Hello and WELCOME BACK to Major League Baseball coverage here at Place to Be Nation! Yes, after taking 2018 “off” to essentially turn myself into Fat Mac, it’s time to get back into the swing of things (hehe) and start writing about The Greatest Game once again.
Apologies for the lateness of this season preview, but a new job in the big city will sap time like nobody’s business. Regardless of that, with the 2019 season already underway, let’s a a peek at what this year has in store, shall we?*
*I hope to publish monthly Power Rankings again, as well as occasional separate, special pieces throughout the year, as time/work/etc. permits.
We’ll begin with the American League East, the home of the 2018 World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox and work our way through the Junior Circuit before previewing the National League, then close out with a handful of award picks.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST PREVIEW
Best Team: It’s a two-team race here, as it has been nearly every year of the past 20. Sure, Baltimore, Toronto, and Tampa Bay have their fun runs, but the AL East is nearly always a sustained race to the top spot for the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
With that in mind, my best team for the East is the Yankees. A healthy year from Aaron Judge, a more comfortable Giancarlo Stanton, the emergence of Gleyber Torres, and the can’t-get-any-worseness of Gary Sanchez make this a deep, dangerous lineup. Add in the other young bats filling out the starting nine and the Yanks top out Boston here.
Looking at the starting rotations, it’s probably better to lean toward Beantown, but I’ll just leave it here that the Chris Sale extension is going to look awful within two years. A gust of strong wind should knock him down pretty soon. As for the bullpens, it’s the Yankees in a walk, even with early injury concerns for Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances.
New York Yankees: Can all of their bats and starting arms stay healthy? So much of the team’s success is tied up in health, the least predictable skill of them all.
Boston Red Sox: Can the bullpen succeed without a firm closer? Dave Dombrowski builds lineups and rotations well. He burns farm systems to the ground and rarely gets burned on trades, but the man has never put together a good bullpen. Will it hurt the champs in their quest to become the first team to win back-to-back rings since the 1998-2000 Yankees?
Tampa Bay Rays: How much will the “opener” strategy help the team this year? Relief pitching is the toughest asset to manage on a roster, as performance can vary wildly from year-to-year. As the Rays attempt to change modern bullpen usage, will they be able to get the same results that helped them to a surprising 90-win campaign last year?
Toronto Blue Jays: Can the youngsters (namely, Vlad Guerrero, Jr. and Bo Bichette) help the team this year? Will the youth infusion north of the border keep the team at a “reloading” stage, or will the team need to go full-blown rebuild?
Baltimore Orioles: Can this team win 60 games? And, because it has to be asked, how awful will Chris Davis be before the team just eats his contract and cuts him?
Bold Prediction: The Yankees’ 2018 record of 267 home runs does not even last a year, as this year’s edition of the Bronx Bombers club more than 270 bombs to shatter the mark.
Predicted Order of Finish: 1) Yankees, 2) Red Sox (Wild Card), 3) Rays, 4) Jays, 5) Orioles
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL PREVIEW
Best Team: Cleveland, essentially by default. Although if injuries to megastars Francisco Lindor Jose Ramirez persist and/or become a theme, a retooled, healthy Twins squad could take the division.
Worst Team: Kansas City. I mean, Detroit will also be awful, but there are at least a few quality pieces there at the moment (Miguel Cabrera, Nicholas Castellanos, Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmerman, former Pirates Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison). Granted, several of those guys will get traded if they have strong first-halves, but we’re judging based on what’s currently on these rosters, not what will be.
Cleveland Indians: Can they get ANY decent production out of that lineup beyond a healthy Lindor/Ramirez combo? The starters are strong, but it’s looking more and more like the Indians’ window is rapidly slamming shut on them. And cheap-ass owners don’t care.
Detroit Tigers: The rebuild is off to a rough start, so the big question here is really a two-parter: Can the current big-leaguers produce enough to get traded and bring more talent into the system; and can the extant farm prospects produce enough to boost Motown’s future outlook?
Minnesota Twins: Can Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano get and stay healthy? These two are game-changing talents. We’ve seen enough potential to know that for both. But they just cannot put things together. With erstwhile franchise Joe Mauer headed off to the Land of Chocolate (aka retirement), Minnesota fans need new faces to root for and provide hope.
