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 done some predictions. We’ve cataloged the new, random and fun things in store for the 2019 season. Now let’s talk some actual baseball.
Earlier this month Bill and did some division-by-division previews. Not a ton has changed since then, but here for Opening Day are our updated team-by-team capsule summaries which should quickly orient you as to each team’s major strengths and weaknesses for the coming season. Here’s the National League. Now the American League:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Boston Red Sox: Still the best team in baseball in our view. They still have the best offense of anyone and they may actually be more balanced than they were in 2018. Not that you need too much balance when you have Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and the other stars up and down the order. The rotation is likewise a strength with a healthy Chris Sale returning, the postseason David Price renaissance hopefully carrying over and a full year of Nathan Eovaldi. Whether the rotation is strong or great depends on Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez matching past performance or best-case expectations. The big issue, as everyone knows, is the bullpen. Craig Kimbrel is gone and, presumably, not returning. Joe Kelly left for L.A. As Tigers fans recall, GM Dave Dombrowski does not have a great track record in cobbling together bullpens, and the 2019 Red Sox’ bullpen is definitely a cobble job in progress. If the Yankees catch Boston, it’ll likely be because the late innings are killing ’em.
New York Yankees: Like the Red Sox, the lineup is set. One can ask whether Troy Tulowitzki can really stay in the lineup and be an asset at short until Didi Gregorius comes back, but he’s had a nice spring. Aside from that the team is loaded as usual, with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar and Aaron Hicks causing all kinds of problems for opposing pitchers. And that’s before you figure that Gary Sanchez is due for a substantial bounceback. The pitching is the opposite situation from the Red Sox. New York’s bullpen is absolutely stacked with Chad Green, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman constituting the best and hardest-throwing relief corps in baseball. They’ll be needed given Luis Severino’s shoulder injury and a general lack of organizational pitching depth. If things go south early, figure the Yankees to be in the market for a starter.
Tampa Bay Rays: Last year’s surprise 90-win team will not be sneaking up on anyone this year, but they also have a load of young talent to augment those returning. And some not-so-young talent, with the addition of starter Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino. Aside from them the Rays are looking for steps forward from Willy Adames, Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow. They added Yandy Diaz and Avisail Garcia. They’ll get a full seasons from 2018 acquisition Tommy Pham. Every one of them has the talent pull off a big year and if a couple of them come through with top-of-projection performance the Rays could have something pretty special on their hands. We’ll see more of that opener/bullpenning pitching formula that gave them so much success last year, but with an excellent one-two-three rotation of Cy Young winner Blake Snell, Morton and Glasnow. they will not have to rely on it as much as before. The Rays might be dangerous.
Toronto Blue Jays: New manager Charlie Montoyo will take the reins of a rebuild that still has a ways to go. Familar faces like Randal Grichuk, Kevin Pillar and Justin Smoak are back on offense and Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez will pitch every five days, but it’s obviously a team in flux. The biggest story this year will be Vladimir Guerrero Jr., baseball’s best hitting prospect, who will eventually land in Toronto after he returns and rehabs from a minor spring training injury . . . and after the Jays are done manipulating his service time. The Jays have an excellent farm system, but the future is, well, in the future for Toronto.
Baltimore Orioles: One of the few safe bets in life is that the 2019 Orioles will finish in last. Normally when a team loses 115 games — which is what the 2018 edition of this club did — that’s the number which stands out the most, but I’m more impressed with them finishing 61 games out of first place. Say what you want about the 2018 Orioles, but they put in some serious effort to get where they got. It’ll be interesting to see what new philosophies the new Orioles front office employs as it tries to pick something of value out of this wreckage and build an entirely new analytics department and player development process. There will not, however, be anything else interesting at the major league level apart from some possible player flipping and draft jockeying. The future in Baltimore is still many, many years away.
The upshot: Boston and New York will be 1-2, but could flip-flop depending on injuries, big and/or slump seasons and random variation. They’re closer in talent than the eight games separating them last year suggested. Whoever doesn’t win the division is almost assured of the first Wild Card and the Rays may be the strongest contender for the second Wild Card in the AL. Toronto and Baltimore will be cannon fodder.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
The Indians feature one of baseball’s best young duos in shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman José Ramírez. Aside from them, the starting rotation will be a source of strength for the Indians. The top four includes Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger. The No. 5 is likely to be Shane Bieber, a pitching prospect who flashed greatness at times last year. The club’s biggest weakness is the outfield. As presently constructed, the Indians plan to roll with Leonys Martín and Tyler Naquin as starters while Jake Bauers, Brandon Barnes, and Jordan Luplow will all contend for playing time. Not exactly a group inspiring confidence. It is, frankly, surprising that the Indians didn’t do more to address the outfield in the offseason.
The Twins had a busy offseason, signing Marwin González, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, Martin Pérez, and Blake Parker. As such, they should hit for markedly more power after finishing 10th in the league in slugging percentage and 12th in home runs last year. The Twins’ fortune will have a lot to do with Byron Buxton staying healthy and productive. He’s capable of greatness but has been largely uneven in his career. Perhaps the Twins’ biggest weakness is the injury bug. Miguel Sanó, Buxton, Michael Pineda, Jorge Polanco, Trevor May, Jason Castro, and quite a few others have all been slowed by injuries in recent years. If this club is healthy, though, its nice balance of offense and just enough pitching could, and should, make them a contender.
