MLB Predictions 2019: Projecting the Final Standings
Baseball is right around the corner, folks.
We're less than two months away from Opening Day, and the countdown to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training has reached single digits.
This year's free-agent market has made it tough to project the upcoming season since so many impact players remain unsigned.
The eventual landing spots for guys like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and others will have a significant impact on the MLB landscape.
That's not going to stop us from doing some prognosticating, though.
Ahead is a division-by-division look at how each race will shake out, complete with win-loss record predictions for all 30 teams and full divisional analysis. The plus/minus represents the projected difference from last season's win total.
Projected Final Standings
|Boston Red Sox||101-61||-7|
|New York Yankees||100-62||+0|
|Tampa Bay Rays||88-74||-2|
|Toronto Blue Jays||68-94||-5|
2018 Standings: BOS, NYY, TB, TOR, BAL
The Boston Red Sox won a franchise-record 108 games last season and then went 11-3 in the postseason on their way to a World Series title.
The back of the bullpen is a question mark, with the likely departure of Craig Kimbrel leaving Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes as the leading candidates to fill the closer's role. Aside from that, the core of the team returns intact, and a full season of a healthy Nathan Eovaldi could take the rotation to another level.
Can they make it four straight AL East titles?
The New York Yankees might have something to say about that after addressing the starting rotation by trading for James Paxton and bringing back late-season standout J.A. Happ for a full season. A new deal for Zach Britton and the addition of Adam Ottavino will continue to make the bullpen a major weapon as well.
Meanwhile, if Gary Sanchez can bounce back and Luke Voit can come anywhere close to duplicating his late-season heroics, a potent offense could be even more dangerous.
The dark horse here is the Tampa Bay Rays.
A 19-9 September helped them finish with 90 wins, and while the offense is still light on run producers, the pitching staff could be one of the best in baseball.
Tyler Glasnow looks like a breakout candidate, Brent Honeywell could join the rotation by midseason if he's able to shake off the rust following Tommy John surgery, and reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell will again front the staff alongside free-agent signing Charlie Morton. An "opener" will likely be used again to fill out the staff after they enjoyed tremendous success with that experiment last season.
For the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, it will be a season of rebuilding.
At least Blue Jays fans have the impending arrival of top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and several other high-end players to keep things entertaining.
The Orioles are fresh off a 115-loss season with no reprieve in sight.
Projected Final Standings
|Chicago White Sox||74-88||+12|
|Kansas City Royals||63-99||+5|
2018 Standings: CLE, MIN, DET, CWS, KC
The Cleveland Indians have cruised to three straight AL Central titles by a combined 38 games, and there's no end in sight to their stranglehold on the top spot in the division.
The starting rotation of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber took the No. 1 spot in Bleacher Report's recent list of the top 10 starting staffs in baseball. A step forward from Bieber, who looks like a potential breakout candidate, would make a great staff even better.
There are holes in the outfield and at the catcher position, but with Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez leading the offense, they should score enough runs to back their excellent pitching staff en route to another comfortable division title.
After a surprise wild-card berth in 2017, the Minnesota Twins took a disappointing step backward, winning seven fewer games to finish a distant second in the standings.
It looks like a make-or-break season for Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano after both underperformed again in 2018. If they can produce up to their potential and the rotation holds up behind Jose Berrios, another push for a playoff spot could be in order.
Relying on Blake Parker and Trevor May to close games might prove to be a regrettable decision, though there's still time to make a run at Craig Kimbrel.
From there, it's a battle to avoid the cellar between the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers.
The White Sox have the best chance of exceeding expectations, even if they don't wind up signing Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Top prospect Eloy Jimenez will provide a major boost offensively, and offseason additions Ivan Nova, Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera should help solidify a young pitching staff.
The Royals have a longer rebuild ahead of them due to a weak farm system, but they're probably a better team than the Tigers in 2019. That said, both teams could easily lose 100 games.
