MLB Predictions 2018: Projecting the Final Standings

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2018

MLB Predictions 2018: Projecting the Final Standings

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Baseball is right around the corner, folks.

    We're now less than two months away from Opening Day, and the countdown to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training has reached single digits.

    This year's free-agent market has made things interesting when it comes to projecting how each team might fare during the upcoming season.

    Generally, at this point in the offseason, teams are picking at scraps on the free-agent market and any remaining additions wouldn't really move the needle.

    The same can't be said this winter, as the eventual landing spots for guys like J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish and others will have a significant impact on the MLB landscape.

    That's not going to stop us from some prognosticating, though.

    Ahead is a division-by-division look at how each race will shake out, complete with win-loss record predictions for all 30 teams and full divisional analysis. The plus/minus represents the projected difference from last season's win total.

AL East

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    The addition of Giancarlo Stanton vaults the Yankees to the front of the AL East pack.
    The addition of Giancarlo Stanton vaults the Yankees to the front of the AL East pack.Willie J. Allen Jr./Associated Press

    Projected Final Standings

    TeamRecordW +/-
    New York Yankees95-67+4
    Boston Red Sox90-72-3
    Toronto Blue Jays82-80+6
    Tampa Bay Rays71-91-9
    Baltimore Orioles70-92-5

    2017 Standings: BOS, NYY, TB, TOR, BAL

         

    Overview

    It's sometimes easy for forget the Yankees didn't win the AL East last season, as they actually finished two games behind the rival Red Sox.

    After adding slugger Giancarlo Stanton to an already potent lineup and with a full season of Sonny Gray alongside Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka atop the rotation, this year's Yankees squad looks even better than the one that advanced to the American League Championship Series a year ago.

    The performance of rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar will be under a microscope if they break camp with starting jobs, and the rotation will be banking on another strong season from 37-year-old CC Sabathia. But all things considered, they look like the team to beat in the division.

    As for the Red Sox, they've yet to add the power bat that appeared to be No. 1 on their shopping list when the offseason began.

    There's still plenty of time to do that thanks to the slow-moving free-agent market, with J.D. Martinez still making a ton of sense. As of now, though, they've been overtaken as the top dogs in the AL East.

    The Blue Jays have opted to make one last push with their current core, holding onto Josh Donaldson this offseason instead of shopping the free-agent-to-be.

    Healthy seasons from Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ could restore the starting rotation to a strength. The team is much better positioned for injuries on the position player side of things after adding Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz, Curtis Granderson and Randal Grichuk.

    If they fall out of the running early, it will be a busy summer on the trade market. They should be able to at least hang around in the wild-card race, though.

    Losing Evan Longoria and Logan Morrison takes a big bite out of the Rays offense, and they'll once again rely on the starting rotation to give them an outside chance of contending.

    The Orioles still have time to bolster what was the worst starting rotation in baseball last season. For now, they have Gabriel Ynoa, Mike Wright and Miguel Castro as part of the projected starting staff, so it's hard to see them finishing anywhere but the cellar.

AL Central

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    Corey Kluber will anchor a Cleveland rotation that should once again be among the best in baseball.
    Corey Kluber will anchor a Cleveland rotation that should once again be among the best in baseball.Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Projected Final Standings

    TeamRecordW +/-
    Cleveland Indians103-59+1
    Minnesota Twins86-76+1
    Chicago White Sox73-89+6
    Detroit Tigers61-101-3
    Kansas City Royals59-103-21

    2017 Standings: CLE, MIN, KC, CWS, DET

          

    Overview

    The Indians won the AL Central by 17 games last season en route to the best record in the American League.

    Is there any reason to think they won't run away with the division title again in 2018?

    One of the best starting rotations in baseball returns intact, the bullpen is still strong even after losing a few key pieces and the offense should be just as potent with infield stars Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez leading the way.

    Another 100-win season is well within reach.

    The only other team in the division with even a chance of contending is the Twins, who surprised more than a few people by sneaking into the second AL wild-card spot last year on the heels of a 103-loss campaign.

    Starting pitching remains the big question in Minnesota, and losing veteran Ervin Santana for 10 to 12 weeks following surgery on his right middle finger only raises further questions.

    The rest of the offseason will be as important to the Twins' outlook as any team in baseball, as they'll need to walk away with at least one impact starter.

    As for the rest of the division, the White Sox are a year into the rebuilding process and have some dynamic young talent, but they're still at least a couple years away from making a push back toward a winning record.

