1 Improvement Each MLB Team Must Make This Season

Baltimore Orioles

Area To Improve: Pitching
The Orioles were last in all of baseball in several key statistical categories, including Opp. On Base + Slugging % (.471), Opp. Home Run % (3.7%), Earned Run Average (5.19), and WHIP (1.496). In a division loaded with offense, the Orioles’ pitching is paramount to their visions of being respectable in the AL East.

New GM Mike Elias and Manager Brandon Hyde are taking over a franchise that’s been in a downward spiral since 2016’s 89-win campaign. One of their first moves was hiring Pitching Coach Doug Brocali, formerly of the Texas Rangers. Both Brocali and his staff will have to band together to turn Baltimore’s greatest weakness into a strength. Younger starters Dylan Bundy and David Hess should improve with another year under their belts and Brocali’s tutelage. Veterans Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb will need their new pitching coach to pull some better results out of them in 2019. O’s fans will hopefully treat Brocali better than Rangers supporters, who created a petition to fire him in 2017 after his staff finished last in the league in strikeouts.

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Kansas City Royals

Area To Improve: Anywhere and Everywhere
The Royals don’t have high expectations for this season after losing 104 games last year. Improvement in any area of the team would be greatly appreciated, as the Royals didn’t have too many bright spots. Outfielder Jon Jay and 2B Whit Merrifield were the only Royals to hit above .300 and only three pitchers (out of 16 pitchers who threw over 30 innings) had an ERA under 4.00. Royals pitchers gave up more hits and earned runs than all but one team in the American League, and also struck out the second-fewest batters. Right hander Brad Kelly was clearly the team’s best pitcher and the only one to finish with a winning record (9-6).

With Jay gone, Merrifield is the only hitter that had success to build on in 2018. New addition Billy Hamilton will provide speed at the top of the lineup, which can hopefully be utilized with former Cubs prospect Jorge Soler and shortstop Adalberto Mondesi hitting behind him. Mondesi stole 32 bases in 39 attempts, giving Kansas City the best base-stealing duo in baseball. However, as of now, there are no Royals players that fans know will provide excitement for years to come. Improvement, and success for that matter, will come when fans in Kansas City figure out who those next franchise guys will be.

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Chicago White Sox

Area To Improve: Infield Identity
The White Sox focused their whole offseason on the pursuit of free agent infielder Manny Machado, who spurned the south side for the sunny beaches of San Diego… and $300 million over 10 years from the Padres. Without Machado’s star power and production, the White Sox lack pop.

After missing out on Machado, the White Sox hope that two young infielders the organization actually has can give White Sox fans something to cheer for. 23 year-old Cuban Yoan Moncada is moving from second base to third, which will open up a path for top prospect and 2018 first-round pick Nick Madrigal. Madrigal’s bat and defensive range have impressed the Sox enough to shift Moncada to third. Moncada must show that he can handle the hot corner and improve his .235 batting average to stick as a White Sox star. If he can stake claim to third base, the White Sox will be headed towards a future in which both 5-4-3 double plays and the offense run through Moncada and Madrigal.

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Miami Marlins

Area To Improve: Uniforms
The Marlins are once again a bottom of the basement team, destined to dwell in the cellar as less and less fans gather behind Derek Jeter’s promised rebuild. The Marlins were 58-103 in 2018, scoring 589 runs and allowing 809. The Marlins finished dead last in the National League in runs, doubles, home runs, OBP and SLG. The pitching was equally as terrible, as Marlins pitchers were the league’s worst in ERA, strikeouts, saves and earned runs. Not a single pitcher who threw more than 36 innings finished with a winning record. The people of Miami found better things to do than watch Marlins baseball, as they ranked last in the league by over 340,000 fans. The Marlins’ average attendance was an abysmal 10,014 per game. The Marlins need to improve in every quantifiable way, but one offseason move will assuredly mean real change to baseball in Miami.

The Marlins have new uniforms and a new logo! The city of Miami now is splayed across the players’ chests in cursive script and a Miami Vice inspired color scheme now represents the Marlins. Miami’s new colors are Caliente Red, Miami Blue, Midnight Black and Slate Grey, and four new jerseys combine this new scheme in different ways. After ditching their beloved teal for a widely mocked combination of orange, black, red, yellow and blue, the Marlins have finally appeared to settle on a couple core colors to represent south Florida. These new duds don’t blow me away, but at least they’re unique to the Marlins franchise and something positive for the remaining fanbase.

