The Red Sox were dominant in 2018. They’re largely the same team heading into ’19, but they will have to fill the hole left by their former closer, and currently unsigned, Craig Kimbrel. Boston’s bullpen isn’t a finished product, but it may not matter much when you look at the rest of the squad. Boston’s lineup is amongst the very best in the league, spearheaded by Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. With Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi on the mound, the Sox will be just fine. Don’t expect another 108-win season, but do expect the Red Sox to be playing in October.
The Yankees had one of their best seasons of the millennium last year, winning 100 games behind an offense that hit more homers than any other team to wear the pinstripes. The Yankees ’19 season will rest on how they play against the champion Red Sox, who won the division by eight games and ended the Yankees season in embarrassing fashion. Reliever Adam Ottavino and starter James Paxton will provide a much-needed boost towards bolstering their chances. Instead of adding Harper or Machado this offseason, the Yankees focused on strengthening their all-around depth. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Yankees atop the American League.
Cleveland is set to dominate the AL Central yet again, but can they change their postseason fate? The loss of power bat Edwin Encarnacion and relievers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller will hurt, but the Indians core of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber, and Trevor Bauer remains intact. Terry Francona is a universally beloved manager who has plenty of playoff experience. A World Series championship is the clear next step for Cleveland, one they’ve haven’t been able to take since 1948. After losing centerfielder Michael Brantley to the Houston Astros, the Indians will turn to Martin to pick up the slack. The Indians have arguably the best rotation in baseball, with four pitchers capable of winning a Cy Young in the coming years.
After consecutive World Series appearances, the Dodgers are clearly the National League’s top team. Starting shortstop Corey Seager will return from Tommy John surgery and CF AJ Pollock joins a star-studded lineup. The starting rotation is the same as last year and former Boston set-up man Joe Kelly will fortify a bullpen that’s been outstanding in recent regular seasons. When Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw eventually hangs it up, he’ll walk into Cooperstown as one of the game’s most dominant pitchers ever. In his place will stand the Dodgers next guy in line, 24-year-old right-hander Walker Buehler. Buehler was 8-5 with a 2.62 ERA in 137 innings. His high-90’s fastball, curveball, cutter, and slider struck out 151 in 2018. With Buehler and Julio Urias seemingly on their way to being aces, the Dodgers are in good hands.
The Astros are stacked. The team features three potential MVP contenders in the infield alone, and two Cy Young threats in Verlander and Cole. Houston added Michael Brantley in the offseason. The 31-year-old is coming off of a stellar season in which he batted .309 and made his second consecutive All-Star team. He’s a much needed left-handed bat and capable base runner. At two-years/$32 million, the move to steal Brantley from a fellow contender represents the “win now” mentality in Houston. The Astros will be a tough out come October, especially if Brantley continues to produce as such a high level.
The Cubs led the league in hits and team batting average last season but it yielded only a first-round exit. The Cubs added utility infielder Daniel Descalso, left-handed reliever Xavier Cedeno and righty Brad Brach to help bolster the pen. Their rotation of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana, and Cole Hamels is as good as any in baseball. After signing a mega-deal with Chicago before last season, Darvish was a flop. He gave up 24 runs in 40 innings before being shut down for the year. However, a healthy Darvish could make a huge impact on the division.
Milwaukee surprised the baseball world by advancing to the NLCS last year. Offseason addition Christian Yelich won the NL MVP and fellow newcomer Lorenzo Cain hit .308. Former Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal is an immediate improvement over last year’s platoon. Career third baseman Mike Moustakas will make the move to second base to accommodate Travis Shaw, while Orlando Arcia and Jesus Aguilar fill out the infield. Milwaukee’s unheralded rotation of Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, and Brandon Woodruff will have to prove themselves again for the Brewers to repeat in the NL Central.
8. Philadelphia Phillies
2018 Record: 80-82
Philadelphia is as talented as any team in baseball. Harper joins a lineup full of power bats like Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, and JT Realmuto. Polarizing manager Gabe Kapler will have to prove he’s the skipper Phillies brass can trust moving forward. If this team doesn’t take a legitimate step forward this year, expect to see the Phillies move on from Kapler to a more experienced steward. In seven seasons, Harper’s been an All-Star six times and uncorked 184 home runs. Pressure is nothing new to the former prodigy who debuted at 19, but the rabid fans of Philadelphia will be expecting an immediate impact. Harper isn’t going anywhere, but neither will the Phillies if the former Nationals star can’t produce the eye-popping plays we all know him for.
