The 2018 Major League Baseball season is here!
After a truly captivating World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers last fall, there’s no telling how this year will shake out.
New Arena senior writers Harris Ahmadzai, Jason Fray, and Blake Hoffman will offer their divisional and World Series predictions for the upcoming year.
HA: New York Yankees
It’s been five years since the Yankees could call themselves the kings of the AL East. Despite New York advancing further in the postseason, it was actually the Boston Red Sox who took home the AL East crown 2017. However, this young team wasn’t even meant to contend last year, and still secured a Wild Card spot. After a strong off-season, and an additional year of development for their core, New York will once again reign supreme. Adding Giancarlo Stanton instantly bolsters this lineup to one of the three best in the Majors. No team can match the sheer power of Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez. Add in the professional hitting abilities of Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius, to go along with the deepest pitching staffs in baseball and you have a team primed to win 100-plus games in 2018.
JF: New York Yankees
New York finds themselves in an interesting position. Over the last few years, GM Brian Cashman chose to operate with more of a small market mentality. As opposed to being overloaded by bloated contracts, the Yankees built up their farm system. Last year’s emergence appeared to be a bit ahead of schedule. With that said…this is still the most storied franchise in the sport’s considerable history.
As a means to add even more clout to the order, New York traded for Giancarlo Stanton. He — along with Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez — gives the Yankees a lethal two-three-four combo. The pitching staff will have a full year of Sonny Gray, a more mature Luis Severino, and an exceptionally deep bullpen. Everything sets up for the Yankees to be very good.
BH: New York Yankees
It’s going to take 100 wins to capture the AL East crown this season. The Yankees and Red Sox added the NL’s two best hitters from last season to their respective rosters (Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez), and are both legitimate World Series threats. However, the Yankees get the slight edge thanks to a terrifying lineup, strong starting rotation and a lockdown bullpen.
HA: Cleveland Indians
Cleveland’s massive meltdown in the 2017 postseason clouded an otherwise incredible year. They return most of the same team that won 22 straight games and ended the year with the second best record in baseball. Reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber headlines a star-studded staff that also features 18-game winner Carlos Carrasco and 17-game winner Trevor Bauer. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are as good of a duo as you’re going to find, and the eventual return of Michael Brantley will provide an additional spark.
JF: Cleveland Indians
The Indians are poised to win a weak AL Central for the third year in a row. Simply put, there isn’t another team in the division possessing Cleveland’s overall depth. The top three pitchers in the rotation (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer) are as good a trio as you’ll find in the American League.
From a line-up standpoint, Francisco Lindor is on the verge of superstardom. Jose Ramirez is exceptionally talented, and the veteran presence of Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley binds this team together.
BH: Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians have about as easy of a path to a division crown as a team could ask for. Although the Twins snuck into the postseason in 2017, they finished 17 games behind Cleveland, and didn’t make enough improvements to close the gap. With the Royals, White Sox and Tigers expected to be three of the six worst teams in baseball in 2018, Cleveland will run away with the division.
HA: Houston Astros
It’s rare to see a defending World Series champ actually improve during the off-season. Adding Gerrit Cole to one of the best rotations in the American League only furthers the talent gap between the Astros and the rest of the AL West – and he’s arguably the fourth best starting pitcher on the roster. Cole, along with a full year of Justin Verlander and the best offense in baseball makes them a lock.
JF: Houston Astros
Top to bottom, the Astros are the most talented team in baseball. The line-up led the entire league in virtually every single major offense category. Scarily enough for opponents, the production could be even better with added experience for youngsters Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.
Houston will have the luxury of having Justin Verlander for an entire season. Wanting to make the rotation deeper, the Astros were able to trade for uber-gifted pitcher Gerrit Cole. In the process, Houston’s starting rotation (Verlander, Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton) became that much more dynamic.
