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MLB season preview 2018: Predictions for all 30 major-league ballclubs

Some teams are chasing the champion Astros, while many clearly won’t be competitive this season.

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge was the runner-up for

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge was the runner-up for AL MVP last season. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Baseball is back, and its better than ever.

OK, not exactly. That’s only true for the teams who are looking to win. With a growing disparity between the teams chasing championship and the ballclubs losing enough to elicit the T-word — rhymes with ‘ranking’ — there’s going to be quite a bit of bad in the majors this year.

On the flip side, teams like the defending champion Houston Astros figure to be fantastic to watch. They serve as a blueprint for all the subpar teams who are likely to take their lumps this season.

Read on to learn about all 30 teams at a glance, as well as where they project to finish in their respective division races.

AL EAST

New York Yankees

The Bombers made the move of the offseason, landing NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton for a pittance. Between him, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, the scoreboard remind some of a pinball machine once in awhile. They’re a clear World Series contender as long as the pitching staff, anchored by 24-year-old Luis Severino, holds up its end of the bargain.

Boston Red Sox

They won the division last year, but few in the Big Apple will argue they’re favored after the Yanks’ big move on the heels of an ALCS berth. Landing free-agent J.D. Martinez was a minor splash for a BoSox’s lineup that already was sturdy. That, plus a rock-solid ace in Chris Sale, place this team as a dark horse to finish ahead of their Bronx rivals.

Toronto Blue Jays

Canada’s team may have seen its competitive window close last year. Missing former MVP Josh Donaldson for a third of the year played into their disappointing 2017, but their struggles go beyond that. This lineup is getting old, and adding Curtis Granderson doesn’t change that. A solid pitching rotation might keep them in the wild-card hunt.

Baltimore Orioles

Manny Machado makes the O’s go. Unfortunately, much of his supporting cast mostly does not. Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo don’t get on base enough to make up for their power contributions. The pitching staff saw a late offseason upgrade when it signed Alex Cobb, which likely is only enough to finish ahead of his old team, the Rays.

Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa was surprisingly competitive in 2017, so this year management opted to rid itself of any suspense and just be bad. They traded longtime cornerstone Evan Longoria, All-Star Corey Dickerson was DFA’d and dealt, and Cobb signed long-term with Baltimore. What’s left is a collection of journeymen, plus ace Chris Archer.

AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians

Pitching is the name of the game for Cleveland, and it all starts with Corey Kluber. The two-time AL Cy Young was marvelous last year, and there’s no reason to think the nearly 32-year-old won’t be stellar again. While generating offense wasn’t easy for them a year ago, they still won 102 games. This division race may be over before it begins.

Minnesota Twins

The stunning success of the 2017 Twins is reason to believe even apparent bottom-feeders have a chance. Few saw them reaching the AL wild-card game last fall, but they’ll be in the hunt again after some offseason upgrades to the lineup (Logan Morrison), rotation (Lance Lynn) and bullpen (Addison Reed). If young Byron Buxton breaks out, watch out.

Kansas City Royals

There’s a clear drop-off after the Twins. The Royals’ resurgence, which yielded a World Series crown a year after reaching the Fall Classic, is over. Eric Hosmer signed with San Diego (eventually) and Lorenzo Cain joined Milwaukee, breaking up the core of that lineup. K.C. has done little to fill the void. Don’t expect the pitching staff to bail them out, either.

Detroit Tigers

Detroit bottomed out with 64 wins a year ago. Clearly, they’re content to be noncompetitive for awhile as the slow rebuilding process is underway. They shipped Ian Kinsler to the Angels leaving aging Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez to carry a substandard lineup. Michael Fulmer and the pitching staff might not be awful, at least.

Chicago White Sox

The ChiSox aren’t expected to be competitive this season. They’re too green. All the same, they are a team to monitor thanks to a solid young core of hitters, headlined by Jose Abreu. Chicago’s trades in recent years will begin to bear fruit soon as prospects like Eloy Jimenez begin to reach the majors.