Chicago White Sox
While still pursuing a promising rebuild, the White Sox don’t seem like much of a threat in the AL Central. They’re loaded with prospects and hitting on just a couple of these prospects puts the White Sox in good shape to be competitive a few years from now. In the meantime, the major league White Sox team isn’t going to be terribly interesting to watch apart from the possibility of midseason trades — slugging first baseman Jose Abreu will likely be shopped this summer — and late season callups. They are definitely a team to watch in 2020 and beyond, however.
Kansas City Royals
Woof. The rebuilding Royals could plausibly challenge the Orioles for the title of Baseball’s Worst Team in 2019. The club wasn’t terribly active in the offseasons, only adding free agents Billy Hamilton, Chris Owings, Jake Diekman, and Brad Boxberger. The only truly interesting thing about them will be to see how many bases Whit Merrifield and Hamilton combine to steal.
The Tigers will continue their rebuilding process while first baseman Miguel Cabrera plays out the back nine of his career. Cabrera is only 35 home runs shy of 500 for his career, and he hit 35-plus as recently as 2016 (38), so it’s possible we see some history in Detroit this season. Aside from Cabrera, the Tigers’ roster is pretty uninspiring. Outfielder Nick Castellanos is arguably the Tigers’ best position player at the moment, but he was worth only 2.9 WAR in a career year last year, bashing 23 home runs with 89 RBI and could very well be traded. The starting rotation is highly volatile and the bullpen is what you’d expect of a rebuilding teams. Some bad breaks and bad health and the Tigers could conceivably be worse than the Royals.
The upshot: The Indians have won the division title in each of the past three years. 2019 is looking like their easiest path to date. It would truly be surprising if anything else happened in baseball’s worst and least interesting division. The Twins will easily take second place, while the 3-4-5 slots will be fought over by teams that should feel lucky to reach 70 wins.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
The division certainly still has one of the best teams in baseball. The Astros, of course, won it all in 2017 and won 103 games in 2018 and there’s not a lot of reason to think that they won’t still be at the top of the standings in 2019. The rotation lost Charlie Morton via free agency and lost Lance McCullers Jr. to Tommy John surgery, but Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock stepping in to join Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and the newly-acquired Wade Miley — and a plethora of excellent, hard-throwing pitching talent at the top of the minors — shouldn’t cause A.J. Hinch to lose much sleep. On offense the Astros are going to be the Astros. Carlos Correa, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve obviously form the core, and the addition of Michael Brantley in the outfield will provide a nice boost. All in all it’ll be a somewhat different-looking Houston Astros team in 2019, but not radically so. And there is no reason to believe that they will not, once again, run away with the AL West.
No one saw the A’s 97-win season coming last year. And no one that I’ve seen is predicting them to repeat it. There’s probably a good reason for that. The rotation broke down in the second half last year and the A’s, successfully I will note, went all-in on relievers, but it remains to be seen if they have the depth to lean on their bullpen again. On offense the A’s lost one of their best players, Jed Lowrie, to free agency. They’re hoping the newly-acquired Jurickson Profar lives up to his former top-prospect hype and serves as Lowrie 2.0. Beyond that, the offense remains a strength, obviously, with Matt Chapman, Khris Davis, Stephen Piscotty and other mashers hitting a bunch of longballs and shortstop Marcus Semien being one of the more underrated players in the game, both offensively and defensively. A late spring injury to Matt Olson is troubling, but overall it’s a fantastic group. Overall, Most projection systems feature the A’s taking a big step back. I suppose the smart money is on that and, as I said, Houston remains a beast. The A’s, though, are just a couple of arms short of surprising again.
Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout is still Mike Trout and now he’s got a $430 million+ contract to ensure that he’ll be an Angel for a very, very long time. They have new manager in Brad Ausmus, but otherwise the Angels are, once again, an assemblage of familiar and in some cases intriguing players who, as a whole, look pretty clearly to be less than the sum of their parts. Last year’s big addition, Shohei Ohtani, will be limited to DH duties thanks to Tommy John surgery. There are new faces in town, as the Halos picked up first baseman Justin Bour, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, starters Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill and closer Cody Allen. They also obtained infielder Tommy La Stella in a trade with the Chicago Cubs. As we seem to say with the Angels every year, if everything breaks just right the season could be interesting. We have learned, however, not to put too much stock in the Angels’ potential, so we will remain bearish on them unless and until they give us reason not to be.
Most of the big stars were shipped out of town and even the ballpark has a new name. The Mariners, winners of 89 games last season, are a totally new team. And they are totally not going to win 89 again this year. The only bonafide big name they added in the offseason — Edwin Encarnacion — will likely himself be traded this year if he does anything other than completely crater. There are still some well-known names on the roster — Jay Bruce, Mitch Haniger, Dee Gordon, Felix Hernandez and, eventually, Seager will be around — but everything about what’s happening in Seattle this year is about the future, not the present. Their biggest battle will to be against the Rangers to avoid fifth place. We are rather agnostic as to who has a bigger claim on that position at the moment, frankly.
Gone: future Hall-of-Famer Adrian Beltre, to retirement. Remaining: the Rangers’ rebuild, which does not figure to bear enough fruit in 2019 to radically improve on last year’s 95-loss club. The 2019 season is going to be all about the development of prospects Taylor Hearn, Yohander Mendez, Willie Calhoun, Anderson Tejada, Leody Taveras, and Bubba Thompson, all of whom are more likely to feature in later seasons of the Texas Rangers Saga as opposed to the current one.
Upshot: It’s the Astros’ world and everyone else is living in it. The A’s are a good team that is fun to watch but they’ll be fighting regression and, in all likelihood, fighting for a Wild Card spot. The Angels could too, we suppose. The M’s and Rangers are gonna stink on ice.