Sports Illustrated famously predicted in 2014 that the Houston Astros would win the 2017 World Series.  Everything fell right for the Astros in terms of player development and getting key free agents to come over that fit in place, and they turned SI’s writers into prophets by winning last year’s title.  Will 2018 be any different, or will Houston find a way to win back to back titles, something that hasn’t been done since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees?

American League East:

Predictions:

New York 98-64

Boston 93-69 (#1 Wild Card)

Toronto 80-82

Baltimore 74-88

Tampa Bay 65-97

The New York Yankees should be the class of the American League East this year, if not the American League in general.  They added National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton in the off-season and should be bolstered by the continued development of young stars Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Jordan Montgomery.  Oh, and they still have top prospects waiting in the wings like outfielder Clint Frazier, second baseman Gleyber Torres and third baseman Miguel Andujar who could make big contributions in 2018.

Not to be outdone, the Boston Red Sox added their own free agent slugger, J.D. Martinez to a lineup that sorely needed the power bat after finishing last in the American League in home runs in 2017.  The Red Sox will need bounce-back seasons from shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and pitchers David Price and Rick Porcello if they are going to extend their AL East streak to three years.

Toronto should probably be thinking about rebuilding for the future, with star third baseman Josh Donaldson due to hit free agency this year.  What will keep them from doing so is that they will probably be in contention for the second wild-card spot going into September because of their pitching staff, but they don’t have the horses on offense to keep up with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox.

Baltimore did what they do best, and that waits until the end of the off-season to get some sneaky good bargain free agent signings.  They added Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb to a rotation that needed help, and they will need bounce-back seasons from Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman if they are going to have any chance to surprise some teams in the American League this year.  Like the Blue Jays, however, they don’t have the bats to keep up with Boston and New York either.

Tampa Bay clearly went into rebuilding mode this off-season, getting rid of the face of the franchise Evan Longoria, as well as starting pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb among others.  There isn’t much hope for the Rays in 2018 other than to hope they finish with the worst record in baseball and get the top pick in the 2019 MLB Draft.

American League Central

Predictions:

Cleveland 97-75

Minnesota 87-75 (2nd Wild Card)

Chicago 70-92

Kansas City 69-93

Detroit 67-95

Cleveland is the class of the American League Central again in 2018, as not much has changed from their team in 2017.  They lost first baseman Carlos Santana in free agency only to replace him with Yonder Alonso.  Their pitching staff is among the best in baseball, with two-time Cy Young Corey Kluber leading the pack and among the favorites to win a third Cy Young.

Minnesota announced their arrival back into the playoff picture in 2017, and arguably won the off-season going into the 2018 season by adding slugging first baseman Logan Morrison and starters Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn.  They are without the services of Ervin Santana to start the season, but with the development of young stars Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios, the Twins appear to have enough to make a second straight Wild Card game appearance.

Chicago has some good young players in their lineup and pitching staff, led by second baseman Yoan Moncada and fireballer Lucas Giolito.  However, this team is too young and doesn’t have the experience or the depth that Cleveland and Minnesota has to keep up – this year anyways.  They should improve in 2019 and continue their player development trend for 2018 as things are looking up for the Pale Hose.

Kansas City had a good run from 2014 through 2016, but 2017 was the beginning of the end for the Royals as they lost first baseman Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain to free agency.  They did keep Alex Gordon, but he is a shadow of himself, as well as Mike Moustakas, but their pitching staff other than Danny Duffy leaves a lot to be desired for 2018.  This team will struggle to have any relevancy.

The Detroit Tigers started their rebuild late in 2017 when they dealt Justin Verlander to Houston, and continued during the offseason when they dealt veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler to the Angels.  There have been rumors all off-season that 2016 Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer has been on the trade block, but that would be a mistake to move this kid.  He should be someone the team builds around, not someone to gain assets to lengthen their rebuild.

American League West:

Predictions:

Houston 101-61

Los Angeles 86-76

Seattle 76-86

Texas 75-87

Oakland 73-89

Houston won 101 games in 2017 on their way to a World Series title, and with Justin Verlander for a full season as well as off-season acquisition Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh, there is no reason to think the Astros can’t repeat that performance in 2018.  Their offense is still among the best in baseball, and with Verlander and Cole joining 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and young starters Lance McCullers and Brad Peacock, the pitching staff will be even better than they were in 2017.

The Angels added some big names in the off-season, with none bigger than Japanese import Shohei Ohtani.  Ohtani has huge expectations coming over from Japan, as they plan on using him as both a starter and as a part-time designated hitter.  The Angels hope that moving to a six-man rotation will help keep their starters healthy as well as keep Ohtani on the same regimen that he is used to in Japan.  The offense will be bolstered by the additions of second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop turned third baseman Zack Cozart.  Oh, and there’s that Mike Trout guy who should be among the favorites for another MVP award.  I think the Angels fall just short of a playoff appearance, however.

