Most Valuable Player – Mike Trout
You just can’t go wrong with the Angels’ center fielder. Mike Trout has been a favorite for this award every year since his rookie season, and at just 26 years old, he is already a surefire hall of famer. Last season, when he missed over a month of games due to injury, Trout still finished fourth in MVP voting and hit 33 home runs. He also stole 22 bases and led the league in OBP, OPS, and slugging percentage. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Francisco Lindor, and last year’s winner, Jose Altuve, will certainly make this a close race, but the five-tool stud in Anaheim is the safest pick here.
Cy Young – Corey Kluber
Many people forget that last season, Indians’ ace Corey Kluber was sporting a 5.06 ERA through May before storming back to overtake Chris Sale, Luis Severino, and teammate Carlos Carrasco and win this award easily. He dominated, leading the league in wins, ERA, WHIP, shutouts, and strikeouts to walks ratio. The sinker remains his go to pitch and we can expect to see it make many of the league’s biggest sluggers look silly, as the 25 year old scoops up his third Cy Young in what is shaping up to be an illustrious career. A poor performance in the 2017 postseason will be the chip on the shoulder he needs to again show why he is the best pitcher in the American League.
Rookie of the Year – Willie Calhoun
A large part of this prediction is due to the fact that “The Next Babe Ruth,” Angels’ pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani had a dreadful spring. Had Ohtani done better than the 27.00 ERA and .107 batting average he posted, it would have been an easy choice. Ohtani, who benefits from not being a true rookie given his five seasons in the Japanese League, will win this award if he posts average pitching stats to go along with average batting stats, but from what we have seen so far, he is below average in both respects. Willie Calhoun is a more attractive pick. Traded to the Rangers in the Yu Darvish deal last year, Calhoun splits games between second base and left field, but it is his offensive production that earns him this sport. Calhoun hit .300 and blasted 31 home runs in the minors last season, and this spring he hit a respectable .243 in 13 games. Once he is called up, Calhoun will immediately become one of the Rangers’ most dangerous weapons.
AL East – New York Yankees
The 2017 Yankees were supposed to be in rebuilding mode, but explosive production from their young studs never let that materialize. They were led by Aaron Judge, who nearly became the third player ever to win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same year, hitting 52 home runs in his first full season in the big leagues. But he is far from the team’s only offensive weapon. Catcher Gary Sanchez came on nicely in his second season, knocking in 90 RBIs, and shortstop Didi Gregorius is beginning to nicely fill some pretty big shoes at that position. And then, of course, the Bombers made the biggest splash of the offseason, trading for National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. Strikeouts might be an issue, but this lineup is capable of carrying the Yankees to the playoffs on the strength of its slugging alone. New York’s pitching will be among the league’s best this year. 24 year old Luis Severino will lead the rotation, looking to build on his Cy Young caliber 2017 season. Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia have proven to be solid veteran arms, and Sonny Gray, whom the Yankees traded for midseason last year, came third in Cy Young voting just three years ago. The Pinstripes also boast an incredible bullpen led by workhorse Dellin Betances and flamethrowing closer Aroldis Chapman. This franchise will be right back at the top of the league where it has been so many times before.
AL Central – Cleveland Indians
Last year, the Indians posted the best record in the American League, not to mention the second longest winning streak in MLB history at 22 games. They were dominant and their best players are only just reaching their respective primes. Shortstop Francisco Lindor is only 24 years old, but already has two top ten MVP voting finishes to his name. Last year, he hit 33 home runs and knocked in 89 RBIs as a 190 pound shortstop. Third baseman Jose Ramirez is another legitimate MVP candidate, having come third in voting a season ago. He finished with 29 home runs and .318 batting average, and led the league with 56 doubles. The rest of their lineup is filled with veteran hitters capable of putting up monster stats such as Michael Brantley (when healthy), Edwin Encarnacion, and Carlos Santana. Pitching wise, the Indians have two perennial Cy Young candidates in Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Cleveland also sports two of the best relief pitchers in baseball in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The Twins present the only real competition in the Central, but they simply don’t yet stack up to the powerhouse Indians who should take this division easily.
