Opening Day optimism: One hope for every team

March 28th, 2019

If you’re one of those people who can’t understand why so many of us are walking around with smiles, here’s something to chew on: the Red Sox won the World Series 150 days ago.

And with the exception of a taste of meaningful baseball in Japan last week, that’s how long we’ve been without a game that counted. Oh sure, we’ve had our fun. Even a different kind of offseason had its moments. And Spring Training -- sunshine, warm weather, optimism -- was great fun.

Still, none of it comes close to what we’ve got: Opening Day. We love it for a hundred different reasons, mainly that it signals we’re going to have Major League Baseball for the next seven months, and what could be better than that? With that spirit of optimism, let’s run down our hope for all 30 teams:

National League East

Braves: That we’ve been right to gush about the organization’s pitching depth.
This spring left us more convinced than ever that the Braves have enough pitching to carry them to a second straight postseason appearance. Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson had nearly dominant springs. Touki Toussaint and Ian Anderson have looked exceptional, and Mike Soroka may be the best of the bunch if he can stay healthy.

Marlins: Brinson has the breakout season long expected of him.
Center fielder Lewis Brinson is coming off a tremendous spring and seems about to fulfill some of the promise we’ve been forecasting for this 24-year-old since he began blistering Triple-A pitching four years ago for the Rangers. He has been traded twice since then and is now one of the keys to Derek Jeter’s reconstruction of the Marlins.

Mets: Cano does just what he was brought to Queens to do.
Robinson Cano was acquired to help the Mets turn a big, significant corner. To be that impact bat in the middle of the lineup. To be that role model for all those young Mets. Few teams are leaving Spring Training with more optimism than the Mets, and Cano is a big reason why.

Nationals: Lots of good work finally is rewarded with a taste of October magic.
Only the Dodgers have won more regular-season games since the Nationals started to win in 2012. In those seven seasons, Washington has been a model of consistency, smartly constructed and expertly managed. What the Nats have not done is win a postseason series. Now with a potentially dominant rotation, one of baseball’s best players in third baseman Anthony Rendon, and a nice blend of youth and experience, they have seldom been more optimistic about a season.

Phillies: Harper has a healthy, happy and productive start in his new home.
Let’s face it: baseball is better when players like Bryce Harper -- that is, players who are a bit brash and a bit different and wildly talented -- are playing at their best. There’s likely to be a transition to his new surroundings after seven seasons in Washington, but there’s no reason to think he won’t be as good as the Phillies think he’ll be.

NL Central

Brewers: Nelson makes it all the way back.
Jimmy Nelson hasn’t thrown a pitch in the Major Leagues in almost 19 months as right shoulder surgery and then a few setbacks robbed the Brewers of their ace during one of their best seasons. Nelson will begin the season in Triple-A as he continues to build arm strength, but the Brewers are hopeful he could be one of their keys to winning the NL Central a second straight time.

Cardinals: Wainwright has another great run left in him.
Adam Wainwright joked at one point this spring that none of the reporters covering the team thought he should even be in camp. He knows that’s not true, that no one wants to see him go even as he has struggled with health and performance in recent seasons. If this is his last season -- or even if it isn’t -- let’s hope one of the game’s great citizens has a great 2019.

Cubs: Maddon gets his groove back.
Joe Maddon is unlike any other manager in the way he builds relationships with players and gets the most out of his teams. He’s also one of baseball’s most interesting people. The bottom line is that his way works. By not extending his contract beyond 2019, the Cubs essentially have put him on notice that he’s managing for his job this season.

Pirates: Taillon pitches his way onto the NL All-Star team.
Manager Clint Hurdle’s choice to pitch Opening Day is a tremendous story of perseverance. Since the Pirates made Jameson Taillon the No. 2 overall choice of the 2010 Draft, he has undergone Tommy John surgery and survived cancer. When he has been healthy, he has been as good as advertised, especially last season, when he made 32 starts and had a 3.20 ERA. This is the season he takes that final step.

Reds: Good work is rewarded.
In the end, it’s simple. The Reds added three Major League arms -- Alex Wood, Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark -- to their rotation and Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to their outfield. While the Reds will be better, the NL Central could be a brutally difficult division race. Let’s hope their effort to improve is rewarded with a season in which they are at least in the race until the end of September.

NL West

D-backs: Jones proves 'em wrong.
Adam Jones was the face of the Orioles' renaissance and long ago established himself as one of the really good guys in the game. But free agency dragged on for him and ended only when the D-backs made a one-year, $3 million offer in March. With Steven Souza Jr. out for the season, the path to playing time for Jones is clear, and he would like to show the world that he has a lot left.

Dodgers: Kershaw contends for another Cy Young Award.
That would symbolize a dramatic return to form for Clayton Kershaw, a future Hall of Famer, who has had a frustrating three seasons slowed by injuries. Through it all, he has been great when he has pitched (74 starts, 2.26 ERA). Arm soreness has delayed the start of his 2019 season. Let’s hope it’s just a temporary setback.

Giants: That Bochy gets one more run.
This will be the end of an era in San Francisco: Manager Bruce Bochy -- who led the Giants to World Series titles in 2010, '12 and '14 -- has said this will be his last year, and ace Madison Bumgarner, who was a linchpin of those teams, is eligible for free agency next winter. The Giants have pitched well enough this spring to enter '19 with good vibes. Here’s hoping for a some pennant chase excitement.

