- If you needed one last recap of the 2018 season and a preview of the upcoming season, we're here for you.
Most of the SI staff is still coping with the conclusion of the 2018 season and the cold months that await. As a result, resident experts Jon Tayler (American League) and Gabriel Baumgaertner (National League) took some time to offer parting thoughts on the 2018 campaign, the moves that teams have already made in preparation for 2019, and what to expect this offseason.
On the one hand, it’s not like things can get any worse than a 115-loss season (though hey, silver lining; by Pythagorean record, the O’s were only supposed to lose 107 games) in which you dealt away the face of the franchise. On the other, if you take a look at the roster left after a summer’s worth of overdue rebuilding trades, or at the weak farm system, or at the fact that Baltimore currently has neither a general manager nor a manager, it’s hard to feel like 2019 will be much better.
Boston Red Sox
It’s the inverse of Baltimore’s problem: How do you top a season in which you set a franchise record for wins, claimed a third straight division title, beat your hated rival in the postseason, and capped it off with a World Series victory? Luckily for the Red Sox, all the pieces are still in place for sustained success after a year for the ages thanks to a winter that will be relatively free of tough free-agent decisions.
• Make sure to get SI's Red Sox 2018 World Series commemorative package and your championship gear to celebrate.
Chicago White Sox
The S.S. Rebuild keeps steaming through the night, destination (i.e. regular contention) still far off in the distance, though 2018 saw it lose a major part of the future in Michael Kopech’s blown-out elbow. But with super-prospect Eloy Jimenez finally set to join the crew next season, things might pick up speed faster than this metaphor became torturously laborious.
A team with Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer all doing MVP-level work really should have been better than 91 wins in a terrible division and a stay in the postseason about as long as a Vine. That’s what happens when your supporting cast, particularly the bullpen, doesn’t show up—a problem the Indians need to address this winter, perhaps by actually spending some money in free agency and beefing up the roster as a whole.
For the first two months of the season, Detroit looked … well, not good, but far friskier than we imagined, going 26–30 through the end of May. Then the bottom fell out: The Tigers went 38–68 over their last 106 games, a 103-loss pace over a full season that far better represented what that torn-down roster was and what it will do over the next few years as the rebuild continues.
Would-be dynasties are hard to get going; for proof, the 2018 Astros can ask the Cubs, who looked like the Big Blue Machine after stomping the league en route to a title in ’16 but haven’t been back to the World Series since. Houston saw its chance at a second straight championship interrupted by Boston’s annus mirabilis, but with all that special young talent on hand, the Astros remain a threat and a favorite going forward.
Kansas City Royals
Somehow, despite purposefully employing Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel and whatever a Glenn Sparkman is in the pitching staff, Kansas City didn’t finish with the worst ERA in baseball; that honor belongs to the Orioles. That didn’t save the Royals from 104 losses and the AL Central cellar in the first year of what will be a painful renovation, though the future is a little brighter there than in Baltimore—a low bar to clear, but still.
Los Angeles Angels
Not content to continue wasting the prime of one of the 10 greatest players in the history of the game, the Angels also decided to throw away a rookie season from Shohei Ohtani in which he put up a 152 OPS+ in 367 plate appearances—a better number than Manny Machado, Paul Goldschmidt, Khris Davis, and a bunch of other All-Stars—and also posted a 3.31 ERA in 51 2/3 innings on the mound. Los Angeles won’t be getting any work from Ohtani as a pitcher next year thanks to a torn UCL, but honestly, this persistently disappointing team would probably have found a way to blow that advantage anyway.
A deeply disappointing campaign that saw Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano barely play, the loss of Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer, and ultimately cost Paul Molitor his job just 11 months after he was named the AL Manager of the Year—and yet, despite finishing below .500, Minnesota was second in the AL Central. At the very least, all the pieces are there—Buxton and Sano, newly minted ace Jose Berrios, slugger Eddie Rosario, and a good farm system—for new skipper Rocco Baldelli, who’s barely older than his roster at 37, to make good on the Twins’ promise.
New York Yankees
It’s not often that a 100-win season feels like a disappointment, yet that’s where we are with the Yankees, who watched the Red Sox steal their thunder amid an up-and-down season that ended with much frustration in the Division Series. Because this is the Yankees and because their roster is so absurdly loaded with under-30 talent (and because they’ll likely add to that group; Manny Machado is probably checking out Manhattan luxury apartments as you read this), better will be expected in 2019, even despite what was, by the numbers, a pretty successful campaign.
