Courtesy of Aaron Whelan
New York Yankees – The Yankees have the potential to put out the most impressive lineup we have seen in years, focused mainly around Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. That said, Stanton is always an injury risk and Judge is a strikeout risk every trip to the plate. Gary Sanchez is as good an offensive catcher as there is in baseball, and may have the strongest arm too, but his receiving ability it downright poor. Drury is a good addition, but Tyler Wade is not a long-term answer at second and Greg Bird is out nearly two months. Having Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar ready to come up and contribute will be huge, but they are 21 and 23 respectively, so they are no sure thing to they will be reliable from the start. The bullpen might be the best in baseball, but the starting rotation is overrated. In the end, the hype train that is the Yankees will still win the division, but I don’t see a deep run in October and I think there will be a real race with the Red Sox for the division title.
Cleveland Indians – Francisco Lindor is a legitimate super star quality player at short and they brought in power hitting Edwin Encarnacion to add pop to the lineup. Yonder Alonso is currently tabbed to play first which is a downgrade from Carlos Santana somewhat similar to the upgrade at DH with Encarnacion. They have a strong rotation and really good bullpen, but the loss of Bryan Shaw may hurt. In the end, I just don’t feel the Twins have quite enough to knock off the Indians at the top of the division.
Houston Astros – The defending World Series champions have only gotten better, if for no other reason than their incredibly young nucleus is a year older. George Springer-Alex Bregman-Jose Altuve-Carlos Correa is as good a top four as any lineup in baseball, and they all play solid to better defense to go with it. They also get a full year of Justin Verlander and have added Gerrit Cole who is currently slated to be their fourth starter, yes, fourth starter. They have a strong bullpen but another arm or two at the deadline wouldn’t hurt. The big thing that stood out this Spring was how long Kyle Tucker stuck around with the big league club. It looks like the 21-year old will start in AA, but he could be up late in the year and be a difference maker in left field.
AL Wild Card
Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox will come up just shy in the division but will win the Wild Card game. J.D. Martinez brings much needed pop to a lineup that simply couldn’t hit home runs last year. The outfield is as athletic as any in baseball, and Mookie Betts is a real MVP candidate. Blake Swihart looks to be an unusual super utility man that can also catch, which will be an interesting dynamic. They still have Kimbrel at the back of the bullpen and have Carson Smith to start the season this year. The top of the rotation is as good as any in baseball with Chris Sale and David Price to go with a solid number three in Rick Porcello. Opening Day will be a question for Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodgriquez, while Steven Wright opens the year on the DL before serving a 15 game domestic violence suspension. There is not a real need in the lineup for the Red Sox despite Dustin Pedroia opening the year on the DL, and Michael Chavis just may be able to provide the team with a big boost late in the year.
Los Angeles Angels – They have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, and they brought in the most talked about player this off-season, Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani will be interesting to see how he works out as people may forget he is only 23 and is trying to be the first full time pitcher and position player in decades. He struggled this Spring, and anything he does with the bat is a bonus, but they really need his arm in the rotation. Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs at the top of the rotation is not exactly the best 1-2 punch in baseball, so the Angels still need starters and their bullpen isn’t great. In fact, a Rule 5 pick just may end being the closer at some point this season (check out more on Luke Bard on my post at Minor League Ball today). The lineup is much improved around Trout, bringing in Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton along with Zach Cozart. They still feel like they are a few players shy from being real contenders, and their farm system is improved but not enough to make a blockbuster deal, but there really isn’t a good fifth team in the American League.
Washington Nationals – The East is a much-improved division this year which may be the only reason the Nationals don’t end up with the best record in the NL, but Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper are big enough pieces in themselves to make the Nats a contender. They still have Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, and a full season of Sean Doolittle as their closer. Adam Eaton is back after tearing his ACL early in 2017 and the rest of the team is largely intact. The Nationals will simply be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Chicago Cubs – No Jake Arrieta, add Yu Darvish, no Wade Davis, ok that may hurt. Ian Happ led baseball this Spring in leadoff home runs earning him the nod at the top of the lineup with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo being massive bats behind him. Kyle Schwarber is looking to bounce back from a rough 2017, and Albert Almora Jr. will try to earn a starter’s volume of playing time while splitting time in the OF with Schwarber, Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist. Unlike years past, the Cubs don’t have the options in the minors to make the big impact like Schwarber, Addison Russell, and Happ did, Mark Zagunis is a decent bat should the outfield not produce, but there isn’t much depth in the pitching pipeline. The gap between them and the Brewers will shrink, but not enough to knock the Cubs off the top.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Yeah, the division winners is pretty much stock, but that is because the top teams in each division is pretty clear. The Dodgers lose Yu Darvish, but he lost most faith from the Dodger fans in the World Series, and Hyun-Jin Ryu is far from the worst fifth starter in baseball. Clayton Kershaw is still as good as anyone to ever toe the rubber and Kenley Jansen is one of the top closers in baseball. The broken wrist for Justin Turner will hurt to start the year, forcing Logan Forsythe into a starting role, but there is depth on the team with Kyle Farmer being and Austin Barnes both being rare catchers that can also play infield. Alex Verdugo will be an interesting prospect to keep an eye on as he will likely find himself in LA at some point this season, but will the power play enough in the big leagues? Walker Beuhler is as good a power arm as there is in the minors, but does his pitch mix work best as a starter or reliver? The Dodgers have all the pieces to make another deep run.
NL Wild Card
Milwaukee Brewers – Unlike the American League, the National League has plenty of good teams that will battle for the Wild Card. I had the New York Mets here at one point, I gave the Philadelphia Phillies a look, the San Francisco Giants are improved, can you really sleep on the St. Louis Cardinals? In the end I give the Brewers the nod not only as a Wild Card team, but I think they win the Wild Card Game. Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain are fantastic additions, and Yelich plays a fantastic Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez.
Orlando Arcia is an underrated shortstop while the additions of Yelich and Cain have made Eric Thames and Domingo Santana one of the best platoons in baseball. I have long been a fan of Jimmy Nelson, and if he returns to full health around the mid-point of the season, that could be a great addition while Chase Anderson has turned into a solid pitcher at the top of their rotation. Corey Knebel was once a guy I had tabbed as a fantasy monster about a year too early, but he has become an incredibly reliable closer for the Brew Crew. Brett Phillips is a solid outfield prospect, but with the depth already at the position at the big league level, don’t be surprised to see him moved for pitching help during the season.
Arizona Diamondbacks – The Zach Grienke velocity concerns are troubling, but the team is very good. The loss of J.D. Martinez will hurt, and there are few higher on Brandon Drury than me, who is now wearing pinstripes. They have shown faith in the man stepping in for Drury, giving Ketel Marte a 5-year extension, and they also brought in Jarrod Dyson and Alex Avila. None of those moves will make up for the power lost when J.D. moved to Boston, but they are solid pieces. Patrick Corbin is rounding back to form for at the top of the rotation, Robbie Ray is solid, and Taijuan Walker is still one of the more intriguing starters for me. Add that to new closer Brad Boxberger and Archie Bradley settling in as a high leverage reliever, and the pitching staff should be able to overcome the regression from Grienke.
Houston Astros over the Washington Nationals – The Astros repeat as they are one of the more improved teams despite being defending champions. They get past the Yankees in the ALCS as the Yankees just don’t have the starting pitching to keep up. The Nationals get payback on the Dodgers in the NLCS, but still fall short in six games against the Astros.