America’s Past-time on the Horizon: A Preview of the Upcoming MLB Season
By: Michael A Chase Jr.
The first two full weeks in March is in the books with MLB Spring Training in full swing for all 30 major league teams. With each team coming into the new season with renewed optimism that this year will be their championship year. For a multitude of teams winning a world series is the ultimate goal, while other teams are looking to build and improve the depth and quality of their organization. Now fans can only eagerly await the beginning of another soon to be memorable Major League Baseball season. With that all being said this article with delve into the three major storylines that will be discussed throughout the upcoming season. It will discuss the outlook of teams considered World Series contenders. As well as describe what teams and players could be this season’s breakout stars.
First let’s begin with the teams considered to be World Series contenders. Some of these teams have similar strengths which help them match up well with the competition. While other teams made major offseason moves that could change the landscape of their team’s championship chances. This analysis will take into account the quality of talent on each team’s roster as well as determine how they either fixed an issue or strengthened a strength of their team.
There is no telling who could be this season’s World Series champ. Though there are certainly many quality options to choose from with the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Washington Nationals deemed early favorites. With the Houston Astros being the defending champs they clearly enter as the overall favorites, especially with a large majority of their roster set to return keeping continuity intact.
With a rotation that boast the likes of Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., and the newly acquired Gerritt Cole they boast one of the best rotations in the sport. Combine that with a formidable lineup consisting of reigning AL MVP Jose Altuve, all-stars Carlos Correa and George Springer. Along with solid veterans like Josh Reddick and Evan Gattis and an improved bullpen the Astros have a roster fully loaded and ready for a repeat.
In terms of their competition, it is plentiful with challengers from both leagues. From the American League their competition mainly consists of the Boston Red-Sox’s, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians.
For the Red Sox’s they boast a strong offense which added slugger J.D. Martinez to its lineup giving it tremendous depth. Adding Martinez to a squad consisting of names such as Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. this lineup can be terrific. Along with outstanding pitchers like Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, and a hopefully healthy David Price to anchor their pitching staff, Boston provides a huge roadblock to any team’s championship aspirations.
As for the Yankees they helped their case acquiring the biggest off-season addition of any team in trading for Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins.
This addition comes on the heels of a major rebound season for the Yankees where they came within a game of being in the World Series themselves. So they were already good this move may make them scary good and a team to be dealt with. You now combine Stanton with Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, along with all-star Gary Sanchez and breakout star Didi Gregorious the Yankees look to be a power-filled lineup to navigate. The Yankees pitching staff is a strength as well, with both quality starting pitching and an unbelievable bullpen. With the likes of Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino their rotation can match-up with most. Combine that along with a dominant bullpen lead by the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and versatile Chad Greene their staff can shut down the top lineups in the league at any time. Thus the Yanks will cause many adversaries a lot of issues in a playoff series.
The Cleveland Indians are the final team in this discussion because of their lineup depth and arguably the best rotation to match-up with the Houston Astros.
Their lineup is strong with All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and returning stud Michael Brantley. Plus with solid contributors like Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Bradley Zimmer their lineup is deep. It is their starting rotation though that puts them on par with the rest of the contenders. Their rotation led by perennial CY Young contender Corey Kluber, along with talented arms like Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Plus throw in possible breakout star Trevor Bauer their rotation can match any top team in the MLB. Plus in the Postseason when strong pitching and big strikeouts are key the Indians have maybe the most reliable staff to do this consistently through a postseason run. Overall each of these 4 AL teams have their own strengths that make them attractive World Series picks. Now we can only wait and see how they all look to live up to expectations.
The National League boats a bevy of challengers with World Series dreams as well. These teams include the Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, and Colorado Rockies.
The National League West poses the biggest threat of any division in the NL because at least four teams in the division are strong World Series contenders. This only makes it more interesting to see how the NL’s playoff seeding comes into play down the stretch. With the likes of the LA Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies these teams all very well could win the NL West. This division will likely come down to the very end because of how the teams matchup with one another in the division. The Dodgers are seen to be the class of the division with the deepest roster and best pitcher in the game in Clayton Kershaw. Plus with the experience of coming within one win of a World Series Title the motivation to get back will be their biggest driving force. As for the rest of the division the Giants added all-star caliber players Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen to their solid core. While also having the championship experience themselves by winning 3 World Series this decade. The Diamondbacks boast a strong rotation led by Zach Grenkie and Robbie Ray. Along with adding depth to their outfield with the additions of Steven Souza Jr. and Jarrod Dyson. The Rockies offseason included acquiring relievers Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw. As well as getting back a healthy David Dahl they look more to improve from within especially in their rotation. Overall the Dodgers still are the favorites in the Division but once again competition will be stiff. Thus whoever emerges from this division will definitely be well prepared for a postseason run.
As for the Nationals and the Cubs they look to be the two elites of their respective divisions. The Nationals with perennial MVP Bryce Harper and 2 time CY Young Award winner Max Scherzer. Along with one of the most talented rosters in all of baseball will look to finally break the curse and not only advance past the division round but win the ultimate prize.