AL West – Houston Astros
The World Series champions return nearly every player from last year’s title winning squad and made a big offseason splash to boot. The Astros traded for the Pirates’ ace pitcher, Gerrit Cole, to add to what was already one of the best rotations in baseball. Cole joins two former Cy Young award winners in Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, rising All-Star Lance McCullers Jr., and Charlie Morton who rounds out the rotation after winning 14 games and posting a 3.62 ERA last year. Offensively, the Astros may have the most complete lineup in the MLB with a strong mix of young stars and solid veteran contributors. Jose Altuve will look to build on last year’s MVP performance which saw him win the batting title for the third time, while knocking in 81 RBIs, swiping 32 bases, and playing an outstanding second base. His infield mates, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman are both just 23 years old, but have each asserted themselves among the best at their respective positions. George Springer will continue to do wonders from the leadoff spot as he tries to secure a second straight All-Star appearance. The one knock against this lineup is that it is quite right-leaning, so look for the front office to make a move for a left-handed hitter before the trade deadline. The championship hangover is a well known phenomenon in the MLB, as the Phillies are the only winning team to return to the World Series the next year since 2001. That said, grabbing the West is not asking much out of this stacked roster.
Playoff Seeds: 1. Astros 2. Indians 3. Yankees 4. Red Sox 5. Angels
Cy Young– Max Scherzer
When Clayton Kershaw is on the mound, he is the best pitcher in baseball,. Since 2011, he has a 2.10 ERA and 0.913 WHIP over 207 starts. The only issue is that he has had trouble staying healthy the last few years. In 2016, he made 21 starts, and in 2017, 27. Both years, he dealt with back injuries, and as he ages, his health won’t get any more consistent. Furthermore, he threw 33 additional innings last postseason, putting him at more injury risk. That is why Max Scherzer will win his third consecutive and fourth overall Cy Young award. His outstanding performance (2.51 ERA and 268 strikeouts in 2017), along with his consistent health, puts him in perfect position; it’s Scherzer’s award to lose. Rotation-mate Stephen Strasburg will put together another superb season, but he’s just a tick behind Scherzer. His 2.52 ERA in 2017 was right there with Scherzer, but he only made 28 starts and has always had durability issues. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen will also get some love in the final voting, but not enough to overthrow Scherzer.
MVP– Bryce Harper
With the departure of Giancarlo Stanton to the American League, the NL MVP race will open up a bit. It should shape up to be a two-horse race between Nolan Arenado and Bryce Harper, two of the best young hitters in the game, who also display Gold Glove-caliber defense. Harper, who has shown MVP-level capabilities since breaking into the league as a 19 year old, missed considerable time last year due to injury. This inhibited his MVP push, but expect the Washington right-fielder to come back with a vengeance in 2018. 40 homers and 120 RBIs are entirely within reason. Arenado, on the other hand, has clubbed 35+ dingers and a ridiculous 130+ RBIs over the last three years, to go along with a .297 batting average and .930 OPS. However, Arenado’s offensive numbers will be diminished due to playing at Coors Field, whether or not that’s fair. The Nationals will also likely have a much better record than the Rockies by season’s end, giving Harper the edge. Though age has not seemed to affect on-base-machine Joey Votto, the irrelevance of his Reds will keep him out of serious MVP talks. After that, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Seager, and Kris Bryant will put up impressive numbers, but Harper and Arenado are simply on another level.
Rookie Of the Year– Walker Buehler
Last October, the Dodgers brought up top prospect Walker Buehler for a taste of the big leagues, but the former Vanderbilt Commodore was roughed up in his brief stint. He was hit for a 7.71 ERA and 2.036 WHIP, but that was over just 9.1 innings of relief. Buehler, a starter by trade, did not break camp with the Dodgers, but is expected to be back sooner rather than later, especially with an impending injury from the fragile Hyun-Jin Ryu or Rich Hill. The no. 12 prospect in the MLB had a 3.35 ERA over three minor league levels in 2017, and his triple-digit fastball will find itself cemented in the LA rotation and making a big impact soon enough. Buehler’s biggest competition will be Braves 20 year old outfielder Ronald Acuña, who mashed in spring training but was sent down to minor league camp. Acuña has arguably shown that he is more ready to produce in the MLB than Buehler, but at just 20, he is expected to stay in AAA for longer than Buehler this year. With a larger body of work, Buehler will take the award over the no. 2 prospect. On the outside looking in will be Lewis Brinson, who was acquired by the Marlins in the trade of Christian Yelich. The 23 year old center fielder is the only one of the three that started the year with the big league club, but Brinson is not expected to be as productive as the others. The no. 27 prospect is already in the majors largely in part to the Marlins’ rebuilding phase and thin roster.
