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AL East: New York Yankees
After a stellar year from both the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, I once again see the division race coming down to the wire in September. With the Red Sox keeping their roster intact and not making any major personnel moves this offseason, the Yankees positioned themselves to be able to leap the reigning World Series champions and make a World Series push of their own. The biggest improvement the Yankees made was trading for left-handed pitcher James Paxton from the Mariners. Paxton, who posted a 3.76 ERA and 208 K’s in just 160.1 IP, gives the Yankees a great 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation as well as giving them a dominant lefty to fill the void of CC Sabathia, who has been declining the past few years. The Yankees were also able to add infield depth by signing a pair of former Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki, and DJ LeMahieu. These two along with top prospect Gleyber Torres, who hit 22 HR and 77 RBI in his first season in the big leagues, should be able to fill in for injured shortstop Didi Gregorius who underwent Tommy John surgery in the offseason. I think these additions to the Yankees roster, as well as the known production Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez will put up, will push this team above the Red Sox in the division, although neither team should have trouble making the postseason.
AL Central: Cleveland Indians
This one was a no brainer. The Indians will have no problem winning the NL Central. Despite losing sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso as well as losing key outfielders Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall, the Indians still have the best tandem in the division with star infielders Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor. The duo combined for a whopping 77 home runs in 2018 (the best of any duo in the MLB) and 197 RBI so the offensive production should continue to be there throughout the year despite Lindor’s status for opening day up in the air after sustaining a calf injury prior to the start of spring training. Oh, and don’t forget about potentially the best pitching staff in all of baseball. A staff that posted a combined ERA of 3.77 should be able to keep the club in most games this year against inferior competition within the division. While Terry Francona’s team may not have the marquee names they have had in the last couple of seasons, I expect nothing less than a fourth straight trip to the playoffs.
AL West: Houston Astros
The Houston Astros winning the AL West shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone. For a club that had the lowest team ERA in the league and ranked 6th in offensive runs scored a year ago they should have everything, they need to get past the rest of the west. The only question mark from the club a year ago is the uncertainty of current free agent Dallas Keuchel. Even if Keuchel decides to sign elsewhere, their top three starting pitchers Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Collin McHugh as well as a full year with closer Roberto Osuna who saved 21 games in 22 opportunities while appearing in just 38 games, should give the Astros bullpen an even stronger advantage than they had a year ago. The Astros have everything a club could want so there really shouldn’t be much competition to overthrow them as division champs in 2019.
NL East: Atlanta Braves
Even with the speculation of Bryce Harper joining the Philadelphia Phillies, the Braves look poised to build off of their breakout season in 2018. Perhaps the biggest bright spot in the Braves lineup will be the pairing of young stars, 2B Ozzie Albies, and LF Ronald Acuna Jr. In their first full seasons in the big leagues, they managed to both hit over 20 home runs while primarily hitting 1st and 2nd in the lineup. After these two the lineup does not seem to let up as Freddie Freeman and newly acquired 3B Josh Donaldson look to keep the offense rolling. With a roster ranking as the 5th youngest last year, it will be very important to get consistent production from these two veterans, both of which have been serious MVP candidates in their last three full seasons. On paper, the Braves’ pitching staff raises some questions, but after recording the leagues 7th best ERA at 3.75 they should continue this trend while playing in a relatively weak offensive division, with three of their four opponents ranking in the bottom third in runs scored in 2018. 2019 should be a great year for the Braves franchise as they have all the pieces to win a 2nd straight division crown and solidify their spot as one of the best teams in the NL.
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
As a whole, I think the NL Central is the division who improved the most. Despite the Pirates, for the most part, staying with their roster from a year ago, the Reds and Cardinals both put themselves into position to make a leap to the top, similar to what the Milwaukee Brewers did a year ago. The Reds were able to acquire Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Alex Wood from the Dodgers while sending Homer Bailey and his atrocious contract to LA. The Reds were also able to trade for former Yankee pitcher Sonny Gray, which gives them added depth in a much-improved pitching rotation. The Cardinals, on the other hand, made without a question the biggest splash in the division by adding a cornerstone piece in 1B Paul Goldschmidt. The career .297 hitter who added 33 home runs in 2018 should provide much-needed protection to LF Marcell Ozuna in the four hole. With a player like Goldschmidt in the lineup every day, the offense who ranked 11th in runs last year should only improve. Another move that should put the Cardinals atop the NL Central is the addition of RP Andrew Miller. If Miller can stay healthy (a big question mark the past couple of years) he can provide a ton of versatility to the back end of the pitching staff. As shown by his former manager Terry Francona, Miller can be used as a closer, setup man, a lefty specialist as well as someone who can come in in a critical position with the ability to eat up 2-3 innings early. Overall, the additions of these two are what I think will push the Cardinals to the top of the Central and get them back into playoff baseball, something they haven’t achieved in each of the last three seasons.
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers and once again winning the west. Their roster is stacked with great starting pitching headlined by Clayton Kershaw and a great bullpen with closer Kenley Jansen. Along with those two big-name pitchers, in 2018 the Dodgers saw former 1st round pick Walker Buehler burst onto the scene and become a key contributor to the starting rotation by posting 9 wins, 2.95 ERA, and 163 K’s in just 146.2 IP. A full year of Buehler in 2019 should only enhance a pitching staff that was 2nd in the league with a 3.38 ERA. On the offensive side, the Dodgers have no shortage of power. This year’s roster consists of five players who hit over 20 HR’s last year including newly acquired CF AJ Pollock. Pollock will have to make up for the lost production of Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig, but with the depth their lineup has on any given day, he should have no problem surpassing the 20 HR mark yet again. While I think the Rockies will give the Dodgers a good run for their money, the pitching will ultimately be what pushes them to the top of the division for the 7th straight year.