State of the League: Taking stock of MLB's Opening Day and way-too-early World Series predictions
I’m fully in on baseball this year.
I always stay interested in baseball, but with 162 games, a firm commitment to not paying for cable, and a series of very strict blackout policies, my actual exposure to the game has waned over the years. I saw about eight regular season games in 2017, five of them from inside Fenway Park.
But not this year!
I’m equipped with satellite radio and prepared to slack off at work during day games. I’ll be forcing friends to go to sports bars or to let me borrow their fancy, cable-equipped living rooms at night.
Whatever it takes, I am fully committed to what I hope will be a fantastic season.
Opening day is upon us and All 30 teams are in action tomorrow. That leaves you with some tough decisions, so here’s what you need to focus your attention.
Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees
They may not be playing each other on opening day, but this is where the intrigue lies.
With a somewhat-surprising postseason run and a pair of new and exciting sluggers in Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, the Yankees are the odds-on pick to win the AL East this year. Acquiring the reigning NL MVP will do that to a team. Plus, you know, it’s the Yankees.
However, Boston fans – myself included – take offense to these so-called "expert opinions." After all, the Sox won the division last year and have only improved in the offseason. With a healthy David Price – who struggled with injuries in 2017 – and a massive free-agent acquisition in power hitter J.D. Martinez, the race is most certainly on for the AL East crown.
Both of these teams are capable of winning 100 games this year. Both of these teams are capable of winning the World Series. The rivalry may not be as heated as it once was, but two talented squads with high expectations could do wonders in the way of reigniting the flame.
The Yankees play the Toronto Blue Jays at 3:37 ET and the Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays at 4:10 ET. You should probably keep an eye on both.
Checking in With the Champs
The Houston Astros are again expected to dominate the AL West. They’re favored to win another World Series, but that’s always skewed by recency bias. Nevertheless, this team is legit.
Justin Verlander is still one of the best pitchers in baseball and with the addition of Gerrit Cole – a promising starter who has yet to fully realize his potential – a strong rotation just got even stronger. Oh, and the reigning AL MVP is still sitting at second base. This team is stacked.
The Los Angeles Dodgers may have fallen short to the Astros, but it was an amazing show, battling all the way to Game 7. Behind their ace, Clayton Kershaw, oddsmakers have LA as the team to beat in the National League, with the Chicago Cubs breathing down their neck.
The Astros and Dodgers both face in-state opponents with the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, respectively. You can catch Houston at 3:35 ET and LA at 7:10 ET.
Your 2018 World Series Champions
It pains me to say this, but I don’t think the Red Sox will get there. I could easily see J.D. Martinez taking a year to warm up to the team and rookie manager Alex Cora may experience some growing pains, as well. I think the Red Sox will have a great year; they may even win the AL East. But postseason struggles will likely prevent them from advancing to the World Series.
Whether the Yankees or the Red Sox finish in first, I fully expect them both to make the playoffs. And with the confidence of a tremendous lineup and recent post-season success, I believe the Yanks go far. A subpar rotation will ultimately do them in, however. No ring this year, boys.
The Dodgers should have no problem making the post-season, but I’m leaning towards the Cubs to represent the National League this time around. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rematch of the Dodgers and Cubs in the NLCS, but a near sweep and an 11-1 loss in their final outing must have left a bad taste in the offseason. That’s the kind of stuff a team can rally behind in a rematch.
And yet, it’ll all be for nothing as the Houston Astros are destined to repeat in 2018. They were an incredible team last season and they’ve only gotten better. They have the sort of team chemistry that shifts from helpful to crucial in deep postseason runs and loads of talent to back it up. This is the Astros world now. We’re just living in it.