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10 bold predictions for 2018 MLB season

Michael Dixon
Tim Tebow to the MLB this year? Why not

The 2017 MLB season was historic. The league wide single-season home run record was not only broken, it was obliterated. For the first time since 1970, a pair of 100-win teams squared off in a World Series, which made plenty of history in its own right. With spring training underway and the 2018 MLB season right around the corner, it begs a question, what might we see this year?

We certainly expect to see one American League team start a big rebuilding project. On the other hand, another that’s been rebuilding is poised to break out. One of the most successful managers over the last two decades will manage his final game. We expect to see some familiar faces in the World Series. One National League player is well positioned to do something that hasn’t been done in 81 years. Conversely, another National League team is in line to do something that’s never been done –which is not a good thing.

The 2018 MLB season figures to be a lot of fun. These are some things that we expect to see take place.

Orioles undertake rebuilding project

Heading into the season, we’re not exactly in love with the Baltimore Orioles. They’ll score a lot of runs, but the pitching on this team is just not up to snuff. It will be hard for the Orioles to finish better than third in a top-heavy American League East and quite honestly, that’s pushing it. The 2018 season will be a great one for Baltimore to go into a rebuild.

The good news is that the Orioles have plenty of players that teams will be in hot pursuit of. Manny Machado generated much of the offseason trade attention. We understand that. Machado has tremendous defensive skill at both shortstop and third base, and packs a lot of punch at the plate.

But Machado isn’t the only pending free agent on the Orioles. Center fielder Adam Jones, as well as relievers Zach Britton and Brad Brach, are all in the final year of their contracts.

Of course, there’s always a possibility of Baltimore exceeding its expectations and contending. But if that doesn’t happen, all four of those players should be gone by August 31 at the latest. The return that those players can generate will give a much needed rebuilding project a solid head start.

Marlins set MLB loss record

The Miami Marlins didn’t simply clean house after the 2017 season. Miami took a wrecking ball to that old house, completely annihilating it.

Now, there are two ways to look at this project. One is that Miami was 77-85 in 2017 and never any better than 79-82 with the group of players that were unloaded. So, maybe trading away players like Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Dee Gordon won’t produce such a massive drop.

Of course, the other perspective is that if the Marlins were bad with all of those players, they’ll be downright disastrous without them. That’s the road we’re going down here.

We just don’t know where the production is going to come from. Sure, J.T. Realmuto and Justin Bour are good players. But would anyone feel really good predicting that either man will be in Miami at season’s end? Besides, while we’re not sure about the offense, it looks downright stellar compared to the pitching rotation. Dan Straily is the only Marlins’ starter who could have plausibly started a postseason game in 2017, and even that would have been down in the rotation.

The 1962 New York Mets went 40-120, setting a modern day record. Miami has all of the tools to break that record in 2018. Expect to see it happen.

White Sox post first winning season since 2012, compete for playoff spot

The Chicago White Sox haven’t had a lot to be too happy about in recent years. The South Siders haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 and enter 2018 with a string of five straight losing seasons. That streak won’t reach six in 2018.

Chicago will see second baseman Yoan Moncada for a full season. It will also see outfielder Eloy Jimenez for most, if not all, of the season. Stud pitching prospect Michael Kopech will make his debut at some point in 2018. And based on the way he pitched in 2017 (especially at the end of the season), it should be sooner rather than later.

He’ll join fellow youngsters Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carson Fulmer and likely a returning Carlos Rodon in what should be a potent starting rotation.

Now, we do want to keep things realistic. The White Sox are still well behind the Cleveland Indians and competing for a Wild Card will be tough. The American League figures to have multiple strong division winners. Additionally, young teams, especially ones with a high concentration of rookies, tend to struggle down the stretch of 162 game seasons.

So, we do see Chicago falling short. But somewhere in the 83-87 win range feels about right for this team. Thanks to a brilliant rebuild, the White Sox are relevant in 2018 and will generate a ton of buzz in 2019.

Bruce Bochy doesn’t make it through the season managing Giants

Caption: Apr 29, 2017; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15) in the dugout during the fifth inning against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

This may seem like an overreaction to a bad year. After all, the San Francisco Giants made the postseason in 2016 and won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Reacting that strongly to 2017’s 64-98 season seems a bit harsh. But consider some things.

