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Opening Day 2019: Predictions

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Opening Day is tomorrow, so today we’re previewing. In addition to the stuff, like this, we’ll be posting this morning, be sure to join us for a 2019 season preview on the MyTeams App at 2PM Eastern Time.

We’ve posted our National League Preview and American League Preview. We’ve cataloged the new, random and fun things in store for the 2019 season. Now let’s be dumb and do some predictions. 

By now I don’t need to tell you how silly it is to predict the outcome of a baseball season in which over 2,400 baseball games are played by over a thousand players, all of whom are subject to injury and/or wild variation from past performance or reasonable expectations. Baseball is freakin’ chaos, my friends. And while that is one of the top things to recommend it, it’s also the thing that makes predicting its outcomes a fool’s errand.

For example, neither Bill, Ashley or I picked the Red Sox to even win the AL East last year. One of us, though SHE will remain nameless, didn’t even have them making the postseason. Not that the HEs in those predictions were clairvoyant. Bill had the Nationals winning the pennant. I had the Cubs. None of us saw the A’s coming. We were guessing, just as we always guess. And we’ll guess again too.

Before we guess, though, let’s look at some of the other people out there guessing. Each year lots of other outlets do predictions. Theirs aren’t all that better than ours, frankly. Well, sometimes they are. But not always!

Here are CBS’s predictions. They have five people doing it. I’ve met most of their five and like them, so when they’re just as wrong as we are, I won’t dunk on them too hard.

Will Leitch at MLB.com is a friend, so when I read his 1 bold prediction for each of the 30 teams and all of them seem pretty reasonable and some even seem downright savvy, I get mad, because what is life if not making fun of your friends?

ESPN does a big thing in which all of its baseball “experts” do predictions. This year they have 31 people weighing in. In the past it’s been well over 40. I’d argue that if you have a head count of experts best noted in the dozens than single digits you might want to examine whether the topic lends itself to actual expertise, but that’s a rant for another time. Know now that here is where ESPN’s 31 soothsayers say their sooths.

ESPN has more people picking the Yankees (16) than the Red Sox (14) to win the division and one brave soul even picked the Rays. A couple picked the A’s or Angels over the Astros out in the AL West. Two picked the Mets in the NL East. One picked the Padres in the NL West.  Is there wisdom to be gleaned from this? Yes: every office has someone who wants to draw attention to themselves. I imagine if we had 31 instead of three “experts” we’d have a lot of gonzo stuff too. I also imagine that, when at least one of those people are right about a wild guess, I’m gonna be mad that I didn’t push the envelope myself. Fear is a paralyzing emotion, my friends.

ESPN has some awards predictions too. The same 31 voters. While picking Mike Trout or Mookie Betts or someone like that to win the AL MVP Award does not require a surplus of imagination, my hat is tipped to the person who picked Juan Soto. I don’t think I’d pick Soto (see below) but I can totally imagine a situation in which (a) he’s the best player on the Nats this year; (b) the Nats bounce back and win a tough division; and (c) all the “see what he did without Bryce Harper around!” hype carries the narrative. Smart pick, actually. Maybe I’ll go back and revise my prediction if he starts hot. You’d never even notice it and then I could pretend I had it all the way.

Enough of that, though. Let’s get down to brass tacks. Let’s do . . . our predictions for the 2019 season!

BILL’S PREDICTIONS

AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: Indians
AL West: Astros
AL Wild Cards: Yankees, Angels

NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Padres
NL Wild Cards: Nationals, Dodgers

ALCS: Red Sox vs. Astros
NLCS: Cardinals vs. Padres

World Series: Astros vs. Cardinals, Astros win in five games

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt

AL CYA: Gerrit Cole
NL CYA: Max Scherzer

AL ROY: Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.
NL ROY: Fernando Tatis, Jr.

AL Manager of the Year: Alex Cora
NL Manager of the Year: Andy Green

 

ASHLEY’S PREDICTIONS

AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Indians
AL West: Astros
AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Twins

NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Brewers
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: Cardinals, Nationals

ALCS: Yankees vs. Astros
NLCS: Phillies vs. Dodgers

World Series: Yankees vs. Dodgers, Dodgers win in six games

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Nolan Arenado

AL CYA: Justin Verlander
NL CYA: Max Scherzer

AL ROY: Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.
NL ROY: Fernando Tatis Jr.

AL Manager of the Year: Aaron Boone
NL Manager of the Year: Gabe Kapler

 

CRAIG’S PREDICTIONS 

AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Indians
AL West: Astros
AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Rays

NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cubs
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: Cardinals, Phillies

ALCS: Astros vs. Yankees
NLCS: Cardinals vs. Cubs

World Series: Cardinals vs. Yankees, Yankees win in seven games

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt

AL CYA: Justin Verlander
NL CYA: Max Scherzer

AL ROY: Yusei Kikuchi
NL ROY: Victor Robles

AL Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash
NL Manager of the Year: Mike Shildt

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

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Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.