By Matthew and Sean Duckett
Baseball is back, and that means it’s time for us at Bros Can’t Hang to give our preview of the 2018 season!
The chaotic offseason saw All-Star players scatter across the league, the arrival of Japanese Babe Ruth, and Derek Jeter become the most hated front office official in sports. Despite the sports world seemingly tumbling into chaos in 2018, baseball is looking to be dominated by the usual suspects. Today, we look at the National League and hope Giants fans don’t send us hate mail.
Positives: The Nationals get another stab at postseason glory with their roster intact. Bryce Harper looks to improve on an already impressive 2017, and has the likes of Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and a returning Adam Eaton to help. The Nationals have the best top of the rotation in all of baseball, with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg looking to put up Cy Young numbers once again this season. There are no weak spots on this roster.
Negatives: There is little time for the manager to gel with the players. With Bryce Harper possibly departing after this season, newly hired manager Dave Martinez, longtime Joe Madden protege, needs to find the winning playoff combination quickly, or he could see generational talent bolt for greener pastures. The Nationals are creeping up on the luxury tax as well, so finding adequate replacements for Harper would be a monumental task.
Question Mark: Can Matt Wieters bounce back? Ok, I lied. There is one weak spot on this team, and it’s behind the plate. Matt Wieters was abysmal at the plate last year with a 63 OPS+. He somehow played worse in the playoffs, putting up a slash line of .143/.333/.143 en route to a NLDS loss, aka a Nationals Special. They will need him to be at least replacement level.
Prediction: The Nationals at worst the number two team in the NL. If Dusty Baker was truly holding the Nationals back, this could be the first of many deep playoff runs if Harper stays in D.C. 92-70
Positives: The Phillies are about to surprise a lot of people, and they can thank the gobs of young talent expected to play key roles this season. Shortstop J.P. Crawford should get his first full season in the majors to why he’s been a top prospect for years. LF Rhys Hoskins put up 2 WAR in ⅓ a season. His counterpart, Nick Williams, put up respectable hitting numbers as well. SP Aaron Nola will have some pressure taken off him with the addition of Jake Arrieta, adding depth to a much maligned Philly rotation.
Negatives: As mentioned, the rest of the SP unit is quite bad. Actually, they’re not bad, they just have yet to put their talent to use. Using Inside Edge, it seems that the Phillies pitchers each have one pitch they can get outs with, but cannot seem to make use of the rest of their repertoire. If the young arms can figure out their secondary pitches, the Phillies could be an even better team than many predict them to be. If not, they stay locked in the basement of the NL East.
Question Mark: Can the bullpen lock it down? Signing Pat Neshek was a statement signing. Coming off his best season in the majors (1.59 ERA, 10 K/9), Neshek is set to anchor a bullpen that will find themselves in the highest leverage situations the team has faced in years. With Hector Neris throwing filth in the ninth, the bullpen looks set to improve on a respectable 2017 (15th in ERA).
Prediction: The Phillies back-end starters figure out their stuff and allow the pen to close out meaningful games. The young core snatches second place away from the Mets and Braves, and threaten to take the second Wild Card spot. 83-79
New York Mets
Positives: The rotation is among the best in baseball. Health cooperating, the three-headed monster of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz could wreak havoc on opposing teams. The last time all three were healthy, they combined for 11 WAR, all posting an ERA+ of 118 or above.
Negatives: The lineup is going to have to wait a while for help. OFs Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes are dealing with injuries, with Conforto unlikely to return until least mid April, and as late as May. His 145 OPS+ will be severely missed. Todd Frazier and Adrian Gonzalez are overrated additions at best.
Question Mark: Can Matt Harvey find anything again? Just a few years ago, Matt Harvey was headlining the Mets rotation, leading them to a World Series in 2015. Now? Inside Edge reports that in 2017, Harvey gave up a 1.008 OPS on his fastball, and a 1.007 OPS on his curve. For context, Barry Bonds led all of baseball in OPS in 1995 at 1.009. Batters literally become Barry Bonds against him. It may be wise to move on.
