David Borne | Staff Writer
Although the weather may not show it, spring is here. Most importantly, that means it is finally baseball season. The offseason seemed slow at times, but still, plenty of moves were made. It’s a long year, and plenty can happen during the 162-game season. In the meantime, I took a look at what the season will likely shape out to be like within each of the league’s six divisions.
AL East —
The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has cooled down a bit in the last few seasons, but it’s about to heat back up.
Last season, Boston’s lineup already featured top talents but it enters the 2018 season with even bigger bats. The Red Sox inked J.D. Martinez, who hit 46 home runs last season, to a five-year deal in the winter. Additionally, they will get a full year out of one of baseball’s next big stars, Rafael Devers, who debuted around the halfway point of last season.
With both Chris Sale and David Price, Boston’s combination of pitching and hitting makes it one of the league’s top teams, but only the second best in its division.
New York’s trio of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and the newly-acquired Giancarlo Stanton combined for 144 home runs last season. This team is about to take the nickname of “Bronx Bombers” to a new level.
New York’s rotation is headlined by fireballer Luis Severino, who finished last season with a 2.98 ERA. Additionally, Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray are capable of grabbing a victory on any day.
AL East Champion: New York Yankees
AL Central —
The Cleveland Indians ran away with the divisional crown in the previous two seasons and appear to be in position to do it again.
Despite the loss of Carlos Santana, the Indians’ lineup remains one of the American League’s most exciting. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez bring a perfect combination of contact and pop to the plate, and sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso bolster their offense.
Corey Kluber has proven to be one of baseball’s best, and now has two Cy Young trophies to prove it. Add in Carlos Carrasco, who was tied for last season’s league lead in wins (18) behind him, and that’s a scary sight for other teams in the league.
There is one team that could stand in Cleveland’s way, and that is the much-improved Minnesota Twins. With the acquisitions of Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi, their remodeled rotation makes them a legitimate playoff contender. Jose Berrios has emerged into one of the game’s top young pitching talents, and should see even more success with this supporting cast around him.
They still may be a year away from dethroning the Tribe, though.
AL Central Champion: Cleveland Indians
AL West —
Watch out, baseball fans. The Houston Astros are back and have even more talent than last year’s World Series-winning team.
The reigning champs acquired Gerrit Cole from the Pirates and managed to do so without giving up any key contributors from last year’s team. Cole joins Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. on the staff.
With a young core of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer, this Astros team is in position to be World Series contenders for many years to come. Throw Alex Bregman into the mix, and we may have a dynasty on our hands.
The Los Angeles Angels will be worth checking out, as well. They’re not a playoff team yet, but with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the Angels will certainly be entertaining to watch.
AL West Champion: Houston Astros
NL East —
Not much to see here. In fact, likely the only team to make any sort of noise in the NL East recently is the Washington Nationals. The Nats kick off 2018 with a roster nearly identical to that of the last season’s 97-win team. Additionally, starting center fielder Adam Eaton returns after missing the majority of the 2017 campaign with a torn ACL.
Not only are the Nationals loaded with talent, but they’re also blessed with seeing teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins each 19 times on their schedule. No lineup in the division can keep up with Washington’s, especially considering they would have to get through Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to do so.
If the Mets’ snake bitten pitching staff can stay healthy they’ll be a competitive ball club, but history would suggest that won’t happen. Strong chance this ends up being the least competitive division in the league.
NL East Champion: Washington Nationals
NL Central —
With the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers, the NL Central race could be the game’s most exciting.
Most of Chicago’s lineup core remains from its 2016 World Series squad. The pitching staff looks a bit different due to the loss of Jake Arrieta, but replacing him with Yu Darvish certainly softens the blow.
On paper, the Cubs seemingly have the best team in the division. However, I’m expecting a major rebound year from St. Louis. The addition of Marcell Ozuna, who hit .312 with 37 home runs last season, brings a much needed punch to its lineup. Additionally, the emergence of Luke Weaver adds another quality starting pitching option to the roster.
Milwaukee is interesting as well, as it brought in Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. However, it failed to make any moves to acquire pitching help, and will still struggle in that department.
This division will likely produce at least one of the Wild Card seeds, as well, due to the ample amount of competitors it boasts.
NL Central Champion: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West —
The Los Angeles Dodgers were the easily the best team in the NL West last year, and will likely be again this season.
It was an unusually quiet offseason for the Dodgers, and they didn’t make any big moves, but they didn’t really have to. Cody Bellinger belted 39 home runs last year, and he and Corey Seager will lead the way offensively. Of course, Clayton Kershaw will headline their rotation.
The Arizona Diamondbacks were the Dodgers’ toughest competition last year but lost key pieces like J.D. Martinez and Fernando Rodney in free agency. Colorado’s bats have definitely proven to be legitimate, but the Rockies still lack the pitching necessary to keep up with Los Angeles.
NL West Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers
2018 World Series Predictions:
Staff Writer David Borne: HOU 4, WSH 2
Sports Editor Adam Lindner: LAD 4, HOU 2
News Editor Raymond Arke: PIT 4, HOU 2