John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Since 2017, the American League could make the claim of having the best three teams in baseball: the Astros, Red Sox, and Yankees. Two of them have won championships, and, well, it almost feels inevitable the third will cash in this season.
Yes, I realize it's not a terribly bold prediction picking the Yankees, but the talent gap between the haves and have-nots is so great in baseball these days that I couldn't find a surprise pick I could sell as believable.
I do have the Nationals finally breaking through in October, minus Bryce Harper, and I actually considered predicting a Subway Series, after scouts came away impressed with the Mets in Spring Training.
It just seems a little far-fetched.
Nevertheless, it should be a fun season in New York, perhaps the first since 2006 when both teams play in a playoff series.
Oddly, the Yankees had a Met-like Spring Training, with injuries dominating the news. Yet, none of the issues are serious enough to change my mind that, essentially, it's their turn to win their first championship since 2009.
With that, here are my 10 (somewhat) Bold Predictions for the 2019 season, with the emphasis on the local teams.
10. Pete Alonso Wins Rookie of Year; Jeff McNeil Makes All-Star Team
Alonso sure looks the part of a legit slugger, and while he was the talk of Mets' camp, McNeil picked up right where he left off last season, making hitting look easy.
I still say the new regime should have believed in McNeil enough to keep him in the infield and sign A.J. Pollock instead of Jed Lowrie, but Lowrie's injury gives McNeil the chance to open the season at third base. And if he keeps hitting, he'll have to play somewhere.
9. Gleyber Torres Finishes Top-5 in AL MVP Voting
Let's not forget how spectacular Torres performed as a rookie before a mid-season hip injury seemed to affect him at the plate for much of the second half of the year. He made the All-Star team, put up a .905 OPS in the first half, and wowed scouts with his ability to make adjustments from pitch to pitch, nevermind at-bat to at-bat.
This year, he takes a leap forward to put himself in the heady company of Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and, oh by the way, his own teammate that I have winning the award this year.
8. Manny Machado Hustles, Nobody Cares
Yes, Machado will be on his best behavior, wanting to make good on his $300 million contract, meaning that not-so-Johnny Hustle will be running hard on routine ground balls, and hitting and fielding his way to an impressive first season in San Diego.
However, strong farm system and all, the Padres are at least a year away from being relevant again, and by June, Machado will be wishing he'd taken a short-term deal to play in the Bronx.
7. Bryce Harper Hits 40-Plus Bombs, Phillies Miss Playoffs
Harper finds the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park to his liking, hitting home runs to all fields with relative ease, running the tally to somewhere in the 40s, and winning over the notoriously tough Philly fans in the process.
But with Jake Arrieta in decline, the Phillies don't have the pitching to survive the rigors of the difficult NL East and fall short of a playoff berth. As such, Harper remains in search of success in October.
6. Walker Buehler, Trevor Bauer Win Cy Young Awards
It's not that I don't think Jacob deGrom can win another Cy Young Award. However, I picked him last year, and I just feel like I'd be pushing my luck expecting him to do it again.
Besides, have you seen Buehler? The Dodgers' 24-year old right-hander has electric stuff and poise beyond his years, all of which was on display in shutting down the Red Sox in the World Series.
As for the AL, quirky as he is, Bauer just keeps getting better. He might have won it last year if not for an injury in September.
5. Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard All Finish Top 6 In Cy Young Voting
Ok, here's my make-good to the Mets' starters: I think this is the year deGrom, Wheeler, and Syndergaard put it all together as a Big Three, pitching the Mets to the postseason.
If all three indeed finish in the top 6 of the Cy Young voting, it would be the best performance by a Mets' rotation since 1986 when Bob Ojeda, Ron Darling, Doc Gooden, and Sid Fernandez all finished seventh or better behind winner Mike Scott.
4. Mets Finish 87-75, Win Wild-Card Berth, Lose To LA In NLDS
Even scouts who, at first, scoffed at Brodie Van Wagenen's career change, thinking he'd be in over his head as GM, came away from watching the Mets in Florida impressed by the overall talent and depth. They were convinced this team should win from 85 to 90 games if it actually gets some decent luck with injuries for a change.
And now they get a feel-good start with the deGrom contract extension.
If they get to October, their starting pitching makes anything possible, but without home-field advantage, it would be awfully hard to beat the Dodgers again in a five-game series, as they did in 2015.
3. Aaron Judge, Juan Soto Win MVP Awards
Nobody had a more impressive Spring Training than Judge, who came to camp wanting only to cut down on his strikeouts, via a new, no-stride approach with two strikes. Well, he still made going deep look routine, pounding six home runs while hitting .316 with a ridiculous .947 slugging percentage.
If he does reduce his strikeouts, it's scary to think of the numbers Judge could put up, as consistently hard as he hits the ball. It should add up to his first MVP Award.
In the NL, I'll take a shot with Soto, the Nationals' wunderkind who put up a .915 OPS over 122 games last year at age 19. One scout called him the most natural hitting talent "since Junior Griffey," which says it all.
2. Nationals Win NL East, Advance To World Series
I just have a feeling about this. After all of their years failing to get over the hump while Harper was still in D.C., the Nationals are finally going to make an October run in their first year without him.
Coincidence? Perhaps not, as the pressure will be off, at least to some extent. More importantly, they're still loaded with offensive talent, led by young Soto, have great starting pitching and a solid bullpen. It's enough to win a four-team horse race in the NL East and reach the World Series.
1. Yankees Finish 102-60, Win World Series
The only question is the starting pitching, and in some ways, I think Luis Severino could benefit from starting the season late, assuming his shoulder inflammation doesn't linger. And James Paxton quietly had a brilliant spring, showing why he could be their Game 1 ace come October, as long as he can stay healthy.
One way or another, the Yankees will get their triple-digit wins, and this year, they may be a little more equipped to get the big two-out hit the Red Sox beat them with in the ALDS. Between that and their bullpen, it's their year.