MLB Baseball is one week away, and we are going to take a division by division look at how we see things shaking out this year. After one of the weirdest off-seasons in recent memory, some bigger names ended up signing in some interesting places, the rich got richer, and the biggest question of all is: will anything really change?
The Chicago Cubs swore up and down that they would not feel the World Series hangover, after winning their first championship in over 100+ years in 2016. Then they went out and did exactly that. They seemed off all year, but still managed to make the NLCS before falling to the Dodgers. The team is having perhaps its greatest run in franchise history, with three straight trips to the NLCS, two straight division titles, and of course the World Series title. During this run, they are averaging 97 wins. Yes, we are talking about the Cubs.
The big move this offseason was adding Yu Darvish to the rotation. Last time we saw him he was getting shelled in the World Series for the Dodgers, but he will be fine. It helps to have the second-highest scoring offense in MLB on your side. While lacking a true leadoff hitter (at least right now), Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Wilson Contreras will be possibly the best 2-3-4 lineups in baseball not in a Yankees uniform for another decade. They will look to get more from Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber — the former showed flashes but has to be better at making contact. Schwarber just has to be better; although after being sent to the minors last year he seemed to click in the second half and got in insane shape in the offseason.
They don’t have many holes, so really the Cubs can only get in their own way. Two other teams will be looking to help them with that. First, The St. Louis Cardinals look to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2015 — eons in that town. In is outfielder Marcell Ozuna, acquired in the Marlins firesale. He will provide power and forms one of the better outfields in the NL along with Dexter Fowler and Tommy Pham, provided they all stay healthy. Jedd Gyorko looks to provide a jack of all trades approach to the infield off the bench, and he will be needed too, in case Matt Carpenter can’t stay on the field or youngster Paul DeJong can’t replicate his strong numbers from last year.
As with most teams, pitching will be where the question marks are. Luke Weaver needs to take the next step after a great second half. He could be their ace soon, and needs to pitch like one this year. Veteran Adam Wainwright will unfortunately start the year on the DL with a bad hamstring, so prospect Jack Flaherty will take his place in the rotation. The rest of the rotation has had their injury and command problems as well. The big question is whether they can pull it together a full season to capture one of the two Wild Card spots.
The other team staring up at the Cubs was the most active during the offseason: The Milwaukee Brewers. The rebuild is ahead of schedule, and the team was alive in the playoff chase until the last day of the 2017 season. This offseason they brought in outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to bolster a lineup that already included Eric Thames, Ryan Braun, and Domingo Santana. Weirdly, they did not add a starting pitcher to the rotation in free agency or trade.
Jimmy Nelson will be back from shoulder surgery in the summer, but until then they have Chase Anderson and Zach Davies hoping to not regress from great 2017 performances. I see them trying desperately to add a big arm by the July trade deadline, possibly moving Santana or Braun to do so. They should be right in the thick of the Wild Card race all year.
The Pirates traded away two of their best players, and while they got good return for both Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, it will most likely translate to a record around 75 wins. So, middle of the pack. Starling Marte is still only 29 years young, and looks to move past his positive performance-enhancing drug test and become Pittsburgh’s best player. Youngsters Josh Bell and Colin Moran look to claim the corners permanently, while Corey Dickerson comes over from the Rays to play left. The rotation subs out Cole for Joe Musgrove, with Jameson Taillon looking to become the staffs ace. One pitcher who the team hopes finally puts it all together at the big league level is Tyler Glasnow. Feasting on the minors is over Tyler — time to get it together against the big boys and dominate. If the 6’8″ 100 MPH hurler can finally get his control under him, look out.
Finally, the Cincinnati Reds rebuild enters year four with some promising young arms and a lineup that can drive in runs. Of course, we all know Joey Votto will get his. There is not much left to say about the man — he is an MVP candidate every year, and the hope is they can start to contend again before he starts his decline. Young pieces like Luis Castillo and Anthony Desclafani on the pitching staff and the inevitable arrival of Nick Senzel should help. Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez will provide power as well. They should be better than last years 68 wins, but probably still another year away from wild card contention at least.
Reailty: the Cubs win the division. Do not be surprised if the Cards or Brew Crew punch a ticket to the Wild Card.