2018 MLB Season Preview

Thank you all once again for sticking with me and reading my 30 Clubs in 30 Days series. Now is the part it’s all been leading up to: the 2018 MLB Season Preview. In this preview I’m going to use what I wrote in my 30 Clubs in 30 Days series to paint a picture of how this season is going to go. This will range from player rankings to World Series predictions and everything in between. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

933721940

Season Predictions:

Here’s the compilation of the regular season standings from the projected records I did for each team. An asterisk (*) represents the teams that I predict will win the Wild Card spots.

AL East

1. New York Yankees: 98-64

2. Boston Red Sox*: 95-67

3. Baltimore Orioles: 81-81

4. Toronto Blue Jays: 78-84

5. Tampa Bay Rays: 68-94

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians: 99-63

2. Minnesota Twins: 84-78

3. Kansas City Royals: 74-88

4. Chicago White Sox: 70-92

5. Detroit Tigers: 64-98

AL West

1. Houston Astros: 101-61

2. Anaheim Angels*: 86-76

3. Seattle Mariners: 85-77

4. Texas Rangers: 82-80

5. Oakland Athletics: 77-85

NL East

1. Washington Nationals: 95-67

2. New York Mets: 84-78

3. Philadelphia Phillies: 75-87

4. Atlanta Braves: 71-91

5. Miami Marlins: 62-100

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs: 94-68

2. Milwaukee Brewers*: 88-74

3. St. Louis Cardinals: 85-77

4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 76-86

5. Cincinnati Reds: 69-93

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers: 100-62

2. Arizona Diamondbacks*: 91-71

3. San Francisco Giants: 85-77

4. Colorado Rockies: 81-81

5. San Diego Padres: 70-92

So based on this information, we can see which teams are ready for success in 2018. Now let’s take a look at my postseason predictions even though game 1 out of 162 hasn’t been played yet.

Wild Card Games:

Boston Red Sox defeat Anaheim Angels

Arizona Diamondbacks defeat Milwaukee Brewers

LDS:

Houston Astros defeat Boston Red Sox

Cleveland Indians defeat New York Yankees

Los Angeles Dodgers defeat Arizona Diamondbacks

Washington Nationals defeat Chicago Cubs

LCS:

Cleveland Indians defeat Houston Astros

Los Angeles Dodgers defeat Washington Nationals

World Series:

Cleveland Indians defeat Los Angeles Dodgers

858479322

Congratulations to the Cleveland Indians on your 2018 World Series victory. In my predictions, the Tribe exorcise their postseason demons from the last couple seasons and win their first World Series since 1948 and third overall. For the Dodgers, their first title since 1988 continues to elude them as they fall in the World Series for the second year in a row. It is also worth mentioning that this matchup is between the two previous World Series losers, as the Indians lost to the Cubs in 2016 and the Dodgers lost to the Astros in 2017.

Power Rankings:

1. Houston Astros

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

3. Cleveland Indians

4. New York Yankees

5. Boston Red Sox

6. Washington Nationals

7. Chicago Cubs

8. Arizona Diamondbacks

9. Milwaukee Brewers

10. Anaheim Angels

11. St. Louis Cardinals

12. Seattle Mariners

13. San Francisco Giants

14. New York Mets

15. Minnesota Twins

16. Texas Rangers

17. Colorado Rockies

18. Baltimore Orioles

19. Toronto Blue Jays

20. Philadelphia Phillies

21. Oakland Athletics

22. Pittsburgh Pirates

23. Kansas City Royals

24. Atlanta Braves

25. Chicago White Sox

26. San Diego Padres

27. Cincinnati Reds

28. Tampa Bay Rays

29. Detroit Tigers

30. Miami Marlins

901402434

Gotta put the reigning champs atop the initial Power Rankings. Plus, they lost virtually nothing in the offseason while getting even stronger with the addition of Gerrit Cole to a pitching rotation that already features two former Cy Young Award winners in Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. I also have to put the Marlins as the worst team in baseball simply for how much they gave up in the offseason. I also don’t think they will be any good for at least another 3 or 4 years, maybe even 5 because of the generally weak prospect pool they received for their troubles. I still can’t believe Giancarlo Stanton didn’t warrant a return of everything the Yankees had in their farm system. The guy hit 59 home runs and was NL MVP last season. Now let’s get into the positional rankings for this season.

Positional Rankings:

Catcher

853830316

1. Buster Posey-San Francisco Giants

2. Gary Sanchez-New York Yankees

3. Salvador Perez-Kansas City Royals

4. Willson Contreras-Chicago Cubs

5. Yadier Molina-St. Louis Cardinals

6. Tucker Barnhart-Cincinnati Reds

7. Mike Zunino-Seattle Mariners

8. Yasmani Grandal-Los Angeles Dodgers

9. Martin Maldonado-Anaheim Angels

10. Brian McCann-Houston Astros

1st Base

861778072

1. Joey Votto-Cincinnati Reds

2. Paul Goldschmidt-Arizona Diamondbacks

3. Freddie Freeman-Atlanta Braves

4. Anthony Rizzo-Chicago Cubs

5. Cody Bellinger-Los Angeles Dodgers

6. Eric Hosmer-San Diego Padres

7. Jose Abreu-Chicago White Sox

8. Ryan Zimmerman-Washington Nationals

9. Greg Bird-New York Yankees

10. Matt Carpenter-St. Louis Cardinals

2nd Base

867989776

1. Jose Altuve-Houston Astros

2. Robinson Cano-Seattle Mariners

3. Daniel Murphy-Washington Nationals

4. Jonathan Schoop-Baltimore Orioles

5. Dustin Pedroia-Boston Red Sox

6. DJ LeMahieu-Colorado Rockies

7. Javy Baez-Chicago Cubs

8. Brian Dozier-Minnesota Twins

9. Jason Kipnis-Cleveland Indians

10. Starlin Castro-Miami Marlins

3rd Base

904279036

1. Kris Bryant-Chicago Cubs

2. Josh Donaldson-Toronto Blue Jays

3. Nolan Arenado-Colorado Rockies

4. Jose Ramirez-Cleveland Indians

5. Anthony Rendon-Washington Nationals

6. Justin Turner-Los Angeles Dodgers

7. Mike Moustakas-Kansas City Royals

8. Alex Bregman-Houston Astros

9. Evan Longoria-San Francisco Giants

10. Adrian Beltre-Texas Rangers

Shortstop

860347842

1. Francisco Lindor-Cleveland Indians

2. Carlos Correa-Houston Astros

3. Corey Seager-Los Angeles Dodgers

4. Manny Machado-Baltimore Orioles

5. Andrelton Simmons-Anaheim Angels

6. Xander Bogaerts-Boston Red Sox

7. Didi Gregorius-New York Yankees

8. Elvis Andrus-Texas Rangers

9. Trea Turner-Washington Nationals

10. Jean Segura-Seattle Mariners

Left Field

937748840

1. Marcell Ozuna-St. Louis Cardinals

2. Christian Yelich-Milwaukee Brewers

3. Yoenis Cespedes-New York Mets

4. Andrew Benintendi-Boston Red Sox

5. Justin Upton-Anaheim Angels

6. Tommy Pham-St. Louis Cardinals

7. Brett Gardner-New York Yankees

8. Corey Dickerson-Pittsburgh Pirates

9. Trey Mancini-Baltimore Orioles

10. Marwin Gonzalez-Houston Astros

Center Field

899469118

1. Mike Trout-Anaheim Angels

2. Charlie Blackmon-Colorado Rockies

3. George Springer-Houston Astros

4. Lorenzo Cain-Milwaukee Brewers

5. Jackie Bradley Jr-Boston Red Sox

6. Byron Buxton-Minnesota Twins

7. Chris Taylor-Los Angeles Dodgers

8. Odubel Herrera-Philadelphia Phillies

9. Ender Inciarte-Atlanta Braves

10. Michael Conforto-New York Mets

Right Field

858795844

1. Bryce Harper-Washington Nationals

2. Aaron Judge-New York Yankees

3. Mookie Betts-Boston Red Sox

4. Andrew McCutchen-San Francisco Giants

5. Yasiel Puig-Los Angeles Dodgers

6. Steven Souza Jr-Arizona Diamondbacks

7. Josh Reddick-Houston Astros

8. Jay Bruce-New York Mets

9. Avisail Garcia-Chicago White Sox

10. Domingo Santana-Milwaukee Brewers

Designated Hitter

931100776

1. Giancarlo Stanton-New York Yankees

2. JD Martinez-Boston Red Sox

3. Edwin Encarnacion-Cleveland Indians

4. Nelson Cruz-Seattle Mariners

5. Khris Davis-Oakland Athletics

Starting Pitcher

869173216

1. Clayton Kershaw-Los Angeles Dodgers

2. Max Scherzer-Washington Nationals

3. Corey Kluber-Cleveland Indians

4. Chris Sale-Boston Red Sox

5. Stephen Strasburg-Washington Nationals

6. Noah Syndergaard-New York Mets

7. Madison Bumgarner-San Francisco Giants

8. Luis Severino-New York Yankees

9. Zack Greinke-Arizona Diamondbacks

10. Robbie Ray-Arizona Diamondbacks

Relief Pitcher

868810112

1. Kenley Jansen-Los Angeles Dodgers

2. Craig Kimbrel-Boston Red Sox

3. Corey Knebel-Milwaukee Brewers

4. Roberto Osuna-Toronto Blue Jays

5. Aroldis Chapman-New York Yankees

6. Andrew Miller-Cleveland Indians

7. Archie Bradley-Arizona Diamondbacks

8. Zach Britton-Baltimore Orioles

9. Wade Davis-Colorado Rockies

10. Pat Neshek-Philadelphia Phillies

And now onto the preseason awards where I award people for things they haven’t done yet and may not even do at all.

American League MVP: Aaron Judge-RF-New York Yankees

864121558

National League MVP: Bryce Harper-RF-Washington Nationals

858688970

American League Cy Young: Chris Sale-Boston Red Sox

854391602

National League Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard-New York Mets

856808514

American League Rookie of the Year: Willy Adames-SS-Tampa Bay Rays

929648582

National League Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuna-OF-Atlanta Braves

935392554

American League Manager of the Year: Mike Scioscia-Anaheim Angels

924093726

National League Manager of the Year: Craig Counsell-Milwaukee Brewers

929305444

And finally, on to my bold predictions for the 2018 MLB season. Some will be as harmless as saying “I don’t think the Yankees are going to hit as many home runs as everybody says they will,” and others could get me fired if I had a real job. So let’s get to some predictions.

Prediction: Clayton Kershaw will show slight signs of slowing down now that he’s 30 years old, will post an ERA over 2.50, something he hasn’t done since 2012. People will freak out and panic accordingly.

Prediction: The Yankees’ season will be filled with peaks and valleys en route to 98 wins. Considering Judge and Stanton strike out as often as anyone in baseball, this could lead to some rough slumps at times for the two and their team as a result. However, when they’re on, nobody will be able to beat the Yankees.

Prediction: The Baltimore Orioles will trade Manny Machado to a contender at the trade deadline. The Orioles won’t be super competitive in 2018 and Machado’s contract is up at the end of the year. The smart thing to do would be to trade him to a contender and load up on top prospects. Predicted landing spot? Uhhhh…how about the Brewers? I would say the Yankees but the Orioles’ brass has made it clear they’d prefer not to trade Machado within the division.

