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COLUMN: Predicting the 2019 MLB year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for spring lovers and baseball fans combined.

To help celebrate what has become a holiday in the United States, let’s take the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics, make them open the season a week earlier than everybody else and do it in Japan.

What a stupid, stupid, stupid idea. And, this is not the first time this has happened.

Why the heck does MLB do this besides money? It makes no sense. Also, the Mariners and/or Athletics lose home games because of this.

I have no problem with teams traveling overseas so they can showcase their talents to the rest of the world. But, why not do it during spring training rather than the regular season when, you know, the games mean something?

The Mariners have already been playing exhibition games against Japanese squads. Shoot, even Ichiro Suzuki is playing and having viral hits on his throws from right field. It’s been fun to watch.

My first prediction is that the Athletics and Mariners will split the series that begins today and ends on Thursday. Before I move on, I really dislike the fact that after this series concludes, both teams go back to spring training for a few more days. Man, that has to mess with them.

All right, time to move on from this and focus on the big picture. The Pittsburgh Pirates will not win the World Series. There, I said it, and sorry to disappoint all those with hope.

In all seriousness, here’s what I believe will happen in 2019.

NL CENTRAL

Let’s begin with the most popular team in our area, along with the division it competes in. The Chicago Cubs will bounce back from a horrendous ending to 2018 and win the division. The Milwaukee Brewers will finish second after nearly reaching the World Series a year ago. This year will prove that they need more starting pitching.

The St. Louis Cardinals improved with Paul Goldschmidt but will place third. Those pesky Pirates will finish fourth, and the Cincinnati Red will finish fifth because I don’t believe in all the hype from the mega trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Overall, the National League Central division has vastly improved. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates and Reds put up a fight early on before dropping off. It bodes well for the future.

NL EAST

With Bryce Harper taking his talents from the Washington Nationals to division rival Philadelphia Phillies, everything has changed.

The Phillies will win the National League East division. Not just Harper, but Andrew McCutchen will make an impact. The Atlanta Braves peaked too early last year by taking the division title and will fall to second place. The Nationals will finish not third, but fourth. The New York Mets are improved (as long as Robinson Cano stays off the juice) and will place third. The Miami Marlins, no surprise, will finish last.

NL WEST

The Dodgers will win their eighth-consecutive National League West division title with some ease.

The Colorado Rockies will put up a good fight but ultimately will crumble in September. It will not be as close as a season ago with game No. 163. However, the Rockies will finish second.

The San Francisco Giants will conclude with a winning record but only good enough for third. The Arizona Diamondbacks lost too much and will place fifth, leaving the San Diego Padres with a fourth-place finish. It will take a few years for the Padres to be competitive with Manny Machado.

AL CENTRAL

Now, let’s move on to the worst division in baseball by a longshot: the American League Central.

The Cleveland Indians will easily win it, and they’ll do so with fewer than 90 wins. To cut payroll, the Tribe got rid of a lot and brought back little in return. At least the bullpen can’t get any worse, right?

The Indians will rely heavily on their starting rotation, and it’s a good one. Let’s just hope they don’t get too tired when October comes their way.

Not that it really matters, but the Chicago White Sox will finish second, the Minnesota Twins third, the Detroit Tigers fourth and the Kansas City Royals fifth.

AL EAST

Arguably the best division in baseball will not be as good as years past, although it probably holds the two best teams in the game.

There’s no question this title will come down to the Boston Red Sox (the defending World Series champions) and the New York Yankees. The Red Sox are still riding high and will take the division again, just like the Houston Astros did last year after winning it all in 2017.

The Yanks will finish second and will probably win 100 games again. The Tampa Bay Rays will be fighting until the end and finish third. The Toronto Blue Jays will place fourth, and the Baltimore Orioles will be last and possibly worse than last year.

AL WEST

This division has a clear-cut winner, and it is the Houston Astros.

