Zion Williamson Isn’t Fair

Last night, Duke played Virginia Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. For the second time in five days, Duke looked beatable and won by virtue of the basketball skirting the rim at the buzzer.

While Tre Jones had himself a night–22 points and 5-of-7 from 3–Zion Williamson was still the story of the game.

Despite being the leading scorer of the game with 23, Zion’s most memorable play came on defense and resulted in a four-point swing. With under six minutes remaining, Duke had a 3-point lead. The Hokies got the ball after an abysmal possession by the Blue Devils. Hokie guard Justin Robinson stormed to the basket, thought he had Zion beat, but Zion recovered quickly, jumped up and still made the block. This allowed Jones to grab the ball and make a pull-up 2, bringing the score to 66-61.

Earlier in the game, Zion also did this:

And this:

You can watch all Zion related highlights here:

While it brings no pleasure to most of the country to watch Duke win games in March, it’s hard not to enjoy watching Zion play. Pitt head coach Jeff Capel, who helped recruit Zion while still an assistant at Duke, said earlier this year off Williamson’s play, “I don’t know if I’ve seen anything like it in my time of coaching.” It’s hard to recall anyone dominating the college game in quite the way Zion has done this season.

AL West Preview

After producing two playoff teams last season, the AL West is back with a World Series favorite and a few teams looking to surprise. Oakland came out of nowhere last season to capture a Wild Card spot as the Astros once again won the division crown and returned to the ALCS. Houston enters 2019 as the heavy favorites once again, but there are four other teams hoping to spoil the party.

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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Los Angeles Angels

2018 Record: 80-82; 4th AL West

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Cody Allen, P; Justin Bour, 1B; Trevor Cahill, P; Matt Harvey; P; Jonathan Lucroy, C

So long to: Garrett Richards, P; Blake Parker, P; Matt Shoemaker, P

2019 Forecast: There will be some new faces in the Angels clubhouse this season after an offseason rehaul of their pitching staff. Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey will look to stem the loss of Garrett Richards but it is unclear exactly what each have left in the tank. They did not land a highly coveted name like Machado or Harper in free agency but they did get superstar outfielder Mike Trout under contract for the long term, avoiding him hitting the market in two years. The Trout signing is by far the biggest news to come out of Angels spring training, but now the pressure is on management to build a team around the consensus best player in baseball. During Trout’s career to this point, the Angels have only managed one postseason trip, simply not good enough when you employ a generational talent like Trout. They are still buried under the Pujols contract but getting Trout under contract long term hopefully signals the franchise is serious about winning. That winning may have to wait one more season as the Astros remain the division front runners and the Athletics don’t plan on making 2018 a one year wonder. Things will have to fall right for the Angels to be in contention come fall.

Look out for: It would be a cop out to put Mike Trout here because he really is must-watch if you have an opportunity. Trout aside, the Angels lineup does not really jump off the page, but there is one player to keep an eye on. Last season, Shohei Ohtani made the lead from Japan to MLB and stole the show. He won’t pitch this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but he will be taking on the role of DH and he has shown plenty well just how good he is with the bat in his hands.

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Erik Williams/USA Today

Houston Astros

2018 Record: 103-59; 1st AL West

Postseason: Lost in ALCS

Hello to: Michael Brantley, OF; Robinson Chirinos, C; Wade Miley, P

So long to: Dallas Keuchel, P; Charlie Morton, P; Brian McCann, C; Marwin Gonzalez, OF; Martin Maldonado, C

2019 Forecast: A year after winning the World Series, the Houston Astros again won the AL West and returned to the ALCS where they were eventually vanquished by the Red Sox. Over the winter, the Astros parted ways with Dallas Keuchel, Charlies Morton, Brian McCann, and Marwin Gonzalez, all integral parts of that 2017 title winning side. Those losses were alleviated through free agency, bringing in Michael Brantley, Robinson Chirinos, and Wade Miley. All three guys will be regulars in the 2019 Astros everyday lineup. With those holes filled, the Astros return almost all of their 2018 roster, most of whom contributed in 2017 as well. Their infield will still be one of the best in baseball with Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in the middle and Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel on the corners. Brantley figures to slot in nicely in left field and in the middle of an already potent lineup. George Springer and Josh Reddick round out the rest of the outfield. It remains to be seen how their rotation bounces back from losing Keuchel and Morton, both former All-Stars, but they still have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole going 1-2. They’ll likely be fine. Entering the new season, the Astros face more turnover than they did last offseason, but until someone knocks them off, they remain top of the class in the AL West.

Look out for: Alex Bregman has asserted himself as one of the best third basemen in baseball after a stellar 2018 campaign. For his efforts, the Astros rewarded Bregman with a nice long term contract during spring training. He typically hit in the two-hole last season but based on what we saw in the spring, Bregman will slide down to the #3 spot behind Springer and Altuve. Last season saw him finish 5th in the AL MVP voting, a position which could easily improve in 2019.

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via NBCSports.com

Oakland Athletics

2018 Record: 97-65; 2nd AL West

Postseason: Lost in AL Wild Card Game

Hello to: Marco Estrada, P; Robbie Grossman, OF; Joakim Soria, P

So long to: Trevor Cahill, P; Jeurys Familia, P; Shawn Kelley, P; Jed Lowrie, 2B; Jonathan Lucroy, C

2019 Forecast: Moneyball seems to be alive and well in Oakland these days as the Athletics stunned the baseball world in 2018 by making a shock appearance in the playoffs. Their stay in October was short lived after falling to the Yankees in the Wild Card Game but they return in 2019 hoping to build on their success. On paper, the lineup returns almost at full strength, only needing to replace Jed Lowrie and Jonathan Lucroy. The biggest question for the Athletics will come on the mound where they will need to replace some faces from last year. Marco Estrada signed in the offseason and helps stem some of the free agent bleeding, but more work will need to be done to replicate the success of 2018. By the time this goes live, the Athletics will already have two games in the books since they opened their season in Japan with the Seattle Mariners. That trip came with more than just the two losses on the scoreboard as first baseman Matt Olson will miss at least a month with injury. The good news for the Athletics entering 2019 is most of the teams around them in the AL West either didn’t do much to improve or even got worse in some cases. While the Astros may still be the top dog, there is no reason the Athletics can’t replicate their 2018 success and make another run at a postseason berth.

Look out for: If you like the long ball (who doesn’t) then you will not want to miss Khris Davis in action for the A’s. Coming off three straight 40+ home run seasons, Davis kicked off his 2019 campaign with a bomb to centerfield during his first game in Tokyo against the Mariners. Since the A’s don’t get a lot of national television exposure it can be difficult to watch Davis work his craft, but he’s worth the effort to at least try if you can find the time.

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Joe Nicholson/USA Today

Seattle Mariners

2018 Record: 89-73; 3rd AL West

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Tim Beckham, SS; Cory Gearrin, P; Yusei Kikuchi, P; Hunter Strickland, P; Domingo Santana, OF

So long to: Robinson Cano, 2B; Nelson Cruz, OF/DH; Ichiro Suzuki, OF; Zach Duke, P

2019 Forecast: For the longest time last season, it appeared the Mariners were going to finally end their 16 year playoff drought. They were not only in playoff position, but pushing the Astros for the top spot in the division. That hope quickly faded last summer when the Mariners began to stumble and the Athletics became unstoppable. In the end, the playoff drought was pushed to 17 seasons and it looks like a few more may be added on to that after their offseason. Robinson Cano was sent east to the New York Mets and Nelson Cruz left in free agency. All signs now point to the Mariners entering yet another rebuild. There are some young, exciting faces on the roster but unless they all turn in career years, it looks like 2019 will be another lost season. This season could also spell a final end to the Felix Hernandez era in Seattle. Signs sprung up last season when Hernandez was sent to the bullpen at one point, and already this season he lost out on the opening day nod. Playing in a division against at least two sides who are clearly better while the Mariners got worse in the offseason means it will be another fall without baseball in the Pacific Northwest.