Prediction: The Yankees will not break the team home run record. This is mainly because I think teams are going to try and pitch the Yankees a little more carefully this season. Knowing the type of power this team possesses, I doubt they’re going to get great pitches to hit. This may lead to higher walk rates for the team, though.

Prediction: The Marlins won’t be nearly as bad as people think. But let’s be honest, the opinions of the Marlins’ talent can’t be much lower at the moment. However every season there’s a team that everyone thinks is going to be the worst and yet somehow they find ways to be just bad, not historically bad.

Prediction: The American League’s home run king will be an Oakland Athletics player. I can envision this happening, considering the power Khris Davis and Matt Olson showed last season. Matt Chapman could also be a sneaky home run threat as well.

Prediction: Mike Trout will finish outside the top 2 in AL MVP voting for the second consecutive season. This isn’t to say that I think Trout will struggle this season. Far from it. Last season was the first time in Trout’s Major League career (since 2012) that he didn’t finish in the top 2 in AL MVP voting and I think it’s going to happen again. As you saw in my awards predictions, I have Aaron Judge taking home top honors and Trout will have to compete with the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton, and many, many more.

Prediction: Don Mattingly will be out as Marlins manager before June. This won’t be Mattingly’s fault, nobody can succeed with this roster. However new ownership has pretty much let go of everyone else and Mattingly just logically seems to be the next domino to fall, especially when the Marlins inevitably struggle.

Prediction: Pace of Play will continue to be a topic of discussion and the new mound visit rule will be hated by catchers even though we could probably count the number of issues this rule causes on one hand. The new mound visit rule limits non-pitching-change mound visits to 6 per 9 inning games. There have already been players such as Willson Contreras who are outspoken against this, however if you think about it, catchers don’t really visit the mound all that much, especially if their guy is pitching really well. I don’t think this will cause nearly as many problems as some guys think it might.

Prediction: The newly-signed pitchers (Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta) will struggle. Darvish has had injury problems throughout his Major League career and Arrieta has been trending downward since winning the 2015 NL Cy Young Award. Im predicting both guys finish with ERA’s in the low-4’s.

So that’s going to do it for my MLB 2018 season preview. Words can’t express how excited I am for Thursday’s Opening Day to roll around, when all 30 teams will be opening on the same day for the first time in over 50 years. Let me know how you think this season’s going to go in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Philadelphia Phillies

There’s a video circulating of ODell Beckham Jr in a hotel room with a woman smoking what looks like a blunt and what appears to be cocaine present in the room. The blunt I don’t really care about, it’s pretty well known that a large majority of NFL players smoke weed and even the NFL is like “you can’t smoke weed, wink wink,” but the blow is a different issue. Beckham doesn’t snort the substance in the video so maybe they just emptied the sugar out of a bag of sour patch kids. Can’t really know for sure unless you stick a little bit on your tongue or snort it so let’s give Beckham the benefit of the doubt before condemning him. Also I know Selection Sunday was yesterday, but I’m writing this in the airport before my flight at 11 AM just in case things get out of control tonight, so I won’t be sharing my March Madness bracket until tomorrow. We’ve got a couple days between Selection Sunday and the play-in games so I’m not too worried. With that, let’s get to day 21 of 30 Clubs in 30 Days with the Philadelphia Phillies.

928180276

2017 Results:

Record: 66-96, 31 games behind Washington Nationals, 21 games behind Colorado Rockies for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: SP Jake Arrieta, 1B Carlos Santana, RP Pat Neshek, RP Fernando Abad, RP Tommy Hunter, IF Adam Rosales

Notable Offseason Subtractions: OF Daniel Nava, OF Hyun Soo Kim, SP Clay Buchholz

Best Offensive Player: 1B Carlos Santana

Best Pitcher: Jake Arrieta

Depth Chart:

C-Jorge Alfaro, Cameron Rupp

1B-Carlos Santana, Tommy Joseph

2B-Cesar Hernandez

3B-Maikel Franco

SS-JP Crawford, Adam Rosales

LF-Rhys Hoskins

CF-Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn

RF-Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr

SP-Jake Arrieta, Aaron Nola, Jared Eickhoff, Vincent Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, Zach Eflin

Bullpen-Hector Neris (CP), Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan, Edubray Ramos, Fernando Abad

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Gabe Kapler (1st season with Phillies)

Hitting Coach-John Mallee

Pitching Coach-Rick Kranitz

1st Base Coach-Jose Flores

3rd Base Coach-Dusty Wathan

Bench Coach-Rob Thomson

857574288

I was pretty disappointed in the Phillies last season. I thought last year was the year their young guys would start to put it together and show some progress in this rebuild. But they didn’t, really. The team continued to suck and finished with a record of 66-96, second worst in the NL. They continue to pay for not drafting me in the 2014 MLB Draft. They sent a scout to my high school and he witnessed with his own two eyes me line a single down the left field line to start a 9th inning rally. Who cares if I had a weak throwing arm, no speed, little power, and started 2 games all season (and yes, I did check to make sure they didn’t actually draft me)? That one hit should’ve been all the proof they needed. Instead they drafted Aaron Nola, but I’ll get to him later. They hired Gabe Kapler to be their new manager, as I recommended they should, so hopefully the young guys develop the way they should. Here’s a look at what he’s got to work with heading into this season.

