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What to look for in MLB

The 2018 Major League baseball season will kick off with Opening Day on March 29, the earliest start to an MLB season in history. This will also be the first time all 30 teams will be playing on the same Opening Day since 1968. Here is a look division by division at what to expect this coming season.

American League East:

Though the Red Sox (93-69) finished first in the division last season, an early playoff exit disappointed Sox fans again as it mirrors their fortunes in the 2016 postseason. The Red Sox are retaining just about all of the contracts from the team members from last season, save for Josh Rutledge who elected to test the free agent market after being moved to the Red Sox minor leagues. The team will look identical to the first place Red Sox from last season, but the Red Sox are expected to sign free agent slugger J.D. Martinez. Martinez spent last season split between the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks. He hit 16 home runs for the Tigers and then hit 26 more homers for the Diamondbacks, giving Martinez a career best 45 home runs on the season. This signing would be an aggressive response to the New York Yankees’ acquisition of 2017 NL home run champion Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees, the AL East Wild Card last season, now possess the 2017 home run champions from each league. The collective of Yankee sluggers and their top notch bullpen give Red Sox fans something to keep their eyes on in a highly contested American League East.

American League Central:

The Cleveland Indians (102-60) had a commanding grip as the best team in the AL Central before losing to the Houston Astros in the ALCS in the postseason. Going into the playoffs, the Tribe arguably had the strongest pitching staff in baseball. The retention of those starters this season will make for an interesting October, should the usual suspects stay healthy. At the helm of their staff is Corey Kluber (18-4), who edged out Chris Sale in the American League Cy Young award race last season. Carlos Carrasco (18-6), Trevor Bauer (17-9), Mike Clevinger (12-6) and Josh Tomlin (10-9) round out the rest of the rotation. Their closest competitors in the Central should be last year’s Wild Card Minnesota Twins (85-77). For the Twins to maintain their position in the hunt for glory in the Central, they’ll need MLB veteran Ervin Santana to be as effective as he was last season. Santana, 34, exceeded expectations by winning 16 games (1 shy of his career best) and pitching 211.1 innings.

American League West:

The World Series Champion Houston Astros (101-61) look to repeat their dominance exhibited last season. This conference looks to be the least contested in the American League as no other team in the division had a winning record last season. The Astros had one of the more formidable starting rotations in baseball and already made one of the biggest transactions of the offseason. The Astros effectively traded Joe Musgrove (7-8) to the Pittsburgh Pirates for their ace Gerrit Cole (12-12). Cole’s been pitching for the struggling Pirates since 2013. Cole went 19-8 in 2015 and struck out 202 batters. The California native’s strong velocity will follow Cy Young Winners Justin Verlander (15-8) and Dallas Keuchel (14-5). The Los Angeles Angels have made moves to be more contentious in 2018 with their signing of Japanese prospect Shohei Ohtani. Though Ohtani maintains he’d be competitive as a hitter at the MLB level, he is expected to lead the Angel’s pitching rotation. In addition to Ohtani, the Angels picked up all-star shortstop Zack Cozart. Cozart spent the last seven seasons playing for the Cincinnati Reds.

National League East:

The NL East was dominated by the Washington Nationals once again. Since the debut of the prodigious Bryce Harper in 2012, they’ve finished in first place in four seasons and second place in two. The Nationals have also had two Cy Young Awards won by Max Scherzer since he joined the team in 2015. There is little competition in the NL East as the second place Miami Marlins (77-85) traded away their sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna.  

National League Central:

The Central will be more contested than the East. The Chicago Cubs (92-70) failed to repeat their success from the 2016 World Championship season, but still won the division. With the acquisition of Jose Quintana, the Cubs have one of the stronger pitching staffs in baseball. Jake Arrieta (2015 Cy Young Winner) is testing the free agent market and should he sign elsewhere, he will leave a gap in that rotation. Closer Wade Davis has left the club for the Colorado Rockies so the bullpen will have to step up like they did in 2016. The St. Louis Cardinals (83-79) made a big play in acquiring Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins. Ozuna’s success in 2017 was heavily overshadowed by teammate and the season’s National League MVP winner Giancarlo Stanton. Ozuna hit a career best .312, career best 37 home runs and a career best 124 runs batted in. Coming off the best season of his career, he added much needed power to the Cardinals lineup. While the Cardinals rotation is heralded by the flamethrowing power pitcher Carlos Martinez, the Milwaukee Brewers (86-76) should make things interesting. They have less flair in their lineup, but they have the starters to go the distance. Twenty-four-year-old Zach Davies went 17-9 and pitched 191.1 innings. The precocious ace should be able to break 200 innings in 2018 and hopefully can lower his earned run average. The rotation also has 28-year-old Jimmy Nelson (12-8), and 30-year-old Chase Anderson (12-4). Less known than the pitchers of the Cubs and Cardinals, Davies, Nelson and Anderson should be even more reliable this season.

National League West:

The West was dominated by the Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58) last season. With the best record in the league in 2017, the Dodgers went on to lose to the Houston Astros in the World Series. The Dodgers look to return with their youthful lineup. While the return of Yu Darvish is still undetermined, the retention of Darvish would make their rotation among the most formidable in the game. Perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw (18-4), Alex Wood (16-3), Rich Hill (12-8), Kenta Maeda (13-6) and the lately acquired Yu Darvish (4-3) would round out a nearly unstoppable rotation. The NL West will see tight competition by way of the Arizona Diamondbacks (93-69) and Colorado Rockies (87-75). The winner in the offseason this year is the loser of the NL West last season, the San Francisco Giants (64-98). The Giants have acquired sluggers in 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and 2008 American League Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria during the offseason to try and bolster one of the worst lineups in the game. The Giants still have a long way to go with bettering their pitching staff, but this NL West should be as contentious as the AL East.

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