As Spring Training continues, each day brings us closer to opening day. Once the season begins on March 28, it will be a mad dash for the finish line. Some divisions will be highly contested, while others will be predictable from day one.
The NL West is what I would consider one of the easy divisions (at least for predicting) this year. The Dodgers and Rockies are clear contenders, the Diamondbacks and Giants have taken steps back, and the Padres are not ready to contend yet.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers made two major signings and one big trade this off-season. They signed free agent pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder A.J. Pollock. They also cut down on payroll (and made many fans angry) by trading away Yasiel Puig. But as I look at this, it makes room in the outfield for Alex Verdguo. With a fully healthy Corey Seager and Justin Turner, plus full seasons from Max Muncy and David Freese, the Dodgers are well set for their seventh straight division title.
2. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies gave the Dodgers a run for their money in 2018, a season that went to 163 games before the Dodgers finally won the division. Colorado has not been terribly busy this year, but they did sign Daniel Murphy to play second base. Colorado also made some bullpen adjustments.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
After a season where they were in first place for most of the year before falling out of the playoff picture, the Diamondbacks have taken a step back to rebuild. They traded away the face of the franchise, Paul Goldschmidt, to the Cardinals (PTL he’s out of the NL West). They also lost another Dodger-killing bat in A.J. Pollock (he signed with the Dodgers). While the D-backs do still intend to make life miserable for the Dodgers, they won’t be in the picture when October rolls around.
4. San Diego Padres
The Padres took a big step last year when the signed Eric Hosmer, and they took an even bigger step when they signed Manny Machado this winter. With Machado at third and young talent such as Fernando Tatis Jr., Francisco Mejia, and Luis Urias on the way, the future is looking bright for San Diego. But the Padres don’t have a good enough pitching staff to contend this year. They’ve got prospects on the way, but it will still be a couple of years before we see lots of good San Diego pitching.
5. San Francisco Giants
The Giants finished in last place in 2018 and they’ve pretty much stayed in neutral. Other than rumors that they were “in” on big free agents, they’ve not done much. As the team grows older, they’re beginning to look towards restocking their young talent and rebuilding. But once again, this doesn’t mean they’re going to make life easy for the Dodgers.
The NL Central is one of the hardest divisions to predict because doesn’t have one juggernaut team. In fact, all five teams believe they have a chance to contend. With this in mind, I’m going to attempt to tell you how this division will look on October 1.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals were contenders for a major part of the season last year and they’ve made some major improvements. Their off-season was headlined by the Paul Goldschmidt trade, which should give them much better run production and better defense. In addition to their offensive upgrade, they have a killer starting rotation and a decent looking bullpen.
2. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs had a “terrible” year last year, winning “only” 95 games. They didn’t get what they expected from their pitching staff, with Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, and Brandon Morrow all going down with injuries. They also had down years from Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. This year, they’re counting on bounce back years from their star infielders. Although we don’t know what to expect from their pitching, I think the Cubs will figure it out and be competitive once again.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
It took 163 games last year, but the Brewers won the division. But as the rest of the division became more competitive over the winter, the Brewers didn’t do a ton. And add to that the fact that Jimmy Nelson and Corey Knebel, their top relief pitchers, are dealing with elbow and UCL problems, the Brewers aren’t looking in good shape this year.
4. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds were one of the busier teams this offseason. In addition to the Yasiel Puig-Matt Kemp trade, they added Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark to boost their rotation. Cincinnati’s hitting has never been a concern. With Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, and Eugenio Suárez in the lineup, the Reds will score a lot of runs.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates have a lot to be excited for, but I don’t think they’re ready yet. For the first time in a while, the Pirates look like the have a legit starting rotation, with Trevor Williams and Chris Archer headlining it. The Pirates have a number of young players who are ready to compete with the bat to compliment their veterans hitters.
The NL East is another tough division. 4 out of 5 teams think they can make the playoffs. Bryce Harper has switched teams, but the Nationals still look strong. The Braves have made some improvements but in such a competitive division, they may not have done enough. And, to add to the drama, the Mets, under new GM Brody Van Wagenen, have made huge improvements.
1. Washington Nationals
You may be wondering how I can say this when the Nationals didn’t make the playoffs in 2018 and Bryce Harper is now on the Phillies. The reason is, their roster looks great even without Harper. They have a great starting rotation with Patrick Corban joining Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. In the outfield, Harper’s absence will allow Washington to carry Juan Soto and Victor Robles all year.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
It may seem strange to put the Phillies in second place after how busy they were in the offseason. But I just don’t think they improved enough to take first place. They redid their outfield by signing Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, but while they are offensive improvements, neither of them are great with the glove, which is where Philadelphia struggled in 2018. They also added Jean Segura at shortstop and J.T. Realmuto behind the plate. Realmuto will be a big improvement over Andrew Knapp both offensively and defensively.
3. Atlanta Braves
The Braves came out of nowhere in 2018 and ran away with the division and the best record in the National League. They added Josh Donaldson to play third base, but they didn’t do much beyond that. When Spring Training started, I thought they would repeat as division winners, but then things changed. Their young pitching staff was attacked by injuries and they lost at least 3 starters for the beginning of the season.
4. New York Mets
Under the new leadership of General Manager Brody Van Wagenen, the Mets had a very busy winter. In a blockbuster trade, they acquired Robinson Cano (second base) and Edwin Diaz (closer). They also signed catcher Wilson Ramos and infielder Jed Lowrie. It remains to be seen what their outfield of Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Juan Lagares can do.
