by Matthew de Marte, Jonathan de Marte, Jack Landess – March 27th, 2018
For the upcoming season, we thought it would be neat if both Jonathan, Jack and I would give a preview of the 2018 season. This complete preview will cover who we think will be winning coveted awards this year and our predicted playoff field and World Series winner. Jonathan, Jack, and I have very unique opinions about baseball, and it will give us the opportunity to share some of our opinions and how we analyze team and player performance to make predictions. With this being said it is time to make some predictions that will most likely be wrong!
American League MVP:
Matthew: Mike Trout (LAA)- Trout has been the best player in baseball since his historic Rookie of the Year campaign in 2012. It is not really much of an argument. The scary thing is, Trout has continued to get better. Although he was limited to 114 games last season due to a thumb injury, he still put up career highs in wOBA (.437), SLG (.629), OPS (1.071), and wRC+ of 181. If he had stayed healthy the entire season, he probably would have captured his third MVP trophy in 2017. Consider how Mike Trout’s American league rank in WAR and wOBA in every season since 2012:
|WAR||10.3 (1st)||10.5 (1st)||7.9 (1st)||8.9 (1st)||9.2 (1st)||6.9 (3rd)|
|wOBA||.409 (2nd)||.423 (2nd)||.402 (T-3rd)||.415 (1st)||.418 (2nd)||.437 (1st)|
This kind of absolute dominance and consistency of a player cannot be overlooked. He led the American League in WAR for five straight seasons! It probably would have been six had the torn ligament in his thumb not limited him to 114 games. With apologies to the rest of the league, until Mike Trout slows down, he is the MVP favorite every year until someone proves their level of play is in the same galaxy as his.
Top 5 Other Contenders: Aaron Judge (NYY), Giancarlo Stanton (NYY), Josh Donaldson (TOR), Carlos Correa (HOU), Jose Altuve (HOU)
Jonathan: Gary Sanchez (NYY)- A Sophomore slump was not in the Yankee catcher’s vocabulary last season. Sanchez hit 33 round trippers, and although he ranks below league average in BB %, I believe El Gary is destined to have a career year. With all eyes on the Yankees two-headed monster, expect Sanchez to see more pitches to drive and opportunities with runners on-base. I believe he will see more fastballs this year, as pitchers will not want to issue free passes to the Yankees’ order that features so many 20+ home-run-potential bats. I think alleviated pressures from Sanchez’s remarkable rookie campaign will allow the slugger to hit 45+ home runs if he stays healthy.
Jack: Mike Trout (LAA)- Despite struggling with injuries last season, Trout still made a huge impact on the Angels’ performance. The Angels’ slugger had a league-best OPS of 1.071 and still hit 33 home runs despite playing in 45 fewer games than his previous two seasons, where he hit 29 and 41 home runs. He is the best overall player in the game and arguably one of the greatest to ever step foot on a baseball field. The two-time MVP is showing no signs of slowing down, and he could very well hit 40 home runs this season if he stays healthy.
National League MVP:
Matthew: Kris Bryant (CHC)- I think the 2016 NL MVP will be adding another award to his already impressive resume. The best 3B in baseball had what some folks considered a *down year* last year. There was for sure a downtick in power that could have been caused by some nagging injuries, and his lack of RBI’s definitely was a blemish for some fans and analysts on his 2017 campaign. Bryant still increased his BB% to 14.3% and cut his K% to 19.2%. That’s below league average for a guy who led the NL in strikeouts during his Rookie campaign. Altogether, Bryant still finished third in the NL in fWAR at 6.7 just hairs behind first-place Anthony Rendon (6.9). Taking all this into account, if Bryant’s patience and contact profile can combine with his power output from 2016, it would take a Bryce Harper 2015-like season for a player to create the kind of value Bryant does with his all-around game. Not to mention, Bryant is the first third basemen ever to begin his career with three seasons of 6.0 fWAR or greater. I think it is reasonable to say, barring major changes to his game, he’ll achieve this feat and then some.
Top 5 Other Contenders: Bryce Harper (WSH), Nolan Arenado (COL), Corey Seager (LAD), Joey Votto (CIN), Freddie Freeman (ATL)
Jonathan: Joey Votto (CIN)- After many believed Votto should have won the MVP in 2017, the Reds’ first baseman is just too good of a hitter to let the hardware slip away again. Votto posted a career-low K rate of 11.7% in 2017. This was also the lowest of any player with 30 or more HRs while walking 19% of the time. This combination of power, plate discipline, and only swinging at pitches out of the zone 15.8% of the time makes a very strong case for Votto as one of the best all-around hitters in baseball. Putting up these numbers with such a weak team speaks to the value, and ability Votto brings to the table, which I see him carrying into the 2018 season. Another season like 2017 should put Votto at the front of the list, so long as sluggers such as; Bryant, Harper, Arenado, and others do not put up a 45+ home run seasons.
Jack: Bryce Harper (WSH)- In addition to the exceptional talent he already possesses, Harper’s contract is up after the 2018 season, so he will be playing for a paycheck throughout the year. Plus, if his numbers from last year translate over into this season, he will be arguably the toughest out in baseball. Last year, he recorded his lowest number of strikeouts, at 99, since 2013 while also managing to have an OPS of 1.008 (compared to the OPS of .854 he had in 2013). Also, he is a member of a team that will be in the hunt for its first World Series appearance in the organizations’ history. With the potential for a ring and a huge contract, Harper will be playing with his hair on fire.
