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Initial 2018 Power Rankings begin with champs

MLB.com @alysonfooter

Every new baseball season carries with it a healthy dose of interesting storylines, but doesn't it seem like 2018 has even more intrigue than years past?

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton playing together in baseball's biggest market. Shohei Ohtani's aspirations to succeed as a two-way player. Bryce Harper inching toward free agency. New pace of play rules.

Every new baseball season carries with it a healthy dose of interesting storylines, but doesn't it seem like 2018 has even more intrigue than years past?

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton playing together in baseball's biggest market. Shohei Ohtani's aspirations to succeed as a two-way player. Bryce Harper inching toward free agency. New pace of play rules.

Intrigue often leads to surprise, and it's quite possible that what we think will happen now will look much different in a few months. The first edition of the MLB Power Rankings features five teams that have lofty expectations, based on their performances last year and their moves over the offseason. But there are plenty of teams lurking in the Top 10 that may challenge those elite five.

MLB Power Rankings Top 5

1. Astros
The World Series champions got better over the offseason, acquiring Gerrit Cole to fortify a rotation that was already six-deep without him. You know a rotation is stacked when there's no room for Brad Peacock or Collin McHugh. Now, the Astros get a full season of Justin Verlander to complement Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., Cole and Charlie Morton. Plus, their lineup is indisputably tops in the Majors. The American League West appears to be greatly improved, so it's possible that Houston won't top its 101-win season from 2017 and win the division by more than 20 games. That won't matter for the best team in baseball.

2. Dodgers
We defer the top two spots of our first Power Rankings of the season to the two league champs. The Dodgers will have to navigate around the unexpected loss of third baseman Justin Turner, who's out for a while with a broken left wrist. But the Dodgers' lauded depth has protected them from plenty of injuries and challenges in the past couple of years, and the Turner setback shouldn't be season-defining. With one of the best lineups in baseball and Clayton Kershaw topping a talented rotation, the Dodgers are primed to win the National League West again.

Video: LAD@KC: Kershaw on how he feels ready for Opening Day

3. Yankees
The Judge and Stanton show is about to begin in earnest, and it looks like manager Aaron Boone is keen on the idea of featuring the two sluggers at the top of the lineup. Even without Greg Bird, who will miss significant time after having right foot surgery, the Yankees' lineup should be one of the strongest in the AL, as should the bullpen. The big question surrounds the rotation -- is it deep enough?

Video: NYY@ATL: Stanton clobbers a two-run homer to left

4. Cubs
If Power Rankings were based solely on rotations, the Cubs would be higher on this list. The Cubs are gambling that Yu Darvish's struggles in the World Series last year were not indicative of how he'll perform over the course of the long-term commitment they made to him over the offseason. A strong Darvish fortifies a terrific starting five that also includes Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and Tyler Chatwood.

Video: CHC@KC: Muskat visits Cubs' booth, makes predictions

5. Nationals
Until the Nationals win a postseason series, they'll be stuck with the reputation of not being able to do so. That won't affect the regular season, though. They'll be challenged by the improved Mets, and they'll have some extra pressure on them with the chance this is Harper's last season in Washington, but with basically the same lineup returning from last year and a bullpen that is no longer crushing them, this should be a good season for the Nats.

Video: Bryce Harper likes to hit homers on Opening Day

The rest of the Top 20
6. Indians
7. Red Sox
8. Cardinals
9. Blue Jays
10. Diamondbacks
11. Angels
12. Brewers
13. Rockies
14. Mets
15. Twins
16. Rangers
17. Mariners
18. Giants
19. Phillies
20. Athletics

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.