The 2019 Major League Baseball regular season is just two days away. Here are 10 bold predictions for what the six-month battle will entail.
Three Teams in the AL East Make the Playoffs
The AL East had three teams finish with 90-plus wins in 2018: the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays. Amazingly enough, only two of them made the postseason (Red Sox, Yankees). But in 2019 all three of them will participate in the October festivities. Although their bullpen is an enormous area of concern, the defending World Series champion Red Sox still have a potent offense and reliable starting rotation; the Yankees have a deep roster and established one of the deepest and most versatile bullpens in MLB.
On the other hand, the Rays also have a deep pitching staff and a lineup of contact hitters. Last season the Yankees (100-62) and Oakland Athletics (97-65) were the two AL Wild Cards, but the A’s starting rotation is a gaping weakness on their roster, and the AL Central remains a division with little to no pennant threats; the AL East will be heavily involved in the 2019 postseason.
Yusei Kikuchi Takes the League by Storm
Have you ever seen a more underwhelming welcome for an international star than Kikuchi? Yes, the Seattle Mariners traded and/or lost several premier players such as Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, James Paxton, Nelson Cruz, and Edwin Diaz this offseason, but the 27-year-old Japanese star was a hefty investment. Agreeing to a four-year, $56 million deal (which could potentially become a seven-year, $109 million deal) with the highly regarded left-hander, the Mariners are essentially looking for Kikuchi to become their ace.
In his eight-year professional Japanese career, Kikuchi was a force to be reckoned with. He kept runners off base, from 2017-18 especially, pitched deep into games, and leans on his slider and fastball. Kikuchi’s MLB debut Thursday afternoon against the Oakland Athletics wasn’t anything special, as he recorded three strikeouts and surrendered just one earned run in 4.2 innings. But his pitch selection and ability to overcome hitters is going to keep the baseball world paying attention to the Mariners every fifth day in 2019.
Only One Team in the NL East Makes the Playoffs
There is a case to be made for the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, and New York Mets to win the National League East in 2019. Of course, only one team will actually do so. While there are two Wild Card seeds for the taking, only one team in the division will make the playoffs in 2019: the Nationals. Even with Bryce Harper signing with the rival Phillies, the Nationals have a deep lineup, one of the best starting rotations in the sport, and a balanced bullpen.
The Phillies and Braves have uncertainty in the backend of their starting rotations and bullpens, and Atlanta will be without their ace, Mike Foltynewicz, to begin the regular season. Meanwhile, the Mets had a headline-grabbing offseason, but still have question marks in their starting lineup. But the biggest reason why the Nationals will be the only team in the NL East to make the playoffs this season is the competition in the NL, as a whole — which leads us to the next prediction.
The Milwaukee Brewers Miss the Playoffs
The Brewers were one game away from the World Series last season and still have one of the deepest pitching staffs in MLB. With that said, their division, like the NL East, is stiff. The Chicago Cubs won 95 games last season and have been a postseason fixture in recent memory; the St. Louis Cardinals won 88 games last season and added Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller this offseason; heck, the Cincinnati Reds vastly improved their roster, acquiring Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, Tanner Roark, and Sonny Gray via trade.
If it wasn’t for a September push, the Brewers would have been a Wild Card team and potentially watched their season end by means of a one-game playoff. Their lineup has big names, but they didn’t produce at the rate you’d expect in both the regular season and postseason. The Brewers will be in the playoff mix again this season, but ultimately finish behind the Cubs and Cardinals in the NL Central and miss the playoffs.
The Colorado Rockies Win the NL West
The Los Angeles Dodgers have won the NL West in each of the last six seasons, but they will be dethroned by the Rockies in 2019. Sure, the Dodgers are back-to-back NL pennant champions, but they did little to upgrade their roster and the signing of A.J. Pollock was a halfway replacement for the departures of Puig and Kemp. Star left-hander Clayton Kershaw is also dealing with shoulder inflammation which will keep him off the mound to begin the season.
The Rockies have an electric offense, headlined by Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story, a blossoming starting rotation, which includes Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, and Tyler Anderson, as well as a veteran bullpen, anchored by Wade Davis. They’ve made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, have gradually improved, and took the Dodgers to a Game 163 tiebreaker for the NL West in 2018. This season the Rockies will win the division fair and square.
