The “too early” early baseball forecast for the 2019 season…
Breakout Team (Spice Level: 🔥)
Michael – Philadelphia Phillies
The new Philadelphia Phillies have arrived, and the MLB will take notice this season! This team is poised to return to the dominance they held over the National League during the late 2000s, due to all the talent they acquired this off-season. They won the biggest prize in free agent market – Bryce Harper – who signed a 13-year, $330 million contract and will be the new face of the franchise. Though coming off of a disappointing season in which he hit .249/.393/.496, he is more than capable of returning to MVP form in his new environment. The Phillies also added one of the best offensive catchers in JT Realmuto who put up a 4.3 WAR last year in Miami; as well as, five-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen, and baserunning threat Jean Segura to a lineup that could be one of the best in the MLB. This is also said without mentioning the high-ceiling of Rhys Hoskins who can take a big step forward in his development. Philadelphia’s rotation is young, and although there are question marks with guys like Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez, they have high hopes in Aaron Nola, who is a legitimate ace and a potential Cy Young winner, as well as Nick Pivetta, could have a breakout season while pitching in front of a much-improved infield defence. All these factors combined with a strong bullpen boosted by the addition of new closer David Robertson could help the Phillies compete for the top spot in the NL East.
George – Minnesota Twins
In 2018, the Minnesota Twins finished 2nd in the American League Central for the second year in a row but going 78-84 left them 19 games back of a Wild Card spot. However, 2019 is starting to look like a good year to be a Twins fan. Sharing a division with the rebuilding Royals, Tigers, and White Sox leaves Minnesota and Cleveland as the only real competitors in their division. The Twins should start to see dividends from former number one MLB prospect Byron Buxton – if he can stay healthy. He should fit in nicely with General Manager Thad Levine’s new offseason acquisitions. First, Levine picked up slugger C.J. Cron off of waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays. Cron should see a bump in his .253/.323/.493 splits, while hitting around 30 HRs as he did in 2018. Later, in January, the Twins signed 6-time all-star Nelson Cruz to a 1-year deal. Infielders Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Schoop were also signed as free agents during the winter, which should give the Twins a much-needed boost in defence. Minnesota committed 94 errors in 2018, 4th most in the AL. On top of a balanced lineup and good defence, the Twins feature some big-name starting pitchers in Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, and Kyle Gibson. Combining a lethal lineup that features speed and power, a newly improved defence, and a pitching staff with swing-and-miss stuff, the Twins should soar up the standings. Barring any medical setbacks, the Minnesota Twins should be viewed by the rest of the American League as breakout contenders and playoff hopefuls.
Playoff Pretender (Spice Level: 🔥)
Michael – Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers had an unexpected breakout season in 2019, which saw them win the NL Central and go all the way to the NLDS, led by MVP Christian Yelich, as well as their stellar bullpen. It would be a tremendous feat to replicate this success due to the glaring weakness this team has: its starting rotation. No one in their rotation is capable of pitching 6+ innings on a consistent basis, and all 2018 they relied on their bullpen to bail them out of games. This will become especially difficult for them to do so considering their closer Corey Knebel has been shut down and might need to undergo Tommy John Surgery, while, set-up man Jeremy Jeffries is hurt to start the season. If these injuries cause the bullpen to falter in the slightest, it would likely make the Brewers regress in 2019.
George – Chicago Cubs
World Series winners in ’16; eliminated in the National League Championship Series in ’17; Wild Card exit in ’18. The Chicago Cubs have slowly found themselves regressing despite having won over 90 games for four straight seasons. Last year, with the help of NL-MVP runner up Javier Baez, and his 6.3 WAR, the Cubs found themselves back in the playoffs. But if Baez can’t replicate his 34 HRs, NL leading 111 RBIs, and his .290/ .326/ .554 line, the Cubs could find themselves in an unfamiliar position come October. With many National League teams making big moves this offseason, Chicago likely won’t get as many freebies as they did in 2018, which is a significant cause for concern. The days of beating the Padres, Phillies, and Braves may be behind them now. Further, it is yet to be known how their aging rotation will pitch and how they can keep their bullpen healthy, but if these issues aren’t addressed the lovable losers may be losers once again. Finishing 2nd in the division in 2018 gave the Cubbies a Wild Card spot but expect it to be a little (or a lot) harder for them to achieve October baseball in 2019.