America’s favorite plucky underdog is back, as the A’s took us all back to 2003 with an out-of-nowhere 97-win season and the franchise’s first playoff appearance in four years. Granted, it ended in a barrage of home runs at Yankee Stadium, but at least Oakland, after years of wandering in the wilderness, seems to have found its way back to steady contention—assuming and hoping, that is, the team doesn’t cheap out again right when it’s gotten good.
We were all waiting for the other shoe to drop after the Mariners’ red-hot yet seemingly unsustainable start to the year, and boy did it: After entering July at 53–31 and firmly in the playoff hunt, Seattle went 36–42 from that point forward and had to watch as the A’s usurped its narrative. The longest current postseason drought in North American sports is now 17 years and counting; at least the Mariners are No. 1 in something.
Tampa Bay Rays
In a season that felt like a lab experiment, the Rays wildly outperformed expectations, somehow eking 90 wins out of a roster that barely cost more than one year of Clayton Kershaw and upending a century of established baseball orthodoxy through their use of the opener, essentially making the bullpen day hip and cool. Now just imagine what Tampa could have done if ownership had bothered spending money on the team instead of dumping contracts in the winter.
The Rangers were supposed to be bad—I don’t know how you could feel good about a team that entered the season with Matt Moore and Mike Minor and 84-year-old Bartolo Colon all intentionally in the starting rotation—but 95 losses and a last-place finish still have to sting. When fans look back on the lost year that was Texas baseball in 2018, the only bright spot may be the joy that was Adrian Beltre in what might have been the final season of an utterly brilliant career.
Toronto Blue Jays
Well, the Blue Jays lost 89 games, unceremoniously shipped out franchise hero Josh Donaldson at the end of August amid an injury-riddled campaign fraught with tension between him and the team, watched building-block arms Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez get lit up routinely when they were healthy (which was rare), couldn’t hold a lead to save their lives (or games), and saw attendance plummet by nearly a million fans from 2017. On the plus side, next season will be The Year of Vlad Jr.—assuming Toronto ever stops screwing around with his service time, that is.
Sometimes a season can be destroyed in just a month, and that’s exactly what happened to the Diamondbacks. On August 31st, Arizona was in first place with a 74–60 record entering a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The loss that night would send the D-backs into a hellacious tailspin; they won just eight of their final 28 games, crashed to an 82–80 record and finished nine games out of first place. Now, the team is on the verge of losing one of its best starting pitchers (Patrick Corbin). The D-backs remain one of the best defensive teams in the league and received standout seasons from David Peralta and Ketel Marte, but it was a bitter end to a promising year.
There may not be a more promising group of young position players in the big leagues. Even if Ronald Acuña doesn’t win NL Rookie of the Year (he may lose to Nationals OF Juan Soto), he’ll probably receive some down-ballot MVP votes. The 20-year-old finished with 26 homers, a 144 OPS+ and a slash line of .293/.366/.552 over 111 games, cementing himself as one of the foremost talents in the game. Add him to a list of young guns including Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo and Mike Foltynewicz and you have a core primed to compete for a pennant for years. Now, Atlanta needs to chase starting pitching: Dallas Keuchel and J.A. Happ look like good options.
The Cubs had two home games with the opportunity to clinch homefield advantage for two series. They lost both—Game 163 against the Brewers and the Wild Card Game against the Rockies—and failed to make the NLCS for the first time since 2014. Their primary free agent pickups—Brandon Morrow and Yu Darvish—missed large chunks of the season with injury while their stars—Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo—either coped with nagging injuries or bouts of ineffectiveness for long stretches. Despite these issues, the Cubs would have had the best record in the National League had they defeated Milwaukee in Game 163. It was a disappointing season for the Cubs, but they remain one of the most talented and deep organizations in the big leagues.
It was another forgettable season in Cincinnati, but the Reds received standout seasons from future franchise cornerstone Eugenio Suarez (.283/.366/.526 with 34 homers) and the unlikely Scooter Gennett (.310/.357/.490 with 23 homers). Joey Votto also completed another year with more walks than strikeouts because he might be the smartest hitter to ever live.
The Rockies still haven’t won a division title in franchise history, but they have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Shortstop Trevor Story emerged as the needed accompaniment to perennial MVP candidate Nolan Arenado, especially during down seasons for virtually every player on the team except Charlie Blackmon. Add in the host of free-agent busts (Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee) and it’s stunning Colorado forced a Game 163 with the defending National League champions. They did so because they have two very real starting pitchers in Germán Márquez and Kyle Freeland—the latter of whom will likely finish fourth or fifth in a loaded NL Cy Young race.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The defending NL champions overcame a 16–26 start to the season to return to the World Series, but were promptly overmatched by the Boston Red Sox despite returning the core of the team plus midseason acquisition Manny Machado. The Dodgers remain one of the most complete and impressive organizations in baseball, but championship windows don’t last forever even if you’re built to last.
New owner Derek Jeter decided that a core of 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, prospective 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna wasn’t enough, so he traded everyone for a full-scale rebuild. They were the only team that failed to sweep a series all season and finished with 63 wins. The biggest accomplishment might be that they didn’t lose 100 games. This is a franchise at least three years away from potentially competing, especially once stud catcher J.T. Realmuto is shipped out of town this winter.
They need an ace, but Craig Counsell’s squad was one win away from the World Series and finished the year with the best record in the National League. Christian Yelich will likely win NL MVP, Lorenzo Cain was the smartest free-agent signing of the 2017/18 offseason and Josh Hader emerged as the most feared reliever in Major League Baseball. It’s a team with a core, a future and a devoted fan base. This is a team that will be competing for the foreseeable future.
New York Mets
As well as a team like the Brewers are managed, the Mets remain horribly mismanaged because of their comically cheap owners. This is a team that, somehow, wasted arguably the greatest single season from a pitcher in a generation. Jacob deGrom finished the season with a 1.70 ERA, 269 strikeouts, an ERA+ of 216 and was worth 10.0 WAR (!). The Mets, somehow, finished 14–18 in his starts. The pitching staff is still capable enough to carry them to a good season next year, but GM Brodie Van Wagenen will need to be creative to compile an offense capable of supporting the arms.
If the end of the Diamondbacks’ season was a disaster, then the conclusion of the 2018 Phillies campaign was more like nuclear winter. On August 17th, the Phillies were 68–54, a half-game out of first place with a +14 run differential. By season’s end, Philadelphia was in third place with an 80–82 record and a -51 differential. That’s right, they lost 28 out of their last 40 and were outscored by 65 runs in the process. During one particularly brutal four-game set against the Rockies in late September, they were outscored 39–7. Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Nola give this team plenty of hope for the future, but it was hard to see anything but a quitting side by season’s end.
The Pirates’ 2018 campaign could be summarized in a satisfied shrug. Manager Clint Hurdle navigated his team to an 82–79 record despite trading franchise cornerstones Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole in the offseason. They acquired a new ace in Chris Archer at the trading deadline, and made another smart offseason signing in leftfielder Corey Dickerson. There isn’t a ton to look forward to with this team, but they’re not a bad unit either.
San Diego Padres
The rebuild continues, and there might be reason for hope. Between Fernando Tatis Jr., Franchy Cordero and Franmil Reyes, the Padres have some big, young bats that should contribute next season. Despite an immensely disappointing season from Eric Hosmer in the first year of his contract (.253/.322/.398 and 18 homers), San Diego is propelling toward success, even if 2020 is the right target date. A bold prediction for your time? The Padres will be finalists to sign Manny Machado.
San Francisco Giants
Is there anything to like about this team? They’re old, they don’t have a viable farm system and they went 5–21 in the month of September. They won’t trade Madison Bumgarner even though they probably should (he has maybe the most team-friendly contract in baseball), the inimitable Buster Posey suffered a significant hip injury that might keep him out until May, and seven (!) of their usual starters are over the age of 30. Dereck Rodriguez is a nice young starting pitcher. Otherwise? Woof.
St. Louis Cardinals
It was another hard-luck end of the year for the traditionally sturdy franchise, but the Cardinals are primed to compete again next season. They wisely fired Mike Matheny, Matt Carpenter enjoyed a career resurgence, Miles Mikolas was the year’s most unlikely ace pitcher and outfielder Harrison Bader is yet another jewel of their farm system. Add in a budding ace in 22-year-old Jack Flaherty and flamethrowing future closer Jordan Hicks and everything will be fine, even if they haven’t made the playoffs since 2015.
It’s all about whether Bryce Harper returns. The Nats might have the most individually talented roster in baseball—what team couldn’t make the playoffs with Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg?—but a fraught year kept them out of the postseason despite being a preseason World Series favorite. If they don’t sign Harper, the future is still bright with 19-year-old phenom Juan Soto and fellow pup Victor Robles manning the outfield. If they do, they’ll return to being one of the most feared teams in the National League.