MLB preview: Five storylines to watch during season
Believe it or not, the MLB season is just days away as the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners will face off in Tokyo to get things started on March 20.
This season has the potential for some great teams, fantastic young players and division races that will come down to the wire.
That is where we start our five storylines to watch for the 2019 season.
1. Tight NL division races
Last season, the National League came down to the wire in both the Central and the West, as the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, and Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies had to play in one-game playoffs for the division. That could very well happen again this year, with the East also looking tighter for 2019.
While there are some bad teams in the NL, there are a lot of teams that have seriously improved. The Central features Cubs and Brewers teams that are still really good, and the St Louis Cardinals added an MVP candidate in Paul Goldschmidt, while the Cincinnati Reds are no longer a pushover due to trades netting Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Sonny Gray.
In the West, the Dodgers are the two-time defending NL champs while the Rockies have one of the more underrated young rotations in all of baseball. And while the Arizona Diamondbacks lost their two best players in Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock to the Dodgers, they still have a solid top to their rotation and a more than competitive line-up.
The East has four good teams at the top as well, after the Philadelphia Phillies added Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto, the New York Mets got Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano, the Washington Nationals added Patrick Corbin and the Atlanta Braves still have gobs of young talent.
The NL is going to be a lot of fun to watch this season, there is no way around it.
2. Top prospect arrival dates
As long as the current service-time rules apply, MLB will always be robbed of good young players early in the season. Cubs fans missed out on Kris Bryant early in 2015, and Braves loyalists did not get to see Ronald Acuna Jr. immediately last season. That will happen again this year. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez have already been sent down by the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox, respectively, and the San Diego Padres are expected to do the same with Fernando Tatis Jr. though it hasn't officially happened yet.
But just how good will these players be when they inevitably get called up two weeks to a month into the season? Guerrero is coming off a year in which he batted .402 at Double-A as a 19-year old and .381 for the season and Jimenez hit .355 at Triple-A. Tatis was not quite as good but he still hit .286 as a 19-year-old in a full season at Double-A so he has shown tons of potential.
This could legitimately be the best rookie class MLB has seen since 2015 when Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor came up in the AL. And we have not even mentioned Forrest Whitley of the Houston Astros, Nick Senzel of the Reds and Victor Robles of the Nationals — with Robles likely to start from Day 1. It is sad we have to wait for these guys, but honestly, they are worth the wait. They are that good.
3. Crazy trade deadline
One of the changes MLB has already instituted this year is the waiver trade deadline at the end of August is now gone. Teams can only make trades before July 31 now. The deadline has been crazy over the last few years. How nuts will it be now that teams have just one chance to make moves?
4. More success for Rays, A's?
If you claim the Tampa Bay Rays and A's did not surprise you last year, you are either a fan of those teams or a liar. Both teams eclipsed 90 wins when neither was expected to win more than 80. Blake Snell won the AL Cy Young award and Bob Melvin was the manager of the year.
But can these two teams do it again or will they regress to the mean? Snell is very good, but he was so, so good last season it would make sense if he regressed a touch. The Athletics' opening day starter is Mike Fiers. That does not instil confidence in the team's pitching depth.
Can they sustain the same kind of success they did last season despite several trades, logical regressions and very good divisional opponents? We will see.
5. Sitting this one out
MLB players cannot stop talking about the problem of non-competitive teams. It may seem like posturing at times in hopes of getting more money or a leg up on owners, but when you really look at it, they are not lying.
We are coming off the first season since the schedule was extended to 162 games in which eight or more teams lost at least 95 games. Three finished with 100 or more losses. That is not good. That is not fun.
The Baltimore Orioles, Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, White Sox, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants are all at risk of losing 95 games again. If the Royals and Orioles do not lose 100 it may be a surprise. Will teams try to get better this season even though there is incentive to lose to get better draft picks? It is not likely.