American League Cy Young:
Matthew: Justin Verlander (HOU)- When the Tigers traded the face of their franchise to Houston, Verlander responded by absolutely dominating in his five regular season and five postseason starts. During this time Verlander posted the following numbers:
Those are insane numbers. There was one thing that struck me about Verlander’s reign of dominance which was a quote from Carlos Beltran in an interview with Sports Illustrated saying, “Before a game, you come in here [in the clubhouse] and he’s at a table with 25 pieces of paper spread out and all kinds of other stuff. He is the most prepared pitcher I’ve ever been around.” Verlander has taken full advantage of the wonderful work the Astros’ analytics team does. It also seems he is taking advantage of the organizational use of edgertronic cameras to better understand how pitches work and how to weaponize them against hitters. Maybe Verlander is the first pitcher to show the true power of a guy taking the next step by buying in fully to analytics and understanding them for himself. Whatever he does, if Verlander continues the form he exited 2017 with, he will add another Cy Young award to an already potential Cooperstown-worthy resume.
Top 5 Other Contenders: Chris Sale (BOS), Corey Kluber (CLE), Luis Severino (NYY), Carlos Carrasco (CLE), James Paxton (SEA)
Jonathan: Justin Verlander (HOU)- If the postseason was any indication of Verlander’s first full season with the Astros, the right-hander might as well chalk up 7-8 IP, a sub-1.00 WHIP, and 1-2 ER each outing. Verlander showed us that he might be in the prime of his career while his fastball velocity continued to climb the deeper he went in games. Verlander has seen success with the use of his high FB, complimented with tight and sharp breaking balls lower in the zone, affecting batter’s eyes more than most in the league. Verlander had the most IP out of the top-10 highest average velocities for MLB starting pitchers last season. He used his FB 58.2% of the time and clearly has confidence in this pitch. Verlander has shown no signs of slowing down, which is why I believe he will add another Cy Young to his resume.
Jack: Chris Sale (BOS)- In 2017, Sale proved why he is one of baseball’s top pitchers, as he struck out 308 batters over the course of the season. As long as the crafty left-hander remains healthy, there is no reason why he can’t come close to the 300 mark again. With his devastating arm slot and lanky frame, Sale is a hitter’s nightmare.
National League Cy Young:
Matthew: Stephen Strasburg (WSH)- The number one overall pick in 2009 might have been the *best* collegiate pitching prospect ever. Eight years later Strasburg has emerged as the pitcher he was meant to be. The problem for Strasburg has never been effectiveness. Instead, it was whether or not he could stay healthy. The healthy and dominating righty may possess the best changeup in baseball. In 2017 Strasburg threw fastballs only 51.9% of the time and increased his changeup and curveball usage to 18.9% and 22.5% respectively. Looking at the metric pitch type linear weights, Strasburg’s arsenal ranks as one of the best and most versatile in baseball. Pitch type linear weights is defined by Fangraphs as: attempts to answer the question, “How well has a batter/pitcher performed against/using a certain pitch?” Pitch values make use of the changes in average run expectancy from one count to another, and while the changes in run expectancy between a 0-0 count and a 0-1 or 1-0 count are obviously very small, when added up over the course of the season, you can get an idea of which pitch a hitter was most effective against or what pitch was the best for a pitcher. Stephen Strasburg fastball saved his team 12.4 runs, his curveball saved 13.2 runs, and changeup saved 10.0 runs. To put this in perspective, among qualified starting pitchers, only 31 pitches saved their team 10 or more runs. Strasburg was the only pitcher in 2017 to have three such pitches. Maybe Strasburg figured out how to maximize his pitch arsenal better in 2017 and that will lead to him cementing himself in 2017? I believe this is exactly what happened and we will see an even better Stephen Strasburg in 2018 who secures his first Cy Young award.
Top 5 Other Contenders: Clayton Kershaw (LAD), Max Scherzer (WSH), Noah Syndergaard (NYM), Jacob DeGrom (NYM), Carlos Martinez (STL)
Jonathan: Noah Syndergaard (NYM)- With this pick, I will take statistics out of my reasoning (even though we know if Syndergaard is healthy, he has the potential to hold the league’s highest average FB velocity). Syndergaard has struggled with injuries last season and became a client of renowned trainer Eric Cressey this offseason. I believe with the improvements to Noah’s body this offseason, he will have more “feel” for his body, commanding his FB and offspeed pitchers much better than before. If Syndergaard can throw that triple-digit heater up in the zone, hitters will be giving away shattered lumber souvenirs all season long when this RHP steps on the mound. Regardless of how bad the Mets might be, I still believe this man will have a career year in 2018, as he is as prepared as he can possibly be. Not to mention, last year’s CY Young winners were both Cressey trainees (Kluber & Scherzer). Sorry about the numbers, but I think Noah’s first Spring Training outing shows he is ready to go.
Jack: Clayton Kershaw (LAD)- It’s simple, Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game. He has been on a new level in years past, and he shows no sign of slowing down. In 2017, Kershaw had an NL best 2.31 ERA and has had a 1.95 ERA since 2013. With his devastating arsenal from the left side, Kershaw will continue to make hitters look foolish this season.
