The MLB 2019 season officially started last week in Japan at five in the morning where the Seattle Mariners took on the Oakland Athletics, but the real Opening Day is upon us. All 30 teams will be in action tomorrow to kick off a new season of baseball. There are some teams who are going all in this year and others who are rebuilding for the future. Here are the favorites to come out of each division.
American League East
The Boston Red Sox are the defending World Series champs following their 108-54 regular season last year. The Red Sox have a similar team to the one that won the World Series last year minus closer Craig Kimbrel and reliever Joe Kelly. Mid-season additions Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce re-signed for the 2019 season and are ready to defend their crown.
The Red Sox starting rotation is stacked with Chris Sale at the top followed by David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez. There is more to be desired in the bullpen with the Red Sox relying on either Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier to close out games, while also carrying an unproven guy like Colten Brewer on the roster. Tyler Thornburg and Brandon Workman also anchor the bullpen with the former yet to show the stuff he had in Milwaukee and the latter unable to pitch like he did in 2013.
The New York Yankees have strengthened their team by adding James Paxton as well as strengthening their bullpen even further, but their starting rotation is in flux right now with Luis Severino not being ready for Opening Day and 38-year old CC Sabathia and 36-year old J.A. Happ being relied upon to pitch the entire season. The Yankees will most likely be looking at the Wild Card spot for a second straight year.
Do not count out the Tampa Bay Rays, though. They pulled out 90 wins last year and brought in SP Charlie Morton for this season to add a #2 guy behind reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell. Manager Kevin Cash properly utilized his roster last season and should be able to get the most out of his guys again.
This division is going to be up for grabs between two teams, the Cleveland Indians and the Minnesota Twins. The Twins have the edge and could take the division due to the fact that they got better during the offseason, while the Indians got worse. The Twins added DH Nelson Cruz who hit 37 HRs and drove in 97 RBIs last season, as well as super utility player Marwin Gonzalez and 1B C.J. Cron who hit 30 HRs last season.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians lost OF Michael Brantley, C Yan Gomes, DH Edwin Encarnacion, and RP Andrew Miller. The Indians did bring back 1B Carlos Santana to replace Encarnacion, but Encarnacion is still the better player. Like Boston, the Indians have a solid starting rotation with Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Shane Bieber, but they still have several holes on their team such as the outfield.
It would not be a surprise to see the Twins win the AL Central, while the Indians compete for a Wild Card spot or miss the playoffs altogether.
The Houston Astros are the clear favorites in the AL West and should take home their third straight Division title. The Astros have a similar team to last year with the only notable subtractions are Marwin Gonzalez, Charlie Morton, and SP Dallas Keuchel who is still a free agent, surprisingly. They did add OF Michael Brantley and SP Wade Miley, so they do have a couple of additions who could make a major impact.
The Astros are another team with a powerful rotation with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Lance McCullers Jr. leading the way. It would be a surprise if the Astros did not win the AL West for a third consecutive year.
The Oakland Athletics were another surprising team last season considering they made the AL Wild Card game with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. They are a talented team, but the Houston Astros are a powerhouse, so it will be difficult to compete with them. Their biggest problem is starting pitcher as they do not have a lot of depth there.
The A’s are hopeful that star pitcher Sean Manaea could return at some point this season following the shoulder surgery he had last September. Oakland is currently 0-2 following the Japan series against the Mariners, so they enter Opening Day two games in the hole.
The Los Angeles Angels did sign star player Mike Trout to a massive 12 year/$426.5 million deal, but they will most likely not compete this year. They do not have a strong enough team built around Trout with weaknesses in their pitching staff. The Mariners are technically the best team in baseball right now with a 2-0 record, but they are rebuilding and will find themselves in the back end of the division with the Houston Rangers who are also rebuilding.
National League East
This has the potential to be the best division in baseball with four of the five teams going all-in this year. The Washington Nationals are spending $158.4 million this year, the New York Mets have a payroll of $158.3 million, and the Philadelphia Phillies follow behind them with a payroll of $140 million. The Atlanta Braves are spending a little less than these other three teams with a payroll of $112 million, but they are the defending champs and did add former MVP 3B Josh Donaldson this offseason.
The Phillies should win the NL East with all of their additions. They added OFs Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, SS Jean Segura, and C JT Realmuto this offseason to add to their already outstanding core of young talent highlighted by 1B Rhys Hoskins and SP Aaron Nola. The Phillies also have a pretty good pitching staff with Jake Arrieta leading the way as well as relievers Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, and offseason addition David Robertson anchoring the bullpen. This is the Phillies’ division to lose at this point.
The Nationals should be competing for a wild card spot this year. They did lose Bryce Harper to free agency, but they added SP Patrick Corbin to their rotation of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. 20-year old OF Juan Soto should come close to replacing Harper’s bat in the lineup as Soto is a very promising talent. If the Nationals stay healthy, they should compete with the Phillies, but they will most likely claim a Wild card spot.
The Mets did get better this offseason, but they have had trouble staying healthy in the past and there is already some frustration between the players and management that could spill over into the season. They also have a great rotation with reigning Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard at the top of the rotation. If they can stay healthy, which has been difficult for the Mets to do, they could be a Wild Card team as well.
The Braves might be the odd man out in this division even though they are the reigning division champs. The teams in their division got a lot better, while the Braves did not make a lot of significant additions other than Donaldson. They are relying heavily on their young group of players, which might end up biting them in the end.
There is not much to say about the Miami Marlins other than the fact that they will get a participation ribbon for showing up this season.
The Chicago Cubs should reclaim their throne atop of the NL Central this year. Their main issue last year is that they had a couple of major injuries. If they stayed healthy, they most likely would have won the division. 3B Kris Bryant is ready to go this season and SP Yu Darvish should be able to last the entire season this year. Even though they missed the playoffs last season by losing two win and get in games, they are the team to beat in the NL Central this year.
The Cubs are a sleeper team this year as not enough people are giving them the attention they deserve. I like the Cubs as a value bet to win the World Series as they open as +1200 to win the Fall Classic. They are my favorites to make it out of the NL, so they present good value with those odds.
Expect the Milwaukee Brewers to drop off this season. They had an impressive year last season and came a game away from making it to the World Series, but their pitching staff is weak this year. Their rotation is thin, and their bullpen is starting to shrink. Relievers Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress are expected to start the season on the Injured List, and I am worried about Josh Hader. He is the best reliever in baseball, but he pitched 81.1 innings last season and could be fatigued in 2019. Hader could be fine for this season, but he could face issues down the road if he is continuously used at this high rate.
The St. Louis Cardinals got better this offseason with the addition of 1B Paul Goldschmidt, so expect them to give the Cubs a run for their money. The Cubs should hang on to the division, but the NL Wild Card game will most likely feature the Cardinals vs Nationals.
There is no team that stands out in this division. The Los Angeles Dodgers will most likely win the NL West, but they did not get significantly better considering they lost in the World Series for the second straight year last season. They traded away Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Alex Wood to the Cincinnati Reds and lost C Yasmani Grandal to free agency. They did add Joe Kelly and A.J. Pollock, but they needed to add someone like Bryce Harper to the team considering their failures the past two seasons.
The San Diego Padres did get better with their addition of Manny Machado, but it will not be enough to take out the Dodgers. The San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies stood pat in free agency and did not make any major additions, while the Arizona Diamondbacks got worse with the subtractions of Pollock and Patrick Corbin. The Dodgers will win the division, but I do not see them getting past the Cubs or Phillies in the playoffs.
The 2019 MLB season should be interesting. There are some teams going all-in this year, but we do have some teams in a race for the bottom that will drag down the level of competition in the league.