It’s officially that time of year: the unemployed are catching a matinee game, the minor leaguers are back in their corner, and last years’ frat boy Cubs “fans” are now rocking new hats. It’s Opening Day. Despite a slow offseason, some significant changes have taken place that will have bearings on this season. Bearing these changes in mind, we present Salute Magazine’s predictions for the 2018 MLB Season:
AL MVP: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
The Indians are, no doubt, salivating to get back to the World Series. They fell short of redeeming themselves last year and watched Houston take it all, and this is their bounceback year. Lindor is truly an all-around, balanced player. He’s an incredible defender, he has speed, power (but not too much). He joined the launch angle revolution of 2017 and doubled his home run total from the previous season. His average dropped slightly as a result, but his youth and proven ability to adjust at the plate could point to this season being bigger than ever for the shortstop.
NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
It’s a contract year for Harper, and, according to some $400 million speculations, perhaps the biggest contract year in professional sports. Harper’s performance and response to the pressure will determine not only if the 2015 NL MVP becomes the 2018 NL MVP and the second straight to put on pinstripes.
The Nationals are a good team in an awful division. They’ve made shallow cuts in the Postseason the last few years, and certainly Harper and crew are looking to change that this year. With monsters in the Central (Cubs) and West (Dodgers), the task is taller than ever, but Harper should have a healthy Adam Eaton and Trea Turner and a strong Anthony Rendon to join a solid rotation as his supporting cast. It’s his time to shine, and if he handles the pressure right, he will.
AL Rookie of the Year: Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
Amongst all the hype in the Bronx this year lies one of the more frustrating MLB journeys of late. Torres missed nearly all of last season after having Tommy John surgery to repair torn tendons in his left elbow. He struggled this Spring and was subsequently demoted to AAA while the Yankees continue to sort out a packed infield. The Greg Bird surgery will move Tyler Wade to first, and the other options at second base have a high probability to be mediocre.
Torres will tear up Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and join a high-octane offensive attack in New York before grabbing AL ROY honors.
NL Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves
This isn’t as easy of a choice as Acuna’s Spring performance would suggest. Acuna is a beast and pending a run from a dark horse in the National League, he has all the skill to run away with ROY honors. As long as he can figure out his contract with the Braves, he’ll have the security he wants and Atlanta will have a star.
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
While I’m still convinced Sale’s left arm will detach from his skinny body on his next pitch, he’s proven to be more than dominant, especially with a standout 2017 campaign. His struggles in the postseason put a damper on last season, but Sale is looking ready to compete in the uber-competitive AL East. He’ll have stiff competition from Corey Kluber, Luis Severino, and even Seattle’s James Paxton for the award, but his consistent success will be the difference.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
A healthy Kershaw is as dangerous as anything in baseball. Health has been his biggest struggle over the last few seasons, sidelining him enough to justify giving the award to someone else. The loaded and frustrated Dodgers will, no doubt, be looking to finally get a ring, and Kershaw will work to stay healthy to deliver. A full season of vintage Kershaw will put a fourth Cy Young trophy on his shelf.
American League Champions: New York Yankees
The Yankees, loaded with stars and plenty of young talent, are primed to have an amazing season. Stanton, playing for the dismal Miami Marlins last year, managed to slug his way to the NL MVP. Much of the continued success of the surprise 2017 Yankees will rely on Stanton’s ability to transfer that success to the high-pressure task of playing baseball in the Bronx and lead the Baby Bombers to victory.
With Aaron Judge batting next to Stanton, New York has a lineup that would make Roger Clemens ask for a second vial. That should take a significant amount of pressure and workload off of Stanton while still allowing him to be the leader New York needs him to be. Luis Severino‘s emergence as the new ace in New York, along with a full season of Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka loads the Yankees more than enough to take the American League away from Houston.
National League Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have got to feel like the dad at the carnival dishing out dollar bill after dollar bill for his kid not to knock over the milk bottles. Luckily, the wallet never runs out in Los Angeles, and the stars are aligning for the Dodgers. Cody Bellinger will deal with injury early as he readjusts to keep pitchers on edge early in the season, but a loaded Dodgers squad will make it back to the World Series to face a frightening Yankees squad.
They’ll make a similar move to pick up a healthy power arm at the trade deadline moving into the Postseason, but this time it won’t Darvish out on them.
World Series Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers
Years of frustration and near misses will come to an end, and the Dodgers will be World Series champions. A six-game series will end with a Dodgers victory in Los Angeles, and finally a team will win the pennant in front of their home crowd again.