The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics opened the 2019 MLB season last week with two games in Japan. While those games gave Japanese superstar Ichiro a grand send off into retirement, the rest of the league is set to kick off a summer that should be full of excitement. Each division will be hotly contested throughout the year.
The NL East contains four very competitive teams in the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, and Washington Nationals. On the other hand, the Miami Marlins are content with a season to rebuild. It’s anyone’s division at this point in the 2019 season, and with aggressive offseasons by the Phillies and Mets, it’s unlikely that the Braves will end the year with the same comfortable eight-game lead that they held at the end of the last regular season. The Braves and their shining young stars Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies will be complemented on offense by veterans Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis as well as free-agent signing Josh Donaldson. While their pitching staff is a bit shaky at the moment, keep an eye on their prized young arms, which are slowly beginning to seep into the big league roster.
The Nationals saw one of the biggest MLB stars, Bryce Harper, leave in free agency, yet their strong pitching rotation headed by Max Scherzer, but improved by the big time acquisition of Patrick Corbin, coupled with a steady lineup, will keep them in contention. It was a huge winter for Phillies fans who should be excited to welcome Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen into an already potent lineup. Expect them to finish near the top of the NL East. While the Mets are a scary team on paper, it is yet to be seen if players like outfield slugger Yoenis Cespedes and flamethrower Noah Syndergaard can remain healthy. However, consider them a contending team until proven otherwise. The Miami Marlins season is basically already over. Over the last two years, they’ve unloaded virtually every valuable player on their roster; expect a pure rebuild for Miami.
The NL Central is by far the most intense division in all of baseball. Every team in the division has a chance to win it. The Chicago Cubs finished second last year due to a loss in a tie-breaker game with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers and Cubs should both be in fierce competition for the top this year. They will be followed closely by the St. Louis Cardinals, who added Paul Goldschmidt, a powerful first baseman, and whose pitching rotation should be able to push the Cardinals into contention. The Pittsburgh Pirates will also improve this year and can knock off the Cubs or Brewers with a strong rotation, which now includes star pitcher Chris Archer. The Cincinnati Reds had an amazing group of prospects last year, and many of those players are ready to graduate to the majors this year, putting them in position for a breakout year. The addition of Yasiel Puig also adds electricity to an already quick lineup. The ability to predict the NL Central does not exist, and the division is quite literally a toss up. I see the division playing out with the Brewers placing first followed by the Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds.
The NL West will see the Los Angeles Dodgers atop the division by the end of the season. They are the only convincing team in the West at the moment, while the rest of the division is either in rebuilding stages or limbo. With the Arizona Diamondbacks losing key components of their lineup in Paul Goldschmidt and rotation in Patrick Corbin, they’ll deploy younger players into an everyday role in hopes of starting a rebuild. The Colorado Rockies will return most of their perennially dangerous lineup, such as Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story and recently extended Nolan Arenado. However, they will need to see leaps and bounds made by their young pitching staff, which will most likely crumble under the high altitude environment of Coors Field, which allows balls to travel further in the thin air. After an attempted “all-in” mentality last season, the San Francisco Giants aged at an astounding rate, resulting in many large contract players hitting the injured list. Former superstars Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, and Brandon Crawford will return as the last few relics of a dynasty that is on its last legs, especially with this being Bruce Bochy’s last year as manager of the club. The San Diego Padres will be an exciting team in the coming years with their recent signing of superstar shortstop Manny Machado and top-ranked farm system in the MLB. Expect to see a lineup and rotation full of rookies who will gain valuable experience but not quite make a large enough impact to affect the postseason picture.
The AL East contains three powerhouses: the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, and the reigning World Series champs, the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are returning nearly everyone from their roster and should be the team to beat in the AL East and the entire league this year. The Rays are set to break into the playoffs after an unbelievable year last year behind pitching ace and Cy Young winner Blake Snell. They finished last year with a better record than some NL playoff teams and should improve on that record this summer. The Yankees have the home run kings in Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. They should slug again and hit themselves into a solid postseason position. They also added James Paxton to their rotation, who is a solid offseason acquisition some believe can push them over the top to overtake the Red Sox. The two other teams in the division are the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays should have an exciting year as many young players, such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., finally get their spot to shine in the majors. The Orioles went from bad to worse from last year to this year, and they should finish last in the division. The Red Sox are predicted to win the division followed by the Rays, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Orioles.
The AL Central will continue to be the worst division in baseball. The Cleveland Indians should run away with the division, as they still have a solid rotation centered around Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber. The offense will be producing again this year for the Indians but should do enough to win them the division. The Minnesota Twins are a solid up-and-coming team in the AL Central, but they do not have enough talent to beat the Indians. Eddie Rosario should be the best hitter this year for the Twins, and their offense will put up an impressive year, but their lackluster rotation should prevent them from reaching the playoffs. The Chicago White Sox are an interesting team this season. The White Sox have a lot of talented young players who, if everything falls into place perfectly, can challenge for second in the division, but the playoffs will not be in the cards for the White Sox this year. It will be fun to watch Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada develop this year in an expected rebuild year for the White Sox. The real race in this division is the race to not finish last. The contestants include the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals. The Royals added Billy Hamilton this offseason, which should make them exciting to watch, as he brings his unbelievable speed to their lineup. The Tigers are a potential 100 loss team this year and it is not unlikely if they hit that mark with a month to go in the season. The Indians will win the division, followed by the Twins, White Sox, Royals, and the Tigers.
The AL West is full of adequate teams that all have potential to improve on their performance last year. The Los Angeles Angels have the best player in the league, Mike Trout, fresh off a lucrative $430 million extension, and exciting two-way player Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani will only hit this year due to an elbow injury but will provide above average power and average from the DH position. However, the Angels do not have enough to win the division, as the Houston Astros return a stacked lineup and rotation. Justin Verlander will continue to be great with Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa carrying the Astros offense. The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers each should be mediocre teams with players that have potential to break out in 2019. However, this year is not their year and their mediocrity will not get them into the postseason. The final team in the division is the Oakland Athletics, who should make a push for the postseason after a surprising wild-card finish last year. They are returning almost their entire roster and should be a fun team to follow as they try to recapture the magic they had in 2018. The Astros will win the division followed by the Athletics, Angels, Mariners, and the Rangers.
Each division will be a tight race, and all baseball fans should look forward to an interesting summer ahead.