First of all, Bochy lost more games in 2017 than he ever won in a single season as the Giants’ skipper. In fact, Bochy has only won 98 games in a single season once, in 1998 with the San Diego Padres. Secondly, the sharp decline in the team’s record didn’t start in 2017. It started in the second half of 2016, when San Francisco went 30-42. The team’s 94-140 record since the 2016 All-Star Game is the worst in the majors.

Finally, the Giants were active in the 2017-18 offseason. They acquired both Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. Both men are in their 30s and McCutchen is a free agent. These were not moves made with the future in mind. So, don’t expect that San Francisco will be patient with Bochy.

The sharp decline over the last 234 games signals that Bochy’s best days might just be behind him. While the Giants haven’t fired a manager in season since 1985 (not under the current ownership), look for that to change in 2018.

No Yankee tops 40 home runs

In 1961, New York Yankees teammates Roger Maris became the first (and still only) teammates to each hit 50 home runs in a season. With Giancarlo Stanton joining forces with Aaron Judge, it seems plausible that New York can again have a pair of 50 home run hitters. But we’re not going that way. In fact, we’re going in the other direction.

Not only will Stanton and Judge fail to hit 50 (which they each did a season ago), but we’re less than convinced that either will get to 40.

Stanton has generally had a hard time staying on the field throughout his career. Yes, he played in all 162 games in 2017 and hit 59 home runs. But he’s otherwise only reached 150 games once and outside of 2017, has never hit more than 37 home runs.

It’s a little harder to predict a regression to the mean with Judge because we don’t know what the mean is. But we will say that opposing pitchers now have a full season’s worth of film and stats to look at. They know where the holes are in Judge’s swing. Remember, he struck out 208 times during the 2018 season. So, while the power is undeniable, there are holes to exploit.

And really, that makes us believe that a dip in power wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Neither the 2016 Cubs or 2017 Astros came out of nowhere to win the World Series. But both of those teams made the leap from contender to champion when they cut down on the strikeouts. That doesn’t mean they stopped hitting home runs. Far from it. But they put more balls in play. Sometimes that means a slight dip on home runs, at least from individual players.

Don’t mistake one thing for another. We’re not saying that Stanton and Judge aren’t going to hit the long ball. They’ll both hit plenty and New York should lead the league in home runs. But when the season ends, Maris and Mantle will still be the only teammates to top 50 home runs. In reality, we don’t expect it to be all that suspenseful.

Cubs reclaim the National League crown

It’s been pointed out before, but it’s worth repeating. Winning the World Series is strange.

In addition to playing into late October (or even early November), players on those teams generally end up with about a month’s worth of media obligations that no other team in baseball has to deal with. Baseball players are creatures of habit and there’s no way to adequately prepare for that. No champ since the 2004 Boston Red Sox had to deal with as much of that as the Cubs in 2016. A team in that big a market breaking a 108-year drought was just too big to ignore. It clearly had an impact in the early weeks and months of 2017.

The World Champions from 2012-2015 all failed to make the playoffs the year after a championship. Heck, only one of those teams even had a winning season after a World Series. But as ugly as 2017 was at times for the Cubs, they ended up being significantly more successful than the four champs before them. Chicago not only made the playoffs, but won a series.

In 2018, the Cubs added Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow, arguably the second best starter and reliever from he 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers.

Chicago will enter the year more focused. While Los Angeles isn’t the team suffering through the World Series championship hangover, it is the team that lost two significant pieces to its closest rival in the National League.

The Cubs and Dodgers enter 2018 as the National League’s best. But when it comes down to it, we give a slight edge to Chicago to regain the National League pennant.

Nolan Arenado wins NL’s first Triple Crown in 81 years

While we’ve seen an American League Triple Crown winner this decade, we have to go back much longer to find the last player to lead the Senior Circuit in home runs, RBI, and batting average. In 2018, we expect to see Nolan Arenado win the National League’s first Triple Crown since Joe “Ducky” Medwick in 1937.