Projected Final Standings
|Los Angeles Angels||82-80||+2|
2018 Standings HOU, OAK, SEA, LAA, TEX
The Houston Astros have rattled off back-to-back 100-win seasons, and they're the clear favorites to take the AL West title once again.
With Charlie Morton gone in free agency, Dallas Keuchel likely to follow and Lance McCullers Jr. out for the season, it will be up to starter-turned-reliever Collin McHugh, free-agent signing Wade Miley and hard-throwing Josh James to shore up the starting rotation.
The impending arrival of top prospect Forrest Whitley helps the rotation situation, as do depth options like Brad Peacock and Framber Valdez. On the offensive side, the addition of Michael Brantley to an already high-powered offense and the prospect of a bounce-back season from Carlos Correa could make a high-powered lineup even more productive.
The Oakland Athletics surprised more than a few people on their way to 97 wins and a wild-card spot.
Matt Chapman is a bona fide superstar, and guys like Matt Olson, Khris Davis and Stephen Piscotty will help drive an underrated offensive attack. The bullpen will also be a weapon once again with sinkerballer Blake Treinen slamming the door.
The question is whether a starting rotation led by Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada can really lead a team to the postseason.
In an effort to avoid squandering another year of Mike Trout, the Los Angeles Angels have slapped a Band-Aid on an underperforming starting rotation by signing Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill to one-year deals. The addition of veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy could also help the pitching staff.
Still, this looks more like a team capable of hovering around .500 than a legitimate playoff contender. If the Angels fall out of contention early, it might be time to start seriously entertaining offers for Trout with free agency awaiting after the 2020 season.
The Seattle Mariners have focused on trimming payroll and rebuilding the farm system this offseason, so a playoff drought that stretches back to 2001 will likely be extended.
Meanwhile, the end of the Adrian Beltre era also appears to have signaled the start of a roster retooling for the Texas Rangers. Expect guys like Mike Minor, Jose Leclerc, Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Rougned Odor to be hot commodities at the trade deadline.
Projected Final Standings
|New York Mets||87-75||+10|
2018 Standings: ATL, WAS, PHI, NYM, MIA
The NL East could be an all-out war this season.
The Atlanta Braves took full advantage of a lackluster season from the rest of the division, improving drastically on a 72-90 year to claim their first NL East title since 2013.
With rising stars Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies anchoring the offense alongside superstar Freddie Freeman and a wave of impressive young pitching talent set to bolster the starting staff behind Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman, things are trending up in Atlanta.
The pressing question is whether they can hold off the rest of the division in the short term and return to the playoffs.
Despite the expected loss of Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals might actually be a better overall team in 2019 on the heels of a disappointing 82-80 finish.
Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez were added to replace Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark in the rotation, bounce-back candidate Brian Dozier was signed to play second base, and top prospect Victor Robles now has a clear path to playing time in the outfield.
On paper, this might be the most talented team in the division. That said, they've been the perfect example of how the game is not played on paper the past several seasons, so it would be prudent to rein in expectations.
The New York Mets were the busiest team in the division during the offseason. They added Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz in a blockbuster trade with the Mariners, then signed Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson to further fortify the roster.
It could once again boil down to the health of a starting rotation that has rarely been whole the past few seasons.
The Philadelphia Phillies may yet walk away from the offseason with some combination of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel.
Until they do, it's hard not to view the offseason haul of Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and David Robertson as something of a disappointment after talks of spending "stupid" money when the offseason began. There's no question this is a good Phillies team, but good might not cut it in the NL East this year.
Deciding where to trade All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto is the biggest impact the Miami Marlins have on the 2019 season.
Projected Final Standings
|St. Louis Cardinals||88-74||+0|
2018 Standings: MIL, CHC, STL, PIT, CIN
The NL Central was a three-team battle last season, and things could be even tighter this year.
The Chicago Cubs are still the most talented team in the division top-to-bottom. A healthy Yu Darvish and a full season of Cole Hamels could give them one of the best starting rotations in baseball, and the offense ranked fourth in the NL in runs scored despite disappointing seasons from Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras.