American League ROY:
Matthew: Shohei Ohtani (LAA)- I love Shohei Ohtani. I think he has the potential to be a generational talent and have success as a two-way player. Even if Ohtani’s doesn’t stick as a hitter, he has the potential and talent to be an elite Major League pitcher. The potential to have three plus-plus offerings in his fastball, slider and splitter alone should make him the favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year award. Ohtani, before ever throwing a pitch in the Major Leagues, is projected to be worth about 3.0 WAR. Projections are generally conservative, and this projection would have made Ohtani one of the top 30 most valuable pitchers in baseball last year. There is not a large sample size of pitchers coming from Japan to the big leagues, but if we look at Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish’s immediate success, it could paint a better picture of what Ohtani might be. Tanaka amassed 3.1 WAR in 136 .1innings, and Darvish compiled 4.6 WAR in 191.1 innings in their MLB debut campaigns. I don’t think Ohtani will throw the number of innings Darvish did, but considering Ohtani has a much better arsenal and similar resumes than the two-star pitchers did in Japan at a much younger age, I see no reason not to expect Ohtani surpassing the 4.0 WAR mark and capturing the American League ROY.
Other Candidates: Gleyber Torres (NYY), Eloy Jimenez (CHW), Michael Kopech (CHW), Franklin Barreto (OAK), Austin Hays (BAL), Willy Adames (TB), Kyle Tucker (HOU)
Jonathan: Christian Arroyo (TB)- Christian Arroyo has seen over four and a half years in the minors with the Giants before being traded to Tampa in the Longoria deal. Arroyo hit almost .400 in AAA last year before getting called up to the show. Arroyo had some big shoes to fill for a disappointing 2017 Giants, but with pressures alleviated and a new home in Tampa Bay where expectations are low, watch for this rookie to have an under-the-radar rookie campaign. Over the years, young players have had quick success with the Rays when entering the league, and a potential switch over to 2B or 3B might take some pressures off Arroyo’s bat, which could lead to a breakout start for the young infielder.
Jack: Shohei Ohtani (LAA)- The Angels’ rookie from Japan is looking to make a name for himself in the MLB as both a pitcher and a hitter. While he has not yet faced a regular-season MLB lineup, Ohtani has proven he can deal against professional hitters. In Japan, he posted a 0.957 WHIP in 2017 and a 1.86 ERA. The young righty has a devastating combination of pitches and smooth mechanics, which will help him excel in his first season in the Majors.
National League ROY:
Matthew: Ronald Acuna (ATL)- The Braves’ phenom began last season unranked on most prospect lists. After a breakout year as a 19-year-old that saw Acuna tear up three levels including Triple-A, the 20-year-old is a budding star in Atlanta. His skill set is impressive, and MLB.com ranks all five of his tools at 60 or above, which is well above average at everything. Not only does he have the potential to be an above-average defensive outfielder who flat out rakes, Acuna has the potential to steal 30+ bases immediately as a Rookie. That adds up to an extremely productive player. The following table shows the past five 20-year-old Rookie outfielders season stat lines.
Although Carl Crawford wasn’t particularly productive as a rookie, this is quite a list to join of rookie outfielders to debut in their age 20 seasons since 2000. I think among this list, Jason Heyward’s Rookie year skill set is probably the most comparable to Acuna’s among his counterparts on this list. If Acuna is anything like a 20-year-old Jason Heyward, he’ll be an immediate star in Atlanta and waltz his way to being the National League ROY.
Other Candidates: Walker Buehler (LAD), Victor Robles (WSH), Nick Senzel (CIN), Alex Reyes (STL), Scott Kingery (PHI), Luiz Gohara (ATL), Lewis Brinson (MIA)
Jonathan: Walker Buehler (LAD)- Whether or not Buehler starts the season in the rotation for the Dodgers, the hard-throwing RHP with a devastating breaking ball will surely have an impact on the club in 2018. In a small sample size, Buehler has not allowed an earned run in two Spring Training outings. With a FB reaching the upper 90s and a very high spin rate, I believe we will begin to see this young right-hander mold into a future Justin Verlander type of power arm. Expect to see lots of K’s as a result of changing eye levels with a heavy heater and a low, tight spinning breaking ball.
Jack: Walker Buehler (LAD)- Despite having arm surgery out of college, Buehler has already had big league experience. He made eight appearances for the Dodgers last season and also recorded a win. Buehler is definitely a strikeout pitcher as he recorded 125 K’s in the minors in 2017 and 12 K’s in his 9.1 IP with the Dodgers last season. This year, the flamethrower out of Vanderbilt hopes to have even more success, which he spoke about with Students of the Game in early March here.
Matthew: New York Yankees- The Yankees are going to hit balls further than anyone, and they are going to throw fastballs harder than anyone. It doesn’t take a team of analytics geeks to recognize this is a winning combination especially with a game dominated by long balls and velocity. This Yankees’ team was extremely unlucky last year. By Pythagorean W-L the Yankees were the unluckiest team in baseball last year, as this formula predicted them to win 99 games. It is rare a team is as unlucky as the Yankees were last year for consecutive seasons, and a full season with their dominate bullpen and reigning MVP Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of their star-studded lineup should lead to another division title in the Bronx.
Jonathan: New York Yankees- Whether half of the NYY lineup suffers injuries or not, I still believe they are too deep and powerful to miss out on the playoffs. Skepticism has surrounded the starting rotation the last few years. With Severino, Gray, Tanaka, Sabathia, and Montgomery as a pretty potent fifth starter, look for the Yankees to sit atop the AL East in 2018. Jordan Montgomery posted just short of a 3:1 BB/K ratio, not bad for a fifth starter. If Sabathia can produce anywhere near what he did last year, the Yankees are going to win a lot of games this spring, backed by arguably the best bullpen and lineup in the league.
