Last year’s MLB season was a bit of an anomaly. All the preseason favorites ended up winning their divisions. Only two divisions, the American League East and National League Central, were decided by less than 10 games. Additionally, the total number of home runs hit last season absolutely shattered the previous record as the Houston Astros made their inspired run to the World Series title.
Going into the 2018 MLB season, the division races are largely expected to be blowouts once again. The Houston Astros, as the defending champions, remain the overwhelming favorites to win the AL West.
The Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners made offseason moves in attempts to gain ground. Nevertheless, the Astros had an all-time great offense last season. In addition, they improved their pitching staff in the offseason by trading for starter Gerrit Cole.
Meanwhile, the Rangers and Athletics will focus on developing young talent and acquiring new players this season, as they don’t have the talent to contend with the Astros. The Angels will contend for a wild card slot late in the year; if Mike Trout stays healthy all year and the new Japanese addition Shohei Ohtani plays up to expectations, they just might make it.
The Mariners, on the other hand, are running out of time to make the current roster work. Seattle hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001, and another failure this year could lead to front office changes and a full-blown rebuild.
The AL East features two powerhouse franchises in the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The historic rivalry will be in full swing this season once again. During the offseason, both teams made flashy acquisitions to improve their rosters.
The Red Sox, winners of the AL East last season, signed slugger J.D. Martinez to bolster their already potent offense. The Yankees, quickly re-earning their Bronx Bombers nickname, made headlines by grabbing last season’s NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins.
Chris Sale gives the Red Sox a bona fide Cy Young candidate annually, but the Yankees aren’t that far behind. Luis Severino is rapidly making a name for himself at the top end of the league. Additionally, both teams have top closing talent, with Craig Kimbrel in the Sox and Aroldis Chapman in the Yankees.
The will be the top division race to watch this season; with their lineups packed with star power, both teams have the potential to win the World Series.
However, the rest of the teams in the AL East are in a tough spot. All of them have great talent at the top but very little depth beyond that. The Baltimore Orioles’ season will most likely be decided in the first 2 months; it depends on they decisions they make at the trade deadline. The Toronto Blue Jays are in a very similar position.
Probably, they’ll find themselves trading their top performers for young prospects at the deadline. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays refused in the offseason to trade their top trade chip, starting pitcher Chris Archer, which indicates that they believe they can make the playoffs.
However, once they reach the trade deadline with a losing record, they will face immense pressure to trade for prospects. With this pressure to trade, the Rays will seek to bolster their farm system for a rebuild.
The AL Central is a division of extremes this year. It contains one of the best teams in baseball, the Cleveland Indians; it also has two of the worst in the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers. The Detroit Tigers could vie for the worst record in MLB history this year, while the White Sox are currently mired in a rebuild.
The Indians, on the other hand, are coming off a 100-win season and more of the same is expected this year. While they are mired in the longest current World Series drought, they enter this season with the goal of finally snapping that streak. The only real challenge in the Indians’s way comes from Minnesota and the up-and-coming Twins.
The Twins have been stockpiling young talent for the last few seasons. This year, it just might pay off for them. Outfielder Byron Buxton, third baseman Miguel Sanó and starter José Berríos are all well on the path to stardom and all enter the season under 25 years old.
They boast solid contributors across the roster and are coming off a wild card berth last season. If their young talent improves again this year, they could pose a threat to the Indians and snag another wild card spot. However, the Twins still have a few years before they can truly contend for a title.
The NL West is the Dodgers’ division to lose again this year. The Dodgers boast arguably the most talented roster in the MLB, which is to be expected for the team with the second-highest payroll in the league. The pitching staff led by once-in-a-generation stud Clayton Kershaw is formidable, and so is their high-powered offense.
Aside from the Dodgers, however, the NL West features a number of question marks. The Diamondbacks and Rockies were both wild card teams last year, but they earned their success by relying on the excellent performances of new young players. If those players can’t replicate that success, the teams will struggle to find the same achievements this year.
