Around the League: Preseason Predictions

Ahhh, Opening Day. The greatest day in all of sports. The weather begins to warm up, the bluebonnets are out, the smell of funnel cake fills the air, and–perhaps most importantly–the local breweries begin to release their spring seasonals (if you haven’t tried 8th Wonder’s “Brewston” yet, you’re wrong). Baseball is here.

And this year, for the entire season, everyone is chasing after your favorite team. For the first time ever, the Houston Astros are, and will continue to be for 162 games, the World Champs. Baseball is here. And I couldn’t be more excited.

I always find it fun to make ridiculously early predictions about where teams will end up finishing at the end of the year, fully knowing that there are way too many factors that go into the grueling 162-game season: one can never predict injuries, trades, breakout seasons, off-years, etc. But I find it fun, so we’re doing it. hooray for blogs!

Also a disclaimer: I’m going to try and avoid using Fangraphs Projections as an influence for these decisions, so this won’t be much of a “nerdy” post. The folks at Fangraphs work hard, and are exponentially more smart than I am on this, so check out what they’re predicting here. My method for this post is an old-fashioned eye test and faith/lack of faith in quality of teams and players.

National League East

Nationals: This team is solid all around. Top 5 rotation in baseball, top 5 offense in baseball, top 5 best player in baseball in Harper, who’s going into his walk year. They’ve got some good relief pithing as well. I think this is going to be a great year for them, especially considering they’ll get to reap the benefits of feasting on the rest of their weak division all season. The Nationals are my pick to win the NL East.

Mets: A couple of years ago, the potential of the Mets rotation made their fans salivate. Syndergaard, DeGrom, Matz, and Wheeler (not to mention Big Sexy when he was with them). That group of young, extremely talented guys led me to believe that the Mets would be good for a long time. Alas, the injuries began piling up with just about every one of them, and it’s been all downhill since then. But, should that bad luck reverse, the Mets could have a great rotation again this season. Unfortunately, that’s a big if. Their offense will be average-to-slightly-above-average, so this team is hard to predict, but I’m pegging them at a little over .500 on the year.

Phillies: This Phillies team has a lot of young, talented guys on the roster. I have faith that former Astro Vince Velasquez  is going to be what we thought he could be. He has the stuff, just needs to stay healthy and continue to develop. Aaron Nola can be a stud. Jake Arrieta joining that rotation was big in terms of not only talent but veteran leadership. Offensively, they’re mostly very young, but really talented, and have a lot of youth that could surprise a few people. I expect they’ll jump out to a hot start and regress during the summer, finishing a win or two under .500.

Braves: Another team with a lot of really talented young guys and a stacked farm. This Braves team is going to be really, really good in a few years. But not this year. They’re too young, and don’t have much going for them on the mound. But seeing what guys like Dansby Swanson, Ronald Acuna, and Luiz Gohara do this year will make them a team that’s at least interesting to watch, though, unlike…

Marlins: We all know what they did this offseason. It was weird and unpleasant, even to an Astros fan who witnessed our horrific rebuild. But look at this list of names: Giancarlo Stanton, Marcel Ozuna, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon. All gone in the offseason. That group + J.T. Realmuto, and at least above average pitching is a contender. It’s crazy, and really sad, to think about how different things might look for this team if Jose Fernandez hadn’t tragically passed. They might have been a few free agent signings (perhaps Arrieta or Darvish this offseason) or a trade (Gerrit Cole?) away from serious contention. Alas, they’re not in any situation remotely close to that hypothetical one, and they’re going to be awful this season, and for the foreseeable future.

National League Central

Cubs: Last year, the Cubs started slow due to a little world series hangover. People forget, however, that they had a pretty damn good second half of the season. The Cubs aren’t coming off a World Series this season (because the Astros are) and will likely have a much different mentality this season. They want to win again, and they have the talent to do so. In fact, with the swap of Jake Arrieta for Yu Darvish, and pretty much the same offense as last season, they’re more talented than they were last year. The Chicago Cubs are my pick to win the NL Central.

Cardinals: Putting my childhood hatred for the Cardinals aside, this year’s Cardinals are actually quite a talented team. Tommy Pham and Marcell Ozuna team up with former Astro Dexter Fowler to give them one of the best outfields in baseball. Their infield is good too, and their offense should be really impressive. Their rotation, led by Martinez, is nothing to scoff at either. The Saint Louis Cardinals are my pick to grab the top Wildcard spot in the NL.

Brewers: Speaking of good outfields, here’s one. The Brewers should have a solid offense, but have a lot of questions on the mound. The fact that they did nothing this offseason to improve their pitching is really disappointing, considering the Cubs did, making this division not-that-competitive once again. I think they’ll be one of those teams that stays close to the wild card all season, but doesn’t get there, surprising pretty much no one.

