What better way to ring in the new year than with some early predictions for the 2019 season.Can the Red Sox repeat as World Series champions? Will the Dodgers make a third straight trip to the Fall Classic? Will the 2019 postseason field look the same as in '18, or
What better way to ring in the new year than with some early predictions for the 2019 season.
Can the Red Sox repeat as World Series champions? Will the Dodgers make a third straight trip to the Fall Classic? Will the 2019 postseason field look the same as in '18, or will there be some surprise newcomers?
We polled more than 30 MLB.com experts for their predictions on which teams would end up atop the standings, and who would hoist the World Series trophy, if the season started today. Moves made over the remainder of the offseason -- Bryce Harper and Manny Machado signing with new teams, and so on -- could sway a division or pennant race, but they obviously don't factor into these predictions.
Here are the results: MLB.com's predicted winners for each division and Wild Card berth, the two league pennants and the 2019 World Series.
American League East: Red Sox
The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is fully reignited. Boston and New York both won 100 games in 2018, then met in the playoffs, with the Sox eliminating the Bronx Bombers on their way to 119 total wins and a World Series championship. MLB.com thinks Boston will repeat as AL East champs in 2019… but just barely. This was the closest division vote -- everyone picked either the Red Sox or Yankees, and the Sox got just two votes more than the Yanks. These are two powerhouses, but MLB.com consensus says reigning AL MVP Award winner Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale and Co. will get the job done in the East for a fourth straight season.
AL Central: Indians
The Indians have held firm control over the AL Central for the past several years -- they were the only team in the division with a winning record last season -- and MLB.com thinks they'll keep that up in 2019. Cleveland enters the new year as a heavy favorite in the Central once again, anchored by the superstar infield duo of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, and a stacked rotation fronted by Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco. The up-and-coming Twins and the White Sox received a smattering of dark-horse support in our poll, but we don't think they're ready to unseat the Tribe just yet.
AL West: Astros
The Astros were the unanimous pick to win the AL West -- the only unanimous pick in this MLB.com poll. It's not hard to see why. Houston is coming off two straight 100-win seasons, a World Series title in 2017 and an AL Championship Series appearance in '18, and it has a loaded roster across the board -- even with Charlie Morton departing in free agency and Dallas Keuchel and Marwin Gonzalez potentially following. A lineup led by Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer (and now solidified by free-agent acquisition Michael Brantley), the 1-2 punch of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in the rotation and a deep bullpen make for one of the most complete teams in baseball.
AL Wild Cards: Yankees, Rays
The first Wild Card pick was easy -- whichever team lost out on the AL East was getting slotted in there. With our experts picking the Red Sox as AL East champs, that means the Yankees go into the winner-take-all AL Wild Card Game for a third straight year, even after adding James Paxton. The good news for Yanks fans: they've won both of those Wild Card Games.
The second AL Wild Card team? MLB.com voters believe in the Rays after their surprising, innovative 90-win season in 2018. Tampa Bay has added Morton to back up reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell in the starting rotation, as well as slugging catcher Mike Zunino. We think that will help send the Rays to their first postseason since 2013, and set up an all-AL East Wild Card Game. Also receiving significant votes: the Angels. They have the best player in baseball in Michael Trout, after all, and the AL Rookie of the Year Award winner in Shohei Ohtani.
AL champion: Astros
This vote was a three-team showdown -- Astros, Yankees and Red Sox, the three 100-win juggernauts from a season ago. Even though the Red Sox knocked out both Houston and New York in the playoffs this past October, MLB.com is betting on the Astros to retake the AL pennant in 2019. They might have to go through Boston and the Bronx Bombers to reach the World Series, but they've already done just that, in 2017. The Yankees got the next-most votes, with the Red Sox picking up the rest. No one voted for the Indians or Rays to reach the Fall Classic.
National League East: Nationals
The Nationals missed the playoffs in a disappointing 2018. We think they'll right the ship in '19, even with the potential loss of Harper in free agency. One big reason is their formidable starting pitching trio: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and marquee free-agent signing Patrick Corbin. Add to that young talents like Trea Turner, Juan Soto and Victor Robles, and veterans like Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, and MLB.com is predicting a reascension for Washington to the top of the division.
But it won't be easy. The defending NL East champion Braves got nearly as many votes as the Nats in our poll. The Mets -- who have added Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos under new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen -- got a good chunk, too.
NL Central: Cardinals
One of baseball's most competitive divisions in 2018 could be even tighter in '19. The Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals were all competing for postseason berths into the season's final days -- and Milwaukee needed a Game 163 to take the division title from the Cubs -- but while St. Louis ultimately fell short of the playoffs, we think the Cards have become the NL Central favorites for 2019. The club's' trade for perennial NL MVP Award candidate Paul Goldschmidt could be the move that shifts the balance of power in the division.
NL West: Dodgers
Yes, the Dodgers were pushed all the way to a tiebreaker game against the Rockies before they emerged as last year's NL West winners. But that was still their sixth straight division title, and we don't see anyone else wresting the West away from Los Angeles in 2019. Even if Machado and Yasmani Grandal sign elsewhere as free agents, the Dodgers will get a big boost from star shortstop Corey Seager returning from Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers were the overwhelming choice in our poll, with the Rockies receiving only a few votes.
NL Wild Cards: Cubs, Braves
The Cubs were a clear-cut choice for one of the two Wild Card spots, which would put them into the NL Wild Card Game for a second straight year -- and into the postseason for a fifth straight year under Joe Maddon. Chicago lost the 2018 NL Wild Card Game at home to the Rockies, but the previous three years it made it to at least the NLCS (and of course won the drought-breaking 2016 World Series).
Who will be the Cubs' opponent in the 2019 Wild Card Game? That was the most wide-open race in our poll. A lot of teams split the vote here, but the Braves ended up with the most overall support. Even if our experts didn't think they'd repeat as NL East champs, the Braves have added former AL MVP Award winner Josh Donaldson and reunited with Brian McCann for '19. That helped them edge the Phillies, Brewers, Rockies and Mets in the MLB.com voting. The Cardinals also got a sizeable number of votes from those who didn't pick them to win the NL Central.
NL champion: Dodgers
The Dodgers have won two straight pennants. We think they're about to make it three. Nearly twice as many MLB.com voters picked Los Angeles as the 2019 NL champion compared to the next-closest teams -- the Cubs and Nationals, who tied in the voting (with the Braves just behind them). The Dodgers came up short in the last two World Series. Our prediction is they'll get another chance at their first title since 1988 this season.
World Series champion: Astros
This was the tightest race in our entire poll -- it was decided by a single vote. In the end, the Astros edged out the Yankees as our pick for the 2019 World Series winners. In other words, our experts think the team that emerges as the AL champ will likely go on to win the Fall Classic.
If all of MLB.com's postseason prognostications come true, the 2019 World Series would be Astros vs. Dodgers -- a 2017 World Series rematch. Houston prevailed in seven games in that '17 series, a classic among Fall Classics. Our voters think the Astros would do so once again in '19, and take home their second World Series championship in three seasons.
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.