    Meanwhile, the Tigers and Royals are both just kicking off their own rebuilding efforts. Both teams are thin on young, controllable impact talent, and the next few years figure to be lean ones, to say the least.

AL West

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    A full season of Justin Verlander will make the Astros that much better in 2018.
    A full season of Justin Verlander will make the Astros that much better in 2018.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Projected Final Standings

    TeamRecordW +/-
    Houston Astros103-59+2
    Los Angeles Angels88-74+8
    Texas Rangers78-840
    Seattle Mariners75-87-3
    Oakland Athletics72-90-3

    2017 Standings: HOU, LAA, SEA, TEX, OAK

          

    Overview

    Can anyone catch the Astros in the AL West?

    Probably not, but that doesn't mean the division won't produce two playoff teams in 2018.

    The Astros will begin their title defense with Justin Verlander and newcomer Gerrit Cole in what is arguably the most talented stable of starting pitching options in all of baseball.

    Case in point: Brad Peacock went 10-2 with a 3.22 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 21 starts last season, and he has virtually zero chance of winning a rotation spot.

    They might not win the division by 21 games again, but anything but another division title would be a huge surprise.

    It's the Angels who look like the division's most improved team.

    Along with re-signing Justin Upton after a successful two-month stint, they also added Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart to plug two glaring holes in the infield.

    Then, of course, there was the surprise win in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. If he can live up to his billing as a front-line starter and guys like Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs can stay healthy, the pitching staff should be vastly improved.

    An eight-win improvement might prove to be an undersell.

    The Rangers will test out the grand experiment of a six-man rotation and they have an intriguing group of arms with which to do it. Converted relievers Mike Minor and Matt Bush, veterans Doug Fister and Bartolo Colon and injury returnee Martin Perez could all benefit from some additional rest between starts.

    If the pitching staff holds up and young hitters like Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo and Willie Calhoun can make the type of impact the team is hoping for, a wild-card berth is within reach.

    For as busy as general manager Jerry Dipoto has been this offseason, are the Mariners really any better?

    The biggest area of need entering the offseason was the starting rotation and that's yet to be addressed, as Erasmo Ramirez and Marco Gonzales are both penciled into rotation spots with little in the way of depth behind them.

    Don't sleep on the Athletics, who have a good collection of young talent capable of taking another step forward this coming season.

    Khris Davis, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are solid pieces, and a strong farm system should provide more reinforcements.

    They might not see much of a change in the win-loss department, but they're headed in the right direction.

NL East

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    It's a make-or-break season for the Nationals with Bryce Harper staring down free agency next offseason.
    It's a make-or-break season for the Nationals with Bryce Harper staring down free agency next offseason.Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    Projected Final Standings

    TeamRecordW +/-
    Washington Nationals104-58+7
    New York Mets80-82+10
    Atlanta Braves74-88+2
    Philadelphia Phillies73-89+7
    Miami Marlins62-100-15

    2017 Standings: WAS, MIA, ATL, NYM, PHI

          

    Overview

    For the Nationals, simply winning the NL East is no longer enough.

    The team has won four division titles in the last six years, but it's failed to advance beyond the division series all four times.

    With Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez all headed for free agency next winter, this is a make-or-break season for the current core.

    On paper, they're as talented as any team in baseball. A healthy Adam Eaton will add another dynamic to the offense, and full seasons of Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle and Brandon Kintzler will make the bullpen a strength from the get-go, as opposed to a glaring weakness.

    The first 100-win season in franchise history seems well within reach given the current state of the rest of the division.

    A lot went wrong for the Mets in 2017 as they went from playing in the NL Wild Card Game to losing 92 games with essentially the same roster.

    The health of the pitching staff will once again be the biggest factor in the team's success. Even if Noah Syndergaard picks up right where he left off alongside Jacob deGrom atop the rotation, the team will need to find three other starters it can count on.

    Only one pitcher topped 120 innings last year (deGrom, 201.1).

    The Braves and Phillies are at similar points in their respective rebuilds.

    Both teams are still in the process of developing and assessing their young talent, but they're also ready to start seeing some of the fruits of their labor in the form of a few more notches in the win column.

    And then there's the dumpster fire known as the Marlins.

    Trading Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon meant shipping out a massive chunk of last year's offensive attack. Now they have a weak offense backed by one of the worst starting rotations in baseball.

    Honestly, 62 wins might be generous.

