I can’t stress enough how 2018 feels like the death of parity in Major League Baseball. Maybe it never really existed, top-heaviness simply masked by the recent happy endings of the Royals, Cubs, and Astros in a string of championship teams almost never seen before in MLB history. But 2018 is about to bring us back to a dose of harsh reality that the late 90’s continually beat us down with.
The Yankees are back and badder than ever. The Red Sox’s window is still very much open as the city of Boston seeks to keep adding to its double-digit parade total in the 21st century. The Astros are still very good as defending champions, the Indians less so but still in the mix. The problem in 2018 is that so many teams are trying to “emulate” the aforementioned Cinderella trio by tanking for years with the hopes of stockpiling prospects to eventually build a championship contender. But the Marlins trading Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees for virtually nothing isn’t the way to go, and it might be the sole reason the 2018 season will be tough to watch.
Still, baseball always finds ways to offer surprises along the way, so don’t let this forlorn outlook fool you. I do think the season will have a few unpredictable moments, but they will be few and far between. Do you really think the Rockies and Diamondbacks can take down the Evil Empires just because they earned wild-card berths in 2017? Do you really think the Nationals are suddenly going to develop intestinal fortitude and figure out how to win in the postseason? And do you really think it’s even worth trying to win in the American League East if you’re the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Rays?
The answer would seem to be a hard “no.” That doesn’t mean a darkhorse can’t emerge from the bunch. Will the Twins build on last year’s surprise turnaround? Will the Angels make a run in Shohei Ohtani’s maiden voyage? Could the Brewers challenge the Cubs for NL Central supremacy on the heels of an overachieving 2017 campaign and strong offseason? The answers to those would be a solid “maybe.”
So without further ado, let’s jump into some predictions, where I did quite alright last year in picking the three division winners correctly and four of the five playoff teams overall in the AL. I even got half of my World Series prediction right, as I went with the Dodgers over the Red Sox (both division winners in 2017):
American League East
1. New York Yankees (99-63)
Shocker alert: the Yankees don’t win 100 games! That’s right, because in the final weekend of the year, they rest players as they gear up for a championship run. They have the league’s most potent lineup, shutdown bullpen, and a very good (if not elite) rotation. Every nine years seems to be the sweet spot for the Bombers, whose last titles have been in 2009 and 2000. It’s all about symmetry for the big dogs in sports.
2. Boston Red Sox (95-67)*
The Red Sox will be right there every step of the way. Most players who had a subpar year in 2017 will bounce back, and JD Martinez and a healthy David Price make this team a very scary World Series contender. If it isn’t the Yankees in 2018, it will be the Red Sox. The bad news is, if the Yankees have the league’s best record, we won’t get our “dream” (or nightmare, depending on who you ask) Yanks-Sox ALCS, since they will only face each other in the ALDS.
3. Baltimore Orioles (82-80)
They did it — 82 wins! The Orioles seem to enjoy even-numbered years more than odd-numbered ones, and because they upgraded their awful rotation, karma will provide them two shades over the coveted .500 mark.
4. Toronto Blue Jays (82-80)
By a tiebreaker, the O’s edge the Jays for fourth. Josh Donaldson will have a great walk year, but the Jays’ window is officially shut. But like the Orioles — a winning season!
5. Tampa Bay Rays (68-94)
Guess who won’t have a winning season in 2018? But it won’t be for lack of trying — oh, wait, maybe it will be. The tight-wallet Rays have good starting pitching, but the buck stops there.
American League Central
Cleveland Indians (88-74)
The Indians missed their big shot in 2016, and perhaps an even bigger shot in 2017, but they’ll win the AL Central by default in 2018.
Minnesota Twins (83-79)
The Twins got a couple starting pitchers, but they won’t get as much luck as they did during their fortuitous 2017 playoff run.
Chicago White Sox (76-86)
I don’t know how in the world a team with James Shields as its ace will win 76 games, but maybe this is one of the “surprises” I was referring to?
Detroit Tigers (73-89)
It seems a little ridiculous that the Tigers open the season as 500/1 odds to be world champions. No, of course it won’t happen, but this team isn’t a laughingstock, either. Second place in the division isn’t out of the question.
Kansas City Royals (70-92)
29 months ago, they were world champions and Salvador Perez was Fall Classic MVP. Fast forward to present, and Perez will be out a while after tearing his MCL while carrying his luggage. I think the signs are in place for this team to officially go from the penthouse to the outhouse.
American League West
Houston Astros (91-71)
They have too much talent not to repeat as division champs, but how can they possibly ever top last season? Making the Sports Illustrated prediction come true. Being the first team to ever beat the Red Sox AND Yankees in the same postseason. Franchise’s first-ever title. Despite their talent, they almost have to take a bit of a step back in 2018, Gerrit Cole or no Gerrit Cole.
Los Angeles Angels (86-76)*
Shohei Ohtani gets to taste the postseason in his first big-league season… where he is outdueled by Chris Sale in a one-game playoff. Okay, just kidding, that won’t happen… it’ll be Garrett Richards who gets to lose to the Red Sox, instead.
Seattle Mariners (82-80)
They’ve waited 16 years for a playoff berth, what’s one more? The drought continues, but let’s give them a gentlemanly slightly-above-.500 mark.
Texas Rangers (74-88)
They were one strike away from possibly the entire future of the franchise changing in 2011. Now they are a million strikes away. This team has fallen hard and isn’t getting up any time soon.
Oakland Athletics (71-91)
Fortunately for the Rangers, though, the Athletics antiquated Moneyball sob story will keep them in the basement of the West.