1. Odubel Herrera-CF

2. Cesar Hernandez-2B

3. Carlos Santana-1B

4. Rhys Hoskins-LF

5. Maikel Franco-3B

6. Nick Williams/Aaron Altherr-RF

7. JP Crawford-SS

8. Jorge Alfaro-C

9. Pitcher’s Spot

There’s some young talent here. JP Crawford is one of the top prospects in all of baseball and he got a brief taste of the Majors last season. He only hit .214 in 23 games but he walked a TON, as he reached ball 4 on 18.4% of his plate appearances (which would’ve ranked 4th in the Majors behind Joey Votto, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout), resulting in a .356 OBP despite the low average. Maikel Franco is a guy I’ve been frustrated with because he’s one of the most talented third basemen in the game but he has done nothing so far in the Majors. Reportedly the newly-signed Carlos Santana is taking him under his wing, though, so if he can learn from Santana’s approach, then we could see a significant uptick in production. Santana is notorious for his plate discipline, as he’s traditionally one of the best at drawing walks year-in and year-out while also displaying 30-home run power. But of course, the biggest story for the Phillies offensively last season was Rhys Hoskins. Despite only playing 50 games last season, Hoskins launched 18 home runs, slugged .618, and was worth 2.2 WAR. That’s outstanding for such a short period of time. He’s going to do a lot of damage for the Phillies this season and he’ll likely be doing it with runners frequently on base ahead of him, as Santana draws a lot of walks and Odubel Herrera has never hit below .280 in his 3-year career. So provided this talented group of youngsters grows under Kapler the way I thought they would last season under Pete Mackanin, this could be a sneaky good offense.

853865124

Pitching was pretty inconsistent for the Phillies last season, as they posted a 4.60 team ERA. There’s a lot of untapped potential in this staff. Aaron Nola looks like a budding star at the top of their rotation. Last year he went 12-11 with a 3.54 ERA and struck out nearly 10 batters per 9 innings. He’s already been named the Opening Day starter against the Atlanta Braves, a huge honor for the 24 year-old. After him there’s some talented guys but with mixed results. Jared Eickhoff showed flashes of brilliance at times for the Phillies but his final numbers were pretty underwhelming, posting a 4.71 ERA and striking out a little over 8 batters per 9. Vince Velasquez is another guy who has flashed a ton of ability, particularly in a 2016 start against the Padres when he threw a shutout while striking out 16 batters on just 3 hits. However he also hasn’t built on that amazing outing, as he finished with an ERA over 5 in 2017. Kapler has a reputation for developing players in the Dodgers’ organization so hopefully for these guys’ sakes he’s able to work his magic with them, too. This is also a late edit, but I had already had this blog set up so forgive me if it reads weird, but Jake Arrieta just agreed to a 3-year $75M deal with the Phillies. It likely doesn’t change Nola’s status as team ace, but it is certainly a MAJOR upgrade on the mound. The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner didn’t have his best year in 2017, but he’s still a stud on the mound. It’ll be interesting to see how soon he’s able to suit up for the Phillies.

852274824

There’s a lot to be desired in the Phillies bullpen. Hector Neris is set to be their closer and he was pretty good last season, saving 26 games with a 3.01 ERA and 10.37 K/9. He’s got some electric stuff and I think he could be a potential breakout candidate. The star for the Phillies’ pen was 36 year-old Pat Neshek. Before being traded at the Deadline to the Rockies, Neshek was the Phillies’ lone All Star last season, posting a 1.12 ERA while striking out over 10 batters per 9, a very high number for a submarine pitcher at his age. Neshek returned to the Phillies in free agency in the offseason and he will likely be the 8th inning guy and possibly the closer when Neris can’t go. After those guys there’s a lot of uncertainty. New additions Fernando Abad and Tommy Hunter have had success in the past but have also had plenty of rough patches and might not be the most reliable guys for the Phillies. This bullpen may struggle in 2018.

Overall, I think there’s talent on the Phillies and like the A’s in yesterday’s blog, it’s all going to come down to how their young guys develop. If Kapler can awaken the talent in these guys like he did for guys like Chris Taylor and Justin Turner with the Dodgers, then the Phillies’ rebuild could be ending very soon. I think the Phillies are going to be my pick for most-improved team in 2018.

Projected Record: 75-85, 3rd in NL East

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when I discuss the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are on the brink of a rebuild after trading stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Let me know what you think of the Phillies’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Chicago Cubs

Arizona head coach Sean Miller being wiretapped by the FBI revealing that Arizona was offering $100K to recruit center DeAndre Ayton is easily the biggest news happening right now but the news I’m most concerned with is that Indiana might be involved with these same agents. Miller’s brother, Archie, is the head coach at IU and it was revealed that Indiana may have been a part of a bidding war for current South Carolina stud Brian Bowen. It doesn’t appear that Indiana has too much against it, but considering that they’re just 10 years removed from the Kelvin Sampson debacle, another discovery of violations could be really damaging. But on to more positive news, we’re talking baseball again as Day 6 of 30 Clubs in 30 Days features the Chicago Cubs. Let’s take a look at Joe Maddon’s club’s outlook for the season.

at Dodger Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

2017 Results:

Record: 92-70, Won NL Central by 6 games over Milwaukee Brewers, defeated Washington Nationals in NLDS, lost to Los Angeles Dodgers in NLCS

Notable Offseason Additions: SP Yu Darvish, RP Brandon Morrow, OF Peter Bourjos, RP Steve Cishek, SP Tyler Chatwood, SP Drew Smyly, C Chris Gimenez

Notable Offseason Subtractions: SP Jake Arrieta, SP John Lackey, C Alex Avila, CP Wade Davis, RP Hector Rondon, C Rene Rivera, OF Leonys Martin, RP Koji Uehara, OF Jon Jay

Best Offensive Player: 3B Kris Bryant

Best Pitcher: Kyle Hendricks

Depth Chart:

C-Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini

1B-Anthony Rizzo

2B-Javy Baez, Ben Zobrist

3B-Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella

SS-Addison Russell

LF-Kyle Schwarber

CF-Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr

RF-Jason Heyward, Peter Bourjos

SP-Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood

Bullpen-Brandon Morrow (CP), Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr, Steve Cishek, Brian Duensing, Justin Grimm, Justin Wilson, Mike Montgomery

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Joe Maddon (4th season with Cubs)

Hitting Coach-Chili Davis

Pitching Coach-Jim Hickey

1st Base Coach-Will Venable

3rd Base Coach-Brian Butterfield

Bench Coach-Brandon Hyde

at Dodger Stadium on October 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

The Chicago Cubs are shooting for another World Series title this season and one can’t argue against their chances in 2018. Offensively they boast arguably the brightest young core in all of baseball, as each of Contreras, Rizzo, Baez, Russell, Bryant, Schwarber, Happ, and Almora are all under the age of 30. In fact, when they won the 2016 World Series, their entire infield of Rizzo-Baez-Russell-Bryant was under the age of 26. So expect the Cubs to be very good for a long time. Here’s how the Cubs expect to line up in 2018.

