What an insane season it’s been so for the MLB! Who could have predicted 7-3 Marlins leading the NL East? Or how about the defending champs being 5-7? Then there are the Yankees and Dodgers who continue to dominate despite injuries to keep pieces. COVID-19 has thrown a monkey wrench into everyone’s preseason predictions but baseball has always been an unpredictable sport and in my opinion the most unpredictable sport in the country. That being said I will attempt to predict who will win each division to earn a spot as a top 3 seed for the new expanded playoffs. Wish me luck!
AL East- New York Yankees:
The New York Yankees are the only team in this division I trust and that really pains me to say as a Red Sox fan. When your team has a murderer’s row lineup that includes AL MVP front runner Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and DJ LeMahieu, you have the ability to score a ton of runs very quickly. Through August 11th, they are 8-1 when they score 5+ runs in a game. You combine that with a staff that has Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka as your aces and that could be a deadly combination. Considering all other teams have injury issues or inconsistencies from key contributors, the Yankees are in the best position to be kings of the East once again.
AL Central- Minnesota Twins:
The Minnesota Twins have the strongest chance to win the AL Central thanks to a lineup that is filled with hitters who can take your pitching staff deep anytime. Don’t forget this is a team that led the league in home runs last season, but their postseason dreams were crushed by the Bronx Bombers…again. Imagine facing a lineup that includes Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano and Marwin Gonzales and none of them lead the team in homeruns. That honor goes to Eddie Rosario. And let’s not forget that they have Josh Donaldson currently on the 10 Day IL list and he adds more power to an already formidable bunch.
Even with all the power and speed Minnesota has in their lineup the most area I will be watching carefully is their pitching, which was a huge disappointment in their playoff series against the Yankees last October. They received huge upgrades this offseason by adding Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey to give them three solid arms at the top of the rotation. Maeda has been the most impressive thus far with a 2-0 record and 2.65 ERA. In his last start against the Pirates, he retired 15 of his last 16 batters and has only surrendered 8 hits in three starts. He’s continuing to prove his status as one of the games most reliable arms and will need to continue that dominance the rest of the season. Bailey and Hill have only pitched a combined 10 innings thus far due to both players spending time on the 10 Day IL, but if they can come back and stay healthy, they give their team a fighting chance to compete come playoff time. And with a talented and deep lineup behind them, they have the opportunities to pitch with many leads.
AL West- Oakland A’s:
As many people know, the Houston Astros have won this division the last three seasons and seemed to be on their way to being the class of the AL West for years to come. That all came crashing down this offseason when their sign stealing scandal was exposed and they turned into the most hated team in baseball. Many people don’t think they were capable of being able to repeat that feat for a fourth straight year now that they can’t use a center field camera and a trash can to help them know what pitch was coming and all you have to do is look at the results to see if there might be some truth to that. The statistic that jumps off the page for me is they have a combined 0-5 record vs. the Oakland A’s and LA Dodgers. These are the only teams with an over .500 record they’ve faced this season and they’ve been swept both times.
As a result of Houston’s struggles, the A’s have jumped at the opportunity to take the division crown and baseball fans everywhere are loving it. The sweep over the Astros was a statement that showed this team was for real and should be taken seriously. They have won 9 of their last 11 games, including a 9 game winning streak that was snapped on Monday against the Angels. They have the best record in the American League and you can thank tremendous pitching and clutch hitting. Their combined team ERA is 3.27 (2nd in AL) and have struckout 154 batters (7th in the AL).
Offensively Matt Chapman and Ramón Laureano have combined to 9 home runs and 24 RBI’s. And then there is Tony Kemp, who’s hitting .280 and has an OPS of .455 (highest on the team). His ability to get on base can create havoc because of his speed and that creates more opportunities for this team to score. This team isn’t well known for its power but speed and pitching can go a long way to winning in the playoffs. If you also consider the fact that the Astros have lost their ace Justin Verlander for the season, that creates an opportunity for the A’s to leapfrog them in the division.