Pirates: I’m dubbing them the “Other Marlins” off the past couple of seasons. They had a core of Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison, Sterling Marte, Tyler Glasnow, and Jameson Taillon but thanks to a number of factors were never able to do anything with it. A lot of that isn’t their fault, since a lot of players got hurt or underperformed, but a little of it is. Either way, this team isn’t that good, but has some good players. I’m thinking they’ll have a similar season to the last one.

Reds: The Reds have… some young guy named Luis Castillo to pitch for them this season. He’s projected to have a 2.6 WAR, so that’s good! Other than that, they literally have no one I know anything about. But they do have Joey Votto, who has the Mike Trout syndrome (great player stuck on a not great team), and is in the running for NL MVP every season. They also have Billy Hamilton, who’s speed alone makes the Reds fun to watch.

National League West

Dodgers: Everyone who reads this blog knows how scary good any member of the Dodgers’ offense can be. And they, like the Astros, are a young team that’s possibly only going to get better on offense this season. Their rotation is obviously fantastic, especially since the best pitcher alive is the head of it, but it did get worse with the subtraction of Darvish. Their Bullpen lost a few guys as well, but will still be incredible. The Los Angeles Dodgers are my pick to win the NL West.

Giants: Maybe I’m wrong about this one, but I really think last season was somewhat of a fluke. The Giants have a really strong starting rotation, a good offense, and the best catcher in baseball. Melancon headlines a pretty good bullpen as well. I think they’ll be a lot more competitive this year than they were the last. The San Fransisco Giants are my pick to grab the second Wildcard spot in the NL.

Diamondbacks: This could be a really dumb call on my part. The D’Backs have one of the best starting rotations in baseball, arguably the best first baseman in baseball, and a pretty good supporting cast outside of that. I just think, offensively, they’re top heavy. After Goldschmidt, Pollack, and Lamb, I don’t really believe. But, again, this could be really dumb on my part.

Rockies: Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and DJ LeMahieu  are really the only guys I see doing a lot of damage with the bat outside of Coors this year. Jon Gray is a stud, but their rotation behind him isn’t great. Their bullpen, however, is a really strong unit led by Wade Davis. I just hope, for their sake, that they don’t get overworked. I see them finishing around .500.

Padres: Them picking up Eric Hosmer this offseason for such a long contract (8 years, $144 million) was fun, but also dumb. On the one hand, I’m glad they’re not going full tank mode and paying a quality name player to make their fans happy now. On the other hand, as we all know, tanking works. Especially when you’re the lowly Padres and really have no chance at competing.

American League East

Red Sox: The Yankees could easily prove me wrong and win this division, which is why I’m calling it so close. The Red Sox won the division by two games last year, but both teams got better in the offseason. Maybe because it happened so late in the offseason (and on such weird terms), but the addition of J.D. Martinez was, in my opinion, an under-hyped signing. He could have won the NL MVP over Stanton if he’d played the entire season in the NL, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a more productive season than Stanton this year. Pair that with an already good–albeit low on power–offense, add in a really strong (when healthy) starting rotation, and this team could threaten for not only the top position in the AL east, but top position in the AL. The Boston Red Sox are my pick to win the AL East.

Yankees: For me this was the hardest division to predict; the one with the smallest gap between first and second place teams. The Yankees will hit a ton of home runs, but I’m not sold that Aaron Judge is the next Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols or whatever. I’ll admit he was amazing in one season, but had a stretch where he was actually pretty terrible, and that could easily be the case in his second year. The NYY media bias is strong with him, but he’s only played one season. I’m also not sold on their starting pitching being that great, but Sonny Gray, Luis Severino, and Masahiro Tanaka all have the ability to be really solid pitchers. But they all have the possibility to be–well–not. They do, however, have an incredible bullpen, and if all their players click, they could easily win the division. The New York Yankees are my pick to grab the top Wildcard spot in the AL.

Blue Jays: The Blue Jays rotation is actually pretty dang good. I’m a bit of a Marcus Stroman fan, but I really buy into the combination of him, J.A. Happ, and Aaron Sanchez being a solid rotation. But, I don’t buy into their offense as much of a force to be reckoned with outside of Donaldson, and I think they’ll be a victim of having to play upwards of 30 games against the Yankees and Red Sox.

Orioles: Goodness their starting rotation is meh. Their big free agency pickup was Alex Cobb, a good pitcher, but overall, again, meh. Offensively, Manny Machado is a stud, and they’ve got a few other weapons in Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones (and hey there’s Colby Rasmus!), but trying to outscore the other team every night isn’t a great strategy in baseball.

Rays: Chris Archer is set to have a bounce-back year (not that he was bad last year, but he wasn’t the same Archer he can be), and the Rays have some other good starting pitchers, but their offense is going to be awful. Also they have Carlos Gomez so do with that information what you will.

