I'm neck deep in my annual March Madness marathon, so I'm using the opportunity to make my season predictions for Major League Baseball this season. It's been the most bizarre offseason for baseball across the board that I can recall, and at this writing free agent SP Alex Cobb still hasn't signed a deal. Regardless, it's time to make my predictions that will look absurd a month into the season, if not sooner.
1. The Minnesota Twins will win the AL Central. I realize that I had made this same prediction two years ago. I had jumped the gun on the Twins big time since they were one of the worst teams in baseball that year. Now they are coming off a Wild Card berth and they've added Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi to their rotation. Those two additions will make any rotation better, and their starting pitching will be even better for a reason that I'll get into later.
The Indians are still the big dogs in the AL Central, but I expect them to fall backwards a little this year. The baseball gods doth giveth as they did the last two years for Cleveland, and now they shall taketh away a little (albeit not by much, since the rest of the division is very weak).
2. Shohei Ohtani will make more starts as a pitcher than he will as an OF/DH for the Angels. My logic here is two-fold: First, The Angels have a crowded outfield as it is led by perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout, expensive new arrival Justin Upton, and Kole Calhoun. Albert Pujols will be their DH at least most of the time, so that doesn't leave much room for Ohtani's bat. Secondly, the Angels will need him to pitch regularly anyway since the rest of their rotation includes Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Parker Bridwell, Tyler Skaggs, and Matt Shoemarker, all of whom have dealt with various injuries during their respective careers. Ohtani will get his fair share of at bats during the course of the season, but he will be far more valuable as a pitcher.
3. The Atlanta Braves will finish over .500 for the first time since 2013. The Braves are still at least a year away from competing in the NL East, but considering how bad the Marlins will be and how bad the Mets could be, the Braves will benefit from beating up on some bad teams. The Phillies could be in a similar position for the same reason.
4. Tommy Pham will be a top-10 center fielder in baseball. Pham came out of nowhere last year with a slash line of .306/.411/.520 over 128 games. He just turned 30, so he's fairly old for a guy entering his 5th season but only now expected to play every day. He will be a sleeper wonder this year for the Cardinals who now have one of the better outfields in all of baseball.
5. Nolan Arenado will compete for the Triple Crown. Last year, Arenado finished third in the NL in HRs, second in RBI, and eighth in batting average. With Giancarlo Stanton now in the AL, Arenado has a great opportunity to lead the NL in all three categories. Even if he comes up short in average, he is primed for career bests across the board.
6. The Tampa Bay Rays will score the fewest runs in baseball. It's really shocking to see how the two Florida teams dismantled themselves during the offseason. Six of the the Rays' top seven home run hitters from last year are no longer with the team, whether by trade or free agency. They lost over 140 home runs from those departures, so how they expect to score any runs is beyond me. They will be a really hard team to watch offensively this year.
7. Nolan Arenado and Jose Ramirez will be the league MVPs. Arenado will be the NL MVP for the reason I had outlined above, especially if he does win the Triple Crown. Ramirez was a late candidate for the AL MVP last year as the Indians went on their 22-game winning streak, and that momentum will carry over into this season. He still has plenty of upside for himself, offensively and defensively.
8. Chase Anderson and Jose Berrios will be the Cy Young winners. Anderson would have finished 4th in the NL in both ERA and WHIP last year, had he pitched enough innings. He and Zach Davies form a very underrated 1-2 punch in the Brewers' rotation and will lead the team to a postseason berth with the beefed up offense behind them. Anderson's primary challenge will be whether he can keep his 2017 HR/FB rate and increasing his strikeout totals.
Berrios is only entering his second year as a full time starter, but he's the Twins' best pitcher. He will emerge as the Twins' #1 guy over the course of the season as they narrowly edge out the Indians for the AL Central title.
9. The Chicago Cubs will defeat the New York Yankees in the World Series. I doubt there is a bigger chalk pick for the World Series than this choice, but I just don't see anyone topping the Cubs in the NL or anyone beating out the Yankees in the AL. The Astros are reigning champs, but there is a reason why no one has repeated as champions since the 1999/2000 Yankees (though in fairness, the Giants won 3 championships over the course of 5 years, and that is arguably more impressive).