After doing my Obstructed capsules, it is time for the picks of who wins, MVP’s and so forth on the eve of MLB Opening Day (Sorry, Athletics & Mariners fans, but when everybody plays that’s when I count it).
So looking at my predictions, the October hopefuls go as follows:
AL Division Champions: Yankees, Indians, Astros
AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Athletics
NL Division Champions: Mets, Cardinals, Rockies
NL Wild Cards: Phillies, Nationals
The AL Race will have a similar feel in that we will see the four squads that have been residing in the playoffs in October the last two years (Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Astros) remain with relative ease. However, the second spot for the Wild Card will be a fight with the Rays and Athletics. I give Oakland the nod slightly because of not having to see Boston and New York on a consistent basis like Tampa does. Now, if the Rays whip up on the Jays and Orioles then it may be interesting. But right now, Oakland I have getting in.
The NL Races, the NL East and Central will be fun for the division title as well as the West with the Rockies and Dodgers. It also means you will have a massive fight with the Wild Card spots with possibly the Phillies, Nationals, Brewers, Dodgers, and perhaps the Braves. Now wouldn’t it be a kick in the pants to see Bryce Harper going AGAINST Washington in October? Count me in to watch that one! But I think the Phillies and Nats edge out their rivals in the South, the Brew Crew, and the Hollywood Boys.
WILD CARD GAMES:
Nationals at Phillies: Hard to say given we wouldn’t know how the rotations would set up. However, given the fact the Nationals rotation is currently better than the Phillies (pending if a move for a front end guy happens for Philadelphia to compliment Nola or if Arrieta looks like his old Cy Young self), I think I’d take my chances with Scherzer and Sanchez, both of whom have pitched in huge October games in Detroit against vaunted lineups while Corbin and Strasburg aren’t anything to sneeze at-assuming Strasburg can grow up at some point. So if that’s the case I like Washington to get the last laugh on their former star player in Philadelphia and one would question if Phillies fans after one year would gripe about Harper not winning the big one. I’d take Washington, even in Philadelphia on a one-game tilt.
Athletics at Red Sox: Oakland had a solid rotation last year so it was dumbfounding to see them use the Tampa Bay method against the Yankees. It worked for Tampa Bay because they were accustomed to it. It failed for Oakland because they weren’t accustomed to it. Regardless, and unless the A’s swing for a front end guy (Greinke?) they will be outmatched against any of Boston’s studs. And honestly, I don’t see the Athletics winning in Beantown for a win-or-go-home game. In fact, since the Moneyball Era began in really 2000 (don’t let the movie fool you that much), the Athletics have made the playoffs 8 times, and only have won a series once. Make it 9 and once here.
Indians vs. Astros: Houston had Cleveland’s number in the postseason last year. The Astros had the arms to off-set Cleveland’s and had more depth in the lineup to take out the Tribe in a sweep. Will it be the same this year? My mind says not a sweep as Houston lost a good chunk of guys. That said, Houston also has a pretty good farm system to replenish and such. And they did get Michael Brantley. The question will be, can Springer and Correa bounce back and if Yuli Gurriel can be that star first baseman the Astros had hoped. If so, then the Astros should be fine. I think there is still more depth on Houston than Cleveland with positions, but I think with the loss of Keuchel, the Tribe will make it a series. Astros in 5
Red Sox vs. Yankees: Rob Manfred will probably find a way to make sure that Boston/New York is only reserved for the ALCS again because “that’s what is best for business” (yes, I’m quoting Vince McMahon-sue me). But we may see it once more in the ALDS. Both lineups are potent as potent can get out. Boston has the advantage in starting pitching while the Yankees have the advantage in the bullpen. Last year it had a similar vibe as Boston took down New York in 4 though a few games the Yankees tried to make a serious comeback. This series is going to be hard as nails to figure out and I’ll be honest, one of these two (maybe both) will make a trade to upgrade their key needs by the deadline. To me however, I think Boston getting a closer would give them a major jolt than the Yankees getting another starter (they didn’t really hit a home run the last time they made a massive move in getting Sonny Gray-don’t say it was JA Happ or Lance Lynn). It may decide the series that way. Red Sox in 5.