Look out for: One of the exciting faces we mentioned above is outfielder Mitch Haniger. An All-Star in 2018, Haniger is living up to the hype he created as a budding prospect in the Mariners system. Since making his debut in 2016, Haniger has shown marked improvement each season since. Any hope the Mariners have of competing in the tough AL West will rest on the shoulder of the young outfielder, and his continued growth as a player.

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via si.com

Texas Rangers

2018 Record: 67-95; 5th AL West

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Asdrubal Cabrera, INF; Jesse Chavez, P; Shawn Kelley, P; Lance Lynn, P; Jeff Mathis, C; Shelby Miller, P; Hunter Pence, OF

So long to: Robinson Chirinos, C; Matt Moore, P; Martin Perez, P; Adrian Beltre, 3B

2019 Forecast: Coming off two subpar seasons, the Rangers axed manager Jeff Banister and brought in Chris Woodward to replace him. Nothing the Rangers did in the offseason jumps out at you as particularly significant but they did bring in some recognizable names. Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller will provide depth on the mound, Asdrubal Cabrera is as solid as they come on the field, and Hunter Pence adds some experience. While notable, there is major concern how reliable some of these players still are at the major league level. Perhaps some good news for the Rangers is very little roster turnover in the way of players exiting the organization. Adrian Beltre decided to retire in the offseason but other than that things remained generally the same. Like the Mariners and Angels before them, competing this season in the AL West is going to be an uphill battle with the Astros and A’s reloading, but there may be a plan starting to form in Texas to get the Rangers back in the mix for a playoff spot sooner rather than later.

Look out for: Going along with Khris Davis, if you enjoy home runs then check out Joey Gallo at your earliest convenience. In two full MLB seasons, Gallo has clubbed a combined 81 dingers while managing to hit just .208 over that same span. Gallo is the textbook definition of an all-or-nothing player. He either hits the ball to the moon for just gets out. The good news for Rangers fans is Gallo has dedicated his offseason to retooling his swing in attempt to become an all around better hitter. If he can bump that average up a few percentage points without sacrificing power, he could become one of the better hitters across the league.

NL West Preview

The NL West was provided a bit of a shake up this offseason with Manny Machado heading to the San Diego Padres in free agency. This was a clear signal the Padres are serious about winning and will be a team on the rise starting now, but will it be enough to make the playoffs, or will the Dodgers and Rockies once again reign supreme out west?

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via arizonasports.com

Arizona Diamondbacks

2018 Record: 82-80; 3rd NL West

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Caleb Joseph, C; Adam Jones, CF; Greg Holland, P; Wilmer Flores, 2B

So long to: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B; Patrick Corbin, P; AJ Pollock, CF; Chris Owings, 2B; Shelby Miller, P; John Jay, CF; Jake Diekman, P; Daniel Descalso, 3B; Clay Buchholz, P

2019 Forecast: When the roster subtractions greatly outnumber the roster additions you can formulate a pretty good idea where the Diamondbacks are headed this season. Coming off a season where they qualified for the playoffs and even won their Wild Card game, 2018 was quite the letdown for the Diamondbacks. Instead of reloading and taking another run at a playoff spot this season, the front office decided to take a step back and start a rebuilding process. They shipped All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt off to St. Louis for a pretty solid return, but had to watch free agents Patrick Corbin and AJ Pollock leave the desert for nothing in return. To make things even worse for the Diamondbacks, they play in an already difficult NL West that only got better this offseason with the emergence of San Diego and the staying powers of Los Angeles and Colorado. A lot of things will have to fall their way if they hope to compete with the big dogs of the division, but right now it seems their focus is solely on rebuilding.

Look out for: It will not be easy to fill the hole left by Goldschmidt at first base but Jake Lamb will do his best after making the move over from third base this offseason. Lamb missed a significant portion of 2018 with injury but he was an All-Star in 2018 and the Diamondbacks will hope he can stay healthy and recapture that form in 2019.

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via cbssports.com

Los Angeles Dodgers

2018 Record: 92-71; 1st NL West

Postseason: Lost World Series

Hello to: Joe Kelley, P; AJ Pollock, CF

So long to: Manny Machado, SS; Brian Dozier, 2B; Yasmani Grandal, C

2019 Forecast: Coming off their second consecutive National League pennant, the Dodgers are ready to take another run at a World Series appearance in 2019. A slow start to the 2018 campaign saw them on the outside of the playoff picture for a majority of the season but they turned it on down the stretch to win the NL West in Game 163 over the Colorado Rockies. They brought it free agent outfielder AJ Pollock in the offseason which is an immediate upgrade to their roster and Joe Kelley helps reinforce their already strong pitching staff. They missed out on resignined shortstop Manny Machado who came over at the trade deadline and they were the last team out of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes. Those are two very big fish to miss out on but the Dodgers and well equipped to still win a lot of baseball games this season. One of the biggest additions or their roster will be the return of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager who missed most of last reason recovering from Tommy John surgery. If Seager can return to his 2017 form, missing out on Machado and Harper will be even less significant. There are some concerns about the health of Clayton Kershaw that will be worth keeping an eye on. Entering the new campaign, the NL West is getting stronger and the Dodgers window may be closing ever so slightly, but they are still the favorites.

Look out for: Max Muncy was the breakout star for the Dodgers in 2018 and one of the best stories in baseball. He was an All-Star and left an indelible mark on World Series history with his walk-off home run in the bottom of the 18th inning of Game 3. Muncy will be counted on once again to help boost the Dodgers lineup as their starting first baseman.

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via sportingnews.com

San Francisco Giants

2018 Record: 73-89; 4th NL West

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Drew Pomeranz, P

So long to: Hunter Pence, RF; Hunter Strickland, P

2019 Forecast: It’s hard to find a team that did less in the offseason than the San Francisco Giants. Outside of a slew of minor league deals, the only significant name they brought on board was free agent pitcher Drew Pomeranz. I guess you don’t need to sign too many players when most of your roster from last season remains in place. Longtime right fielder Hunter Pence left town but he’s 35 and at the tail end of his career. Bullpen arm Hunter Strickland also said his goodbyes and headed to Seattle. Generally, low roster turnover is a good sign but when you struggle like the Giants have the last few seasons maybe it’s better to bring in more fresh faces to help your team. Manager Bruce Bochy has already announced that 2019 will be his final season leading the Giants so maybe that will give his players a little extra motivation. Playing in the already difficult NL West that just seems to be getting better will do no favors for the Giants who look to be tracking towards another season without playoff baseball.

Look out for: Brandon Belt has emerged as one of the best first basemen in baseball over the past few seasons. He’s the cornerstone of a pretty solid Giants’ infield and will be relied upon to provide offense in the middle of an otherwise lackluster lineup.

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via latimes.com

San Diego Padres

2018 Record: 66-96; 5th NL West

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Manny Machado, SS; Ian Kinsler, 2B; Garrett Richards*, P; Adam Warren, P

*will miss 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery

So long to: Freddy Galvis, SS

2019 Forecast: The days of being the NL West doormat may soon be coming to an end for the San Diego Padres. Already boasting one of the best farm systems in baseball, the Padres went out and signed shortstop Manny Machado this offseason. Reeling in one of the biggest free agents on the market was just another sign that the Padres are getting serious about winning and doing so in the very near future. Last season they brought in Eric Hosmer in free agency then double-down this year by bringing in Machado. Phenom prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is expected to start the season in the minor leagues, but he could make his MLB debut as early as May. Tatis Jr. is one of the most exciting prospects in baseball and will pair well with Machado and the rest of that infield. They also agreed to a free agent deal with pitcher Garrett Richards but his debut will have to wait until 2020 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Without Richards available, the starting rotation could be what holds the Padres back from being a contender this season. Regardless, given the current state of the franchise and where they look to be headed, it’s not hard to envision 2019 being a huge step forward in San Diego.