The Padres face a long struggle this year as they trudge through a rebuild. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants are a mystery. They tied the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in the MLB last year; to make matters worse for them, they got older in the offseason and depleted their farm system.
However, the front office seems to expect a playoff run from many of the same players who couldn’t win 65 games last season. Whether that faith carries any weight remains to be seen, but the Giants seem destined for an arduous rebuild soon.
The NL East is the easiest division race to call this year; the Washington Nationals will almost certainly run away with the league again. After all, the Nationals have one of the best rosters in all of baseball and the rest of that division is a dumpster fire. The Nationals boast two of the most dominant players in baseball in Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.
Bryce Harper is a NL MVP favorite again this year, leading a star-studded lineup expected to be near the top of the MLB in runs. Stephen Strasburg had a 0.70 ERA in the second half of the season and postseason. And yet he isn’t even the best pitcher on the team.
That honor goes to 2017 Cy Young award-winner Max Scherzer. The Nationals own this division; if their stars can stay healthy, they have the potential to make it to the World Series.
Meanwhile, the rest of the NL East is in pathetic shape. The Marlins had a fire sale in the offseason; not only did they sell the team to a new ownership group, they also traded basically their entire roster to start another rebuilding process.
The Braves have promise, with young talent in the minors expected to make a major league impact at some point this season. However, it’s most likely that they will suffer through a few more losing seasons before seeing success.
The Mets can’t decide whether to sell players and rebuild or acquire aging talent to make a playoff push; therefore, they’ve trapped themselves in mediocrity for the time being. The Phillies could make a surprise run to finish second in the division this year and have some young players developing ahead of schedule.
However, their roster has more holes than swiss cheese, so Philly fans can expect a losing record again this season.
The NL Central was surprisingly close last season, with the Milwaukee Brewers winning 86 games and leading the division late into July. The Chicago Cubs ended up winning the division, as expected, and will likely do so in the 2018 MLB season.
For the rest of NL Central, it would be hard to challenge the star power the Cubs have on the roster. However, the Brewers and Cardinals both made offseason moves attempting to close the gap, trading for former Miami Marlins outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Cubs let ace Jake Arrieta walk in free agency and replaced him with Yu Darvish. If the Cubs want to win, they’ll need their entire pitching staff to return to 2016 form after many of them struggled last season. This division race could come down to the final weekend.
As for the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates, both teams find themselves on the outside looking in this season. The Pirates cut ties with former franchise player Andrew McCutchen this offseason; however, they haven’t made any real efforts to rebuilt. They’re in an odd spot, stuck in limbo between rebuilding and buying into a playoff run.
The Reds will once again have one of the MLB’s top offenses. Still, they did nothing to address their utterly pathetic pitching staff this offseason. When your best starting pitcher is Homer Bailey, whose ERA was 6.43 last year, you are in bad shape. This season the Reds will focus on developing young talent and searching the waiver wire for hidden gems.
The beauty of sports is that anything can happen, so the superteams in the MLB shouldn’t deter anyone. Even though most divisions in the MLB will (probably) be dominated by one team, fans of all teams still have reason to watch baseball this season. Regardless of which team wins, the individual award races should once again be exhilarating to watch.
The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees rivalry is back again, making for some spicy drama. And while the power structure seems set in stone, one major injury to a top player can throw everything out the window.
This just might be a season where history is made. The Seattle Mariners could make the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. the Cleveland Indians could win their first World Series since 1948. The Washington Nationals could finally win a postseason series. The Yankees have Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the ultimate “power couple.”
The Detroit Tigers, if they continue their losing streak, could lose more games than any team in MLB history. Players are contributing big things at younger ages than ever. Baseball season has finally begun, folks; grab your peanuts and hot dog and throw on your team’s baseball cap. The 2018 MLB season is going to be a wild ride.