Seattle is one of those teams that you think will turn the corner and challenge for a playoff spot, only to disappoint you in the end.  They are like going on a blind date thinking you’re going to get a smart, beautiful woman, and you end up with a not-so-smart, not-so-beautiful woman.  Their offense is aging, and other than James Paxton, their pitching staff leaves a lot to be desired.  Felix Hernandez is a shell of himself, and unless he can re-create himself like C.C. Sabathia did a few years ago, his downward trend will continue.

Texas should be bolstered by a full season of Cole Hamels, but that will be off-set by no longer having Yu Darvish as a part of their rotation.  I think 75 wins will be the highwater mark for the Rangers in 2018, and it is quite possible they win even fewer games than that.  Joey Gallo’s continued development will be an x-factor if the Rangers want to contend in 2018, and second baseman Rougned Odor will have to recover from a very difficult 2017 season if they want to challenge for a Wild Card spot.

Oakland has some good young pieces in their lineup, led by center fielder Dustin Fowler, third baseman Matt Chapman, first baseman Matt Olson, and shortstop Franklin Barreto.  Their pitching staff took a hit when young starter AJ Puk went down with an injury, as he was expected to start his rookie season in their rotation, but now looks like he will miss the entire season.  It will be a year of development and growth for the A’s, but they are on the right path as they look to gain a new ballpark and attract more fans.

National League East:

Predictions:

Washington 99-63

New York 84-78

Philadelphia 75-87

Atlanta 72-90

Miami 60-102

Washington has been the head of the class in the National League East for a few years now, and this year will be no exception.  The Nationals have one of the best rotations in baseball, with three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer leading the way along with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.  The big story will be in the off-season, where star Bryce Harper will be the most coveted player in free agent history and will very likely land the biggest contract in major league history.  I don’t expect Washington to be challenged at all, but they will need to prove they can get past the Divisional Series.

New York’s prediction is solely based on the health of their hyped starting rotation.  They will need full seasons from Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard and need Matt Harvey and Steven Matz to prove they can stay healthy and be productive if they want to contend for a Wild Card spot.  The offense is solid led by outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce, and the Mets have a good young shortstop in Amed Rosario who should bolster their offense.

Philadelphia made some big moves in the off-season, signing first baseman Carlos Santana from Cleveland and adding former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta from the Cubs via free agency.  Their offense will be bolstered by the additions of full seasons from slugger Rhys Hoskins and shortstop J.P. Crawford, and the addition of the recently signed second baseman Scott Kingery should provide a nice boost.  They will be short of a playoff run this season, but give them another year and they could possibly contend in the NL East in 2019.

Atlanta is another team that has some very good young players either coming up the pipeline or already up in the majors, led by top prospect Ronald Acuna (who will start the season in the minors but will be up in late April or early May once the service time clock will no longer be a factor).  The Braves will need shortstop Dansby Swanson to recover from a poor 2017 season and Freddie Freeman to continue to be an MVP threat if they want to reach their best-case scenario of challenging for a Wild Card.

Miami will be lucky to win 60 games in 2018 after trading most of their star players in the off-season.  Gone are MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, outfielder Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals, and outfielder Christian Yelich to Milwaukee, and catcher J.P Realmuto has been rumored all off-season to be the next one on the move.  The problem with these moves is that the Marlins dealt them for pennies on the dollar, and didn’t get nearly the return they should have in terms of prospects.

National League Central:

Predictions:

Chicago 98-64

Milwaukee 89-73 (Wild Card #2)

St. Louis 81-81

Cincinnati 72-90

Pittsburgh 66-96

Chicago looks to win their fourth straight National League Central division title in 2018, and the only way the Cubs won’t get there is if injuries riddle this team.  Their lineup is legit, led by former MVP Kris Bryant and young stars Javier Baez, Ian Happ, Albert Almora and Addison Russell, and their pitching staff was bolstered this off-season with the signings of Yu Darvish from the Dodgers and Tyler Chatwood from the Rockies.  Chatwood could be the sneaky signing of the off-season, as he will no longer be affected by the air of Coors Field.

Milwaukee added quite a bit to their offense in 2018, adding outfielders Christian Yelich from the Marlins via trade and Lorenzo Cain via free agency.  The Brewers are hurt by the loss of Jimmy Nelson from a shoulder injury late in 2017, but the addition of Jhoulys Chacin from the Padres should help off-set that injury until Nelson returns sometime in June.  Ryan Braun is on the tail end of his career as he is now looking at being a role player, filling in at left field and first base for the Brewers.  The additions of Yelich and Cain should be enough to put the Brewers over the top to earn a Wild Card spot in 2018.

