The 2019 baseball season is upon us, and for many hardcore baseball fans it’s been a long, cold winter since the final out of the 2018 World Series. The Boston Red Sox are the defending champions, but many teams made significant moves in the offseason to bolster their chances of dethroning the Fenway Park crew.
Then again, Major League Baseball is in a weird place right now. More and more teams are not even pretending to be competitive, as they engage in multi-year tanking processes in an effort to rebuild. And honestly, who can blame them? It worked so well for the Houston Astros, who lost more than 100 games for three years straight from 2011 to 2013 (and lost another 92 in 2014) before they accumulated enough young talent to compete again. The Astros have now made the postseason in three of the last four years, and won it all in 2017. It won’t come as a surprise that they are once again among the favorites in 2019.
We’ve analyzed the player movements, crunched the numbers, and here is our picks for which teams are most likely to win the World Series this fall. And just for good measure, we’re throwing in five teams that don’t have a chance in hell.
Colorado Rockies – Could Win
The Rockies will be hoping for another “Rocktober” in the Mile High City. They have been an NL Wild Card team for two years in a row now, but have struggled to break through beyond that. They lost the Wild Card game in 2017 to the Diamondbacks, then won that same game in 2018 against the Cubs only to get swept 0-3 by the Brewers in the NLDS. They aren’t satisfied in Colorado.
In the off-season, the Rockies secured slugging third baseman Nolan Arenado to an 8-year, $260 million contract extension. They also signed three-time All-Star Daniel Murphy to play first base. They still have the powerful Trevor Story playing short, and Charlie Blackmon patrolling the outfield. On the mound, they have a solid rotation that includes breakout star Kyle Freeland and youngster German Marquez — oh, and former World Series winner Wade Davis, who led the Rockies (and the entire NL) in saves in 2018.
The Rockies will be in tough to displace the Dodgers at the top of the NL West, so their dreams of a World Series will likely have to go through the Wild Card route again. But if the pitching comes through to its potential, the Rockies could be there at the end.
Toronto Blue Jays – Not Yet
The future might be bright for the Blue Jays, but the present doesn’t shine quite as fiercely. While promising up and coming talent like Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen, and (of course) Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are all on the verge of being regular Big Leaguers, the Jays still have to be patient. As it stands for Opening Day, the likes of Brandon Drury, Freddy Galvis, Randal Grichuk, and Justin Smoak will all be starting in positions that were occupied by the likes of Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion only a few short seasons ago. With all due respect to the current Jays, those are significant drop offs.
The Jays only hope of competing for a Wild Card spot exists on starting pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman having strong comeback years. Sanchez has missed significant portions of the last two seasons with blister issues, while Stroman tends to be inconsistent — sometimes great, but sometimes barely even average. Those two players probably need to trot out career years in order for the Jays to matter at all, but it’s more likely that one (or both) could be involved with deadline day trades. Ken Giles is an experienced closer out of the bullpen, but how many games will Toronto even be in a position to use him?
Atlanta Braves – Dark Horse Contender
In 2018, everyone marveled at the kids who stormed the NL East en route to winning 90 games and securing Atlanta their first division title since 2013 (and only their second since 2005). In 2019, the youthful Braves will have to prove that leapfrogging over the likes of the Nationals, Phillies, and Mets (who were bad, but still spend a ton) wasn’t just a fluke. Young superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. will lead the way, and Freddie Freeman continues to be one of the best hitters in baseball when healthy. If newly acquired Josh Donaldson can stay healthy, they add another MVP-caliber bat into their lineup.
The Braves’ pitching will do a lot to either help or harm the team’s chances this year. Mike Foltynewicz needs to build off his impressive 2018 (13-10, 2.85 ERA, 1.082 WHIP, and 202 Ks). Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman are the likely No. 2 and No. 3 starters, but neither have been consistently great despite each showing flashes of brilliance at times.
The Braves have an outside shot, but contending with the Phillies and Nationals (more on them later) in the NL East won’t be easy.
