The 2018 MLB season is almost here. It’s been an interesting off-season, as the Marlins executed on a fire-sale, the Brewers make big noise, and many of the game’s top free agents remained unsigned as Spring Training began (which caused the Players Union to cry foul). Looking forward to the upcoming season, it seems like a number of teams are content to rebuild, leaving us with only a handful of true contenders for the 2018 World Series crown.
However, baseball can be surprising sometimes. With every team having 162 games to play, you never know which middle-of-the-pack team will make a dramatic run at the postseason or which high-spending powerhouse will spend the season disappointing fans.
Here are our picks for the 10 teams with the best chance to win the 2018 World Series, along with a handful of dark horse picks. But before we get to the good baseball teams, let’s take a moment to discuss the teams that literally have no chance at winning the Fall Classic this year. Like, none at all.
No Chance — Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres
There are no ties in baseball, so every single win also comes with the other team losing. And these three teams are going to lose a lot in 2018. The Miami Marlins are under new ownership, with Derek Jeter and Co. taking over for the craptacular Jeffrey Loria. His first order of business was to trade Dee Gordon, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and, oh yeah, the reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, all in an effort to shed salary. There’s not much to be excited about in South Florida this year.
The Kansas City Royals are still suffering from a World Series hangover. After winning it all in 2015, they’ve quickly seen their roster torn apart by trades, age, and free agency. Of their starting pitchers in that World Series winning team, Johnny Cueto now plays for the Giants, Edinson Volquez moved to the Marlins (and is currently a free agent), and Yordano Ventura was tragically killed in a car accident in early 2017. The best player they had left was first baseman Eric Hosmer, and he appears set to sign a big money deal with one of MLB’s wealthier clubs before the 2018 season kicks off. The Royals are definitely rebuilding.
What can we really say about the San Diego Padres? They haven’t finished above .500 since 2010 and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2006. They are projected to have a payroll of just $60 million in 2018, which is miles away from the Top 10 payrolls, which all come in at $142 million or more. Plus they are in a competitive division that could end up producing three playoff teams, so the Padres will be lucky to not lose 100 games in 2018. Yuck.
UPDATE: The Padres signed Eric Hosmer to an eight-year (!), $144 million deal. It’s a big splash for a bad team, but it won’t be enough to vault them into playoff contention. Good for Hos, though, because that’s a lot of cash!
Dark Horse Picks – New York Mets, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners
It won’t come as a huge shock to see some of the teams we think are most likely to win the World Series are also some of the best teams from 2017, as all the playoff teams will be hoping to maintain their winning ways. However, there are a few bubble teams who could surprise everyone. While we don’t expect these three teams to run away with a World Series by any means, we at least think it’s a possibility, however small.
In the National League, the New York Mets are only three seasons removed from appearing in the World Series. And while they only won 70 games in 2017 and finished fourth in the NL West, they could bounce back in a big way. Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce are still big bats, and they just signed Todd Fraizer to be their third baseman. If their starting rotation can stay healthy, it consists of terrifying pitchers like Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, and Matt Harvey. They also signed veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason, a career .288 hitter.
Over in the AL, the Angels and the Mariners both want aim to contend. The Mariners have a formidable pitching staff with the likes of King Felix and James Paxton as their 1-2 punch. Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz are still putting up solid offensive numbers, and they are apparently converting former Marlins infielder Dee Gordon into a center fielder — an interesting choice for one of the fastest players in the game.
Unfortunately, the Mariners will have to contend with the Angels in the AL West (along with the defending World Series champions Houston Astros), so there isn’t room for everyone in the postseason. The Halos already boast one of the best all-around players in baseball in outfielder Mike Trout, but can they assemble enough pieces around the two-time MVP to make a run at the World Series? They ponied up the cash to sign Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, who will apparently both start as a pitcher every fifth day, and play DH the rest of the time. After that, though, things get kind of thin. Albert Pujols is 38 and not the same player he used to be. Andrelton Simmons is a defensive wizard at shortstop, but has never been a force at the plate. The Angels will need big contributions from the likes of
C.J. Cron (traded to Tampa) and Zack Cozart to challenge for postseason supremacy.
