The 2018 Major League Baseball season opens Thursday — that's tomorrow! And since it’s never too late to put my awful predictions on paper, here’s one dope’s guess at how the National League will shake out over the next six months.
In the ongoing spirit of trying to have a little stake in the outcome of every team, I blended Fangraphs projections and Bovada gambling lines to come up with over-under numbers for each team. Last year 16 teams hit the over, from Oakland by a half to Milwaukee by 16.5. I went a humiliating 9-21, losing both my confidence and differential pools in staggering fashion. So if someone gives you a line on my personal prediction success, definitely take the under.
NL East (teams listed in projected order of finish, 2017 results in parentheses
Washington Nationals — 91.5 (97-65, lost NLDS)
New York Mets — 80.5 (70-92)
Philadelphia Phillies — 75.5 (66-96)
Atlanta Braves — 73.5 (72-90)
Miami Marlins — 64.5 (77-85)
Most predictions carry an undercurrent of being invalidated by injury. That’s what makes it tough to take the enticing overs for the Nationals and Mets. Both teams have the raw talent to exceed those marks, but key players missing some time is inevitable. And while I have reservations about DC’s clubhouse climate with a new manager and Bryce Harper careening toward the richest free agency deal in time or space, it would seem almost impossible for even a banged-up Nats squad to bank fewer than 92 curly Ws in this division.
As for the Mets, I’m always leaning under on a team so reliant on injury-prone starting pitching. I’m also taking Philadelphia’s under and Atlanta’s over, guessing the southern squad actually is more ready for prime time than a new batch of Whiz Kids. Hard under on Miami. A more interesting line there is attendance — over/under 1 million fans?
Chicago Cubs — 94.5 (92-70, lost NLCS)
St. Louis Cardinals — 86.5 (83-79)
Milwaukee Brewers — 81.5 (86-76)
Pittsburgh Pirates — 73.5 (75-87)
Cincinnati Reds — 72.5 (68-94)
As a Cubs fan, it still feels uncomfortable to be bold about expecting success, but even subtracting emotion from the equation it’s hard to find anyone not expecting another division crown. The line is razor thin, but I’ve got to have the over. Much like in the West, I disagree with the second- and third-place projections, so give me the St. Louis under, the Milwaukee over and put the Brewers in the wild card game.
Part of the reason for the confidence in Milwaukee is the many, many games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The Reds shouldn’t finish in last place this year, so I will take their over and the Pirates under, but that could come true even if both teams finish with identical 73-89 records.
Los Angeles Dodgers — 95.5 (104-58, lost World Series)
Arizona Diamondbacks — 83.5 (93-69, lost NLDS)
Colorado Rockies — 81.5 (87-75, lost NLWC)
San Francisco Giants — 81.5 (64-98)
San Diego Padres — 70.5 (71-91)
Although almost no one is likely to pick anyone but the Dodgers to win the division, I feel I might not be alone in picking them to hit the under here. Perhaps more unconventional I actually have Colorado not just hitting the over but hosting the NL Wild Card game. That means I have Arizona’s under, though perhaps not by much. I was waffling on the Giants’ under — they added some key pieces but will they factor into 18 more wins? — until Madison Bumgarner suffered another freak injury, so give me that under, too.
And while it’s probably not the safest prognostication, I’ll take San Diego to come in over, if even by a hair. Every batch of 30 picks ought to have a few flights of fancy. Increasingly that seems to come from lower-tier squads, as five of six 2016 division winners repeated in 2017 and early October projections feature a lot of return engagements.
This year I created an online form for readers who want to play along;
(at https://goo.gl/forms/dIbzUl53CEtuF8xQ2 for those of you reading in print). I’ll share my National League picks next week, but you can guess today.
(or see last week's column) for last week’s player predictions game. No stakes but pride (and the winner’s names in the paper), so please join.