It might not feel like spring yet, because in too many parts of the country there is still snow on the ground, but a new baseball season is finally here. After an offseason where there was more talk of upcoming labor doom than free agents, farm systems and a host of new managers for big clubs, finally, the world can focus on baseball itself. As it seems there as many teams trying to contend as there are trying to tank, it may seem like predictions now are somewhat redundant, but in even in this sport of clear haves and have nots, there are always some surprises. Whether this writer gets anywhere close to figuring out that riddle, who knows. His track record is not particularly stellar.
4. New York Mets
Washington's 2018 season is not defined by winning the NL East, which shouldn't be hard for a team as they are constructed. 2018 will be defined by whether they can, at long last, break their postseason jinx. It's common knowledge that this team as constructed has this year and no longer to do so before Bryce Harper can test free agency and other parts of the team face the sands of time, but this year, that in theory shouldn't be a problem. Philadelphia is no longer rebuilding as evidenced by the free agents they signed, but its their young players across the batting order that bring reason for optimism. They could be a sneaky wild card contender if all goes right. Atlanta might be World Series favorites in 2020, but that means 2018 is still focused on whether Ronald Acuna's hat is on straight. Flushing was a factory of sadness in 2017 with all of the Mets injuries, and it doesn't seem like Mickey Callaway can do much to change the inevitable. The Mets could be a playoff team if it all goes right, but so little has to go wrong for the house of cards to fall down.
And as for the Marlins... the less said, the better.
1. New York Yankees
5. Tampa Bay
Doesn't it feel like the Yankees are truly the Evil Empire again? Not just because they acquired Giancarlo Stanton for peanuts, but because their young players are also really dang good. If their starting pitching holds up, last year's overachievers, relatively speaking, are on course for banner 28. Their biggest threats come naturally from Boston, who had everything last year except power in their lineup and now have JD Martinez to fix that. The jockeying between these two teams will be fun to watch all year. Everyone else in the division feels as if they're in AAA. Toronto is the best of the rest, but they're caught in a horrible middle between rebuilding and quasi-contending, and they don't have an answer to that question yet. If you have a live arm and can throw a decent fastball, the Orioles may want your services for their "rotation" this season, and speaking of rotations, will Tampa's four man rotation create a new trend in data obsessed baseball, or is Kevin Cash, for lack of a better term, trying to make fetch happen?
1. Chicago Cubs
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Cincinnati Reds
Wrigley will see a new re-made Cubs rotation this year which could end up being the best in baseball. They laser focused on their problems from 2017 and directly fixed them. That's not good for everyone else, including the Cardinals, who finally did something the world expected them to for a few years and made a big move for a middle of the bat star in Marcell Ozuna to add to a super deep lineup. It's also been a few years since the Cardinals did their usual overachieving in a smart, super St. Louis baseball type way, so watch out Cubs, it could be this year. Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich should add well to a potent Brewers lineup, but that pitching staff is... well, it's not what they're trotting out in Baltimore and San Francisco. They're a wild card contender if they get something out of that staff.
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are both rebuilding, though both aren't entirely awful and could spring a few surprises if more than a few things go right. More than a few things is probably too many things for these teams at this time, though.
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Kansas City
Whenever penciling in a division lineup makes you go "I didn't have to think to do that", something inevitably stupid happens that makes us all look like idiots. I'm fairly confident that won't happen with this year's AL Central (watch me eat my words in October). For the Indians, like the Nats, winning the division won't be the hard part, it's what will happen in October. They were surprisingly restrained this offseason in trying to get better, largely because this group has already proven itself twice. Whether that faith is rewarded in the playoffs remains to be seen. Minnesota's offseason has been varying shades of "welp", with Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco being under the microscope for the wrong reasons, but the AL Wild Card race isn't exactly much of a race, so overcoming that plus some iffy pitching should be enough.
Watching the White Sox in April and May will be a chore. Watching the White Sox in August and September when the farm system starts putting its great products on the Southside will be worth the wait. Remember when the Royals were the most annoying team in baseball just a few years ago? Those days are long gone, even though they re-signed Mike Moustakas for a contract that is emblematic of baseball in 2018. Detroit's baseball team is going to look much like its hockey team in that its beginning a long, painful rebuild, emphasis on long and painful.
1. Los Angeles
3. San Francisco
5. San Diego
Like last year, the NL West will be the division in the sport to watch. From one to four, everyone in the division can be competitive, a contender and really good. One team is greater among equals though, because the Dodgers are going to be their typical level of insane again. Justin Turner broke his hand, and no one's breaking a sweat. They've overcome injuries by replacing those lost with players like Chris Turner who become good seemingly out of nowhere. Their question is not winning the NL West, which is a fait accompli, but again, what happens in October. Last year, the Rockies played some truly anti-Rockies baseball to make the postseason for the first time since 2007 and this year should be a step forward, but that lineup is still a concern. San Francisco is trying one last kick at the can with the 2013 All-Star team, which is noble, but their top two pitchers are already injured and even though they did underachieve last season, there's only so much aging stars can do. It truly does feel like there's something missing in Arizona, even though they have Zack Greinke and Paul Goldschmidt, something JD Martinez sized. Eric Hosmer will make the Padres at least a team you can name a player on, but beyond that... San Diego is really beautiful in July and August.
Man, those Astros are something, aren't they? And that was before they acquired Gerrit Cole to go along with a full season of a certain Verlander guy. That should help them overcome the bullpen problems that nearly cost them a championship last season. Fangraphs has them projected to be the best team in baseball by a sizeable margin, and that sorta seems inevitable. Repeating as World Champs is something no one has done since the Yankees from 1998 to 2000, but it sure seems that these Stros can do just that. Shohei Otani's spring was... ungood, but its safe to say he'll probably figure things out eventually, he's just too good not to. And there's this Mike Trout guy, he's good too. As much as there's something nagging at me to pick the Angels to be lower, they just won't be. They're actually good.
Oakland signed Jonathan Lucroy, which allows this writer who needs to pay more attention to teams not named the Mets to name someone on this team. But the A's often find a way to surprise in spite of everything working against them, but their lineup seems balanced and they have a farm system worth mentioning. Someone is going to be like Milwaukee or Minnesota of last year and contend out of nowhere, and if it's not the Phillies, it'll be their AL equivalent. In Texas, Cole Hamels and Joey Gallo are good, and so is Rougned Odor, but boy... Tim Lincecum? Matt Moore? Yikes. And I'm not falling for it again, Mariners. I'm just not. I've gone down that road too many times. Prove me wrong.
NL Playoff Teams:
2. Los Angeles
4. St. Louis
AL Playoff Teams:
2. New York Yankees
Washington over St. Louis in 5 (hex broken!)
Los Angeles over Chicago in 4
Houston over Boston in 4
New York Yankees over in Cleveland in 5
Los Angeles over Washington in 7 (I had to)
New York Yankees over Houston in 7
2018 World Series:
New York Yankees over Los Angeles in 6
NL MVP: Bryce Harper
AL MVP: Carlos Correa
NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard (I need something, please)
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
NL Rookie: Ronald Acuna
AL Rookie: Shohei Otani
NL Manager: Craig Counsell
AL Manager: Aaron Boone
Chalk, chalk and more chalk. I can't wait to be wrong in October as I usually am.