Jack: Boston Red Sox- With the acquisition of JD Martinez, the Red Sox now have a consistent power bat in their lineup. Furthermore, the Sox’s pitching staff has all the pieces to be lethal this season, if they stay healthy.
American League Central:
Matthew: Cleveland Indians- The Indians on paper are by far the best team in the American League Central. The White Sox, Royals, and Tigers all have rebuilds ahead of them which means they will not be competing in 2018. The Twins are the only “threat” in this division to the Indians, and they lack talent and depth to compete with the Indians over a 162 game season. I think they made a really savvy move by adding Yonder Alonso (132 wRC+) and with prospect Francisco Mejia ready to join Cleveland’s impressive position player core, they are primed to win their third consecutive division title.
Jonathan: Minnesota Twins- Look for the Cleveland Indians to have a disappointing 2018 season and fall short of the Central title. I believe the ALDS upset will come back to haunt the Indians and keep the momentum away from Kluber and company. With the losses of Santana, Bruce, and Bryan Shaw, I think the Indians run production will decrease, the bullpen will be weaker, and the Twins will sneak away with the division in a late-season division battle. I would never wish this upon anyone, but I believe this will be another year where the Indians rotation struggles with injury. With the Twins addition of Odorizzi and Buxton and Sano ready to elevate to superstardom, expect a surprise in the AL Central.
Jack: Cleveland Indians- The Indians had an impressive regular season in 2017 as they recorded 102 wins and won the AL Central. With a very similar lineup returning to the field for Terry Francona’s team in 2018, the Indians will look to win the division again, which they hope will set them up for success in the postseason. 2017 AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber will continue his dominance and will lead the Indians to another AL Central title
American League West:
Matthew: Houston Astros- This Astros team is primed for another deep run into October. They return their entire position player crop, besides Carlos Beltran, and bolstered their rotation with the addition of Gerrit Cole (3.1 fWAR). Even if there is a little World Series hangover or just natural regression from last years 102 win campaign, this team has a strong farm system they can still deal from. Not to mention, their lineup boasted four players with a wRC+ of 140 or more last year in Altuve, Correa, Springer, and Gonzalez. That is four of the top eight hitters in the American League! The Astros are here to stay and should find themselves kings of the AL West again by years end.
Jonathan: Houston Astros- There’s not too much to say for the defending champions and the best team in baseball. An offseason acquisition of Gerrit Cole, as a fourth starter, only added to the insane amount of talent Jeff Lunhow has accumulated in Houston! The lineup, besides Carlos Beltran’s retirement, remains the same and should replicate similar production to their 2017 output, if not more with the confidence of a WS title. I do not see anyone coming close to competing with the Astros in the AL West with a line-up and starting rotation as deep as they possess. Expect another 100-plus win season in Houston!
Jack: Los Angeles Angels- Despite having the defending World Series champions in their division, the Angels will be well equipped to win the AL West. The return of a healthy Mike Trout will be monumental in helping the Angels, and the Halos are hoping Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani has a breakout rookie year on the mound and at the plate.
American League Wild Cards:
Matthew: Los Angeles Angels- The best player in baseball finally has a core around him that can help him reach the postseason. The addition of Shohei Ohtani made the Angels an intriguing playoff contender, but the further additions of Ian Kinsler (2.4 fWAR) and Zack Cozart (5.0 fWAR) have turned the Angels into a serious Wild Card contender. I think they may need to make a midseason trade to bolster their rotation, but if their bullpen can repeat the success it had last year, don’t be surprised to see Ohtani on the mound in Anaheim for the wild card game.
Matthew: Boston Red Sox- The process was drawn out, but finally the Red Sox made one of the more obvious moves of the offseason in signing slugger J.D. Martinez (166 wRC+). Boston desperately needed a middle of the order bat, and they have solidified their lineup after hitting for just a .316 wOBA as a team, good for 10th in AL, in year one post-David Ortiz. With David Price poised for a bounce-back year to solidify a strong 1-2 punch with Cy Young candidate Chris Sale (1st in MLB in fWAR in 2017), the Red Sox should see October baseball for the third consecutive year.
Jonathan: Los Angeles Angels- Whether or not Ohtani thrives as a hitter, pitcher, or both, I believe he is going to have an immediate, positive impact on the Angels. If the Angels can stay healthy, Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, and company should be one of the better lineups in baseball. If Ohtani can come in and have some impact against righties and fill into the rotation, the Angles might be able to quickly turnaround a record in 2017 that was just two games below .500.
Jonathan: Boston Red Sox- I truly believe the Red Sox underperformed last year, as the starting rotation was not as strong as expected and the offense did not put up the run production they needed to win. J.D. Martinez should fill the void left in the lineup by David Ortiz’s retirement, in my opinion. I do not see this being enough for the Red Sox to win the AL East, however, as I believe the Yankees superior lineup and pitching depth will overpower the Red Sox, and force Boston to settle for a Wild Card spot.
Jack: New York Yankees- With their offseason addition of the 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees have the most hype surrounding their lineup going into the 2018 season. In addition to Stanton, the Yankees feature the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge and a slugging shortstop in the game in Didi Gregorius. However, the Yankees’ pitching staff does not have the depth that would allow them to win the division so the Bronx Bombers will find themselves in the Wild Card Game.