10. Colorado Rockies
After seven straight seasons of missing the playoffs, the Rockies earned one of the NL Wild Card spots in 2017 — only to promptly lose the winner-takes-all game with the Diamondbacks 11-8 (they were down 6-0 after three innings). That brief taste of the postseason should fuel the Rockies’ motivation to get back, and they might just have the right team in place.
Infielders Nolan Arenado (37 home runs and 130 RBIs in 2017) and D.J. LeMahieu (.310 average, 95 runs, and 189 hits last year) are among the best hitters in baseball. Centerfielder Charlie Blackmon finished fifth in MVP voting last season, as he also knocked out 37 dingers to go along with a ridiculous 1.000 OPS, adding 14 stolen bases. Power hitting shortstop Trevor Story fell off a bit in 2017 compared to his amazing rookie season in 2016, but most people expect him to bounce back slightly.
A strong, if not spectacular, starting rotation is mostly unchanged from last year. Chad Bettis and Kyle Freeland showed great promise, although they’ve been somewhat inconsistent. If those two can keep the bad outings to a minimum, the Rockies will be in great shape. Their big off-season acquisition was closer Wade Davis, who signed a three-year, $52 million contract to play in Colorado. General Manager Jeff Bridich is clearly going for it in 2018.
9. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers have been pretty bad for a long time. Since 1983, they’ve only made the playoffs twice. The club has never won a World Series, losing their only appearance in the Fall Classic to the Cardinals in 1982. They finished second in the NL Central in 2017, just a single game out of the Wild Card spots. In 2018, they are determined to get back into the playoffs.
In a span of 24 hours in late January, the Brewers announced their intentions publicly by trading for Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich and signing free agent Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million contract. Those two bats alone should add a couple extra wins to the Brewers record in 2018. Infielders Travis Shaw and Eric Thames can also pound the baseball, combining for 62 homers and each slugging better than .500 in 2017.
The real question for the Brewers will be their pitching. Their ace is Chase Anderson, who didn’t have a single season with an ERA below 4.00 until a sparkling 2.74 in 2017. Zach Davies is second on the depth chart and had an ERA of 3.90 last year, even though he still managed to win 17 games on the backs of the Brewers potent offense. At least the closer role should be locked up, as Corey Knebel posted 39 saves in 45 chances last year, striking out 126 batters in just 76 innings pitched. Although it was a breakout season of Knebel, any regression towards the averages of his previous three years in The Show could mean trouble for the Brew Crew.
8. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks won 93 games in 2017 and easily secured the first NL Wild Card spot. After dispatching the Rockies in the Wild Card game, the D-Backs proceeded to get crushed and swept by the Dodgers in three games. While 93 wins is nothing to scoff at, the team didn’t shell out $206 million in 2016 for ace starting pitcher Zack Grienke just to get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
Arizona will return a barely changed team in 2018, that includes the dangerous Jake Lamb at third base (30 home runs, 105 RBIs, and an .844 OPS in 2017) and annual MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt (36 dingers, 120 RBIs, and a stupid .966 OPS last season). In terms of arms, Robbie Ray, Tijuan Walker, Zack Godley, and Patrick Corbin join Greinke to make a solid rotation. They will need to firm up the closer role though, as veteran Fernando Rodney left in free agency this winter. He saved 39 games for the D-Backs in 2017. Archie Bradley is the odd-on-favorite to win the job, but he only has a single save to his name so far in his MLB career.
7. Cleveland Indians
The Indians were poised to win a World Series title in 2016, until the Cubs rallied and broke their 108-year curse with a dramatic extra innings win in Game 7. They followed up that disappointment with another division title in 2017, but lost to the surging Yankees in the ALDS — a disappointing end to a season that started with high expectations.
The Tribe will return in 2018 with one of the best pitching rotations in the American League — and potentially the best in baseball. Corey Kluber is the headliner, fresh of a Cy Young winning season, but Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and John Tomlin will all make things extra difficult for opposing hitters. Throw in bullpen arms like Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, and it seems almost impossible to put up runs against the Indians.
On offense, Francisco Lindor (33 home runs, 89 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, and an .842 OPS last year) and Edwin Encarnacion (38 homers, 107 RBIs, and an .899 OPS) lead the way. Outfielder Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall should chip in at key moments, and manager Terry Francona is one of the best in the business at getting the most from his players. Except another AL Central title for the Indians in 2017, at the very least.
