|The Boys of Summer are set to begin the 2018 season|
The crack of a bat ripping a line drive. The pop of a fastball into a catcher’s mitt. Fireworks exploding. Hot dogs steaming.
It’s that time again folks. The start of another season in Major League Baseball.
For the first time in 50 years, all MLB teams will experience Opening Day on the same date. That comes this Thursday, March 28, when 15 games will take place scattered at various times throughout the day and night.
Those first games will begin a regular season that will stretch out over more than six months, leading to the drama of the MLB playoffs as Fall arrives.
Which teams are most likely to reach those playoffs? Which players will stand out over the course of the 162-game MLB regular season?
Each year, I give you my picks for the final standings across each of MLB’s six divisions, as well as my playoff predictions. I also make picks for some of baseball’s most important awards.
A year ago in my 2017 MLB Preview and Predictions piece, I correctly picked the winners in five of those six divisional races. The biggest letdown from those picks was for the San Francisco Giants to edge out the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. The Giants collapsed to a last place finish after winning three World Series crowns in the previous seven seasons.
I had the Washington Nationals beating the Boston Red Sox in seven dramatic games a year ago. As we know now, it was the Houston Astros beating the Dodgers in six to capture their first-ever world championship.
So now it’s time to make my team picks and my awards predictions for the upcoming 2018 MLB season. Would love to hear your own picks in the comments section below this piece. Here we go again, baseball fans.
Contenders: Jack Flaherty STL, Ronald Acuna ATL, Scott Kingery PHI, Nick Senzel CIN
Contenders: Joe Maddon CHC, Dave Roberts LAD, Dave Martinez WAS, Gabe Kapler PHI
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Noah Syndergaard
Contenders: Adam Eaton WAS, Mark Melancon SF, Homer Bailey CIN
2018 AMERICAN LEAGUE AWARD WINNERS
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland
Contenders: Giancarlo Stanton NYY, Carlos Correa HOU, Mike Trout LAA, Mookie Betts BOS
CY YOUNG AWARD: Chris Sale, Boston
Contenders: Corey Kluber CLE, Luis Severino NYY, Justin Verlander HOU, Chris Archer
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles
Contenders: Dustin Fowler OAK, Gleyber Torres NYY, Francisco Mejia CLE, Chance Sisco BAL
MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Alex Cora, Boston
Contenders: Aaron Boone NYY, TerryFrancona CLE, A.J. Hinch HOU, John Gibbons TOR
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Michael Brantley CLE
Contenders: Doug Fister TEX, Miguel Cabrera DET, Francisco Liriano DET
NL EAST: Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York, Miami
NL CENTRAL: Chicago, Milwaukee, Saint Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati
NL WEST: Los Angeles, Colorado, San Francisco, Arizona, San Diego
NL WILDCARDS: Milwaukee, Colorado
AL EAST: Boston, New York, Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa Bay
AL CENTRAL: Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit, Kansas City, Chicago
AL WEST: Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Texas, Oakland
AL WILDCARDS: New York, Los Angeles
There you have it, my 2018 Major League Baseball preview and predictions. Again, feel free to leave your own picks in the comments section below. Play ball!
|The Boston Red Sox should contend once again in 2018|
The victory advances Houston into the American League Championship Series for the first time since the 2005 postseason. The defeat in front of more than 37,000 mostly disappointed fans at historic Fenway Park sends the host Red Sox home for the winter.
Over the last decade and a half, those Fenway faithful and the team they love have enjoyed the greatest period of sustained success in franchise history. In those last 15 seasons, the Red Sox have reached the postseason nine times, capturing three World Series titles.
But more importantly for the future of the team is that the prospects for long term future success appears to be just as bright as those recent victorious campaigns.
The Red Sox are blessed with one of the most talented group of young players in Major League Baseball. Half of their projected lineup of position players will spend all of the 2018 season at or below 25 years of age.
That core group and their 2018 season age includes shortstop Xander Bogaerts (24), third baseman Rafael Devers (21), left fielder Andrew Benintendi (23), and right fielder Mookie Betts (25) as everyday starters.
