If the American League is going to be competitive this year, the National League will be like a Battle Royale in comparison. The talent present on rosters across the NL is remarkable, and it’s not hard to foresee multiple teams deserving of a playoff berth be eliminated merely due to the sheer number of superstars across every division. Although the winner of each division will likely be the same team that won it last year, there are four other very talented teams that will vie to claim a division crown for their own, or at very least win a wildcard berth-the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Cardinals, and Mets all seem to have playoff potential, so even though I’ll narrow down my wildcard pick to two teams, be prepared for another team to run off with one of the spots. Expect great baseball across the league this season.
Winner: Washington Nationals
It’s incredible that a team as loaded with talent as the Nationals has yet to win a single playoff series. A club whose roster includes 3-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, 2015 MVP and arguably the most exciting player in baseball Bryce Harper, and a supporting cast boasting the likes of Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez, and Trea Turner should consider any season without a World Series or NLCS berth to be severely disappointing. To their credit, Washington fired manager Dusty Baker following their collapse in the NLDS last year, replacing him with former Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez. If Martinez is able to bring a winning attitude into the clubhouse, perhaps the Nats will finally be able to make it past the first round of the postseason. If not, owner Ted Lerner and General Manager Mike Rizzo will have to live with the fact that they wasted seven years of Bryce Harper’s career once he inevitably signs a massive contract somewhere else. The pressure is on to win and win now.
Winner: Chicago Cubs
The Cubs regressed massively from their championship form in 2017. Sure, they still won 92 games and made the NLCS but many of their stars regressed and the team never gelled the way it did in their incredible 2016 title run. With the pressure to repeat as champions off them this year, I’m expecting Chicago to perform much better, with 2016 MVP Kris Bryant and three-time All-Star Anthony Rizzo leading the way on offense. Although Yu Darvish may have blown Game 7 of the World Series last year, he’s still a strong signing, and will bolster an already solid pitching core led by Jon Lester and Dartmouth’s own Kyle Hendricks. Chicago also benefits from the presence of Joe Maddon, in my opinion the best manager in the game, as well as one of the smartest front offices in baseball. Although they’ll face stiff competition this year, Chicago’s roster is probably the best in baseball behind the Astros, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they make another title run this year.
Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
After years of underachieving in the postseason, the Dodgers finally made it to the promised land last year only to come face to face with the Astros machine. Given their talent on both sides of the ball, a 2018 season that doesn’t end in another World Series berth will likely be considered a massive failure for the club. If Clayton Kershaw, the best left-handed pitcher in the game since Sandy Koufax, can stay healthy for a full season and perform as well in the playoffs as he did last year, LA could improve on its 104-win 2017 season. 2017 Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger may regress slightly this season, but I’m still excited to see him flash incredible power in his sophomore campaign (bear in mind that he hit 40 homers last year despite not playing his first game until the end of May). Although their roster is perhaps not as well-rounded as the Cubs’, the Dodgers have the talent in their pitching staff and a talented enough hitting core to compete with the league’s best this year.
Colorado may boast the second-most star power in the NL West, but the D-Backs have the stronger team overall. Playing in the thin mountain air of Denver may provide an offensive boost for the Rockies, but that will inevitably come at the price of having a competent pitching staff, as is the case in Colorado every year. Perennial All-Star Paul Goldschmidt will lead the D-Back offense, while Zack Grienke looks poised to put together another Cy Young-caliber season in the Arizona heat. Although it will certainly be challenging to make a deep playoff run in a National League so stacked with talent, Arizona could turn into a dark-horse contender this year.
New York Mets
My wildcard prediction for the Mets rests on the assumption that everything goes right for them this year. The Mets boast the best young rotation in the league, and Noah Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom could both conceivably put together Cy Young-caliber seasons. The team’s offense is solid but unspectacular, with Yoenis Cespedes leading the way. If the pitching staff stays healthy, and gets sufficient run support, the Mets stand a chance of getting to the postseason for the first time since 2015-just don’t expect them to make that deep of a run in a playoff landscape this stacked with talent.
MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals
At the end of this season, Harper becomes a free agent for the first time in career. Given that his contract could exceed $300-or even $400-million, I’m expecting him to play like he’s worth that amount of money this year. Harper has struggled with inconsistency both before and after his 2015 MVP campaign, but given that he has something to play for, I’m expecting a great 2018 campaign. Given that in his 2015 season he produced arguably the best offensive performance in the league since Barry Bonds’ steroid-inflated 2001-04 seasons, if Harper can yet again approach that level, the MVP has his name written all over it.
Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard, Mets
Besides Chris Sale, Syndergaard is perhaps the most dominant strikeout pitcher in the league. If he stays healthy this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him post an 18+ win season with a sub-3.00 ERA and over 300 K’s. If he does that, Max Scherzer’s run of back-to-back Cy Young Awards may come to an end. However, Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw could both very easily run away with the award, as could Zack Greinke or even Yu Darvish if he’s able to improve his ERA numbers. Regardless of whether or not he wins the award, Syndergaard is sure going to be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
AL Wildcard: Red Sox over Angels
ALDS: Yankees over Red Sox, and Astros over Indians
ALCS: Yankees over Astros
NL Wildcard: Diamondbacks over Mets
NLDS: Dodgers over Diamondbacks, Cubs over Nationals
ALCS: Dodgers over Cubs
World Series: Yankees over Dodgers