Look out for: You won’t see him on the field right away in 2019, but once the Padres call-up prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. you will want to keep an eye on his development in the majors. Tatis Jr. is regarded as one of the best prospects in baseball and when he arrives in San Diego he will be working alongside Manny Machado on the infield.

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via sports.yahoo.com

Colorado Rockies

2018 Record: 91-72; 2nd NL West

Postseason: Lost in NLDS

Hello to: Daniel Murphy, 2B; Mark Reynolds, 1B

So long to: Carlos Gonzalez, OF; DJ LeMahieu, 2B; Adam Ottavino, P;

2019 Forecast: Consecutive playoff appearances have the Rockies hungry for more as they prepare to challenge the Dodgers for NL West supremacy in 2019. They did not do much in the way of free agency this offseason but they did not really need to given the talent already under contract. Their biggest move of the offseason was extending All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado, preventing him from hitting the free agent market. Along with Arenado, the Rockies boast a lineup that includes fellow All-Stars Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon. Daniel Murphy comes over from the Cubs and will likely be the regular starter at first base while Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson platoon at second base, replacing DJ LeMahieu. From a pitching standpoint, the Rockies’ rotation boasts a strong veteran presence that finds a way to do well even at hitter friendly Coors Field. The biggest pitching question for the Rockies will be how they replace bullpen ace Adam Ottavino. Last season, the Rockies fumbled away the NL West in the dying weeks of the season and ended up losing out to the Dodgers in Game 163. They bounced back to win the Wild Card game over the Cubs before falling in the NLDS to the Brewers. After getting a taste of the postseason the last two years, the Rockies are hungry for more and will be a serious threat to not only the Dodgers in the West, but the National League as a whole.

Look out for: Coors Field is not your best friend if you happen to be a pitcher but someone has to do the job. The Rockies have a host of arms that can shut you down either at home or on the road and the emergence of German Márquez adds another weapon to their rotation. In the second half of 2018, Márquez ranked among the best pitchers in baseball and if that form carries over, the Rockies could have a dark horse Cy Young candidate on their hands.

 

NL Central Preview

This division race should be as tight as 2018’s, with the same cast at or near the top. It still looks like Milwaukee has an edge over Chicago and St. Louis, but four teams finishing with 85ish wins is very possible.

Milwaukee Brewers

2018 record: 96-67, 1st NL Central

Postseason: Lost in NLCS

Hello to: Yasmani Grandal, C; Ben Gamel, OF; Cory Spangenberg, INF; Josh Tomlin, P; Alex Claudio, P; Deolis Guerra, P; Bobby Wahl, P.

So long to: Gio Gonzalez, P; Wade Miley, P; Keon Broxton, OF; Domingo Santana, OF; Jonathan Schoop, 2B; Joakim Soria, P; Dan Jennings, P; Curtis Granderson, OF; Xavier Cedeno, P.

2019 Forecast: Having the reigning National League MVP – Christian Yelich – is awfully neat, but the Brewers are far more than just his 36 home runs, 110 RBIs and 7.6 WAR. A team that was a game away from reaching the World Series brings a fair amount of its core back from that campaign. A lot of the faces that were brought in during the season have found themselves somewhere other than Milwaukee, while the Brewers have quietly filled holes without making moves that shook even the slowest of news cycles during the hot stove. Milwaukee’s rotation might be the worst in the division, but that’s because the NL Central is loaded with great starting pitching. In 2018, Milwaukee made bread with its bullpen – and maybe the division’s most dominant reliever in Josh Hader. Adding Yasmani Grandal gives the Brewers the best catcher in the Central – yes, Cardinals fans, I said “best.” While not flashy, Milwaukee has the build to stay in the postseason party for as long, if not longer, than 2018’s team. 

Look out for: If 2019 is the “Year of the Chonk” … I submit Jesus Aguilar as a Brewer to watch. Aguilar found his power stroke during 2018, sending 35 balls over the wall while driving in 108 runs and slugging .539. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Aguilar makes for an intimidating presence at the dish, while not horrible with the glove. It’s still Yelich’s show, but Aguilar will do more than enough to garner attention for the Brewers. 

St. Louis Cardinals

2018 Record: 88-74, 3rd in Central  

Postseason:  Did not qualify

Hello to: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B; Andrew Miller, P; Matt Wieters, C; Drew Robinson, CF.

So long to: Luke Weaver, P; Bud Norris, P; Matt Adams, 1B; Tyson Ross, P; Carson Kelly, C.

2019 Forecast: It took Mike Matheny’s exit after scuffling to a 47-46 record for the Cardinals to play their best ball down the stretch as the Redbirds finished 41-28 in the 69 games that Mike Shildt held the clubhouse keys. Shildt now gets the luxury of a full season with St. Louis and a few new toys, most notably Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller. Goldschmidt will certainly aid the Cardinals’ lineup with another power bat, while also being one of St. Louis’ flashiest acquisitions in years. There’s also the possibility that the Cardinals boast the Central’s best rotation with Miles Mikolas fronting the charge. It’s been a while since the Cardinals have tasted the postseason, and while that’s fine for most, it appears that the braintrust in St. Louis has decided that 2019 needs to mark a return to the playoffs. It may take some wrangling beyond what the team did to pass the Cubs and Brewers, but a wild-card spot is certainly within reach. 

Look out for: Can a Cardinals preview go without mentioning Yadier Molina? While the attention and pressure will be on Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter to start strong, it’ll be up to Molina, who saw a bit of a power surge in 2018 – his Age 35 season – to keep the lineup consistent. His defense is near the top of the league, but his offensive production will be key of the Redbirds have designs on playing in October. 

Chicago Cubs

2018 record: 95-68, 2nd in Central

Postseason: Lost in NL Wild Card

Hello to: Daniel Descalso, INF; Brad Brach, P; Tony Barnette, P; George Kontos, P; Junichi Tazawa, P.

So long to: Daniel Murphy, 2B; Tommy La Stella, INF; Justin Wilson, P; Jesse Chavez, P; Jorge De La Rosa, P; Jaime Garcia, P.

2019 Forecast: The Cubs were a very streaky team in 2018, boasting four winning streaks of five or more games while also suffering two losing streaks of five games. A run between April 26 and May 12 saw Chicago win five, lose five and then win five. Aside from those runs, Chicago won more than it lost but never looked dominant in doing so. The Cubs’ injury list is pretty beefy as the season opens, but most seem to be of the nagging type and not the long-term kind. The lineup will be quite strong as names like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Scwarber, Anthony Rizzo and so on are hitting peak years – age wise – in 2019. The rotation is only topped by St. Louis with a bullpen that only Milwaukee is besting in the division. Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek offer a brutal 1-2 hammer on the back end of that pen. Simply put, the Cubs will be very in the hunt.  

Look out for: While he’s never going to be a high-average guy, Schwarber’s bat will be a big part of what the Cubs do in 2019. If the run production can trend upward, “War Bear” can nestle himself in a lineup that will be one of the scariest in the National League. Some of that can happen if Schwarber can collect more hits than strikeouts. So far, that’s been a negative as he’s whiffed more than he’s made contact during his career (369 strikeouts compared to 248 hits). It’s not quite Joey Gallo bad, but when he’s clustered strikeouts, he becomes more of a black hole in the lineup than anything. 