Jack: Houston Astros- The defending world champions return a lot of firepower, but not quite enough to clinch the division. However, the ‘Stros still have the capability to make it back to the postseason. Led by 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve, Houston’s lineup features powerhouse bats, many of which helped them win the World Series last year, that will allow them to secure a playoff berth in what will be a tough American League West.
American League Playoff Predictions:
Wild Card Game:
Jonathan: Los Angeles Angels- As Ohtani solidifies a spot in the rotation and establishes confidence on the mound for the Angels, he will find himself starting the Wild Card game. Ohtani’s arsenal will overpower the Red Sox, and Trout will power the line-up to a pitcher’s duel victory over Cy-Young candidate Chris Sale.
Matthew: Los Angeles Angels-Mike Trout wins his first playoff series, well sort of. In the Wild Card game, there is a star-studded pitching matchup between Shohei Ohtani and Chris Sale. Ohtani gets the upper hand as the two-way star outduels Sale in Anaheim to advance to the ALDS. In a one-game Wild Card, anything can happen, but I think it will be the Angels advancing from the one game thriller in the American League this year.
Jack: Houston Astros- Both the Yankees and Astros feature a lot of young talent. Going into the 2018 season, it seems the Yankees have created a super team offensively, but they will not have a strong enough pitching staff to win the AL East. The Astros also feature many of the same young stars that helped them bring home a World Series a few months ago, but they will simply be outmatched by the Angels and will have to settle for the Wild Card Game. Ultimately, I believe the Astros will beat the Yankees in Houston for a spot in the ALDS.
American League Division Series:
Matthew: New York Yankees- The Yankees and Angels reignite their postseason rivalry, meeting for the first time since the 2009 ALCS. While the Angels have in enjoyed a magical season, they are running into a far superior opponent. The Yankees’ powerful lineup, deep rotation, and outstanding bullpen are built for a deep run in October. While in a short series anything can happen, I have a hard time seeing the Angels being able to match up with the ridiculous plethora of flamethrowers Aaron Boone has the luxury of turning to in his bullpen.
Matthew: Houston Astros- In their quest to repeat the Astros will face a more formidable first-round foe this year in the Cleveland Indians. In an extremely competitive matchup, I give an edge to the Astros solely because of their lineup. The Astros will absolutely pummel the ball, and even though the Indians possess a ton of firepower in their rotation and bullpen, I think the Astros advance to their second consecutive ALCS.
Jonathan: New York Yankees- The Baby Bombers are poised for a deep run in October again this year. A first-round matchup with the Minnesota Twins does not need much explanation as to why I am picking the Yankees. I believe they are a much better all-around team.
Jonathan: Houston Astros- The defending champions are still the best team in baseball. This is reason enough for me to believe they will power past the Red Sox for second straight year en route to the ALCS.
Jack: Los Angeles Angels- The Angels will face the Cleveland Indians in a matchup that will work in their favor. This series will go deep, possibly to five games, but the Angels will ultimately win and move on to the ALCS.
Jack: Boston Red Sox- In a rematch of last year’s ALDS, the Red Sox will face off against the Astros. Last year, the Astros won the series in four games en route to their eventual World Series win. However, this year will be different as the Red Sox’s improved lineup will be able to keep pace with the Astros and win the division.
American League Championship Series:
Matthew: New York Yankees- For the second consecutive year the Yankees and Astros will meet in the ALCS, and this time the fates will shift. I think the Yankees improved more than the Astros did this offseason, and by Pythagorean W-L, the Yankees and Astros were pretty much identical teams last year. The Yankees and Astros possess the best lineups in baseball in my opinion, but I think the Yankees have an edge in pitching because of their superior bullpen. I think the role of bullpens in baseball is only going to increase and no team is better suited for this transition than the Yankees.
Jonathan: Houston Astros- The Astros will repeat their 2017 success by silencing the Yankees’ sluggers. Expect this series to go six or seven games with some big HR’s from the Yankees to keep the series alive. The Astros and Yankees matchup extremely well against each other again, but the addition of Gerrit Cole gives the Astros a clear edge in starting rotations. I believe the Astros are still a better team than the Yankees, which will lead to their second consecutive World Series appearance.
Jack: Los Angeles Angels- The Division winners from the AL East and AL West will square off in an ALCS that will be an interesting mix of offensive firepower and pitching dominance. If the Red Sox and Angels ultimately make the ALCS, it will be a series that goes very deep. The Angels will beat the Red Sox in the ALCS in 6 games this season.
National League East:
Matthew: Washington Nationals- Unless you think the Mets are going to bounce back to their 2015 form, or the Phillies signings of Arrieta and Santana merging with their emerging young core are ready to compete for October, the Nationals should not have much competition for the division. They bring back their entire core and should have Adam Eaton for a full season to join their star-studded lineup featuring MVP favorite Bryce Harper (156 wRC+), one of baseball’s most underrated stars Anthony Rendon (1st in NL in fWAR in 2017), a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman, and one of baseball best middle infields. Not to mention the tandem of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg should both contend for the Cy Young, the Nationals should win the NL East for the third consecutive season.
Jonathan: Philadelphia Phillies- After four early playoff departures in the past six seasons, I believe the Nationals are headed for another disappointing regular season similar to 2015. I do not think they will miss the playoffs, but I think their struggles will allow another team to potentially steal the NL East crown. Enter, the upstart surprise Phillies. Rhys Hoskins will emerge as a perennial MVP candidate, Scott Kingery will be an immediate impact bat, and Carlos Santana will give the Phillies a much-improved lineup. On the mound, the addition of Jake Arrieta, paired with Aaron Nola, and a healthy Vince Velasquez means the return of October baseball to Philadelphia.