National League East
Washington Nationals (91-71)
91-and-done this time for the Nats. They might actually win a playoff series if they can avoid playing one of the really tough teams, but a World Series isn’t in the cards for them. After all, it’s DC sports. Bryce Harper will depart for New York in the offseason.
New York Mets (84-78)
The Mets will bounce back, but not far enough.
Philadelphia Phillies (80-82)
Improvement is evident for the Phillies. They aren’t quite ready yet, but certainly on the right path back. They should overtake the Nats for NL East supremacy by 2019.
Atlanta Braves (74-88)
Like the Phils, the Braves are (sort of) on the up-and-up, too. Not quite there yet, but not a total joke anymore, either.
Miami Marlins (57-105)
Did I say total joke? Ladies and gentleman, introducing your 2018 Washington Generals — er, Miami Marlins. They got rid of everyone. They sent a message to anyone that still cares about them that the feeling is not mutual. Derek Jeter, still indebted to the Yankees apparently, isn’t doing so hot at this owner thing. 57 wins actually feels generous, but that’s because the Marlins play in the tepid NL East. In any other division they’d probably lose 110 games.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs (94-68)
No more curse, just a curse for the rest of the NL Central. I’m not sure if Yu Darvish is all that trustworthy in the playoffs (then again try telling that to the Cubs, who experienced a much different Darvish than the Astros did in 2017), but the team is too stacked not to take home a third straight division crown. And another deep playoff run seems likely.
St. Louis Cardinals (87-75)
Don’t ask me who, how, why, when, or what. But these are the Cardinals, and they are still good, even when they’re not supposed to be. They will find a way to get back to the playoffs after falling just short in 2016 and 2017 because the premier franchises never stay down for long.
Milwaukee Brewers (86-76)
Once again I’ll say the Brewers get oh-so-close but no cigar, because they didn’t upgrade their rotation enough. When you are looking to two former Orioles for savior, you are in trouble. Still, the offense will be fun to watch and they’ll hang around for most of the year.
Pittsburgh Pirates (70-92)
Window… officially shut. The Pirates had three nice years between 2013-15, but it’s all downhill now. They’ll squeak by with 70 wins thanks to a few exciting young players.
Cincinnati Reds (67-95)
Bryan Price and Marvin Lewis are two true sports icons. If anyone out there is worried about job security and how to survive despite consistently sub-par performances, go talk to them.
National League West
Colorado Rockies (90-72)
Here’s my one reach. The Rockies fixed their bullpen, so despite average starting pitching, the offense has a better chance to help the team win its first-ever division title.
Los Angeles Dodgers (89-73)*
No way the Dodgers miss the playoffs, but there could be something of a World Series hangover for a team that won 104 games last year.
San Francisco Giants (86-76)
It’s an even-numbered year, but Madison Bumgarner is hurt. Still, the Giants made enough moves in the offseason to bounce back from a dreadful 2017 and should be in the hunt all year.
Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)
It’s back to reality, aka .500, after choosing not to spend money to retain JD Martinez. Or maybe that’s just called karma, I’m not sure anymore.
San Diego Padres (74-88)
Eric Hosmer is here! Which means, what? 74 wins would be a great step forward for this lost franchise. Poor San Diego, it’s their only team. San Diego St. didn’t even win a tournament game. At least they’ve got great weather.
AL Wild Card — Red Sox 6, Angels 0. Chris Sale shuts out the Angels with a three-hit, 14-K gem.
NL Wild Card — Cardinals 6, Dodgers 5. L.A. goes 0-for-2 as Matt Carpenter’s late heroics lift St. Louis over the team it always beats.
ALDS — Yankees 3, Red Sox 2. The problem with both teams being dominant this year is they won’t face off in the ALCS. So TV will have to gush over a shortened division series (and undoubtedly this alone will make the league think about expanding the LDS). The Yankees slug their way past Boston to get some moderate revenge for 2004.
ALDS — Astros 3, Indians 0. At least the Indians don’t blow a two-game series lead this time around.
NLDS — Cardinals 3, Nationals 1. Carlos Martinez, who missed the 2015 NLDS in what turned out to be a big loss for St. Louis, dominates the Nats twice as St. Louis breaks Washington’s heart again.
NLDS — Cubs 3, Rockies 0. Wade Davis blows a save in one of the games as the Cubs flex their muscles over the overmatches Rockies.
ALCS — Yankees 4, Astros 2. No magic for the Astros this year, because no homefield advantage. Houston wins twice at home but fails to win at Yankee Stadium yet again as the Bombers go back to the Fall Classic. Greg Bird, healthy ankle and all, shines almost as brightly as Stanton/Judge.
NLCS — Cubs 4, Cardinals 3. The Cards almost get it done, but the Cubs find a way to give America another nauseating playoff matchup. New York-Chicago is sexy for the networks, but it’s a far cry from Royals-Mets or Astros-Dodgers. Kris Bryant looms large in this seven-game set.
World Series — Yankees 4, Cubs 2. The Yankees, behind Series MVP Giancarlo Stanton, win the franchise’s 28th title as the Cubs fall short of a mini-dynasty attempt. Masahiro Tanaka has a shutout in one of the games and Luis Severino has a double-digit K effort. Aroldis Chapman survives a couple close calls, including closing out Game 6 in front of a rabid Bronx crowd.
AL MVP — JD Martinez, Red Sox
NL MVP — Nolan Arenado, Rockies
AL Cy Young — Luis Severino, Yankees
NL Cy Young — Carlos Martinez, Cardinals
AL ROY — Shohei Ohtani, Angels
NL ROY — Jack Flaherty, Cardinals
AL Mgr — Alex Cora, Red Sox
NL Mgr — Joe Maddon, Cubs