Pittsburgh Pirates

2018 Record: 82-79, 4th in Central

Postseason: Did not qualify 

Hello to: Lonnie Chisenhall, OF; Erik Gonzalez, SS; Jordan Lyles, P; Melky Cabrera, OF; Francisco Liriano, P.

So long to: Jordy Mercer, SS; Josh Harrison, 2B; Ivan Nova, P. 

2019 Forecast: Did you love the 2018 Pirates, but wished that only the middle infield was different? Then the 2019 Pirates are the team for you! Gregory Polanco will be nursing a shoulder injury, keeping him sidelined until about the end of April and Jung Ho Kang seems to have a lock on the third-base platoon with Colin Moran. There are new faces in the Pirates lineup, but the arms are what will carry the team to anything in 2019. The promise is certainly there with the Pirates’ rotation with Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams as good as any four-man group in the NL. Pittsburgh’s bullpen is another in a line of stacked relievers in the division, boasting a solid back end of Kyle Crick, Keone Kela and Felipe Vazquez. Corey Dickerson and Starling Marte are solid pieces of a lineup that needs a bit more power to strike fear in opposing staffs. If any team puzzles fans on their potential and payoff more than the Pirates, it’ll be a stunner. 

Look out for: Archer was welcomed to Pittsburgh as a conquering hero, but had his struggles over the 10 starts he made for the Corsairs after being acquired from Tampa Bay. It’s not out of the question to expect Archer to slice a bit off his ERA and WHIP when pitching full seasons in a park that favors his kind more than it does batters. While this is Taillon’s rotation, Archer is another name that will need to come up big if the Pirates are to stay above water in 2019.  

Cincinnati Reds

2018 Record: 67-95, 5th in Central  

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Yasiel Puig, OF; Matt Kemp, OF; Alex Wood, P; Sonny Gray, P; Tanner Roark, P; Kyle Farmer, C; Zach Duke, P; Jose Iglesias, SS; Derek Dietrich, INF. 

So long to: Jim Riggleman, MGR; Homer Bailey, P; Billy Hamilton, CF; Matt Harvey, P; Austin Brice, P; Brandon Dixon, 2B.

2019 Forecast: The Reds are certainly going for something, making some of the loudest trades in baseball during the offseason. Yasiel Puig’s presence will certainly help the Reds lead the majors in GIFs and bat flips, while Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Sonny Gray will be crucial to any hopes that Cincinnati has of climbing out of the basement. Not having Scooter Gennett for almost three months to start the season will be a blow to the Reds, given that Gennett and Eugenio Suarez were key cogs in a lineup bereft of consistency. Elder statesman Joey Votto returns after seeing a severe dip in his numbers a season ago. 

Look out for: Puig. Seriously, that’s where the eyes will be as the Reds have a recognizable name in their fold. Puig played in 125 games during the 2018 season, staying consistent with his career production numbers, while seeing a spike in defensive miscues – leaping to eight in 2018 from just one the year before. With Gennett out for the biggest part of the first half, the pressure is on Puig to generate not only numbers, but excitement for a Reds team itching to no longer be the laughingstock of the Central. 

AL Central Preview

It’s the Cleveland Indians’ division and we’re all just living in it. For the foreseeable future, the Indians will dominate this division by their mere existence, but hope might be on the way for others.

Cleveland Indians

2018 Record: 91-71, 1st Central

Postseason: Lost in ALDS

Hello to: Carlos Santana, 1B/DH; Carlos Gonzalez, OF; Hanley Ramirez, DH; Jake Bauers, OF/1B; Kevin Plawecki, C; Jordan Luplow, OF; Chih-Wei Hu, P; Nick Wittgren, P; Oliver Perez, P; Ryan Flaherty, INF; Dioner Navarro, C.

So long to: Michael Brantley, OF; Edwin Encarnacion, DH; Andrew Miller, P; Cody Allen, P; Yan Gomes, C; Yonder Alonso, 1B; Yandy Diaz, 3B; Erik Gonzalez, 2B.

2019 Forecast: Thanks to a perpetually weak division, the Indians have baseball’s Schrodinger’s Window – a championship window that is always closing, but remains open at all times. While Cleveland is a hard fourth in any power ranking of American League teams, this is a club with a lot of talent on the mound an in the field with enough offense to put away most opponents. Not having Francisco Lindor for at least the first two weeks of the season will hurt, but shouldn’t affect the Indians’ quest for another division crown in any way. A rotation fronted by Corey Kluber and the incredibly online Trevor Bauer can match any 1-2 punch in baseball, and likely top all but a few. The bullpen is solid, but may need work if the Indians seek pennants and trophies. 

Look out for: After a one-year vacation in Philadelphia, noted “Fortnite” enthusiast Carlos Santana makes his return to Cleveland, having hit 24 home runs and driving in 86 runs with the Phillies a season ago. With 2019 being his Age 33 season, there could be a chance that Santana won’t be as vital to the Tribe as he had been during his first stint spanning from 2010-17, but his bat in spring training was hard to stop with four dingers and a .397 average. If he comes anywhere close to being a .300 hitter with similar to-scale numbers, Santana might snag a few sentimental MVP votes. 

Kansas City Royals

2018 Record: 58-104, 5th in Central

Postseason: Did not qualify 

Hello to: Billy Hamilton, OF; Brad Boxberger, P; Chris Owings, INF/OF; Chris Ellis, P; Martin Maldonado, C. 

So long to: Brandon Maurer, P; Nate Karns, P; Jason Hammel, P.

2019 Forecast: So, Salvador Perez is expected to miss the entire season, giving the Royals less hope than previously imagined. At least there’s still some shine from that 2015 World Series win, right? The team’s inexperience in 2018 won’t be as much of a hinderance in 2019, but there’s a long road to hoe in Kansas City. Whit Merrifield might be the best player in the division that you hadn’t heard of until reading his name in this post. Chris Owings is a solid acquisition as Kansas City tries its hardest to avoid a repeat of 2018’s disaster. 

Look out for: Shhhhh … Shhhh. Billy Hamilton can’t hurt you any more, Pirates fans. Hamilton should fit in very well with a team that loves to run once it gets on base. He swiped 34 bags a season ago, while seeing dips in a few offensive stats. While the adage states that you can’t steal first, Hamilton will be the first to actually succeed if he ever finds a loophole. 

Detroit Tigers

2018 Record: 64-98, 3rd in Central

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Josh Harrison, 2B; Matt Moore, P; Tyson Ross, P; Jordy Mercer, SS; Brandon Dixon, 2B.

So long to: Victor Martinez, DH; Jose Iglesias, SS; Francisco Liriano, P; James McCann, C; Alex Wilson, P; Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C; Artie Lewicki, P.

2019 Forecast: The lineup is mediocre. The pitching may cause PTSD in fans. The offseason was less than inspiring. What do we call this act? The Detroit Tigers! There’s good in the Tigers clubhouse, but getting good on the field might be a ways away. Thankfully, they’ll have the Royals to set the floor in the AL Central for another year, but pulling a playoff rabbit out of their hats might be a tough to-do without a lot of self-destruction from about 10 teams in the American League. At least the hats look as baller as ever. 

Look out for: Josh Harrison, who might be underrated if you believe other previews, comes to Detroit after a stint in Pittsburgh as the blue-collar everyday guy. Harrison was nicked by nagging injuries in 2018, having maybe his worst full season in the majors. Harrison, if healthy, will be better for the Tigers than he was for Pittsburgh in 2018. Plus, his double-play buddy Jordy Mercer made the trip to Detroit. No word on if that package deal unlocks some sort of Backyard Baseball bonus, like keeping the Webber twins together. 