Chicago White Sox: The team tried to GO BIG with PR-bluster over both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, but in the end, it was all for naught. But the team did lock up potential stud and possible Rookie of the Year Eloy Jimenez, so I can’t be too harsh on them. Of all the true rebuilds in the AL, the Pale Hose are furthest along and best positioned to be a sleeper team this year. So, the big question here is: How good will Eloy be, and will it be enough to elevate the Sox’ rebuild to the next level?
Kansas City Royals: This team sucks. It barely resembles the 2014-2015 “Glory Years” teams that Dayton Moore so proudly, so carefully, so delicately put together. Screw this. Moore got lucky for about 1-½ seasons because of three good relievers, a couple decent bats getting hot, and the awesomeness that is Lorenzo Cain. The big question for KC is not if the Royals can do anything this year; the big question is whether or not I decide to visit for more Gates’ & Arthur Bryant’s BBQ.
Bold Prediction: Minnesota wins the division title because Lindor and Ramirez get hurt too much.
Predicted Order of Finish: 1) Cleveland Indians*, 2) Minnesota Twins, 3) Chicago White Sox, 4) Detroit Tigers, 5) Kansas City Royals
*Remember a “bold prediction” means if it comes true, I’m a genius. However, I really have a hard time getting behind this one, so I’m still picking the Tribe to win. Mostly because you cannot predict health, and that’s the impetus behind Minnesota winning anything.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST PREVIEW
Best Team: Houston Astros. Verlander. Cole. Bregman. Altuve. Springer. This team is loaded.
Worst Team: Texas Rangers. Not only do they have an absolutely awful starting rotation, but they have also deprived everyone of Adrian Beltre!
Houston Astros: Can wunderkind Carlos Correa please get back on the field? The Astros, and baseball in general, are better with players like him.
Seattle Mariners: The “relaunch” got underway with trades of James Paxton and Robinson Cano. So, it’s gonna be a little longer on that first-ever Seattle Mariners World Series appearance. But, really, the question here is what to do with King Felix?
Texas Rangers: Hunter. Pence. Made. This. Team. The Rangers are going to be bad; the question is simply this: How bad?
Oakland Athletics: Can Billy Beane continue his regular season voodoo? The A’s look pretty solid on paper, and should challenge for a wild card berth, but will that @#$% ever work in the playoffs?
Los Angeles Angels: Speaking of things that never work in the playoffs … Seriously, though, the real questions here are: Do the Halos have enough pitching without two-way wonder Shohei Ohtani? Do they have enough offense without Ohtani and Justin Upton? Will Mike Trout ever win any rings? Will Albert Pujols just take the hint already? Has Brad Ausmus learned from his many (many) mistakes and become a better manager?
Bold Prediction: Freshly-extended, new dad Verlander wins another Cy Young, after coming whisper-close in 2016 and 2018. If that’s not bold enough for you, go eat a ghost pepper. Or, go with the prediction that Texas finishes with a worse record than either KC or Detroit.
Predicted Order of Finish: 1) Houston Astros, 2) Oakland A’s (WC), 3) Los Angeles Angels, 4) Seattle Mariners, 5) Texas Rangers
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST PREVIEW
Best Team: Toughest call yet. Outside of Miami, and of the four teams in the East could win a playoff spot. Washington still looks pretty fine. Philadelphia addressed (most) of their defensive concerns and added a star (plucked from Washington no less), and New York added a lot of offense to supplement some good pitching. Atlanta has a lot of talent, and adding Josh Donaldson was a good get, but that pitching is /meh/. Hmm…I’ll go with Philly here, but it’s close and should make for a fun, four-way run for the division title all year.
Worst Team: The Marlins. Fuck. You. Derek. Jeter. You run a team like you field grounders. No, worse than that, which I wouldn’t think possible. Yet here we are.
Washington Nationals: Rather than the inevitable “Life without Bryce” commentary, will the Nationals have enough pitching? Max Scherzer is fantastic, but he’s 34. Stephen Strasburg seems to get hurt each year, and has never really lived up to the hype. As for the rest of DC rotation and bullpen … Is it enough? Also, whose seat is hotter: Dave Martinez or Gabe Kapler?
Atlanta Braves: Will Atlanta regret not (as of this writing) adding starter Dallas Keuchel to their staff? With all of the early injuries (all arm- or shoulder-related, too. Yikes) to their rotation, he just makes so much sense for a team whose window is just opening.
Philadelphia Phillies: Can Gabe Kapler get out of his own way and let the talent produce? Also, will the revamped defense be good enough to support the pitching staff?