Jack: Washington Nationals- The Nats are primed to make a return to the postseason in 2018 and go deep into October. Led by Bryce Harper, the D.C. team has a dynamic offense with few weak areas. Their pitching staff also features two workhorses in 2017 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and 2017 All-Star Stephen Strasburg. This one-two punch will help the Nationals win the NL East.
National League Central:
Matthew: Chicago Cubs- The Cubs are once again the best team on paper in the National League Central. This year, there is definitely stronger competition than the previous two years. The Cardinals’ addition of Marcell Ozuna, and low key signing of Mike Mikolas from Japan, and a healthy Alex Reyes back from TJ should help improve this Cardinals team. The Brewers have also surely improved with the additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. While they possess the necessary pieces to acquire an impact starting pitcher, I think they will need to do just that to be a serious threat to win the division. After outperforming projections last season, they are still projected by Fangraphs to win just 78 games. The Cubs still are the class of this division, with a bolstered pitching staff, and a young lineup that still has not reached its potential. I think Teacherman disciple Ian Happ, and Javier Baez are the next young Cubs studs to take the next step to superstardom, as the Northsiders reach the postseason for the fourth straight year for the first time in franchise history.
Jonathan: Chicago Cubs- The Cardinals and Brewers should be more formidable division foes for the Cubs than in years past, but I still think the NL Central runs through Chicago. The Cubs return all of their young position player core that has powered one of the best offenses in baseball, and they boast a revamped starting rotation and bullpen. I believe Ian Happ is destined for stardom, and maybe an Aaron Judge-type season, after spending some time with Judge’s hitting coach Richard Schenck. Expect to see Rizzo, Bryant, and Wilson Contreras in MVP talks as well as a career-best year from Baez. I believe this is the year he will fully adapt to big league pitching, cut down chased pitches, and surprise the NL Central. Chatwood and Darvish will only propel the Cubs pitching, and I believe they are too deep of a team for Joe Maddon and company to allow the Cardinals or Brewers to get too close.
Jack: Chicago Cubs- The Cubs are two years off winning a World Series and feature a lineup that could very well get them back in 2018. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are two of the best hitters in baseball, and they will be the core of the Cubbies’ lineup in again in 2018. The Cubs are also returning veteran pitcher Jon Lester who will be their ace and a major factor in their success.
National League West:
Matthew: Los Angeles Dodgers- Who is the only team to appear in the postseason the past five seasons? That would be the Los Angeles Dodgers! Barring a catastrophe, that streak should reach six. The NL West again profiles to be one of the best divisions in baseball, but the Dodgers are once again the class of this division. They return their entire position player crop, and even though they lost Yu Darvish to the Cubs, prized pitching prospect Walker Buehler and a midseason return of Julio Urias should bolster an already superb rotation. They also return a deep bullpen. Once again, the Dodgers, potentially the most complete team in the National League should return to October for the sixth consecutive year.
Jonathan: Los Angeles Dodgers- I do not believe the loss of Yu Darvish will negatively affect the Dodgers as much as it will positively impact the Cubs. This is the year prospect Walker Buehler will emerge as a front-line big league arm. Like Matthew said, with five straight postseason appearances, Clayton Kershaw, young MVP candidates all around, the Dodgers will walk into the postseason. If Urias can come back powerful, find the Dodgers atop of the National League and likely one or two games from the W.S. once again.
Jack: Los Angeles Dodgers- On nights when Clayton Kershaw pitches, it will be rare that the Dodgers lose. On nights when Kershaw doesn’t pitch, there’s still a good chance the Dodgers find a way to win because they will have one of the most exciting offenses in baseball. 2017 NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger will be the centerpiece of the Dodgers offense, while his fellow young talent Joc Pederson will look to have a breakout year of his own. The Dodgers’ high-powered offense will help them win the NL West for the sixth consecutive year.
National League Wild Card:
Matthew: Milwaukee Brewers- This team can hit. Jimmy Nelson (4.9 fWAR in 2017), although he will miss much of 2018 is a legit ace, and I have a gut feeling a trade for a star pitcher is in the works, especially with the incredible outfield depth they possess. The National League Wild Card spots to me are the most intriguing playoff hunt. The Brewers, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and Rockies to me are all legitimate candidates for a wild-card spot. This pick is made with the assumption that the 86 wins the Brewers compiled in 2017 is a measure of their true talent and the additions of Cain and Yelich increase that total.
Matthew: Arizona Diamondbacks- The Diamondbacks had an interesting offseason. They failed to resign J.D. Martinez which hurt, but made some other low-key, great moves including the signing of Alex Avila and trade for Steven Souza Jr. (3.7 fWAR). Avila underratedly had a 124 wRC+, 4th in baseball among catchers with 350 PA or more. The Diamondbacks also possess a great starting rotation, and I think Archie Bradley (2.1 fWAR) should do fine as the relief ace for this team resulting in another trip to the wild-card game.
Jonathan: St. Louis Cardinals- With the acquisition of Marcell Ozuna, I believe the Cardinals will be contenders for the NL Central crown. I still think they lack the depth to compete with the Cubs and Dodgers down the stretch, but they are still one of the better teams in the National League. Expect a big year from the hard-throwing Michael Wacha, and with the return of Alex Reyes, the Cardinals should be an opponent teams fear facing throughout the season. Alex Reyes has shown the stuff to be a potential Cy-Young candidate if he can come back strong and healthy.
