The magazine Sports Illustrated, also known as SI, publishes an annual baseball season preview. In addition to the MLB, it produces season previews for several other major sports, such as the NBA, NFL, and FIFA World Cup. The cover athlete of the piece is the feature’s most celebrated achievement, and is supposed to symbolize the value of that player and his/her team heading into that particular season. In some years, the publication’s choice strikes luck. In others, their choice becomes almost laughable by season’s end.
In March 2007, the magazine selected Red Sox’s starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka as their cover athlete. The Japanese right-hander had just signed a $52 million, six-year contract and had not yet pitched in the MLB. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting that year. More importantly, the Red Sox won the World Series. With the 2019 regular season set to begin tomorrow in Tokyo, here is a breakdown of each division’s expectations for 2019, followed by playoff predictions.
AL East – The Red Sox are the two-time reigning division champs. Boston’s outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts were featured on SI‘s Baseball Season Preview in 2017. The Yankees have two straight seasons of 90-plus wins. Both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were the centerpiece on the SI‘s Baseball Season Preview last year. The Rays have two straight seasons of 80-plus wins. The Blue Jays should win more games than last year’s 73 with a balanced lineup and better starting pitching depth. The Orioles are in a complete rebuild and should finish close to the bottom of the league. Prediction? Yankees win first division title since 2012 and Red Sox finish second to secure Wild Card berth.
AL Central – The Indians have finished on top of the Central for the last three seasons. Their ace Corey Kluber and former outfielder Michael Brantley were highlighted on SI‘s Baseball Season Preview in 2015. The Twins have finished three of the past four seasons with at least 78 wins. The Tigers, White Sox, and Royals are all in flux, rebuilding, and are destined to finish at the bottom of the division again. Prediction? With Minnesota adding Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, Marwin Gonzalez, and Michael Pineda since last season, expect them to be neck and neck with the Indians all the way down to the wire. The Twins will edge out the Indians by a hair.
AL West – This is one of the more underrated divisions in baseball. The Astros have two consecutive 100-win seasons, have played in two consecutive ALCS series, and won the World Series in 2017. The Athletics increased their win total by 22 games last year and made the playoffs as a wild card team. The Mariners won 89 games last season, but missed a postseason berth by eight games. The Angels, who have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, have neither improved nor worsened in the past two years, as their record has stayed locked at 80-82. And the Rangers record has been in decline for three straight seasons. Prediction? Houston finishes the season with their third consecutive division title and 100-win season. The Angels sneak into October baseball for their first playoff appearance since 2014.
Fun fact: the first athlete to appear on the cover of SI‘s Baseball Season Preview was Giants center fielder Willie Mays in 1955.
NL East – The Atlanta Braves surprised nearly everyone last year and won the NL East. It was a down year for the Washington Nationals, as they finished with their worst record since 2011. In opposition, the Phillies exceed expectations by winning 80 games for the first time since 2012. The Mets finished fourth in the division in 2018 and have just two winning seasons in the past ten years. Starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, former starter Matt Harvey, and relief pitcher Jeurys Familia were all chosen to represent SI‘s Baseball Season Preview in 2016. The Marlins have nine consecutive losing seasons. Prediction? The Phillies added five All-Star players this off-season: Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and David Robertson. That should be enough to win the division and secure their first playoff berth in eight years. Both the Braves and Nationals secure Wild Card berths.
NL Central – This is another division that gets overlooked. The Milwaukee Brewers won 96 wins in 2018 and captured the National League’s best record. They came within one game of a trip to the World Series. The Cubs were a playoff team for the fourth successive season. St. Louis finished with their eleventh winning season in a row, however, missed the postseason for the third straight time. Pittsburgh went 82-79 and missed the playoffs, even after acquiring All-Star starting pitcher Chris Archer at the Trade Deadline. And the Reds finished with less than 70 wins for the fourth go around in a row. Prediction? The Cubbies take back the division and win the NL Central for the third time in four years.
NL West – L.A. has held down the West for six years running. They are also the only team to have made it to the Fall Classic in each of the past two seasons. The Rockies have been sneaky good, making the postseason in both 2017 and 2018. The Diamondbacks begin a new era after trading away six-time All-Star Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals. Seems to make sense after Arizona won just a single playoff game since Goldschmidt became an everyday player in 2012. After winning it all in 2010, 2012, and 2014, San Francisco has won just two playoff games since. San Diego came away with arguably the franchise’s best signing this off-season, Manny Machado, but still face an upward climb. They have not made the postseason since 2006. Prediction? Colorado surprises everyone and wins their first ever NL West title since the team’s inception in 1993.
AL Wild Card Game: Angels @ Red Sox
NL Wild Card Game: Nationals @ Braves
ALDS: Red Sox – Astros; Twins – Yankees
NLDS: Nationals – Cubs; Rockies – Phillies
ALCS: Yankees – Astros
NLCS: Phillies – Cubs
World Series: Cubs – Astros