American League Central

Indians: The Indians finished with the best record last season thanks to an extremely talented roster and the help of an insane 26-game-win-streak. I don’t think they’ll do that again, mostly because it’s never been done before, ever. But they’ll still compete for the best record in the AL because they’re still stacked. They have the second-best shortstop from Puerto Rico in all of baseball, Fransisco Lindor, and Jose Ramirez, both of whom have a shot at winning the MVP any year, and a fantastic supporting cast on offense. Their starting rotation is one of the best in the league, and their bullpen is solid too. Overall, I don’t think they’ll miss Carlos Santana or Jay Bruce that much, and they’ll have a great year. The Cleveland Indians are my pick to win the AL Central.

Twins: I really thought they were going to have a great offseason. I thought, somehow, they were going to land Ohtani and Darvish, maybe upgrade their awful bullpen, and add a few bats to an already potent lineup. But they didn’t. Instead, they did pretty much nothing worth noting, and for that reason I think they’ll be about where they were last year, maybe with some regression.

White Sox: Last summer, I flew up to Chicago to visit my girlfriend and her family for a . week. I promised we would do everything she wanted to do, as long as I got to see my Astros crush the hapless White Sox on the south side. The Astros were swept that series. That’s beside the point. The reason I expected us to win was this: we were great, and the White Sox were really bad pretty much all year. However, the future is really bright on the south side, as they have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. I think they’ll have a terrible season with some sparks from guys that might come up this year: look out for Eloy Jimenez and Luis Roberts to give them a strong outfield in the coming years.

Royals: The 2015 World Series was the Royals vs. the Mets. That was two and a half years ago. Baseball is so weird. For perspective, the last three NBA finals featured the same teams, and one player has led a team there seven years in a row. In the NFL, only five different teams have represented the AFL since 2003. Things like that never, ever happen in baseball. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the Royals are bad. Two seasons ago, they were not bad. But now, they’re bad. And their farm system is hot garbage, so they won’t be good for a while.

Tigers: The Tigers are also in the dreaded phase of beginning a rebuild. They traded away their franchise player last season (please send flowers to Detroit for that one, by the way), and the only reason they haven’t traded away the other one, Miggy, is because of his contract and age. They have a bad farm system, and little talent up top. If not for Miggy, this team would be one of the most boring to watch in the league.

American League West

Astros: Is there any other pick here? The Astros have the best lineup in baseball, the best starting rotation in baseball, and a top-5 bullpen. On paper, the Astros are the best team in the MLB. Oh, and they’re young. What a time to be a fan. The Houston Astros are my pick to win the American League West.

Angels: The Angels made some decent additions recently in Ohtani and Justin Upton. Andrelton Simmons is a human highlight reel. I have absolutely no faith in their rotation’s ability to stay healthy, and I honestly don’t think they’re that great to begin with. Their bullpen is worse. Kole Calhoun is a nice player, though, and Kinsler and Cozart give them a good little infield. Am I missing anyone? I really think I’m missing someone. Oh well. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are my pick to grab the second Wildcard spot in the AL.

Mariners: I don’t know what it is about the Mariners, but I used to always want to root for them. The whole bottom-feeders of the league thing. Never been to a World Series. Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki being such fun players to watch when I was a wide-eyed kid falling in love with the game. But ever since we joined the AL, I hate this team. And I really don’t know why. Because they’re so mediocre. They really shouldn’t be though, as their lineup is actually very good. It even got better this offseason with the addition of Dee Gordon. And if Felix Hernandez stays healthy, they have a solid rotation as well. But they’re still the Mariners, so they’ll still be mediocre.

A’s: The A’s actually have some decent young guys that might frustrate us as Astros fans real soon. Their third baseman, Matt Chapman, is a really good 24-year-old, and they’ve got some young good-but-not-great starters. Khris Davis will hit dingers, as will a lot of their players I think. I think they’re on the upswing. But who knows what that really means with the A’s.

Rangers: I really think this. I promise, I’m not just letting my hatred for the south Grapevine rangers cloud my judgement, but I really think they’ll be the worst team in the AL West this year. That being said, they’ll probably be the best of all the worst teams, so there’s that? The Rangers don’t know who they are, Cole Hamels is a punk, so is Rougned Odor, and Joey Gallo is overrated. Their best player is thirty eight years old. At least he’s quirky though. Hopefully that’s enough to not inconvenience their season-ticket holders.

Well, if you’re still here, thanks for reading! I’m not going to predict what happens in the post season because that will get me too excited and I need to take things one step at a time for my health. I’m also not going to predict individual awards because I don’t get why people ever do that before a season starts in the first place.

What do you think? Feel free to comment with your own predictions! Tell me why I’m wrong, stupid, will never find true love, etc. Or say nice things, if you feel compelled to do so.

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