Prediction: Key players missing time is almost a guarantee for the Mets, and the team’s best hitter will already miss a month. Given Cespedes’ age and wrist, he could miss time a well. Throw in an injured SP, and the Mets stumble their way to the middle of the NL standings. 79-83
Positives: Despite the hemorrhaging of prospects, due to some Blue Chips-esque prospect signings of their ousted GM, the Braves still have plenty of young talent in the minors and majors. An offensive core of SS Dansby Swanson, OF Ronald Acuna, and the grossly underrated 1B Freddie Freeman could produce a scary lineup as soon as this season. Speaking more on Freeman, he slugged .603 against righties the past three seasons (fourth best in MLB) and posted the second highest line drive rate in the game last season. If he was playing for the Yankees, Freeman would be a household name.
Negatives: Much like last year, the pitching still has major issues. Adding Scott Kazmir would be great if he could be plugged into the middle of the rotation, but it’s looking like he’ll need to carry a good chunk of the load for Atlanta. Projected closer Arodys Vizcaino’s ERA was 3.47 in the second half of the season. Not what you want out of a position requiring clutch.
Question Mark: Would the real Julio Teheran please stand up? I drafted Julio in the last round of a fantasy draft his rookie year of 2013, and he produced solid output. Since then, I have watched his career unfold, and it truly seemed like 2017 was the year he was going to prove he was consistent Ace material. Boy was I wrong. Teheran posted an lowly 4.49 ERA and an even worse 4.95 FIP. Many attribute this to Atlanta’s new ballpark, which is more hitter friendly than the previous. Here’s hoping Teheran can return to his elite form in 2018.
Prediction: The Braves are a promising young club with some glaring issues in the rotation and bullpen. They won’t be as disastrously bad as last year, but they are still a couple seasons off from contending. 73-89
Positives: The returns for trading their outfield were actually pretty good. Lewis Brinson, the prize in the trade that sent Christian Yelich to the Brewers, has ranked as a top 30 prospect the past three seasons, coming in at number 16 for 2018. From Coral Springs, Brinson could wind up becoming the face of the franchise in desperate need of players to root for. The return for Marcell Ozuna was nice as well.
Negatives: They will likely end up trading their last valuable asset, speedy Catcher J.T. Realmuto (yes, speedy) sometime soon. Realmuto’s dissatisfaction with the Marlins ownership, much the disappointment of the fans, is understandable given how close this team was to becoming a playoff team. However, cash rules everything around Miami (CREAM), and they had to dump expensive or soon to be expensive assets. Perhaps Houston could make a push for his services if McCann falters as hypothesized in the AL write up?
Question Mark: Did Derek Jeter give Giancarlo and co. gift baskets upon trading them?
Prediction: The Marlins had the fire sale to end all fire sales this offseason, and their roster reflects it. Marlins’ Park will somehow be emptier. 60-102
Positives: Roster depth means that Joe Maddon can use his gamer tendencies to play around with the lineup. While Addison Russell and Javier Baez will be the everyday middle infielders, do not be surprised to find Ben Zobrist or Ian Happ taking reps at second over the season. The latter two could also spent time in the outfield, which provides the Cubs a safety net if Kyle Schwarber falters again. Throw in MVP candidates Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, and this lineup has a solid mix of power, contact, and glovework. Well-rounded teams make the deepest playoff runs.
Negatives: Injuries could derail the season. The Cubs’ two best pitchers, Kyle Hendricks and newly signed Yu Darvish, have missed significant time in the past. Hendricks missed nearly two months last season, while Yu Darvish was coming back from Tommy John surgery. If issues persist, Theo Epstein will have to search far and wide for replacement level starters both in and outside the organization.
Question Mark: Is Jason Heyward’s defense worth it? His two seasons with the Cubs have been severely disappointing. No team wants to spend upwards of $28 million a season for a non threat behind the plate. His .153 average during the playoffs is painful. If JeyHey gets off to a hot start, it may be wise to search for a trade partner while eating some of the contract.
