Power Ranking Every MLB Division for 2019

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 26, 2019

Power Ranking Every MLB Division for 2019

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    New year, new apparent power structure among Major League Baseball's six divisions.

    In an attempt to prove it, we went ahead and ranked them for the 2019 season. This involved looking at each of the five teams in each American League and National League division and weighing how they'll fit together. The more good teams a division figures to have in it, the better.

    For helpful context, we included each division's winning percentage from 2018, as well as projected winning percentages for 2019, according to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system.

    We'll start with the worst and count down to the best.

6. American League Central

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    2018 W-L%: .436

    2019 PECOTA W-L%: .479

       

    Outlook

    It's common knowledge that the American League Central was historically bad in 2018. Unless, of course, there's anyone out there who still needs to read this, this or this.

    To their credit, the Minnesota Twins have taken steps to avoid another 84-loss season. An offense that wasn't even that bad (4.6 runs per game) in 2018 now has Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron.

    They alone can help get the Twins back above .500. If Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano recapture their stardom and Jose Berrios takes further steps to becoming an ace, the Twins will have 90-win potential.

    That's a warning to the Cleveland Indians, whose alleged payroll constraints led them to strip down a roster than produced 91 wins and a third straight division title in 2018.

    Weaker though the Indians may be, they still have a strikeout-happy rotation, and a calf strain won't keep Francisco Lindor apart from fellow superstar Jose Ramirez forever. PECOTA's 96-win projection strains belief, yet Cleveland shouldn't stray too far from its 2018 performance.

    The other three teams in the AL Central combined for 302 losses last season, and none is especially worthy of optimism going into 2019.

    The Chicago White Sox come the closest, as they're ready to call up slugger Eloy Jimenez and other players from their No. 4 farm system. But their chances for substantial improvement would look a lot better if they'd splurged on Manny Machado or Bryce Harper rather than committed to bargain-bin shopping.

    Relative to the White Sox, the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers have further to go in their rebuilds. In the meantime, they have a similar problem of not enough up-and-coming stars to counterbalance their post-prime veterans.

    In sum, the AL Central could get better and still be the worst division in MLB.

5. National League West

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    2018 W-L%: .498

    2019 PECOTA W-L%: .506

       

    Outlook

    In 2018, the National League West was home to the NL's luckiest and unluckiest teams.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers were the unlucky club, as they played much better than their 92-71 record indicated. That makes it easier to absolve them of their surprisingly quiet offseason.

    So does a closer look at their 2019 roster. It's highlighted by young stars (e.g., Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler) and an enviable amount of pitching depth. It's telling that even the early shoulder woes of staff ace Clayton Kershaw aren't a death knell for the Boys in Blue.

    The Colorado Rockies were the NL West's resident lucky team a year ago. If they're going to win as many as 91 games again, they'll need more offensive depth around Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon and for their pitching staff to overcome the loss of Adam Ottavino.

    Doable? Maybe. It'll take further ace-like pitching by Kyle Freeland and German Marquez plus vintage seasons by veteran slugger Daniel Murphy and well-paid relievers Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw. Such a proposal is deserving of optimism yet also of crossed fingers.

    From certain angles, the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants look like they could also be contenders in 2019. From others, not so much.

    Though the D-backs still have a few stars (Zack Greinke, in particular) to rally around, it's hard to imagine a roster that produced 82 wins in 2018 not feeling the losses of Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock.

    The Padres spent $300 million to add Manny Machado to future plans that also involve the best farm system in baseball. For the time being, though, they're a 96-loss team that badly needs starting pitching.

    The upcoming retirement of renowned manager Bruce Bochy could be just the thing to stir San Francisco's 30-something veterans from their respective declines. Either that or it'll be same ol', same ol' for a club that's dropped 187 games since 2017.

    Altogether, the NL West is a weird one. But it should have at least two contenders, one of which is arguably the best team in the Senior Circuit.

4. American League West

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    2018 W-L%: .538

    2019 PECOTA W-L%: .493

          

    Outlook

    According to PECOTA, the Houston Astros project as MLB's best team with a record of 98-64. If anything, that might actually undersell them.

    There's some cause for concern with a rotation that's without Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr., but at least it still has Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Meanwhile, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and newcomer Michael Brantley anchor arguably MLB's best lineup, and Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly lead a bullpen that was one of MLB's best at last check.

    It's harder to bank on the Oakland Athletics to recapture the magic of their 97-win 2018 season. Their decidedly ace-less rotation, in particular, looms as a problematic weakness.

    Yet perhaps young lefty Jesus Luzardo, MLB.com's No. 12 prospect, will change that. If not, the A's can always stick with what allowed them to downplay a weak rotation in 2019: a powerful offense, an exceptional defense and a deep bullpen led by unhittable closer Blake Treinen.

    The Los Angeles Angels will be a wild-card contender if their key new additions—Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Cody Allen, Jonathan Lucroy and Justin Bour—turn back the clock to better times. Failing that, their star core of Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons and, when healthy, Shohei Ohtani should keep them from straying too far from last year's 80-82 record.

    Which brings us to the black sheep of the American League West: the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.

    To put it bluntly, neither is good. Yet it's to the Mariners' credit that they tore down a lucky team and built a new one atop an intriguing cast of young and old stars. The Rangers have a new-look rotation that's extremely volatile but which also has the upside to improve on last season's 5.37 ERA.