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Detroit Tigers

Area To Improve: Pitching
Much like the Royals, the Tigers find themselves mired in mediocrity at the bottom of the AL Central. The pitching rotation is in need of an overhaul, which the Tigers have attempted to start this offseason. Their rotation of “guys you may have heard of but aren’t sure from where” is composed of Matt Moore, Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris, Jordan Zimmermann and Tyson Ross. These pitchers are all capable of quality starts, but have all struggled with consistency.

While Cabrera and Castellanos are clearly the class of the Tigers’ hitting, they will need 3B Jeimer Candelario and CF JaCoby Jones to find some pop. With an underwhelming lineup and no pitchers that strike fear in opposing hitters, the best case scenario for Detroit this season is 80 wins.

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San Diego Padres

Area To Improve: Pitching
When Manny Machado struck out to end the 2018 World Series, nobody mentioned the Padres as a potential destination for the impending free agent. However, after a lengthy standoff with the Chicago White Sox and only tepid interest from other teams, Machado signed a 10-year deal worth $300 million with San Diego. Machado’s addition to a solid Padres lineup featuring Ian Kinsler, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers will give San Diego’s anemic offense a much needed boost. Big bopper Franmil Reyes is another guy to watch out for after the rookie hit .280 with 16 home runs in 87 games last season.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the Padres’ pitchers, there are no recognizable names to be found. Joey Lucchesi, Robbie Erlin, Bryan Mitchell, Eric Lauer, Jacob Nix, Kirby Yates, Craig Stammen, Robert Stock, Phil Maton, Matt Strahm, Jose Castillo and Trey Wingenter all sound like names that may have been “created players” on MLB: The Show. Yates, Strahm and Stammen were actually terrific for the Padres in relief last year, but that was rendered useless by San Diego’s consistently disappointing starters. Not a single man who started a game for the 2018 Padres finished the year with a winning record. That has to change if San Diego is going to prove itself worthy of Machado and attention in the NL West.

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Cincinnati Reds

Area To Improve: Pitching
The Reds’ pitching sabotaged their season last year, as opposing teams piled up runs and wins in large bunches. Reds pitchers finished second to last or last in the National League in ERA, hits allowed, runs allowed, walks allowed and strikeouts. For the Reds to dig themselves out of the doldrums of the NL Central, they’ll need to give up less runs in 2019.

To fix their pitching problems, the Reds acquired ex-National Tanner Roark, ex-Dodger Alex Wood and ex-Yankee Sonny Gray. Roark, Gray and Wood went a combined 29-31 with a 4.67 ERA in 2018, and while those numbers won’t blow anyone away, the Reds didn’t give up any top prospects in acquiring them. If young arm Luis Castillo continues to display electric stuff, the Reds pitching might be able to give their new and improved offense a fighting chance in 2019.

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Texas Rangers

Area To Improve: Pitching
Texas is a classic American League team with tons of talent at the plate and sketchy pitching. Rangers pitchers ranked 13th, 14th and last in the American League in runs allowed, home runs allowed and strikeouts in 2018. Young hitters like Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor, Delino DeShields and Ronald Guzman will have to put up lots of runs this year and hope for improvement from an unproven staff.

The Rangers recognized the shortcomings of their 2018 staff and set out to rebuild this year. Mike Minor and Lance Lynn are the 1-2 punch on the front end of the rotation while Drew Smyly, Shelby Miller and Edinson Volquez will have to hold down the back end. None of these guys are going to blow anybody away, but all have shown themselves capable of providing quality starts. This team’s strength will always be hitting, but the Rangers’ pitchers must do enough for that hitting to matter.

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San Francisco Giants

Area To Improve: Bullpen and Closer
In 66 save opportunities last season, the Giants blew almost as many games (30) as they saved (36.) In 39 innings, oft-injured closer Mark Melancon gave up 49 hits and 18 runs. His replacement, flame-throwing wild man Hunter Strickland, gave up 43 hits and 25 runs in 45 innings. No lead was safe in San Francisco, where a light-hitting Giants offense often saw whatever lead they could muster blow away in the late innings.