Minnesota Twins

2018 Record: 78-84, 2nd in Central 

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Marwin Gonzalez, INF; Nelson Cruz, DH/OF; Jonathan Schoop, 2B; Blake Parker, P; C.J. Cron, 1B; Martin Perez, P.

So long to: Joe Mauer, 1B; Robbie Grossman, OF/DH; Logan Morrison, 1B/DH; Logan Forsythe, 2B; Ervin Santana, P; Matt Belisle, P; Alan Busenitz, P.

2019 Forecast: There may not be need for name tags in the Twins clubhouse, but a lot of new faces will play under the watchful gaze of Minny and Paul at Target Field. While it’ll be weird to not see Joe Mauer suiting up, Minnesota quietly did work to avoid a repeat of 2018’s disappointment. This team will be a load to handle offensively and could be a year away from making noise on the mound as well, the Jose Berrios should take a step forward this season as the Twins’ de facto ace. This won’t be a team that challenges the Indians in 2019, but it should frustrate them quite a bit. 

Look out for: There are a lot of great pieces for the Twins, but we’re here for Willians Astudillo and his prodigious baserunning. Just google it. It’s awesome. While Astudillo will be the guy behind Jason Castro on the catching depth chart, every time that he tries to leg out any kind of extra base, you’ll see the video soon enough. 

Chicago White Sox

2018 Record: 62-100, 4th in Central

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Ivan Nova, P; Yonder Alonso, 1B/DH; Kelvin Herrera, P; Alex Colome, P; Jon Jay, OF; James McCann, C; Brandon Guyer, OF; Ervin Santana, P.

So long to: Avisail Garcia, OF; Matt Davidson, DH/INF; James Shields, P.

2019 Forecast: What exactly are the White Sox? They’ll have a lineup that boasts some 20-home run guys from a season ago, which makes you think that the Southsiders are a keg-league softball team. If the cleat fits … Unfortunately, their 656 runs scored were almost lapped twice by the 848 that they allowed. Pitching is a glaring need for Chicago, and Ivan Nova – he of a 9-9 record and a 4.19 ERA with the Pirates in 2018 – is not the answer. They’ll be fun, but not successful. 

Look out for: Eloy Jimenez. Dude is going to bop. Maybe not on a 30-homer, 100-RBI pace, but he and Jose Abreu will do some damage in the middle of that Chicago lineup. The kid is electric and should inspire some buzz in Chicago if he produces. If anything, check the kid out when the White Sox are on.  

NL East Preview

The National League East only had one representative in the playoffs last season, but plenty has changed since then. It’s not unrealistic to think this division could send three teams to the postseason in 2019.

Atlanta Braves

2018 National League Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña, Jr. of the Braves

2018 Record: 90-72; 1st NL East

Postseason: Lost in the NLDS to the Dodgers, 3-1

Say hello to: Josh Donaldson, 3B; Brian McCann, C

So long to: Anibal Sanchez, P; Kurt Suzuki, C

2019 Forecast:Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña, Jr. will see if he can continue the magic of his 2018 season, which he finished with a .917 OPS and 26 homeruns in just 111 games. Acuña has hit cleanup for much of spring training and is expected to hit there permanently this sason. With Acuña now at cleanup, centerfielder Ender Inciarte has moved into the leadoff role. Veteran third baseman Josh Donaldson looks to hit in the 2-spot. Donaldson was plagued by injuries last season, but seemed back to his old stuff when he was finally healthy in September and playing for the Indians. Hitting third will be Freddie Freeman, who remains one of the best first basemen in the league. Nick Markakis re-signed with the Braves in free agency following a solid 2018 season. Those guys make for a formidable 1-5 in the Braves lineup. If Acuña can come close to replicating his rookie season, the Braves will be in contention again.

Look out for: It’ll be interesting to see how Acuna handles the cleanup role and how that changes the complexion of the lineup. Inciarte is a good choice to lead off—he had a career-high 28 stolen bases last season.

Miami Marlins

Brian Anderson of the Miami Marlins (photo by Keith Allison/license)

2018 record: 63-98; 5th NL East

Postseason: Did not qualify

Say hello to: Jorge Alfaro, C; Neil Walker, 2B/1B; Curtis Granderson, OF; Sergio Romo, RP;

So long to: J.T. Realmuto, C; Justin Bour, 1B; Derek Dietrich, LF

2019 Forecast: *Insert scream emoji* It seems the tear down and rebuild plan of Derek Jeter’s is finally complete. Following the Marlins fire sale in the 2017 offseason, which saw them move 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Dee Gordon, they used the 2018 offseason to trade one of the best catchers in the league to a division opponent. Any fans that stick around after that deserve a gift basket of autographed Jeter swag. As for those who still remain on the team, Brian Anderson had a surprisingly strong rookie campaign for the Marlins in 2018 and proved he was strong defensively at both third base and in right field. Centerfielder Lewis Brinson has raw talent, but has been unable to put it all together at the major league level. Both Anderson and Brinson have played well in spring training and time will tell if that carries over into the regular season. The Marlins got catcher Jorge Alfaro in the Realmuto trade. Alfaro is a great defensive catcher and still young, but he strikes out an awful lot. The Marlins acquired veterans Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson in the offseason. No word yet on whether or not Walker believes he got justice. The Marlins still have a long way to go to be competitive, especially in a division with three pretty good teams at the top. At least they have new uniforms.

Look out for: Brinson has the talent to be really good. He’ll be given plenty of time to figure it out with the Marlins. If he has a breakout year, that could signal the Marlins are at least beginning the long road to recovery.

New York Mets

Noah Syndergaard. That look on his face is what happens when he remembers he’s a Met. (Photo by Arturo Pardavila III/license)

2018 record:  77-85; 4th NL East

Postseason:  Did not qualify

Say hello to: Robinson Cano, 2B; Wilson Ramos, C; Edwin Diaz, RP; Jed Lowrie, 3B; Justin Wilson, RP

So long to: Wilmer Flores, 3B; Jay Bruce, RF; Jose Reyes, IF

2019 forecast: Despite the team being a perennial punchline, the Mets’ rotation is among the best in the league when healthy, featuring 2018 NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz. The Mets signed deGrom to a 5-year, $137.5 million extension earlier this week, which is fully deserved—especially considering the Mets couldn’t get deGrom a win for nearly two months last season (and another example of why the win stat for pitchers is hot garbage). The Mets traded for Cano, who spent half of his final season with the Mariners suspended for a PED violation; however, Cano had an fWAR of 2.9 in just 80 games last year. They also added catcher Wilson Ramos. Cano, Ramos and returning right fielder Michael Conforto will be strong 3, 4, and 5 hitters, respectively. The Mets may still struggle to gain ground in a tough NL East, but they could be slightly better than last year. They wouldn’t be the Mets without some dysfunction, though. Yoenis Cespedes is still hurt. Syndergaard is annoyed with management’s decision to make the Mets go to Syracuse for one workout before heading to Washington for Opening Day. Brandon Nimmo can’t cook chicken properly. The Mets threw their insane three-GM model out the window during the offseason and hired just one man to be GM. Because they’re the Mets, they hired high-profile agent Brodie van Wagenen, who has represented deGrom, Cespedes, and minor leaguer Tim Tebow, so one can see the conflict of interest that is present in van Wagenen taking the job. Who wants to bet Tebow sees the majors this year? Perhaps last year was rock bottom for the Mets: their three GMs couldn’t get on the same page; they suffered the worst loss in franchise history; they batted out of order; and Syndergaard contracted hand, foot, and mouth disease, which most people didn’t even know was a real thing. It’s hard to predict what will go down in Queens this year; the Mets are nothing if not unpredictable.