Miami Marlins – Definitely Won’t Win
The Marlins may have been purchased by baseball royalty when Derek Jeter and his ownership group took over at the end of 2017, but their first year in charge was about as forgettable as it gets. The Marlins, who only won 77 games in 2017, managed to get even worse in 2018 with only 63 wins. Of course, it’s easy to lose ballgames when you trade Dee Gordon to Seattle, Giancarlo Stanton (the 2016 MVP) to the Yankees, Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals, and Christian Yelich (who ended up winning the 2018 MVP) to the Brewers. Basically the Marlins have plenty of minor league prospects, but very little Big League ready talent.
Second baseman Starlin Castro might be the best player the Marlins will field this year, but the rest of the line-up is in shambles. We’ve barely even heard of half of their projected starters, and their pitching rotation looks about as strong as a wet paper bag. Most statistical projections put the Marlins right around the 63 or 64-win mark again in 2019, and we see no reason for optimism beyond that.
Washington Nationals – Harperless, but Not Hopeless
Let’s start with the obvious: Bryce Harper is gone, having signed a huge contract with Washington’s division rivals, the Phillies. That’s a big blow, no matter how you slice it. However, the Nats still have the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Dozier, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Juan Soto in their batting lineup — all of them capable of hurting opposing pitchers in a variety of ways.
The Nats will rely just as much (if not more) on their elite pitching. Three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is the ace, but Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin make for very solid No. 2 and 3 guys. The Nationals missed the playoffs in 2018 after winning the NL East in five of the previous seven seasons. They will be hungry to get back to the postseason. And who knows, maybe the remaining players will be able to push just a bit harder than normal, knowing that Harper isn’t around to save the day anymore. The term “addition by subtraction” exists in sports for a reason, and the Nats will be hoping for a better team performance despite losing one of baseball’s individual greats.
San Francisco Giants – Even Year Magic is Over
Remember the Giants’ weird “Even Year” streak of winning? They won World Series titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014, and made the playoffs in 2016. The years in between? Those are best left unremembered. However, the streak is over. The Giants only won 73 games in 2018 and finished fourth in the NL West. We don’t expect them to do much better in 2019, either.
Catcher Buster Posey had one of the worst years of his career in 2018, ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner went just 6-7 in only 21 starts, and Evan Longoria (who arrived via an offseason trade) set career lows in batting average, home runs, RBIs, and OPS. All those players are now a year older, with no A-list reinforcements on the horizon. They don’t have a surefire home run hitter, and their pitching rotation and bullpen are filled with guys who are either still hopeful or just has-beens. Johnny Cueto missing the entire upcoming seasons with Tommy John season doesn’t help either.
Chicago Cubs – Could Win
The Chicago Cubs are only a couple years removed from their historic World Series win, capturing the 2016 championship and the first one in 108 years for the long-suffering franchise. They followed that up with a trip to the NLCS in 2017, and were poised to win the NL Central again in 2018 before a late-season slump allowed the Brewers to tie their win-loss record and win the division in Game 163. They never really recovered, and lost the Wild Card game to the Rockies.
In 2019, the Cubs will bring back basically the same roster as the one that won 95 games last season. Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana are the highlights. Brandon Morrow will be the closer, with Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, and Carl Edwards Jr. providing solid relief out of the pen. The Cardinals and the Brewers will definitely put up a fight in the NL Central, but we still expect to see this version of the Cubs back in contention when Summer comes to a close.
Baltimore Orioles – LOL no
Owners all across baseball insist they are trying to do whatever they can to improve teams, but no where is that lie more obvious than in Baltimore. To put it plainly, the Orioles are hot trash. They only won 47 game sin 2018, and that was with Manny Machado’s 24 home runs, 65 RBIs, and .315 batting average before the O’s traded him to the Dodgers at the deadline. In 2019, youngster Richie Martin will take over for Machado at shortstop. He has never played a single game in the MLB, and posted 15 minor league home runs and a .257 average — in four seasons. Woof.
