MLB. Division by Division

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MLB. Division by Division

Ben Dawson

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A baseball article in the middle of February? Football season just concluded with another championship for the Patriots. The NBA is heating up and is trending towards being one of the most competitive final stretches since Golden State became the real life version of the “Monstars” from Space Jam. March Madness, the country’s mecca of college basketball is right around the corner. Be patient, pieces on all of the aforementioned are coming, I promise. But for now, we’re diving into baseball with Spring Training underway. Division by division, here we go…

*Disclaimer: When Free Agent superstar Bryce Harper signs, this post will be updated to accommodate his impact.

 

AL East

(Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles)

 

(Photo: ESPN.com)

 

Starting with arguably the strongest division in the league, we have the American League East. The East is not only home to the 2018 World Series winning Red Sox, who had the league’s best record, but also to the New York Yankees, who were just 8 games behind Boston. The two teams met in the first round of the AL playoffs, with the Red Sox taking the series in four games.

The Red Sox should still be looked at as the team to beat in the MLB, returning nearly an identical team to the field. AL MVP Mookie Betts (above) led the league in batting average and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and ace pitcher Chris Sale is considered by many to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Power-hitters JD Martinez and World Series MVP Steve Pearce bring the lumber for a very scary offensive team that is loaded with talent from top to bottom.

Of course, you can’t talk about the Sox without mention of the Yankees. The most historic baseball rivalry of all time will be as heated as ever in 2019, with the Bronx Bombers looking to dethrone Boston and take the division crown. Outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are two of  the top power hitters in baseball. Both are capable of hitting 40+ homers a season, and that alone will keep the Yankees in contention.

Tampa Bay was just a win away from making the playoffs last season, and are hoping to avenge their heartbreak and secure a playoff spot early. The team is captained by Blake Snell, who won the Cy Young Award last year after a fantastic campaign on the mound. In order to keep up with the other powerhouses in the division, key position players Tommy Pham and Kevin Kiermaier will have to step up and improve their numbers from last season.

As for the Blue Jays and the Orioles, there isn’t a whole lot to be excited for. Baltimore was by far the worst team in the majors, posting a 47-115 record. The definition of a rebuilding team, the Orioles are not likely to come out of the basement this year. Toronto is in the same boat, lacking the star power needed to keep up in an extremely competitive division.

 

AL Central

(Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals)

 

(Photo: minorleagueball.com)

 

Taking the division crown each of the last three years, the Indians look to be in position to extend their streak to four. Third baseman Jose Ramirez (above) finished third in AL MVP voting in 2018, and he pairs with shortstop Francisco Lindor to form what is perhaps the best young duo in the league. Corey Kluber is in the top tier of starting pitchers in the AL as well, winning 20 games last season.

No team besides the Indians had a winning record last season, but the Twins managed to earn a second place finish in the Central. Making a huge off-season pickup, Minnesota signed outfielder Nelson Cruz to a one year contract. Cruz has been a offensive superstar for years, and will add a much needed veteran presence to a very young team. They will also be gifted with the return of third baseman Miguel Sano, an All-Star in 2017 who missed over half of last season due to suspension.

In their current state, the White Sox are unlikely to make much noise. The White Sox were hoping to add Machado, but ultimately lost the sweepstakes. For now, however, the light shines on young pitcher Michael Kopech. At just 22 years old, Kopech is one of the hardest throwers in baseball, and many believe he has the potential to become one of the best starters in the league.

After a mainstay near the top of the AL, the Tigers took a step back last season, finishing 35 games under .500 and missing the postseason by a wide margin. Detroit’s core is aging, with former star player and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera turning 36 in April. Their bright spot comes with pitcher Michael Fulmer, who was an All-Star two years ago and won Rookie of the Year in 2016.

Finally comes the Kansas City Royals. Times are rough in KC, losing 104 games last season and finishing last in the division. Second basemen Whit Merrifield did lead the MLB in hits last season, and will only get better. Salvador Perez is a 6 time All-Star, and has been an elite catcher since his debut in 2011. Kansas City also signed speedster Billy Hamilton, who has had over 50 steals in four of his six seasons. While the pieces are beginning to fall into place for the Royals, winning the division might be out of reach. For now.