Look out for: deGrom has been a great pitcher for quite some time, but he took it to a whole new level last year. It will be interesting to see if he can continue pitching as impressively into 2019. Conforto had a decent season last year and hit a career-high 28 homers, but his other numbers fell from the previous season. The Mets are certainly banking on the young rightfielder returning to his 2017 form.

Washington Nationals

Nationals’ Third Baseman Anthony Rendon (photo by Keith Allison/license)

2018 record: 82-80; 2nd NL East

Postseason: Did not qualify

Say hello to: Yan Gomes, C; Patrick Corbin, SP; Anibal Sanchez, SP; Brian Dozier, 2B;Trevor Rosenthal, RP

So long to: Bryce Harper, OF; Matt Wieters, C; Tanner Roark, SP

2019 Forecast: The Nationals may have lost Bryce Harper, but they should be just fine. Between their core of Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and Juan Soto; the additions they made in the offseason; and having one of the best right-handed pitchers in the game, the Nats shouldn’t take much of a step back, if at all. Rendon finished 2018 with the 9th highest fWAR in the majors, which was better than Harper. Soto was second in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Young outfielder Victor Robles spent much of last year on the disabled list after a hyperextended elbow, but performed well when called up in September. The Nationals made some notable acquisitions in the offseason, signing Brian Dozier in free agency and trading for catcher Yan Gomes from Cleveland. Dozier had a down season last year, but it was revealed he had played most of the season with a severe bone bruise on his knee. Gomes should be an upgrade over Wieters, particularly defensively. A rotation that already features three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg got a few additions, when the Nats signed both Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez in free agency. Corbin was a stud for the Diamondbacks last season and has one of the filthiest sliders in the game. Sanchez isn’t what he was at his peak, but he’s still decent enough to fill the four or five spot in the rotation.

Look out for: Victor Robles is likely the favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year in 2019. Robles would probably have even more hype had it not been for his injury and Soto becoming a star. If he performs as many experts expect him to, the Nationals outfield could very well be better without Harper.

Philadelphia Phillies

Bryce Harper and Bryce Harper’s hair left D.C. to head north to Philadelphia (photo by Arturo Pardavila III/license)

2018 Record: 80-82; 3rd NL East

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Bryce Harper, OF; Andrew McCutchen, OF; J.T. Realmuto, C; Jean Segura, SS; Jose Alvarez, RP; David Robertson, RP

So long to: Jorge Alfaro, C; Justin Bour, 1B

2019 Forecast: The Phillies went all-in during the offseason, making perhaps the biggest splash in both quantity and quality of acquisitions, both in trades and free agency. The Phils also made sure to lock down one of their best players by signing pitcher Aaron Nola to a four-year, $45 million extension following his breakout 2018 season. Yes, teams that win the offseason don’t always win in the actual season, but it’s tough to imagine the Phillies not being a much better team this year. They signed Bryce Harper to the largest free agent deal in history, and added J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen to help their lineup, which had some trouble scoring runs late last season. The Phillies also bolstered their bullpen with the acquisitions of David Robertson and Jose Alvarez. Robertson will likely be used in high-leverage situations and could be used as a part-time closer. Robertson gives manager Gabe Kapler some flexibility in late innings, so the Phillies won’t have to rely as heavily on young reliever Seranthony Dominguez. The Phillies were in contention for most of 2018 and their offseason acquisitions have them poised to make some big gains in the win column in 2019. You’ll know if the Phillies are doing well, because their fans will literally not shut up about it.

Look out for: It’s tough to put anything but Bryce Harper in this spot. His new home stadium is a hitter’s ballpark, so his slugging percentage and homerun totals should see a boost.

NL East Prediction:

I could see the Braves, Phillies, or Nationals winning this division and whichever teams don’t could be vying for the two NL Wild Card spots. My prediction for how things shake out in the NL East:

  1. Nationals
  2. Phillies
  3. Braves
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

I like the Nationals because I think they have the best combination of pitching and hitting. I like their rotation better than the Phillies’ and I like their lineup more than the Braves’. I think all three teams will be in contention into late August or September, barring any injuries. The Mets could even shock the world and win the division. If the Marlins win it, we’re truly living in the Upside Down.

AL East Preview

Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays prospect Vlad Guerrero Jr. playing for their Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons (photo by Tricia Hall/license)

2018 record: 73-89; 4th AL East

Postseason: Did not qualify

Say hello to: Freddy Galvis, SS; Clayton Richard, SP; Clay Bucholz, SP; Matt Shoemaker, SP; Bud Norris, RP

So long to: Russell Martin, C; Kendrys Morales, DH/INF; Troy Tulowitzki, SS; Aledmys Diaz, INF; Marco Estrada, SP; Tyler Clippard, RP

2019 forecast:  The Blue Jays still have a long way to go to get back to being as good as the teams that went to the ALCS in back-to-back years in 2015 and 2016. This season will probably be another losing season as they attempt to rebuild. The Blue Jays have the best prospect in baseball, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. in Triple-A right now. The 19-year-old phenom will likely be called up to the big league club in June. He’s currently battling a strained oblique, though the Jays weren’t planning on calling him up to start the season anyway because he’s “not ready” for the big leagues yet (also known as “excuse for service time manipulation”). The Blue Jays are certainly hoping starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez has put the finger issues that sidelined him the past two seasons behind him. They need more stability in their rotation behind Marcus Stroman, particularly following their trade of J.A. Happ last year.  

Look out for:  The most exciting thing about the Blue Jays this year is the guy who will start his season 100 miles south of Rogers Centre. Vlad Jr. has dominated at every level of the minors and will single-handedly make the Jays a more entertaining team.

Baltimore Orioles

Chris Davis and Mike Trout: the worst and best baseball has to offer
(photo by Keith Allison/license)

2018 record: 47-115; 5th AL East

Postseason: Did not qualify

Say hello to:  Richie Martin, SS; Jesus Sucre, C; Nate Karns, RP

So long to:  Adam Jones, CF; Tim Beckham, INF; Caleb Joseph, C

2019 forecast:  Well, it can’t be worse than 2018…can it? The 2019 O’s will likely not fare much better than last year’s team did. They are in full-on rebuild mode and have a low-ranked farm system. They simply won’t be much fun to watch this year. Chris Davis will certainly be looking to prove something after one of the worst seasons ever by a major league player. Davis struck out nearly 37% of the time and had an OPS of .539. Watching Davis attempt to hit above the Mendoza line could be entertaining? It’s tough to imagine this team finishing anywhere but last in an AL East that had three 90-game winners last season.

Look out for:  Closer Mychal Givens just might be the most exciting part of this year’s Orioles. While his numbers went down as a whole last year, he didn’t allow much hard contact and kept opponents scoreless in 18 of his last 21 appearances.

Tampa Bay Rays

Reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell (photo by Keith Allison/license)

2018 record: 90-72; 3rd AL East

Postseason: Did not qualify

Say hello to: Charlie “Electric Stuff” Morton, SP; Avisaíl Garcia, OF; Yandy Díaz, INF; Mike Zunino, C

So long to:  Sergio Romo, RP; Carlos Gomez, CF

2019 forecast: The Rays had a surprisingly good 2018, which few people saw coming. They traded pitcher Chris Archer to the Pirates for pitcher Tyler Glasnow, outfielder Austin Meadows, and pitching prospect Shane Baz. Meadows will start in right field to start the year and Glasnow, who never found his groove in Pittsburgh, looks to be one of the Rays’ starters in 2019. Tampa began using openers last season, which worked to their benefit and is a great example of outside-the-box thinking that small-market, low-payroll teams must employ to stay competitive. And stay competitive they did, winning 90 games in a division that boasted the two best teams in baseball last year. They were buoyed by pitcher Blake Snell’s excellent season, which landed him the AL Cy Young Award. Unfortunately for the Rays, their 90 wins weren’t enough as the A’s won 97 and landed the second Wild Card spot. The Rays won’t have an easy go of it this year either, as the Red Sox and Yankees are still two of the best teams in baseball. The Rays will be interesting to watch, as they continue to experiment with openers, something that could have ramifications across the league.