BH: Houston Astros
The scariest thing for the other 29 teams in baseball is that the World Series champs got better this offseason. Adding Gerrit Cole – a legit No. 2 starter – fortifies a starting rotation already boasting two Cy Young winners in Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. Add in the fact that the batting lineup remains identical to the one that led baseball in runs scored last season, and Houston should easily win the division by 15+ games.
AL Wild Card Teams
HA: Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
To combat the rival Yankees grabbing the 2017 NL MVP, the Red Sox went out and got a star of their own. J.D. Martinez brings together a lineup that already possessed a ton of talent. The one thing they were lacking, though, was a consistent power hitter. Boston was 27th in home runs last year and 26th in slugging percentage. During his 62-game stint in Arizona, Martinez hit 29 homers, and recorded an absurd .741 slugging percentage (a mark that would have led the league, by far). They have enough stability across the other spots, and a blooming superstar in Andrew Benintendi, to contend throughout the regular season.
The Angels have continuously disappointed over the last half-decade. They were one of the more active teams this past off-season, and the additions of Ian Kinsler, Zack Cozart and Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani should prove to be plus moves. Not to mention last year’s trade deadline acquisition – Justin Upton. As long as Mike Trout is healthy, he could will an AAA team to a .500 record. There’s no reason for them to be out of the picture in 2018.
JF: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Boston Red Sox
Boston made a major splash in free agency by acquiring J.D. Martinez. The team was in desperate need of a power hitter, and thus went out and got the best thumper on the market. He should aid in making Boston’s line-up even more dangerous. When further factoring in the presence of Chris Sale, the Red Sox should snag a wild card spot without issue.
The Angels were exceptionally busy during the offseason. After trading for both Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler, LA nabbed Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. Assuming Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs can stay healthy, this team figures to be one to watch. Oh…and they’ve still got that Mike Trout guy patrolling center field.
BH: Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles
The AL East will be well represented during the 2018 postseason. Boston looks poised to fall into the unfair trap of winning 95+ games, yet still needing to play a one-game playoff to start the postseason. First-year manager Alex Cora will inject some new life into a team that features a deep batting lineup and the three-headed monster of Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price.
Baltimore might not come close to winning the division crown, but they have the talent to sneak into the postseason with the second wild card spot. Moving Manny Machado to shortstop was a move long overdue, and the acquisition of Alex Cobb finally gives them a top-of-the-rotation starter. Baltimore will lead the league in runs scored and reach the postseason for the fourth time in seven years.
HA: Washington Nationals
The NL East race will likely be the least competitive in the Majors. The Marlins have already waved the white flag, the Mets don’t have the hitting (and can never stay healthy), and both the Braves and Phillies are a bit too young to be taken seriously as contenders. The Nats have the most balanced order in the National League, and arguably have the best player and pitcher in the league as well with Bryce Harper and 2017 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.
JF: Washington Nationals
The Phillies and Braves are still a little ways away from contending for a playoff spot. There are a ton of health questions surrounding the Mets. The Marlins resemble that of a AAA team. No one can question Washington’s overall talent. Over the last five years, this group has developed into a very legitimate squad. This team will win the division, though there are persisting questions as to whether they can actually win a playoff series.
BH: Washington Nationals
Much like Cleveland, there isn’t much in the way of competition for the Nationals in the NL East this season. The Mets are too injury prone, the Braves and Phillies both feel 2-3 years away, and the Marlins feel 12-15 years away (and that might be generous). Between the Scherzer-Strasburg pitching duo and a lineup featuring Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon, this squad feels like a lock to win 95+ games.
HA: Chicago Cubs
The Brewers were having a good enough off-season to make a case for them winning the Central this upcoming season – until the Cubs signed Yu Darvish. Darvish adds another potent arm to a strong rotation that includes three-time World Series champion Jon Lester and postseason stud Kyle Hendricks. Kris Bryant and Wilson Contreras are MVP candidates, and you have to believe Anthony Rizzo will bounce back strong in 2018. It’s hard to envision the Cubs winning less than 90 games with this roster.