 

AL West

(Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers)

 

(Photo: BeInSports.com)

 

Everyone knew that the Astros were going to be good last year, and many thought that they might repeat as World Series champions. After taking the title in 2017, Houston won 103 games last season, good for the second best record in baseball behind only the Red Sox, the team that eliminated them in the ALCS. Second baseman Jose Altuve (above) was the AL MVP in 2017, and is right in the middle of his prime. The strength of the team comes from what is in all likelihood the best pitching rotation in the game. Justin Verlander is a future Hall of Famer, and he is followed by Dallas Keuchel and Gerrit Cole, both All-Stars.

Shocking the world, the Oakland Athletics won 97 games last season and took the second Wild Card spot in the AL. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Khris Davis led the league in home runs with 48 and won a Silver Slugger award. Despite losing the Wild Card game to the Yankees, hopes will be high in the Bay, with expectations of another playoff appearance.

Despite a season in which they finished sixteen games above the .500 mark, the Seattle Mariners finished fourteen out of first place in the West, placing third and missing the playoffs. Superstar Nelson Cruz bolted for the aforementioned Twins, but Seattle did manage to replace his presence with the signing of heavy hitter Edwin Encarnacion. The Mariners pitching staff will be led by Felix Hernandez, who has been their guy for over a decade.

The Los Angeles Angels aren’t necessarily the best looking team on paper, but the first name on that list might be the best player in baseball. Even the most casual of baseball fans know that outfielder Mike Trout is a once-in-a-generation talent. He alone should keep LA in the hunt if he can stay healthy, which has been a problem for him in the past. Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani will be entering his sophomore season, and it will be a storyline to watch throughout the season to see if he will continue to hit AND pitch for his team.

Everything might be bigger in Texas, but the Rangers were far from that last season, finishing last in the division by a healthy margin. Joey Gallo is a home run producer, but they are are totally lacking in any other kind of star power, so the Rangers are trending towards another long and tedious season for their fans.

 

Now for the National League,

 

NL East

(Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Miami Marlins)

 

(Photo: offthebenchbaseball.com)

 

Last year’s NL East champs, the Braves have returned with a roster that is even better than before. The baby-faced duo of Ronald Acuna Jr (NL Rookie of the Year last season) and Ozzie Albies are just 21 and 22, respectively, and should realistically be leading the charge in Atlanta for years. First baseman Freddie Freeman (above) is a perennial All-Star, and to top it off, the Braves brought in Josh Donaldson, who won the MVP award in 2015.

The Washington Nationals have been stuck in the middle for some while, constantly finishing with strong records but never pushing past the opening round of the playoffs. Max Scherzer is as good of a starting pitcher as you can find, and 19 year old Juan Soto is quickly developing into a top tier outfielder. But all eyes will fall on Bryce Harper. The megastar has spent his entire career in the nation’s capital, but has not yet resigned with the team. His decision will likely decide the fate of DC’s season.

When it comes to sleeper teams, the New York Mets might be the team to put some money on. After an underwhelming 2018 campaign, the Mets had an amazing offseason and have rebuilt to become what looks to be contending group. New York inked two of baseball’s biggest names in Robinson Cano and Todd Frazier. Both will put a spark in what was a struggling offense. Pitchers Noah Syndergaard and Jacob Degrom as a 1-2 punch have a serious chance to combine for 40 wins.

The Phillies find themselves in a similar scenario. After an undesirable finish to last season, Philly added a trio of new pieces to bolster their offense. New piece Andrew McCutchen is a former MVP, and new shortstop Jean Segura is a multiple time All-Star. Philadelphia has a chance to slide in as the fourth team in the division with a realistic chance of taking the top spot.

Sorry Marlins fans, but your team will be the only team not competing for the top spot in the division. The front office is clearly looking to rebuild for the future, and have traded away every player that has garnered any type of success for them. Starlin Castro is as close to a household name as they can muster. Miami had the worst attendance statistics of 2018, and there is a good chance it will be a repeat in 2019.