Melancon is reportedly the healthiest he’s been since signing with San Francisco for four years and $62 million in 2016, and Strickland will now be throwing heaters down the middle for the Seattle Mariners. The Giants hope relievers Tony Watson, Sam Dyson and Will Smith can steady a bullpen that’s been a major weakness in San Francisco’s fall from championship excellence. New signings Nick Vincent and Fernando Abad will fight for back-end spots after Josh Osich and Jake Barrett were designated for assignment. The Giants’ run of three championships in five years was fueled by young starters that could go deep into games and experienced relievers that shut the game down. This year’s team will look to replicate that model and get back to its winning ways.

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Toronto Blue Jays

Area To Improve: Vlad Management
The Blue Jays have shown fervent dedication to keeping the organization’s best talent off of their Major League team. 19 year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the unquestioned future of the franchise, yet Toronto’s front office has kept him in the minors to delay the clock starting on his “service time.” The longer they keep him down, the more MLB seasons he can play before being eligible for a monster contract extension.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. cannot justifiably be kept in minor league baseball for too much longer. He is projected to go to AAA this year, giving Toronto another year of delay before he can pursue a new deal. If he’s not promoted until mid April or later, he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2025 season. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has said he doesn’t think Guerrero has developed enough to warrant a roster spot. The top prospect in baseball sprinted up from A to AAA last season, finishing with a .336 average in 110 at-bats for AAA Buffalo. In 266 at-bats for AA New Hampshire, Guerrero hit 14 home runs and batted .402.

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New York Mets

Area To Improve: Hitting
The Mets flew out of the gate in 2018, pumping expectations into the high heavens after an 11-1 start. But as injuries piled up and their numbers fell back to earth, the Mets fell fast. Rock bottom hit the 44-60 Mets on July 31, when the 53-53 Washington Nationals beat them 25-4. They went 33-24 after, and hope to improve an offense that finished last in the National League in batting average and second to last in total hits. New York has shown itself capable of stretches of quality baseball. Health and improved hitting will turn those stretches into the consistent improvement Mets fans crave.

In an effort to boost their inept offense, the Mets added Robinson Cano and Jed Lowrie to a lineup featuring Michael Conforto, Amed Rosario and Jeff McNeil. A group of intriguing minor league deals with veterans Rajai Davis, Gregor Blanco and Adeiny Hechavarria could provide sparks as well. The Mets’ starting rotation and experienced bullpen should keep a lot of opposing teams in check. The hitters will make or break this team in 2019.

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Minnesota Twins

Area To Improve: Leadership
The Twins sacked Manager Paul Molitor this offseason after four years and replaced him with first-time manager Rocco Baldelli. At 37, Baldelli is younger than his DH, Nelson Cruz, who is 38. The Twins hope he can connect with young stars Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, whose bats are capable of bringing the Twins back to the top of the AL Central. The Twins haven’t won a playoff game since 2004, when they lost the ALDS in four games to the New York Yankees.

By managerial standards, Rocco Baldelli is a baby. However, the former first-round pick of the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays has been through a lot in professional baseball. After being selected sixth overall and scorching through an impressive rookie season, Baldelli’s career fell victim to injuries. He shuffled through a seven-year Major League career under legendary managers Lou Pinella, Joe Maddon and Terry Francona, and battled ACL surgery, Tommy John surgery and even mitochondrial channelopathy, which affects cells and fatigues muscles. His age and experiences with the ups and downs of baseball make him an ideal candidate to develop the Twins’ young core. The Twins will need his in-game adjustments to be wise beyond his years.

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Philadelphia Phillies

Area To Improve: Catcher
The Phillies outlasted and outpaid all other Bryce Harper suitors, inking the star outfielder to a 13-year deal worth $330 million. This is the largest contract in the history of Major League Baseball and a clear signal to all other teams that Philadelphia is going for it. This potent Phillies lineup rivals any in baseball with Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Ander Herrera, Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez. Odubel Herrera, Scott Kingery and Roman Quinn will compete for playing time as well.

In terms of improvement, the signing of catcher J.T. Realmuto might be the most valuable of the offseason.

Last year, Jorge Alfaro caught 105 games for the Phillies, turning in a respectable .262 BA, .324 OBP, .407 SLG, 10 home runs and 37 RBI. However, Philadelphia traded him for a guy in Realmuto who won the Silver Slugger and earned his first All-Star selection in 2018. If Realmuto can replicate last year’s line of .277 BA, .340 OBP, .484 SLG, 21 HR, 74 RBI, he’ll be a major improvement in a position of need.