5. Miami Marlins
Picking the Marlins to finish last in both their division and the National League may have been the easiest prediction I’ve made so far. The Marlins roster is made up of a mixture of veterans who are past their productive years and young prospects who are on the Major League roster because, to be quite honest, the Marlins are required to have a 25-man roster. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, their “ace,” Jose Ureña, had an ERA of 3.98 last year.
The AL West is not a highly competitive division. The Astros are still great, while everyone else is still floundering and trying to find their way. The A’s and Mariners have already begun the season with the Japan series, where the Mariners won both games but also said goodbye to the great Ichiro Sizuki.
1. Houston Astros
Once again, the Astros look like the clear leaders in the race for the division title. They had a quiet offseason, which makes sense when you realize that they didn’t really have any major needs. They did trade for Michael Brantly, who will become their starting left fielder. Other than that, they’ve not done much. They are hoping for injury-free seasons from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa along with more greatness from Alex Bregman.
2. Oakland Athletics
The A’s made it to the wild-card game last year, even without a starting rotation with the season ended. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from looking at history, its that the A’s are not usually competitive two years in a row. They will use the opener strategy a lot this year, but their pitching just doesn’t look like it will hold up through a 162 game season.
3. Los Angeles Angels
The Angles are one of the most frustrating teams in all of baseball. They have Mike Trout, the best player in all of baseball, but they can’t form a competitive team around him. They still have 3 years on Albert Pujols’ contract, something they’re regretting now. They also can’t keep their pitching healthy. As I look at their depth chart, there’s really not much that catches my eye as being good.
4. Seattle Mariners
After falling apart in the second half of 2018, Mariners’ GM Jerry Dipoto basically tore the team down and tried to rebuild in one winter. He traded away Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, and Edwin Diaz this offseason. Then, they also unexpectedly lost Kyle Seager to hand surgery. The only bright side for Mariners fans is that they can look forward to seeing what Japanese sensation, Yusei Kikuchi has to show.
5. Texas Rangers
The Rangers still have a long way to go in their rebuild. While they have a few decent hitters, their pitching is nowhere near competitive. There’s not much to say other than that it will be a long season. But Rangers fans can look forward to a new ballpark in 2020.
The AL Central is in desperate need of competition. The Indians are the leaders in the division, although they spent the entire winter cutting salary. Behind them are the Twins, followed by three uncompetitive teams in the White Sox, Royals, and Tigers.
1. Cleveland Indians
The Indians are division leaders because, to be honest, no one else can do it. We’ve seen their decline and it’s only going to continue. They lost Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez to injury this Spring. They still have a strong starting rotation, one that with a decent offense would be good enough to win the World Series.
2. Minnesota Twins
After a promising 2017, the Twins had a terrible 2018. They suffered both offensively and defensively. Their two main moves this offseason were signing Nelson Cruz and Jonathan Schoop. But beyond that, they’re not looking good.
3. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox might as well be renamed the Machado acquaintances. In an attempt to lure Machado to Chicago, the White Sox signed just about everyone Machado knows. But the White Sox are in the middle of a rebuild that will still last a few more years.
4. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are a team without stars. They have a former star in Miguel Cabrera, but he is just looking for an injury-free year. Beyond him, the Tigers are just trying to fill a 25-man roster. They have potential, but they’re not there yet.
5. Kansas City Royals
The Royal’s back-to-back World Series runs and 2015 title are now just distant memories as the Royals in in the midst of a rebuild. As if this wasn’t enough, Salvador Perez, the Royals’ all-star caliber catcher, underwent Tommy John surgery this Spring. But although the Royals won’t be competitive, they will be an interesting team with Billy Hamilton and Alex Gordon stealing every base in sight.
The AL East is another powerhouse division. Last year, the Red Sox ran away with the division title, winning 108 games. The Yankees had to settle for the wild card with only 100 wins and the Rays won 90 games and still missed the postseason. Beyond these three teams, the Orioles and Blue Jays are in the middle of rebuilds.
1. New York Yankees
Last year, I drank the cool-aid on the Yankees, only to be proved wrong. While I still don’t believe that the Judge-Stanton duo will hit over 100 homers, I think the Yankees have enough offense to win the division. Add to that their fantastic starting rotation and their historic bullpen, I think they will do some great things.
2. Boston Red Sox
After a historic season under rookie-manager, Alex Cora, it seems stupid to not believe in the Red Sox this year. But I have some concerns about the Red Sox’s bullpen. While they had a crazy good bullpen last year, they’ve lost their two most valuable arms, Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly. Add to that the World Series hangover and I just don’t think the Red Sox will be able to withstand the Yankees.
3. Tampa Bay Rays
It can’t be easy to win 90 games and not even clinch a playoff-birth, but that’s exactly what happened to the Rays last year. In 2019, we can look forward to seeing the Rays continue to use the opener, as well as get starts from Cy Young Award winner, Blake Snell and new acquisition, Charlie Morton. Despite their terrible stadium, the Rays look to make the playoffs in a very deep division.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have something to get excited about, although it will not last into October. Vladimir Guerrero Jr, MLB’s top prospect, will make his debut at some point this year. Other than this, there isn’t much hope for Blue Jays fans, who have seen the end Toronto’s competitive years.
5. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles have begun a long and painful process of rebuilding. They’ve traded away their stars and have decided to allow the prospects to play. At this point, there isn’t really a whole lot to say other than that Orioles fans are hoping that Chris Davis will finally begin hitting.
Now, let’s see how this season unfolds. At the end of the year, we’ll look back at this column and see just how wrong I was.