 

NL Central

(Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates)

 

(Photo: SBNation.com)

 

The Brewers were one game away from a trip to the World Series, but fell just short to the Dodgers in game seven of the NLCS. Every major piece is back, and Milwaukee looks primed to take another crack at a late October run. The teams centerpiece comes in the form of outfielder Christian Yelich (above), who took home NL MVP honors in 2018. Fellow outfielder Ryan Braun is also a former MVP and a 6x All-Star, and the Brewers also added big-fish free agent Yasmani Grandal, who was an All-Star last season for those Dodgers.

The Cubs had high hopes in 2018, but ultimately lost in the NL Wildcard game to the Colorado Rockies. Returning most of their core, there will once again be a lot of buzz around Chicago. Javier Baez finished second in MVP voting a season ago, and the familiar duo of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo will continue to hold down the corner infield spots.

St. Louis quietly worked their way to a decent record last near, but narrowly missed out on the playoffs. To build around cornerstone Yadier Molina, the Cardinals brought in two pieces that could turn the division upside down. Getting themselves a shiny new first baseman in Paul Goldschmidt, the Cards have added a 6x All-Star who has finished in the top 3 of MVP voting on three separate occasions. On the other side of the ball, new relief pitcher Andrew Miller has shown himself year in and year out to be one of the most shutdown relievers on the planet.

After finishing fifth out of five in the division last season, the Reds have come to Spring Training with a revamped and rejuvenated roster. Besides franchise cornerstone Joey Votto, there are fresh faces everywhere. Yasiel Puig will be someone to keep an eye on, as he is electrifying to watch every time he takes the field. New starting pitcher Sonny Gray has shown flashes of dominance in years past, and outfielder Matt Kemp has revitalized his career at the age of 34.

Although the Pirates came in at three games above .500, they did not qualify for the playoffs. In hopes of breaking that barrier, a huge move was made this winter, as superstar pitcher Chris Archer has been brought onboard. Archer will hope to be turnaround a struggling Pittsburgh team, and will try to guide them to their first playoff win since 2013.

 

NL West

(Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres)

 

(Photo: LATimes.com)

 

Making it to the Fall Classic for the second thing in a row, the Dodgers once again fell short. Losing to the Red Sox in five games, LA is now forced with reconstructing the pieces of an “almost” team. Superstar Manny Machado got out of Dodge, and the aforementioned Yasiel Puig is now in Cincinnati. Pitcher Clayton Kershaw (above) has always been one of most elite starters in the league, but has been plagued with severe struggles in the postseason. The Dodgers offense will now look to revolve around Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger.

Finishing just a single game behind the Dodgers, Colorado entered October as the first Wild Card, and preceded to win the WC game over the Cubs before losing the NLDS. The heart of the Rockies has stayed put, and will be coming into the new season with a vengeance. Nolan Arenado has been the best all around third baseman in the MLB for years, and his list of awards speak for themselves. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon is a great leadoff hitter, and sets the table for the rest of the lineup.

Although Arizona finished with a positive record last season, things might be trending towards the negative in the desert. Paul Goldschmidt was the teams claim to fame, and he is now a member of the Cardinals. The Diamondbacks will be led by ace starter Zack Greinke, who is a multi-time 20 game winner. Offensively, Arizona may have a tough time putting runs on the board, with a glaring lack of firepower on that end.

After winning the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the Giants have struggled to make a deep run into the playoffs. This years roster has them set up for a chance at a deep stretch into October, loaded with veterans with postseason experience. Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford are both All-Stars who will provide steady production all year long, and catcher Buster Posey is likely in the middle of a Hall of Fame career.

Last but not least comes the San Diego Padres. The Padres just made the biggest offseason move in recent memory, as on February 20th, they signed superstar Manny Machado to a lucrative 10 year, 300 million dollar deal. The deal makes Machado’s contract the second largest in MLB history, and San Diego hopes that Machado will be worth every penny.

 

Ben Dawson, Staff Contributor

Ben Dawson is a senior in his first year of Journalism. He took the class because he really enjoys writing and is considering majoring in Journalism in...

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MLB. Division by Division