Notwithstanding the “Early Opening” series between the A’s and the Mariners in Tokyo, the “real” MLB Opening Day is tomorrow. So, I guess that means it is time for a prognostication as to what will happen once the 30 teams have played out the 2,430 regular season games. As I wrote here before, there are a bunch of teams that really have no shot at the playoffs, but they do have the potential to impact who does and does not make the playoffs. So, let me begin in the American League.
- This is a two-horse race. Neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox have holes in their starting lineups; both teams will score plenty of runs. The Sox have better starting pitching; the Yankees have the better bullpen. Both teams will make the playoffs. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas like the Yankees to win the division; the win totals here are Yankees at 97 and Red Sox at 94. Your mileage may vary…
- There is one other certainty in the AL East. The Orioles will finish last; the O’s have just begun the tear-down process to reshape the team; that is going to take some time and this year could be butt-ugly.
- The Rays and the Blue Jays will “fight it out” to see which of them can finish third here. I will try to contain my exuberance…
- The Indians should win this division on cruise control from the time of the All-Star Game in July.
- The team that might still be chasing the Indians come August would be the Twins – although it is just as likely that the Twins will be fighting to get north of a .500 average for the season.
- The other seeming “mortal lock” here is that the Tigers will finish last in the division. They should not be as bad as the Orioles in the AL East, but they will not keep up here.
- If you make me care enough, I would take the White Sox to finish third in this division and the Royals to finish fourth.
- Only the Indians sniff the playoffs…
- The Astros won this division last year by 6 games; they should win it again this year by an even bigger margin. I think the A’s overachieved in 2018 by winning 97 games; I think this year is a regression to the mean; it would not shock me if the A’s finished third in this division.
- The Mariners won 89 games last year; that did not put them anywhere near the top of the division, but it is not commonplace to see a team win 89 games in a season and then start a rebuilding process – which is what seems to be underway in Seattle. I think they will flirt with a .500 average this year and probably fall a bit short of that mark.
- I do not think the Rangers pose any threat to any team in this division.
- Ergo, by default, the most interesting team in this division is the Angels. They won 80 games last year; might they be the AL team that overachieves this year and sneaks into the second wild card slot in the AL? Using last year as a yardstick, the Angels have a 17-game gap to close on the A’s to make it to the playoffs. I’ll go out on a limb and say the Angels will be in the post-season this year…
- This is the most interesting division in MLB. We all know that the Marlins will finish dead last here; they lost 98 games last year and given that they will play 76 games against the other teams in this division, they could replicate that record again in 2019.
- The other four teams here all aspire to win the division in 2019. The Braves won it last year with a young team that looked as if it might be a dominant team for a while. The Braves’ concern has to be that the rest of the division made major moves.
- The Mets acquired Robinson Cano and created some clubhouse goodwill reaching a contract extension with Jacob deGrom. Might that vault the Mets over the Nats and Phillies up to the point where the Mets challenge – or overtake – the Braves?
- The Phillies acquired Bryce Harper, David Robinson and Andrew McCutcheon in free agency; they also traded for Jean Segura and JT Realmuto. That is the biggest lineup overhaul in MLB. The Phillies won 80 games in 2018; they obviously intend to do better than that in 2019.
- The Nationals lost Bryce Harper to free agency but acquired another starting pitcher – Patrick Corbin – in that process. The Nats must hope that Juan Soto does not suffer a “sophomore slump” while also looking to get significant contributions from rookie Victor Robles. The Nats won 82 games last year as the biggest underachievers in MLB.
- My guess here is that the Nats win the division and the Phillies finish second and make the playoffs as a wildcard team. But this is indeed a four-horse race.
- This is the next most interesting division in MLB; there are three teams that finished last year within 8 games of one another and the Cardinals – the team at the bottom of that trio – acquired Paul Goldschmidt in the offseason. I think the Cards, Cubs and Brewers will duke it out all season long. I like the Cubs to win the division with the Cards a very close second. That will leave the Brewers on the outside looking in regarding the playoffs.
- Neither the Reds nor the Pirates are going to finish north of .500 this season. If I had to guess which team to finish at the bottom here, I would say the Pirates are the team supporting the rest of the division.
- Given the lineup depth of the Dodgers, they should win this division comfortably. The return of Corey Seager from injury makes last year’s division winner even stronger. Trading away Yasiel Puig to acquire two prospects is something a rebuilding team might do; my guess is that Puig had worn out his welcome in the clubhouse and the Dodgers chose to use their depth to bid him goodbye.
- The Rockies are the “best of the rest in the NL West. Last year, it looked as if the D-Backs were going to be a serious threat to the Dodgers until the middle of August when the D-Backs came apart at the seams. Any hope for putting the magical part of last year back on the field in 2019 evaporated when the D-Backs traded Paul Goldschmidt away. [Aside: I would not be shocked if Goldschmidt won the NL MVP Award]
- The Padres’ acquisition of Manny Machado via free agency gives them hope to make a significant improvement in 2019. Since the Padres lost 96 games last year, improvement is not a high hurdle to cross; they will be better this year but no threat to the Dodgers.
- The Giants have shrunk; for 2019 you can consider them the Midgets. Last year they won 73 games and they should be happy to repeat that performance in the upcoming year.
Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times provided this MLB-themed “Q and A” recently:
“Q: How do MLB apologists try to spin it when a player vanishes for half a season because of a marijuana suspension?
“A: Tommy Chong surgery. “
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………