9. Washington Nationals
2018 Record: 82-80
Despite losing Harper, the Nationals still boast an impressive roster. Budding game-breakers Victor Robles and Juan Soto are flanked by Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Eaton, and Brian Dozier. The starting rotation is strong as well, with new additions Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, and Jeremy Hellickson joining Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Last year, Soto batted .292 with 22 home runs and 70 RBI in 116 games. If he and Robles can combine for 45 homers, the Nats will be a tough team to beat.
10. St. Louis Cardinals
2018 Record: 88-74
The Cardinals are another worthy contender for the NL Central crown, and they added some big pieces this offseason. Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller join a roster full of fan favorites in the last year of their deals. Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright’s contracts are all up at year’s end, and fans are eager to see the Cardinals bounce back from a third-place finish in 2018. Goldschmidt could be the difference between another disappointing season and a potential run at the World Series.
11. Atlanta Braves
2018 Record: 90-72
Atlanta won the NL East with a dynamic team rich with young talent. Ozzie Albies (22), Dansby Swanson (24) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (21) are the core of an offense that added Josh Donaldson and welcomed back Brian McCann. They’re skippered by reigning NL Manager of the Year Brian Snitker, who will bring talented bats Johan Camargo and Adam Duvall off of the bench to start the year. Their pitching staff gave up the most hits in the National League last year, but should be serviceable if healthy the whole year. The rest of the East — with the exception of Miami — will make life difficult on the Braves this year.
12. Los Angeles Angels
2018 Record: 80-82
This season is already considered a win for the Angels after they locked down Trout to a 12-year, $430 million deal. Add in Shohei Ohtani, Andrelton Simmons, Albert Pujols, Matt Harvey, Justin Bour, Jonathan Lucroy and closer Cody Allen — which comprises the best supporting cast Trout has had in his career — and things are looking up for the Angels. Trout’s teams don’t have a single postseason win to their name and Trout himself has just one hit in his 12 October at-bats. This should be the season the Angels turn his otherworldly individual success into winning.
13. Colorado Rockies
2018 Record: 91-72
D.J. LeMahieu, Gerardo Parra and free agent Carlos Gonzalez were some of Colorado’s main run producers in 2018 — and they are all gone. The Rockies’ replacements are David Dahl, an outfielder in his third year who has yet to play a full season in the majors, and former Met Daniel Murphy. Rockies fans have to hope the rewarding atmosphere of Coors Field goes their way and they can score enough runs to outlast the light hitting offenses of the division. If the offense can produce, the Rockies have enough pitching depth to challenge the Dodgers for the NL West title this season.
14. New York Mets
2018 Record: 77-85
New York will rely on its pitching to shut down NL East foes. Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zach Wheeler will anchor the rotation, while Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia will do the same on the back end. Young outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto will have to play beyond their years, and veterans Robinson Cano, Travis D’Arnaud, and Todd Frazier will have to prove they can still produce. The Mets have some talented pieces, but it’s unclear how they’ll all fit together, or if the team can stay healthy enough to compete.
15. Oakland Athletics
2018 Record: 97-65
Unfortunately for Khris Davis and Matt Chapman, this talented A’s team will more than likely run into the same predicament many of their predecessors have: a lack of support from the non-baseball operations. Somehow, in an uncapped sport, the Athletics will pay just one player more than 7.4 million. Khris Davis is the highest paid player on the team with his one-year deal for $16.5 million, which accounts for about one-fifth of the team’s total payroll. Matt Chapman’s defense is worth your attention whether his team is winning or not. In his rookie season, the 26-year-old third baseman saved 29 runs and had the most defensive wins above replacement in baseball. He led all Major Leaguers regardless of position in defensive runs saved (29), and led American League third basemen in total chances (484), assists (331), and zone rating (.853). Simply put, baseball is more fun when the ball is hit Chapman’s way.
16. Minnesota Twins
2018 Record: 78-84
At 37, new Twins manager Rocco Baldelli is the youngest skipper in baseball. He’ll have to shepherd a team that has talented young players and veterans looking to prolong their careers. Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, and Max Kepler all have the potential to make the Twins winners in the AL Central or continue their slide into mediocrity. Nelson Cruz and Jonathan Schoop are accomplished hitters at the Major League level, and DH CJ Cron was the best hitter on the Rays last year. These veterans and their new manager will have to fill the void in leadership and professionalism left by Twins legend Joe Mauer, who retired in the offseason. If Buxton can elevate his play and be the superstar so many have projected him to be, the Twins can contend in baseball’s weakest divisions.