    At worst, the AL West will at least have MLB's best team. At best, it will have two elite teams and three that figure to be varying degrees of "OK."

3. American League East

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    2018 W-L%: .516

    2019 PECOTA W-L%: .500

          

    Outlook

    The top three clubs in the American League East combined for 298 wins in 2018. That's a tough act to follow, yet said clubs are up to the task in 2019.

    Because of their debt to Lady Luck and the state of their bullpen sans Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel, the Boston Red Sox should experience some regression from last year's romp to 108 wins and the World Series title.

    Still, write the Red Sox off at your own peril. They have an excellent rotation headed by Chris Sale and David Price, and reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are back to lead MLB's top run-scoring offense from 2018.

    With a 100-win season of their own fresh in their wake, the New York Yankees will challenge the Red Sox for AL East supremacy. An offseason haul of James Paxton, J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia, Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino should lead to more reliable pitching in 2019. If Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton stay healthy, the offense can go beyond its record-setting 267 homers from a year ago.

    Though it can't rationally be done, it's oh-so-tempting to put the Tampa Bay Rays on the same level as the Red Sox and Yankees. The Rays rode strong pitching—see their 3.50 ERA after May 18—and defense to a surprising 90-win 2018. Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell can pace a continuation of the pitching renaissance, while new additions like Mike Zunino and Avisail Garcia should boost the offense.

    Now comes the drop-off to the Toronto Blue Jays, who are coming off 89 losses, and the Baltimore Orioles, who are coming off 115 losses.

    There's little hope for the Orioles, whose new-look front office did virtually nothing to facilitate a step in the right direction in 2019. The Blue Jays, however, can at least look forward to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette arriving from their No. 3 farm system. They'll bring excitement, if nothing else.

    The AL East is a top-heavy division. The top is so heavy, however, that a certain level of respect is warranted.

2. National League East

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    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

    2018 W-L%: .485

    2019 PECOTA W-L%: .510

       

    Outlook

    The Miami Marlins were lucky to lose "only" 98 games last season. Sans All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, they could be even worse in 2019.

    Elsewhere in the National League East, everyone else is going for it.

    The Washington Nationals could have geared their offseason entirely toward re-signing Bryce Harper, but they opted for a more thorough renovation of a roster that produced 82 wins last season.

    To wit, a rotation that already had Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg now also has Patrick Corbin, who was an All-Star and Cy Young Award contender in 2018. The Washington lineup and bullpen got significant upgrades as well.

    Coming off an 85-loss season, the New York Mets' big move was their blockbuster trade for veteran slugger Robinson Cano and star closer Edwin Diaz. Otherwise, the only thing they didn't upgrade is a rotation that should be just fine in the hands of reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler.

    The big disclaimer for the Philadelphia Phillies is that they haven't yet made good on their inevitable signing of Harper. It'll happen...just wait...any minute now...

    While we wait for that, let's grant that the Phillies' winter haul of Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and David Robertson has largely taken care of the problems they had with their offense, defense and bullpen in 2018. A step up from 80 wins is the next logical, um, step.

    In the face of all this, the Atlanta Braves arguably haven't done enough to arrange a proper defense of their NL East title. But they did bring in some key veterans—including 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson—and they can otherwise count on their youth. In particular, Ronald Acuna Jr. might make the leap from NL Rookie of the Year to NL MVP, and there's plenty of pitching in the club's No. 2 farm system.

    The final tally for the NL East is one very bad team next to four that each has a shot at the division crown.

1. National League Central

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    2018 W-L%: .528

    2019 PECOTA W-L%: .510

       

    Outlook

    The National League Central housed three of the NL's six best teams in 2018, and each of them is looking as good or better for 2019.

    At least according to PECOTA, this is a controversial take regarding the Chicago Cubs, who are projected to regress from 95 wins to 79. Their lifeless offseason makes it tempting to read into that, but they're not wrong to feel confident in what they have.

    A healthy Kris Bryant should help revive an offensive attack that was the NL's best in the first half of 2018. There are concerns on the pitching side, but a starting rotation of Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish shouldn't be one of them.

    The Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals, meanwhile, maneuvered to get better following 96- and 88-win seasons, respectively.

    The Brewers deepened their lineup around reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich by signing Yasmani Grandal, who's one of baseball's best two-way catchers, and Mike Moustakas, who's clubbed 66 home runs since 2017. They also added left-hander Alex Claudio to a bullpen that was already one of MLB's best.

    The Cardinals made only two new additions, but both were huge. Goldschmidt, who's an annual All-Star and MVP contender at first base, is in to form a slugging duo with Matt Carpenter. If healthy, veteran lefty Andrew Miller will go a long way toward stabilizing what was an unreliable bullpen in 2018.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds don't look as good on paper, yet neither should be underestimated.

    The Bucs are putting their chips on a pitching staff that caught fire with a 3.52 ERA in the second half of 2018. The additions of Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Jose Iglesias, Derek Dietrich, Sonny Gray, Alex Wood, Tanner Roark and Zach Duke should help the Reds snap a skid of four straight 90-loss seasons.

    All told, this is the only division in MLB wherein every team has a chance to contend.

                  

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.