NL East- Washington Nationals:
This division is by far the hardest to predict this year. First you have Stephen Strausburg and Juan Soto miss time for the Nationals and to the shock of the baseball world the Miami Marlins are 7-4. The Marlins seemed to have come out of nowhere and several of their games have been postponed due to COVID-19 testing, yet they find themselves at the top of the division. That being said I’m not entirely convinced they will stay there because the defending champs will have something to say about that.
Let’s not forget the Nationals were 19-31 and had a 0.1% chance of winning the World Series and became the first team to win a championship while winning all 4 road games in Houston of all places. This team showed incredible mental toughness last year and was fearless when facing the league’s best arms. Yes they lost Anthony Rendon in the offseason and were without the services of Juan Soto to start this shortened season due to COVID-19, but Soto is back and they have a dynamic duo at the top of their rotation. They will need their stars to play their best baseball because they are currently in 3rd place and have to leapfrog the Marlins and Braves. I’d be scared of having to face Scherzer and Strasburg multiple times in a playoff series because anyone watching last year’s postseason, saw how devastating their stuff can be. The key to all of this is their health and getting contributions from other role players too. I believe their championship experience and ability to overcome insane odds will help them dig out of an unexpected 6-7 start.
NL Central- Chicago Cubs
The Cubs have the best record in baseball at 11-3 and you don’t have to look any further than their rotation to see why. Chicago starters are 10-2 this season. That’s insane! Kyle Hendricks kicked things off on opening day against the Brewers with 3 hit shutout, striking out 9 and giving up 0 walks. Imagine being first year manager David Ross and being able to give the ball to Hendricks and then having Jon Lester and Yu Darvish right behind him. Red Sox fans remember Lester from his time in Boston, where he helped us win 2 rings in 2007 & 2013. Both Lester and Hendricks were also part of the Cubs team that erased a 3-1 deficit to the Clevand Indians in 2016 to break a 108 year curse. Darvish has started the season 2-1 and hopes to erase his postseason struggles by leading this Cubs team to the top seed in NL.
The offense is still as dangerous as ever with the presence of Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez who were key bats during their 2016 championship. It is concerning that Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are struggling, particularly Bryant who’s hitting .195 with 1 long ball and 3 RBI’s. Knowing how great hitters both are I’m sure that won’t last long but it is something to monitor and I’m interested to see how that plays out. CF Ian Happ has picked up some of their slack hitting .325 with 3 home runs and 7 RBI’s but for this team to be successful long term, more needs to be seen from Bryant and Rizzo.
NL West- LA Dodgers:
Remember when I said the NL East was the hardest division to predict and how there’s no way the Yankees will win the AL East, well you don’t need to be a baseball genius or insider to see that the LA Dodgers will win the NL West. The Dodgers are essentially the Yankees of the NL. Listen to this lineup: Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson. Those 5 combined for 163 home runs last season and already smashed 14 this season. The fact that no other team in this division has that kind of lineup with players who have world series experience gives them a huge leg up in the division.
The concern for this team is with their pitching staff. David Price, who was acquired in the offseason in the Mookie Betts trade, opted out for the season due to COVID-19, which leaves Clayton Kershaw and Walker Bueler as the top arms in their rotation. Considering both of those pitchers have proven they can deliver (at least in the regular season) big wins I’m not worried about them struggling to win games. Julio Urías, Ross Stripling and Dustin May have combined for a 5-2 record and have been impressive when called upon. I want to specifically shut out Ross Stripling and Dustin May who have made spot starts when Kershaw and Buehler missed their starts. Now they have their chance to shine in the rotation, but can they pitch deep into games and rest their strong bullpen. Even if the staff struggles a bit, their offense is so lethal that Betts and company can carry the team on certain nights if needed.
My World Series matchup for this year will be based on division winners but as the Nationals proved last year, no team or prediction is a lock for to win. I believe we will see a matchup between the Yankees and Dodgers and boy will that have a ton of fireworks. Will Kershaw finally shed his playoff nightmares? Will Mookie Betts revert to his Boston ways and haunt the Yankees? Will the series go the full seven games? I guess we will have our answers in about two months.
By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com