6. Washington Nationals
If the Washington Nationals don’t win a World Series soon, the entire team should just pack up and move back to Montreal. With four division titles in the last six years, the Nationals have somehow never even made it to an NLCS. Considering they arguably have the best some of the best players in the game at various positions, it’s hard to figure out why they haven’t had more success.
Right fielder Bryce Harper is the marquee name at the dish, as the former MVP continues to mash at the plate (to the tune of a 1.008 OPS last year). Infielder Danny Murphy routinely hits for a high average and youngster Trea Turner continues to show a ton of promise. But the true strength of the Nationals is on the mound.
The combination of Max Scherzer (the 2016 and 2017 NL Cy Young winner) and Stephen Strasburg (the 2014 strikeout leader and a three-time All-Star) would make most teams happy. But the Nats will also trot out Gio Gonzalez (2.96 ERA, 15 wins in 2017), Tanner Roak (13 wins and 181 IP), and A.J. Cole to complete their five-man. They definitely need to figure out their closer role though, as it’s been a bit of a revolving door in recent times. Sean Doolittle seems to have the job firmly in his grasp, but manager Dave Martinez could make quick changes if the season doesn’t get off to a good start.
5. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox will kick off 2018 defending back-to-back AL East division titles, no small feat considering many people feel it’s one of the toughest divisions in baseball. The Red Sox will bring back most of the same team that won 93 games in 2017 and should definitely be in the postseason conversation, even if it’s only a Wild Card spot. However, expectations are always high in Beantown considering the massive payroll earned by some of the best players in the game.
The Boston outfield of Andrew Benintendi (20 home runs, 90 RBIs in 2017), Jackie Bradley Jr. (17 homers, 63 RBIs, and dazzling defensive catches), and Mookie Betts (24 home runs, 102 RBIs, 26 stolen bases, and an .803 OPS) would make almost every other MLB club envious. Throw in the offensive production of shortstop Xander Bogaerts and DH Hanley Ramirez, and the Red Sox lineup should be able to score runs aplenty. They also finally completed their courtship of free agent slugger J.D. Martinez, who inked a five-year, $110 million deal with the BoSox as Spring Training started — he hit .303, with 45 home runs, 104 RBIs, and a massive 1.066 OPS in 2017 (in just 119 games, too).
Even stronger than the Boston starting lineup is the Boston starting rotiation. David Price and Chris Sale need no introduction, and Rick Porcello is only a single season removed from winning the Cy Young in 2016. Knuckleballer Steven Wright was fantastic in 2016, but missed most of 2017 with a knee injury. His return should be a serious boost to the Red Sox on the mound (assuming he’s 100% healthy). Drew Pomeranz also won 17 games in 2017, giving the Red Sox a lights out pitching staff. Closer Craig Kimbrel is also one of the best in the business. However, the Red Sox might have to go through their most iconic rivals to get to the World Series…
4. New York Yankees
That’s right, we’re giving the New York Yankees a better chance at winning the World Series than the team that finished ahead of them in each of the last two seasons. Our reasoning is pretty simple, actually — the Yankees can mash. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez combined for a mammoth 144 home runs last year, with Stanton taking home NL MVP honors. Solid role players like Didi Gregorious (25 homers, 87 RBIs, .287 average) and Brett Gardner (21 homers, 23 stolen bases, and 96 runs) round out the Yankees attack.
The New York pitching staff might not be as explosive as the Judge/Stanton duo, but ace starter Luis Severino finished third in Cy Young voting in 2017 after posting a 2.99 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 193.1 innings pitched. Japanese hurler Masahiro Tanaka didn’t put numbers equal to Severino, but had a decent season striking out 194 batters in 179.1 innings. The Yanks traded for Sony Grey midseason in 2017, and he may very well become their No. 2 starter early in 2018. Veteran CC Sabathia re-signed on for another year too. In the bullpen, the set-up/closer combination of Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman might be the best in the league (with due respect to Miller and Allen in Cleveland).
3. Chicago Cubs
After finally breaking the century long World Series drought in 2016, the Chicago Cubs followed that up by winning the NL Central in 2017 and getting all the way to the NLCS before their season ended at the hands of the L.A. Dodgers. With most of the core from their 2016 championship still around (plus a few big additions), the Cubbies want to get back to the Fall Classic in 2018 — and have a good shot at it.