1. Ian Happ/Albert Almora Jr-CF

2. Kris Bryant-3B

3. Anthony Rizzo-1B

4. Willson Contreras-C

5. Kyle Schwarber-LF

6. Javy Baez-2B

7. Jason Heyward-RF

8. Addison Russell-SS

9. Pitcher’s Spot

My one issue with this lineup is that it lacks a true leadoff hitter. I more put Happ and Almora in that spot because I think they have the potential to take over that role rather than whether they truly deserve it or not. But Joe Maddon is known to tinker with his lineup to a degree that would make Ruxin from The League proud. Hell there was a time where he experimented with Rizzo in the leadoff spot, which actually worked to relative success, I might add. But no matter where you put a guy like Kris Bryant in the lineup, he’s going to do some damage. Last season, Bryant hit .295 with 29 home runs, 73 RBI, 111 runs scored, and was worth 6.7 WAR, which was 2nd best among all third basemen (Anthony Rendon’s 6.9 was tops). The 2015 NL Rookie of the Year and 2016 NL MVP will look to add to his mantle in 2018. His partner in crime, Rizzo, was also excellent in 2017. He hit .273 with 32 home runs, 109 RBI, 99 runs scored, and was worth 4.0 WAR. Rizzo’s been a model of consistency ever since 2014 and nowhere is that more apparent than in his home run totals. Since 2014, his home run totals have been 32-31-32-32. If that’s not consistent I don’t know what is but you can pretty much pencil in Rizzo for 32 home runs in 2018. Kyle Schwarber’s a guy they hope can really come into his own in 2018 as he’s got a ton of pop but hasn’t quite put it all together. However if you look at him in Spring Training right now, it is VERY clear that he’s in incredible shape so I expect a big year out of him. But the biggest factor for the Cubs offense in my opinion was the breakout of young catcher Willson Contreras. In his first full season as the Cubs’ everyday catcher, Contreras hit .276 with 21 home runs, 74 RBI, and was worth 3.2 WAR. His emergence was a big reason the Cubs continued to be the class of the NL Central despite the slow start out of Bryant and the others. Expect the Cubs to have one of the best offenses in baseball in 2018.

at Dodger Stadium on October 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

The Cubs struggled on the mound last season. Jon Lester’s ERA rose nearly 2 whole runs from 2016-17, Jake Arrieta’s ERA rose to the mid-3’s, John Lackey’s ERA skyrocketed to 4.59, and their most consistent starter, Kyle Hendricks, missed much of the season due to injury. Arrieta and Lackey will not be returning in 2018 as both remain unsigned as of this writing and the Cubs have filled out their rotation with the signing of Yu Darvish, which I covered a few weeks ago. If Lester can return to half the form he was in 2016 when he was a finalist for NL Cy Young and if Hendricks can stay healthy, the Cubs could have another dominant rotation. Jose Quintana, whom the Cubs acquired at the Trade Deadline from the White Sox last season, was pretty inconsistent in 2017 but after his trade to the Cubs, he seemed to settle down a bit and had a 3.74 ERA in the second half. So if all their guys can pitch to their ability, the Cubs will have four aces on their staff.

862591864

The Cubs’ bullpen saw a bit of an overhaul in the 2017-18 offseason. Gone are former closers Wade Davis and Hector Rondon but they added Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek to replace them. The closer role is unclear but according to MLB.com’s depth chart for the Cubs, Morrow is slated to be the closer for the Cubs, a role he’s never really held before. The most saves he’s had in a season was 10 in 2008 with the Mariners but that was also a season where Seattle was trying to figure out what to do with him, as he also made 5 starts that year. However Morrow was excellent as the 8th inning guy for the Dodgers in 2017, as he had an ERA of 2.06 and struck out over 10 batters per 9 innings. In fact, manager Dave Roberts liked him so much that he became the second pitcher ever to appear in all 7 World Series games. New acquisition Steve Cishek has been a closer for the Marlins in the past so he is certainly an option to close out games if Morrow can’t go. Breakout youngster Carl Edwards Jr could also be an option. Edwards had a career year in 2017 as he pitched to a 2.98 ERA and struck out 12.75 batters per 9 innings. Plus he was the guy who was going to close out Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, getting the first two outs before letting up a run and being relieved for Mike Montgomery. If Edwards can continue his ascent, he could also find himself closing games by the end of the year.

Overall, the Cubs are looking really good for 2018. They boast a powerful young lineup with a plethora of talented pitching options. The key for them is going to be avoiding the slow start that plagued them for much of 2017. For much of the season, they found themselves playing catchup to Milwaukee in the NL Central before pulling away late in the second half. Milwaukee reloaded in the offseason, adding outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich so they mean business in the division. If the Cubs are going to stave them off, they’re going to need to be sharp for all 162 games, which they’re more than capable of. Joe Maddon is arguably the best manager in baseball and when you give him talent like he has in Chicago, it’s pretty easy to see why the Cubs have reached the NLCS in all 3 years of his tenure there.

