It’s just like old times: the New York Yankees against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That’s the way the 2019 baseball season is likely to finish in October.
The Yankees won 100 games last year but couldn’t best the Boston Red Sox, who were having the best season (108 wins) in team history. Since then, however, the Yankees have invested heavily in bolstering their pitching while Boston has failed to fill a gaping bullpen hole created by the free agent departures of Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly.
Unlike the Yankees, who play in the highly-competitive American League East, the Los Angeles Dodgers should win their seventh straight division crown by default. There’s just not enough competition in the National League West, even though the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres could make things interesting.
Here’s a look at how the divisions look on Opening Day:
AL East — Even with Luis Severino ailing, the Yankees have better pitching this year with the additions of starter James Paxton and reliever Adam Ottavino. They also have potential MVP candidates in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, both potential 40-homer men. Boston answers with MVP Mookie Betts and stud southpaw Chris Sale but it won’t be enough. Toronto and Tampa Bay will battle for third, with Baltimore certain to be in the cellar again — perhaps topping the 1962 Mets record of 120 losses.
AL Central — Minnesota added, Cleveland subtracted, and the division title will change hands as a result. The Indians will miss bullpen deserters Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, among other free agent deserters, and spring injuries to Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez won’t help. Look for the White Sox to rise to third on the back of blue-chip rookie Eloy Jimenez but don’t count on anything from Kansas City (minus the injured Sal Perez) or Detroit.
AL West — Even without starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers, Jr., the Houston Astros should retain their title in this anemic division. The Astros still outslug opponents with a lineup anchored by three former MVPs: Jose Altuve (AL), Alex Bregman (All-Star Game), and George Springer (World Series). Their closest challenger will be the Angels, who spent a ton of money to keep Mike Trout, the game’s best player, but not enough to bolster their pitching. Oakland’s pitching shorts hurt too, though the surprise acquisition of Kendrys Morales will help. Don’t count on the rebuilding Mariners for much of anything.
NL East — If pitching rules, as it usually does, the Washington Nationals will finish first in a four-way dogfight. Nobody can match their top three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and free-agent signee Patrick Corbin — though the Mets are close with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler. Washington has young studs in Juan Soto and Victor Robles, while the Mets have newly-imported veterans in Robby Cano and Jed Lowrie. The Phillies were active shoppers, even landing former MVPs Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, but lack pitching after Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. Nor do the Braves have the arms to sustain another title run, though Ronald Acuna, Jr. could follow up his Rookie of the Year season with an MVP trophy.
NL Central — If one move turned a contender into a champion, it was the acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt by the St. Louis Cardinals. Milwaukee, led by NL MVP Christian Yelich and former MVP Ryan Braun, can’t match Cardinal pitching. Chicago still has booming bats in Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant but an aging pitching staff and unstable bullpen. The Reds, with Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in tow, could even challenge the Cubs for third place. Pittsburgh didn’t do much this winter and won’t do much this summer either.
NL West — The Dodgers depend on a versatile, heavy-hitting lineup bolstered by free agent signee A.J. Pollock. Even with Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill sidelined at the start, Dodger pitching is always solid too. Chief competition could come from San Diego, where Manny Machado has taken up residence, or Colorado, where Nolan Arenado has a hefty contract extension. The once-proud Giants, like the Diamondbacks, seem to be in a rebuilding stage.
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