Plus with a weaker division the road there may not be as daunting compared to other competition. For the Cubs it is about getting back to the mountain top. After winning the 2016 World Series they had a challenging season by their standards but still made it to the NL Championship Series.
With offensive leaders like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, along with the addition of Yu Darvish to their rotation they seem as tough as ever. So these two teams after playing each other in the postseason last year both look to return and both looking for different results. Overall the National League will certainly send forth its best adversaries to challenge the tough American league field. Overall whichever of teams play in the World Series it will be an interesting story to tell either way.
The next offseason storyline that is always intriguing to watch is who will be the surprise teams of the MLB season. As there always seems to be teams that come out of nowhere to be a surprise contenders. Thus in terms of the two teams that could turn out to be the big sleepers the St. Louis Cardinals and the Oakland Athletics are two solid picks.
Beginning with the St. Louis Cardinals it sounds odd to think of them as a sleeper team. Especially when they have been the model of consistency in the MLB for the past 110-12 years.
Having won 85 to 90 plus games on average and being postseason participants it seemed every year. Though the last two years they have missed the postseason and now come in more as underdogs than they have been in years past. St. Louis though has retooled and recovered and is clearly ready for a bounce back season. The off-season additions include Marcel Ozuna and Luke Gregerson as the significant additions. With Ozuna the Cardinals acquired the middle of the order bat they needed from the Marlins to fortify the heart of their lineup, as well as, strengthen their outfield defensively. Gregerson gives Mike Matheney another weapon out of his bullpen to go to in numerous situation including closing opportunities. The biggest reason for a resurgent season for the Cards may be mostly due to the luxury of health. With players like ace Adam Wainwright, Brett Cecil, Yadier Molina, and Dexter Fowler all back and healthy, the Cards this the season will be a tough matchup for any team. Thus if health and production from new comers persists the Cardinals will be right back in the postseason mix.
As for the Oakland A’s they may seem like more of a gamble to be called a sleeper team, but the recipe for success can be clearly seen.
The Athletics very quietly finished the 2017 season strong and look to carry that momentum into this season, believing their collection of young talent could aid this cause. Young players like slugging first basemen Matt Olson, defensive stud Matt Chapman, and a bevy of young pitchers are keys to the A’s resurgence. Add the additions of Steven Piscotty and Jonathan Lucroy to their young core as well and the A’s suddenly look dangerous. Their rotation though will be the biggest key to their team’s success and will be reason they may get to the doorstep of returning to the postseason. Their young pitchers like Jharell Cotton, Daniel Megden, Kendall Graveman, among others will have to perform at a high enough level to allow the A’s to compete with the rest of baseball. If the rotation can be adequate with maybe one or two above average performances, combine that along with the a lineup filled with good young players who can hit and a deep bullpen the A’s could sneak up on a lot of teams. In the end there is no guarantee that either of these teams will be in playoff contention, but both have pretty strong cases.
Finally the last part of the MLB season to preview is the breakout performers that could burst onto the scene as big contributors. Once again keeping with the theme of picking a player from each league the two players that I see fitting into this category are Ronald Acuna of the Braves and Jose Berrios of the Twins.
Starting with Ronald Acuna of the Atlanta Braves, he is and has been one of the most intriguing prospects to track this Spring Training.
Showing off impressive hitting talent and quality defensive he has already made a strong case to at least earn an early season call-up. He hit .393 with a home-run and 4 RBI’s in 28 at-bats so high quality numbers he put during his time before being sent down to minor league camp. With his 5 tool combination and his tremendous showing this spring he is making the Braves decision borderline impossible and if he plays early and often he could put up scary good numbers in the big leagues. Maybe a 25 to 30 home-run season with his share of defensive gems, that is the talent this kid possesses. All it will take is the Braves to give him an opportunity and he could learn and shine at the big league level.
For the Minnesota Twins their young starter Jose Berrios has a great chance to be the breakout star of the American League. He has already had flashes of great performances and stretches at the big league level.
Though this season has a chance to be the year he puts it all together. Last season he finished with 14 wins and a 3.89 era in 26 games 25 starts for a Twins team that made the Wild Card Game. Now think of another full year to hone his craft, 20 wins and a 3.50 or lower era is not unthinkable. His mix of a mid- 90’s fastball and two quality off-speed pitches being his Curveball and changeup will allow him to dominate any lineup. He just needs to stay healthy and be given a chance to get 30 plus starts and he will further prove the hype he had coming up through the Minnesota system was not white noise. Plus with playoff experience he gained from last year under his belt his confidence will only grow, and he will bloom into the top of the rotation arm the Twins need going forward.
Overall the story lines MLB fans get to follow from season to season is always intriguing. From trying to predict World Series participants, to which teams and players will in the end provide us with unexpected excitement. The only thing to do now unfortunately is occupy oneself with Spring Training games and off-season talk until the Regular season commences. Then the journey for all 30 MLB teams will begin and us as fans can follow the stories, and enjoy the terrific ride to the World Series finish line.