Nationals vs. Cardinals: This will also be a tough series to project if it happens. Again, while Harper is one of the game’s best players, I think the pressure may be off the Nationals a bit and they can play their game like they hope. The Cardinals should have a legit lineup through and through now and a decent staff. However, I don’t know if they are as deep in the pitching as Washington is. And in the playoffs, pitching decides games. I’ll give my nod to the Nationals here in a close series. Nationals in 5
Mets vs. Rockies: Quick: which ballpark has the larger dimensions? The offensive friendly Coors Field or the pitcher’s friendly Citi Field? If you said Coors, you had to have looked it up. That’s what I did. Of course, there is a bit of a difference as Colorado plays a mile higher than New York. But, it’s pretty cliche to say, but great pitching beats great hitting. I would take my chances of deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, or Matz having a solid outing in Colorado as opposed to the Rockies hitters having to figure out one of those four in New York. Rockies pitching is far better than it has been since, Ubaldo? But Colorado is nowhere near the Mets. Mets in 4.
Red Sox vs. Astros: Houston wants to end Boston’s defense like Boston ended Houston’s defense. However, the Red Sox depth overall is just too much to me, though I do give the nod to Houston’s bullpen. But again, it all depends on Correa, Gurriel, Springer, and even Brantley to figure out Sale, Price, Porcello. If they can do that, then the Astros will see their second World Series appearance in 3 years. But unless Verlander or Cole pull a Madison Bumgarner and keep pitching every game it seems in the playoffs, I don’t think I can see Wade Miley outduel Price, Porcello, or Sale. Houston has to tack onto Boston’s bullpen if at all possible but I’m not sure if the Astros hitters outside of Altuve and Bregman can do it. Red Sox in 6
Nationals vs. Mets: This has been quietly a rivalry in the NL East, of course I think the Phillies/Mets, Phillies/Nationals, Braves/Mets, and Braves/Nationals are more intense, but it will be to the forefront if these two teams see each other. Scherzer/deGrom? Twice and possibly a 3rd in a Game 7? I’ll sell a kidney, an arm and a leg to fly up to that one! Syndergaard vs. Strasburg? Sure! The young Matz vs. the reborn Anibal? Fine with me. Wheeler vs. Corbin? You know what? I’ll tell my wife I’ll be gone for two weeks to DC and New York City despite my allegiances to the Braves (I just want some good baseball and don’t care who I see). The series would be nip and tuck battles with 3 runs deciding most games and I think it would be a bullpen war, which I would go with the Mets slightly over the Nationals on that. And in a series like that, the better bullpen often wins out. Mets in 6
Mets vs. Red Sox: Boston fans have been wanting revenge for 33 years. They may get it. While I do think the Red Sox don’t have the bullpen qualit like the Mets would, I also don’t think the Mets would see a lineup comparable to what they would see in Boston with JD Martinez, Mookie Betts (a Mookie with the Red Sox AGAINST the Mets?), Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, etc. That said, I think the Mets will make it a tough series, but I don’t know if they can off-set the Red Sox offense and the stout pitching they have. Boston repeats, and the new Evil Empire reigns in Beantown to combine themselves with the Foxboro area in football. Red Sox in 6
AL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees: Stanton had a slow start but finished with a decent year after an adjustment coming form the NL to the AL. He will be ready, locked and loaded this year. He could hit around .290 with 50 HR and just destroy everything he sees especially if the Orioles, Blue Jays, Royals, Tigers, and Rangers are just flat out awful in 2019 (around 56 games of seeing those squads-yikes). He could net 20 right there among those 5 teams. But it will be a key reason why the Yankees win 100 games.
NL MVP: Nolan Arenado, Rockies: I hesitated because I think voters will try to downplay it given Arenado plays 81 games in Coors Field. But the guy is a stud. He can rake at Coors, or Dodger Stadium, or Petco Park, or anywhere. And the Rockies will be led by this guy this year and they will be a monster in the NL especially if that pitching continues to develop.
AL CY YOUNG: Chris Sale, Red Sox. I think he finally nets his first Cy Young. I see Sale as being a selfish player, but I don’t mean it in a negative way. Sale I think wants to show constantly he is the best pitcher around and I think he’s gotten to that point where he wants to be recognized as baseball’s best pitcher. I expect big things from this guy in 2019.
