Baseball is back, so grab your peanuts and Cracker Jacks and head on down to the ballpark. After a slow but eventful winter, this season looks like it will be full of excitement. Four strong squads return to lead the American League, while the National League looks competitive top to bottom. Here are my predictions, as well as what to watch for during the 2019 MLB regular season:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
IMPACT PLAYER: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B, TOR)
The son of a Hall of Famer, Vladdy Jr. is the consensus top prospect in baseball. The Blue Jays might struggle this season, but watch out for the debut of this 20-year-old, who is already being called one of the best hitters in the game.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON: The continuing rivalry
The Yankees and Red Sox might be the two best teams in the whole league this year, and they will be playing each other a lot — including a game this year in London. The Yankees have made great strides in improving their rotation, but the Red Sox counter with one of the deepest lineups in all of baseball. Every time these two battle it out, there will be huge stakes, as the road to the World Series gets a whole lot harder as a Wild Card.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
IMPACT PLAYER: Alex Bregman (3B, HOU)
Bregman broke out last year and established himself as not only one of the top players in the game but also one of the most exciting. “I want to win a bunch of World Series. I want to be in the Hall of Fame,” he said this offseason.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON: appreciating greatness
Ichiro, the all-time international hits leader, may only play in few games for the Mariners as he is now 45 years old. Albert Pujols has one of the greatest hitters of all-time, but he might be relegated to the Angels’ bench due to a multitude of injuries and declining ability. In a division that seems like it is already been won by the Astros, take the time to appreciate these two future first-ballot Hall of Famers as their illustrious careers come to an end.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
IMPACT PLAYER: Miguel Cabrera (1B, DET)
Miggy is a future Hall of Famer, but went through all of 2018 injured. While the Tigers embark on a rebuild, Cabrera will be focused on ending his career on a high note. The whole baseball community is rooting for his return to excellence.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON: Trevor Bauer’s (SP, CLE) off-field antics
Bauer makes this boring division interesting. He once missed a playoff game because of a drone injury. He donates to charity in multiples of $69 and $420. His Twitter battles are lengthy, and on top of that, he’s really, really good — he finished in the top 10 last year for the AL Cy Young award — and is only getting better.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
IMPACT PLAYER: Bryce Harper (OF, PHI)
Apologies to the potential debut of Tim Tebow for the Mets, but the spotlight will be on Harper starting day one of his $330 million mega-deal. Anything short of a World Series for the Phillies will be a disappointment. There are no opt-outs in his 13-year deal and no place to hide from angry Philly sports fans, either. The pressure is on for the former number one overall pick to return to MVP form.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON: new teams and young phenoms
The Mets traded for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, while Harper, Andrew McCutchen, and J.T. Realmuto are the new stars in Philly. Meanwhile, Juan Soto and Victor Robles take over the outfield for DC, and Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña are trying to build on their stellar rookie seasons in Atlanta. The superstar battles between old-timers and whiz-kids will determine who wins the division.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
IMPACT PLAYER: Manny Machado (3B, SD)
After receiving a 10-year, $300 million contract, Machado will be tasked to lead a talented but young San Diego team. There’s no questioning his talent, but with questions persisting about his lack of hustle, will Manny once again be an MVP-caliber player, or will he grow complacent now that he has his money?
KEEP YOUR EYE ON: Will Kershaw win the big one?
The Dodgers seem to be unable to break through. Despite their regular season successes, the last time they won the World Series was 1988. Clayton Kershaw is getting older, and while a new young core is rising in LA, time is running out for the aging ace to deliver a championship to one of the most storied franchises in baseball. The only blemish on his Hall of Fame career is playoff trouble — is this the year he cements himself as one of the greatest pitchers of all time?
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
IMPACT PLAYER: Paul Goldschmidt (1B, STL)
Goldschmidt is arguably the best player to change teams this offseason. The former Arizona Diamondback is one of the premier defenders and sluggers in the game, and now that he is on a potential playoff team, he will receive the national attention (MVP?) that he deserves.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON: End of the Joe Maddon era?
The Cubs haven’t lived up to expectations since they broke the curse and won the World Series in 2016. Injuries played a role last season, but Maddon is now in the last year of his contract as manager. In addition, star 3B Kris Bryant has not yet reached an extension, and questions about Addison Russell’s domestic assault case still linger. The NL Central might be the strongest division in all of baseball this season, but if the Cubs once again fail to play up to their potential, we might see some changes at Wrigley.