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Area To Improve: Depth
The Angels have the best player in baseball in CF Mike Trout and are tasked yet again with surrounding him with talent worthy of a postseason berth. The offense will receive a boost when Shohei Ohtani returns fully in May from Tommy John surgery, but it’ll be a while before the two-way wunderkind pitches again. Top prospect Jo Adell is at spring training with the Angels and is expected to begin the year in AA. Perhaps the speedy outfielder can provide a late-season boost to the club if they’re contending.

There are a lot of talented names on the Angels, but it remains to be seen whether those names can produce the results we know them for. Shohei Ohtani, Andrelton Simmons, Albert Pujols, Matt Harvey, Justin Bour, Jonathan Lucroy and Cody Allen are all accomplished players. New manager Brad Ausmus will be the club’s first new manager since 2000. He’ll have to squeeze the most out of Trout’s teammates to make sure the game’s premier talent remains in red for the long haul. Trout has to be getting impatient with his vast personal success not resulting in better team results.

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Arizona Diamondbacks

Area To Improve: Who’s Up Next?
The Diamondbacks lost franchise favorites Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin to other National League teams this offseason, and didn’t make much of an effort to replace them. Their bullpen blew 27 saves last season and is one of the worst in all of baseball. If closer Archie Bradley has another down year, there’s nobody to turn to. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray lead a rotation with good depth, which will be important given the bullpen’s lack of punch. David Peralta, Eduardo Escobar and Ketel Marte will lead the offense, though I doubt any NL team is quaking in their boots over facing that threesome.

If Arizona can measure improvement in any way this season, it’s in the production of Peralta and Marte. Peralta won a Silver Slugger last year and his .293/.352/.516 line was the best of his career. He hit 30 home runs and drove in the most runs of any Diamondback, which he’ll probably do again this year. Marte is just 25 and poised to break out in his fifth Major League season. He hit 14 home runs last year and led all of baseball in triples with 12. If his power numbers continue to increase, his speed makes him a dangerous player that Arizona may look to lock up long-term. Unfortunately for D-backs fans, the improvement of these two players is far and away the most important thing to watch in 2019.

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Washington Nationals

Area To Improve: Who’s Next?
Despite losing their franchise player to a division rival, the Nationals’ roster is still solid. The Nats will look to Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, 20 year-old Juan Soto and 21 year-old Victor Robles to emerge as the new faces of baseball in Washington D.C. This team is plenty talented and has three starters at the top of their rotation that rival any team: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin. If those main arms can give Washington consistent quality starts, they’ll be a tough out in the NL East.

A breakout season for Soto and/or Robles would be huge for the Nationals, both on the field and off of it. Bryce Harper has been THE guy in D.C. since debuting as a 19 year-old in 2012. If either of these budding talents can break out, Nationals fans will feel so much better about losing their prodigal son. Robles hit three doubles and three home runs in 66 PAs at the major league level, going 17 for 59 (.288/.348/.525) in the final 21 games. Soto played 116 games in 2018 and batted .292 with 22 home runs and 70 RBI. The talent is clearly there, but continued improvement from this duo will bring success to the nation’s capital.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

Area To Improve: New Captains of The Ship
The Pirates finished 82-79 in 2018, which was just their fourth winning season in the last 26 years. Unfortunately, it was still only good enough to finish fourth in the National League Central. The Pirates have sent away veterans for younger players in recent years, including the iconic Andrew McCutchen and All-Star Gerrit Cole. This year, Pittsburgh awaits the awakening of these young players and welcomes one of the AL’s best pitchers to the National League.

The Pirates added ace pitcher Chris Archer and reliever Keone Kela at the deadline last year. Kela was outstanding in his limited time with Pittsburgh, striking out 22 in 15.1 innings with a 2.93 ERA. A healthy and potent setup man would work wonders in front of closer Felipe Vasquez. Archer can fill the void created in Cole’s departure and then some. If he’s anything like the dominant Archer of 2017, the Pirates will be in good shape. The Pirates are in a similar position as the Nationals, hoping new stars emerge will emerge from their current roster.

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St. Louis Cardinals

Area To Improve: Power Hitting and Closing Games
Last year’s NL Central headlines were dominated by the Cubs and upstart Brewers, whose success made for the quietest season of St. Louis baseball we’ve had in a while. The Cardinals reacted accordingly by acquiring two elite talents that can fill two areas of need: power hitting and closing ball games.

