By Jake Shukan
With the cold weather behind us (hopefully), and with the spring months ahead, that can mean only thing to baseball enthusiasts everywhere – opening day! Amer- ica’s national pastime.
Offseason News: The Los Angeles Angels extended their star center fielder Mike Trout to a 12-year, $430 million contract extension, the largest contract in MLB history. At 27 years old, the Angels have the 2-time American League MVP under contract for possibly the rest of his career.
In addition to Trout’s contract extension, there were two notable free agent sign- ings. Perennial all-stars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado made headlines when they inked their respective $300 million contracts. Machado signed a 10 year, $300 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and, shortly after, Harper signed a 13 year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Harper’s deal with the Phillies includes a full no-trade clause and does not hold any opt-outs, meaning that the Phillies and Harper are likely committed to each other for the next decade plus.
At the dawn of the 2019 season, baseball legend Ichiro Suzuki announced that he officially would be retiring from baseball on March 21st, right after a two game mini-series between the Mariners and Athletics, which took place in Japan. Ichiro retired at age 45 and played 28 years of professional baseball. His legacy will never be forgotten in America, Japan, nor by baseball fans worldwide
AL EasT: In the American League East, the New York Yankees and the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox are clearly the co-favorites to win the di- vision. Boston is loaded with all-star talent, and are led by the reigning AL MVP, Mookie Betts. Last season, Betts won his third gold glove while boasting an ex- tremely impressive .346 batting average. The Yankees, led by sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, will need their offense to carry the load for a team, which has had pitching question marks and injury concerns. Both teams are aiming for the World Series this year. The Rays may make a playoff push coming off a solid end to last season, but with the Yankees and Red Sox around, they do not have a good chance of winning the division. The Blue Jays and Orioles both have too many flaws to contend and will most likely be finishing behind New York, Boston, and Tampa Bay.
AL West: The Houston Astros seek to defend their division crown this season, and rightfully so. Remember, this is largely the same core group of all-stars that won the World Series in 2017, so they will certainly be contenders for the World Series, let alone their own division. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, and Dallas Keuchel will have big roles carrying Houston to potentially their third straight 100 plus win season. The Los Angeles Angels will struggle to break into the playoffs, similar to last season, as Mike Trout, as great as he has been, will once again be asked to do too much in order to lead a mediocre team into the playoffs. The Oak- land A’s seem to be on the downfall, and they will probably slip from last season’s win total of 97. Look for the As to contend for a wild card spot, as that most certain- ly is a possibility for the Athletics. The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers should join the Angels behind the Astros at the bottom of the standings.
AL Central: The AL Central appears to belong to the Cleveland Indians. The In- dians ran away with the division last year while the Chicago White Sox (62-100), Detroit Tigers (64-98), Kansas City Royals (58-104), and Minnesota Twins (78-84) all finished with losing records. The Indians are led by young, all-star infielders Francisco Lindor (25) and Jose Ramirez (26) who combined for 77 home runs and 59 stolen bases last year. In addition to the Indians’ young power on offense, their pitching is strong and they have one of the best starting staffs in baseball, headed by Corey Kluber, who has won 2 Cy Young awards in the past 5 years. The Twins might be able to win 90 games, but it will be tough for them to make a playoff push. The White Sox, Tigers, and Royals each trailed the Indians by 25 plus games last year, and it is expected that none of the three will contend this season.
NL East: The Philadelphia Phillies look to improve upon their last season with the acquisition of Bryce Harper, but Harper may not even be enough to push the Phil- lies into the playoffs. The Atlanta Braves will look to defend their division title, but with more divisional competition this season, it will not come as easy. The Phil- lies should be able to challenge the upstart Braves who are led by Ozzie Albies, a 22-year-old second baseman, and 21-year-old Ronald Acuña, the 2018 NL rookie of the year. The Mets and Nationals also have a decent chance of winning the NL East, but the Braves definitely have the upper hand, at least for now. As for the Mar- lins, they had a substandard season last year and will almost certainly have another poor season again this season.
NL Central: The Chicago Cubs look to rebound, win the NL Central, and stake their claim as World Series contenders. The 2016 World Series champs look to regain the form that carried them three years ago. In order to get to the top, the Cubbies will have to overtake the defending division champs, the Milwaukee Brew- ers. Last year the Brewers were merely one game better than the Cubs, so it is more than possible for the Cubs to take the NL Central. The Cubs may have the best young infield in baseball: Rizzo, Baez, Russell, and Bryant. The St. Louis Cardi- nals acquired star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who may be the missing piece to help the Cardinals get a wild-card spot, or maybe even a division champion- ship. The Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates round out the NL Central. Neither of these teams should be able to contend for a playoff spot, but there should be some improvement from the Reds when compared to last season (67-95).
NL West: The NL West has been dominated by the Los Angeles Dodgers for past six years and it is tough to pick against them winning their 7th straight division title. The Dodgers’ offense features 4 players that hit 20 plus home runs last year and the pitching is strong, as usual. Clayton Kershaw’s shoulder injury holds some concern, and his return to Cy Young form is not certain this year. On the mound, Alex Wood and Rich Hill are talented enough to pick up the slack until Kershaw is back. The rest of the division includes the Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, and the San Diego Padres. The Rockies won 91 games last season but do not seem likely to repeat that win total this year. The Diamondbacks traded their best player, Paul Goldschmidt, and appear to have started a rebuild so they will have a mediocre season, if that. The Giants’ manager, Bruce Bochy, is retiring after this season and the Giants do not seem to have the firepower to send Bochy off with a bang. The Padres made a major move by signing Manny Machado this offseason, but they still are missing many pieces if they want to make the playoffs.
My Playoff Predictions: Representing the American League in the World Series will be the Yankees, who will survive the rugged AL playoffs including the Red Sox, Indians, and Astros, 3 teams who are all capable of winning 100 plus games and even taking the AL pennant.
Representing the National League in the World Series will be the Cubs, who will use their talented roster, combined with their World Series experience from 2016, to will their way through the NL playoffs.
It will take seven games, but the Yankees will defeat the Cubs and be crowned World Series Champions. A rematch of the 1932 World Series, this series may produce some legendary moments that will last generations.