Former MVP Kris Bryant (29 home runs and a .946 OPS in 2017) and defensive wizard Javy Baez (23 dingers and 75 RBIs, plus 12 stolen bases) patrol the infield, while big bopper Kyle Schwarber (30 home runs in just 129 games last year) will play the corner outfield positions. Jason Heyward, who signed an eight-year $184 million contract with the Cubs back in 2016, will hopefully show signs of the player he was with the Cardinals instead of the lackluster one he’s been since inking that major deal.
To win a World Series, you need great pitching. The Cubs definitely have that, even before they signed Yu Darvish (3.44 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 186.2 IP) to a six-year, $126 million deal in February. Of course, signing Darvish probably means they have given up trying to re-sign former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, who remains without a job as Spring Training starts. Along with Darvish, the Cubs can depend on Jon Lester (13 wins, 180 strikeouts), Kyle Hendricks (3.03 ERA and one of the best changeups in the game), Jose Quintana (acquired in a trade with cross-town rivals the White Sox in 2017), and Tyler Chatwood (who signed a three-year, $38 million deal with the Cubs before Christmas).
The one question mark will be at closer, as the dependable Wade Davis left for Colorado in free agency. Coincidentally, former Rockies closer Greg Holland is still a free agent as of this writing, so maybe the Cubs will be negotiating with him. Regardless of who closes, the Cubs also have Joe Maddon pulling the strings in the dugout — one of the best managers in baseball.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers came about as close as possible to winning a World Series in 2017, only to lose a deciding Game 7 at home to the Houston Astros. With one of the most expensive lineups in baseball, their 2018 seasons goals will once again be listed as “World Series or Bust.”
The star among stars in L.A. is Clayton Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young winner and 2014 NL MVP. His career ERA sits at a measly 2.36 and he’s posted a sub 1.00 WHIP for five straight seasons (including a stingy 0.72 in 2016). Rich Hill (3.32 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in 2017), Alex Wood (2.72 ERA, 1.06 WHIP), and Kenta Maeda will round out the rotation. They will need to nail down a fifth starter to replace Yu Darvish though. They have a lights out closer in Kenley Jansen (41 saves in 42 attempts, 1.32 ERA, and 109 strikeouts in 68.1 IP in 2017).
The Dodgers aren’t just great pitching though. They can get it done at the plate too. First baseman Cody Bellinger leads the way with 39 home runs and a .933 OPS, but Corey Seager (22 HRs, 77 RBIs, .854 OPS) and Justin Turner (21 HRs, 71 RBIs, and a .945 OPS) are pretty good too. In the outfield, the unpredictable Yasiel Puig can hit for power and Chris Taylor, who had a breakout season in 2017, looks to build on a campaign that finally saw him become an everyday player, where he chipped in 21 HRs, 72 RBIs, and 17 stolen bases.
The Dodgers had an opening day payroll of $242 million in 2017, and will be among the highest spending teams in baseball again this year. But all that spending hasn’t equated the championships — they haven’t won a World Series in 1988. They could finally get to the promised land in 2018.
1. Houston Astros
We can’t possibly have a list of 2018 World Series contenders without the defending champions themselves. Until someone can prove otherwise, the Houston Astros are the team to beat in 2018. They won 101 games in 2017, and might have actually gotten better since then.
For starters, ace pitcher Justin Verlander will play the whole season in Houston after being a mid-season trade acquisition last summer. To go along with 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, the ‘Stros also have the strong tandem of Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. in their No. 3 and 4 slots. As if that pitching staff wasn’t impressive enough, they added dependable starter Gerrit Cole in a trade with Pittsburgh in January 2018.
The Astros truly shine on offense though, with the pint-size Jose Altuve (24 home runs, 81 RBIs, 32 stolen bases, and a .957 OPS) and shortstop Carlos Correa (24 homers, 84 RBIs, and a .941 OPS) leading the way. Centerfielder George Springer blasted 34 home runs in 2017 (plus a few clutch bombs in the playoffs) and Josh Reddick had a career year, hitting .314 and knocking in 82 RBIs.
In 2017, the Houston Astros scored the most runs in baseball, had the most hits, the most doubles, the second most home runs (three behind the Yankees), the most total bases, the most RBIs, the best team batting average, and the highest team OPS. Long story short? Just try to stop them.