Padres: Tatis shows he’s for real
The Padres spent all those millions of dollars on Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer because they believed they have enough young talent coming to build a contender. They showed that confidence by putting Fernando Tatis Jr. -- baseball’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- on their Opening Day roster. Here’s hoping he helps speed up their timeline.

Rockies: Murphy has a monster offensive season.
The Rockies can pitch. Their rotation could be excellent, their bullpen solid. Now, the one thing they need this season is the thing they’ve historically always had plenty of. That’s offense. Adding Daniel Murphy to the middle of a lineup with Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon could change the dynamics.

American League East

Blue Jays: Vlad Jr. is as good as advertised.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s debut will be delayed by an oblique injury, but when he does arrive, it’ll be a day for fans to celebrate a shiny new era of Blue Jays baseball.

Orioles: Begin to identify a core group.
They will have a hard time contending, but new GM Mike Elias helped turn around the Astros and knows a thing or two about rebuilding a franchise. Elias and his staff will shuffle through the organizational depth chart to try to identify a player or two capable of being contributors when the O’s turn a corner.

Rays: Build on 2018 success.
The Rays were wildly entertaining in 2018 as they used 54 players on their way to a surprising 90 victories. They’re going to surprise no one this season, and with an excellent pitching staff and an upgraded offense, they’re nicely positioned for their first postseason appearance since '13.

Red Sox: Let’s sit back and enjoy the show.
That’s pretty much it. No matter what team you root for, you can’t help but love watching the Red Sox play baseball with joy and energy and unselfishness. Mookie Betts is one of the faces of MLB, and with stars up and down the roster -- not to mention Alex Cora in the manager’s office -- they’re close to must-watch TV.

Yankees: Stanton breaks out.
Oh sure, Giancarlo Stanton was really good last season with 38 home runs and an .852 OPS. If you watched during his eight seasons with the Marlins, you realize last season was just an introduction to New York. He’s capable of the kind of season (remember 2017?) that can prompt Yankees fans to look for historical comparisons and carry a team back to the postseason.

AL Central

Indians: Martin shows off his Gold Glove again.
All things considered, Leonys Martin getting back into a uniform is a significant accomplishment. His season ended in August when he was stricken by a life-threatening bacterial infection. He has had a normal, healthy spring and is penciled in to start in center for the Indians on Opening Day.

Royals: Zimmer establishes himself as a dominant late-inning reliever.
Kyle Zimmer's career seemed pretty much over last summer, his professional obituary written. That’s what makes this spring so remarkable for a 2012 first-round Draft pick finally poised to make his Major League debut. More than a few people are rooting for him.

Tigers: The rebuild picks up steam.
These turnarounds can happen quickly as the kids begin to arrive in waves. We’ve seen it with the Astros, Cubs, Braves and Royals in recent seasons. The Tigers are loaded, too, with Christin Stewart starting in left, Jeimer Candelario at third, and more on the way, notably Casey Mize, their top prospect and the No. 1 overall pick from the 2018 Draft.

Twins: Buxton establishes himself as a cornerstone player.
Byron Buxton was once the top prospect in the game, and then he had some hard times. He spent almost all last season hurt or in the Minors and used it as motivation to get better. Still only 25, Buxton has the skill set of a superstar. Here’s hoping for the next step.

White Sox: The kids play, and the kids are all right.
This club has a loaded Minor League system, and this is the season the best of the best begin to make their way to the big leagues. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez is the best of the bunch, but plenty of others will follow, and guys like Yoan Moncada are still pretty young. Things are about to get really interesting with this team.

AL West

Angels: Trout plays October baseball.
Few things would be better for the game than to have Mike Trout, MLB's best player, on the biggest stage. That’s a tough assignment with the Astros expected to win the AL West again and the AL East teams pushing for the two Wild Card berths. But if the Angels finally can keep some of their pitchers healthy, they’ve got a chance.

Astros: Correa gets back into the “best player in the game” conversation.
Just when Carlos Correa seemed on the verge of becoming one of the game’s biggest stars, the Astros shortstop was slowed by a back injury much of last season. He’s been bothered by a sore neck and could miss Opening Day, and let’s hope that is just a bump in the road.

Athletics: Profar becomes the player he was long projected to be.
At 26, Jurickson Profar is a reminder that young players do not come with guarantees or timetables. All sorts of things set him back since he made his Major League debut for the Rangers at 19 in 2012. He’s Oakland’s starting second baseman and finishing up a spring when he showed flashes of fulfilling the high expectations for him.

Mariners: Kikuchi becomes the next great thing.
Yusei Kikuchi's mechanics remind you a bit of Kershaw, with that pause in the middle of his delivery, and he’s coming off a nice spring that has offered other positive comparisons. The Mariners could be one of baseball’s most interesting teams, and Kikuchi is one of the reasons why.

Rangers: Miller flourishes back in Texas.
Remember when Shelby Miller was on the fast track to being a superstar? He had a 3.22 ERA in his first 101 Major League appearances for the Cardinals and Braves. And then things went sideways, mostly from injuries. He’s attempting to reinvent himself at 28 back a couple of hours from his hometown of Brownwood, Texas.