The brewing bad blood between players and owners aside, baseball is on quite a roll the last couple of years, with compelling postseasons culminating in World Series Game 7s, one of them resulting in the historic Cubs’ title.
How do they top that? How about a Yankees-Cubs Fall Classic?
Think that get might some TV ratings, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton taking aim at the Ivy in the Friendly Confines, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber bombing away in the Bronx?
There is almost nothing harder to predict than which teams will survive the crapshoot that is the postseason, but if I don’t say so myself, I’m on a roll after calling the Astros over the Dodgers in this same space a year ago.
Not to mention Jose Altuve as AL MVP.
Hey, it doesn’t happen often, so I’m milking it for all it’s worth. Humbly speaking, of course.
So for what it’s worth, I’m picking the Yankees to survive the AL playoffs, the Cubs to find that extra gear they were missing last year, and Aaron Boone to outmanage Joe Maddon in another classic World Series.
I explain why as part of my Top 10 Bold Predictions for the 2018 season.
1. Yankees Win Championship No. 28
The safer pick would seem to be the Astros, who should be better in 2018 as they defend their championship, as they’ll have Justin Verlander for a full season plus newly-acquired Gerrit Cole. But the Yankees are improved as well, obviously with Stanton, which will help them bludgeon their way to the AL East title.
And as I’ll get to shortly, I believe Brian Cashman will turn his acclaimed prospect depth into a top-flight starting pitcher in July, much as he did last year.
All that adds up to a rematch of that classic ALCS last year, only this time the Yankees’ bullpen edge will be the difference, as Dellin Betances regains his form. Likewise, the bullpen will be the deciding factor against the Cubs, who won’t be able to trade for Aroldis Chapman this time around.
2. Judge and Stanton Out-homer Mantle and Maris
I’m talking 1961, of course, when Mickey Mantle hit 54 home runs and Roger Maris famously hit 61 to break Babe Ruth’s record. That adds up to 115, so I’m saying Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will combine for 116, delivering on all the must-see expectations of their first season together.
It’s a huge number but with so much thunder in the Yankee lineup, pitchers aren’t going to be able to pitch around them. And after seeing Stanton in spring training, and watching how easily he drives the ball to the opposite field, I believe that short porch in Yankee Stadium will help him get to 62, or three more than he hit with the Marlins last season. Judge will settle for 54.
And it will be quite the spectacle.
3. Mets Earn Second Wild Card, Lose to Cubs in NLDS
I don’t think they can match the offensive might of the Nationals over 162 games, but there’s no reason the Mets can’t win a wild-card spot, providing they get at least reasonably good health for a change, particularly from their top starting pitchers, as well as Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto.
Cespedes supposedly understands the value of hydration, finally, as well as the perils of 1,000-pound leg presses, while Conforto is ahead of schedule in returning from that shoulder capsule surgery, his swing already making Keith Hernandez swoon again.
The defense surely will be better than last year, the bullpen should be deeper, and perhaps most significantly, the rebuilding state of the Marlins, Braves, and the Phillies — even with Jake Arrieta — offers an opportunity for the Mets to pile up enough wins to get into the high 80s.
4. Nationals Finally Win a Postseason Series, But…
The Bryce Harper era still ends in disappointment.
I do believe the Nationals will finally get over the postseason hump, which is so much the elephant in the room for this franchise that new manager Dave Martinez felt compelled to pull a Joe Maddon-like stunt, bringing live camels to their spring training camp one day.
Humps aside, the Nationals have too much talent not to finally break through. But they’ll also be under huge pressure to reach the World Series as Harper, not to mention Daniel Murphy, heads for free agency, and Martinez will need more than camels to beat his old boss, Maddon, and the Cubs.
5. Mariners End Longest Postseason Drought
Not just in baseball, either. When the Bills qualified for the NFL playoffs, the Mariners became team with the longest postseason drought in American sports, dating back to Ichiro Suzuki’s rookie season in 2001.
OK, there has to be a surprise team somewhere, right? They’re good enough to earn the second wild-card berth, as they’re due for some luck, after injuries decimated them last season, forcing them to use a total of 40 pitchers.
I know they already lost key reliever David Phelps to Tommy John surgery, but they do have good starting pitching, and I like their offense, especially if Dee Gordon can play center. Robby Cano, entering year five of that 10-year contract, can’t go 0-for-Seattle, can he?
6. Trout, Altuve, Judge, Stanton Do Not Win AL MVP
All of which is another way of saying I believe this is the year that Carlos Correa puts up monster numbers making a case that he belongs with Mike Trout as the best players in baseball. Remember, the Astros’ shortstop missed six weeks last season with torn ligaments in his thumb and still hit 24 home runs while putting up a .941 OPS.
Remember also, Correa is only 23, not even close to his prime. If he hits 40 home runs and slashes .315/.391/.551 as he did last year, he’ll be as tough to beat as Altuve was last year.
7. Kris Bryant Wins NL MVP
It went somewhat unnoticed because the Cubs had a sluggish post-championship season, but Bryant nearly matched his 2016 MVP year, slashing .295/.409/.535/.946. The home runs were down from 39 to 29, but everything else was nearly identical, and Bryant has proven to be durable, missing only a handful of games in his first three years.
No doubt Harper will be on a mission to earn the biggest free-agent contract ever, but injuries have been an issue for him. If the Cubbies become a super team again, the spotlight will fall on Bryant.
8. DeGrom wins NL Cy Young/Sale AL
I’m convinced Jacob deGrom is going to win one of these eventually. I picked him last year and he had a strong season but paid a price for a handful of really bad starts that skewed his overall numbers a bit, in addition to giving up a career-high 28 home runs.
I think deGrom will get to that ultra-elite level, partly because he’s learned to trust his change-up, with the urging of new pitching coach Dave Eiland. Also, John Smoltz loves deGrom’s game and thinks he’s ready to become a Top 3 starter in all of baseball.
And in a related story, Clayton Kershaw may have a chronic back problem.
9. Boone Wins AL Manager of the Year/Callaway NL Runner-Up
Have to say, I was impressed with what I saw and heard from both Aaron Boone and Mickey Callaway during my time in spring training. Nothing really matters, of course, until the games count and they have to start making decisions on the fly, then answering for them afterward.
But Boone is remarkably at ease with the media, and seems to have Joe Torre-like people skills, which plays well in the clubhouse. He also has a roster overflowing with talent, which sure doesn’t hurt.
Callaway isn’t quite as open in press sessions as Boone, which is probably due to influence from the higher-ups, but he’s a sharp guy who also relates well to players. Have a feeling both will be here for years to come.
10. Brian Cashman Makes Another Big July Trade
And this time I think he gets Michael Fulmer from the Tigers. The price will be steep because Fulmer will still be four and a half seasons from free agency, but this is where the remarkable depth of the Yankees’ farm system pays big dividends.
For a team doing a complete rebuild like the Tigers, the haul they could get from the Yankees, starting with Clint Frazier, Tyler Wade, and Justus Sheffield, might be an offer they can’t refuse.
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