Look out for: Austin Meadows will begin his first full season in the majors. With consistent playing time, he could develop into a solid player and become a centerpiece for the Rays over the next several years.  

Boston Red Sox

Reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts (photo by Arturo Padavilla III/license)

2018 record: 108-54; 1st AL East

Postseason: Won World Series over Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-1

Say hello to: Colten Brewer, RP

So long to: Craig Kimbrel, RP; Drew Pomeranz, SP; Ian Kinsler, 2B; Joe Kelly, RP

2019 forecast:  The reigning World Series champs somehow aren’t favorites to win the 2019 World Series, but they’re still stacked, losing very few players from last season. The most noticeable change is at the closer position, with Craig Kimbrel leaving in free agency and Matt Barnes slated to take over the position this year. They managed to re-sign a couple of their own free agents, including World Series MVP Steve Pearce and starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. The starting outfield from last season will return, featuring AL MVP Mookie Betts, Andrew Benitendi, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. J.D. Martinez is back at DH, and Xander Bogaerts returns at shortstop. Betts led all major leaguers in fWAR last season, and Martinez and Bogaerts both finished in the top 30; Benitendi missed the top 30 by 0.1. Veteran second baseman Dustin Pedroia will start the year on the injured list, but could return before the end of April. The Red Sox recently announced a six-year extension for their ace, Chris Sale. While they may not top last year’s record, they’ll still be one of the top teams in the league. With the best leftie in the game leading their rotation, and most of the same cast returning from last year’s championship team, the Red Sox will be one of the best teams in baseball yet again.

Look out for:  Mookie Betts is the most fun player to watch in all of baseball. Mike Trout may be better overall (though he wasn’t last year), but Mookie just looks like he’s having a blast out there. It’ll be hard for him to top his excellent MVP season, but watching him try promises to be entertaining.

New York Yankees

Yankee slugger Giancarlo Stanton (photo by Keith Allison/license)

2018 record: 100-62, 2nd AL East

Postseason: Lost ALDS to Boston Red Sox, 3-1

Say hello to: Troy Tulowitzki, SS; James Paxton, SP; Adam Ottavino, RP

So long to: David Robertson, RP; Andrew McCutchen, CF; Neil Walker, 2B; Sonny Gray, SP

2019 Forecast: The Yankees (along with the Astros) have the best odds to win the 2019 World Series. Winners of 100 games in 2018, it’s easy to see the Yankees again being one of the best teams in baseball. They have perhaps the best bullpen in the game, featuring closer Aroldis Chapman. They traded for Zack Britton last season, and signed him to a contract during the offseason. Adam Ottavino also joined the Yanks’ pen. The signing didn’t get much hype, but Ottavino was excellent with the Rockies last year, with a 12.98 K/9 rate. James Paxton came to the Bronx via a trade with the Mariners and he’ll likely fill the 2 or 3 spot in the rotation. The busy offseason also saw the Yankees re-sign some of their own free agents, including pitchers CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ, as well as veteran outfielder Brett Gardner. Injuries could be a problem early on, as the Yankees have several key players who won’t see the field on Opening Day. Their ace, Luis Severino, is working back from rotator cuff inflammation in his right shoulder and likely won’t make a major league start until May. Centerfielder Aaron Hicks is experiencing lower back tightness, but is expected to play in early April. Shortstop Didi Gregorius is still rehabbing after Tommy John surgery in October and won’t see the field until the summer months. However, the Yankees are a deep team, so they should still be in it as they await the return of the above players. The main thing the Yankees should be concerned with is not allowing the Red Sox to build an insurmountable lead in the division, as they did last year.

Look out for: It’s hard to say a 38-homerun season is a down year, but considering Giancarlo Stanton had 59 in his 2017 MVP season with the Marlins, there’s no doubt some Yankees fans were disappointed with Stanton’s freshman year in the Bronx. Stanton’s slugging percentage fell over 120 points from 2017 to 2018 (to be fair, he still slugged .509 last season). We’ll see how he fares in his second season at Yankee Stadium.

AL East Prediction:

The Red Sox and Yankees were two of the best teams last year, and will be two of the best teams this season. The Rays could be a sneaky team, and if injuries derail the Yankees early, the Rays could find themselves in second place and/or competing for a Wild Card spot. My prediction for the AL East:

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Rays
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

The Red Sox are just too good to pick against. Almost all of their key players are returning this season. Repeating as World Series champions is always difficult, but repeating as AL East champs is a reasonable expectation for a team that won 108 games a year ago.

Song of the Day–3.25.19

No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys

There’s a little something inside that won’t let me

It’s been a minute since I’ve written a Song of the Day post, so to make up for it, I’m going to post two songs today.

In honor of one my favorite rock goddesses releasing her first album in five years this past Friday, today is going to feature a double shot of Jenny Lewis.

The first song is “Wasted Youth” off of her new album, On The Line. It immediately stuck out to me when I first listened to it. This video is her performing it live on Jimmy Kimmel Live last week.

I was lucky enough to get to see to her live at Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis when she was touring for The Voyager, and was blown away by her performance. The Voyager was also one of my favorite albums of the last decade, so I had to include a song from it.

“Us” Movie Review

“The feeling that we all feel we are the good guy in our own story prevents us from facing our demons.” –Jordan Peele

The latest horror film from Jordan Peele has finally arrived in theaters, two years after his first feature film “Get Out” became a cultural sensation and introduced us to the “sunken place.”

Theories about “Us” began as soon as the official trailer dropped in late December.

“Us” is a completely different movie from “Get Out” which is something audience goers should keep in mind. It isn’t as good or as groundbreaking as “Get Out,” it’s more of a standard horror film. “Get Out” is a slow burn. While the actions of the white people at the Armitage estate are scary, creepy, and uncomfortable throughout the film, the blood and gore don’t really start until Rose (Allison Williams) says chillingly on the stairs, “You know I can’t give you the keys, right babe?” and Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) realizes he’s going to have to kill every member of this family of psychopaths if he wants to get out alive.

In “Us,” the blood and killing begin earlier in the film.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD (and some of the links contain spoilers too!)

At the beginning of the movie, we see a young girl named Adelaide (Madison Curry) wander away from her dad on the Santa Cruz boardwalk, and enter a funhouse with arrow reading “Find Yourself” pointing to the dark entrance. While she’s in there, the power goes out and she encounters a young girl that looks just like her. It’s not a reflection in the funhouse mirror; it’s her dopplegĂŁnger. Adelaide is traumatized by this occurrence.

When the story shifts to present day, it centers around the Wilson family, including adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). They’re going to vacation in their family beach house near Santa Cruz. Adelaide seems happy and relaxed, until Gabe brings up going to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Not wanting to revisit the site of  a major childhood trauma, Adelaide at first doesn’t want to go, but she eventually relents.

The Wilsons head to the beach, and Jason wanders off, which scares Adelaide. Back at the house that night, Adelaide tells Gabe about her childhood encounter with her dopplegänger in the funhouse and says she’s always felt like the other girl would come after her.

