Which divisions will be the most compelling in 2019? It may be a tossup between the National League East, which boasts four legitimate contending teams, and the NL Central, primed for another three-way dogfight between the Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers -- with the added twist of an improved Reds team.
While it would be a stretch to suggest the Reds -- celebrating their 150th anniversary this year -- could win that division, they have added enough to their roster to suggest they're ready to have a stronger presence, enough to at least cause fits for some of the other more established teams.
Meanwhile, the NL East seems to be wide open, with the Braves, Phillies, Mets and Nationals all having improved from a year ago. The Phillies may be primed to take the biggest leap in the win column, after adding a crop of proven difference-makers in Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen.
Our first Power Rankings of 2019 reflect the only concrete criteria available at this point -- how teams fared in '18, how much progress they made constructing their rosters during the offseason, and how healthy they are coming out of Spring Training (which makes our No. 4 choice for this week just a tad ... iffy).
With that said, our preseason Power Rankings Top 5 reflect a lot of what we saw in '18, which was a lot of wins by the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees -- 311, collectively.
The Astros bowed out earlier than anticipated in last year's postseason when mounting injuries to key players became too much to overcome. The two most high-profile players from that group -- Jose Altuve, who was playing with a broken kneecap, and Carlos Correa, who fought through lower back issues much of the season -- appear to be past their respective health issues. Meanwhile, the Astros added one of the game's best contact hitters in Michael Brantley to a lineup that already employs Alex Bregman, who, like Brantley, rarely strikes out. The two are expected to be side by side in the batting order.
2) Red Sox
The World Series champs should have no problem landing in the top 5 of the Power Rankings for the foreseeable future. They have arguably the best outfield in baseball in Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and reigning AL Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts, three core players who were part of last year's 108-win regular-season juggernaut. With most of the team returning, including a rotation anchored by ace lefty Chris Sale, the Sox are set up for a big year, again. They have some bullpen questions to answer before the season opens, including who will close games, but the candidates are all strong and appear up to the task of filling the void created by Craig Kimbrel's departure.
Who's ready for another American League East showdown? The Yankees will open the season with the most health questions of the three powerhouse teams in the AL, which is mostly why they are ranked third. Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, CC Sabathia and Aaron Hicks will not be starting the season on time, with Severino's return not expected until May. The Yankees should be deep enough -- especially in the bullpen, which is still one of the best in baseball, even without Betances -- to compensate for a lot of what they'll be missing early, and they also have a favorable schedule to start with, as 16 of their first 21 games are against the Orioles, Tigers, White Sox and Royals.
The National League champs get the benefit of the doubt here, mainly because we don't have any regular-season results on which to base our rankings. But the Dodgers' notorious depth is going to be tested in the early going, especially in their rotation. Clayton Kershaw was ruled out as an Opening Day option weeks ago, and it was recently announced that Rich Hill won't start the season on time, either. Walker Buehler is making progress from the early-spring arm tenderness that hampered him for a spell, but the Dodgers may be in for a slow April.
Even without Harper (and we promise that will be the last time we reference the now ex-Nat in anything we write about the Nats moving forward), the Nationals are plenty loaded in a tough division. Nats fans have a lot to be optimistic about -- they added Patrick Corbin to an already sterling rotation, and the outfield will feature two of the youngest (and most exciting) players in the game -- Juan Soto (age 20) and Victor Robles (21).
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