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You’d think projecting win totals for all 30 Major League Baseball teams in early February would be a perilous task.
And you’d think that task would be all the more difficult in this unprecedented winter, when 100 perfectly employable, in some cases elite, ballplayers are sitting at home, victims of (pick one) front office actuaries/collusive thoughts among billionaires/their own stubborn nature.
Yet if 2017 proved anything, it’s that the Tanking Era we’re in the heart of makes this job much easier.
Our win totals – comprised of season simulations provided by six writers and editors – correctly forecast all six division winners last year. It’s not because we’re brilliant – reader comments and email indisputably put that notion to rest – but simply because at a time when so few teams are trying to win, the chance that a “surprise team” messes up the calculus is greatly diminished.
It’s also why in 2018, we envision five of six division winners repeating, with the sixth merely swapping wild-card and division champion roles.
Certainly, we could be proven wrong, particularly if Jake Arrieta or J.D. Martinez signs with a team on the fringe of contention.
More likely, the chalk will come through, which is not necessarily great for baseball.
Due to the grim nature of this off-season, we will likely revise and re-release these totals once all the free agent dust settles – which at this point figures to be mid- to late March. Still, don’t expect many big changes at the top, though there should be incremental gains from clubs whose rosters are still very much under construction.
But for now, this is it, and it’s not so bad. Our season stimulation produced a result that created one-game playoffs to determine the second wild card in both leagues, and how fun would that be?
Indeed, for all the saber-rattling and ugliness this winter, baseball has a way of curing itself, despite the meddlings of its privileged overlords. And here’s how we see that unfolding, with division-by-division explanations:
AL East: It’s the Yankees, but not by much. Would adding Martinez put the Red Soxover the top? Their fate may more likely hinge on health and performance of their starting pitchers…The Blue Jays are not to be dismissed, largely because of a rotation that’s more than serviceable and the best non-Trout player in the AL, Josh Donaldson…The Rays and Orioles are certainly not done making additions. Some pop on the corners will help the Rays and multiple starting pitchers can boost the Orioles’ win total.
AL Central: Looking like a dynasty in Cleveland, where the Indians return a deep and very complete team that appears to be a lock for a third consecutive division title…The Twins will be a more viable threat should they add an elite starter such as Yu Darvish. For now, they’re plenty good to feast on the retreating bottom of this division…That said, the White Sox won’t be down much longer. It’s easy to see why GM Rick Hahn pondered a go-for-it move for Manny Machado, but they likely are a year away. …The Royals remain in a sort of limbo as they backslide further from their 2015 World Series title. An Eric Hosmer reunion wouldn’t boost a pitching staff that’s likely too volatile to contend…Ninety-nine losses might be generous for the Tigers.
AL West: How scary are the Astros? Their 4-5-6 starters – Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock – are better than many teams’ 1-2-3 starters…It appears the Angels didn’t get the Collusion Memo: Their vast improvements all came before the holidays, and now they’ve separated themselves solidly from the rest of this division. With any luck, Mike Trout will get more airtime in October than he did at the Super Bowl … “Never confuse activity with achievement,” John Wooden often said. What, then, would he make of Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto? Seattle seems stuck at .500 despite the whirling dervish in the front office…No club may be more volatile than the Rangers, who could creep toward 90 wins if all breaks well, or something far less than that if new pitchers Doug Fister, Mike Minor and Matt Moore don’t pan out…The Athletics are getting what they pay for: Unpredictive youth.
NL East: Bryce Harper’s walk year has arrived and Max Scherzer is another year older. Fortunately for the Nationals, a division largely in retreat will offer little resistance even if they’re a tick behind last year’s 97-win juggernaut…It seems the Mets are due some good health for their pitching staff. The front office nicely worked the edges this winter (such is life in Flushing) and wild-card contention, at least, is in their grasp…The Braves will find out a lot about their young core this year. Go time remains a year away…Same story with the Phillies, who have been quietly stockpiling prospects and opened for business by giving Carlos Santana $60 million. A dearth of frontline pitching will keep them in the second division…Our panel had the Marlins losing between 99 and 106 games. Good luck, Jeets.
NL Central: It’s another three-horse race, but the Cubs should prevail again, even if their 103 wins in 2016 look like the high-water mark for this group…The Brewers should see a payoff from their aggressive January moves; one more starting pitcher should help them keep the Cardinals out of the playoffs…The Pirates are headed for a third straight losing season. Will this streak reach 20 years? … When will Reds fans get antsy? Year 3 of this rebuild doesn’t offer much more hope than the first two.
NL West: Make it a six-peat. The Dodgers have built a powerhouse that can withstand the loss of almost any player…Along with the AL West, this division features four teams actually trying to win. The Rockies are banking on a high-priced bullpen to win this dogfight…The Diamondbacks were a tick better than their spring training facility mates last season and bested them in the wild-card game. Not a stretch to imagine that scenario playing out again….No retreat, no surrender remains the Giants’ mantra. This year will be the true test of how much chemistry and veteran savvy matters – along with a healthy Madison Bumgarner…While the Padres’ youth movement gets more exciting each year, winning remains a challenge, particularly given another patchwork rotation.