Shortly after this conversation, the power goes out. Then a family shows up outside of the Wilson’s house. They come face-to-face with their dopplegängers, clad in red jumpsuits.

The dopplegĂŁngers, or “Tethers”, are clones who live below the earth’s surface (the beginning of the film reminds us that there are thousands of miles of abandoned tunnels underneath the U.S., from unused subway tunnels and old mine shafts). The shadow people are “tethered” to their above ground counterparts, and must do whatever their counterparts do. As Adelaide’s counterpart, Red, points out, it doesn’t matter that she didn’t love Abraham (Gabe’s tether), she had to marry him anyway because of Adelaide’s choice.

Where “Get Out” took on racism, particularly of the white liberal variety, “Us” takes on classism. And it shows just to what lengths people are willing to go to to keep their life and status in check, even if they’re aware of the suffering of others.

The Wilsons are clearly middle to upper middle class people. After meeting up with their friends, Josh and Kitty Tyler (played by Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss), Gabe complains about Josh getting a new car just to get to him.

There are plot holes in “Us” that may frustrate some viewers, though I’ve found them fascinating. I’m not sure we’re supposed to have all the answers; I think this movie is designed to make you think.

The acting is incredible across the board. Lupita Nyong’o is getting a ton of well-deserved hype for her performance. The ease with which she goes from terrified mother to a hoarse, crazy-eyed woman with an evil laugh is truly impressive. The rest of the cast deserve credit as well. Winston Duke is great as the dorky, lovable dad (complete with Dad-jokes) in the film. The actors who play the Wilson children–Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex–both turn in excellent and creepy performances. Alex’s characters–Jason Wilson and Pluto–are perhaps the most mysterious ones in the movie. Wright Joseph is perfection, seamlessly going from typical American teenager to creepy as hell on a dime. Zora’s dopplegänger, Umbrae, wears a chilling smile that could frighten anyone. Moss and Heidecker are great as the bitchy, bickering, basic white friends of the Wilson’s.

I don’t want to go into too many other details, but I will note some things to keep an eye out for and things I thought were interesting in this dopplegänger tale.

  • “Us” being used as the title works in several ways. There’s the whole “Us vs. Them” idea, and the idea that “Us” equals U.S., which is intentional, according to Peele’s comments. It’s not hard to see how relevant that is today.

“The United States and our xenophobia was the front and center idea to grapple with.” –Jordan Peele

  • The white rabbit at the beginning of the film immediately brought “Alice in Wonderland” and the idea that we were following Jordan Peele down the rabbit hole.
  • As mentioned above, the family’s last name is Wilson. Jordan Peele does nothing unintentionally, so I have no doubt that’s a nod to the Edgar Allan Poe story, “William Wilson” which is the story of a man meeting his dopplegänger. There are other similarities between the movie and the Poe story–parts of this synopsis of “William Wilson” will be familiar to anyone who has seen “Us.”
  • One of the movie posters for “Us” features a pair of hands holding gold scissors–the weapon of choice for the Tethers. Two symmetrical blades, working together, with the sole purpose to divide things.
  • The reference to Hands Across America was interesting as were the visuals of a chain of people clad in red jumpsuits stretching across the land, literally dividing the country in half. Young Adelaide sees a commercial for it in 1986, at the very beginning of the movie.
  • Some of the murders are committed by boat and by golf club–two symbols of an upper class existence.
  • The song that plays during the scene in the car, “I Got 5 on It” by Luniz, is about drugs (despite Gabe’s objection in the film). It’s about splitting the cost of a dimebag. “I Got 5 on It” means putting in $5 towards it. Peele said it was an easy choice, with the movie being set in Northern California and Luniz being from Oakland, he also said the song had a haunting quality. The original definitely does, and now it’s even creepier, thanks to “Tethered Remix” done for the movie.
  • While Peele chose “I Got 5 on It” for the reasons above, there’s also a weird twist that fits in with the movie. The man who sings the hook, Michael Marshall, is practically forgotten and hasn’t seen any money from it.
  • Speaking of “I’ve Got 5 on It,” one thing that stood out to me when I saw the trailer originally was the character of Adelaide saying ” get in the rhythm,” yet snapping her fingers on the 1 & 3 instead on 2 & 4.
  • In the same scene in the car, Jason is wearing a “Jaws” raglan. A nod to another horror classic where the danger is coming from beneath the surface.
  • I also couldn’t help but think of both “Jaws” and “Cape Fear” during the scenes on the water.
  • When the Wilsons first arrive at their house–which sits right on a body of water that isn’t the ocean–Gabe tells Adelaide he wants to go to the beach at Santa Cruz. Wanting to avoid the place where she was traumatized as a child, she says “we have a beach right here” and Gabe says something about it not being a real beach, since it’s just on the bay and he wants to go the boardwalk. This intrigued me. My husband and I visited Santa Cruz on our honeymoon, so I looked up a map to figure out in what area the Wilsons were staying. I think I found the answer–Twin Lakes, which is about two miles from the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

Santa Cruz Twin Lakes Us Jordan Peele

  • When young Adelaide is in Santa Cruz with her parents in 1986, her mother says to her father, “they’re shooting a movie here, you should see if they need any extras.” The 1987 classic “The Lost Boys” was set in the fictional town of Santa Carla, but was filmed in Santa Cruz, with its boardwalk being used for many scenes in the film. Of course Peele designed it that way.
  • Jeremiah 11:11: “Therefore, thus says the LORD, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them.”
  • Kitty and Josh have twin teenage daughters, and there’s definitely a nod to “The Shining” in this movie. (Side note: The actresses who play the twins, Cali Sheldon and Noelle Sheldon, played Emma on “Friends”–as in, Ross and Rachel’s daughter. Man, do I feel old.)

I’m sure I’ve left out other “aha” moments and missed a bunch of Easter eggs, but these are the biggest ones to me. The bottom line: “Us” is great but it’s not “Get Out” great. The two will obviously be compared to one another, but “Us” is good on its own merits. I couldn’t wait to look up wild fan theories online after I got home. Here’s hoping we get a video of Peele discussing fan theories like he did for “Get Out.”

One way “Us” does remind me of “Get Out”–I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I left the theater.

So long, Ichiro

Credit: Getty Images

It was just time.

A pro baseball career that started in 1992 ended on Thursday. In 2019.

Between those first cuts for the Orix BlueWave and his final at-bat as a Seattle Mariner in Tokyo, Ichiro Suzuki was as revolutionary as he was refreshing to the game of baseball.

For those who see baseball strictly as a quest for numbers, Ichiro’s most memorable number – 4,367 hits – denotes him as professional baseball’s “true hit king.”

Others might see 17 combined all-star appearances between his career in Japan and in the United States. The 2001 double-up of the American League rookie of the year and most valuable player awards. Twice he was the AL batting champion, a feat he’d accomplish seven times in the Pacific League. He racked up 262 hits in 2004, a number that still represents the high-water for hits mark in a single season.

While the numbers support the cause, Ichiro was just … Ichiro. A unique personality, who was larger than life in his home nation while quickly becoming a household name in the U.S., despite being isolated in Seattle.

Through a career that took him to New York, Miami and back to Seattle, Ichiro was a hero to some, a favorite to most and a quiet, hard-worker. Even to Age 45, Ichiro’s obsession with perfecting his craft was undeniable.

Thursday, again, seemingly marks the end. The 0-for-4 day is the least important part of Ichiro’s effort during Seattle’s 5-4 win in 12 innings over the Oakland Athletics. Ichiro was lifted in the eighth inning, taken out after taking his customary spot in right field.

Ichiro exited to the ovation of a reported 46,451 at the Tokyo Dome.

It was just time.