17. Pittsburgh Pirates
2018 Record: 82-79
The Pirates added ace pitcher Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays, but the rest of their roster is full of question marks. With Josh Harrison, Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole all gone, it’s time for some new guys to identify themselves as the core of the future. Two familiar faces, first baseman Josh Bell and outfielder Starling Marte, are worthy candidates. Both of these guys will be relied on heavily to create runs, as the rest of Pittsburgh’s lineup options are shaky at best. Gregory Polanco’s shoulder injury will delay his debut a couple of months, Adam Frazier has been solid but not special, and second baseman Jung Ho Kang has lost the last two seasons to legal trouble. Pittsburgh looks primed for a 75-80 win season.
18. Tampa Bay Rays
2018 Record: 90-72
The Rays won 90 games last season, their highest total since 2013, but finished third in the AL East. A crucial advantage the Rays do have though is that they boast the reigning Cy Young winner in Blake Snell. The 25-year-old flame thrower’s four-seam fastball reaches 97 mph and his curve (82), changeup (88) and slider (89) have plenty of zip too. Snell’s 2.03 ERA was the lowest in the American League since Pedro Martinez’s 1.90 in 2000, and he recorded 93 strikeouts with his curveball alone. If the Rays young lineup can produce, there is no reason to believe this team won’t challenge for a playoff spot.
19. Cincinnati Reds
2018 Record: 67-95
Reds pitchers finished last season in the cellar of nearly every major category. Luis Castillo is the only returning starter, Sonny Gray is coming off of a disappointing year with the Yankees, Anthony DeSclafani hasn’t been healthy since 2016, and Tanner Roark posted a 4.34 ERA last year. If this revamped rotation can keep opposing runs down, Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Yasiel Puig, and Jesse Winker are capable of putting big numbers on the board. Puig’s success would be huge for a lineup that’s been anchored for 12 years by Joey Votto, who could be beginning his decline. The longest-tenured Red still finished third in the Majors in walks last year, but is hoping for a bounce-back 2019.
20. San Francisco Giants
2018 Record: 73-89
The Giants are stuck between developing their faces of the future and hanging on to the remaining elements of their victorious core. As much as Giants fans will always love Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, and Madison Bumgarner, this year’s success will be determined by less familiar names. Fans should hope for success from Opening Day center fielder/top prospect Steven Duggar, and that starters Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez can follow up last year’s impressive efforts. A feeble offense and wobbly bullpen was the Giants’ downfall last season. San Francisco is relying on those two groups, who are largely made up of the same players, to show different sides of themselves. That’s their best chance at sending future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy into retirement with the respectability and class he deserves.
21. San Diego Padres
2018 Record: 66-96
There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Manny Machado. The Padres signed the perennial Gold Glover to a deal worth $300 million and bet big on speeding up their rebuild. Machado’s deputy of the future, top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., will begin the season in the Majors. The Padres offense is going to have to put up a lot of runs this season to help their mostly unproven pitching staff stay afloat. One of the players that can help flip the Padres from an incomplete rebuilder into a contender is power-hitting outfielder Franmil Reyes. He hammered 16 home runs and batted .280 in 87 games as a rookie, and will bat clean-up for the Padres this year. At 6-foot-5 and 275 lbs, Reyes is capable of sending moon shots far into the night when he connects.
22. Toronto Blue Jays
2018 Record: 73-89
The Blue Jays battled health problems last year and will benefit greatly if starters Marcus Stroman and Aaron Estrada are finally healthy at the same time. That will give key lineup cogs Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales and Randal Grichuk opportunities to win games with their bats. However, the names that should matter to Blue Jays fans won’t be on the Opening Day roster. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the best prospect in baseball and very well could be the best hitter in Toronto by season’s end. Both he and shortstop of the future Bo Bichette won’t make the club out of Spring Training. Seemingly everyone but Toronto’s front office believes that third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ready to test his supernatural abilities in the Major Leagues.
23. Arizona Diamondbacks
2018 Record: 82-80
For the first time in many years, Arizona will start the season without Paul Goldschmidt. They’ll miss his leadership and power hitting as the team tries to find out which of the remaining players can endear themselves to baseball fans in the valley. Losing stud starter Patrick Corbin and capable center fielder A.J. Pollock will hurt as well, especially since Pollock is now with the division rival Dodgers. For now, fans are left with Robbie Ray and the ever-entertaining Zack Greinke atop the rotation and the offensive exploits of outfielder David Peralta and infielder Ketel Marte. I don’t expect the Diamondbacks to compete for NL West supremacy, but they still boast enough firepower to beat good teams any given night.