JF: Chicago Cubs
The lineup collectively underachieved last year, and still made it to the NLCS. With youth still littered throughout the order, expect the likes of a slimmed-down Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell to improve from 2017. From a pitching standpoint, the front office went out and acquired underrated Tyler Chatwood, wicked reliever Brandon Morrow, and the prized Yu Darvish. The rotation is deeper, and the back-end of the bullpen now has a guy who can routinely hit triple-digits.
BH: St. Louis Cardinals
The Cubs and Brewers are no slouches, but it’ll be the Cardinals who capture the NL Central crown in 2018. Carlos Martinez will finally have the breakout year fans have long anticipated, and free agent addition Marcell Ozuna will add some much-needed power to the middle of the lineup. The Cardinals haven’t missed the postseason three straight seasons since 1997-1999. After missing it in 2016 and 2017, they’ll be playing October baseball in 2018.
HA: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers remain kings of the NL West for another season. They have an elite pitching staff, with arguably the best starter and closer in all of baseball. You’d be hard pressed to find a better young duo at the plate than Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. Losing Justin Turner obviously hurts, but if there’s any team that can navigate through an injury, it’s a Dodgers squad brimming with depth.
JF: Los Angeles Dodgers
Though the Dodgers didn’t do a whole lot this offseason, the front office is more than confident in the overall depth its built up over the last few years. This is a team priding itself on hard-nosed, smart players rather than flashy talent. That’s not to say the team isn’t without quality — as the collection of Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, and Kenley Jansen would make any team jealous. Los Angeles will win its sixth-straight National League West title.
BH: Los Angeles Dodgers
While Justin Turner’s wrist injury is a tough blow to start the season, it is a perfect example as to why the Dodgers will win the NL West for the sixth straight season. Boasting unparalleled depth, the Dodgers are stocked with a deep rotation, deep bullpen, deep lineup and deep bench. After falling one game short of winning the 2017 Fall Classic, the Dodgers’ revenge tour will start with absolute domination of the division.
NL Wild Card Teams
HA: Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies
The Brew Crew had themselves quite an off-season. The additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain put Milwaukee in contention for the best outfield in all of baseball. Ryan Braun looks to be adjusting fine at first base, and it’s never a bad thing when you can bring a guy that hit 31 home runs last season off your bench (Eric Thames).
Colorado returns most of the team that reached the Wild Card from last year. Nolan Arenado is a legit MVP candidate, and is only getting better at 26-years-old. Charlie Blackmon, D.J. LeMahieu and Trevor Story isn’t too shabby of a supporting cast, either.
Both of these teams share similar qualities – explosive offenses with shaky pitching. Their respective lineups will carry them to a playoff berth.
JF: St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets
I’m projecting a bit on both St. Louis and New York. The Mets were ravaged by injury last season — particularly within its starting rotation. When healthy, the Mets’ starting rotation is exceptionally good. New York’s line-up won’t hit for average, though it has multiple players (Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes) capable of hitting 30 home runs.
St. Louis not only will win the wild card, but there’s a real chance for them to win the division as well. The Cardinals have a plethora of young, exciting players. Adding Marcell Ozuna to the heart of the order should make St. Louis one of the National League’s better offensive teams. Pitching wise, the Cardinals are relying on Luke Weaver, Alex Reyes, and Michael Wacha to be quality starters this year.
BH: Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks
Although the Cubs came up short of winning back-to-back World Series titles after a brief 108-year drought, last year’s 92-win season was nothing to scoff at. Chicago revamped their pitching staff this offseason with the additions of Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Steve Cishek and Brandon Morrow, and a lineup featuring Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber will never have issues producing runs. Returning to the postseason for the fourth straight year should be no problem for the Cubbies.
Speaking of producing runs, the Diamondbacks boast one of the scariest offenses in baseball. In addition to perennial NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona should continue to see plenty of production from Jake Lamb, Ketel Marte, David Peralta, a fully heathy A.J. Pollock and newcomer Steven Souza Jr. The five-man starting rotation of Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin, Zack Godley and Taijuan Walker is one of the best in baseball, and should be enough to help lead Arizona to its second straight postseason appearance.
