The new 2018 baseball season is underway and less than two weeks old, which makes now as good a time as any for predictions.
We’ll start off with the American League this week. The AL saw two teams post over 100 regular season victories last year, which included the eventual World Champion Houston Astros and the league’s 2016 champion Cleveland Indians.
Both Houston and Cleveland appear to be far superior to the competition in their divisions. In the AL Central, the Indians have flown under the radar thanks to a lack of moves in the offseason. Quite frankly, though, this team didn’t really need to improve much.
Two years ago, they could taste their first title since 1948 before the Chicago Cubs knocked them off in extra innings of game 7. Last year, Cleveland miraculously enjoyed a 22-game winning streak during the regular season en route to 102 wins. However, their World Series chase would end in tragedy once more when they blew a two games to none lead over the Yankees in the divisional round.
The question isn’t whether or not Terry Francona’s squad will qualify for the postseason, but what will they do when they get there? This is one of the finest rosters in the game, but their window is closing fast and the competition in October is fierce.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better baseball team than the Astros. After 101 wins and a championship in 2017, Houston has the vibe of a dynasty in the making. Not only did the champs add star pitcher Gerrit Cole, they will also enjoy the services of Justin Verlander for the entirety of the season this time. Those two along with former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel on the bump will make for a scary October rotation.
The Astros should win the west again, but look for the Angels to put up a surprising fight and snag one of the two wildcard spots. The once proud franchise has flown under the radar of late despite their Southern California location and baseball’s best player, Mike Trout.
LA added some big names in the offseason such as former Rangers shortstop Ian Kinsler, but no signing was bigger than two-way Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani is a member of the pitching rotation but will act as the team’s designated hitter on his off days. This is one of the more unique arrangements I’ve ever seen and almost makes Trout the second most exciting Angels player. Almost.
The most intriguing American League division will be the east. The Boston Red Sox held on late and finished two games ahead of the Yankees last year before they were eliminated by the Astros in the divisional round.
Boston was expected to be a force in 2017, but New York was supposed to be in a transitional period. Instead, the Yankees were one of the most entertaining teams in baseball with rookie sensations Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino.
New York will lose the underdog status and reclaim their rightful place as one of the most hated franchises in sports in 2018. Along with the natural improvements of their younger stars, the Yankees added slugger Giancarlo Stanton to the mix to complete one of the most dangerous lineups in recent memory.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have claimed the division crown each of the last two years and will win games with their rotation. Boston’s starting pitching is possibly the only staff better than Houston’s and will keep them in the hunt with the Yankees all season. Because of their pitching, I have the Red Sox winning a very close east once again and New York as another wildcard.
In what should be a stacked set of teams in the AL’s postseason, I think it will come down to the arms of Houston and Boston. The Red Sox will have a chip on their shoulders after two early exits in each of the last couple of years. Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello will keep them on top of the standings throughout the year and put them in a great position to make noise in October.
The Astros might be the best team on paper, but it’s too difficult for me to pick a team to repeat as league champions. With all of the firepower in the AL, there might just be too much standing in their way down the stretch.