Projected Record: 94-68, Win NL Central

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days, join me tomorrow where I go cross-town to the Chicago White Sox, whose bright young prospects are lurking around, waiting to pounce on the rest of the Major Leagues. Let me know what you think of the Cubs’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

General Sports: February 12

912691758

-The Indianapolis Colts have hired former Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator Frank Reich to be their next head coach. Reich had been the Eagles’ OC each of the last two seasons as the team saw a significant uptick in production between year 1 and year 2. While many credit Doug Pederson for calling the “Philly Special” (despite it being an illegal formation…yes I’m still salty), Reich played a huge role in designing and developing that play. As Trey Wingo noted on Twitter, this may actually be an upgrade over the failed Josh McDaniels hire, as the Colts will now be landing the OC that won the Super Bowl, rather than the one that lost. Reich’s offensive scheme relies heavily on run-pass options, or RPO’s, and they were extremely effective in the Eagles’ wins over the Vikings and Patriots. Under his system, Carson Wentz went from an intriguing quarterback with a lot of potential to the MVP frontrunner and after his injury, Nick Foles went from a guy who hadn’t been good since 2013 into Super Bowl MVP. With so much uncertainty surrounding the Colts’ quarterback situation given Andrew Luck’s unknown health, getting a guy like Reich could become an excellent hire.

917085756

-Paul Pierce had his number 34 retired by the Celtics and it was quite the ceremony as Celtics legends were spotted all over the place, from Bill Russell to Kevin Garnett to Rajon Rondo. It didn’t end well for the Celtics as the new-look Cavaliers smoked the boys in green 121-99, but it was a nice moment for the Celtics legend Pierce. Speaking of the Cavs, they looked really sharp as a new unit and it seems like they made all the right trades at the deadline. It’s still early, but early returns are promising.

911962700

-People are just now freaking out over Eagles tackle Lane Johnson’s comments about the Patriots’ culture even though the interview in which that took place on Pardon My Take aired on Friday. I’m what PMT refers to as an “Award-Winning Listener” and when I heard what Johnson had to say, I didn’t really care. He said that the Patriots seem to build their culture around fear and doesn’t get the sense that Patriots players really enjoy their time in Foxboro. He also went on to state that he would rather win 1 Super Bowl and have a blast doing it than win 5 and be miserable. I don’t know why people are making such a fuss over this. One little complaint I’d have with this statement is word choice and it’s literally just one word I disagree with: fear. I don’t think the Patriots build their culture around fear, I think they build it around what’s best for business. It’s no secret that playing for the Patriots requires one to be pretty uptight and about as professional as humanly possible. But professional football is a business, it’s not about having fun at that stage. If you are having fun, great, you’re one of the luckiest people on Earth that you get to not only play football for a living, but have a blast doing it. But that business-like mentality isn’t exclusive to the Patriots. Most teams try and conduct themselves in a similar fashion, the Patriots get more publicity for it because of their run of success. You could tell that the Eagles were a much more laid back group from as early as Week 1, as their endzone celebrations were some of the best in the newly relaxed league. It worked out well for them, just like the Patriots’ business-like approach works well in Foxboro. So really, I think people need to calm down about Johnson’s comments.

-I almost got caught looking very silly during my wrestling broadcast on Sunday.

During this match, I was reading my notes and giving off information about each wrestler when I happened to glance up at the perfect possible moment when Devin Skatzka landed the pin. This would’ve gotten pretty ugly because it was a huge win for Indiana to get themselves back into the meet with Northwestern. Northwestern ended up winning reasonably handily, but this pin made things interesting. It actually happened so fast (28 seconds) that I never even got a chance to introduce the Northwestern wrestler. Had I missed the pin, it could’ve derailed the whole broadcast. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

-The NCAA released their first bracket preview where they showcased where each team stands right now in the March Madness rankings, only doing the top 4 seeds for each region. The teams are:

1 Seeds: Virginia (#1 Overall), Villanova, Xavier, Purdue

2 Seeds: Cincinnati, Duke, Auburn, Kansas

3 Seeds: Michigan State, Texas Tech, Clemson, North Carolina

4 Seeds: Tennessee, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Arizona

I haven’t been keeping up with college basketball like I wanted to but I promise I’ll at least post my bracket when the time comes. But overall I find these seedings to be very interesting, especially considering where a lot of these teams were at the start of the season. I doubt very many people would’ve guessed that traditional football schools like Auburn, Clemson, and Ohio State would rank very highly as well as Xavier and Purdue being 1 seeds along with Cincinnati and Texas Tech being amongst the 16 best teams. But I’m very excited for March Madness season because I have no effing clue who’s going to win. Usually there’s one team you can confidently point to and say “those guys are going to go far” but I could very easily see all of these teams collapsing at any given time. Is it March yet?

862934690

-There have been reports that the Nationals are interested in signing Jake Arrieta, which should be absolutely TERRIFYING for the rest of the National League. A potential rotation of Max Scherzer, Arrieta, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark is so wildly unfair that the Nats may go weeks without letting up a run. Roark could be the number 1 pitcher on a weak staff but on this possible Nationals’ staff, he’s the fifth man. Though signing Arrieta would take the Nationals from slim chances to re-signing Bryce Harper to zero chance. We saw that Yu Darvish got a 6-year $126M deal with the Cubs on Saturday and Arrieta has a far more impressive resume so he’s certainly going to command more money. He may want to sign soon, though, because pitchers and catchers report for most teams on Valentine’s Day.