It lines up quite well for Arenado. He led the NL in both home runs and RBI in 2015 and 2016. He didn’t top either category in 2017, but with 37 home runs and 130 RBI, he didn’t exactly fall off the map. So, there’s no doubt that he can supply the power. But what about batting average?

Arenado has never led the league in that category. But his batting average has steadily increased every year since breaking into the bigs. The big leap came between 2016 and 2017, when he went from .287 to .309. That kind of average can lead the league on its own. Arenado will certainly be a prime contender in that category if he keeps on improving.

External favors also work in Arenado’s favor. The Rockies have one of baseball’s best offensive teams, so he’ll have plenty of men to plenty of men on base to drive in. He also plays in baseball’s best overall hitter’s park.

There’s a reason that no National League player has won a Triple Crown in 81 years and only one player from either league has done so in the last 50. It’s a hard thing to do.

But things are lined up well for the Colorado third baseman to break that string in 2018.

No 20-game winners for second straight season

While the prestige of the win has dipped, the 20-game winner is still a fairly common occurrence in baseball. Dating back to 1901, we’ve only gone consecutive seasons without a 20-game winner once. Those were the strike-shortened years of 1994 and 1995. Expect to see that change in 2018.

This isn’t really a knock on any starting pitcher as much as it is a league wide change in philosophy.

Again, wins aren’t valued as much as they once were. Pitchers can use things like strikeouts, ERA, WHIP, FIP, and quality starts to negotiate their contracts. The pitchers understand that and so do their managers. Everyone also understands that having a great bullpen is now vital towards contending.

Bullpens are not new by any means. But in bygone years, teams tended to focus on having a strong final 2-3 innings. Now, teams like the Yankees are building bullpens to hold leads for 4-5 innings.

It all means that pitchers aren’t going deep into games. On top of that, recent postseason struggles will make managers more inclined to ease the inning loads of guys like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Corey Kluber. If pitchers aren’t going as deep into games, they’re not going to be around as often when games are decided.

We’re not ready to say that 20-game winners have completely gone the way of the dinosaur, but we’re not far from it. Don’t expect to see anyone reach that plateau in 2018.

Tim Tebow gets the call

In 2017, professional baseball got its first glimpse of Tebow. In 2018, MLB will get a dose of Tebow Time. We say this for two reasons.

One is that Tebow got better as the 2017 season got going. No, he’s not a top tier MLB prospect or anything. But he became more comfortable in 2017 as the season got going.

Two, we’re not sure that the Mets will be competitive. Yes, New York improved as a team. But this team is still dependent on a lot of injury prone players. Generally speaking, that’s not a good thing. If the Mets aren’t contending in September, they’ll need to find ways to draw the fans out to Citi Field, especially with the Yankees likely heading to the playoffs. Tebow draws fans to the park.

Finally, we have a direct quote from New York general manager Sandy Alderson, saying that Tebow will make it to the majors. In 2018, look for that to become a reality.

Astros first repeat champs in 18 years

The Houston Astros entered MLB in 1962. It would be 55 years before Houston would see its first World Series championship. No. 2 will not take nearly as long.

As we already detailed with the Cubs, there are reasons to be hesitant about picking a repeat champion. But one of the big reasons is that while offseasons for World Series champs can be busy in terms of media appearances, they can be light in terms of actually improving the team. Houston didn’t rest on its laurels. With a full year of Justin Verlander and the newly acquired Gerrit Cole (to go along with Dallas Keuchel), the Astros have a fantastic starting rotation.

Realistically, Houston has seven starters that could start on a playoff team. Only five will start for the Astros. That will put two more quality arms in the bullpen, securing what was one of Houston’s only weak spots a year ago. That, combined with arguably baseball’s best top to bottom lineup, will make upending the Astros an exceptionally difficult task.

On October 26, 2000, legendary New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera got New York Mets Hall of Famer Mike Piazza to fly out to deep center field at the old Shea Stadium to secure the Yankees’ third straight World Series. A lot has changed since then. We were two weeks away from Bush vs. Gore. Tom Brady was nearly a year away from becoming a starting quarterback. Twelve of the 30 current MLB parks had yet to open. We’ve seen a lot in the last 18 years. One thing we haven’t seen is a repeat World Series champion.

That changes with Houston in 2018.