Aaron Judge, Nolan Arenado Win AL, NL MVPs
Judge and Arenado will take home this season’s AL and NL Most Valuable Player Awards. Judge’s 2018 campaign was hindered due to a wrist injury, but the enormous right fielder has the tools to be a superstar. He is as good a power hitter as anyone in the sport, hits for contact, has a good eye, is a suitable baserunner, and a superb fielder. Without Judge, the Yankees offense poses nowhere near the same threat. It’s also hard to forget his captivating 2017 Rookie of the Year campaign, where he totaled 52 home runs and 114 RBIs.
At some point Arenado has to be rewarded for his heroics, right? The third baseman is the best player at his respective position, accumulates 30-home run-100-RBI seasons with ease, and gets on base often. He’s the driving force of the Rockies offense, provides a high-energy presence at the plate and in the field, and got his money (Arenado agreed to an eight-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies three weeks ago). This season Arenado is going to cement his status as one of the five best players in MLB.
Chris Sale, Aaron Nola Win AL, NL Cy Youngs
Sale and Nola will be this season’s AL and NL Cy Young Award recipients. In his two seasons with the Red Sox, Sale has been the anchor of the team’s starting rotation. True, he hasn’t pitched up to the hype in the postseason, but he has continued to be one of the best pitchers in the sport and a strikeout machine while recording ERAs of 2.90 and 2.11. With the Red Sox looking to defend their crown, look for Sale to have another captivating season.
On the other hand, Nola came into his own as the Phillies undisputed ace last season. Recording a 2.37 ERA and 0.97 WHIP while totaling 224 strikeouts in 33 starts, he was a force to be reckoned with on the rubber and a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award. Nola is one of the most unhittable pitchers in MLB and still just 25. He can only improve, and for a Phillies team that will need their starting pitching to step up, Nola will win the NL Cy Young Award in 2019.
Bryce Harper and Manny Machado Have Big Seasons With Their New Teams
Harper and Machado signed monster contracts this offseason; Harper agreed to a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies, and Machado agreed to a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres. Whether the two are worth the money is a recurring discussion, but in the first year of their new deals, the 26-year-olds will have monumental seasons at the plate.
Harper has always been a power hitter; the issue has been hitting for average and with consistency. While he hit just .249 last season, Harper got has money, has the offensive skill set to be the best hitter in MLB, and is an underrated fielder. It may take some time, but Harper will have an encouraging debut season in Philly. Meanwhile, Machado has been a model of consistency at the plate, a slick fielder, and possesses the tools to be the face of a franchise from a talent perspective. One could argue that Machado is coming off the best season of his career at the plate (Machado hit a career-best .297 while totaling a career-high 37 home runs and 107 RBIs in 2018), and given that he can play both third base and shortstop, he has never been a more well-rounded player; the star infielder will continue to take things to the next level in San Diego.
Zack Greinke and Marcus Stroman Get Traded
Big names get traded every year, and in 2019, Greinke and Stroman will be the big names dealt before the trade deadline. The Arizona Diamondbacks traded and/or lost Goldschmidt, Pollock, and Patrick Corbin, and Greinke came up in trade rumors too. The right-hander is due roughly $32 million a season through 2021, but Greinke is still an ace-caliber pitcher, and his contract likely results in a team absorbing his contract, rather than surrendering multiple top-tier prospects; he can be the player that puts a contender over the top.
There are few players in MLB who need a change of scenery more than Stroman. He supposedly has beef with the Toronto Blue Jays organization — via tweets from Stroman about their arbitration hearings — is coming off a season where he recorded an abysmal 5.54 ERA, and is a free agent in two years. At the same time, he’s still one of the most crafty young pitchers in MLB, is a year removed from a Cy Young Award caliber season, and can be a top-of-the-rotation force. The Blue Jays aren’t a playoff team and will move on from Stroman via trade as a result.
The New York Yankees Defeat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series
Sure, injuries to Luis Severino, Aaron Hicks, Dellin Betances, and C.C. Sabathia are a far from ideal way to begin the season, but the Yankees have the most well-rounded roster in MLB. They have a potent offense, acquired Paxton from the Mariners and re-signed J.A. Happ to bolster their starting rotation, and signed Adam Ottavino while bringing back Zack Britton to deepen their bullpen; they have the depth to account for injuries in the beginning stages of the regular season.
On the other hand, the Cubs have a deep and versatile depth chart, as well as a proven pitching staff. They’ve also won 92-plus games in each of the last four seasons and are an NL powerhouse. But the Yankees are a better ballclub that possesses the upside to be even better than they project if certain individuals take the next step. The Yankees will defeat the Cubs in five games to win the 2019 World Series.