That’s going to do it for this edition of General Sports, let me know what you think of each storyline in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Cubs Sign Yu Darvish

869166610

NOW we get into the juicy stuff. After a long while, Yu Darvish has signed a 6-year $126M contract with the Chicago Cubs after 5 and a half years with the Rangers and half a season with the Dodgers, where he helped them on a World Series run (even if his actual World Series performance left a lot to be desired). Darvish is one of the most talented pitchers in the game but hasn’t been able to realize a lot of his potential due in large part to injury, namely Tommy John surgery which cost him much of 2014, all of 2015, and much of 2016. Darvish was finally healthy in 2017 and he had a solid year, going 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA and 209 strikeouts between the Rangers and Dodgers. He looks for a fresh new start with a talented Cubs rotation that underperformed in 2017 but looks to get back on track to try and return to their championship glory from 2016.

Here’s how the Cubs’ rotation is expected to look with Darvish in the mix and the now expected departure of former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, whom I will get to in a moment:

1. Jon Lester

2. Yu Darvish

3. Kyle Hendricks

4. Jose Quintana

5. Tyler Chatwood/Drew Smyly

That’s a pretty formidable rotation provided everybody pitches to their ability. Couple that with an extremely potent lineup and the Cubs have all the makings of a World Series favorite. Though pitching to their ability is the big concern here. Lester is coming off his worst season since 2012, as he went 13-8 with a 4.33 ERA and 180 strikeouts. He turned 34 last month so one has to wonder if his skills may be on the decline. Quintana was very inconsistent last season. His month-by-month ERA was a big indicator to that. Starting in April, Quintana’s monthly ERA’s were 5.22, 5.91, 1.78, 3.45, 5.73, 2.51. So of those 6 months, 3 were really bad and 3 were either solid or excellent. It all averaged out to an ERA of 4.15, which is a far cry from what we know he’s capable of. Hendricks was probably Chicago’s most consistent starter in 2017 as he went 7-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 123 strikeouts during an injury-plagued season. When healthy, Hendricks is capable of being the ace of this loaded staff but if Chicago is going to make another run at the World Series, they’re going to need him on the mound every five days.

Which brings me to Jake Arrieta. The 2015 NL Cy Young winner seems to not be returning to Wrigley with the signing of Darvish, however I expect now that Darvish has signed, Arrieta will soon follow. I think the main reason it’s taken this long for either guy to sign was because they were waiting each other out, trying to see what the other would get so that they could use it as a comparison in their negotiations. Now that Arrieta has seen that Darvish is valued by the Cubs at $21M per year, he can use that to his advantage to make even more. All he has to say to teams that want to pay him comparable money to Darvish is “Yu is valued at $21M, he’s injured all the time, he doesn’t even have a Cy Young award and he sucked in the World Series. I have a Cy Young Award and a 2.38 ERA in the 2016 World Series.” Immediately that’s going to land him at least $25M. So Arrieta ought to send Darvish a thank you card for signing first, though this for sure means that Arrieta won’t be returning to the Cubs.

However this presents an interesting conundrum for the Cubs and it has everything to do with next offseason. Bryce Harper has made it known, whether intentional or not, that his first choice to sign in the 2018 offseason would be with the Chicago Cubs. He’s childhood friends with Cubs superstar third baseman Kris Bryant and he named his dog “Wrigley.” The writing is on the wall for that one. However, Harper will be just 26 years old when he hits free agency and many have speculated he may command Major League Baseball’s first ever $400M contract. Will the Cubs be able to afford that with the current payroll they have? Not likely. So there will need to be some work done on the salary front and many potentially key players needing to be moved in order to afford that deal. It can be done, though, and I do expect we’ll be seeing Harper in Cubby blue starting in 2019.

That’s going to do it for this piece on the Yu Darvish signing. Let me know what you think this does for the Cubs’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

MLB Free Agent Power Rankings

Before I get into the power rankings, I want to just say Rest in Peace to Roy Halladay, who died in a plane crash on Tuesday. He was 40 years old. Halladay was a husband and father of two and was widely considered to be one of the best human beings in baseball, as he was very involved in the community, from charity work to coaching little league. He was also a phenomenal pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, winning the Cy Young Award in 2003 and 2010, an 8-time All Star, and the embodiment of a workhorse. Since 1998, when Halladay made his Major League debut, no pitcher has thrown more complete games than Halladay’s 67. He retired in 2013 and that number since 1998 still hasn’t been caught. For a while, it was pretty safe to say that Halladay was the best pitcher in baseball, as his stretch between 2008-2011 was some of the most dominant years of pitching I’ve ever seen. His 2010 season was particularly special, as it included a perfect game against the Marlins and a no hitter in his postseason debut (second in postseason history) against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS. Rest in Peace, Roy Halladay (1977-2017), you will be missed by all.

On a happier note, free agency has officially kicked off in Major League Baseball and speculation as to who’s headed where and who is due for a big contract will be the talk of the next four months or so. This year’s class is essentially the warmup to the Bryce Harper/Manny Machado class of 2018 that will be sure to shake the foundation of baseball to its core, but it is still loaded with plenty of star power. So without further ado, let’s get into the rankings.

#10. Zack Cozart-Shortstop

Cozart

photo credit: FirstAndMonday

Zack Cozart has been the shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds for a few years now but has battled injuries and hasn’t played a full season since 2014. However when he has been healthy, he’s been very effective, especially in the last two seasons, 2017 being his best. He hit .297 this season in 122 games with 24 home runs and 63 RBI while also playing some solid defense, which accumulated to a WAR of 5.0. He also earned his first All Star nod, and in turn, won a donkey from Joey Votto. You read that correctly. Here’s the story. Cozart may not be a household name, but he’s been playing the best baseball of his career and whichever team signs him will have themselves a heck of a player, provided he can stay healthy.

Projected Team: Signs with New York Mets

#9. Carlos Santana-First Baseman/DH

carlos-santana-indians

photo credit: Waiting for Next Year

Carlos Santana is an oddity mainly because he often batted leadoff for the Cleveland Indians despite being a first baseman that lacks speed. It’s mainly because he draws a LOT of walks thanks to having one of the best eyes for the plate in baseball. He’s been really consistent these last two seasons, as he batted .259 in both 2016 AND 2017, and his on base percentage was .366 in 2016 and .363 in 2017. His power numbers were down from 2016, he hit a career-high 34 in 2016 and 23 in 2017, but he is still a threat to go yard if a pitcher hangs one on him.