St. Louis’ success in 2018 will be predicated on the development of their very young pitching staff.  The Cardinals are led by young veterans Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha and should be bolstered by the additions of Miles Mikolas and of top prospect Jack Flaherty.  The return of Alex Reyes from Tommy John surgery will be monitored closely, and he could end up being the closer for the 2018 season when he returns around the beginning of May.  The offense is very solid, and could very easily surpass my prediction of 81 wins, but I’m being conservative because of the unknowns in their pitching staff.

Cincinnati has been in the middle of a rebuild for a few seasons now, and 2018 will be no exception.  While they have a perennial MVP candidate in first baseman Joey Votto, and a couple of young budding stars in third baseman/shortstop Eugenio Suarez and pitcher Luis Castillo, they still have a lot of room to improve.  72 wins may be asking a lot for the Reds this season, but it isn’t too far from the 68 wins they tallied in 2017.

Pittsburgh waved the white flag this off-season, signaling the beginning of what will be a long period of roster building.  They traded their face of the franchise, Andrew McCutchen, to the Giants and their young ace Gerrit Cole to the Astros.  The Pirates still have some good young potential stars in outfielder Gregory Polanco and starter Jameson Taillon, but they are a long ways away from being playoff relevant again.

National League West:

Predictions:

Los Angeles 100-62

Arizona 90-72 (1st Wild Card)

Colorado 80-82

San Francisco 76-86

San Diego 73-89

Los Angeles was one win away from winning the World Series in 2017 and is one of the favorites in 2018 to get back there again.  Clayton Kershaw looks to rebound from a second straight injury-filled campaign, but even with the injuries he still won 18 games and finished second in the Cy Young voting behind Max Scherzer.  The Dodgers will continue to look to young stars Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger to lead the offense, and the Dodgers have the depth on offense and pitching to win 100 games again.

Even though they lost slugger J.D. Martinez in free agency, the Diamondbacks still have a lot to offer and are expected to repeat and get into the playoffs as a Wild Card team.  They will be led by their pitching staff, with veteran Zack Greinke leading the way with young flamethrowers Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker continuing to climb up the pitching ranks.  Don’t sell their offense short though, as the Diamondbacks still have sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb leading the way, and they added outfielder Steven Sousa Jr during the off-season as well.

I initially had the Colorado Rockies fourth in this division this year, taking a step back when they surprised the National League and made the playoffs as a Wild Card team.  Their pitching staff took a hit with the defection of Tyler Chatwood to the Cubs, and it is very possible that their squad of rookie starters from 2017 take a step back in 2018 just based on pitching in Colorado.  Nolan Arenado will be an MVP candidate again in 2018, but the Rockies don’t appear to have the depth that the Diamondbacks and Brewers have to fully contend for a Wild Card spot.

My original projection for the San Francisco Giants was 83 wins after the additions of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen to an offense that was very anemic in 2017, but the late spring training injuries to ace Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija weakens a pitching staff that couldn’t afford to be weakened.  Johnny Cueto will have to shoulder the load for the first couple of months of 2018, but other than Cueto their pitching staff is full of question marks.  I don’t see them getting to .500 again this season, and it may cost Bruce Bochy his job, his three World Series wins be damned.

San Diego is another team that like Philadelphia and Atlanta has some good young pieces in their lineup and pitching staff.  They surprised no one by signing first baseman Eric Hosmer to a long-term contract during free agency, but it weakens their outfield defense as it forces them to move slugger Wil Myers back to the outfield where he struggles defensively.  The Padres have some good young talent, such as center fielder Manuel Margot and starter Dinelson Lamet, but they are too young and don’t have quite enough talent to contend.  They are on the right track, however, and could be a sleeper team in 2019 if some of their top prospects develop and reach the majors sometime late in 2018.

Award Predictions:

American League:

Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout

Cy Young: Chris Sale

Rookie of the Year: Austin Hays

Manager of the Year: Aaron Boone

National League:

Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper

Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuna

Manager of the Year: Craig Counsell

Playoff Predictions:

AL Wild Card: Boston over Minnesota

AL Division Series: New York over Boston, Houston over Cleveland

AL Championship Series: Houston over New York

NL Wild Card: Milwaukee over Arizona

NL Division Series: Los Angeles over Milwaukee, Washington over Chicago

NL Championship Series: Washington over Los Angeles

World Series: Washington over Houston