While spring officially got underway on March 20, Thursday will mark its true beginning with the start of the 2018 MLB season.
Of course, each team will start the year at 0-0. But we’re more focused on what’s going those records will look like at season’s end. Additionally, we’re looking into who will make the playoffs, and what the postseason will look like.
By essentially all accounts, the Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers will win their respective divisions, with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees battling it out for the American League East. But will it really be that easy? Even if it is, the wild card races are looking to be awfully fun to follow throughout the season.
Of course, we also need to see what might happen in the playoffs. Will these Astros be MLB’s first repeat champ in nearly two decades? Will this finally be the year for a team like the Indians, Nationals, or Dodgers to break through? These are the questions that need answering.
We’ve already taken a look at the likely individual award winners for the 2018 MLB season. This is how we see each team finishing the year.
American League East
- New York Yankees: 93-69
- Boston Red Sox: 91-71
- Toronto Blue Jays: 87-75
- Baltimore Orioles: 76-86
- Tampa Bay Rays: 68-94
Boston and New York should stage baseball’s best divisional race, by far, in 2018. Look for these two old rivals to fight it out for the American League East crown all year. The loser will get a decent consolation prize in one of the junior circuit’s two wild card spots.
The Blue Jays will be an interesting team to watch, as well. In all likelihood, the Yankees and Red Sox will pull away from Toronto in the season’s final weeks. But if the Blue Jays can stay healthy, they’re a team that can absolutely compete for and earn a playoff spot. Remember, while Toronto had a rough 2017, this team made the ALCS in both 2015 and 2016. By and large, the Blue Jays are a battle tested group.
If the Orioles and Rays could merge into one, that team would be a playoff contender. But it doesn’t work that way. Baltimore doesn’t have the pitching and Tampa doesn’t have the offense. Not over 162 games, anyway.
We’re giving New York a slight edge over Boston. The Yankees have a better offense. The Red Sox probably have a better starting rotation and as recently as 4-5 years ago, that would have been more significant. But outside of aces, starters just don’t go too deep into games anymore. It’s more about going 5-6 innings and getting a lead to the bullpen. Boston’s starters are better than New York’s. Still, the gap isn’t wide enough to make up for the Yankees’ superior bullpen.
The edge is slight and the division likely won’t be decided until the season’s final weekend. But we expect the American League East title to return to the Bronx for the first time since 2012.
American League Central
- Cleveland Indians: 94-68
- Chicago White Sox: 84-78
- Minnesota Twins: 82-80
- Kansas City Royals: 76-86
- Detroit Tigers: 61-101
A baseball season always offers a surprise or two. But even with that understood, Kansas City and Detroit will be near the bottom of the American League standings. The Tigers are rebuilding, and realistically, the Royals don’t even have the same team they had in 2017’s 80-82 campaign, let alone 2014 AL champs or 2015’s World Series champs. They’re clearly the bottom two of the division. The top three will be more interesting.
The Twins are coming off a playoff season. The young and talented White Sox should be vastly improved from their recent years. We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see one or both of them hang out near the top of the AL Central for four, or even five, months. But the season is six months long. And by the time six months are in the can, the Indians should sit comfortably atop the division standings.
The drawback of Cleveland is that its pitching — both the starting rotation and bullpen — is thinner than we’ve seen in recent years. But Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are about as good as any 1-2 combination at the front of a rotation. Ditto for Andrew Miller and Cody Allen when it comes to finishing games. Additionally the offense, which includes among others, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jason Kipnis, should be as good as its been in the last two years. In fact, if Yonder Alonso can build off of a great 2017 (and a fantastic spring), the offense could be much better.
To reach the World Series, the Indians will likely have to beat two of the Red Sox, Yankees, and Astros. That will be a challenge. But this team should be expected to win the AL Central pretty easily.
American League West
- Houston Astros: 99-63
- Oakland Athletics: 81-81
- Seattle Mariners: 80-82
- Los Angeles Angels: 77-85
- Texas Rangers: 76-86
At the top of the division, we have the reigning champs. While it would be fun to predict someone else winning the American League West, we’re not going to do it. That would be contrarian just for the sake of being contrarian. The Astros are going to roll. But the rest of the division is a lot harder to figure out.
Any one of these teams could compete for a Wild Card spot. But we could also see any of these teams finishing in the bottom four of the American League. What’s even more interesting is that each team faces the same basic question. Will the pitching be there?
We give a slight edge to Oakland. If for no other reason, the A’s have a number of good, young arms coming up. The law of averages says that least some will work out. At one point, we were fairly optimistic about the Angels. But the poor spring of Shohei Ohtani is giving us significant pause. The Mariners are a little too dependent on older players. While the Rangers will hit, it’s hard to see the shaky pitching holding up through the Texas summer.
But regardless of how the rest of the diision shakes out, there’s no reason to think that Houston will be seriously challenged here. The Astros are well positioned for a run at a repeat.