First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and closer Andrew Miller are exactly what St. Louis needs to slide back into contention with the Cubs and Brewers. Goldschmidt slugged .533 in 2018, a figure that would have led the Cardinals. He’s a career .297 hitter that’s received MVP votes in five of the last six seasons and a beloved figure in Arizona, where the Diamondbacks will assuredly retire his number some day. He’s been an All-Star each of the past six seasons and the Cardinals are reportedly interested in signing him to a long-term deal. Miller is entering his 14th year in the big leagues, where he’s earned a reputation as a nasty left-handed reliever. These two additions are exactly what St. Louis needed to get back to title contention.

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Seattle Mariners

Area To Improve: Youth Development
For the Mariners, this season is all about developing its crop of prospects and young players. By trading away veterans Jean Segura, Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano, Seattle made it clear it intends to focus on competing in the future, not the present. However, Seattle has a group of veterans that should be able to serve as quality mentors for its young club, even amidst what is sure to be a season filled with trade rumors. Don’t be surprised to see experienced big-leaguers like Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce and Dee Gordon on the move.

The Mariners’ success will be measured this year in how many of their prospects show progress and potential. The improvement of Shed Long, Braden Bishop, Dylan Moore, Justus Sheffield and Kyle Lewis will determine whether or not Seattle’s future looks bright. If Mariners fans aren’t familiar with any of these names by season’s end, it’s safe to say 2019 will be a disappointment for the Safeco faithful.

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Tampa Bay Rays

Area To Improve: Power Hitting
Tampa Bay finished last season with its best record since 2013 at 90-72. Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell was outstanding, going 21-5 with an ERA of just 1.89, and Ryan Yarborough was also impressive, winning 16 games in 147 innings pitched. Tampa Bay’s pitchers battled throughout the season, finishing with the second lowest team ERA in the American League at 3.74. Boston and New York clearly separated themselves from the Rays when it came to power hitting. Tampa ranked 9th in runs, 9th in doubles and second to last in home runs. To make matters worse, DH CJ Cron hit 30 of Tampa’s 150 homers and is now a Minnesota Twin.

The Rays hope to receive an offensive boost from their potent farm system, which has top prospects like Jesus Sanchez, Brandon Lowe, and Nate Lowe currently in their big-league camp. This season will be about identifying which young players will be those crucial power hitters for the Rays going forward.

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Atlanta Braves

Area To Improve: Bullpen
The Braves were the clear-cut class of the AL East last year, finishing with an eight-game lead over the second place Washington Nationals. The Braves finished second in hits and batting average in 2018 and first in doubles. Talented young players like Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Ronald Acuña Jr. will team with established veterans in Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis and Josh Donaldson to form a potent lineup. The starting rotation is quickly showing promise, but the Braves will run into trouble in the later innings unless they can figure their bullpen out.

The Braves are reportedly interested in bringing back Closer Craig Kimbrel, who delighted fans in Atlanta for years with his electric stuff and intimidating late-inning presence. That could stabilize other relievers in the Braves’ pen, who actually fared well when they threw the ball over the plate (Atlanta’s bullpen gave up the most walks per nine innings in all of baseball). Teams batted just .241 against their bullpen, the 12th lowest mark in the bigs. If relievers A.J. Minter, Arodys Vizcaino, Jonny Venters and Chad Sobotka can avoid handing out free passes, Atlanta may be poised for a deep playoff run.

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Colorado Rockies

Area To Improve: Offensive Depth
The Rockies won 92 games in 2018, their most since the last time they won a playoff game in 2009. They lost the division by just a single game and would love to challenge LA for the division title again. To do this, the Rockies are going to need replacements for the key cogs they lost in the offseason. The Rockies retained their top four run producers in Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story and Ian Desmond. The next three men on that list, D.J. LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra, are all no longer in Colorado.

The top candidate to mitigate the departures of Gonzalez, Parra and LeMahieu is the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, 22 year-old infielder Brendan Rodgers. The number one prospect in the Rockies’ organization will assuredly begin the season at AAA. He’s shown power potential, cranking out 18 and 19 bombs in A and AA, but struggled to keep his batting average above .270 in AA and above. If Rodgers can accelerate his timeline and become Trevor Story’s double play partner in the second half, the Rockies may have something truly special on their hands. Fellow infielders Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon must also prove themselves at the big league level. Outfielder David Dahl can also provide a boost if he can remain healthy. He played just 63 and 77 games in his first two seasons, but produced when he was in uniform.