The pitching staff isn’t any more impressive. Alex Cobb (4.90 ERA, 5-15 record in 2018), Dylan Bundy (5.45 ERA, 6-16), and Andrew Cashner (5.29 ERA, 4-15) are the highlights. So that’s a bad thing. Plus they are in a division with the Red Sox and the Yankees (and even the Rays), meaning they are likely going to get pounded by far superior teams on a regular basis. The Orioles are the team with the worst odds to win the Fall Classic at 350-to-1, but it’s not even worth one of those “ah what the hell, I’ll bet $10 just in case” kind of splurges. Save your money for a burrito or something.
Cleveland Indians – Last chance?
Speaking of the AL Central, the Indians should be able to cruise to their fourth straight division title. They will be especially driven to get back to the World Series, after a painful Game 7 loss in the 2016 Fall Classic and their last two postseason campaigns ended frustratingly early — the team couldn’t make it past the ALDS in 2017 and 2018. The Indians are a solid team, with a few spectacular players. Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana, and Francisco Lindor are the highlights in the batting order, while pitchers Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer form a daunting 1-2 combo on the mound.
However, we labelled this section “last chance” for a reason. It’s Kluber’s final year under contract, and Indians owner Larry Dolan recently gave an interview where he laughed at the idea of his team offering anyone a $300 million contract. To be blunt, the team is cheap. Cleveland projects to spend about $107 million on player payroll in 2019, which is about $20 million less than the league average and almost $100 million less than the other American League contenders like the Red Sox and the Yankees. With guys like Bauer and Lindor likely due for big raises in arbitration next winter, the Indians could blow it all up and trade the lot.
Chicago White Sox – Won’t Win
There’s a reason the AL Central is better known as “Comedy Central” — because every team except the Cleveland Indians is a joke. So while the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are also firmly in the “no chance of a World Series” pile, we’re decided to focus on the other team from Chicago in the White Sox.
The White Sox haven’t had a .500 season since 2012. Even then, it was only barely (85-77). Last year they went a dreadful 62-100 and finished 29 games back. While young prospects Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez should provide some flashes of excitement, there isn’t much else to get worked up about on the South Side yet. Give it a few years though, as the White Sox reportedly almost landed a big free agent over the winter. With their youngsters slowly getting more experience, and an apparent willingness to shell out large amounts of cash in the coming years, the White Sox could get themselves into contention within three-to-five years. Not this year, though.
Los Angeles Dodgers – It Could Finally Be Their Year
How do you get over losing the World Series in back-to-back years? For the Dodgers, hopefully by finally breaking through and winning it all in 2019. They are one of the most talented (and expensive) teams in the National League, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t expect to be there at the end of the season again.
While their 2018 trade rental Manny Machado left in free agency to play for the Padres, the Dodgers still trot out a dangerous batting lineup. Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, and Joc Pederson all have skill with the lumber, and new signing A.J. Pollock should add to the depth, assuming he can stay healthy. The Dodgers have plenty of strength on the mound too. Clayton Kershaw is, well, Clayton Kershaw. Walker Buehler was a breakout star in 2018, and should carry on with more strong performances in 2019. Rich Hill is still proving to be valuable despite being almost 40, and they have guys like Julio Urias and Ross Stripling ready to fill in if anyone struggles or get injured. Plus Kenley Jansen is one of the most dominant closers in baseball (38 saves in 2018, with a 0.991 WHIP). World Series or bust!
Philadelphia Phillies – Go Big or Go Home
The Phillies haven’t made the playoffs since 2011, but all those losing seasons haven’t been for nothing. Through a careful combination of young prospects and big name free agent signings, the Phillies are poised to break out in a big way in 2019.
Let’s start with the obvious: they gave Bryce Harper $330 million, enticing one of the best players in baseball to commit the rest of his career to their team. Combined with original prospects and international signings like Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, and Maikel Franco, plus the likes of J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura acquired in smart trades, Philadelphia has a strong lineup with a good mix of power, contact, and speed.
Ace pitcher Aaron Nola is probably going to win a Cy Young award some day. He finished third in the 2018 voting, going 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA, a 0.975 WHIP, and 224 strikeouts. Simply put, he’s nasty. Former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta is their second weapon, and he’s no slouch either (even though his stats slipped a bit in 2018). If they can figure out their bullpen — they signed David Robinson to close, but it’s been a few years since he was a dedicated ninth inning guy — the Phillies should challenge for the NL East title, or a Wild Card spot at the very least.
