Written by: Ray Butler
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*slaps the hardwood* BASEBALL IS BACK, BABY!
I’m still on the mend and the meds following shoulder surgery less than three days ago, but I’m playing through the pain to publish some playoff and individual player predictions for the 2018 MLB regular season. Consider this the Michael Jordan flu game of my blogging career.
Here’s the teams I like this season…
AL Central: Cleveland
I think big things are in store for the Indians in 2018, mostly because I feel strongly that Trevor Bauer and Bradley Zimmer take the next steps in their development. Cleveland will possess one of the best rotations and one of the most dynamic lineups in baseball this season.
AL East: New York
I think the Yankees and Red Sox will fight tooth-and-nail for the AL East crown all season, with the slightly-more-powerful lineup and better bullpen in the Bronx prevailing in the end. This will be one of the best divisional races in recent memory, and it’ll feature two of the best offenses in baseball.
AL West: Houston
I mean, yeah. Defending champions have a sketchy track record as defenders, but I’m not overthinking this prediction. On paper, the Astros should be better than they were last season. Rotation health could prove to be huge in Houston’s quest to repeat.
AL Wild Card: Boston
J.D. Martinez is going to live up to the hype, Andrew Benintendi is going to take the next step this season, and Xander Bogaerts and David Price will bounce back after a disappointing 2017 campaign. Note: It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Red Sox and Yankees flip-flop their playoff positioning relative to their standing in this post.
AL Wild Card: Los Angeles
Shohei Ohtani is obviously the talk of the Angels, but a full season of Justin Upton and Ian Kinsler will likely be just as important for LAA’s success this season. Barring injury, I think Mike Trout (aka the greatest baseball player on planet Earth) posts his best statistical season to date. The pitching will be streaky, but it’ll be just enough to land the Angels the last wild card spot in the American League.
NL Central: Chicago
I honestly have no idea why folks seem to be so down on the Cubs this season, and that’s coming from a Cardinals fan. Where exactly is Chicago weak? I could see them acquiring another bullpen arm at some point, but I think they’ll cruise (relatively speaking) to another NL Central title.
NL East: Washington
I’m not exactly sure how much I like the idea of Adam Eaton leading off and Trea Turning batting sixth (which new skipper Davey Martinez has flirted with at times throughout Spring Training), and Gio Gonzalez is a prime candidate to crash back to earth after exceeding expectations last season, but the bottom line is that, for now, the Nationals are simply better than anyone else in NL East. Hopefully Daniel Murphy returns to form sooner rather than later to stabilize the middle of that lineup.
NL West: Los Angeles
Things didn’t exactly get off to a fantastic start thanks to Justin Turner breaking his wrist a week before Opening Day, but the Dodgers will be fine. If he can stay healthy, I think Corey Seager will be dominant throughout stretches this season. I expect Cody Bellinger to have ups-and-downs during his sophomore campaign, but I’m a believer in Yasmani Grandal’s retooled swing and think he’ll turn a pleasant profit compared to how he was drafted this preseason. Also, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen.
NL Wild Card: Milwaukee
That’s right, the Cardinals will miss the playoffs once again. The Brewers will be one of baseball’s most exciting teams this season, and it’ll mostly be because of new arrivals Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. I also tend to think Travis Shaw, Orlando Arcia, and Domingo Santana will be above-average players, and the pitching rotation will exceed expectations (Jimmy Nelson will be a huge addition once he returns from injury, and Zach Davies is much better in real life than in the fantasy baseball world). The x-factor for this team might be Josh Hader, who has potential to resemble Andrew Miller as a high-leverage southpaw. Other than the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East, the Cubs/Brewers clash will be the best divisional battle in baseball this season.
NL Wild Card: Philadelphia
I’ve already discussed my expectations of the Phillies this season, and I think their success will culminate in a backend playoff berth. Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola will be one of the best 1-2 rotation combos in baseball, and Rhys Hoskins will lead a “better than you think” lineup that will be capable of winning 10-9 games when need-be. Hector Neris will be a top 10 fantasy closer, and Gabe Kapler will emerge as an above-average manager in his first season at the Phillies helm.
World Series Prediction: Cleveland over Chicago in 7 games
Disclaimer: This is the third consecutive season that I’ve picked some combination of the Indians and Cubs in the World Series, so feel free to fade this pick. I could go into great detail about why I think these two clubs will reach the World Series in 2018, but I’ll offer a few bulletpoints instead: I think Cleveland’s elimination in last season’s playoffs was quite fluky, and it’ll fuel the fire inside of the Indians clubhouse throughout the regular season and playoffs. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer could ALL be elite starting pitchers, and I think (as I mentioned earlier) Bradley Zimmer becomes a reliable 15/30 centerfielder with Gold Glove defensive potential. When you pair Zimmer’s emergence with the already-pristine offensive skillsets of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland should boast one of the more formidable lineups in the sport. Something just wasn’t right during long stretches of Chicago’s defense of the World Series last season, but I think Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana will do more than their fair-share to be *it* factors in 2018, and Kyle Schwarber’s new physique and progress in Spring Training will hood true throughout the regular season and playoffs. I do worry about the Cubs bullpen (I think Carl Edwards Jr. could eventually supplant Brandon Morrow as the closer), but I trust Theo Epstein to make the necessary moves as their needed over the course of the regular season. In the end, I think the Indians will give the fans in Cleveland something to cheer about following LeBron James’s departure from the Cavaliers following the NBA season (parachutes out of this blog post).
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Featured image courtesy of the Boston Herald