New York Mets: Will deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, and Matz collectively get 115 starts? If they do, it could be good times in Queens. If not, well, then agent-turned-GM Brodie (HAHA! How 80’s Villain can you get?) VanWagonenonenonen gets a big ol’ slice of humble pie. Also, screw the Wilpons. They suck.
Miami Marlins: Laughable. Shambolic. A disgrace. I cannot even call this team, and the way it has been run, a disgrace to its fans, because anyone with an ounce of love for good baseball would abandon this team and tell dickface commissioner Rob Manfred* to relocate the franchise to Montreal, Portland, or ANYWHERE else. The big question is how many minor league teams will outdraw them this year?
*Worst Commissioner Ever?
Bold Prediction: Bryce Harper hits 50 home runs with the Phillies.
Predicted Order of Finish: 1) Philadelphia Phillies, 2) Washington Nationals (WC), 3) Atlanta Braves, 4) New York Mets, 5) Miami Marlins
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL PREVIEW
Best Team: St. Louis. The Cards adding Paul Goldschmidt is just such a perfect fit for the Redbirds. They also have a better offense overall than the Cubbies; better pitching than the Brewers, and better talent pool than either the Pirates or Reds. It’ll be a fascinating division to watch all year — every team has potential and fun players — but the Cards are just /that much/ better than everyone else.
Worst Team: Probably Pittsburgh. The Reds still have pitching issues, and their defense is nothing to write home about, but the Pirates have zero stars and until ownership decides to spend money (that’s funny), the Pirates will never get over the hump to be elite. They may be exciting to watch and interesting on an individual level, but the Bucs are just not contenders in the way the rest of this division could be.
Milwaukee Brewers: Can the Brewers get enough out of that rotation (Jhoulys Chacin, Freedy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Zach Davies all sound like made up suspect/lawyer names on “Law & Order: SVU”) to repeat 2018?
St. Louis Cardinals: Now that catcher-of-the-future Carson Kelly is off to Arizona in the Goldy trade, can Yadier Molina keep giving the finger to Father Time?
Pittsburgh Pirates: How good can Jameson Taillon be? He has all the makings of an ace-caliber, Cy Young contender.
Chicago Cubs: Despite this still being a really, really good, 90-win team, it still feels like a disappointment, right? The 2016 season was so perfect, so flawless, and these poor bastards are stuck trying to follow it up. This is a very good team, and all the parts are there for a deep October run, but will it all come together again in just the right way?
Cincinnati Reds: I know the whole world wants Mike Trout to get in the playoffs, be on a national stage, and win a World Series. I get that, but dammit, Joey Votto deserves some love too! So from this day forward, I’ll be rooting for a Cincinnati/Anaheim World Series so we can all be happy. While the Reds took a few steps in the right direction this year, the big question is did they do enough? (I’m going to say no, so they should sign both Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel and really throw their chips in!)
Bold Prediction: Taillon is a top-three Cy Young finalist AND (bonus!) Kris Bryant gets really close to a second MVP. But, only one of those guys plays in the postseason. Guess who?
Predicted Order of Finish: 1) St. Louis Cardinals, 2) Chicago Cubs (WC), 3) Milwaukee Brewers, 4) Cincinnati Reds, 5) Pittsburgh Pirates.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST PREVIEW
Best Team: The Los Angeles Dodgers are still loaded as they look for a third consecutive NL pennant. The biggest difference between this team and the 2017 and 2018 editions is that the division title has a much clearer path, as only the Rockies pose a legit threat to LA’s supremacy in the division.
Worst Team: Probably the Giants, with the oldest average age (30.63) in the bigs. The crew that brought three early-decade titles to the Bay has been beaten by Father Time. It would be good if new head honcho Farhan Zaidi initiated a summertime fire sale ahead of MLB’s (new) lone trade deadline of July 31.
Colorado Rockies: With its best-ever rotation, the Rockies’ biggest query is the health and production of outfielder Charlie Blackmon, who dropped off considerably from 2017 to 2018. To truly contend, the Rox need more of the 2017 version, and less of last year’s. The question is, which one will show up?
San Diego Padres: While Manny Machado was a splashy move, no man is an island, and no one player makes a contender. So, what does San Diego’s celebrated farm system bring to the table this year?
Los Angeles Dodgers: Can ace Clayton Kershaw get healthy? If he can, he’s the best lefty on the planet and a HUGE edge for the six-time division-winning Dodgers. If he can’t, it could be curtains for LA’s streak and postseason dreams.
