MLB 2019 preview: Predicting the AL's division champs, pennant winner, award getters
The American League, in contrast to the National, is incredibly top heavy again in 2019.
The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians are all capable of winning 100 games and the bottom teams in all three divisions are capable of losing 100 or more.
But the playoffs should be absolutely fantastic, so you will have to take the good with the bad.
Here are our predictions for how the AL will shake out in 2019.
Central - Cleveland Indians
Yes, Cleveland underachieved last year and, yes, Francisco Lindor is starting the season hurt, Jose Ramirez was bad down the stretch and you cannot name a single one of their outfielders, but the Indians are still really, really good.
Their rotation had four starters who struck out 200 or more batters last year and they have every chance to do it again, while Lindor and Ramirez are still really good too. The bullpen is also likely to improve from last year's disaster.
Cleveland should walk this division.
East - New York Yankees
The Yankees are already dealing with a lot of injuries as Luis Severino, CC Sabathia and Greg Bird are hurt, but the rotation is still good, the lineup is very good and the bullpen is transcendent.
The Indians won 10 games less than they should have a year ago because of their bullpen while the Red Sox are in a similar spot this year.
It got them through the postseason in 2018, but that was with massive help from Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale. Those men will not be in the pen during the regular season and it will cost them wins and the division.
West - Houston Astros
The Astros lost three starters from a year ago, but can you name the Astros' top two starters from 2017? Probably not. Can you name their bottom three? Without a doubt, no. But this year they still have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole at the top and an accumulation of guys at the bottom.
Verlander and Cole will win more than enough to carry the team to the deadline and Collin McHugh, Wade Miley and Brad Peacock will be more than passable to solidify the rotation.
Reinforcements will also come in the form of Josh James, Forrest Whitley, Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas. The pitching will be more than fine, the bullpen is very good and the lineup got better with the addition of Michael Brantley. If Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer are simply slightly more healthy than they were a year ago, this team will definitely win 100 games and maybe even 105.
Wildcards - Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners
The Red Sox are an obvious pick here; the Seattle Mariners not so much.
Here is the thinking: the Oakland Athletics are going to regress this year. They have one starting pitcher and, while everyone thinks they will succeed with bullpenning like they did last year, remember Sean Manaea was a staple in the rotation until August and Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson ate up some innings while combining to win 15 games.
None of those guys are in the rotation this season and that will really hurt Oakland. The only other team that we think could slip in would be the Tampa Bay Rays, but they went through a lot of turnover.
Seattle have solid pitching again and a lineup that works. While it may feel like recency bias as the Mariners just beat the A's twice in Japan, it is not. We really like this team and think they will dominate the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers, using that to get back to the playoffs for the first time in what seems like an eternity.
ALCS pick - Astros vs. Yankees
A rematch of the 2017 ALCS, this series will all come down to who has home-field advantage. If the Yankees get it, they win. If the Astros get it, they do. We will take the Yankees to win the series for this reason and almost this reason alone: James Paxton is the Astros' kryptonite.
Paxton is 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA in his career versus Houston and he will likely get two starts in an ALCS matchup between the two teams. Houston also cannot hit Luis Severino and, if the youngster comes back healthy after a spring training arm injury, that could be four wins between just those two pitchers.
Four games wins an ALCS, so that is the pick.
MVP - Mike Trout, Angels
It feels like there was a lot of hand-wringing last season when Mike Trout did not win the award despite the Angels not making the playoffs. Assuming good health, Trout will have the best numbers of anyone in the AL - both with the eye test and by WAR - and he will earn his third career MVP.
Cy Young Winner - Trevor Bauer, Indians
If Bauer had been healthy throughout 2018, he would have won the AL Cy Young. He bested team-mate Corey Kluber in just about every single category and Kluber was a Cy Young finalist.
There is no pitcher in MLB with better stuff than Bauer at the moment. His collection of fastball, curveball, slider and change is as good as gold and, when you see him pitch up close, you have no idea how anyone can touch him.
If he stays healthy, he will win the award this year.
Rookie of the Year - Yusei Kikuchi, Mariners
This feels a little dodgy because Kikuchi is 27 years old, but it will be his first season in MLB and he will be in the rotation for Seattle from day one.
He will post good numbers in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and earn a lot of wins in a division with bad teams like Texas and Los Angeles and terrible hitter's parks in Oakland and LA. But do not discount Houston for how bad their park can be to hit in as well. No one likes that batter's eye in center field and it hurts runs scored.
Kikuchi has very good stuff and is a mature pitcher, which should be enough to win him the award.
Manager of the Year - Scott Servais, Mariners
If the Mariners get back to the postseason for the first time since 2001, Servais will win the award. This one is pretty self-explanatory.