As I did in my preseason predictions, I am pushing all my chips to the center of the table on the franchise that is just about as consistent as death and taxes. The 2018 New York Yankees will be, at the very least, AL pennant winners and probably world champions for the 28th time.
People might ask, why so confident, especially in a team that has caused this Orioles fan such great torment and heartbreak for over two decades? The answer is not simple, but it is logical. The Yankees are baseball’s best team, and the proof is in the pudding in breaking down their head-to-head matchups with their stiffest competition.
The Boston Red Sox? Pffft. Throw away a game that the Yankees themselves threw away after the first inning against Chris Sale, and they ripped Boston to shreds in the other two meetings. They showed that nothing has changed with David Price and his inability to pitch against the Bombers. They showed that Luis Severino can dominate Boston’s elite lineup. And they showed that they can dish it out as easily as they can take it, narrowly missing out on some shocking symmetry Sunday night thanks to a garbage ninth-inning run by the Sox.
The Houston Astros? Speaking of symmetry, the Yanks have completely flipped the script on the 2017 champs. A year ago, New York lost five of seven in the regular season to Houston, including three of four at home. Things went exactly the other way in 2018, and the culprit on several occasions was the Astros’ Achilles’ heel, their bullpen.
Cleveland? Forget it. Speaking of bullpen meltdowns, the Indians have specialized in those all year, and two of their three losses at Yankee Stadium in early May were a result of them as New York swept the Tribe.
If you’re looking ahead — and why wouldn’t you, considering the playoff field is virtually set in early July — you’ll see that the odds are in favor of the Yankees and Sox, both on pace for over 100 wins, clashing in the ALDS, not the ALCS. While I pray that does not prompt an overreaction from baseball about its postseason format, it will be a huge favor for the other playoff teams in the American League. For the Yankees, it will mean that if they win the division, they can avoid facing Chris Sale until likely Game 3 at Fenway Park. The Red Sox would have to figure out who to start in Game 1, and you’d have to think it wouldn’t be Price given his career struggles against the Yanks. Advantage: New York.
This feels like the Yankees’ time, too. This team is set to contend for years to come, but has already arrived in 2018. It would be perfect, too, for the team to continue on its “every nine years” schedule of winning titles in 2000 and 2009.
Ultimately, they should win the AL pennant. But, then, who would they play in the Fall Classic?
The possibilities seem endless at this point. The NL is much more wide-open than the AL, with teams like the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Nationals all capable of going on late-season runs despite the fact that they would be out of the playoffs if they began today.
I’ll stick with my original prognostication of Yankees-Cubs, because the Cubs have the experience and the offense. Their bullpen is lacking and their starting pitching is starting to raise some eyebrows, but there is suddenly a fear factor teams have playing at Wrigley Field, something that seemed unfathomable just a few short years ago. But make no mistake: the Cubs will have plenty of competition if they are to snag the pennant.
How about those Braves? Could we be in for a throwback to the 90’s? Atlanta has hit its stride, and looks to be the best and hungriest team in the NL East. I think the Nationals are ultimately, at heart, mentally weak and far from a World Series contender. The Phillies are good, but not quite there yet. This looks like Atlanta’s division to lose.
Can we take the Brewers seriously? I’d like to think so. They’ll have a hard time winning the NL Central, but I see them making a big splash for a starting pitcher, which worked wonders for them a decade ago when they grabbed CC Sabathia for their 2008 playoff push. Noah Syndergaard’s name has been floated as a possibility, and while I don’t know if that will happen, I believe Milwaukee will add to its middle-of-the-pack starting rotation.
And of course, the NL West suddenly looks intriguing. The Diamondbacks are a very good club and still lead L.A. by 1 1/2 games, but their lineup isn’t nearly as imposing without J.D. Martinez. They have their tails between their legs after being swept by the Giants, and we should keep in mind that the Giants are very much a threat because this is, after all, an even-numbered year. Still, the Dodgers might just be the class of this division. They are bashing home runs at a franchise-record pace, and like last year, are winning without the services of some key players. Corey Seager is gone and Clayton Kershaw is barely himself, and yet this team looks primed for another pennant run because of the emergence of players like Max Muncy, Ross Stripling, and — gulp — Matt Kemp.
It probably won’t matter in the end, because the AL winner is your likely World Series champ. The Yankees have the best shot of all, a shot that will be exponentially better if they can hold off the Red Sox and capture the American League East. Then it will just be a matter of the last team standing in their way.