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Experts pick playoff teams, World Series winner

@MannyOnMLB
March 26, 2019

Opening Day is finally upon us, with the regular season for all clubs except the A's and Mariners (who played two games in Tokyo last week) beginning on Thursday. What does the 2019 season have in store? Will the Red Sox be able to repeat as World Series champions? Or

Opening Day is finally upon us, with the regular season for all clubs except the A's and Mariners (who played two games in Tokyo last week) beginning on Thursday. What does the 2019 season have in store? Will the Red Sox be able to repeat as World Series champions? Or will other American League powerhouses overtake Boston? Will the Dodgers again reign in the National League, or will one of a number of improved Senior Circuit teams capture the pennant?

We polled more than 50 experts from the MLB.com and MLB Network universe for predictions on which teams will end the year atop the standings. Below is a look at the results, with predicted winners for each division, Wild Card berth and league pennant, as well as the World Series.

American League East: Yankees

Despite winning 100 games last year, the Yankees had to settle for an AL Wild Card berth and couldn't get through the eventual World Series champion Red Sox, falling to Boston in a four-game AL Division Series. With the additions of James Paxton, Adam Ottavino and Gio Gonzalez, and the re-signing of CC Sabathia, J.A. Happ and Zack Britton, the pitching staff is as deep as it gets. On the infield, the acquisitions of DJ LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki provide depth and solve the issue of Didi Gregorius missing the first part of the season. Among our experts, the Yanks garnered twice as many votes as the Red Sox.

AL Central: Indians

In a division the Twins are hoping to shake up after a disappointing 2018 season, our experts have the Indians taking the AL Central crown for the fourth consecutive year, with the Tribe garnering 40 votes to Minnesota's 12. Cleveland will be without star shortstop Francisco Lindor to begin the season due to injury, but the Tribe still features a formidable rotation headed by two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, followed by right-handers Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco. And of course there's MVP candidate Jose Ramirez at third base.

AL West: Astros

The A's gave them a run for a time last season, but the Astros remain the class of the AL West, according to our experts, who unanimously have Houston winning the division for the third straight year. The 2017 World Series champs look to return to the Fall Classic in '19, and have the roster to do it, led by Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa up the middle, Alex Bregman at third, and a starting rotation led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Rays

Our experts have the defending champs returning to the postseason to defend their title, but by way of the first AL Wild Card spot rather than as AL East winners. Boston's lineup remains loaded, led by perennial MVP candidates Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. The rotation is headed by the dominant Chris Sale, followed by two former AL Cy Young Award winners, David Price and Rick Porcello. The bullpen, particularly in the late innings, is somewhat of a question mark, however, with the departure of Craig Kimbrel in free agency.

Tampa Bay surprised the baseball world by winning 90 games in 2018. In '19, our experts predict the Rays will reach the postseason for the first time in six years. They'll have reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to lead the pitching staff, which will feature newcomer Charlie Morton and a full season from Tyler Glasnow, and in all likelihood, several "openers."

AL champion: Astros

Who comes out of the AL with powerhouses like the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros vying for the pennant? Our experts have Houston returning to the World Series for the second time in three years, receiving 27 votes to the Yankees' 20 and the Red Sox's five.

National League East: Nationals

In what may be the most intriguing division to follow in 2019, the NL East was very competitive in balloting by our experts, with the Nationals edging out the Phillies, 27 votes to 25. Philadelphia made the biggest splash of the offseason, signing superstar Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract to add to an already impressive list of roster upgrades.

But Washington, despite a disappointing 82-80 finish last year, has Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and newly signed left-hander Patrick Corbin leading the rotation, as well as young stars Juan Soto and Trea Turner leading the way at the plate.

NL Central: Cubs

The Cubs faded down the stretch in 2018, eventually being defeated by the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game, and there have been mixed reviews of Chicago's offseason and prospects for '19. But our experts see manager Joe Maddon leading the club back to the top of the NL Central, though by a narrow margin over the Cardinals and Brewers (19 votes for the Cubs, 17 for the Cardinals, 16 for the Brewers). With a healthy Kris Bryant at third, and a healthy Yu Darvish in the rotation, the Cubs look to bounce back in a big way.

NL West: Dodgers

The Dodgers narrowly won their sixth consecutive NL West title in 2018 by defeating the Rockies in a Game 163 tiebreaker. Our experts overwhelmingly think Los Angeles will be back with a vengeance in '19, with the Dodgers receiving 42 votes to the Rockies' 11. With star shortstop Corey Seager back after undergoing elbow and hip surgeries last year, as well as the addition of free-agent center fielder A.J. Pollock, the defending NL champs are poised to make a run at their third straight World Series appearance.

NL Wild Cards: Brewers, Phillies

Expectations are running high for Milwaukee a season after the Brewers won their first division title since 2011. In '19, our experts have the Crew finishing as the NL's first Wild Card team, albeit narrowly, with 11 votes to nine for the Cardinals. Manager Craig Counsell's club returns pretty much the entire roster after it came within one victory of an NL pennant last year, with the notable addition of catcher Yasmani Grandal.

The Phillies were in contention in the NL East for much of the 2018 season, but they faded rapidly in September. Philadelphia had a big offseason, adding former NL MVP Award winners Harper and Andrew McCutchen to its outfield, while also upgrading behind the plate with J.T. Realmuto and at shortstop with Jean Segura. The Phillies received 10 votes from our experts, slipping past the Cardinals (9), Mets (8) and Nationals (8).

NL champion: Dodgers

By a 14-12 margin, the Dodgers were voted to win their third consecutive NL pennant. The Nationals were the second choice, with many voters predicting Washington would finally get over the hurdle of the NL Division Series, which it has lost four times in the last seven years. Should Los Angeles reach the World Series, it would mark only the fourth time in MLB history a club has gotten to the Fall Classic after losing the previous two years (also the 1909 Tigers, the '13 Giants and the '23 Yankees, with the Yankees the only club to win on the third try).

World Series champion: Astros

Houston fell short of repeating as World Series champion in 2018, but our experts predict the Astros will return to the pinnacle of the baseball world this fall, beating the Dodgers in a rematch of the 2017 World Series, and in the process handing Los Angeles its third straight World Series loss. With young stars who have a championship pedigree all around the diamond, including Altuve, Correa, Bregman and George Springer, as well as the addition of Michael Brantley and a starting rotation featuring Verlander and Cole, the franchise looks to make another deep October run that will culminate in a second title in three years. Houston received 28 votes, 13 more than the Yankees, who were second in the balloting.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.