The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Pre-season picks: It's the Big Four in the AL, a toss-up in the NL

Last year I labeled my pre-season picks “boring” because I picked every team from the 2017 play-offs to repeat I 2018, including the wild cards.

It turned out four of six division winners did repeat, while two of four wild card teams were the same as 2017.  I guess my results could have been worse.

My picks are going to be somewhat boring again this year.  I’m picking the American League division winners and wild cards to repeat from 2018.  The “Big Four,” as I call them (Red Sox, Yankees, Astros, and Indians), are still the cream of the crop.  Their rosters over the past few years were built to last.  I don’t see any of the other teams bumping them out of the post-season playoff picture.  All the other teams in the AL are in various stages of re-building, re-tooling, or are just plain bad.

The National League is a different story though.  It’s going to largely be a toss-up for the playoff spots.  While the Dodgers and Cubs have been prominent in the post-season in recent years (including the Cubs’ World Series championship in 2016 and the Dodgers’ two World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018), I don’t think either of them will be a shoo-in this year.  I believe each of the three divisions will be highly competitive this season, with each having multiple contenders for playoff spots.

Here’s my prediction of each of the playoff teams.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe the five playoff teams in the American League will include the Red Sox, Indians, and Astros as division winners.  The A’s will join the Yankees as wild-card teams.

In the National League, I’m predicting the Phillies, Cubs, and Rockies will take division titles, while the Brewers and Nationals will be the wild-card entries.  This lineup of playoff teams represents some very different results from last year.

The Red Sox have the same lineup as last year, although it would be hard-pressed to deliver 108 wins again.  They have one of the best outfields in the majors and productive super-utility players in Steve Pearce, Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez, who give the Red Sox a lot of versatility.  Their biggest issue will be replacing key relievers Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly.

The Yankees will get edged out by Boston again for the AL East title and have to settle for a wild-card berth again.  Re-signing J.A. Happ and acquiring James Paxton were key Yankees’ moves to bolster the starting rotation, but it still may not be enough to overtake the Red Sox.  However, they’ll win a lot of games again and be contenders because they still have the best bullpen in the American League (even with losing David Robertson); and they may be the first team in history to hit 300 home runs in a season.

The Indians will beat out the Twins for the AL Central division title.  Cleveland has two Top 10 American League infielders in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.  Losing outfielders Michael Brantley and Edwin Encarnacion will force them to go with a younger corps with less overall power.  But they did re-sign Carlos Santana to offset the power loss.  The Indians’ starting rotation is still very solid.

The Astros will continue their dominance in the AL West even though they had key free-agent losses in super-utility player Marwin Gonzalez and pitchers Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton.  Pitcher Lance McCullers was lost to Tommy John surgery.  However, shortstop Carlos Correa is healthy again and they added Michael Brantley in the outfield.  Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole still comprise one of the most formidable one-two punches for a starting rotation and if the rest should falter, their top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley will likely get a callup around mid-season.

The A’s surprised everyone last year with a 97-win season.  They won’t win that many games this year, but will edge out Tampa and the Twins for the other AL wild card spot this year.  Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Khris Davis, and Steven Piscotty provide the offensive punch, although veteran Jed Lowrie, who was lost to free agency, will be missed.

The Phillies were the clear winner in the free-agent market with the signing of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, J. T. Realmuto and David Robertson.  These strategic additions are enough to make them the favorite in a competitive NL East Division over the Braves and Nationals.  The big question for the Phillies is whether the Phillies’ starting rotation is deep enough beyond Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.

Cubs starting pitchers will be at full strength this year.  Look for Kris Bryant to have a resurgent year.  As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, manager Joe Maddon is on the hot seat this year to keep his job.  He’ll have his team hitting on all cylinders this year, and they will top the Brewers and Cardinals in a close division race.

The Rockies’ star third baseman Nolan Arenado got his lucrative contract extension.  Now he’ll focus on leading the team to a division title, replacing the Dodgers who have six consecutive NL West championships under their belt.  In fact, the Dodgers will fail to make the playoffs this year after losing the World Series for the past two years.  The Rockies’ lineup that has made the playoffs the past two seasons largely remains intact.  The loss of DJ LeMahieu will more than be made up for by their acquisition of Daniel Murphy.

Even though the National lost their face of the franchise, Bryce Harper, they’ll make up for him with a full season of last year’s 19-year-old sensation Juan Soto and rookie Victor Robles.  Anthony Rendon will prove how valuable he really is to the team, without having to play in Harper’s shadow.  The Nationals’ pitching staff of Scherzer, Strasburg, and newcomer Patrick Corbin is one of the strongest in the big leagues.  New second baseman Brian Dozier will have a bounce-back year.  The Nationals will claim one of the NL wild-card spots.

The Brewers will be the other NL wild-card team.  They narrowly missed out on defeating the Dodgers in the NLCS last year and should make another run this year.  They managed to keep all their young arms and appear to be in the hunt for reliever Craig Kimbrel.  Starter Jimmy Nelson returns to the starting rotation after missing last year due to injury.

Even though it’s rare for teams to repeat as World Series champions, I’m picking the Red Sox to prevail over the Colorado Rockies in the World Series, just like in 2007.

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