Prediction: The Cubs are once again a solid ball club with all the pieces in place to win the World Series. Joe Maddon’s tinkering could either push them over the top, or sink them come October. 93-69
St. Louis Cardinals
Positives: The Cardinals were a pedestrian hitting team last year, sitting near the league average in OPS+. The addition of Breakout All-Star Marcell Ozuna (37 HR), plus full season of Paul DeJong, Matt Carpenter, and Tommy Pham could result in a serious power surge in St. Louis. Pham put up almost 3 WAR in just 108 games last year.
Negatives: The losses of Lance Lynn and Mike Leake leave a rotation lacking stamina. They’ll have to hope phenom prospect Alex Reyes can A. Make the rotation and B. Eat innings upon returning in May.
Question Mark: How hard does Manager Mike Matheny tank this team? The ability for Matheny to derail games with his questionable tactics is well known to Cardinals fans. He blames the wrong players when issues arise, and is completely out of his depth when it comes to implementing advanced stats. He comes from the Goose Gossage sabermetrics “are for nerds” school of thought. If Matheny can’t get his act together, he’ll have to start watching Cardinals playoff runs from his couch starting next season.
Prediction: The talent of the Cardinals’ roster will outplay their bumbling manager and secure a Wild Card spot. They, like the Giants, always threaten to fluke their way deep into the postseason. 88-74
Positives: The acquisitions of OFs Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain add two bonafide All-Stars to a team whose rebuild is ahead of schedule. Cain has World Series experience, and will provide a veteran presence to a team that was one game out of the playoffs. With their other outfielder Domingo Santana coming off a 30 homer campaign, the Brewers have a wonderful combination of power, contact, speed, and fielding playing deep.
Negatives: There is not room for all their good bats. The crowded outfield situation means that playing time for April wonder Eric Thames and the reviled Ryan Braun could be scarce. Thames. Each have experience playing the infield, but each would have been better suited in left field. Given Braun is still owed $20 million, Eric Thames may see himself shipped out to the AL come the trade deadline.
Question Mark: Why didn’t the Brewers pursue any good pitchers in Free Agency? The Brewers rotation put up solid numbers last year, but their back end does not inspire confidence. Not pursuing Darvish or Arrieta is understandable, but it is inexplicable that they did not make a play for a Lance Lynn type. With Alex Cobb still on the market, Milwaukee may want to take a good look at him.
Prediction: If SP Jimmy Nelson can stay the course upon returning in late May, and the new outfield meshes as well as they do on paper, the Brewers could very well see themselves in the playoffs. They can’t compete with Chicago, but have the edge on other Wild Card hopefuls. 87-75
Positives: Competitiveness is on the horizon. Losing Andrew McCutchen meant the Pirates lost their soul. The also lost staff Ace Gerrit Cole. The good news is that the new core has already seen time in the majors, and should take a step forward this season. 1B Josh Bell finished with a respectable 108 OPS+ and placed third in Rookie of the Year voting. Jameson Taillon has the stuff to be a front end starter, as his 4.44 ERA disguised his 3.48 FIP (meaning he was VERY unlucky).
Negatives: The lineup cannot score. The Pirates wound up third to last in runs scored and team OPS+ in 2017. There is not much to indicate those numbers will improve significantly in the new campaign. Corey Dickerson will bring some additional power to the plate, but someone else needs to step up.
Question Mark: Who else leaves? 2B Josh Harrison has made it clear he does not wish to stick around if the Pirates are not serious about winning. SP Ivan Nova seems like an obvious trade piece given his low salary. The Pirates’ front office has to decide if they want to keep their role players and make a push in 2019, or sell the lot and hope for sustained success come the next decade.
Prediction: The Pirates are a young-but-also-not-young team that requires a lot of guesswork to place in the standings. A mediocre finish seems to be the safest bet. 75-87
Positives: Joey Votto has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down. The man is an inner circle Hall of Famer, but because he plays for one of the consistently worst teams in baseball he is oft-forgotten in conversations about the greatest active players. The only players with a better career slash line than Votto? Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Rogers Hornsby.
