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Spring training has finally begun, kicking off the baseball season for 2019. With opening day just over a month away, it seems like as good a time as any to look ahead to the season and try pick out the teams who are primed for success this year. Unfortunately, there has to be a huge asterisk next this entire piece, as both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are still unsigned. The impact that both of these free agents can have on a team is enormous and has the possibility to totally change a team’s outlook for the season. Both players want larger contracts then what has currently been offered, and being on the verge of the season hasn’t seemed to speed up the process in any way. So, while I’m going to do my best to try pick out the 10 potential playoff teams here, just know that a fringe team signing either Machado or Harper could launch them into a division title hunt.
AL East – New York Yankees
This seems as good a place to start as any, I’m a Yankees fan and this is likely going to be one of the most talked about divisions (as it usually is). It may seem crazy to bet against the 2018 champion Boston Red Sox, but they won 108 games last year, and that number can only go down. The Red Sox have done comparatively little over the offseason to improve on the weaknesses that existed in last years roster. They resigned Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce, who were both playoff heroes, but neither are large impact players. The bullpen is even weaker than before, with the potential loss of Craig Kimbrel; And the team has not done much to improve on the dreadful catchers from last year. On the other hand, the Yankees have made some big signings. The bullpen is monster, with the additions of Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton to the already stacked reliever core. Last year the Yankees suffered massively with injuries to key players, so this offseason focused on adding depth to the roster. That mindset over this offseason help the Yankees to maintain last year’s success while the Red Sox stagnate and then decline. It will be close, there are reasons to pick either team, but I see the Yankees taking the division, while the Red Sox are relegated to a Wild Card birth.
AL Central – Cleveland Indians
There really isn’t much to say about the AL Central. The Indians have won the division the last 3 years and they will win it again this year. No other team in the division is anywhere near being competitive, and as such the Indians haven’t had to do much this offseason. While this means they should easily take their division, it won’t serve them well when it comes to the postseason. Last year they were destroyed in the first round by the Astros, and there are no signs that this year will be any different. While it may be cheaper for ownership to not be actively trying to get better, this will only shorten the current window of Cleveland success. It’ll probably be another year or two before the Indians are challenged in their division, barring any miracles this year. If anyone can dethrone Cleveland, it’ll be the Chicago White Sox, but that is an incredibly long shot
AL West – Houston Astros
Much like the AL Central, the Astros are primed to take the division crown again. However, for the Astros, it’s because they’re a very good team, even with the divisional competition they have. With stars like Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Justin Verlander the Astros look to be a lock. However, the Oakland Athletics surprised many last year by winning 90 games with the smallest payroll in the league. Even though it looks like the Athletics haven’t done much to improve this year, this was also the case last year. Oakland’s season could be great or could be awful, and it’s hard to tell which way round it’ll be. If Oakland can pull out a little bit more of the ‘Moneyball’ magic that they always have, they could give the Astros some stiff competition. And if not then they are probably going to be playing in the Wild Card game again, still impressive for the lowly payroll, but a disappointment nonetheless.
NL East – Atlanta Braves
There’s only one certainty in this division and that is the Miami Marlins will come last. Apart from that this could be a close 4 team race. The Washington Nationals declined last year but have had a wave of young players join the team, which could reinvigorate them, possibly enough to get back to the playoffs. The New York Mets have made multiple trades for productive veteran players, who when added to the excellent pitching, could make for a powerhouse of a team. Or there’s the Philadelphia Phillies, who were strong all of last year until a bad final month derailed their postseason hopes. Not only that but they are favourites to land Bryce Harper, the biggest free agent of the offseason. However, I just can’t see the Atlanta Braves not coming out on top. They won last year and have only added to their roster, with the likes of Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann. They have enough star power to make a deep playoff run and could be World Series favourites if they have a bit of luck. If the Phillies get Bryce then it’ll be close, but either way they’ll probably still end up in the Wild Card game.
NL Central – Milwaukee Brewers
They have the reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich. They have new star signing Yasmani Grandal. They have an excellent bullpen led by Josh Hader. The Brewers are miles ahead of the other teams in their division, even with the movements of their rivals to try bridge the talent gap. The Cardinals pulled of a huge deal for 1st baseman Paul Goldschmidt, which instantly puts them into the conversation for the division title. However, the rest of the team around Goldschmidt is still a little bit lacking, probably a few years away from true contention. The other plausible threat had been the Chicago Cubs, however instead of trying to win, the Cubs are seemingly attempting a masterclass in how to squander and ruin a potential dynasty. 2 years ago, it looked like no one could beat them, and instead of continually growing, the Cubs have lost the excitement that surrounded them. Now it’s the Brewers turn to lead the division while the others try to play catch up.
NL West – Los Angeles Dodgers
This is probably the last year that we can truly say the Dodgers are favourites to win the NL West. The San Diego Padres have been stockpiling young talent, which is beginning to make its way to the major league level. When it does the Padres will become a boheamouth. But that is probably still a year away at the very least, and so the Dodgers will look to retain their crown for another year. Last year they face competition from both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies; but this year neither team looks to have done anything this winter to really get in the way of the Dodgers this year. The Rockies could sneak into the Wild Card game with a bit of luck, or even the Padres if they get off to a hot start and call up some top prospects. But either way, the Dodgers will be NL West champions for another year.