Boston Red Sox – Best Team in Baseball
The Boston Red Sox won 108 games last year and cruised to a World Series title with relative ease. Mookie Betts was the MVP, J.D. Martinez could have also won the MVP, David Price finally started pitching like David Price again, and Chris Sale continued to be lights out. The Red Sox didn’t really make any major off-season movies, but honestly, why would they? Things are pretty good in Boston right now.
Andrew Benintendi (.290/.366/.465, 16 HRs, 87 RBIs, 21 SBs) and Xander Bogaerts (.288/.360/.522, 23 HRs, 103 RBIs) are also big threats, and bench depth players like Brock Holt (who can literally play any position) and Steve Pearce (so clutch that he was named World Series MVP in 2018) make the Red Sox incredible dangerous at all times. Their only big drop off in closer Craig Kimbrel leaving in free agency (presumably, since he remains unsigned as of this article being written). It looks like reliever Matt Barnes, who has two career saves in 250 innings pitched so far, will be the man on Opening Day. It could be something to watch for, but otherwise the Red Sox will have another great shot at a championship this year.
Houston Astros – Still Hungry, Still Great
The Astros are baseball’s new model franchise, it seems: tank hard for multiple seasons, then spring back to life to be World Series contenders. And why not, since it worked so well. After a long stretch of awfulness, the Astros have won over 100 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history. They won the World Series in 2017, but fell short in the 2018 ALCS to the Red Sox. With the 2019 season just beginning, many bookies have Houston as the favorite to win it all.
They have plenty of big bats, including former MVP Jose Altuve (.316/.386/.451 in 2018), Alex Bregman (.286/.394/.532, with 31 HR and 103 RBI), and George Springer (.265/.346/.434, 22 HR, and extreme playoff clutchness). Ace pitcher Justin Verlander is seemingly fighting off father time by playing his best baseball in years (16-9, 2.52 ERA, 0.902 WHIP and 290 strikeouts in 2018), earning him a lucrative contract extension through 2021 that is worth $66 million.
The ‘Stros might feel the sting of Dallas Keuchel, another former Cy Young winner, not re-signing with the team. Plus Charlie Morton signed with the Rays in the offseason. But they still have Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA in 2018), Collin McHugh (a former starter who was used as a reliever in 2018), and Wade Miley (2.57 ERA in 16 starts for Milwaukee last year) to round out their rotation. They also have one of the best young closers in baseball in Roberto Osuna (2.78 ERA, 0.916 WHIP, 10.0 K/9 rate, and 116 saves in his career so far), who was offloaded by Toronto after missing much of the 2018 season due to a domestic violence suspension. Osuna may be a crappy human being, but he’s one helluva closer.
New York Yankees – The Rivalry Continues
Like it or not, the Evil Empire back in full force. For a few years, it seemed like the Yankees would finally have to enter rebuilding mode. Their aging players and hefty contracts were finally catching up to them. However, in true Yankee form, they managed to turn things around swiftly. A combination of great prospects turning into legit Big Leaguers (Aaron Judge, Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez), along with major trade acquisitions (Giancarlo Stanton, James Paxton, J.A. Happ) have turned the Bronx Bombers back into a force. With the Red Sox also currently back in peak form, the greatest rivalry in baseball will once again run red hot in the AL East this year.
Luis Severino went 19-8 with a 3.39 ERA and 220 Ks last year, and is clearly the ace. Paxton, Happ, and Masahiro Tanaka are all quality starters in their own right, and closer Aroldis Chapman still throws over 100 mph and has a 15.0 K/9 rate. The Yankees won 100 games in 2018, and 91 the year before that. They will have to compete with Boston for the AL East title, but should make the playoffs regardless. And let’s be honest as baseball fans for a second: if your personal favorite team can’t make the ALCS, then a Yankees-Red Sox best-of-seven series is the next best thing.