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Cleveland Indians

Area To Improve: Bullpen
In 2017, with the lowest ERA in baseball, the Indians won 102 games. Cleveland’s bullpen was so good that three relievers boasting ERAs below 3.00 didn’t make their playoff roster. Last year, the Indians won 92 games with the league’s worst bullpen, which still boasted All-Star left hander Brad Hand. For the Indians to make a deep postseason run, their bullpen will have to channel the dominance of 2017.

Stalwarts Andrew Miller, Michael Brantley and Cody Allen are gone, but Hand will remain the Indians’ closer. Dan Otero, who was one of those pitchers left off in 2017, will lead a largely unproven bullpen. Cody Anderson and Danny Salazar are coming off injuries, and Tyler Olson, Nick Goody and Neil Ramirez will have to step up. The bullpen will dictate how far this team goes, especially when considering the fact that Cleveland’s starting pitching and offense are already elite.

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Los Angeles Dodgers

Area To Improve: Catcher and Bullpen
The Dodgers have come as close as possible to winning a World Series without actually doing it in consecutive seasons. With the departure of Yasmani Grandal to the Brewers, incumbent starter Austin Barnes and returning fan favorite Russell Martin must step up. Other positions might have to fill the void on offense, since Martin and Barnes hit just .194 and .205 last season.

The bullpen always seems to be the thorn in the Dodgers’ side. It’s undeniably a position of strength for the Dodgers, who held the Braves and Brewers bats below .180 in the playoffs last year. Kenley Jansen is still an intimidating closer, returning arms Dylan Floro, Josh Fields and Pedro Baez are coming off impressive years, and newcomer Joe Kelly will test Dodger Stadium’s radar guns. So why does this bullpen need to improve? In short, their magic disappears in the World Series. Kenley Jansen seems to get tagged every time he’s asked to pitch more than an inning, and the bullpen allowed 14 runs in the 2018 Fall Classic, including five homers. For the Dodgers to cross the finish line, they’re going to need to stretch their bullpen’s excellence for one more series than in previous years.

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Chicago Cubs

Area To Improve: Closer
The Cubs won 95 games last year and are poised to again contend for the division title. A quick exit in the wild card game left the Cubs yearning for more, and in 2019, they have the roster to do it. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez and Ben Zobrist will anchor the same lineup that led the National League in runs scored, hits and batting average last year. Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish make up an impressive rotation. Each of these guys has been an ace at some point and are capable of leading this staff. The bullpen was a huge component of the Cubs’ success last season. It’s an area to pay attention to this season, because closer Brandon Morrow will be out at least a month after arthroscopic surgery on his throwing elbow.

Without Morrow, Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek or Carl Edwards Jr. will have to fill the void. Strop saved 13 games for the Cubs last year, Edwards is a talented young strikeout artist and Cishek has 125 saves under his belt. The Cubs’ bullpen had the second lowest ERA in all of baseball last season and more shutouts than anyone. Repeating that success, especially in Morrow’s absence, will be crucial to Chicago advancing in October.

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Milwaukee Brewers

Area To Improve: Starting Pitching
The Brewers surprised everyone last season, winning 97 games and making the NLCS after going 20-7 down the stretch. Christian Yelich, acquired in an offseason trade from Miami, won the MVP award and led the Brewers’ offense with 36 home runs and 110 RBI. He’ll lead a high-powered offense built on the bats of CF Lorenzo Cain, 1B Jesus Aguilar, 3B Travis Shaw and familiar face Ryan Braun in 2019. This group finished just one win away from the World Series and added catcher Yasmani Grandal and lefty starter Alex Claudio.

None of the names in the Brewers’ starting rotation jump off the page: Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, Brandon Woodruff. This group’s improvement would mean the most to the Brewers, whose late inning combination of Corey Knebel, Josh Hader, Jacob Barnes, Boone Logan and Jeremy Jeffress is as solid as they come. The acquisition of a fantastic pitch framer in Grandal could provide a boost to the rotation. Baseball Prospectus rated him as the top pitch framer in all of baseball last year.

