Chicago Cubs, NL Central
In sports you can’t conclusively say one team has more desire to win than another, but if we’re allowed to entertain the topic in the coming baseball season, the Cubs are one of the team’s with that desire.
That’s mainly to overcome an embarrassing 2018 season where their undeniable credentials didn’t get them past the wildcard round, which in turn has made this year a hugely pivotal one for the franchise.
Pitcher Yu Darvish was an unfortunate disappointment with elbow and tricep issues last year, but will more than likely be 100 per cent come opening day and should rediscover his All-Star form. He along with Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks should make for a handy starting trio.
A bigger disappointment from a year ago was the output from former MVP Kris Bryant, who was a shell of what he typically produces. Like the Cubs, Bryant will have huge incentive to perform as well, and has plenty of help with All-Stars Anthony Rizzo, Wilson Contreras, Javier Báez and Jason Heyward in the lineup to form one of the game’s best offences.
New York Mets, NL East
The Mets made plenty of moves in the offseason which have rocketed them straight back into playoff contention (to be fair they never really left).
One word temporarily gets in the way of that – health.
Starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard has been the main culprit of ‘unhealthiness’, but if he can consistently take the mound he should rediscover high level production in his game. Last year’s Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom is coming off one of the best seasons by a pitcher ever, and along with Zack Wheeler, the rotation will be more willing and able to act as the team’s backbone the way it did in 2015.
Health is also a factor on the offensive side, with All-Stars Jed Lowrie, Todd Frazier and Yoenis Cespedes all missing the first chunk of the coming season. The arrivals of All-Star and Silver Slugger Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos somewhat cover those losses and bolster the team’s run chances, but both men will have to get off to a fast start.
Philadelphia Phillies, NL East
The Phillies made plenty of moves as well during the winter. Although they are arguably the second worst team in their division, the potential for a division title has been hugely elevated.
A late collapse in 2018 saw the Phillies fail to make the postseason for a 7th straight year, with their offence particularly struggling. The call for more runs has been answered, with a new-look lineup forming for the coming year which I believe improves in eight of the nine batting positions. The likes of JT Realmuto, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen are just some of the new faces, but they are not the main draw cards.
That honour goes to Bryce Harper, who signed a mammoth 13-year, US$330 million deal that, at the time, was the biggest contract in American sports history. Harper’s numbers a year ago hovered around those from his 2015 MVP season, managing a career-best 100 RBI’s and second-best 34 homers.
The rotation gets reliever David Robertson, but otherwise remains the same headed by Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta who both, logically, have a shot at the CY Young award.
Oakland Athletics, AL West
What makes the Athletics a great team to follow is the unknown factor. Much like their ‘moneyball’ success of the 2002 season, they took the baseball world by complete surprise with 97 wins and a playoff berth last year. The majority of the roster returns for 2019, so logically a shot at the playoffs is there – but like last year, it’ll be an uphill battle with a bit of luck needed.
The A’s have some studs in their lineup, with Matt Chapman leading an underrated offensive unit. He became one of the game’s biggest stars a year ago and will likely get better again this year given his youth. Khris Davis led the league with 48 homers last year, while Matt Olson and Stephen Piscotty were also handy in the home run column.
The rotation is their weakness, lacking the quality of other American League contenders. Thus expect top prospect Jesus Luzardo to perform consistently, in order to get the team in contention.
San Diego Padres, NL West
The Padres are the blandest team in all of baseball, and potentially in all of US sports. Though for once, somehow, they’ve added a bit of zest to their locker room with a marquee free agent singing.
Manny Machado reneged on more established franchises like the Phillies and White Sox, and opted for sunny southern Cal. He brings with him a great offensive game, being one of the game’s best hitters, as well as versatility in the infield.
But Machado’s arrival isn’t the biggest excitement for the Padres for this season. A handful of youngsters from their well-regarded farm system, which is almost laughable considering how much talent it has, will take the field. The biggest of those young stars being Fernando Tatis Jr. who’s personality is as revered as his impressive game.
This year could be the first in which the Padres make big strides to becoming a National League contender. 75 wins is certainly on the cards, and that will only rise in the future.
Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.