San Francisco Giants: As said before, this team is older and not very good. So, who gets traded and when?
Arizona Diamondbacks: The Goldschmidt trade was more than saying goodbye to a franchise favorite. It was the close of Arizona’s window. There’s not much winning baseball to be had with this group, and no real impact prospects coming. So, as with SanFran, who gets moved, and when?
Bold Prediction: Colorado pitcher Kyle Freeland winds up a Top-5 Cy Young finalist.
Predicted Order of Finish: 1) Los Angeles Dodgers, 2) Colorado Rockies, 3) San Diego Padres, 4) Arizona Diamondbacks, 5) San Francisco Giants
POSTSEASON, AWARDS, AND 2018 ACCOUNTABILITY:
2019 AL Postseason: Yankees, Indians, Astros, Red Sox, Athletics; Astros win ALCS.
2019 NL Postseason: Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, Nationals, Cubs; Cardinals win NLCS
2019 World Series: Astros top Cardinals in six games.
2019 AL Rookie of the Year: Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox
2019 NL Rookie of the Year: Peter Alonso, New York Mets
2019 AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
2019 NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
2019 AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
2019 Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals
My 2018 Picks, A Look Back (or, Really? That was Stupid…)
My 2018 Picks: Yankees, Indians, Astros, Red Sox, Twins
What Really Happened: Red Sox, Indians, Astros, Yankees, Athletics
Commentary: The East was a coin toss, the Central and West were cakewalks. Only missing on the second Wild Card was not too shabby.
My 2018 Picks: Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers, Mets, Phillies
What Really Happened: Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Cubs, Rockies
Commentary: A much more competitive National League made my picks look poorly. Most of my missed picks underachieved, while the actual playoff teams all had breakout stars push them to the forefront.
World Series: Yankees over Cubs. Oops. I guess the 1932 rematch will have to wait…
AL Manager of the Year:
My 2018 Pick: Aaron Boone, Yankees
What Really Happened: Bob Melvin, Athletics
Commentary: No one gives “underdog” awards to the Yankees or Red Sox. I forgot this key tenet of baseball law. Melvin was excellent at the helm of Oakland and deserved this.
NL Manager of the Year:
My 2018 Pick: Gabe Kapler, Phillies
What Really Happened: Brian Snitker, Atlanta
Commentary: I bought into Philly’s talent on paper over actual experience in a role that kinda demands it. Kapler made me look ridiculous with the Phils’ performance.
AL Rookie of the Year:
My 2018 Pick: Michael Kopech, White Sox
What Really Happened: Shohei Ohtani, Angels
Commentary: Had I gone with my gut, I would have picked Ohtani. But I didn’t, so I picked Kopech. He got hurt and won nothing.
NL Rookie of the Year:
My 2018 Pick: Ronald Acuna, Jr., Braves
What Really Happened: Acuna won it; I felt smart.
Commentary: No one really saw Washington’s Juan Soto coming, but he gave it a great run, coming in second in the voting. Those two horses should be great fun to watch over the next couple decades.
AL Cy Young:
My 2018 Pick: Justin Verlander, Astros
What Really Happened: Blake Snell came seemingly out of nowhere to win 20 games with a 1.89 ERA.
Commentary: Those are the only two meaningful categories Snell bested JV in, although this result is nowhere near as awful as when 20-game winner Rick Porcello stole the Cy from his former Tigers’ mate.
NL Cy Young:
My 2018 Pick: Max Scherzer, Nationals
What Really Happened: Jacob deGrom, Mets
Commentary: Mad Max finished a distant second because deGrom had an insane season for the ages. I cannot feel too sorry about picking No. 2, since Scherzer’s 2018 would win most of the time.
My 2018 Pick: Francisco Lindor, Indians
What Really Happened: Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Commentary: Lindor had a fantastic year and finished sixth in the voting, so I do not feel too bad about this one. Essentially, Betts had a HUGE slash line advantage over Lindor (.346/.438/.640 to .277/.352/.519) while playing for a better team in a bigger market in a closer division race. But Lindor was still a strong pick; I don’t feel too bad about this choice.
My 2018 Pick: Bryce Harper
What Really Happened: Christian Yelich, free from the toxic hell of the Marlins, carried Milwaukee to the postseason and waltzed easily to his first MVP award.
Commentary: Bought into the “contract year” boom concept and a weak field. But, yeah…Yelich really earned this one.