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Oakland Athletics

Area To Improve: Stadium and Payroll
The A’s won 97 games last season, their highest total since 2002. It’s hard to pinpoint a part of the actual baseball team that needs to improve as the A’s are seemingly forever limited by off-field factors. A 97-win season in Major League Baseball’s most embarrassing stadium with the most “expensive” player on the team totaling just $10.5 million in annual salary feels like it should count for more. With exciting players like Starter Sean Manaea, Outfielder Khris Davis and Gold Glove Third Baseman Matt Chapman, Oakland has plenty to look forward to this season. The improvement, as it seemingly always does in Oakland, needs to come from all of the non-baseball departments of the Athletics’ organization.

One of the biggest off-field issues the A’s have faced is the prospect of getting a new stadium built. Their current home has been marked unfit by even the lowly Raiders, who are abandoning the Oakland Coliseum for a billionaire-funded palace in Las Vegas. The A’s have no such option, but are hoping to leave their sewage-leaking stadium for greener pastures as early as 2024. New drafts have been released for a stadium that would be built at the Howard Terminal next to one of Oakland’s main public transit stations. If the team can purchase this land from Alameda County and ensure the future of baseball in Oakland, it’d be bigger than any free agent signing — especially when considering it might be the only way to get Oakland fans to the ballpark.

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New York Yankees

Area To Improve: Matchups against Boston
The Yankees were 10-13 against Boston last season, but the record doesn’t tell the whole story. A four-game sweep in August effectively wrapped up the AL East for the Red Sox, who won the division by eight games. They then dispatched the Yankees three games to one in the ALDS, outscoring them 20-4 in the final two games. Baseball’s most historic franchise has been “little brother” in the 21st century, and the journey back to the top will require the Yankees to dethrone the Sox.

For New York to knock off Boston, they’ll need to shut off baseball’s most overflowing offense. The Yankees boosted their rotation with former Mariner James Paxton, and re-signed clubhouse favorite C.C. Sabathia for one final run. Sonny Gray, who was 11-9 with a 4.90 ERA in 23 starts, is on the trading block. All-Star Ace Luis Severino was outstanding in the first half of 2018, a 14-2 record sent him to the midsummer classic before a disappointing second half. Severino, Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka will look to keep American League bats quiet, especially Boston’s.

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Houston Astros

Area To Improve: Bullpen
Houston is again poised to make a run at championship glory, buoyed as always by a bounty of powerful bats and a steady starting rotation. Many of the names that evoke memories of postseason success are still around: Verlander, Altuve, Correa, Springer, Cole and Bregman. Some, like Charlie Morton, Marwin Gonzalez, and Dallas Keuchel, will not be back in H-Town. The bullpen lacks the star power and charm of its lineup and rotation, and is the biggest unknown for the 2019 Astros.

When the Astros traded for Roberto Osuna late last season, the resulting controversy stemmed from Osuna’s actions off the field. Osuna was charged with domestic violence and served a 75-game suspension last season before going 2-2 with a 1.99 ERA in 20 appearances for Houston. He allowed just one hit in two innings in the ALDS against Cleveland before imploding in the ALCS. The Red Sox scored five times in the 3.2 innings Osuna threw, and Boston rolled past the Astros with ease. This year, Osuna’s on-field performance will be under great scrutiny, as he’s expected to anchor an unproven bullpen. Will Astros fans see a pitcher that resembles the 2017 All-Star? Or will Osuna and the bullpen prevent the franchise from winning its second World Series in three years?

Image Source: Butch Dill/USA Today Sports

Boston Red Sox

Area To Improve: Closer
The 2018 World Series Champions were as complete as a team could be. The Sox won 108 games, more than any Boston team that preceded them, in large part due to an offense that finished as baseball’s top team in runs, hits, OPS, BA and total bases. Their pitchers were elite as well, with a team ERA of 3.75 and 1,558 strikeouts (3rd in AL).

Closer Craig Kimbrel is one of the great strikeout artists of the last decade and has been an All-Star in each of his three seasons in Beantown. The hard-throwing right hander flamed out some down the stretch for Boston, giving up seven runs in just over 20 innings in the ALDS and World Series. Boston opted to send ace Chris Sale to the mound to close out the Dodgers in Game 7. Kimbrel is currently a free agent after turning down Boston’s $13.7 million qualifying offer and is reportedly searching for as much as $100 million over six years. Whether Kimbrel returns or heads to another team, Boston has to have some different options ready to close games. It’s an essential ingredient for a team that so often has the lead.

Image Source: Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports

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