NL East– Washington Nationals
The Nationals have taken the NL East in three of the last four years, and should continue to dominate the competition in 2018. Last year, they took the division by 20 games, the greatest margin by any NL division winner. The three-headed beast of Scherzer, Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez gives them one of the best rotations in the league, and their lineup will score plenty of runs, as Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, and Trea Turner make up a deep offense. After the Nats, there’s a considerable drop off, but the Phillies could make some noise. Despite finishing last in the division at 66-96 last season, they have plenty of young talent who can take big steps forward this year, as well as a few bigtime offseason acquisitions. While Aaron Nola blossoms into a true ace, Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, and Nick Williams look to solidify the lineup. Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana elevate them to relevance, though they won’t take the division from Washington. With the departures of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, and Marcell Ozuna, the Miami Marlins will spend most of their time in last place. The Mets picked up some solid players and ace Noah Syndergaard will dominate, but with a roster that’s mostly mediocre, they will miss the playoffs again. Down in Atlanta, the Braves, similarly to the Phillies, have a plethora of young, burgeoning talent. However, their group of veteran players frankly aren’t good enough (excluding Freddie Freeman) to propel Atlanta into playoff contention. In the end, the Nats will run away with it, but the Phillies could give them some competition for a good portion of the campaign.
NL Central– Chicago Cubs
The Central should be the tightest division in the National League. The Chicago Cubs are coming off three straight playoff appearances and two straight division titles, and their talented nucleus remains. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Wilson Contreras are back from the 2016 championship run, so the lineup will still be productive. However, their pitching staff is weaker. Jon Lester seems to be aging, evidenced by his 4.33 ERA last season, and John Lackey and Jake Arrieta are in other places. They picked up ace-caliber Yu Darvish, but the rotation is still a step-down, and the bullpen, as was seen during last year’s postseason implosion, isn’t all that great either. The Brewers and Cardinals will have the best chance to dethrone the Cubbies. Milwaukee fought with Chicago for most of last year, but dropped off heavily in September. Their rotation including Chase Anderson, Jimmy Nelson, and Zach Davies will get better with another season under their belts, and Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain will make for two very nice additions in the outfield. The Cardinals, off a down year, look to rebound with their same core. While the addition of Marcell Ozuna bolsters their lineup, the loss of Lance Lynn weakens their pitching staff. After unloading Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, the Pittsburgh Pirates look to have returned to rebuilding-mode, while the Cincinnati Reds are still trying to figure out how to rebuild. The two will have a good fight for fourth place, but shouldn’t have any impact on the playoff picture. The experienced Cubs will eventually win the central, but the Brewers and Cards will be right there until the end.
NL West– Los Angeles Dodgers
The reigning National League champions from Los Angeles are hungry to get back to the World Series, and their division, though maybe the strongest in the Senior Circuit, won’t give them much trouble. Justin Turner’s broken wrist will keep him out until mid-May, but the Dodgers’ depth will keep them winning. Kershaw, Alex Wood, and Rich Hill pose a tough task for any lineup, while the bullpen will remain lights out, led by shutdown closer Kenley Jansen and his franchise-leading 230 saves. Though the Dodgers will clinch the division handily, the Rockies and Diamondbacks will win plenty of games. The Rockies, after winning 87 games last year, are even better in 2018. They added ex-Cub closer Wade Davis, and their young rotation lead by Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland are set to further improve and develop. Of course, MVP-candidate Nolan Arenado will continue to rake along with Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu. Arizona will be right there, despite the loss of slugger JD Martinez to Boston. The rotation is both strong and deep, and any lineup featuring Paul Goldschmidt alone is formidable. The Padres are interesting, as they have potential and are a bit stronger with the addition of former-All Star Eric Hosmer. They’re not quite ready to contend, however, and won’t end up making much noise. As for the Giants, their hefty contracts to aging veterans will sink them to the division cellar. Despite good efforts from Arizona and Colorado, the Dodgers will make easy work of this one.
Playoff seeds: 1. Dodgers, 2. Nationals, 3. Cubs, 4. Brewers, 5. Rockies
AL Champion: Indians
NL Champion: Dodgers
World Series Champion: Indians
(All stats courtesy of www.baseball-reference.com)