Projected Team: Returns to the Cleveland Indians

#8. Jay Bruce-Outfielder

jay-bruce-082417-getty-ftr_3ywudgcjy9py10obrfrvn4ta1

photo credit: Sporting News

Jay Bruce has spent the majority of his career with the Cincinnati Reds but since being traded to the Mets in 2016, he’s had some of his best success at the plate. He hit 33 home runs between the Reds and Mets in 2016, then hit 36 bombs and drove in 101 runs between the Mets and Indians in 2017. He has only hit fewer than 20 home runs in a season once (2014) and that was by far the worst year of his career. He also has one of the strongest outfield arms in the game and many teams are hesitant to run against him.

Projected Team: Signs with the Toronto Blue Jays

#7. Mike Moustakas-Third Baseman

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

photo credit: MLB Trade Rumors

Moustakas had a MONSTROUS offensive breakout this season, hitting 38 home runs (his previous best was 22) and 85 RBI while hitting a solid .272. Moustakas was a key cog in the Royals’ 2015 championship run, and his defense has typically been a major positive at the hot corner (however it has been steadily trending downward since 2012). Moustakas is one of four players on this list from the 2015 champion Royals team (three of which were still with KC at the end of the 2017 season) and he will be a big factor for whomever signs him.

Projected Team: Signs with San Francisco Giants

#6. Wade Davis-Closing Pitcher

usa_today_10255271.0

photo credit: Bleed Cubbie Blue

Wade Davis is one of a plethora of pitchers with promise who flamed out as starters, but once they moved to the bullpen, they rescue their careers. Davis is probably the best example of this and has been absolutely dominant since he was named the closer of the Royals in 2015 and he was a big boost for the Cubs’ bullpen in 2017. Davis was Chicago’s only All Star in 2017 and had a 2.30 ERA, which was actually his WORST since he became a reliever in 2014. Just let that sink in.

Projected Team: Returns to Chicago Cubs

#5. Lorenzo Cain-Outfielder

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

photo credit: Baseball Prospectus

Lorenzo Cain has been pretty consistent since 2014, his average typically hovering around the .300 mark with moderate power while playing some solid defense in centerfield. I wouldn’t say Cain is an elite player, but he’s a good one who will be an impact on any lineup, best part being you pretty much know what you’re going to get out of him. Health was an issue for him in 2016 but he was totally healthy in 2017, playing in 155 games.

Projected Team: Signs with New York Yankees

#4. Eric Hosmer-First Baseman

Eric-Hosmer-Trade-Rumors-2017-1

photo credit; The Inquisitr

Eric Hosmer is the last of 4-straight members of the 2015 Royals on this list. While I did note in my luck blog that he was probably the luckiest hitter in baseball in 2017, he is still one of the better first basemen in the game. He’s coming off his best season as a pro, slashing .318/.385/.498, all career highs, and tied his career high of 25 home runs while playing in all 162 games. He’s a below-average defender at first base, but that’s probably the one position where I don’t care too much about defense, unless they are absolutely abysmal.

Projected Team: Signs with Boston Red Sox

#3. Jake Arrieta-Starting Pitcher

CCL170409021_Cubs_at_Brewers1

photo credit: Fan Rag Sports

Jake Arrieta’s second half of 2015 was perhaps the most dominant stretch of pitching I have ever seen. It’s kind of been downhill since, though it is almost impossible to do much better. He’s still one of the game’s better pitchers, as he had an ERA of 3.53, his worst since joining the Cubs, but still better than what you get out of most pitchers. He was hurt, however, by the fact that opponents had a .279 BABIP against him, a career-worst, which may suggest that he just got unlucky last season.

Projected Team: Signs with Texas Rangers

#2. Yu Darvish-Starting Pitcher

2157889318001_5532762727001_5532740795001-vs

photo credit: Sports Illustrated

Yu Darvish had a terrible showing in the Dodgers’ World Series loss to the Astros but that shouldn’t put a damper on peoples’ opinions on his abilities as a pitcher. When healthy, Darvish is one of the most electrifying righties in baseball. He had a 3.86 ERA on the year, 3.38 since his trade to the Dodgers from the Rangers at the Trade Deadline, as he played his first full season since missing much of 2014, all of 2015, and much of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery. He’s never struck out fewer than 10 batters per 9 innings in his career and his control has gotten better each season, as he has cut down on his walks per 9 every year (technically it did go up by 0.02 from 2016-17, but that’s so minuscule that I think it’s fair to overlook).

Projected Team: Resigns with Los Angeles Dodgers

#1. JD Martinez-Outfielder

J.D.-Martinez

photo credit: Sports from the Basement

Holy shit did JD Martinez have a big year. Between the Tigers and Diamondbacks (where he was traded at the Trade Deadline), Martinez hit .303 with 45 home runs and 104 RBI, numbers that would easily have him in the MVP discussion had he not switched leagues. 29 of those 45 bombs came in his 2 months in Arizona, as he helped catapult the Diamondbacks to a playoff run. Martinez missed the first month of the season due to injury but upon his return he was unstoppable, and I think it’s fair to expect that he continue to thrive, as he only just turned 30 in August.

Projected Team: Resigns with Arizona Diamondbacks

Others that just missed the list: Todd Frazier-Third Baseman, Eduardo Nunez-Utility, Alex Cobb-Starting Pitcher, Carlos Gonzalez-Outfielder, Jonathan Lucroy-Catcher

Those are my free agency rankings for this season. Agree with my list? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.