MVPs (Spice Level: 🔥🔥)
Michael – Juan Soto
After an underwhelming last season which saw the team miss the playoffs for the first time after winning the NL East in back to back years, it is imperative that the Washington Nationals take a big step forward in this upcoming season. This will not be an easy task, even though GM Mike Rizzo made shrewd moves in the offseason, acquiring 2018 All-Star Patrick Corbin to bolster their rotation and veteran 2B Brian Dozier for infield depth, the Nationals lost their franchise superstar, Bryce Harper to the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason. This team, however, has a superstar in the making in Juan Soto, more than capable of filling the void Harper left. As a rookie, Soto hit 22 home runs, had a .923 OPS and put up a 146 wRC+ in only 116 games, finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Potentially hitting cleanup in a stacked Nationals offense featuring Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon, the 20-year-old is more than likely to improve upon his production and ascend to superstardom in 2019.
George – Alex Bregman
Let’s be serious for a moment. I’d be dumb not to put down $430-million-man Mike Trout as my AL MVP favourite, but this segment isn’t called “Reliable MLB Predictions”, it’s called “Spicy MLB Predictions”. And what’s spicier than Alex Bregman winning the highest regular-season honour? He came close to achieving the feat in 2018 coming in 5th place in the American League behind Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez, and J.D Martinez. The five-tool player finished his 2nd full season with a .286 average, 31 long-bombs, 103 RBIs, an OPS of .926, and to top it off he added 10 stolen bases. He was a Gold Glove finalist for the hot-corner, and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America named him the Astros’ MVP (Yes, the same Astros with Altuve, Cole, Verlander, and Correa). In his third full year expect Bregman to continue to fill up the stat sheet on his way to another great, MVP-calibre season.
Cy Young (Spice Level: 🔥🔥)
Michael – Aaron Nola
Aaron Nola almost won this award last year, finishing 3rd in NL Cy Young voting. He went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA, and 224 strikeouts. Entering into his fifth season in the majors, Nola has the tools to replicate or improve on these numbers, especially pitching in front of a much-improved infield defence due to the Phillies’ acquisition of shortstop Jean Segura who finished last season with five Defensive Runs Saved. Nola has proven that he can handle a large workload as he pitched 212.3 innings last season – fifth most in the MLB – and pitching with the support of a much-improved offense, it’s likely that Nola will have the run support necessary to improve upon his win totals. The Phillies are confident that he is their ace, locking him down to a four-year, $45 million contract in the offseason, but now it’s up to Nola to prove that he is among the league’s best.
George – Chris Sale
Probably the tamest of my predictions, but how could you not love Sale’s lights-out stuff. Despite what you may think, Sale has yet to win a Cy Young Award finishing top 5 in votes every year since 2013 (6th in 2012). Last year was Sale’s to lose going 10-4 with a 2.23 ERA, 188 strikeouts in only 129 innings of work in the first half of the season; in the second half, injuries plagued the southpaw limiting him to just 29 innings of work but a phenomenal 1.55 ERA. That wasn’t enough to beat the surging Blake Snell, but a healthy Sale should easily be able to reproduce those numbers. Sale finished 2018 going 12-4, with 237 strikeouts, an ERA of 2.11, a WHIP of 0.86 in just 158.0 total innings. Those numbers are good for a 6.8 WAR which ranks 5th in the MLB among pitchers, and first among pitchers will less than 200 total innings of work. With Boston yet to address their bullpen concerns it would not be surprising to see Sale pitch deep into ball games when he can – ultimately padding his already astronomical stats.
Home Run Derby (Spice Level: 🔥🔥)
Michael – Matt Chapman
A bit of a sleeper pick, but if Chapman continues to make strides in his development as a hitter it wouldn’t be a surprise if he not only makes it into the Home Run Derby but wins it all. Chapman hit .278/.356/.508 last year with 25 HRs and saw his home run to fly ball ratio rise from 13.9% to 15.2%. Already a Gold Glove calibre defender, if he continues to hit for power (.230 ISO last season), in the middle of a strong Oakland offense, he could be among the league leaders in HRs and RBIs by July, making him a prime candidate to win the Midsummer Classic.