Boston will also be starting a 28-year old Jackie Bradley in his prime. Likely to see the bulk of the catching duties, Christian Vazquez will be just 27 years old.
The club has a couple of young wildcards who are likely to help in some way, at some point in the 2018 season. 24-year old Sam Travis could well push for more time at first base. And it could still all click for Boston’s 26-year old former first round draft pick, catcher Blake Swihart.
Bottom line, there are a ton of good, young, talented position players who will be returning to the Red Sox next season. Those players are likely to continue to get better with age and experience.
On the mound, lefties Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz and righty Rick Porcello will all pitch the entirety of next season at age 29. Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will turn just 25 years of age as the season opens.
There will be a group of talented right-handers, all no more than age 30, who will be returning to make up the bulk of the bullpen. These include Matt Barnes (27), Heath Hembree (29), Joe Kelly (29), and 28-year old Carson Smith.
The normally lights-out closer, Craig Kimbrel, will turn 30 years old at the end of May. He is due to become a free agent following the 2018 season, and will be an interesting situation to watch develop.
That young core is likely to continue to be supported by a group of strong veterans, most especially second baseman Dustin Pedroia, DH Hanley Ramirez, and pitcher David Price.
If there is a big question mark, it may be whether or not manager John Farrell will be asked to return following the disappointing playoff defeat. For me, it shouldn’t even be a question. In his five years at the helm in Boston, Farrell has guided the club to a cumulative 432-378 mark. The Red Sox have won three AL East crowns and a World Series under 55-year old. Farrell should definitely be back.
The Boston payroll will continue high, so the opportunity to add high-priced free agents is not likely here. However, there is already plenty of talent. The club is likely to look for little more than a more experienced lefty reliever this off-season. The minor league prospect talent could bring back something to fill any hole that may pop up during the year.
The Boston Red Sox are set to continue their recent string of successful seasons in 2018. Having won three of the last five AL East crowns, they will again be a top contender in the division next year. And with more experience under their belt, the young core should be expected to keep them a leading contender for years to come.
|IBWAA members submitted 2017 MLB Awards ballots|
With the four Major League Baseball Division Series each heading towards their climactic moments, this marks a good time to take a quick look back at the regular season.
As a lifetime member of the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America), the end of each MLB regular season means that my awards ballot is due.
The IBWAA asks each of its members to vote on five categories in both the National and American Leagues. Those five are the MVP and Cy Young, as well as each league’s top reliever, rookie, and manager.
As with the vast majority of voters in the IBWAA, my own selections were certainly based on performance. However, also as with every other voter, subjectivity comes in to play.
There are almost always multiple individuals deserving of awards consideration. That was most definitely the case this season. I found this past 2017 MLB season to be one of the toughest ever for which to fill out an awards ballot.
For the MVP Award, I always consider that middle word carefully: valuable. In addition to tremendous statistical seasons, I want my Most “Valuable” Player to have provided his team invaluable performances defensively and at clutch moments, as well as providing leadership.
For me, when two players each have great statistical seasons, but one of those players is with a winning/contending club, the contender is going to finish ahead on my ballot most times.
Hit 50 home runs, or win 25 games on the mound, for a 4th place team that finishes a dozen or more games out of the playoffs? To me, your losing team could have done that without your “valuable” performance.
I don’t ignore great statistical performances from players on losing ball clubs. You’re just not going to get my first place MVP vote in the vast majority of seasons.
The IBWAA asks each voter to rank their top ten finishers in each MVP race, the top five finishers for the Cy Young Award, and the top three in each of the other categories.
The IBWAA will announce the winners in November. Follow the IBWAA Twitter feed for awards results, as well as regularly for great baseball writing by our members.
With all that said, here is the ballot that I submitted for the 2017 MLB Awards.
