Baseball is back! The 2018 MLB season will make for an entertaining summer with intriguing storylines across the board, from the loaded Bronx Bombers on the East Coast to the Shohei Ohtani show on the West Coast. These are the storylines that will captivate baseball fans this summer and make it impossible to turn the dial.
- Return of the Evil Empire
The Yankees have gone into hiding the past few years, shedding their penchant for free agent spending while rebuilding an aging roster. New York took a huge step last year, losing in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, and is a favorite to reach the World Series this October. Young homegrown talents such as OF Aaron Judge and SP Luis Severino are developing into elite players, but the addition of reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton from Miami this offseason sent the hype train into another gear. Whether you’re a Yanks fan or not (and I am certainly not), this team will be fun to watch.
- All or Nothing for All Star Host Washington
While the Yankees are emerging as title contenders, the Washington Nationals have been World Series contenders for a while and with superstar OF Bryce Harper reaching free agency at the end of the season, this could be their last great shot at a title. The Nats, who are hosting the All Star Game this July, will be the center of attention in the competitive National League with the best one-two pitching punch in baseball with reigning Cy Young Max Scherzer and ace Stephen Strasburg. The bullpen has been patched up too and the bats should be potent. Washington has never won a World Series, and this may be their last shot at winning for a while.
- Debut of Shohei Ohtani, Two-Way Superstar
The hype train is rolling for Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani, the first player since Babe Ruth to be featured as both a starting pitcher and hitter. Ohtani signed with the Angels this offseason and will be one of the team’s starting pitchers and play designated hitter on off-days. He put up monster numbers across the Pacific, but the big question is whether the pitching-hitting experiment will take off in the majors. The Angels’ playoff hopes will depend on it.
- Back-to-Back for the Astros?
The Astros were baseball’s best story in 2017, winning 101 regular season games before capturing the franchise’s first World Series championship. Houston should field another competitive team this season, with a rotation featuring Cy Young winners Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel plus offseason acquisition Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh. The lineup is also the AL’s best with reigning MVP Jose Altuve and World Series MVP George Springer. No team has won back-to-back World Series since 2000, but the Astros could buck the trend if they can escape the Yankees and Indians.
- First-Time Managers Lead Contending Squads
Coaching is usually a revolving door in professional sports, but it is rare to see so many first-time managers leading serious World Series contenders. The Yankees hired former player Aaron Boone to be their main man, while the Nationals hired Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez and the Red Sox hired Astros bench coach Alex Cora as their new managers. All three managers come in with the bar set high and the pressure mounting.
- Trade Deadline Intrigue
One of the best times of the baseball season is the trade deadline, when teams choose to be either buyers or sellers (or, occasionally, both) and send big-name players across the country. This year, All Stars such as Orioles SS Manny Machado and Rays SP Chris Archer could be available for playoff contenders looking for one last piece before October.
- Marlins, Tigers, White Sox in Tankfest
I’ll admit it, it won’t be fun to watch the Marlins, Tigers, White Sox, and other rebuilding teams as they slump through the summer. But which team will be the worst? Could any team lose 100 games? As the cycle of rebuilding gains popularity after the Cubs’ and Astros’ World Series wins, tanking, purposely fielding an inferior roster in order to lose games, is taking its place inside of baseball and the race to the bottom could be as interesting as the race for the top.
- Dark Horse Teams Aim to Expedite Rebuild Process
On the flip side, there are the teams that many categorize as too young to contend but might slip into a Wild Card spot. Last year, the Milwaukee Brewers almost pulled away with an NL Wild Card after their rebuild and should be even better with the additions of outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. The Phillies, Braves, and Athletics are also teams that could scare the major contenders and take a big step forward.
- Need for Speed? Pace of Play Issues Addressed
One of baseball’s chief problems is the length of games, which has turned off the new, tech-savvy generation of baseball fans. To speed up the games, the league’s front office implemented several new pace-of-play rules, which include limited mound visits, shorter breaks between innings, and a shortened schedule for pitching changes. The initiatives should only help baseball, but will they be enough or will more drastic measures need to be taken?
- Tim Tebow, Mr. Met?
This one has the least implications on baseball yet will be one I’m keeping my eye on. Football star-turned-baseball player Tim Tebow is returning to the Mets’ minor league system with Double A affiliate Binghamton Rumble Ponies (yes, Rumble Ponies), and while many doubt his baseball skill, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told Sports Illustrated that he believes that Tebow will play in the Majors. Even though the Mets probably won’t be all that interesting to watch, promoting Tebow to the Mets’ roster would make for must-watch television.
AL East Winner: New York Yankees
AL Central Winner: Cleveland Indians
AL West Winner: Houston Astros
AL Wild Cards: Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners
AL Championship: New York Yankees over Cleveland Indians
NL East Winner: Washington Nationals
NL Central Winner: Chicago Cubs
NL West Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers
NL Championship: Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals
World Series: Los Angeles Dodgers over New York Yankees