Of the six teams that finished in first place in their divisions in 2018, three (the Red Sox, Indians and Brewers) failed to defend their crowns last season. Two (the Red Sox and Indians) didn’t even make the playoffs, so ruling your division one year doesn’t mean you’ll end up in the postseason the next. Last season, the Yankees, Astros and Twins finished atop their divisions in the American League, while the Braves, Dodgers and Cardinals were the top seeds in the NL. Among those six, who’s the most vulnerable going into the new season? Let’s review the offseasons they’ve had…
- Astros: If you’ve paid any attention to baseball in the past several weeks, you know this offseason has been a catastrophe for the Astros. They got rid of general manager Jeff Luhnow and skipper A.J. Hinch as a result of a sign-stealing scandal that has rocked baseball, replacing them with James Click and Dusty Baker. The Astros are still loaded with talent, but they lost the great Gerrit Cole even before their sign-stealing shenanigans came to light. Now, there’s plenty of skepticism they’ll put together a fourth straight 100-win season after such a horrendous winter – one in which they were very quiet in free agency. What’s more, they’re stuck in a division with a legit challenger in Oakland and two improving clubs in the Angels and Rangers.
- Yankees: New York took Cole from Houston, which has been the Wile E. Coyote to the Yankees’ Road Runner in recent postseasons. The Yankees looked as if they’d have a tremendous rotation with Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka as their top four, but health woes are already haunting the club yet again after an injury-riddled 2019. Severino, who barely pitched last season, is now facing a very worrisome situation with his forearm; meanwhile, Paxton will sit out until at least May or June as a result of back surgery. The Yankees are still laden with talent, and they remain capable of pulverizing the opposition with their offense, but some of the shine has come off since the Cole signing because of the Severino and Paxton situations. Fortunately for the Yankees, there may only be one team capable of standing up to them in the AL East – the Rays.
- Twins: It was quite a winter for the Twins, who bolstered their rotation with the additions of Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. They also retained Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. Perhaps more importantly, they signed third baseman Josh Donaldson for four years and $92MM – the largest contract they’ve ever given out in free agency. So, a team that hit an all-time record 307 home runs in 2019 seems as if it’ll put a similarly scary offense on the field this year. The Twins could face more resistance in their division from the White Sox, who had an aggressive winter, though the Indians haven’t really bettered themselves. The Tigers have, but they’ll still struggle to win many games, while the Royals also figure to wind up among the game’s worst teams.
(Poll link for app users)
- Dodgers: What do you get the team that won 106 games last season? How about Mookie Betts, who’s on the short list of the greatest players in the game? With Betts in tow, the Dodgers will enter 2020 as the overwhelming favorites to win their division for the eighth year in a row, but an improved Arizona club should at least offer a decent challenge. The Padres have also worked to get better since last season ended, but they don’t appear to be any match for the stacked Dodgers, while the Rockies and Giants look to be way behind.
- Braves: Atlanta’s down Donaldson, but it was rather active in adding free agents. The team plucked the likes of Marcell Ozuna, Will Smith, Cole Hamels, Travis d’Arnaud and Chris Martin off the open market. Hamels is dealing with shoulder problems, however, and it’s unclear when he’ll be able to pitch in 2020. Regardless, the Braves still have quite a bit of premier talent (Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Mike Soroka spring to mind), so it’s easy to envision them winning a third consecutive division title. At the same time, the reigning world champion Nationals, the Mets and Phillies are realistic contenders for the NL East championship.
- Cardinals: Aside from the Reds, a 75-win outfit a year ago, it wasn’t really a busy offseason for any NL Central team. That includes the Cardinals, whose biggest addition was Korean left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim (and they lost their No. 1 free agent, the aforementioned Ozuna). They’re now set to open 2020 without one of their best starters in Miles Mikolas, who just received a platelet-rich plasma injection. The good news for St. Louis is that there’s no apparent juggernaut in its division, as the Cubs and Brewers have either stayed roughly the same or gotten worse since last year ended.
(Poll link for app users)