Let’s go back to the end of the 2017 season…the Houston Astros have just defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 to capture their first championship. Following the game, the favorites for 2018 were announced: Dodgers, Astros, Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Nationals. Nobody in their right mind would have questioned the inclusion of any of these clubs at the top of the list. Fast-forward to now, however, and the standings in the National League will make you feel as if the odds-makers had not watched a game in years.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Dodgers, Cubs, and Nationals would all be on their couches, while the Diamondbacks, Brewers, Braves, Phillies, and Pirates would be vying for NL supremacy. While the Diamondbacks and Brewers were trendy picks to make the postseason, the Braves, Phillies and Pirates were picked to finish towards the bottom of the league this year.
Over in the American League, the Red Sox, Yankees, and Astros have predictably been the class of the league. As it stands, the AL postseason representatives would consist of the three aforementioned clubs, plus the Indians and Mariners. Fortunately for some of the big dogs, the regular season has over 100 games left. That being said, let’s take a look at how the rest of 2018 will unfold.
Out of the five teams currently slotted to make the postseason in the NL, I believe only the Brewers will keep a hold on their spot. In the NL East, I see the Nationals overtaking both the Phillies and Braves. The NL Central will see two teams advance to October, with the Brewers taking the division and the first wild card spot going to the Cubs. The NL West will have a first-time champion; the Manny Machado-led Colorado Rockies.
The last spot in the field will come down to game 163, as the Dodgers and Braves face each other in a play-in game for the chance to play the Cubs in the wild card game. Justin Turner’s 8th inning double will propel the floundering Dodgers back to the postseason for a sixth year in a row, saving what started off as a miserable season. The Dodgers will ride their momentum past the Cubs and into a showdown with Bryce Harper and the Nationals. The Nationals will defeat the tired Dodgers in four games, setting up an unexpected NLCS match-up with the Rockies. The Rockies will be coming off an epic Game 5 victory over the Brewers in Milwaukee, but their dream season ends when the Nationals bury them amongst an avalanche of runs. Harper and the Nationals finally break through in the postseason, giving D.C. hopes of winning yet another championship in 2018 (looking at you, Ovi).
The AL will not change much in the coming months, as the Yankees capture the AL East, the Indians dominate the Central, and the West goes to the defending champion Astros. The Red Sox will win 98 games, narrowly falling short of the Yankees' 101 win campaign, claiming the first wild card spot. The second wild card berth will come down to two AL West teams, the Angels and Mariners. The Mariners will surprise the rest of baseball in the absence of the juiced up Robinson Cano, but will ultimately fall short against the Angels.
After finishing the regular season with an MLB-best 103 wins, the Astros will face the Indians in the first round. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole will stifle Francisco Lindor while leading Houston to a sweep of Cleveland. Meanwhile, one of sports' greatest rivalries will be rekindled in the Bronx, as the Yankees take on the Red Sox after Chris Sale stymied the bats of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in the wild card match-up.
In a rematch of last year's ALCS, the Astros will take on the Yankees in an all-time match-up. Verlander vs. Judge. Cole vs. Stanton. Severino vs. Altuve… Let’s be honest, both of these teams have the chance to be utter juggernauts. There are very few holes in either lineup, but the edge goes to the Astros' starting rotation. Once again, the Astros will advance after defeating the Yankees in Game 7 due to a vintage Verlander performance.
Following a truly bizarre regular season, the 2018 World Series will feature some of the most talented players in the game with no shortage of storylines: the Astros could become the first back-to-back champion since the Yankees dynasty of the 90s, Harper playing in his first World Series and possibly his final games in Washington, plus two high powered rotations facing off.
On paper, the Astros are simply terrifying. Verlander and Cole get all the headlines, but they are only half of a dominant rotation. Charlie Morton is currently 6-0 with a 1.94 ERA, and a guy named Dallas Keuchel still strikes fear into lineups. With Lance McCullers Jr. performing very well also, the only hope of scoring runs on Houston may be by getting to their bullpen. Combine their incredible rotation with a lineup propelled by Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman, and it’s not hard to see why this team has the makings of a dynasty.
The Nationals' best hope lays in the right arm of Max Scherzer and the bat of Bryce Harper. In Scherzer, the Nationals have one of the best pitchers of the decade, while Harper provides more potential and raw talent than almost everyone in the league. Stephen Strasburg is no slouch, and Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and a healthy Adam Eaton provide some additional support and length to the lineup. But when it comes down to it, the Astros are simply a superior ball-club. Harper and Scherzer won’t be able to keep up with Houston’s firepower, resulting in the first repeat champion since the 98-00 Yankees. To make matters worse for the Nationals? Harper will seize his opportunity to live out his childhood dream by signing with the Yankees following the devastating loss.
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