Ready or not, opening day is here and there are plenty of storylines worth following this season. Will the power-trio of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez carry the Yankees back to World Series glory and lead the way for a continued uptick in home runs? Speaking of the pinstripes, is their age-old rivalry with Boston is back and potentially better than ever? Is this Bryce Harper's last hurrah in the nation's capital? Where will Manny Machado be playing by seasons end? Will Shohei Ohtani boom or bust in his transition to the majors? And that's just a few of them.
The race to October starts today and a handful of teams have a great shot at getting there. Even fewer are legitimate title contenders. Every year baseball is the hardest sport to predict, especially when it comes to the postseason. So naturally, we're gonna give it a try anyway.
New York Yankees (99-63)
Boston Red Sox (96-66)*
Toronto Blue Jays (75-87)
Tampa Bay Rays (73-89)
Baltimore Orioles (69-93)
If the surprising postseason run New York made last year didn't grab everyone's attention, the addition of Giancarlo Stanton to an already powerful lineup did. The Bronx Bombers are back and they should wind up back atop the AL East. They won't run away with it though. The late addition of J.D. Martine in Boston should keep the Red Sox nipping at their heels all season. If that team won 93 games a season ago with no power, adding some to it should equate to at least three more. All in all, Major League Baseball's biggest rivalry is back and it couldn't be better for the sport. The rest of the division is just a formality. The Blue Jays are teetering on a rebuild but could surprise some people if Marcus Stroman and lefty Aaron Sanchez dominate at the top of the rotation. That's probably wishful thinking. Meanwhile, the Rays unloaded franchise mainstay Evan Longoria and aren't much of a factor these days, and Baltimore will inevitably wind up trading Machado at the deadline once the playoffs are clearly out of the question.
Cleveland Indians (97-65)
Minnesota Twins (86-76)
Chicago White Sox (75-87)
Kansas City Royals (70-92)
Detroit Tigers (66-96)
From 2011-2014 the Tigers owned the AL Central. Now it belongs to the Cleveland, which should run away with the division once again. Minnesota stole a wild card spot sort of by accident last season, after selling at the deadline. Despite making some small upgrades this offseason, they come up short of another trip to the postseason in 2018. The White Sox success hinges on young up-and-comers like second baseman Yoan Moncada and pitching prospect Lucas Giolito coming into their own. If Chicago's youth rises to the occasion they could flirt with .500 or better. Kansas City was able to retain Mike Moustakas, but Eric Hosmer's exit among others leaves them out of contention. They'll also be without Salvador Perez for the start of the season. And the rebuilding Tigers spend their second consecutive season in the basement of the division.
Houston Astros (100-62)
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (88-74)*
Seattle Mariners (77-85)
Oakland Athletics (72-90)
Texas Rangers (68-94)
There are no problems for Houston in the AL West. Fresh off their World Series victory last fall, they're locked and loaded for another run at it. With a rotation featuring Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, closer Ken Giles to slam the door late, and a lineup filled with talents entering their prime like 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve, they're not going anywhere. I'm buying into the Ohtani hype a little bit with the Angels, who finished just two games under .500 last season. I see a handful of additional wins in their future and a wild-card berth as a result. Now that the Buffalo Bills made the playoffs, the Mariners are the proud owners of the longest playoff drought in pro sports and it's unlikely to end in 2018. Most people probably envision the Athletics finishing fifth out West, but the Rangers could be miserable this year and slip below them.
Washington Nationals (101-61)
New York Mets (89-73)*
Philadelphia Phillies (75-87)
Atlanta Braves (69-93)
Miami Marlins (61-101)
The NL East features three teams in the middle or early stages of rebuilding in the Phillies, Braves and Marlins, which may make it the most predictable division. Washington is levels above their division rivals. He doesn't want to talk about it, but Bryce Harper's impending free agency will be a hot-button topic all season and his numbers should be massive in a contract year. If the injury bug has finally been exterminated from the Mets locker room, they could find themselves back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus. Of the three rebuilding teams, Philadelphia could make some noise with key additions like first baseman Carlos Santana and ace Jake Arrieta paired with young phenoms like slugger Rhys Hoskins – the kid hit 18 homers in 170 at bats last year – and curveball mastermind Aaron Nola in the rotation.
Chicago Cubs (94-68)
Milwaukee Brewers (91-71)*
St. Louis Cardinals (87-75)
Cincinnati Reds (70-92)
Pittsburgh Pirates (66-96)
The Cubs made up for the loss of Arrieta by adding Yu Darvish in early February. Darvish had a forgettable 2017 campaign, posting the highest single-season ERA of his career (3.86) and went on to get rocked in the World Series. Still, his presence in the Cubs rotation should help fend off the rest of their division foes. That said, Milwaukee was breathing down Chicago's neck all of last season and are poised to the same in 2018 with an even stronger lineup, featuring new toy Christian Yelich. Their rotation is lackluster but good enough with the offensive support to get help the Brewers clinch a wild card spot. The Cardinals are interesting. Trading for left fielder Marcell Ozuna brings some more pop to the lineup, the bullpen is better with Luke Gregerson coming into the fold. They'll battle for a wild-card spot and maybe even the division, but I think they come up short. Rounding things out, Cincinnati is still in no position to win now and after trading Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates are turning the franchise over to up-and-coming prospects.
