We’re less than a month away from meaningful baseball games beginning and that can only mean one thing. Yes friends, it is time once again for my predictions. Last year, I picked 3 of 6 divisions correctly. But the Braves were a shocker to almost everyone, I didn’t miss on the Brewers by much (I had them in the Wild Card game), and the Red Sox were much better than pretty much anyone expected last Spring. Anyway, here’s this year’s picks, beginning with what should be baseball’s most interesting division.
- Washington Nationals
- Philadelphia Phillies (WC)
- Atlanta Braves
- New York Mets
- Florida Marlins
This division should be a dogfight until the last game of the season, but I’m picking the Nationals for one reason: their pitching staff should be the best in the division, if not all of MLB. Yes, they lost Bryce Harper to the division rival Phillies, but if healthy, Adam Eaton will add more athleticism in right field, while Victor Robles in center will be a contender for Rookie of the Year. There are still plenty of big bats, led by Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, and Juan Soto to make for a top-notch lineup.
The Phillies made multiple significant additions besides Harper. Catcher JT Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura are a pair of All-Star caliber players obtained in shrewd trades, and veteran free agent Andrew McCutcheon was an equally shrewd signing. They added another proven veteran to their bullpen in David Robertson. In fact, the Phillies could have a really good bullpen, if second-year man Seranthony Dominguez can replicate last season’s success and old pros Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek can stay off the injured list. Combined with what should be one of the league’s best offenses, that will be enough to contend for a Wild Card berth. The one thing holding this team back is their starting rotation, which right now is Aaron Nola, a declining Jake Arrietta and a cast of hundreds.
The Braves added third baseman Josh Donaldson, who will want to prove he has more left in the tank. Added to perennial MVP candidate Freddie Freeman and last year’s Rookie of the Year, left fielder Ronald Acuna and super-utilityman Johann Camargo, Atlanta will be another high scoring team that will only go as far as their pitching can take them. The Braves are relying on a bunch of unproven kids, led by All-Star Mike Foltynewicz. That bodes well for 2020, but not so much for 2019.
The Mets are another team that has made wholesale changes. New GM Brodie van Wagenen brought in the ageless Robinson Cano to play second base, Jed Lowrie to play everywhere, All-Star Wilson Ramos to catch and last year’s best closer in Edwin Diaz. However, age and injuries will once again be the New Yorker’s biggest problem and will end their season by mid-August. Still, the Mets have two intriguing rookies in first basemen Peter Alonso and Dominic Smith. Look for one of them to be traded at the deadline for a nice return.
Finally, the Marlins, whose best player is either Starlin Castro or Neil Walker. Yep, enough said.
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Chicago Cubs
- Cincinnati Reds
The Cardinals quietly had one of the better offseasons of any team in baseball. They added first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, which automatically improved their defense and offense. That shifted Matt Carpenter back to third. The offense, led by Goldschmidt, Carpenter, left fielder Marcell Ozuna and shortstop Paul DeJong, will be among the league’s best. The Cards have been done in by bullpen woes the past couple of seasons, but the addition of Andrew Miller will help settle that unit down, and only the Dodgers have a deeper rotation.
Still, St. Louis isn’t going to run away with the division. The defending division champion Brewers return the bulk of their team from last season, including MVP right fielder Christian Yellich and Mike Moustakas trying to make the switch to second base. And like last year, the Milwaukee will try to ride a mix-and-match rotation and dominant bullpen to another division crown. Unlike last year, that rotation instability will leave them just short of both first place and a Wild Card berth.
Pittsburgh remains a team that seemingly will never spend on players. Despite that, they’ll still be in contention when the calendar turns to September, led by a young and excellent rotation, headed by Chris Archer and Jamison Taillon. A middling offense, paced by Cory Dickerson and my candidate for this year’s breakout player, Colin Moran, will score just enough runs to power the Bucs to a winning record and respectable third place finish.
Is there any team with more internal turmoil than the Cubs? While that formula worked for the Yankees of the late 70s, it usually spells doom. So it will be for the North Siders this year. The talent is certainly there to contend, with an offense led by Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ. But the rotation is far from settled, with Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood looking to make good on their untradeable contracts, an aging Jon Lester and Jose Quintana wondering if he should have stayed on the South Side. The bullpen may be a strength – or a weakness if last year’s injury woes repeat. Add in the drama around shortstop Addison Russell and manager Joe Maddon’s contract status, and Chicago looks set up for a fourth place finish and their first losing season since 2015.
Cincinnati made a lot of moves this offseason and definitely improved their team. They still have first baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Scooter Gennett, and imported outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig along with pitchers Sonny Gray, Alex Wood, and Tanner Roark. The Reds won’t be dreadful and if they catch a few breaks could even finish above .500. But they are in the wrong division to have dreams of competing.
- Los Angelos Dodgers
- Colorado Rockies (WC)
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- San Diego Padres
- San Francisco Giants
The Dodgers biggest addition will be the return of young shortstop Cory Seager, who should cement their offense. Free agent center fielder AJ Pollock has some serious injury history, but LA’s habit of mix-and-matching players should keep him rested enough to avoid those. As always, everything in Tinseltown begins and ends with their starting rotation, which goes ten deep with quality options. That rotation is backed by a top-five bullpen, still headlined by Kenley Jansen.
The Rockies may play in a hitter’s paradise, but their team didn’t really take advantage of it last year. This year, with the addition of Daniel Murphy (who will slide from second to first base), the promotion of promising rookie Ryan McMahon and David Dahl getting a full-time slot in right field, that looks to change. Provided young starters Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, and Tyler Anderson continue to give the team quality innings, a 90 win season and Wild Card berth is likely.
Arizona is a team that can’t quite transition to rebuild mode, so long as ace Zack Greinke and his $34 million salary are in the desert. They traded away perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and slid Jake Lamb over from third to man his spot. They also lost AJ Pollock. In short, the Snake’s offense and defense will be dramatically worse than last season. While getting to .500 will be a struggle for team, this division is so weak that a third place finish is likely.
San Diego has Manny Machado and some of the best young talent in baseball. Those storylines alone will make the Padres one of the more interesting teams to follow, but the Friars are still a couple of years away from contending.
The Giants have Buster Posey, Madison Bumgardner and the memories of championships past. They also have a cold, foggy baseball stadium, which will be a fitting venue for one of baseball’s dreariest teams this year. 100 losses is a distinct possibility for this historic franchise.
Tomorrow, I’ll turn my sights on the American League.