Jonathan: Washington Nationals- I believe the Nationals will have a disappointing year in the eyes of their fans and organization, but they will still find themselves in the playoffs. A rotation with Scherzer and Strasburg should be competitive when complimenting a lineup with Murphy, Turner, Rendon, and Harper. The hype around Harper’s free agency will be a negative distraction in Washington, but the Nationals have too many good players to fall short of the playoffs.
Jack: Colorado Rockies- The Rockies are a sleeper pick this season, but they will continue to progress and make the postseason in 2018. Last season, they lost 11-8 in the Wild Card Game to the Diamondbacks, but, this year they will get another shot at going deeper into the playoffs.
Jack: Milwaukee Brewers- With a strong lineup on tap for 2018, the Brewers will be able to clinch a spot in the Wild Card Game. However, with the injury of ace pitcher Jimmy Nelson, the Brewers could get off to a slow start. Their rotation will be led by Chase Anderson until Nelson returns, but it will be difficult for anyone on the Brewers’ staff to fill Nelson’s shoes. Ultimately, the Brewers’ bats will help them remain competitive and lead them into the postseason.
National League Playoff Predictions:
Wild Card Game:
Matthew: Arizona Diamondbacks- With Jimmy Nelson recovering from a torn labrum and no guarantee he will return to his 2017 form, the Brewers lack an ace. I know I said I have a feeling the Brewers will acquire a star pitcher via trade, but without knowing that for certain, I trust Zack Greinke (5.1 fWAR) and Robbie Ray (3.2 fWAR) much more in a one-game playoff than any Brewers pitcher, and I would expect the Diamondbacks to get out of the Wild Card game for the second consecutive season.
Jonathan: St. Louis Cardinals- Something about the Cardinals playing playoff baseball resonates with me, which is why I believe they will pull off a Wild Card win. The bats always seem to outperform projections, and you never know if another David Freese type performer will emerge. Just like the AL Wild Card game, expect a pitcher’s duel with some late inning heroics on the side of the Red Birds. The Midwest should be ready for a 2015 NL Central NLDS rematch.
Jack: Colorado Rockies- The Rockies and Brewers will find themselves playing in a Wild Card game in Colorado after the 2018 regular season. The Rockies’ young pitching staff will flourish this season as they will be fully healthy and will all have some big league experience under their belts. The Brewers’ lineup has the ability to produce big numbers offensively as they are led by Ryan Braun and Travis Shaw. However, neither team will be able to win their respective divisions so they will find themselves in the single-elimination Wild Card game. The Rockies will go onto win the Wild Card and advance to the NLDS.
National League Division Series:
Matthew: Chicago Cubs- Sorry, Diamondbacks, but once again you will be matched up against the best team record wise in the National League, and fall to them. The Cubs are again destined for a lengthy October run. I think their bullpen will outperform expectations which was probably their biggest weakness last year. Brandon Morrow replaces Wade Davis, Steve Cishek was an under the radar signing, and if Justin Wilson bounces back to combine with Carl Edwards, Mike Montgomery and Pedro Strop that is a dynamic bullpen. Not to mention if Lester bounces back an absolutely daunting rotation to face in a short series.
Matthew: Los Angeles Dodgers- Andrew Freidman has built a ballclub that is a perennial power to reach and journey deep into October every year. 2018 is no different, and the Dodgers should have no problems getting past the Nationals en route to a third consecutive NLCS matchup with the Cubs. While the Dodgers did not really make any big splashes in the offseason, they did not necessarily need to. Losing Darvish to the Cubs hurts, but the core of this should no doubt be good enough to put the Dodgers on the brink of back-to-back world series appearances. They still possess incredible pitching depth a strong lineup that makes me predict the would win a rematch of the 2015 NLDS.
Jonathan: Chicago Cubs- Unless injuries severely impact the Cubs, I see them advancing to their fourth straight NLCS. Impressive, and even more impressive they will once again overpower the Cardinals with their deep lineup similar to when they defeated a 101 win Cardinal team in the 2015 NLDS.
Jonathan: Los Angeles Dodgers- Similar to the Cubs, barring disaster the Dodgers are poised to return to the NLCS. The Phillies may have enjoyed a magical season returning to October, but the Dodgers are built for October and will overpower the young Phillies.
Jack: Los Angeles Dodgers- In a rematch of the 2017 NLCS, the Dodgers will play the Cubs for the chance to go to the 2018 NLCS. These two teams are evenly matched. However, the Dodgers have more big-time playmakers than the Cubs which will ultimately help them move on.
Jack: Washington Nationals- The Nationals will face the winner of the Wild Card Game who they should be able to handle with ease. If the Nats end up facing the Rockies, then their pitching staff will overpower a young Rockies lineup, and their offense will be able to do damage against the Rockies’ rotation. The Nationals will move on to face the Dodgers in the NLCS.