The Athletics were a big surprise last season and fought hard until the end before the Astros took over. Not this year, as Houston will win it by a long shot. Oakland will fall hard, finish fourth and not have a chance at anything.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (still hate that name) just signed Mike Trout to the largest contract I’ve ever seen and will improve. Probably my biggest prediction in terms of improving, the Angels will finish second.

As for the rest of the division, the Mariners will be third and miss the playoffs yet again. This obviously means the Texas Rangers will be last.

WILD CARD

Man, the regular season flew by. Now let’s talk about playoffs.

Beginning with National League Wild Card game, the Brewers will be hosting the Rockies, a little rematch of last season’s NLDS. Milwaukee still has one of the best bullpens in the game and will use that to its advantage, winning 8-2.

In the American League, the Yankees will be hosting once again. The last two seasons brought surprises in the Athletics last year and the Twins the year before. This season will have another surprise, and it will be the Angels. Trout in a playoff game at Yankee Stadium? It’s too perfect. However, for the third-straight year, the Yankees are moving on with a 5-1 victory (Trout will hit a home run.)

NL DIVISION AND CHAMPIONSHIP

SERIES

In the National League Division Series, the teams with home field advantage are the Phillies and Dodgers. Los Angeles will hold the best record and get the wild card Brewers, a rematch of last season’s NLCS. This means Philadelphia will host the Cubs.

Both series will go all five games, and playing for the NL crown will be the Dodgers and Cubs, again. Just because Harper is with the Phillies doesn’t mean his team won’t choke.

This series will not be that close, going just five games with the Cubs getting back to form from their 2016 run and reach the World Series.

AL DIVISION AND CHAMPIONSHIP

SERIES

The ALDS will be exactly like last 2018. The Astros will host the Indians and probably sweep them, although I believe Cleveland will somehow find a way to win Game 3. The Red Sox will host the Yankees but, unlike a season ago, New York will prevail and win a classic Game 5 in Boston.

So, this means Houston has the home field advantage over the Yankees. I may need to flip a coin with who wins the American League. Heads will be Astros, tails Yankees. Gimme a second …

Yankees.

WORLD SERIES

Last year involved two teams with a lot of history in big markets (the Dodgers and Red Sox, of course). This season has the Yankees and the Cubs with a lot more history at stake.

Chicago wins Game 1 easily, 10-3, and its front-running fans will already be celebrating the city’s second championship in the last four years.

Then, the Yankees catch fire that nobody can put out for a while. They win the next three 6-3, 13-5 and 10-7 in that order. Somehow, the Cubs win Game 5 in New York, 7-6, and force the series back to Chicago.

The Cubs begin Game 6 with a seven-run first inning and lead 7-0 all the way to the sixth inning. The Yankees grab a run in the top of the sixth and then two more in the seventh, but no big deal. Chicago adds another run in the bottom of the seventh and leads 8-3 going to the eighth.

That’s when the magic happens. The Yanks go back-to-back-to-back-to-back (four-straight homers for those counting) and trail 8-7. The Cubs cannot answer and lead by that margin in the ninth.

New York is down to its final out, still trailing by one run, when Aaron Judge hits a game-tying home run on a 2-2 pitch. Then, the Yankees load the bases and somebody ropes a bases-clearing double down the right field line. New York leads, 11-8, going to the bottom of the ninth.

The Cubs grab a run and have runners on first and second with two out, trailing 11-9. But, Anthony Rizzo strikes out to Aroldis Chapman, and the Yankees win the World Series.

For as much as I hate the Yankees, I hate the Cubs more.

AWARDS

Chris Sale of the Red Sox stays healthy and will win the AL Cy Young award.

In the NL, Josh Hader of the Brewers will surprise everyone and become the first reliever since Eric Gagne in 2003 to win the award.

The AL MVP goes to Mookie Betts of Boston for the second-consecutive season, and the NL MVP is given to Nolan Arenado of the Rockies.

I’m not going over the other awards because it would take too long.

However, I guarantee Lonnie Chisenhall wins absolutely nothing, not even the hearts of Pittsburgh fans. He’s your problem now.

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