Negatives: Everything else sucks.
Question Mark: Why do the Reds insist on putting Billy Hamilton at leadoff? He’s had four seasons to put up something resembling a good on base percentage, but has not. The Reds need to bat him ninth or they will continue to waste Votto’s God-like hitting numbers.
Prediction: This is a bad ball club, but the rotation is young and could improve on a league-worst team ERA. But better than worst is still not great. 70-92
Los Angeles Dodgers
Positives: Top Tier talent at essential positions. It is no surprise that a team owned by Magic Johnson of the “Showtime” Lakers features top-level talent at the most glamourous positions in baseball. Clayton Kershaw is undeniably the best pitcher in the game when he is healthy. Kenley Jansen lead all pitchers Win Probability Added at 5.57 and posted an ERA+ of 318(!), higher than any mark in Mariano Rivera’s career. SS Corey Seager and 1B Cody Bellinger are perennial All Star talents. Put simply, this team is Hollygood.
Negatives: The Bullpen. The Dodgers desperately need their relievers to step up, so that Jansen can actually close out games. Pedro Baez imploded into nothingness and could not even make the playoff roster come the NLCS. The rest of the relievers are an unidentified blob of passable mediocrity. Manager Dave Roberts will have to experiment a ton during the regular season to create a World Series caliber pen.
Question Mark: How will last year’s crushing defeat affect this season? Making it back to the World Series is tough. Consecutive World Series appearances has only happened once in the past six seasons. If the Dodgers cannot get past last season’s disappointing end, it could be another early exit come playoff time.
Prediction: This team has all the talent to be perennial World Series contenders. Honestly, it’s surprising that we are not in the midst of a Dodger Dynasty given how long they have been expected to win. Though the playoffs are tough to predict, it is safe to say the talent on this roster will cruise to a first place finish in the NL West. 98-64
Positives: Youth on the mound. The Rockies have an impressive stable of young SPs headed into 2018. Though the base stats look ugly, each pitcher who started in 20 or more games last year posted an ERA+ above league average. Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland could soon blossom into the Ace-level pitchers Colorado has lacked its entire existence.
Negatives: Beyond top five MVP Finalists Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies lineup is lacking. Carlos Gonzalez, though impressive in the second half, has become a shell of his former self. Trevor Story’s power has vanished, leaving Colorado dependent on at best mediocre hitters to fill in the gaps.
Question Mark: Will the bullpen live up to its cost? After losing Pat Neshek to Free Agency, the Rockies’ front office spent over $100 on bullpen arms Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGhee. With the MLB’s shift towards RP reliance, this should not come as a surprise. However, such a heavy investment in not-so-young pitching could have negative effects now and in the future.
Prediction: The NL West will most likely be the most competitive in baseball. With a little luck, we could see three teams form the division playing into October for the second year in a row. Colorado can be one of those teams if the pitching continues last year’s momentum, and if Arenado and Blackmon can once again carry the offense. 84-78
San Francisco Giants
Positives: This team is not nearly as bad as their 2017 record indicated. Injuries plagued the team at positions where they could not afford players missing time. Ace Madison Bumgarner should be back to form alongside RF Hunter Pence and 1B Brandon Belt.
Negatives: My God this farm system is abysmal. A lack of backup in the minors means that starters must stay healthy if the Giants want to compete. The back end of the rotation is as forgettable as a Dwayne Johnson film (looking at you, Baywatch). Can we take a second to mention that almost all of Dwayne Johnson’s movies are terrible? Maybe he could have played a better third base than the Frankenstein’s monster SF had last year.