NL CY YOUNG: Aaron Nola, Phillies. It is so stinking hard to pinpoint a Cy Young winner when you have Scherzer, deGrom, Syndergaard, Mikolas, Kershaw, etc (and I’ll throw in Josh Hader for Milwaukee as a sleeper underdog despite being in relief). But Nola had a great year, but is going to be constantly overshadowed by pitchers on his rival teams in New York and Washington. But if Philadelphia is to make an impact and make it to October, he will be a key reason why.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Eloy Jimenez, White Sox. Man, the Cubs are going to severely regret this trade on numerous levels. I hope Jose Quintana was worth it Northsiders! Had Toronto called Vlad Jr. to the Bigs starting tomorrow, we would have a massive dogfight for the Rookie of the Year. But Jimenez in that small ballpark on the Southside? He could hit 40 this year with relative ease, especially feasting on pitching of Detroit and Kansas City. I think if he is healthy and plays nearly every game, he gets the nod over Impaler Jr. though it will be very close. VERY close.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Fernando Tatis Jr. Padres. Had the White Sox never made the James Shields debacle trade, I couldn’t fathom a Jimenez/Tatis tandem as a Tigers fan. Chicago would rule the AL Central for about a decade if that was the case. But the White Sox messed up and gave him to the Padres. Tatis will start with the year with San Diego so he may start off slow, but I think he will figure it out after that. I think it will be a relatively close race with him and Peter Alonso for the Mets. But what may hinder Tatis a bit is if he struggles in the large confines of Petco Park so his numbers may not be as pretty as Jimenez or Vladdie Jr. But if San Diego can make some noise in 2019, he will be a key reason why.
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Kevin Cash, Rays. A few years back I thought Cash was going to be canned by the Rays as they weren’t performing up to snuff under him. But he is probably more shrewd than his predecessor Joe Maddon ever was. And that says a lot. It is hard however to pinpoint a manager especially if the AL is really dominated by 5 teams. If Cash can find a way to sneak ahead of Boston or the Yankees in late September, he’s a lock. If another manager can put their team in a postseason race aside from Tampa Bay, Oakland, Minnesota, etc. they will also garner some votes.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Mickey Callaway, Mets. Assuming the Mets are over .500 and see the playoffs of course. But I think they will be an over .500 squad. The pitching is there and if the hitting comes through, he will look like a genius for the stuff he is doing. An honorable mention will be David Bell if Cincinnati can be competitive.
FIRST MANAGER FIRED: Ned Yost, Royals. Yost won a World Series with Kansas City in 2015. It isn’t his fault the Royals went into a massive rebuild. In a way he may be rewarded because it has to be hard knowing the team will not be in the thick of it for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t doubt he gets fired however in the off-season. Honestly, the managers who are there, I don’t know if any of them really have a hot seat. Maybe Dave Martinez if the Nationals scuffle. Maybe Brian Snitker if the Braves fall under .500. But really that’s it. I doubt Detroit says adios to Ron Gardenhire given their situation and him being in his second season.
MAJOR PLAYER WHO WILL BE TRADED DURING THE SEASON (AND TO WHERE?): Buster Posey, Giants (to Atlanta). There had been small rumblings about the Braves possibly netting the Giants future Hall of Fame catcher in the off-season. How true it was is up for debate. However, Atlanta was a runner up in the JT Realmuto sweepstakes despite having two veteran catchers in Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann. Posey would add better offense than both, help out the Braves plentiful young arms, and be a leader in the clubhouse. Add in the fact he is a Georgia boy and makes his home in the state in the off-season, it would make sense for Posey to the Braves. I wouldn’t also be surprised if the Braves ended up with another Giant contributor in the trade such as Jeff Samardzija or a reliever such as Tony Watson, especially to silence the Braves fans screaming for another reliever (which they are right; Atlanta’s bullpen is a mess). Another name to keep an eye on is if Zack Greinke gets moved if Arizona is out of it. Then you can bet the Yankees, Brewers, Dodgers, Phillies, Astros, or the Braves (assuming they wouldn’t get Posey) would be involved. If Greinke does get moved, I would say Milwaukee given their desperate need of a starter and the Brewers are firmly in their championship window.
BIGGEST ISSUE FOR BASEBALL: Rob Manfred seeing plenty of empty seats at ballparks in Detroit, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Texas (until the last three games at Globe Life Rangers Ballpark in Arlington), Tampa Bay, Miami, Arizona, Toronto, and Kansas City. Manfred will say something of “well, it is the teams’ doing. But look at the rest of the Majors! By the way I am also speeding up the game of baseball more by eliminating extra innings for a Home Run Derby, if you foul on two strikes, you are out, etc.” In other words, Rob Manfred is baseball’s biggest issue, but he will throw it to how the game is dull because it is too long and that’s why fans dont’ want to come out anymore. Just a thought, but maybe people don’t want to shell out $50 per ticket, $10 hot dogs (thanks St. Louis), $20 parking, and as the late Skip Caray would say about the Mets Steve Trachsel: “nobody wants to pay all that money to watch a guy grab his crotch between pitches.” As you can tell I am not a fan of Rob Manfred and had to vent at him. Or as a friend of mine would say I am having a “get off my lawn” moment. Ah, to each his own.
Enjoy the season my friends. As a Tigers fan, I look forward to the 2020 season starting tomorrow.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat