MLB Awards Predictions: Will Mike Trout, Bryce Harper Win MVP? - Sports Illustrated

2018 MLB Awards Predictions: Who Will Take Home Baseball's Top Honors?

Who's going to take home AL and NL MVP honors in 2018? How about the Cy Young or Rookie of the Year? Our writers explains their picks plus look at potential surprise and flop teams and more.
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With Opening Day just one day away, the time is right to project who will take home hardware at the end of the 2018 season. Is Shohei Ohtani a guarantee for AL Rookie of the Year? Can anyone reasonably compete with Mike Trout to win AL MVP? Will there be any repeat winners this year? We're here to try and answer those questions after putting our reputations on the line with our World Series predictions from Monday

American League MVP

Tom Verducci: Carlos Correa, SS, Astros: Pro-rate his 2017 injury-shortened numbers to a full season and you get 33 homers, 115 RBI, 113 runs and a 158 OPS+. Only one shortstop has ever done that: Alex Rodriguez. Always driven to win an MVP, Correa wants it even more now that his friendly rival, teammate Jose Altuve, won one. Hitting third in the best lineup in baseball for the team that will win the most games sure doesn’t hurt. Darkhorse AL MVP: Byron Buxton, CF, Twins

Ben Reiter: Mike Trout, CF, Angels: He came in fourth after missing more than a quarter of the 2017 season with a torn ligament in his thumb.  As long as he keeps any DL time to less than a month, he’s a lock, which will give him three MVPs but still zero playoff wins. Darkhorse AL MVP: Buxton 

Stephanie Apstein:Trout: Even with Giancarlo Stanton in the American League, it’s hard to pick against Trout here. If he hadn’t missed six weeks with a thumb injury last season, he would probably have won his third MVP and had his sixth season of finishing top two (out of six seasons in the majors). This spring he has homered as many times as he has struck out (three). He’s an animal. Darkhorse AL MVP: Jose Ramirez, 2B/3B, Indians.

Jon Tayler: Trout: I will keep making this same pick every year because it’s the only pick that makes sense. So long as Trout is fully healthy, this should be his award to lose forever—and note that, had it not been for a thumb injury that cost him 40-plus games last year, he would probably have won his third trophy, given that he finished the season hitting an absurd-for-everyone-but-Trout .306/.442/.629 in 507 plate appearances. Why bet against the best? Darkhorse AL MVP: J.D. Martinez, LF/DH, Red Sox

Jack Dickey:Trout: The best player of his generation won MVPs in 2014 and ’16; why should this even year be any different? Though a thumb injury limited him to 114 games in 2017, Trout posted the best adjusted OPS+ of his career (187). Somehow he’s getting even better. Darkhorse AL MVP: Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox

Michael Beller: Trout: Picking anyone other than Trout is being a contrarian for the sake of contrarianism. Last year, he would have finished in the top two in AL MVP voting for the sixth straight season were it not for thumb injury that cost him about 50 games. I expect the Angels to be in the playoff race this season, as well, so he won’t have to pay a bad-team tax. Trout remains the best player on the planet, and that will result in his third career MVP Award. Darkhorse AL MVP: Buxton

Connor Grossman: Manny Machado, SS, Orioles: Manny Machado is hardly a reliable MVP pick, if for no other reason than the Orioles are likely to trade him, and he’s not going to win the award by splitting 2018 in the AL and NL. But under the assumption he remains in the American League, Machado is poised for a breakout, MVP-type season in his contract year. He’s extremely durable—missing only 11 games over the past three seasons—and proven to be a reliable 30-plus home run hitter. Expect to see a flurry of career-highs from the 25 year old.​ Darkhorse AL MVP: Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Trout: There's no fun in betting on the favorite, but Trout is competing with himself at this point. If he learns to avoid sliding head-first, he's a good bet to continue improving. Darkhorse AL MVP: Justin Upton, OF, Angels

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National League MVP

Tom Verducci: Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals: A reminder: Harper was the presumptive MVP when he slipped on a base Aug. 12, suffering a hyperextended his knee that shut him down for five weeks. At 25, he’s just now entering the peak of his career—with the wisdom of more than 3,000 plate appearances. Only once has he played an entire season, starting from Opening Day, without injury—and in that one, 2015, he was the unanimous MVP.​ Darkhorse NL MVP: Rhys Hoskins, OF, Phillies.

Ben Reiter: Harper: Not that Harper ever needs extra motivation, but he happens to be playing for the chance to perhaps exceed Giancarlo Stanton’s record 13-year, $325 million contract.  Assuming clubs start paying for free agents again, that is. Darkhorse NL MVP: Trea Turner, SS, Nationals.  

Stephanie Apstein:Harper: Not that he needs help making a case for a record-setting free agent deal, but this is his walk year. After a stunning 2015 and disappointing ’16, he was merely very good last season. I expect him to return to stunning.​ Darkhorse NL MVP: Christian Yelich, OF, Brewers

Jon Tayler: Harper: Speaking of players who lost out on hardware because of injury: Harper was all set to add a second trophy to his collection last season before he seriously hurt his knee stepping on a wet base in mid-August. To that point in the season, he was hitting .326/.419/.614 with 29 homers—just a touch off his MVP-caliber 2015 numbers. That impromptu slip-and-slide cost him most of the rest of the year, ending his award chances (well, that and Giancarlo Stanton hitting 59 home runs). A healthy Harper offers more upside than any non-Trout player alive. If he can get a full season in, the honors should be his.​ Darkhorse NL MVP: Yelich

Jack Dickey:Harper: Like Trout, Harper had an abbreviated but stellar 2017 (.319/.413/.595). While injuries have speckled his career in a way they haven’t the Millville Meteor’s, Harper has every incentive on the eve of his free agency to curtail the excesses of his game. Darkhorse NL MVP: Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves

Michael Beller: Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs: Bryant’s “down season” included a .295/.409/.537 slash line with 29 homers, 38 doubles and 111 runs scored. MVP voters typically want to see gaudy numbers in the traditional categories, and Bryant could again see his RBI total limited if he hits second in the Cubs order all season. Still, last year’s 73 RBI were a fluke, especially considering he has more power than indicated by the 29 homers. He’ll work his way back into the mid-30s there, and that will take care of any RBI concerns. It will also help that Bryant will be the best player on a team that pushes, and possibly exceeds, 100 wins.​ Darkhorse NL MVP: Yelich

Connor Grossman: Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies: Aside from establishing himself as the preeminent defensive third baseman in baseball, Nolan Arenado has only gotten scarier at the dish. His OPS has climbed from .898 to .959 over the past three seasons and he’s averaged 41 home runs and 134 RBIs per year in that span. There’s no reason to think his precipitous rise will slow down in his age-27 season. Darkhorse NL MVP: Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks: He has to win one at some point, right? He's finished top-three in MVP in two of the last three seasons and hasn't logged a park-adjusted OPS lower than 126 since his rookie season in 2012. Goldschmidt's power and defensive skills are known, but his plate discipline (322 walks over the past three seasons) and speed (71 stolen bases over those three seasons) are what separate him from the rest of the candidates. Darkhorse NL MVP: Ozuna


AL Cy Young

Tom Verducci: Chris Sale, LHP, Red Sox: “Normal” rest these days is five days, not four; more starts are made with five days of rest than four. Sale made a career-high 17 starts last year on four days—the new “short” rest. And he paid for it. In his final eight starts he was 3–4 with a 4.30 ERA. New manager Alex Cora will take the foot off the gas on Sale. More rest might mean one or two fewer starts, but also a stronger Sale down the stretch.​

Ben Reiter: Justin Verlander, RHP, Astros: Verlander didn’t agree to go to Houston until the last moment, but found a perfect match between pitcher and team.  He’s a tinkerer, always motivated to improve himself, and no club provides more analytical tools with which to quickly solve problems than the Astros.​

Stephanie Apstein:Corey Kluber, RHP, Indians: The relentlessness with which he overtook Chris Sale in last year’s race—Kluber had a 5.06 ERA through May—should be a good reminder for the rest of the league: He can spot you two months and still win this. And I don’t think he’ll spot them two months this year.​

Jon Tayler: Luis Severino, RHP, Yankees: Here’s what Severino did last year at the tender age of 23: 230 strikeouts in 197 1/3 innings, a 2.98 ERA, a walk rate of just 2.4 per nine, a 152 ERA+, and 5.3 Wins Above Replacement. That’s Max Scherzer/Chris Sale/Corey Kluber territory—and again, we’re talking about a kid who isn’t old enough to rent a car. Severino has a jaw-dropping combination of premium velocity (his fastball averaged 97.9 mph last year, tops among qualified starters), swing-and-miss stuff, and control. He was third to Kluber and Sale in last year’s voting; as the established ace of the Yankees’ rotation, expect him to get more love this time around.​

Jack Dickey:Kluber: Though our most recent memories of Kluber involve his Division Series shelling, he was without question the best pitcher in the American League in 2017, striking out more than seven batters for every one he walked. So long as the balls remain juiced, his sinker will serve as the perfect weapon. (Elsewhere in the sinkerballer-with-swing-and-miss-stuff department, Sonny Gray, a good bet to gobble up tons of wins as the Yankees do, is 100:1 to win the Cy Young. Just sayin’.)

Michael Beller: Sale: Sale is going to be one of my two predicted Cy Young winners every year until he gets one. Why? I just can’t see him ending his career without at least one of these in his trophy case. He is simply too good for that to happen. His breakthrough nearly came last year, but he’ll get over the hump this season, edging out Cleveland starters Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Sale should again push 20 wins and 300 strikeouts with a sub-3.00 ERA, and the voters won’t be able to deny him this time.​

Connor Grossman: Severino: The Yankees’ young phenom will build off his immensely successful 2017 season to win the Cy Young in his second full year as a starter. Severino is a strikeout machine (10.7 K/9) and for what it’s worth (hopefully not much), he’s bound to produce a sterling win-loss record thanks to New York’s potent lineup.

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Garrett Richards, SP, Angels: Banking on Richards to stay healthy—he's made 12 starts over the last two seasons—is a foolish gambit, but he's one of the handful of starters in the AL with wipeout stuff and the command necessary to win the top award. He doesn't surrender home runs and he's capable of reaching 200 strikeouts. If the Angels want to make the playoffs, Richards will need to make 30 starts. Richards has the stuff to be a star; hopefully this is the year he finally has a clean bill of health. If you're looking for an even darker horse with an even spottier injury history, look to Mariners ace James Paxton.

NL Cy Young

Tom Verducci: Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets: He is one of four or five pitchers in the league with the best pure stuff (Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer are in the picture, too), he is 25 years old, he is fully recovered (and rested) from the torn right lat that limited him to just seven starts last year, and he wants to be great. Trivia note: among the 13 pitchers with the most strikeouts in their first 62 games, four pitched for the Mets: Dwight Gooden (1), Matt Harvey (9), Syndergaard (11) and Jacob deGrom (13).

Ben Reiter: Syndergaard: It’s just spring training, but a 1.35 ERA through his first five appearances confirmed that one of the nastiest arsenals in the history of the game is back, after a year ruined by a partially torn lat. Syndergaard has a 2.65 ERA over the last two seasons, better than that of the two-time reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, albeit in 28 fewer starts.​  

Stephanie Apstein: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers: Spring training stats don’t mean much, but Kershaw did not allow a run in six starts. He changed his training regimen this offseason to accommodate his balky back, and although he turned 30 this month, he has showed no signs of aging. As long as he doesn’t get hurt, it’s hard to imagine anyone else matching what he can do.

Jon Tayler: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals: Strasburg shut the mouths of every hater he’s ever had with his beautiful and gutsy NLDS performance last October, shutting out the Cubs over seven innings and striking out 12 in an elimination game despite being sick. The stuff has always been there for Strasburg, but he’s always been sunk by some injury or another. No more, though: He was quietly one of the NL’s best starters last year, and this is the season when the output finally matches the hype.

Jack Dickey:Kershaw: Injuries constrained Kershaw in 2016 and 2017, and his home-run rate ticked troublingly upward last year. (For his career he has allowed homers on 7.8% of fly balls; in 2017 the figure was 15.9%.) And yet, with apologies to Max Scherzer (who’d be my pick to start any must-win game) and Noah Syndergaard (who has the best stuff in the known universe), it still feels silly to pick someone other than Kershaw, whose mastery of the game will allow him to survive any blip. In the dark-horse department, I’ll always love Robbie Ray, who showed in 2017 that his prodigious bat-missing ability could actually yield results.

Michael Beller: Strasburg: On a per-game basis, Strasburg has been every bit as good as teammate Max Scherzer over their respective careers. The big difference is that Scherzer has stayed healthy, resulting in three career Cy Young awards, while Strasburg has just two 30-start seasons to his name. He’ll get his third this season, and that will make all the difference in the counting stats that are necessary to take home this award. Strasburg will be at the fore of the best 1-2 punch in baseball, keeping him ahead of his teammate, as well as Clayton Kershaw, in Cy Young voting.

Connor Grossman: Strasburg: It’s likely going to be another tossup in the National League between Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but nearly 10 years after being drafted as one of the most hyped pitchers in baseball history, Strasburg finally takes home the game’s top pitching honor. As long as he can remain healthy enough to make 30-plus starts, the 29-year-old righty can establish himself as the Nationals’ best arm in 2018.

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Kershaw: If his balky back is functioning, he's the odds-on favorite to win every year. Like Trout, he's usually competing with himself until he gets hurt.

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AL Rookie of the Year

Tom Verducci: Shohei Ohtani, RHP/OF/DH, Angels: He looks like deGrom with a splitter, and his pitching stats might look like the ones that made deGrom NL ROY in 2014: 22 starts, 9-6, 2.69. But he also figures to get about 250 at-bats, which could mean 15 homers and a résumé unlike anything seen since Babe Ruth.

Ben Reiter: Ohtani: The backlash to the backlash pick! I’m still choosing to believe he’s more like one of the best players alive than one who has struggled to acclimate so far this spring.​Syndergaard has a 2.65 ERA over the last two seasons, better than that of the two-time reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, albeit in 28 fewer starts.​  

Stephanie Apstein: Eloy Jimenez, OF, White Sox: There will be a lot of attention on Shohei Ohtani, and in this case I think that will hurt him. Anything worse than a 2.50 ERA and .300 batting average is going to seem like a failure, even though of course it won’t be. Anyway, toiling quietly in Chicago will be Eloy Jimenez, who has really impressed scouts this spring. He’s a key part of the White Sox’ rebuild. 

Jon Tayler: Ohtani: Ohtani remains a mystery even after (or perhaps thanks to) his wildly uneven Cactus League campaign, as he racked up strikeouts but gave up home runs by the bushel. Still, he has the best chance of making the biggest impact of any Junior Circuit freshman, though Yankees super-prospect Gleyber Torres will give him a run for his money.

Jack Dickey:Ohtani: I’m not confident that Ohtani will turn into the Stephen Strasburg-meets-Carlos Gonzalez hybrid his exponents have foretold. But the Big A-sized expectations for Ohtani are not based on hype alone, and even a disappointing season from Ohtani could rate as worthy of the honor.​

Michael Beller: Willie Calhoun, 2B/OF/DH, Rangers: Calhoun starred in the minors last season, belting 31 homers with a .300/.355/.572 slash line between the Dodgers and Rangers Triple-A affiliates. The big piece in the Yu Darvish trade, Calhoun should be up with the Rangers once the team is through manipulating his service time. At that point, he’ll instantly turn into one of their most dangerous hitters. Calhoun will be a 30-homer threat from the moment he arrives, and even if he doesn’t reach that mark this season, he’ll place himself on a path toward future stardom.

Connor Grossman: Ohtani: Similarly to Ichiro in 2000, Shohei Ohtani is not a true rookie. But in his first year playing Major League Baseball, he’ll be classified as such. Ohtani might not dazzle in his first year and make a charge for the AL MVP, but from the mound and at the plate, he’ll be afforded the chance to contribute more than any other rookie in baseball.

Gabriel Baumgaertner:Ohtani: Even if he struggles as a starter, he has an opportunity to change a team's season like no other player of his generation. The experiment doesn't have to work perfectly in order to work well.


NL Rookie of the Year

Tom Verducci: Ronald Acuña, OF, Braves: He is a true five-tool player who resembles a young Yoenis Cespedes with his combination of speed, power and athleticism. Even if he is called up in late May, he’s that good—to win the ROY after spotting the field a seven-week head start.

Ben Reiter: Acuña: He might be in the minors now, for annually aggravating service time issues, but we’ll see the next great five-tool star soon enough.

Stephanie Apstein: Acuña: He was among the best players in the Grapefruit League, so naturally the Braves reassigned him to minor league camp. You can expect this to follow the path of the Kris Bryant saga: After exactly as much seasoning in Triple A as it takes to cost him a year of service time, he will be in Atlanta, setting the world on fire.

Jon Tayler: Acuña: Once the Braves are done monkeying around with his service time, Acuña will come up and show off the tools that made him the industry’s consensus No. 1 prospect: lightning bat speed, absurd power, and top-flight defense in the outfield. He gets the nod over Washington’s Victor Robles, who will have a hard time cracking the Nationals’ outfield unless injuries strike.

Jack Dickey:Acuña: Though the Braves sent Acuña to the minors to start 2018 because of baseball’s antiquated service-time rules, he won’t be at Triple-A for long. He hit .344 with power in half a season there in 2017 … at all of 19 years old. He’s prepared to feast on mature pitching the moment he gets the opportunity.​

Michael Beller: Acuña: Speaking of service-time manipulation, Acuña has become the poster child for such brazen behavior. Nevermind that for a second, though. Acuña is likely the most MLB-ready minor leaguer since Kris Bryant, and that will be on full display when the Braves promote him, likely in late April. Just 20 years old, Acuña tore through the Braves farm system last season, totaling a .325/.374/.522 slash with 21 homers, 31 doubles and 44 steals. The Braves may still be a year or two away from being a legitimate playoff contender, but Acuña will give their fans the first glimmer of hope they have had in a long time.

Connor Grossman: Lewis Brinson, OF, Marlins: Brinson found his way to Miami as the centerpiece to the Christian Yelich deal this offseason, and it looks like he’ll be a powerful fixture in the Marlins’ lineup this season. His numbers might be slightly suppressed by cavernous Marlins Park, but he should get as much playing time as he wants on a losing ballclub.

Gabriel Baumgaertner:Scott Kingery, 2B/3B, Phillies: Kingery was regarded by many to be the best player in Phillies camp during spring training. He was good enough that the team decided to sign him to a long-term extension before he'd ever played a Major League game. He may struggle to see at-bats with Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez starting ahead of him, but new manager Gabe Kapler has already demonstrated a willingness to tinker after the team signed Carlos Santana to play first base and move Rhys Hoskins to the outfield. Acuña will be the most exciting player to watch once he arrives, but Kingery will be another fun addition to the Phillies' youth movement.

AL Manager of the Year

Tom Verducci: A.J. Hinch, Astros: The award typically goes to the manager of the team that most outperforms expectations. But sometimes a team is so good the manager gets rewarded: Lou Piniella of the 2001 Mariners, Joe Torre of the 1998 Yankees, Tony LaRussa of the 1988 Athletics, etc. (admittedly, it’s been a while). But the Astros could be one of those runaway teams, and if they are, it means Hinch has figured out on the fly the endgame to his bullpen, where Ken Giles is a question.

Ben Reiter: Hinch: Usually this goes to the manager of the most surprising playoff team—but I’m picking return engagements from all five of last year’s October participants. So it’ll be Hinch, recognizing his centrality to the game’s best club, one which is not at all run by computer.

Stephanie Apstein: Aaron Boone, Yankees: Honestly I think this is his to lose. Rookie manager for the hottest team on the planet, finally finished with whatever build it was undergoing. As long as they don’t collapse, it’s hard to see anyone else taking this.

Jon Tayler: Alex Cora, Red Sox: This award usually goes to the man who most exceeded expectations—aka the guy whose team suddenly goes from last place to the playoffs—but there don’t seem to be any teams in the AL that fit that bill. Let’s give this to Cora, then, a rookie manager handed an insanely tough task but who should complete it with aplomb.

Jack Dickey:Boone: So much of what a manager actually does is hidden from public view and accordingly is impossible to assess; the awards generally go to the skippers of the teams that beat their projections or hold together against all odds. If the Yankees win, they have held together, and if they have held together the novice manager Boone deserves a healthy share of the credit.​

Michael Beller: Bob Melvin, A's: There’s a simple, reliable path to the Coach or Manager of the Year Award in every sport. If you’re at the helm of a surprisingly good team, you automatically get the honor. Or at least it seems that way. I don’t want to take too much of the punch away from my surprise team prediction a few spots down the line, so I’ll just say here that Melvin’s A’s are going to turn a lot of heads this season. That will have him as a nearly unanimous Manager of the Year in the AL.

Connor Grossman: Rick Renteria, White Sox: The White Sox aren’t likely to crash the postseason party, but prognosticators didn’t think the 2015 Cubs and 2017 Yankees would make it either. Chicago will take a large step forward in 2018, hanging around the wild-card race long enough for manager Rick Renteria to get some much-deserved recognition after getting a raw deal with the Cubs.

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Cora: Boston's new skipper has the ideal pedigree: A highly respected former player who was a part of a World Series winning staff. Cora's time as Houston's bench coach means th he should be comfortable with analytics and his easygoing personality will hopefully play well in the Boston pressure cooker. Managing the Red Sox might be the most demanding job in the big leagues, but Cora seems to have a combination of skills that will equip him to lead the team.

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NL Manager of the Year

Tom Verducci: Mickey Callaway, Mets: Only one of the past 38 managers of the year has been a former pitcher: Bud Black, for the 2010 Padres. Callaway is the right man at the right time, inheriting a pitching-rich club that can bounce back from a 70-season as long as it stays relatively healthy.​

Ben Reiter: Callaway: So here’s the surprise playoff team. Maybe Callaway’s personable approach and pitching background will help keep the Mets healthy enough to make October again.

Stephanie Apstein: Dave Martinez, Nationals: Another rookie manager with the world on his shoulders. Voters won’t know if he got the Nationals over the first-round hump before they cast their ballots, but if Harper has an MVP-caliber season and the team cruises into the playoffs, I could imagine Martinez getting a lot of credit. 

Jon Tayler: Martinez: Is this the man who will finally bring stability to the Nationals’ dugout? Joe Maddon’s long-time righthand man has been gifted with as loaded a team as you can ask for, which is a nice headstart in winning this award.

Jack Dickey:Craig Counsell, Brewers: For my money Counsell should have won this award last year after his ragtag club finished 10 games above .500. Expectations are higher this year, and the Brewers are no sure thing to meet them, but if the team can notch a wild-card spot the voters may be inclined to give Counsell some love for his body of work.​

Michael Beller: Martinez: What’s the other surefire way to win a Manager of the Year Award? Lead a great team to a dominant season, and do so in a league where there isn’t a surprise contender. Bonus points if it happens to be your first year as a manager. Martinez already checked the second box, and he’ll do the same to the first over the course of the next six months. The Nationals have an elite roster, top to bottom, and play in a division that likely won’t be the league’s worst, but certainly won’t be the league’s best. They’ll finish the season with the best record in baseball, lifting Martinez to a Manager of the Year Award in his first season on the job.​ There’s a simple, reliable path to the Coach or Manager of the Year Award in every sport. If you’re at the helm of a surprisingly good team, you automatically get the honor. Or at least it seems that way. I don’t want to take too much of the punch away from my surprise team prediction a few spots down the line, so I’ll just say here that Melvin’s A’s are going to turn a lot of heads this season. That will have him as a nearly unanimous Manager of the Year in the AL.

Connor Grossman: Counsell: The Brewers took advantage of the Cubs’ slow start to the year and spent nearly 70 days leading the NL Central, building a lead as large as 5.5 games by mid-July. While the team struggled in the second half and yielded the division to Chicago, Milwaukee and fourth-year manager Craig Counsell appear poised to play October baseball in 2018 after reeling in Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich.

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Counsell: The Brewers made a major mistake not signing a true ace in the offseason, but Counsell has already demonstrated his ability to squeeze wins out of teams that shouldn't be contending. Last year, the Brewers almost made the playoffs with Chase Anderson and Zach Davies heading the rotation. Now that they've added Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to the outfield, Counsell's true talents will shine and the Brewers will compete for first place in baseball's best division.

​Biggest Name Moved at Trade Deadline

Tom Verducci: Manny Machado, SS, Orioles: The Orioles have no shot at extending Machado, and they don’t appear improved from the 75 wins they scraped out last year. We saw Evan Longoria, Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen traded over the winter—all faces of a franchise. Baltimore would be wise to see what it can get for Machado.​

Ben Reiter: Machado: This one seems relatively obvious, depending on how you define “biggest name,” though I doubt Jarrod Saltalamacchia is going anywhere.  Would the Orioles trade two months of Machado to, say, the Yankees?  I wouldn’t bet against it.

Stephanie Apstein: Machado: This one is kind of obvious, but the Orioles probably won’t be very good and Machado probably won’t sign with them next year. If they want anything more than a draft pick for him, this is their last chance. 

Jon Tayler: Chris Archer, RHP, Rays: If only because he’ll be the best pitcher theoretically available, and because it’s easy to see both the Dodgers and Yankees sniffing at him all season long. Both teams showed last summer that their strategy is to let the first half of the season shake out before adding pitching depth as needed, and both value young arms under team control. Archer fits that bill, and with the Rays having taken a step back, moving him makes the most sense for them, too.

Jack Dickey:Machado: It’s hard to imagine it being anyone other than Machado, given his impending free agency and the strong likelihood that the Orioles’ ratty rotation may by the all-star break very well include Rodrigo Lopez and Scott Erickson. Elsewhere in the AL East, Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, another free agent at the end of the season, will likely find himself on the block as well.

Michael Beller: Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays: The Blue Jays window slammed shut after the 2016 season, with Donaldson one of the last ties to the teams that made it to the ALCS in two straight years. Now 32, Donaldson is officially on the back nine of his career. He remains an elite hitter, but the Blue Jays will have to consider moving on from him, especially once they fall out of contention in the AL playoff race. Donaldson will come at a hefty price, especially considering he’s a free agent after this season, but that won’t keep a contender from meeting the Blue Jays’ demands.

Connor Grossman: Machado: Playing in a contract year on a team that isn’t likely to contend, it makes too much sense for the Orioles to capitalize on Machado’s value. Baltimore made him available in the offseason but no team met the sky-high price tag. Something will inevitably give by July 31.

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Robinson Cano, 2B, Mariners: Sitting 15 games under .500 and 20 games behind the Astros, Mariners ownership fires manager Scott Servais and forces a firesale. After moving Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz, Seattle ships Cano to the St. Louis Cardinals. Wait, this isn't the "Bold Prediction" section?


Surprise Team

Tom Verducci: New York Mets: Think of the wild card as a race to get to 14 games over .500—which gets you 88 wins. Syndergaard and deGrom could take care of that +14 if they combine for 60 starts. The team is capable of playing .500 ball otherwise. They’ll hit a ton of home runs, but—trap door alert—have little athleticism and are prone to injuries because of that. If you’re looking for this year’s version of the Brewers—get off to a hot start, fade late—it’s the Philadelphia Phillies, especially if Mikael Franco and Vincent Velasquez step up. The NL East is better than you think.​

Ben Reiter: New York Mets: If they are healthy, they should be as competitive as they were in 2015. They are never healthy. So if they are, it will be a surprise.

Stephanie Apstein: Philadelphia Phillies: I still think they will miss the playoffs, but this team isn’t far away from contention. With Jake Arrieta and a couple of good performances by young players, they could arrive a year early.

Jon Tayler: Oakland A's: Billy Beane’s Island of Lost Toys remains a largely anonymous collection of white guys with facial hair, but it’s not a huge stretch to see the A’s as a dark-horse contender. The offense is solid, the bullpen is sneaky deep, but the rotation is lackluster (especially with Jharel Cotton and top prospect A.J. Puk lost for the season). Don’t pencil Oakland into a playoff spot, but don’t be shocked when you look at the standings in early July and find that the A’s are hovering within a few games of a wild-card spot.

Jack Dickey:St. Louis Cardinals: I’m still not sure how baseball as a whole wound up so lukewarm on St. Louis. Two playoff misses after five straight appearances—two misses, by the way, in which they outscored their opponents by a combined 123 runs) and suddenly they’re the Padres? Marcell Ozuna, fresh off a 37-homer season in Miami, will add some punch to an offense that needed more of it, and full seasons from Paul DeJong and Tommy Pham (assuming they play close to how well they played in 2017) will add another win or two. There are some question marks in the back ends of their rotation and bullpen, but there’s upside too.

Michael Beller: Oakland A's: Take a look up and down the A’s lineup, and you’ll find a surprisingly competent offense. There’s a lot to like about a 3-4-5 of Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis and Matt Olson. Add Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman and Stephen Piscotty to the mix, and you get a team that could be among the league leaders in home runs. There’s upside in the rotation, as well, most notably in the form of 26-year-old lefty Sean Manaea. Daniel Mengden is young enough to still be intriguing, while Kendall Graveman and Andrew Triggs should at least be league-average. A.J. Puk’s injury is potentially a huge letdown, but if they can tease something out of Trevor Cahill, there’s enough here for the rotation to, at the very least, not torpedo a strong offense. On top of that, Blake Treinen is one of the most underrated relievers in the league. There’s no reason the A’s can’t be this year’s Twins.

Connor Grossman: Philadelphia Phillies: Bringing Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana into the fold added plenty of intrigue to the 2018 Phillies, but before penciling them in as a surprise playoff team, start with a much more reasonable expectation: ending five straight years of 89-plus losses. Philadelphia’s first winning season since 2011 is within reach, and first-year manager Gabe Kapler is going to open some eyes with a job well done.

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Atlanta Braves: The starting rotation is a major concern, but Mike Foltynewicz will emerge as a genuine second starter and the core of young talent will flourish in the second half of the season. I don't think the Braves will compete for a playoff spot (they'll be lucky to finish .500), but I do think the combination of Acuña, Ozzie Albies and Johan Carmago will give division rivals a whole lot of trouble as the season comes to a close.

Mets, Angels Headline Five Teams Primed for a Surprising Run in 2018

Flop Team

Tom Verducci: Colorado Rockies:. This team could go either way—back to the postseason or slip back to a losing record. The Rockies have never won 85 games in back-to-back seasons. They invested heavily in older relievers with many miles on the odometer, and expect them to hold up in the physically-taxing environment at altitude. The young starters fared well last year, but lack dominant stuff. Rockies’ starters ranked 24th last year in strikeout rate—next to last in the NL.

Ben Reiter: Milwaukee Brewers: The offense is even better than last year’s, with Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, and they enter the season as a trendy sleeper. But I thought the staff outperformed is talent to finish fifth in the NL in ERA (4.00), and I wouldn’t necessarily consider Jhoulys Chacin a difference-making addition.

Stephanie Apstein: San Francisco Giants: I appreciate what they did this offseason, adding Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria and trying to extend their window, but another long layoff to Madison Bumgarner basically dooms a team without much pitching depth.

Jon Tayler: Colorado Rockies: A popular surprise pick last year, expect Colorado to slide back toward .500 thanks to the one thing that’s kept the team afloat throughout its existence: the lineup. The Rockies were quietly one of the league’s worst offenses last season, with an OPS+ of just 91, and while they still boast the potent combo of Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, the front office didn’t do much of anything to address issues elsewhere. Trevor Story looks overmatched by MLB pitching, DJ LeMahieu is increasingly little more than a shiny batting average, and the outfield around Blackmon has been a morass of declining veterans. Young bats like Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia and David Dahl should pick things up a little, but this team could’ve used a bigger shot in the arm to keep up in the wild-card hunt.​

Jack Dickey:Los Angeles Angels: They won the offseason! But they won the offseason by way of exclusively idiosyncratic pickups: 35-year-old Ian Kinsler (whose career looked essentially finished in Detroit last year), Zack Cozart (who had a career OPS of .674 before he posted a .933 in his walk year, and will be playing third base for the first time), and Shohei Otani (who could very well wind up more a curio than an ace or a slugger). We might as well add to the dubious acquisitions list Justin Upton, whom the Angels acquired in August and extended in November. Upton is a great player far too capable of posting ordinary seasons—2017 was his best year with the bat since 2011, and the Angels may have bought high on him. Factor in that Albert Pujols (speaking of finished careers!) will be getting regular playing time, as will Luis Valbuena, and you have all the ingredients for a 2015-Padres-style flop.

Michael Beller: New York Mets: I’m pretty surprised at all the optimism I’ve seen surrounding the Mets. I like Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Yoenis Cespedes as much as anyone, but this is one of the most top-heavy teams in the majors. Outside of those three, and the possibility of a Steven Matz resurgence, I don’t see much to get excited about here. Rather, I see a team filled with “ifs.” If Michael Conforto can stick to his timetable and put the shoulder injury behind him; if Matt Harvey can rediscover at least some of the magic; if Amed Rosario can be a league-average hitter; if Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier hit for enough power to offset all those stirkeouts in the middle of the order; if Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos and Anthony Swarzak can be the foundation of a solid bullpen. If most of those come to fruition, the Mets will be in the Wild Card chase, and all that assumes nothing goes awry with Syndergaard, deGrom, Cespedes or, to a lesser extent, Matz. That’s quite the parlay the Mets need to hit. I just don’t see it happening.

Connor Grossman: Boston Red Sox: There’s no doubt the Red Sox have a talented core, but Boston still faces a number of pressing questions. Can Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.—all of whom regressed to varying degrees in 2017—replicate their production from two seasons ago? Will David Price leave his forearm troubles behind? Even with J.D. Martinez around, how much improvement will the worst home run-hitting team in the American League see? The Red Sox could dodge these puzzles and end up back in the postseason. But don’t be stunned if they’re not.

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Arizona Diamondbacks: I think Paul Goldschmidt will win MVP, but I think just about everything else will go wrong for the D-Backs. Jake Lamb's inability to hit lefthanded pitching leaves them with a significant hole at third base at least twice a week and the back end of the rotation remains totally unproven. Even if Zack Godley trends upward after a strong 2017, the Diamondbacks will have to cope with a potential bottoming out from Zack Greinke, who appeared to lose most of his velocity during spring training. Greinke's a smart enough hurler to overcome a dip in velocity, but his days as a true ace might be behind him. Arizona has one too many hackers in the lineup and not enough security in the rotation to repeat last year's magic, even if they have a fantastic manager in Torey Lovullo. After sending three teams to the playoffs last year, the NL West will send just one in 2018.

A Bold Prediction

Tom Verducci: A record five players hit 50 home runs, breaking the record of four from the height of the steroid era (1998 and 2001). Leading the pack is Giancarlo Stanton, who hits 62—without an asterisk.

Ben Reiter: Byron Buxton will trail only Mike Trout in WAR. Buxton’s second half last season: .300, 11 homers, 35 RBIs, 13 steals—which projects to 31 homers, 99 RBIs and 37 steals over a full year. He’s also happens to be the game’s best outfielder. This year, at 24, he’ll become a superstar.​

Stephanie Apstein: The Marlins will make a brief run, horrifying all their investors, who are counting on a losing year.

Jon Tayler: The trade deadline will be a total free-for-all. With what feels like half the league tanking and the big-name squads all staying quiet this winter, the stage is set for a bonanza of moves this summer. Every contender has a hole that needs addressing, but with most already locked into first place in their respective divisions, they’ll likely wait until July to pick up what they need as part of getting ready for the postseason. And they’ll find plenty of rebuilding teams happy to oblige by unloading veterans and difference-makers.

Jack Dickey: Tony Clark will get putsched as MLBPA chief. The primary offseason story was players’ dissatisfaction with the skinflint owners who launched Astros-style tank jobs all over the league. But story 1b. was labor’s realization that Clark had gotten his clock cleaned during the last CBA negotiations in 2016. Removing Clark in-season would minimize the theatrics of it all and give a new leader time to mobilize his membership before the next free-agent period arrives.​

Michael Beller: The Brewers, A’s and Phillies pull off a three-team trade that includes Ryan Braun and Jake Arrieta.​

Connor Grossman: Gary Sanchez leads the Yankees in home runs. With Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge drawing plenty of comparison the Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris duo in 1961, it only makes sense neither Stanton nor Judge lead the 2018 Yankees in home runs, right? Gary Sanchez swatted 33 home runs in 122 games last season, which projects to 44 home runs over 162 games. He’ll need to play nearly every game if he wants a shot of doing this. It’s a bold prediction, but not a crazy one.

Gabriel Baumgaertner: St. Louis Cardinals starter Luke Weaver will finish in the top-five of NL Cy Young voting.