AL WEST

Houston Astros

The young core boasting Carlos Correa and George Springer isn’t going anywhere, so get used to the Astros as a perennial World Series contender. From reigning MVP Jose Altuve to former AL Cy Young winners Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel and new starter Gerrit Cole, it’s hard to look at one area of this team as an Achilles heel.

Los Angeles Angels

Another year, another reminder that the Halos possess the best player in baseball: Mike Trout. Case in point: He missed 48 games and still finished fourth in AL MVP voting. While the signing of pitcher/DH Shohei Ohtani stole headlines, L.A. got better quietly in several spots. If Ohtani can get past his poor spring, they’ll be a real wild-card threat.

Seattle Mariners

The M’s can’t seem to get over the hump. They carry the longest active postseason drought into the season but haven’t noticeably improved from 78 wins a year ago. Dee Gordon is a fine player, but trading for him isn’t a difference maker. Robinson Cano playing like an MVP — and earning his contract — now, that could make them relevant.

Texas Rangers

Adrian Beltre, who turns 39 on April 7 and notched his 3,000th hit last year, likely is still the Rangers’ best player. While he’s quite a talent, that’s not a formula for success in modern baseball. Help doesn’t appear to be on the way from the farm system, so Texas has the look of a team that isn’t rebuilding that should be doing exactly that.

Oakland Athletics

No team in this division is truly awful, but don’t expect the A’s to be any better than third this year. More likely, they’ll be last again as they continue to apply a strict “Moneyball” formula. Adding catcher Jonathan Lucroy gives them a great veteran voice while the young core matures. With luck, their pitching staff stay healthy, too.

NL EAST

Washington Nationals

One of these years, the Nats are going to put it all together. They’ve got too much talent not to, right? Might as well be in Bryce Harper’s contract year, when he’s sure to return to 2015 NL MVP form. With reigning three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer atop the rotation, few teams trot out a better arm every five days.

New York Mets

As bad as 2017 seemed in Queens — and, make no mistake, 70 wins is not good — it’s OK to be optimistic again. A healthy Noah Syndergaard can be the best pitcher in baseball. Some small roster upgrades like reliever Anthony Swarzak will add up, so don’t be surprised if the Mets are battling well into September or later.

Philadelphia Phillies

Don’t look now, but the Phillies are getting better. They still have much to prove, however. New ace Jake Arrieta has steadily dropped off since his NL Cy Young win in 2015. Their other big addition, Carlos Santana, has 30-homer potential after switching leagues. The rest of the young Phils will improve with experience alone.

Atlanta Braves

Rebuilding continues in Atlanta, but the future of the franchise is on his way. Ronald Acuna will be up soon, joining All-Star veteran Freddie Freeman in leading the former perennial contender back to prominence. It’s unlikely enough to make the Braves very competitive with a young pitching staff, so consider this team a work in progress.

Miami Marlins

Derek Jeter has been a winner all his life. It seems retirement will expose the Marlins’ owner to something new after he gutted the Fish. The talented young outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna were dealt for prospects of varying grades. There’s not much left in Miami. Anything fewer than 100 losses is a moral victory.

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs

The Cubbies slumped a bit after ending their century-plus championship drought in 2016 but still won 92 games last year. Although still the Central’s best on paper, they’ll face stiff competition from division rivals. The biggest change was letting Jake Arrieta walk and signing Yu Darvish as his replacement in the rotation. Kris Bryant still leads a solid lineup.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brew Crew fell a game shy of a wild-card berth a year ago, but they’re more ready this time after upgrading their outfield with Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. The key to challenging the Cubs for division supremacy is pitching, particularly from Chase Anderson after a career year in 2017. Don’t discount Milwaukee’s chances, though.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquiring Marcell Ozuna, who hit 37 homers for Miami in 2017, injects needed punch into the Cards’ lineup after it ranked 10th in the league in slugging. But, to overtake Milwaukee and Chicago, pitchers Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright must regain All-Star form. Don’t rule out a postseason run from this group, but it’s far from a lock.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and ace Gerrit Cole were shipped out for prospects after a disappointing season. That fact alone tells much of the story for how the Bucs’ season might go. This team has some quality hitters in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, but they’ll lose a lot this year.