George – Christian Yelich
There is no doubt that the reigning National League MVP will be invited to participate in the Midsummer Classic – at least for the festivities. After hitting finishing third in HRs in the NL with 36, Yelich should be the betting favourite if he chooses to take part in the derby. Of the eligible NL batters with over 20 HRs, Yelich ranks 6th in average HR distance with over 400 feet. Beyond HR ability, Yelich has also demonstrated his impressive stamina by swiping over 20 bases and playing Gold Glove defence. Combining both his HR strength and his overall consistency gives Yelich the perfect skillset to compete in the Home Run Derby.
Managerial Fire (Spice Level: 🔥🔥🔥)
Michael – Scott Servais
The Seattle Mariners have been one of the most mediocre franchises in the MLB since 2001 – the last time they made the playoffs. Despite the wealth of talent, this franchise has had since then, they have been incapable of generating enough wins to surpass the powerhouses within the AL West. This lack of success has resulted in plenty of managerial turnover, with the team having nine managers since their last playoff appearance, and current manager Scott Servais is in a prime position to be the next on Seattle’s managerial carousel. Although they had their most success since 2003 last season with a regular-season record of 89-73, the front office has decided to rebuild, shedding Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, and Jean Segura, among others this offseason. Although they acquired Edwin Encarnacion and signed NPB standout Yusei Kikuchi, it is likely that they will continue to move roster players for future assets by the trade deadline. Being the Mariners’ manager since 2016, Scott Servais represents the team’s past failures, and it is likely that he will be fired in order to facilitate the culture change necessary for success in Seattle.
George – Bruce Bochy
Even year magic is no more! The 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Series Champions saw their luck run out in 2016 and have yet to return to the playoffs. In 2017 and 2018 the team won a combined 137 games – an average of 68.5 wins per year. In 2019, the club doesn’t look to be playing October baseball anytime soon. While the team boasts a strong starting rotation with Madison Bumgarner, Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz, and Jeff Samardzija, the team lacks offensive depth. With an aging team that will likely be a key seller come July 31st, it makes total sense for the team to fully commit to a cultural change – starting with Manager Bruce Bochy. Bochy has been the Giants’ manager since 2007 and has seen three World Series with the team, but with over 20 years of managerial experience (1995-2006 with the Padres + one World Series appearance), it might be time for the team to move on from him. A full change wouldn’t be hard to do as there’s no quick fix for the Giants who only have 2 of the 100 MLB prospects. Bochy is still considered one of the best skippers in the game, but a mutual separation between him and the club would not be surprising – at least for the time being (see: John Gibbons & Blue Jays Reunion).
World Series Winner (Spice Level: 🔥🔥🔥🔥)
Michael – New York Yankees
Although the Yankees missed out on their two big free agent targets this offseason, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, and they still play in the same division as the Red Sox, they are more than capable of winning the AL East and the World Series this fall. Despite missing out on 2019’s biggest free agents, they acquired a dominating pitcher in James Paxton from the Mariners, who will form a solid 1-2 punch with their star Luis Severino. They also acquired a former NL batting champion and three-time Gold Glove winner in DJ LeMahieu, as well as bounce-back candidate Troy Tulowitzki, to bolster an already lethal offence. Finally, they added Zach Britton and Adam Ottavino to a bullpen that already features the likes of Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances. The Achilles heel for this team is the injury bug. Key pieces, Didi Gregorius and Jordan Montgomery, are recovering from Tommy John Surgery, and a multitude of Yankees, including Luis Severino, have already suffered injuries during spring training. However, if this team is capable of evading any severe setbacks during the season, we’ll get to see Yankee fans reach new levels of insufferability.
George – Atlanta Braves
Look you wanted hot takes, you’re getting hot takes. The Atlanta Braves are slowly building themselves up to be the powerhouse that they were in the 90s and early 00s. Building around a core of young players in Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Dansby Swanson, Atlanta is set to be a dominating force in the National League East – even as early as 2019. With a full season for both Acuña Jr. and Albies, alongside veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman and new teammate Josh Donaldson, the team is sure to have enough power to slug their way to the top of the standings. On the other side of the ball, the starting rotation will be led by two-time all-star Julio Teheran and will also feature: breakout pitcher Mike Foltynewicz; young stud Sean Newcomb; former AL East starter Kevin Gausman; and top prospects Mike Soroka and Kyle Wright. In the pen, quality arms in Darren O’Day, A.J. Minter, and closer Arodys Vizcaíno will be on full display closing out games. Atlanta will no doubt be competing for many World Series in the coming years, so while choosing the young squad to win in 2019 maybe a longshot – it isn’t out of the realm of possibility.