Los Angeles Dodgers (97-65)
Arizona Diamondbacks (87-75)
Colorado Rockies (82-80)
San Francisco Giants (74-88)
San Diego Padres (72-90)
The Dodgers are clearly still the team to beat out west and while the Diamondbacks and Rockies should give Los Angeles a run after making playoff appearances of their own in 2017, they'll likely fade late. The Giants are just a few years removed from winning three titles in six seasons, but their problem in 2018 is they're not getting younger. The added power they'll see from Longoria and McCutchen will help. Surviving without Madison Bumgarner until June is a tall task though. As for the Padres, the addition of Eric Hosmer is nice, but not enough to compete in a stacked NL West.
Let's welcome in the newest addition to the Roc Sports Report team, Cam Boon for this part, as we will both layout our predictions for this year's playoffs and pick a World Series winner. Cam is going to be covering the Yankees, so you'll be hearing from him a lot this season.
Anyway, here are each of our playoff predictions:
AL: Red Sox over Blue Jays
NL: Mets over Brewers
ALDS: Astros over Red Sox in 3, Yankees over Indians in 4
NLDS: Nationals over Mets in 4, Dodgers over Cubs in 5
ALCS: Astros over Yankees in 7
NLCS: Nationals over Dodgers in 7
Astros over Nationals in 6
Now, before you yell at me in the comments, let me defend myself. People seem to forget that the Mets still have one of the best rotations (when healthy) in baseball with deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz. I’m going out on a limb here, but if they can stay healthy, they will be able to compete in a top-heavy National League. I love the moves the Brewers made and, after finishing one game out of the postseason a year ago, I think they find their way in ahead of a Diamondbacks team that, although they have one of the better offenses in the league, will also have to slug their way through a tough NL West that features improved Giants and Padres teams.
The American League is pretty easy when you look at division winners. The only way the Blue Jays don’t get in in my mind is if they lost too many games to the Red Sox and Yankees, the clear top dogs in the AL East. But I don’t have faith in Ohtani to push the Angels over the hump and I think the Blue Jays have a deeper lineup than the Twins do and are capable of winning 87-88 games, which will be enough for that second Wild Card. The Astros have one of the best pitching rotations of the last 15 years and that will carry them through Boston pretty easily and past the Yankees.
I think the Nationals beat the Dodgers for the sole reason that Justin Turner’s injury will prevent the City of Angels from getting the home field (two months is a really long time) and home teams had a .650 winning percentage in the 2017 postseason. The Astros pitching will prevail in the World Series, as I have more faith in Lance McCullers and Gerrit Cole to win games, than Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.
AL: Red Sox over Angels
NL: Mets over Brewers
ALDS: Astros over Red Sox in 5, Indians over Yankees in 5
NLDS: Nationals over Mets in 5, Dodgers over Cubs in 5
ALCS: Indians over Astros in 7
NLCS: Dodgers over Nationals in 5
Dodgers over Indians in 6
Let's start with the fact that since even a single wild card team was introduced to the playoff format in 1995, there's only been one year where each league featured just one new team in the postseason from the previous year: 2005. For what it's worth, in four of the last five seasons the AL featured three new teams making postseason appearances that didn't the year before, while the NL had two new teams. What I'm getting at here is that there is going to be some new, perhaps unexpected, teams playing in October this year.
In my eyes, there are legitimately four or five teams with a shot at a wild-card berth in the NL: the Mets, Brewers, Cardinals, Diamondbacks and Rockies. In this scenario, I stuck with the first two on
that list. The Mets, as Cam eluded to, boast a rotation of powerful arms that when healthy can quiet any of the league's best lineups. Maybe it's asking for too much, but for some reason it feels like things will come together this year. Meanwhile, Milwaukee boasts a ton of power with Travis Shaw, Eric Thames and now Yelich, which I think carries them to their first postseason berth since 2011. It's short-lived though as they fall to the Mets – in a one-off I'll take the pitching. 2017 marked the third straight year that I picked the Nationals to win the World Series and they still have yet to even win a playoff series, so I can't possibly keep that up. In this case, they do claim that elusive, first postseason series win and advance on to play the Dodgers, who are well-equipped to survive without Justin Turner for the start of the season but need his bat come October.
In the AL it's pretty self-explanatory. The youthful Yankees arrived sooner than expected and now add Stanton into the mix to help them reclaim the AL East. Boston isn't too far behind though and should easily host the wild card game and advance to play the Astros. Many see the Astros and Yankees on a collision course in the ALCS, but I like the Indians to exact some revenge for last year, beating the Yankees and the Astros and getting back to the World Series. There's been a lot of questions about whether or not their window is closing, I say no. My fall classic matchup is all about redemption stories, with the last two World Series runner-ups squaring off and Los Angeles comes out on top.
What do you think of our predictions? Agree with anything, disagree with anything? Let us know! And with that, let's play ball!