National League Most Valuable Player
- Anthony Rendon
- Charlie Blackmon
- Paul Goldschmidt
- Giancarlo Stanton
- Cody Bellinger
- Nolan Arenado
- Joey Votto
- Kris Bryant
- Bryce Harper
- Corey Seager
- Francisco Lindor
- Jose Altuve
- Jose Ramirez
- Aaron Judge
- Mookie Betts
- Mike Trout
- George Springer
- Byron Buxton
- Josh Donaldson
- Eric Hosmer
- Max Scherzer
- Stephen Strasburg
- Zack Greinke
- Clayton Kershaw
- Jimmy Nelson
- Chris Sale
- Corey Kluber
- Luis Severino
- Carlos Carrasco
- Chris Archer
- Cody Bellinger
- Rhys Hoskins
- Luis Castillo
- Aaron Judge
- Andrew Benintendi
- Matt Olson
- Kenley Jansen
- Corey Knebel
- Wade Davis
- Craig Kimbrel
- Cody Allen
- Alex Colome
- Torey Lovullo
- Dusty Baker
- Dave Roberts
- Paul Molitor
- Terry Francona
- A.J. Hinch
|One ALDS opens this afternoon with Houston hosting Boston|
The Division Series open today in the American League, and each series features a strong AL East contender.
I’m picking both of these “beasts of the east” to go down at the hands of what like slightly more talented opponents.
In one ALDS, the Houston Astros, champions of the AL West, will be facing the Boston Red Sox, champs of the AL East. In the other series, the Cleveland Indians, champions of the AL Central and the defending American League champs, will be taking on the wildcard New York Yankees.
Let’s take the Houston-Boston matchup first. The Astros won 101 games during the regular season, running away with the AL West crown by 21 games.
It was the franchise’ first division title since 2001, and puts them into the postseason for the second time in three years. In 2015, Houston was edged out in a five-game ALDS by the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals.
The Red Sox went 93-69, and held off the Yankees down the stretch to capture their second consecutive division title, their third in five seasons. The Bosox were swept out of the ALDS a year ago by Cleveland.
Left-handers Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz are scheduled to pitch the first two games in Houston for Red Sox skipper John Farrell. Veteran righty Doug Fister is slated to go on Saturday in Game Three back at Fenway Park in Boston.
For the Astros and manager A.J. Hinch, taking the mound will be trade deadline acquisition Justin Verlander in the opener. The veteran righty will be followed by lefty Dallas Keuchel in Game Two at home.
Hinch has not yet announced his starter for Game Three. That choice will likely come down to veteran Charlie Morton or young righty Lance McCullers.
The Red Sox feature one of the most exciting young lineups combos in baseball. That lineup, with ages in parentheses, includes shortstop Xander Bogaerts (25), third baseman Rafael Devers (21 later this month), left fielder Andrew Benintendi (23), center fielder Jackie Bradley (27), and right fielder Mookie Betts (25 in two days.)
Each of those players is likely to contend for AL All-Star berths and league awards for years to come. Their presence virtually assures that Boston will continue to contend into the next decade.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia and DH Hanley Ramirez bring veteran leadership and experience, as well as continued offensive production as they move towards their mid-30’s.
Farrell won’t hesitate to use normal starters David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Rick Porcello out of his bullpen, especially in the first couple of games. Joe Kelly, Addison Reed, and lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel, all righties, could allow Farrell to easily go to a “bullpenning” game strategy.
For Houston, the lineup also features a group of dynamic youngsters. Second baseman Jose Altuve (27), shortstop Carlos Correa (23), third baseman Alex Bregman (23), and center fielder George Springer (28) give the Astros their own core group for years to come.
One reason that I like Houston to win this series is their veterans. Catchers Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, DH Carlos Beltran, and outfielder Cameron Maybin are part of a versatile group that has been through the wars.
The Astros also have one of baseball’s top “X-factor” players in Marwin Gonzalez. The 28-year old switch-hitter can literally play every position on the diamond. He played 19 games at third base, 22 at second, 31 at first, and 38 games at shortstop, as well as 47 games in left field.
On the mound, Hinch can turn to righties Brad Peacock, Joe Musgrove, Will Harris, Chris Devenski, Luke Gregerson, and closer Ken Giles. From the left side, former starter Francisco Liriano is his lone option. Also, he may opt to use McCullers out of the pen.
The Astros ran away and hid in their division. This was a team assembled with a deep October run in mind. I think they get at least into the middle of the month. The veteran lineup options make a difference for me in predicting Houston to win in four games.