Question Mark: Will the former MVPs recover their lost glory? The biggest story for the Giants this season will be how the trio of Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, and Andrew McCutchen play in 2018. All coming from one or a series of down seasons, a bounceback by two or all could be the difference between missing the playoffs or some good ol’ fashioned even-year BS. With the aforementioned lack of a farm system, the Giants chose to reload instead of rebuild. After missing out on the Giancarlo Stanton and the Shohei Otani sweepstakes, settling for past-their -prime stars like McCutchen and Longoria was the Giants’ only hope of competing. On top of that, the Giants will be without ace Madison Bumgarner and end of the starting rotation anchor Jeff Samardzija for the first month of a very front loaded schedule that features many match-ups against NL West rivals.
Prediction: If the Giants tread water without Bumgarner, they’ll be in contention for the second Wild Card spot this year, and a postseason appearance may help them lure free agents come the stacked upcoming offseason. That or another disastrous campaign awaits, but we’ll go with the former. 82-80
Positives: The D-Backs have a critically underrated rotation. While Robby Ray deservedly got the spotlight, every pitcher in the rotation put up at least 3 WAR last year. Most notably, Taijuan Walker appears to have risen from the shadow realm of draft busts. Repeat success would mean this rotation is built of bonafide Aces and second/third men.
Weaknesses: Losing J.D. Martinez to the Red Sox obviously hurts. Steven Souza and Jarrod Dyson are nice adds, but cannot come close to replacing the reign of terror Martinez went on after being shipped to the desert (29 HRs in 62 games). Beyond that, the power numbers of numerous Diamondbacks could decrease with the implementation of a humidor in Chase Field. Fangraphs hypothesizes that HRs in Chase Field could decrease around 30% with the new climate-controlled baseballs. Now, Studs like Paul Goldschmidt likely won’t have an issue cranking out homers even with the new tech. But it could curtail lesser skilled hitters like Jake Lamb.
Question Mark: How much will the team improve? With the Giants and Rockies making big moves in the offseason, one cannot help but be concerned that the Diamondbacks have not done enough this offseason to keep up.
Prediction: The Diamondbacks are good, but good is not enough here. The lack of power hitting will ultimately derail them come mid/late season. 80-82
San Diego Padres
Positives: Ironically, the Dads’ best asset is their youth. CF Manuel Margot is a future All-Star, C Austin Hedges is a plus defender with solid power, and Top 30 prospects Fernando Tatis Jr. (5) and Luis Urias (29) are waiting in the wings. The Padres look to be the team to watch in 2020.
Negatives: It isn’t 2020. Pretty much everything outside of the future is in bad shape for the Padres. Bottom barrel pitching, whatever defense, and a lack of team identity all make playoff contention seem much farther than it actually is.
Question Mark: The most obvious question is why San Diego would commit eight years and $144 million to first baseman Eric Hosmer, who could easily not be a part of the team’s long term success. Hosmer has shown he can be a plus bat, but is a comically overrated defender (even more so than Derek Jeter). Defense gets worse with age, and without a DH spot to hide in, Hosmer could very quickly become a negative asset for this ballclub.
Prediction: Things are not going to be fun in America’s finest city this year, but that does mean they can add more pieces that could have significant roles in the upcoming decade. 71-91
Matt: Joey “Ted Williams Jr.” Votto (1B, CIN)
Sean: Bryce Harper (RF, WAS)
Matt: Clayton Kershaw (SP, LAD)
Sean: Noah Syndergaard (SP, NYM)
Rookie of the Year
Matt: Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL)
Sean: Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL)
Matt: Red Sox def. Angels
Sean: Red Sox def. Angels
Matt: Astros def. Red Sox
Yankees def. Indians
Sean: Astros def. Red Sox
Yankees def. Indians
Matt: Yankees def. Astros
Sean: Astros def. Yankees
NL Wild Card
Matt: Cardinals def. Brewers
Sean: Brewers def. Cardinals
Matt: (HOT TAKE ALERT) Cardinals def. Dodgers
Nationals def. Cubs
Sean: Dodgers def. Brewers
Nationals def. Cubs
Matt: Nationals def. Cardinals
Sean: Dodgers def. Nationals
Matt: Yankees def. Nationals
Sean: Dodgers def. Astros