2017 finish: World Series Champions
2017 Reg. Season record: 101-61
Projected to win more games in 2018 than any other team, Houston’s 2017 success was built on a dynamo offence whose production ranked with the best historically.
While there is generally a sense that year-to-year offensive success offers more stability than pitching success, you only need to look at the twin collapses of 2015’s (Toronto) and 2016’s (Boston) best offences in the seasons that followed to see that there are no sure things.
That said, Houston certainly looks primed. That offence succeeded despite injuries to stars Carlos Correa and George Springer, whilst Alex Bregman was still improving.
Throw in a full year of Justin Verlander and you have a team that looks primed to make a run at a World Series repeat. Be careful to not pay too much attention to that World Series-earned reputation however.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2017 finish: World Series loser, NL West champion
2017 Reg. Season record: 104-58
With major rivals the Astros’ and Indians’ likely to face each other, the Dodgers are probably the current World Series favourite.
As great as the Dodgers were in 2017, there’s potential for them to hit even greater heights in the upcoming season. The Dodgers we saw in the World Series weren’t at their best, with Yu Darvish seemingly tipping pitches.
The Dodgers entered the playoffs after an inexplicable 1-16 run. This was a massive statistical outlier that seems unlikely to happen again.
The Dodgers also entered the playoffs after an inexplicable 1-16 run near the end of the season. This was a massive statistical outlier that seems unlikely to happen again.
It’s tough to upgrade on a team as strong as the 2017 version and LA has little potential to do so if they wish to avoid paying the 2018 luxury tax.
While LA lost Darvish (and could potentially lose setup man Brandon Morrow) they may have full, healthy seasons from Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner. Each of these players missed time in 2017 and the Dodgers totalled the most DL stints in MLB in 2017.
Los Angeles are likely to look similar to last year’s version, save for a bullpen addition or two, which still makes for an extremely high floor to bet upon. They will also benefit from Stanton’s National League departure with neither of their two prospective rivals getting the player.
2017 finish: ALDS loser, AL Central champion
2017 Reg. Season record: 102-60
Whilst the finish to Cleveland’s 2017 was disappointing, they surpassed expectations before losing to the Yankees.
Jose Ramirez’s emergence and the generally good health enjoyed by the roster were large factors in the team exceeding pre-season projections - they will be challenged to duplicate their 2017 success this time around.
Cleveland has lost middle-of-the-order threat Carlos Santana and replacing his bat will be a difficult task. You can expect the Indians to win the AL Central again, but their potential for upgrades is limited compared to the rest of the American League teams that will be seen as World Series contenders.
2017 finish: NLDS loser, NL East champion
2017 Reg. Season record: 97-65
There seems to be little standing between the Nationals and a repeat of 2017’s NL East crown. The question is whether the team will be able to improve to the point where it can overcome the Dodgers and Cubs.
In what is likely to be Bryce Harper’s last season in DC, bettors can expect the club to take an all-or-nothing approach. That, combined somewhat unwarranted suggestion that the team can’t get past the divisional series may leave the Nats underpriced in the betting market.
New York Yankees
2017 finish: ALCS loser, 2nd place, AL East
2017 Reg. Season record: 91-71
After acquiring Giancarlo Stanton, one of the premier talents in the game, the inclination in some corners is to hand the Yankees the championship now.
The Yankees' lineup was baseball’s second-most potent a year ago despite being one of its youngest, suggesting further development is plausible.
New York put up the second-most runs in MLB a year ago and adding Stanton to a lineup that includes Aaron Judge (52 HRs in 2017), Gary Sanchez (53 HRs in 756 career plate appearances) and a deep cast of solid to strong hitters that runs deep makes for a strong offence. Does it really make New York the presumptive favourite though?
The acquisitions of Sonny Grey, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson in 2017 bolstered the pitching staff, but the starting rotation is still a strong arm away from supremacy with the Yankees having little money left to spend.
That said, the Yankees have a lot of reason for optimism. The lineup was baseball’s second-most potent a year ago. This was despite being one of its youngest, suggesting further development is plausible.
While bettors shouldn’t expect improved numbers from Aaron Judge, his partner in crime Gary Sanchez can hope for a fully healthy season. Players like Aaron Hicks should also continue to improve behind a suddenly dangerous pitching staff.
2017 finish: NLCS loser, NL East champion
2017 Reg. Season record: 92-70
The Cubs are full of question marks right now, with a depleted system complicating the need to acquire a starting pitcher after the presumed departures of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.
Chicago enjoys an over-abundance of outfielders and could try to trade from that to shore up the pitching staff, but it seems more likely Chicago will need to trade one of Javier Baez or Addison Russell to get the kind of quality starter they’re looking for.
One other option though? Yu Darvish. The Japanese star has given little indication of where his preferences lie. Even if the Cubs manage to add Yu, the bullpen is still in rough shape. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have work to do and the Cubs are likely to be overpriced in the interim.
Boston Red Sox
2017 finish: ALDS loser, AL East champion
2017 Reg. Season record: 93-69
Boston is rumoured to be in on just about every major bat available this offseason, thanks largely to the massive backwards step its offence took in 2017.
Expect at least one major addition and some rebound from Boston's young position players.
Like the Cubs, the Red Sox are likely to be priced to reputation more than its actual roster (as evidenced by Boston being the odds-on favourite heading into 2017) and bettors should be careful to price check before forecasting a championship.
Bettors can expect at least one major addition and some rebound from the young position players who faltered in 2017.
The New York Yankees' improvement, however, hurts their odds for one simple reason. The potential for a wildcard spot instead of the security of a division win means progress is not guaranteed.
St. Louis Cardinals
2017 finish: 3rd place, NL East
2017 Reg. Season record: 83-79
The only team to fail to make the 2017 playoffs on this list, St. Louis is here because management is making it clear it’s looking to spend to return one of the NL’s most successful franchises to its past glory.
While the National League doesn’t look quite as bleak for those on the outside looking in (the LA Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals look poised to win their respective divisions, but the wildcards are murkier), St. Louis’ playoff chances were dealt a serious blow with Stanton’s rejection.
The Cardinals trade for Marcel Ozuna does cushion the blow somewhat though, and if they’re finally able to convince the Blue Jays to part with Josh Donaldson, St Louis will put itself in prime playoff position. Even then though, they will only be projected to claim a wildcard spot.