National League East
- Washington Nationals: 95-67
- New York Mets: 83-79
- Philadelphia Phillies: 81-81
- Atlanta Braves: 74-88
- Miami Marlins: 52-110
If Miami’s prediction seems a little too outrageous, know that Derek Jeter doesn’t seem to believe that his club will be ready to contend before Miami’s MLS team — which doesn’t even begin play until 2020. This is a team that can realistically break the single season loss record of 120. All in all, 52-110 doesn’t seem that bad.
The Mets, Phillies, and Braves are similar to what we just went over with the American League West. We can see any of the team’s winning (or at least competing) for a wild card spot. We can also see them struggling to avoid being one of the senior circuit’s worst.
The Mets will be all about health. In 2016, they contended despite dealing with a rash of injuries. In 2017, the injuries were too great to overcome. The Braves have a similar feel to the 2017 Twins. They looked like a nice sleeper contender in 2017 but flopped (much like Minnesota in 2016). So, can those young Atlanta players bounce back? Like the Braves, the Phillies have some young talent. They also have new signees Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta. But Philadelphia is also coming off of a 96-loss season. The Phils will be better, but are starting from a significant hole.
But even if questions around the Mets, Braves, and Phillies are all answered positively, this division should easily belong to the Nats. There’s no real reason to think that any of these teams will upend Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, and company. Whether Washington can finally get it done in the playoffs remains to be seen. But this team has had no real issue in flexing its muscle in the National League East in past regular seasons. Don’t look for that to be any different in 2018.
National League Central
- Chicago Cubs: 96-66
- Milwaukee Brewers: 87-75
- St. Louis Cardinals: 83-79
- Cincinnati Reds: 77-85
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 67-95
As you can see here, we’re expecting the Cubs to have this division well in hand by the season’s final weeks. They’re the defending champs once removed, have notched three straight NLCS appearances, and have averaged nearly eight more wins a season over the last three years than the second-best NL Central team (the Cardinals) over that stretch. That said, don’t look for this division to be quite the pushover that some of the previously mentioned ones will be.
Milwaukee and St. Louis should be right in the thick of the National League wild card race for the entire season. The Cardinals haven’t had a losing season since 2007. The Brewers, meanwhile, we’re well in the thick of the wild card (and even the NL Central) race all year a season ago. With key additions like Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, we’re not expecting Milwaukee to regress.
The Pirates are wrapping up one of the strangest offseasons in recent memory. The trades of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole seemed to signal a move towards rebuilding. But then, Pittsburgh held on to the likes of Josh Harrison, Francisco Cervelli, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. Heck, it even added Corey Dickerson. So, we’re not sure what the goal is with the Pirates. But this team isn’t in line to compete for a playoff spot. Generally, we have the same feeling about the Reds. The pitching won’t hold up. But Cincinnati’s offense will not be one that opposing pitchers relish facing.
But even with those teams at the bottom, this is a solid division. There’s every reason to think that the Cubs will reign supreme. But one, or even two, NL wild card teams could come out of this group.
National League West
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 91-71
- Colorado Rockies: 89-73
- Arizona Diamondbacks: 85-77
- San Francisco Giants: 75-87
- San Diego Padres: 70-92
The NL West’s status as baseball’s best top-to-bottom division took something of a hit with the late spring injuries to Justin Turner, Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija. But while those injuries did change the predicted records for these teams, they did nothing to change our predicted finishing order.
Turner’s injury will make it harder for the Dodgers to run away with the division. This is especially true when remembering that this team isn’t quite as talented as it was a season ago. The Giants were (and still are) primed to be much better than 2017. But not unlike the Phillies, that’s a low hurdle to clear. Even healthy, San Francisco projected to be somewhere in the 78-84 to 84-78 range.
The Padres are heading in the right direction. But much like the Reds in the NL Central, San Diego is a year away from even being considered a sleeper contender.
The two teams to watch here are Colorado and Arizona, the combatants in 2017’s National League Wild Card Game. We expect both teams to be in the mix again. While we’re not quite predicting it, it’s not difficult to imagine a rematch. The Rockies are the team we’re really bullish on. As is always the case in Colorado, the pitching will have to hold up. But a young group of arms held up fine a season ago. With Wade Davis now on board to close out games and an offense that should be as good as it was in 2017, a second straight postseason appearance should be expected in the Mile High City.
Wild Card Game: Red Sox over Blue Jays, Rockies over Brewers
A year ago, then Yankees manager Joe Girardi made it known that he was not a fan of the single-elimination format. Where he was wrong is that the starting the playoffs with two single-elimination games is really exciting and gives MLB something that only the NFL can match. Where he’s right is that it can feel a touch unfair for a sport that has a 162 game regular season to put so much stock into one MLB game. So, these games are always pretty hard to predict. But we’re going to give it a whirl.
As you can see in our predicted standings, we expect Boston and Colorado to host these games. In each case, look for the home team to come out on top.
In the case of the Red Sox vs. Blue Jays, Chris Sale is the difference maker. He didn’t have a great postseason a year ago. But in a one-game format, you always want the top starter. Sale is easily the best starting pitcher that either team can offer. In a series, Toronto’s pitching depth would give the Blue Jays a better chance. But at Fenway Park and with the better starter, we’ll take Boston in a win-and-you’re-in scenario.
