Baseball is back, and what better way to start the season than to make a series of predictions that could amount to nothing?
It’s one thing to predict Mike Trout to hit for a decent average, Max Scherzer to get a few strikeouts, or the Orioles to be terrible – but here are 5 scenarios that may not be likely but have at least a small chance of happening.
If nothing else, they will provide something to look back on as October comes around and realise, what on earth was I thinking? Make of them what you will!
The Angels to reach the postseason
On the face of it, the team with the best player in baseball in its ranks must surely be considered as contenders for a postseason spot; yet the Angels have managed to compete in just one such series in spite of the brilliance of Mike Trout since 2014, a year in which they won the AL West title yet were swept in the Division Series by the World Series runners up in the Royals.
They are being dismissed this year yet again, with pundits generally united in the view that their starting pitching won’t stand up sufficiently over a full season, while Albert Pujols’ infamous contract still runs on.
Yet, they have the best player in baseball in Trout, they have a potential All-Star and serial gold-glover at SS in Andrelton Simmons, while the likes of Justin Upton and Zack Cozart are undoubtedly solid Major League players at their positions.
Couple this with the fact that the Mariners have confessed to taking a step back with a weak bullpen and rotation, the Rangers are bad, and the Athletics are no guarantee to repeat their form of last season that saw them win 97 games, and the Angels could easily finish 2nd in the division if things drop right. In any scenario, that puts them in the reckoning for the 2nd wildcard spot, and they are my outside pick, should the key men on their roster remain healthy, to sneak into the postseason through that route.
Jack Flaherty to win the NL Cy Young Award
In what is sure to be a closely contested race to be crowned the best pitcher in the National League, a player that cannot be ignored is young Jack Flaherty of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Flaherty went 8-9 with a respectable 3.34 ERA over 151 innings in his rookie year and has been dominant this spring.
Should he take the expected next step forward, as part of a Cardinals team that has more than enough potential to contend in the NL Central division race and beyond, there is a great chance that he will acquire some votes in the Cy Young conversation at the end of the season.
To win it will be no mean feat in a league containing the likes of Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Nola, Clayton Kershaw and the rest, but he will be without question one to watch as the season unfolds.
Whit Merrifield and Billy Hamilton to combine for 100 stolen bases
This season we truly will find out whether or not ‘speed kills’.
With Whit Merrifield batting leadoff and newly acquired Billy Hamilton expected to be in the 9-hole to start the season, the Kansas City Royals, who are expected to be among the lowest-ranked teams in baseball at the end of the season, are going to run. And run often. With little pressure on with regards to any potential postseason run, and numerous fixtures against other poor teams such as the Tigers and the White Sox, there are going to be opportunities to steal bases for these guys.
The issue in Hamilton’s case is his ability to get on base in the first place, with an OBP of just under .300 over his last two seasons in Cincinnati.
Should their success rate be anywhere close to their best, however, then there is every chance that the numbers could stack up for the Royals which should make them a fun, if bad, team to watch this coming season.
Ronald Acuna Jr.to win the NL MVP award
On the face of it, this is a simple one. Forget the fact that it was only his rookie season last season, Acuna Jr is a true 5-tool player who could easily have a 30 homer-30 steal campaign this year.
His run of form last season of leading off successive games with a home run captured the imagination of baseball fans everywhere. Those same baseball fans everywhere cried out in anger and disgust when Jose Urena threw at him to open up the game at Sun Trust Park in August.
Those same baseball fans will be rooting for him again this year as a young player who plays hard, plays to win and, let’s face it, plays well. He has the tools and the confidence to go and win his first of many MVP awards this season in what could be a stellar career. Anyone want to rule it out? I certainly don’t.
Washington Nationals to win the World Series
You heard it here first, the Nationals are not only going to compete in the Fall Classic for the first time in Franchise history, but they are going to prevail in six over the New York Yankees.
OK, so this is more a general prediction than anything particularly outlandish but the fact is that the Nats are in an extremely competitive division, with the Braves, Phillies, Mets and Nationals all feasibly able to finish 1st, or indeed 4th, over the season.
I give the Nationals the edge however, because in spite of losing franchise star Bryce Harper in his high-profile free agency winter, they have come out the other side arguably with a stronger roster.
Juan Soto has a year more experience, their infield looks strong, and the 1-2 rotation of Scherzer and Strasburg is formidable against any lineup. The Nationals were a popular pick last season and, in their first year without Bryce Harper in the lineup since 2012, they can win it all in 2019. Maybe. Possibly. In 162 regular season games time, we will have a better idea!