NL Central

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    The Cubs offense will once again be led by the dynamic duo of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.
    The Cubs offense will once again be led by the dynamic duo of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Projected Final Standings

    TeamRecordW +/-
    Chicago Cubs93-69+1
    St. Louis Cardinals87-75+4
    Milwaukee Brewers85-77-1
    Cincinnati Reds73-89+5
    Pittsburgh Pirates69-93-6

    2017 Standings: CHC, MIL, STL, PIT, CIN

         

    Overview

    It speaks to how drastically expectations for the Cubs have changed in recent years that a 92-win season and NLCS appearance last year ranked as something of a disappointment.

    They're still the favorites in the NL Central, but with new faces in the starting rotation and at the back of the bullpen, there are also some questions that will need to be answered.

    Best-case scenario, the rebuild relief corps provides more stability, Tyler Chatwood turns in a breakout season away from Coors Field, and an offense that led all of baseball in runs scored during the second half picks up right where it left off.

    Otherwise, it could be a tight three-team race, with the Cardinals and Brewers both looking like legitimate wild-card contenders at the very least.

    The Cardinals have added Marcell Ozunawho somehow quietly posted a 145 OPS+ with 37 home runs and 124 RBI—to the mix, giving them their first prototypical middle-of-the-order threat since Albert Pujols left.

    Can Luke Gregerson hold up in the closer's role? That might be the biggest question surrounding the Redbirds.

    As for the Brewers, there's no question they improved with the additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to what was already a potent offense.

    Can a rotation fronted by Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and eventually Jimmy Nelson (once he returns from shoulder surgery) legitimately contend? That's the one they'll need to answer.

    Picking the Reds to finish fourth in the division might come as a bit of a surprise, but that speaks more to how far the Pirates have fallen.

    If a few of the abundance of young arms the Reds have in the system can latch onto rotation spots, they have the offensive firepower and a quietly effective bullpen to surprise some people.

    As for the Pirates, trading away Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole essentially closed the door on a group that made three straight postseason appearances. Now it's back to the drawing board as they'll look to get younger and cheaper.

NL West

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    Clayton Kershaw will once again lead the Dodgers rotation in 2018.
    Clayton Kershaw will once again lead the Dodgers rotation in 2018.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Projected Final Standings

    TeamRecordW +/-
    Los Angeles Dodgers99-63-5
    Colorado Rockies91-71+4
    Arizona Diamondbacks89-73-4
    San Francisco Giants80-82+16
    San Diego Padres65-97-6

    2017 Standings: LAD, ARI, COL, SD, SF

          

    Overview

    Three teams made the postseason out of the NL West a year ago, and here's predicting it happens again.

    The Dodgers remain the team to beat and after winning 104 games and reaching the World Series last year; they have unfinished business.

    A bounce-back season from Logan Forsythe could give them the deepest lineup in the NL, and they also return most of the key pieces from a pitching staff that led the league with a 3.38 ERA.

    The biggest question will be bridging the gap to closer Kenley Jansen. Tom Koehler and Scott Alexander were brought in to replace Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson in what appears to be a sideways move at best.

    The Rockies and Diamondbacks did battle in the NL Wild Card Game last year and it could again be a close race to see who gets to host that game.

    The Rockies, who lost that game, 11-8, in Phoenix, added Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw to replace Greg Holland and Pat Neshek. They also re-signed left-hander Jake McGee, so what was an improved bullpen last season should be just as good, if not better, in 2018.

    We all know offense won't be a problem, and with Jon Gray coming into his own as a legitimate ace and a bevy of young arms behind him capable of taking another step forward, the Rockies could be ready to leapfrog into second place.

    The Diamondbacks won't be passed without a fight, though.

    The only notable loss from last season's 93-win team—aside from two-month rental J.D. Martinez—is closer Fernando Rodney, and the bullpen is arguably better with Archie Bradley moving into the closer's role and both Brad Boxberger and Yoshihisa Hirano added to the mix.

    There will no doubt be some who think the Giants are a playoff team after adding Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen.

    Unfortunately, it's not 2013.

    Longoria was a league-average offensive player last season (100 OPS+). While McCutchen enjoyed a bounce-back year, he's no longer an elite-level player and his diminished defensive skills do nothing to address what was one of the team's biggest issues.

    They'll be better, just not postseason better.

    And finally, we have the Padres, who are still at least a few years away but boast one of the best farm systems in baseball and an exciting collection of young talent at the MLB level.

    Take Dinelson Lamet in your fantasy leagues, folks.

          

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.