies — Perhaps no team in baseball added more talent in the offseason than the Phillies, who brought in J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Bryce Harper to anchor a collection of solid young talent that needed a couple centerpiece type players. Even so, I think a healthy degree of regression from Aaron Nola, age-related decline from Jake Arrieta, and a bullpen I don’t much care for outside of David Robertson will lead to a summer of underachieving, and lots of booing, in Philadelphia.
New York Mets — Maybe this is the year all the Mets’ starters stay fully healthy and perform up to their expectations; if so, things could get truly crazy in the National League East race. More likely, though, they will have at least one major injury in the rotation, the offense will be good but not great, and the Mets will find themselves just a hair worse than the rest of the pack in this absolutely brutal division.
Miami Marlins — In baseball’s toughest (or maybe second-toughest), division, the Marlins seem very, very out of place. They’re really, really bad, they’re not getting better, and they’re not even young. The new logo is nice, though.
I’ll be honest: the National League Central and East divisions are maybe the most brutal I think I can ever remember seeing. Obviously, the AL East is the division people always think of when they talk about really horrible divisions in which to play, but for the most part those incredible AL East seasons are usually still driven primarily by just a couple titans, with a couple bottom-feeding teams usually present as well. The East and especially Central in the NL this year, though? There are no off nights, at all, anywhere. It’s going to be a bloodbath. In the East I doubt any team wins more than 92 games, and in the Central I think there’s a pretty hard cap of about 94, maybe 95 wins. There just aren’t enough powderpuffs to support something like the 2015 NL Central, when the Cards, Pirates, and Cubs went 100-98-97 respectively in wins.
So let’s get to some playoff picks and award predictions, because that seems like a dumb thing to do, right? Pick playoff matchups and outcomes six months away?
AL Wild Cards — Yankees, Twins — Yankees over Twins in WC game
NL Wild Cards — Cubs, Braves — Braves over Cubs in WC game
ALDS — Yankees over Red Sox, Astros over Indians
NLDS — Cardinals over Braves, Nationals over Dodgers
ALCS — Astros over Yankees
NLCS — Nationals over Cardinals
World Series — Nationals over Astros
NL Cy Young — Max Scherzer, runner up Jack Flaherty
AL Cy Young — Gerrit Cole, runner up David Price
NL MVP — Paul Goldschmidt
AL MVP — Francisco Lindor