It’s 4 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. Obviously, I can’t sleep, my excitement couldn’t be higher. Pitchers and Catchers report to spring training today and that means the beginning of the regular season is just around the corner.
Just 107 days ago, Boston Red Sox Starting Pitcher, Chris Sale, took his first steps out of the bullpen and made his second relief appearance of the World Series. On that extraordinary night at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Sale went on to prove that he was worth every trade chip and prospect that General Manager Dave Dombrowski gave up in order to bring with to Boston two years ago.
With just 15 pitches, 11 of them being strikes, the long-armed, gangly looking, flame-thrower from Florida Gulf Coast University, struck out Justin Turner, Enrique Hernandez, and last but not least, current free agent, Manny Machado, in order to capture Boston’s fourth World Series title since the turn of the new millennium.
Now, pitchers are digging into the rubbing, catchers are settling in behind home plate, and the pop of a ball hitting a catchers mitt can be heard at Spring Training complexes in Florida and Arizona.
It’s the best time of the year and the season hasn’t even begun to take shape.
In the broken system that is MLB Free Agency, there are still plenty of big names on in the market, most notably Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Those two alone just change a team from a fringe playoff team to a World Series contender. Throw in the likes of Adam Jones, Dallas Keuchel, Mike Moustakas, along with a few others, and plenty of teams could look significantly different between now and March 28th.
You have the Boston Red Sox, who on paper, almost look exactly like they did in 2018, short of Craig Kimbrel at the back end of their bullpen. You have the New York Yankees, who before we know it will more than likely make a Free Agency splash. Then, you have teams like the Philadelphia Phillies who have slowly but surely started to form a roster that could surprise teams in 2019. If they get Bryce Harper, WATCH OUT.
But you also have teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates who have been bringing in veteran players like Francisco Liriano and Melky Cabrera at low-costs in hopes that they contribute to their playoff run. You have the St. Louis Cardinals that have reloaded with the addition of Paul Goldschmidt. Young teams like the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Angles could also be players this year.
Alongside the team dynamic, there are always young and exciting young players who are looking to make a name for themselves on the professional level. Be on the lookout this year for guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Fernando Tatis Jr., Eloy Jimenez and Victor Robles. There’s also always a player or two that come out of nowhere and take the league by storm.
The thing about baseball is anything can happen. On any given day, any team can beat any team, any pitcher can out duel a hitter and vice versa any hitter could take a pitcher yard in any given situation. But over the course of a 162-game season, the best teams normally show themselves in key situations.
So just to start this season with a bang, here are my WAY TO EARLY Division and Wild Card Winners
East – Boston Red Sox
- You don’t win the World Series, return 90-percent of your roster, including the reigning regular season MVP AND the World Series MVP and not be considered the favorite in your division. You may call me a homer, but the Sox take have the lineup and the pitching staff to make a run at back-to-back World Series titles. Give them a closer to shore up the back end of the bullpen and it’s almost automatic.
Central – Cleveland Indians
- Toughest decision as of right now and the fact is, that the teams in this division aren’t that good so not one team stands out. In all honesty, I feel like any team in this Division took take home the Division title come October. But none of them really stand out at this point, so I went on the fact that the Indians have been there recently, they have a young superstar in Francisco Lindor and Tito Francona is still the man in the dugout.
West – Houston Astros
- The Astros sure did give the Red Sox a run for their money last year and if not for some clutch hitting in some key situations, we may have been watching a Dodgers Astros World Series for the second straight year. It’s no secret they have the bats, with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correra and Alex Bregman in the line-up. But I believe the question for the Astros this year will be how their 3-4-5 pitchers respond after Keuchel dashed for free agency.
Wild Cards – New York Yankees & Los Angeles Angels
- No way the Bronx Bombers miss out on the playoffs this year. They have one of the best lineups in the league with the likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and company. They had one of the most potent offenses last year but when it came down to it, they didn’t have the starting pitching to get the job done in the playoffs. If CC Sabathia can deliver a memorable season in his final year and Luis Severino, J.A Happ, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka can perform up to their capabilities, the Yankees could be dangerous.
- I’m not sold on the Los Angeles Angels whatsoever. First, you should be skeptical of any starting rotation that has Matt Harvey as the ace of their staff. But, when you have Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Albert Pujols and a few others, in a strong line-up, well, that could turn into something special.
East – Philadelphia Phillies
- I have the ultimate feeling that Bryce Harper is heading to the Phillies and that drove me to choose the Phillies to win the National. If the Phillies do get Harper, they have a solid young line-up with decent defense and a starting rotation and bullpen that can get the job done. After Scherzer and Strasburg, I don’t believe the Nationals have what it takes to get it done. The Mets could make a push, but in the long run I don’t believe they will. In the end, I believe it will come down to a young Atlanta Braves squad challenging the Phillies for the top spot in the East. Either way, the second place team will find a spot in the Wild Card.
Central – Milwaukee Brewers
- They did it last year and they will do it again this year. In his MVP season, Christian Yelich turned in the best season of his career. He ultimately powered the Brewers to an appearance in the NLCS and I’m guessing he will do it again this year. Whether or not the Brewers win the Wild Card will come down to their pitching staff. Can they replicate their performance from a year ago? Can Jhoulys Chacin have another 15 win, 190+ inning season? And can Josh Hader be the bullpen guy he was last year. Because, ultimately, that’s what it will come down too.
West – Los Angeles Dodgers
- Dodgers are in somewhat of the same position as the Red Sox. They return a majority of their roster, short of the Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp trade. Clayton Kershaw still heads a strong starting rotation and Cody Bellinger leads a strong and young line-up. If Harper goes to the San Francisco Giants, they might challenge the Dodgers but I think that’s a stretch. The Dodgers take the West and possibly make a run to a third straight World Series.
Wild Cards – St. Louis Cardinals & Atlanta Braves
- The St. Louis Cardinals added Paul Goldschmidt, they have a strong rotation, a decent bullpen, and a line-up that could propel them into a Wild Card scenario and a possible National League Central Title.
- The Braves won their division by 8 games last year, can they do it again? Only time will tell, they have a young roster that is filled with energy and they have a decent rotation. Atlanta could be real and I think they’ll grab at least a spot in the Wild Card game