National League Championship Series
Matthew: Los Angeles Dodgers- I don’t think there is a series that will be more evenly matched. Fangraphs projects both teams to win 94 games in 2018. The Cubs and Dodgers possess stars up and down their lineup who can not only hit but also play great defense as well. The starting rotations are deep, and both bullpens enter the season projected to be worth 5 WAR from their top five contributors. This is an extremely balanced matchup. I think this year’s rubber match will take all seven games to decide a winner, but I have to go with the Dodgers because of their depth. The Dodgers possess better pitching depth throughout their entire organization, which projections do not account for. If Julio Urias returns in 2018, not necessarily to the rotation (he could be in the bullpen), Kenta Maeda may be back in the bullpen for the postseason, and Walker Buehler surely fits into the conversation as well. This kind of firepower is something the Cubs cannot currently match. Or rather, if they do in say Carl Edwards (14.5% BB%) and Justin Wilson (20.9% BB%) combining with Brandon Morrow to create a three-headed monster, Edwards and Wilson come with question marks, which I am not confident enough in March to say will perform in October. Also, Brandon Morrow is good, but he, is not the best reliever in baseball that the Dodgers possess in Kenley Jansen. While I do think the Cubs lineup has the potential to be better than the Dodgers, that will most likely take breakouts from the likes of Javier Baez (98 wRC+), Ian Happ (113 wRC+), and Kyle Schwarber (102 wRC+). While it is very plausible, this group mashes, in March it is hard to predict all of this, and my gut says right now the Dodgers are still the class of the National League.
Jonathan: Chicago Cubs- I believe this is a very evenly matched series with the depth each club possesses, perennial MVP candidates on either side and postseason experience the last few years. This is a much-awaited rematch, and I think it has the potential to come down to the wire. At the end of the day, I believe this series will come down to the success of the bullpen. Both teams have excellent rotations, but we all know starting pitchers don’t have nearly the same impact in the postseason as they used to, and managers rely heavily on their bullpens. The veteran power threats in the Cubs’ lineup will show their experience late in this series and sneak away with another WS appearance after some late-inning long balls. If Schwarber, Baez, and/or Ian Happ can catch fire down the stretch, Bryant, Rizzo, and company will have numerous chances with RISP to put up some crooked numbers. I do believe the Dodgers are bound for a WS title in the future, although I do not believe this is the year it will happen. The Cubs had a full season as WS champs under their belts, so the World Series hangover is over, and I expect them to carry a 100-win season to the NL pennant.
Jack: Washington Nationals- The Nationals and Dodgers will be far and away the two best teams in the NL this season, and they will play each other in what will be a very entertaining NLCS. The storylines for this series will be pitching duels, like Scherzer vs. Kershaw, and long-ball threats, like Harper and Bellinger. The Nats will come away as National League champions and will move on to their first World Series appearance in franchise history.
Matthew: New York Yankees- The evil empire is back. As a New Yorker, who grew up rooting against the Yankees, the child in me hates present me for doing this. Analyzing the landscape of baseball through an unbiased lens, the Yankees are flat out scary. They have a deep starting rotation with prized prospects Justus Sheffield and Chance Adams looming to make an impact. They have potentially the best bullpen in baseball history and a lineup that should strike fear in opposing pitchers. Maybe I am buying into the hype because realistically they should be better in 2019 after the ridiculous free agent class and the cap space they have built, but I already think the Yankees are the best team in baseball. That is not to say other teams have no chance to beat them, however. I think all of baseball’s super teams possess a reasonable chance at winning the World Series, but I just think the Yankees are the best of the best. Especially when matched up with the Dodgers, I think their lineup is deeper and better with much more pop and that is without factoring in how special Gleyber Torres has the potential to be. The Yankees also have the prospects to acquire any player they need down the stretch. The Dodgers trio of lefties in Kershaw, Hill, and Wood does not scare me as much as it should for the Yankees because their three best hitters in Stanton, Judge, and Sanchez all have the platoon advantage. In the end, I think the Yankees mash their way to their 28th World Series Championship.
Jonathan: Houston Astros-The best starting rotation in baseball with the best postseason starter in baseball today, Justin Verlander, will show that starting pitching can still win a WS title. The Astros still have one of the best, if not the best, lineup in baseball as well as the reigning MVP, with another perennial MVP candidate as his double-play partner. A theme of many WS champions has been that the one starting pitcher throws three times in a series, and all three of those games end up being wins for the ultimate World Series champion. Once again, that will be Justin Verlander for the Astros, come October. The chances of the Astros winning one or two more games in the WS, with Keuchel, Cole, or McCullers on the mound certainly puts the odds in their favor. I do not think the Astros have an easy path to the WS by any means, but I think they are flat-out superior to their competition. The spark supplied by Correa and Altuve is remarkable, especially from a middle-infield combination who can do it with their gloves and bats. A WS winner adding one of the best starting pitchers (Gerrit Cole) in baseball makes it very hard to believe that the Astros are not the favorite to repeat. Although, I do believe we are seeing a trend of “super teams,” in baseball, just like the NBA. Therefore, I would not be surprised if the Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees, or even Cardinals, Nationals, or Red Sox pull off a surprise with some big upsets in the playoffs. The 2018 playoff perennial teams are stacked with superstars and young guns who, if they catch fire at the right time, are a danger that no one will want to face down the stretch.
Jack: Washington Nationals- The depth of both the Nationals and the Angels will allow them to advance to the World Series, where arguably the two best players in baseball, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, will face off on the biggest stage in the game. The Nationals will ride Scherzer and Strasburg through the playoffs and will ultimately win their first World Series in organization history.
I hope you all enjoyed our season preview. No, we do not hate your favorite team if they were left off, or we did not have them going as far as you think they will go. Remember, these are just predictions with little statistical backing! We had a ton of fun creating this preview and are now incredibly excited for the fun and baseball that lies ahead over the next seven months!