The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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It wasn't a good year for my MLB predictions

If you’ve kept up with my blog for the past few years, you know that I make predictions before the regular season starts for the MLB division winners and the wild card teams that will advance to the post-season.

You also probably know I usually do a post-regular season report card on my predictions.  Well, this year’s results are pretty bad and pretty sad.

The only division winner I successfully picked was the Houston Astros.  I guess that one would have been hard to miss, since they finished with the best record (107-55) of all the 30 major-league teams.

In addition to the Astros, I had picked the Red Sox and Indians in the AL as division winners, while going with the Rockies, Phillies, and Cubs in the NL.  I had a bit more success with the wild card picks, successfully picking three of the four teams--the Nationals, Brewers, and A’s.  I had also picked the Yankees as a wild card.

Here’s a recap of what transpired with my picks and how the division races ended.

My biggest gaffes occurred in the NL West where the Dodgers were the runaway winners, finishing with the best record in the National League, while the Rockies finished dead last.

I had forecasted that the Rockies from 2018 (losing a tie-breaker game with the Dodgers for the division title) were on the verge of becoming a break-out team and would win their first-ever division title this year.  The Rockies’ offense, led by Nolan Arenado again, held up its end of the team’s performance from last year, by finishing fourth in the NL in runs scored and second in slugging percentage.  However, their pitching was dismal, finishing last in the NL in ERA, WHIP, and home runs allowed.

The Dodgers blew away the league in both batting and pitching, leading in practically every major category in both.  Their league-leading 106 wins were highlighted by 12 walk-off wins and 18 shutouts.

After making the biggest splash during last off-season with the addition of key players like Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, David Robertson, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen, it looked like I had made a good prediction with the Phillies, as they held first-place in the NL East until June 11.  But then the Braves overtook them and virtually clinched the division with eight-game and nine-game winning streaks in August and early September.  Then the Nationals also passed the Phillies in early July.  Some were questioning down the stretch whether Phillies’ second-year manager Gabe Kapler was the right guy for the team.  The Phils’ hiring of their former manager, Charlie Manuel, out of retirement as a coach late in the season seemed to re-inforce that feeling by the franchise’s ownership.  But the reality was their starting pitching under-performed.

The Braves were another team I didn’t have in the post-season picture.  Yet they finished with the second-best record in the National League behind the Dodgers.  Last year’s Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. and veteran Freddie Freeman led the team offensively.  Acuna narrowly missed becoming a rare 40-40 player in home runs and steals, while Josh Donaldson had a resurgence in his career with his most home runs (37) since 2016.  21-year-old Mike Soroka became the ace of the staff.

The second-place Nationals finished right where I thought they would, except it was behind the Phillies instead of the Braves.  Their loss of Bryce Harper to division-rival Phillies didn’t devastate the team as many thought it would.  Anthony Rendon put together an MVP season, and second-year player Juan Soto (still only 20 years old) proved he was no fluke last year.  The team was also propelled by a top-of-the-line starting rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin.

In the closest division race all year, the NL Central has practically been up for grabs for most of the season.  Even the fifth-place Reds were within striking distance of the division lead shortly before the All-Star Game break.  Again, my Cubs pick initially looked like a good one, as they held the division led for most of the season prior to the trade deadline.  However, they were a Jekyll and Hyde team—a record of 32-18 in blowout games, but 19-27 in one-run games.  But then the Cardinals had an 18-9 record for the month of August, and the Brewers had the best record (20-7) in baseball in September despite losing Christian Yelich to injury for the remainder of the season.  When the Cardinals swept the Cubs at Wrigley Field last week (for the first time since 1921), it took any remaining wind out of the Cubs’ sail and put them out of contention for post-season play.  The Cubs ultimately suffered a collapse like last year.  Manager Joe Maddon, once the darling of the Cubs’ clubhouse, will be gone after this season.

The Red Sox were the most under-achieving team for me this year.  After having one of the best seasons in MLB history (108 wins) and beating the Dodgers in five games in the World Series, it was hard to imagine they would not repeat this year.  The team from last year stayed intact, except for the losses of Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly in the bullpen.  From the beginning of the season, however, they never got out of the gate in the division race.  Injuries to their starting rotation hurt them severely, and they never did get a suitable closer; but they had the fourth best offense in the league.  They will barely break .500 this year.

On the other hand, you’d have to say the Yankees were the biggest over-achievers this season.  I had picked them to finish behind the Red Sox, but predicted they would still claim a wild card spot.  They were beset with injuries since Opening Day.  The Yankees’ medical staff earned their keep this year, as the team had an MLB-record 30 players go on the Injured List this year.  Yet, somehow Aaron Boone managed to come up with lineups that ultimately won over 100 games again this year, deploying replacement players that didn’t have the typical Yankee pedigree.

The Twins were the most pleasantly surprising team in the American League, as they won the most games in franchise history since 1965 and captured their first division title since 2010.  First-year Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, the latest of the new wave of big-league managers without prior managerial experience, had the luxury of seeing his team become the first in history to hit 300 home runs in a season.  But I had picked the Indians to prevail in the AL Central for the fourth consecutive season.

The Indians trailed the Twins for most of the season, but after the All-Star break, they were never more than 6 ½ games out of first place, despite having lost their ace Corey Kluber early in the season and starter Carlos Carrasco for three months in the middle of the season due to cancer treatments.  When the Indians traded No. 2 Trevor Bauer (6th in the Cy Young Award voting last year) to Cincinnati at the July 31 trade deadline, many thought the team had packed their bags and checked out for the rest of the season.  However, second-year pitcher Shane Beiber picked up a big part of the workload, and they managed to stay close enough to contend for a wild card spot until the last week of the season.  Despite their starting rotation woes, the Indans’ bullpen was outstanding, and overall the team gave up the fewest runs of any AL club.

The A’s and Rays edged out the Indians for the two wild card spots.  I had picked the A’s, who had a terrific second-half of the season.  During that period, they wound up losing only two more games than the division-leading Astros, who had the best overall record in the American League.  The A’s were led by Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Marcus Semien, who each had 33+ home runs and 90+ RBIs.  34-year-old Mike Fiers led the pitching staff with a 15-4 record.

I didn’t’ have the Rays in the playoff picture at all in my pre-season picks.  They will be playing in their first post-season since 2013.  They didn’t get a lot of attention in the homer-crazy season, since they had only one player, Austin Meadows, with more than 30 home runs.  Pitcher Charlie Morton, who came over from the Astros over the winter, had a Cy Young-type year and led a solid pitching staff.  He helped offset the limited action of Blake Snell, last year’s Cy Young Award winner, who missed two months of the season on the Injured List.

The Astros took over first place in late April and never relinquished its lead.  They battled their own set of injuries throughout the year, with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer missing significant time.  But they compensated with the best No. 1 and No. 2 starters in baseball in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who both posted 300 strikeouts.  Then Wade Miley had his best season since his rookie campaign in 2012.  The Astros also had the best rookie surprise of the season in Yordan Alvarez, who will be the runaway winner for Rookie of the Year with a slash line of .317/.415/.663, 27 home runs, and 78 RBIs in only 86 games.  The addition of another No. 1 starter, Zach Greinke, at the trade deadline has the Astros well-positioned for the post-season.

 

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