As far as the National League goes, neither Milwaukee or Colorado has a starter like Sale. That could change at the trade deadline but right now, there’s no ace in either rotation. We’re looking at two teams that are going to hit and hit a lot. A slugfest at Coors Field will always favor the home team. While the Brewers have a good offense, the Rockies have a better one. If nothing else, if you’re in a single-elimination game in Colorado, you want to bat last. It was pretty important the last time one of these games was played there.
ALDS: Astros over Red Sox, Indians over Yankees
As you can clearly see, we’re not expecting the American League’s top four to remain unchanged. These are the same two ALDS’ that we got a season ago.
We’re expecting the same result in Houston against Boston. Last year, the Red Sox just couldn’t hang with the powerful Astros. While signing of J.D. Martinez should close that gap, it won’t close it enough. Houston is just better. It has a better offense and top to bottom, a much better pitching staff.
The Yankees, believe it or not, have a little something to prove. Make no mistake, the addition of Giancarlo Stanton gives New York a potentially historic lineup. The Yankees will hit a lot of home runs, but they’ll also strike out a lot. That obstacle is much harder to overcome in October than April-September. The Cubs and Astros didn’t become championship teams until those were cut down. New York will have to trim those in a big way. Cleveland has the pitchers to neutralize those bats. Much like 2017, it will be a competitive ALDS. But we’re giving Cleveland an edge.
NLDS: Cubs over Rockies, Nationals over Dodgers
While the Division Series will look the same in the junior circuit, the senior circuit’s will be something of a reshuffled deck.
The Rockies will not be a fun draw for anyone in a series. They’re going to hit anywhere. When the series gets back to Coors Field, they’re even more dangerous. This is especially true if Colorado can host two games. But in the end, the Cubs’ have plenty of good hitters, as well. Chicago’s better pitching should be the difference in a series that while entertaining, should be a fairly easy Cubs victory.
The other NLDS is more complicated. The Nationals’ playoff history makes it tough to pick them in any series. One of MLB’s safest bets is that Washington will fall flat when September turns to October. That said, the Nats have an edge in pitching over the Dodgers, and its not a small one. Los Angeles has the better bullpen and could definitely be in play for a midseason trade. But as things stand now the gap there is not wide enough to overcome the starting pitching gap. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark hold a sizable edge over Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, and Rich Hill.
ALCS: Astros over Indians
Much like 2017’s, this will be a fun ALCS. It will be very competitive. Expect these two teams to battle back-and-forth for seven — or at least a very competitive six — games. We’re not calling this a coin toss, but it’s also not too far from it. Ultimately, a slight depth advantage will give the Astros what they need.
If we’re signaling out the team’s best two starters and relievers, Cleveland has an edge. But when the conversation shifts to 1-4 starters and the entire bullpen, the edge goes Houston’s way. In a best-of-five series, Kluber, Carrasco, Miller, and Allen may be enough to carry the Indians. But in a best-of-seven series against an offense like the Astros’, Cleveland’s depth will be tested.
That will give Houston just the edge that it needs to reach its second straight World Series.
NLCS: Cubs over Nationals
We like the Nationals to win their first playoff series since 1981, when they were the Montreal Expos. But the magic will not extend to the NLCS.
The Cubs don’t have an ace like Kershaw to throw against Scherzer. But after Jon Lester, Chicago has a solid group of Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, and Jose Quintana to against Washington. In truth, that still doesn’t match Washington’s top four starters, but it’s close.
It’s close enough that Chicago’s revamped bullpen could make up the difference. If the bullpen doesn’t, then a more complete 1-8 offense will. If none of that quite sells you, we have to give a managerial edge to Joe Maddon over his longtime bench coach and new Nats’ skipper Dave Martinez.
This series will not be a pushover for Chicago. Washington will give the Cubs a better fight than Chicago gave Los Angeles in 2017 or the Mets in 2015. But when it’s all over, look for the Cubs to return to the Fall Classic.
World Series: Astros over Cubs
Every World Series champion says that it’s going to be just as hungry to repeat as it was to win the first one. But so often, that’s not the case. It’s one of the main reasons that we haven’t seen a repeat champ since 2000, which is the longest drought in World Series history. But with the acquisition of Gerrit Cole, the Astros actually showed that they weren’t content. Ultimately, that’s why we still see Houston as baseball’s best.
Across the board, the Cubs are a good team. But in nearly every aspect of the game, the Astros are better. The playoff rotation will feature four of Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. Charlie Morton, and Cole. The odd man out will go to the bullpen, joining the likes of Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock, who would start on multiple playoff contenders.
Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant led offense will still hit off of those guys. But we don’t see them matching the damage that Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and company will do off of the Cubs’ pitchers. At least not four times.
As such, for the first time since the New York Yankees 1998-2000 three-peat, we fully expect to see MLB to crown a repeat champ.