Cincinnati Reds

The last time Cincinnati won more than 68 games was in 2014, despite the MVP-caliber efforts of Joey Votto in that time. But, at 34, the Reds are running out of time to surround him with decent players. They don’t have many of those, but it’s possible elite prospect Nick Senzel gets a call-up later this year.

NL WEST

Los Angeles Dodgers

L.A. trimmed its roster of a lot of excess weight while keeping their key players in the fold. No player means more than Clayton Kershaw, perhaps the top pitcher of his generation. He’s got plenty of help in the rotation, and the Dodgers’ offense hardly needs much help with Corey Seager and Justin Turner leading the charge. They’ll be a factor again in October.

Colorado Rockies

Nolan Arenado and crew tasted the postseason, and they’ll surely want to advance past the wild-card this time around. Generating runs rarely is the issue in Denver; preventing them is another matter. So, the Rockies spent more than $100 million on three quality arms create a fearsome bullpen. If it works out, Colorado is a sleeper threat to win the division.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The D-Backs were one of three NL West ballclubs in the playoffs, and they’ll be in the mix again. They won’t have J.D. Martinez — a huge midseason acquisition last year — but Paul Goldschmidt remains one of the finest players in the game. A well-stocked rotation topped by Zack Greinke gives them a chance to win most days. Few teams can say that.

San Francisco Giants

If this was 2014 — the last time the Giants won it all — landing Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria in one winter would be jaw-dropping. Now, it just looks desperate. Ace Madison Bumgarner’s took a liner off his pitching hand and will miss two months, so the pressure is on the offense. San Francisco wants to compete, but probably won’t.

San Diego Padres

Even with Eric Hosmer now in the fold on a lengthy contract, San Diego can only aspire to surpass the Giants in the standings. They just don’t have enough reliable arms in the fold. The Padres are playing the long game, biding their time until their vaunted farm system produces what they hope will be a contender in a couple years.

AL AWARDS PICKS

MVP: Mike Trout (Angels)

He’s the safe pick, given he’s a two-time winner and always in the top four of voting. A playoff berth would help his case.

Dark horse: Francisco Lindor (Indians)

Cy Young: Chris Sale (Red Sox)

One of these years, he’ll finally bring home the hardware. He’d have been a fine choice several times before.

Dark horse: Chris Archer (Rays)

Top rookie: Gleyber Torres (Yankees)

Once he arrives in the Bronx, expect big things from the talented young infield prospect.

Dark horse: Shohei Ohtani (Angels)

Top manager: Aaron Boone (Yankees)

Yes, he’s taking over the AL runners-up. But if the Yanks win the division, he’ll likely deserve some big props.

Dark horse: Mike Scioscia (Angels)

NL AWARDS PICKS

MVP: Nolan Arenado (Rockies)

He does it all at the plate and at the hot corner. It’s well past time he adds this trophy to his awards case.

Dark horse: Anthony Rizzo (Cubs)

Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard (Mets)

Thor is ready to take over Midgard, or maybe just the National League. His stuff is as electric as the God of Thunder.

Dark horse: Robbie Ray (Diamondbacks)

Top rookie: Ronald Acuna (Braves)

A nearly unanimous preseason pick among pundits, 20-year-old outfielder Acuna is the future of Atlanta baseball.

Dark horse: Lewis Brinson (Marlins)

Top manager: Craig Counsell (Brewers)

If this skipper guides Milwaukee to a division title, this will be a no-brainer pick.

Dark horse: Bud Black (Rockies)

AL PLAYOFF PICKS

Wild card: Red Sox over Angels

ALDS: Astros over Red Sox; Indians over Yankees

ALCS: Astros over Indians

NL PLAYOFF PICKS

Wild card: Rockies over Brewers

NLDS: Nationals over Rockies; Dodgers over Cubs

NLCS: Nationals over Dodgers

WORLD SERIES

Astros over Nationals

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