Houston Chronicle

Kuk James | Dartmouth College

As I write this, I am more than aware that it has been almost a month since Spring Training ended and more than a week than the 2018 Major League Baseball season began. Still, I wanted to put out my predictions for this season, because the one thing that all those other MLB predictions hammered out ever since before the first plane carrying pitchers and catchers had even landed in Arizona and Florida lacked was an author so far outside the sports media industrial complex that he may as well be in a parallel universe. I’ll start with the AL East, because as someone from Boston, the results in that division basically determine whether I’ll be deeply invested in any playoff series before the World Series or if I’ll watch it on mute while trying to get through a particularly difficult bit of reading for whatever class on an esoteric historical subject I’ll inevitably be taking during fall term next academic year.


AL East

Winner: New York Yankees

As much as it pains me to admit it as a Red Sox fan, the Yankees were the most entertaining team in baseball last year. Sure, the Astros and their core of young superstars were incredible to behold (and did end up beating New York in the ALCS), but no team in baseball possessed a superstar as dynamic as Aaron Judge. Although the 26-year old Judge may regress slightly in his second full season-and play more like second-half-of-2017 Judge than the superhuman Judge we saw in the first half, the added presence of Giancarlo Stanton virtually guarantees that an already great offense will be even more remarkable this year. Outside of Judge and Stanton, New York boasts Gary Sanchez, arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball, shortstop Didi Gregorius, who has shown improvement in every single season since coming to the Bronx, a top-tier bullpen, and a strong pitching core led by Luis Severino. Expect rookie manager Aaron Boone’s squad to make a deep postseason run this year. And for those who detest the Yankees, mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of a 28th title coming to the Big Apple.


AL Central

Winner: Cleveland Indians

Cleveland’s path to the postseason is likely the easiest in baseball. The White Sox and Tigers have embraced the tank and are in the process of rebuilding, the Royals are a mediocre shell of their 2015 World Series-winning team, and the Twins are too young and unproven to seriously challenge Terry Francona’s squad this year. Cleveland’s biggest challenge this year will be to redeem themselves following their blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2016 World Series against the Cubs and a 2-0 in the 2017 ALDS against the Yankees, both of which led to the club being bestowed with the dreaded “choker” label. While that label isn’t entirely fair, Cleveland will likely be under pressure to show that they can close out postseason series after taking a big lead. Whether or not they improve in term of their playoff success, Cleveland’s roster, featuring two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, a lights-out bullpen, and a solid hitting core should be among the league’s best teams this year.


AL West

Winner: Houston Astros

The Astros are perhaps the only team in the American League without any major holes in their roster. The Yankees’ pitching staff can be shaky at bad times and Cleveland’s lineup lacks the presence of a truly elite hitter, but the Astros seem to lack any true flaws. Jose Altuve, last year’s MVP, stands a good chance of winning a fourth batting title in five years; George Springer, the MVP of last year’s World Series should post another strong season as the best leadoff hitter in the league; and 2012 no. 1 pick Carlos Correa will look to improve upon his 2017 .315/.391/.550 slash line in a full season. The pitching staff, led by a rejuvenated Justin Verlander in his first full season in the team, will bolster Altuve and co. in the team’s attempt to become the first team to win consecutive World Series titles since the Yankees in 2000. Regardless of whether they win a title this year, it’s going to be a very good year for baseball in Houston.


Wildcards:

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox nabbed arguably the second biggest free agent on the market last season when they signed J.D. Martinez to a five-year, $110 million contract. Martinez should bring some much-needed power to a lineup that has been lacking it since David Ortiz retired at the end of 2016. Chris Sale is my pick for Cy Young, Rick Porcello should be better than he was in a dreadful 2017 season, and if David Price can pitch at anywhere near the level of a player being paid $30 million per year, Boston’s starting rotation should be one of the league’s most elite units. The Red Sox might even be the third best team in the AL-the fact that Cleveland plays in such a bad division makes it hard to judge exactly how good they are-but, barring a collapse by the Yankees, it’s hard for me to envision them winning the AL East this season. They simply don’t have the star power or bullpen to compete with their Evil Empire rivals in the Bronx, despite the talent present on their roster.


Los Angeles Angels

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and the fact that he has appeared in the postseason only once in his six-season career serves to show how much the Angels have underachieved and disappointed their fans in the past few years. Mike Scioscia, in his nineteenth season with the organization, may be a legend in Anaheim, but the Angels fail to make the playoffs again this year, his job may be in danger for the first time ever during his career here. If Trout, coming off an injury-riddled season, plays at his usual level of greatness, if Albert Pujols can recover from a truly awful 2017 campaign, and if Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani proves is anywhere near as good as he’s appeared over the first few games of this season, the Angels might be able to make another playoff run-albeit, likely a short one considering the talent present in the rest of the AL.


Awards

MVP: Mike Trout, Angels

The best player in the MLB. End of story.

…But if I had to expand, I’d just point out the fact that Trout has never finished outside the top ten in Wins Above Replacement and has led the league in the category four times. He has two MVPs already (2014 and 2016), was robbed of another three (2012, 2013 and 2015-sorry Miguel Cabrera and Josh Donaldson), and, barring his being hit by the injury bug again, should be obvious favorite to win the award this year. The only serious challenge to Trout this year will likely be Jose Altuve, but Trout has more power and is arguably more integral to the success of the Angels than Altuve is to the Astros’ success.


Cy Young: Chris Sale, Red Sox


If not for a rough September last year, Sale would probably have won the Cy Young last year. His stat line that year was still impressive: 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA and a league-leading 308 strikeouts. Better run support this year should help improve his wins total, a year in Boston should leave him more acclimated to pitching in the unique confines of Fenway park, and his slider should remain the best strikeout pitch in baseball. Expect a great season from the Condor this year, although don’t be too surprised if Corey Kluber or Luis Severino claim this award either. Kluber is dominant every year, and Severino has improved steadily up to this point and showed Cy Young potential last season.

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