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Experts predict this year's World Series winner

MLB.com

The quest to claim the 2018 World Series championship begins Thursday on Opening Day. The Houston Astros were the last team standing in 2017, and many are predicting a repeat title run, but every season always brings its fair share of surprises.

For the first time since 1968, all MLB teams will begin their 162-game schedule on the same day, but it remains to be seen how and when each will finish. 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:

The quest to claim the 2018 World Series championship begins Thursday on Opening Day. The Houston Astros were the last team standing in 2017, and many are predicting a repeat title run, but every season always brings its fair share of surprises.

For the first time since 1968, all MLB teams will begin their 162-game schedule on the same day, but it remains to be seen how and when each will finish. 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
One of sports' most storied rivalries will be in the spotlight in 2018 as the Yankees and Red Sox battle for supremacy as the favorites out of the AL East, which our experts project New York to win. Both clubs enter 2018 with new leadership and an upgrade in power: The Yanks made the biggest splash of the offseason by trading for Giancarlo Stanton and handed the reigns to new manager Aaron Boone. The Sox, with first-year skipper Alex Cora at the helm, signed top free-agent slugger J.D. Martinez.

Bottom line: These two teams are extremely evenly matched, and the news on Monday that Yankees first baseman Greg Bird will miss 6-8 weeks, because of right foot surgery closes whatever the perceived gap already was.

AL Central: Indians
The Indians followed up a World Series appearance in 2016 with an AL-best 102 wins last year, and they are again the favorites to win the AL Central crown. The Twins, who made the AL Wild Card Game in '17, could make a push to unseat the Tribe, our poll says. Minnesota bolstered its roster by adding Jake Odorizzi, Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison this offseason.

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AL West: Astros
It's no surprise the defending champions were the most popular pick in the AL West. Houston added Gerrit Cole to an exciting, young core built to contend. But the Angels made things interesting by winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes and bringing in Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler.

AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Angels
The Red Sox may not be favored in their own division, but our survey gives them very strong odds to make the postseason as the AL's top Wild Card team, receiving the most votes of any Wild Card candidate in either league. The improved Angels beat the Twins by one vote for the second spot, and the Blue Jays, Mariners and Orioles were also in the mix.

AL champion: Yankees
The Yankees came within one win of the World Series last year, and our experts predict their splashy offseason moves are enough to push them over the edge in 2018. The Astros, of course, aren't going anywhere; they were named back-to-back AL champs on a number of ballots, with the Indians, Red Sox and Angels also represented.

National League East: Nationals
In what could be Bryce Harper's final year in D.C., the Nationals enter the year with championship ambitions, and our poll has them returning to the playoffs as the NL East victor. The Mets also received support as they look to rebound from a disappointing 2017 in which they were plagued by injuries.

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NL Central: Cubs
The Cubs are the team to beat in the NL Central for a third consecutive year, but the Cardinals and Brewers are expected to challenge them for the division title. Both clubs made noise this offseason in the free agent and trade markets: the Cards added Marcell Ozuna, while the Brewers brought in Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain.

NL West: Dodgers
The Dodgers won a Major League-best 104 games and reached the World Series in 2017, and they are expected to win the NL West for a sixth consecutive year. The NL West figures to be among baseball's most competitive divisions, however, with the rest of the field stocking up this winter to challenge Los Angeles.

NL Wild Cards: Cardinals, Mets
The Cardinals have missed the postseason just two times this decade, and while they may not be able to unseat the Cubs in 2018, they received the most support for the NL's top Wild Card spot from our panel. The Mets are the favorite to claim the second spot with the Brewers and D-backs also in the mix.

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NL champion: Dodgers, Nationals
The consensus on who will represent the NL in the World Series was split evenly between the Nationals and Dodgers, and the Cubs weren't far behind, trailing by only three votes. The Dodgers are vying for a return to the Fall Classic after coming one win shy of a championship last season, while the Nationals are hoping to advance past the NL Championship Series for the first time in franchise history.

World Series champion: Astros
It may seem weird to have the Astros as World Series champs when our panel picked the Yankees to win the AL, but that's how close the vote was. So while New York got 17 votes to win the pennant (to Houston's 13), many of those voters chose an NL team to win the Fall Classic. As a result, the Astros narrowly edged the Dodgers and Yankees by one vote as this year's World Series favorite among our experts. After taking home the franchise's first title in 2017, the Astros are now hoping to become MLB's first repeat champion since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000.

The 2018 championship was the tightest race in our poll with the Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, Indians, Cubs and Nationals each receiving considerable support. The parity among baseball's most elite teams is sure to result in a thrilling '18 campaign.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.