If they play up to their potential and put last season in the rearview mirror, there's no reason the Cubs can't be the class of the division once again.
That being said, the rival St. Louis Cardinals made some big moves this winter to bridge the gap.
Trade acquisition Paul Goldschmidt gives the offense its first true middle-of-the-order run producer since Albert Pujols left town, and Andrew Miller could give the bullpen a major boost.
The continued development of young players like Jack Flaherty, Harrison Bader, Jordan Hicks and Tyler O'Neill could also be a major factor as the Cardinals look to return to the postseason.
The Milwaukee Brewers are the defending champs after a 96-win season, but they're tempting fate by banking on the bullpen-heavy approach they leaned on last season to be successful once again.
A healthy Jimmy Nelson could be a major X-factor, and the same goes for Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff if they wind up moving into the rotation. Still, a lot went right for this team in 2018, and aside from the addition of Yasmani Grandal, they've spent the offseason resting on their laurels.
On the other hand, the Cincinnati Reds have made a surprising push to contend by adding Alex Wood, Tanner Roark and Sonny Gray to the starting rotation.
They also cut ties with light-hitting speedster Billy Hamilton, which could open the door for top prospect Nick Senzel to take over as the starting center fielder early in the season. This was a pesky team last season, even on its way to 95 losses, and a major improvement could be coming.
That leaves the Pittsburgh Pirates as the unfortunate pick to finish in the cellar.
If they were playing in the AL Central or even the NL West, the Pirates might be wild-card contenders. A rotation fronted by Chris Archer, Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams has a chance to be quietly excellent, and there's a good, young offensive core in the making. Alas, they play in the NL Central.
Projected Final Standings
|Los Angeles Dodgers||95-67||+3|
|San Diego Padres||77-85||+11|
|San Francisco Giants||66-96||-7|
2018 Standings: LAD, COL, ARI, SFG, SDP
The Los Angeles Dodgers have captured six straight NL West crowns, and 2019 doesn't look like the year they'll be unseated.
Healthy seasons from Justin Turner (103 games), Corey Seager (26 games) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (15 starts) will do more to improve the team than any outside additions, and the continued emergence of Walker Buehler as one of the game's best young pitchers should give the rotation a shot in the arm.
There's also still more than enough talent in the farm system to provide in-house reinforcement or to serve as trade fodder if a significant need arises.
It was the Colorado Rockies who took the Dodgers down to the wire last year, and there's no reason to think they won't be contenders once again.
The emergence of Kyle Freeland and German Marquez atop the rotation gives the team perhaps the best one-two punch in franchise history. If Jon Gray can find some level of consistency and pitch up to his potential, the starting staff could be a legitimate strength.
Meanwhile, Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and breakout candidate David Dahl will pace the offense, and don't bet against a big bounce-back season from Daniel Murphy.
Still, there are enough questions on the pitching staff to give pause.
The Arizona Diamondbacks began the offseason by trading superstar Paul Goldschmidt but stopped short of a full-blown rebuild. That could still be coming at the trade deadline, but for now, there's still enough talent on the roster to think they can hover around .500.
Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray are plus options atop the staff, outfielder David Peralta is coming off a career year at the plate, and Ketel Marte looks primed for a breakout after a huge month of September last year.
If the rising prospects make a big enough immediate impact, the San Diego Padres could conceivably leapfrog the D-backs into third in the division.
Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. will be up before the All-Star break, Luis Urias should break camp with a starting job, and pitchers Chris Paddack, Logan Allen and Cal Quantrill should all debut in 2019.
This group is probably still a year away, but if the young guys make a smooth transition, they could be a surprise wild-card contender.
That leaves the San Francisco Giants at the bottom of the heap.
They seemingly still haven't fully accepted the obvious need to rebuild. A midseason trade of Madison Bumgarner might finally signal a waving of the white flag.