24. Seattle Mariners
2018 Record: 89-73
The Mariners success will be measured this year in how many of their prospects continue to ascend towards the Major Leagues. The improvement of Shed Long, Braden Bishop, Dylan Moore, Justus Sheffield, and Kyle Lewis greatly outweighs anything veterans Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce and Dee Gordon can do at the newly named “T-Mobile Park” in Seattle. All three of those veterans could be on the move come July as the Mariners have already traded away Jean Segura, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano. In the meantime, Mitch Haniger, Domingo Santana and Mallex Smith will try to prove they’re worth building around.
25. Chicago White Sox
2018 Record: 62-100
The White Sox 100 losses in ’18 were the most since 1970. They hope their young core of Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Nick Madrigal, Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito use this season to create the blueprint for future playoff success. Third baseman Yoan Moncada is first in line to become a household name on the South Side of Chicago. He’s played only 35 innings at third in the Major Leagues, but is moving to the hot corner to initiate the White Sox infield of the future. There’s plenty of talent brewing in the White Sox organization, but they are still (at least) a year or two away from putting it all together.
26. Texas Rangers
2018 Record: 67-95
The Rangers are at the unfortunate crossroads of a Major League median payroll of $115 million and a rebuilding team that could again lose 95 games. Fan favorite Adrian Beltre retired, but the Ranger lineup still features some guys that can drive runs in like Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo, Elvis Andrus, and Rougned Odor. Not much is expected from the rotation of Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Drew Smyly, Edinson Volquez, and Shelby Miller, but all have shown themselves capable of quality starts. Texas will probably battle with Seattle for rights to last place in the AL West while envisioning better days ahead.
27. Detroit Tigers
2018 Record: 64-98
Detroit doesn’t have too much to be excited for after a 98-loss season and a somewhat shocking third place finish. The Tigers, White Sox, and Royals all figure to be cellar dwellers again in 2019 and Detroit’s chief problem will be driving in runs. Aside from outfielder Nick Castellanos and the legendary Miguel Cabrera, the lineup is pretty thin. The Tigers will need 3B Jeimer Candelario and CF JaCoby Jones to drive in runners, especially via the long ball. Detroit homered less than any American League team last season. Anything above 75 wins would be considered a major victory for this Detroit squad.
28. Kansas City Royals
2018 Record: 58-104
Improvement will come to Kansas City when the Royals figure out who those next franchise guys will be. Right now, none of those slots are filled. Former Cubs prospect Jorge Soler, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi and new speedster Billy Hamilton probably have the best shots, but none have shown the consistency required for stardom. Hamilton’s speed will be the closest thing to entertaining baseball in Kansas City this season. Only five active players have more steals than the ex-Cincinnati Red, who also threw out more baserunners than anyone in the National League last year. Hamilton has stolen over 50 bags four times in his career, but is just a .245 career hitter.
29. Baltimore Orioles
2018 Record: 47-115
Baltimore finished last in the American League East with a 47-115 record, 11 games worse than the second-worst Royals. They’ll continue to descend this season as they look towards a future with new General Manager Mike Elias and new Manager Brandon Hyde. Chris Davis and Jonathan Villar are sad reminders of recent Orioles teams that never went far in the playoffs. Davis’s mediocrity is symbolic of how low the expectations should be for this Orioles team. Davis has struck out more than only three other active hitters, and will still probably bat clean-up for the Orioles. For the first time since 2007, Adam Jones won’t be in center field at Camden Yards. There’s not much to monitor in Baltimore, but Dylan Bundy and Alex Cobb could give the O’s a chance to win on some nights. It won’t be often, though.
30. Miami Marlins
2018 Record: 63-98
The Marlins don’t have too many Major League players and will struggle to draw fans to their ballpark yet again in 2019. New uniforms and young infielder Brian Anderson are the two most exciting elements of a team that’s failed to capture the attention of its fan base and build any sort of faithful following in Miami. Last year, Anderson batted .273/.357/.400 with 11 home runs in 156 games. Anderson is showing signs he could make another leap in 2019, batting .353/.450/.647 with six extra-base hits in Spring Training. The 26-year-old third baseman has five seasons remaining until he’s eligible for free agency, ample time for the Marlins to either sign him to an extension or trade him away for prospects, forever rebuilding and cutting salary in Miami.