AL Pennant Winner
HA: New York Yankees
The Yanks were just one game away from a shot at the World Series last season. In 2018, with Stanton in tow, they get over the hump. They have the pitching and hitting to contend with any team – even the Astros. With a year of playoff experience under their belts, they’ll be ready for any challenge that they may face in October.
JF: New York Yankees
The Yankees winning the American League is dependent upon how their pitching holds up. It’s immensely difficult for any team to make the World Series in back-to-back years. Injuries could pop up at any moment, and those teams making the deep run throughout October often have a little bit of luck along the way. With Houston out of the equation, I’d like the Yankees to best Cleveland in a hypothetical seven-game series.
BH: Cleveland Indians
A 22-game win streak leading up to the playoffs placed all of the pressure on Cleveland last October, but that won’t be the case in 2018. With Houston trying to win back-to-back titles and the Yankees facing sky-high expectations, Cleveland will get to fly under the radar. Plus, Cleveland will be seeking revenge after bowing out of the postseason in disappointing fashion in 2017. With home-field advantage (thanks to playing in the AL Central), a superstar in Francisco Lindor, an ace in Corey Kluber, a lights out reliever in Andrew Miller, and one of the best managers in baseball in Terry Francona, Cleveland reaches its second World Series in three years.
NL Pennant Winner
HA: Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles remains the deepest team in the National League. It might actually play in the Dodgers’ hands that Turner will be missing the first few months of the season, as they always seem to unearth hidden gems during times such as these. At some point in the regular season, they’ll add another quality arm to the rotation which will propel them to a second straight World Series appearance.
JF: Chicago Cubs
Who wouldn’t want to see a World Series match-up featuring the Yankees and the Cubs? Aside from it being a ratings bonanza, the actual play on the field would be highly entertaining. Chicago shored up its pitching staff with the aforementioned additions. There’s far too much talent on this team to not be a serious contender for the World Series crown. After previously not winning a pennant since 1945, the Cubs will have won two pennants in the last three years.
BH: Washington Nationals
I know, I know. Since moving to Washington, the franchise has never won a playoff series. However, I believe this will be the year that fact changes. With Bryce Harper’s impending free agency, the Nationals are well aware of what’s at stake. There are plenty of talented clubs in the National League, but none stack up to Washington’s. The Nationals finally get over the hump and make the first World Series in the franchise’s 50-year history.
World Series Result
HA: Los Angeles Dodgers defeat the New York Yankees in 7 Games
The World Series that everybody wants to see. The Dodgers were dangerously close to ending a 30-year World Series drought in 2017, but put up an absolute dud in a disappointing Game 7. They get it done in 2018, and Cody Bellinger makes up for his rough performance versus the Astros by hoisting the World Series MVP trophy over his head this time around.
JF: New York Yankees defeat the Chicago Cubs in 6 Games
There are two reasons for why the Yankees will ultimately win the World Series. For one, this team has considerable depth. It can be very creative based upon the situation. As we all know, playoff baseball is highly situational. Secondly, New York’s bullpen is immensely terrific. With the newfound impetus placed upon one’s bullpen to shorten the games, the Yankees hold a clear edge over the Cubs in this capacity.
BH: Washington Nationals defeat the Cleveland Indians in 7 Games
We’d get to see Max Scherzer vs. Corey Kluber, Trea Turner vs. Francisco Lindor, Bryce Harper vs. Andrew Miller, and Terry Francona vs. 12,000 pieces of bubble gum. What more could you ask for?
Even though Cleveland boasts the better bullpen, Scherzer and Strasburg prove to be too good and neutralize a dangerous Indians lineup. The Nationals’ potent lineup catches fire – a la the Astros last year – to guide them to a thrilling Game 7 victory. Bryce Harper wins MVP, re-signs with the Nationals and then we do this all again in 2019.
Image Sources: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports, Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports, Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports, Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports, Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports