The first day of spring has passed, meaning it is officially the season for warmer weather, more scoops of Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream and less concentration in class. But the start of spring also represents the start of something much greater: the start of the Major League Baseball season. Opening day was March 28 this year, and the date began the six months of home runs, steals and endless excitement of the regular season, followed by the enthusiasm and passion of the postseason. With the season beginning, it is only natural for baseball fans to spend their days eagerly analyzing this season’s roster, predicting just how each team will perform and anticipating how new players will affect each team’s play.
With 30 teams in the major leagues, it can be challenging to know where to begin when looking into how the season will play out. The website FiveThirtyEight analyzed the upcoming season with a predictive model that lays out the two leagues of the MLB. A look into this model and the analysis done by FiveThirtyEight offer insight into how the season may look.
Starting with the American League (AL) East, the New York Yankees are always a popular name throughout the season, and this year will be no different. The Yankees boast a roster of big names, including Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks. Last year, they set the record for home runs hit in a single season by a team with 265, a feat the team will hope to repeat. The Yankees’ bullpen has been considered one of the best in the MLB, but an injury to starting pitcher Luis Severino does leave the team dented at the start.
Also in the division are the reigning World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox. In addition to the title, the Red Sox have Mookie Betts, who is the reigning AL MVP, keeping them a team to watch. Not to be overlooked are the Tampa Bay Rays, who have put together a talented young roster. Last year, they won 90 games with the second-youngest position player group and the youngest pitching staff, definitely gaining them credit as a team to keep an eye on this season. The remaining teams, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles, both have low predicted chances of winning the division according to FiveThirtyEight’s model.
Moving into a look at the AL Central, the Cleveland Indians stand out in the division. If the Indians win the division title, it would be their fourth straight. The previous three years they have won by a margin of 12.7 games, a pretty comfortable position to be in. The closest competition the Indians have are the Minnesota Twins according to the predictions of FiveThirtyEight. The Twins have potential in Eddie Rosario, a talented outfielder, and Michael Pineda, who the team signed in December 2017 but was unable to play in 2018 due to his surgery recovery. Falling to the bottom of the division are the Chicago White Sox, the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers. The three teams have a less than 10 percent predicted chance of winning the division combined.
In the AL West, the Houston Astros remain the team to watch. They won the 2017 World Series, finished last year with 103 wins and are likely to continue that success this year. The FiveThirtyEight model predicts the team to win 98 games this season, the highest of all teams. The big names of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Justin Verlander still yield promise of great performances. The Los Angeles Angels agreed to an extension with Mike Trout which keeps him with the team for the next 12 seasons, allowing them access to his talent for years to come. However, the team still has a low predicted chance to win the division, just below the Oakland Athletics and above the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers.
This wraps up the American League, bringing the preview to the National League (NL).
In the NL East, the competition looks tough. FiveThirtyEight predicts the Washington Nationals will come out on top, despite the loss of Bryce Harper. The team still has a core with Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon, who were worth 9.5 and 4.2 wins above replacement player (WAR) in 2018, respectively, according to Baseball Reference, both higher than Harper’s 1.3. Speaking of Harper, the Philadelphia Phillies garnered plenty of attention after signing him to a 13-year contract. Although Harper may be the most well-known name on the team, his WAR trails those of teammates J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura, who were both worth 4.3 WAR and also offseason additions. Hopefully the additions will keep the Phillies from repeating last season, when the team went from leading the NL East in July, to finishing the season with a losing record.
Also providing competition will be the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves. The Mets picked up Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos in the offseason, and the defending division champions, the Braves, gained former MVP Josh Donaldson. The Marlins complete the division, but with a less than one percent predicted chance of winning the division, they likely won’t be the topic of any postseason discussion as the season progresses.
For the NL Central, FiveThirtyEight predicts a tough fight for the title between the Milwaukee Brewers, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. The defending division champions, the Brewers, have a core that features the 2018 NL MVP, Christian Yelich. In addition, the team’s bullpen ranked among the best last year with an ERA of 3.47.
The Cardinals used the offseason to add to their roster, picking up Paul Goldschmidt who was worth 5.4 WAR. The acquisition, along with their 88 wins last season, put them as expected contenders. The third contender, the Cubs still have Javy Baez, Kyle Hendricks, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, so they should not be counted out. Rounding out the division are the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds, who are predicted to win 79 and 77 games, respectively, placing them in the middle portion of the league.
In the NL West, it is easy to hone in on the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have competed in the previous two World Series, falling short in both. The roster contains many big names, including Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler in the bullpen, and Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor in the field. The Dodgers’ competition in the division will likely come from the Colorado Rockies. Last season, the Rockies tied with the Dodgers at 91 wins through the 162 games, forcing the teams to compete in a one-game playoff for the division title. The San Diego Padres acquired Manny Machado, previously with the Dodgers, in free agency, but the acquisition does not push them to contenders at this point according to the model by FiveThirtyEight. The Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants complete the division, with both teams falling short of being expected standouts.
With all these teams to keep eyes on, the season is bound to be exciting. Whether each division is won by its predicted winner or a team that unexpectedly conquers, there is no uncertainty that the season will be exciting, eventful and an overall great way to stay entertained through the spring and summer months.