Book it: Astros over Nationals in Fall Classic | PostIndependent.com

Book it: Astros over Nationals in Fall Classic

Well, it’s that time of year again!

Honestly, I can’t think of something sports-wise that excites me more than the start of baseball season. While it’s often a stressful and disappointing year for me as a Pittsburgh Pirates fan (way more curse than blessing, honestly), I simply love the game of baseball. Everything about it, from the fresh cut grass, to sunflower seeds and the fitted caps (seriously, you can catch me wearing a baseball cap almost every day of my life) brings me joy from early April to late October.

Last year, I nailed my World Series pick, going with the Houston Astros winning their first Fall Classic in franchise history. That being said, I whiffed on the National League representative, going with the Chicago Cubs. This year, I again feel confident in my picks, which is pretty much what I’ve been building towards since the start of Spring Training.

Here goes nothing.

Starting in the NL East, it’s quite obvious that the Washington Nationals are head and shoulders better than anyone in the division. In fact, the NL East could be the weakest division in baseball, especially if the Atlanta Braves struggle with youth again this summer, and the Philadelphia Phillies don’t take that next step forward in their rebuilding effort. The New York Mets could re-establish themselves as super powers in the National League, considering they’re just three years removed from a World Series appearance. However, they have notoriously struggled with injuries, namely to top starting pitchers, and the offense is in a state of disarray, for now. Should guys like Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz stay healthy for the Mets, New York could push the Nationals for the division crown.

I just can’t see that happening.

The Marlins, well…They’re going to be very bad.

In the NL Central, this is one of the closest divisions in baseball, with a three-team race for the division crown. I’m going with the Chicago Cubs once again. They’re loaded top to bottom in the lineup, have five players on the bench who could start on most teams, and — oh by the way — signed star starting pitcher Yu Darvish to a massive deal in free agency this winter. The rich get richer.

Aside from the Cubs, I do like what the St. Louis Cardinals did this off-season, trading for Marcell Osuna, but I have major concerns about the starting rotation. Any time you sign a former major league starter, who went to Japan to resurrect his career, to a big contract, chances are it won’t pan out. Miles Mikolas will have high expectations placed on him as a middle-of-the-rotation arm, but I’m just not sure he’s enough to push the Cardinals over the Cubs at this point.

Milwaukee took a major step in the right direction this winter, trading for Christian Yelich and signing Lorenzo Cain, but it all comes down to pitching for the Brewers. I like Zach Davies, but without Jimmy Nelson headlining the rotation due to arm surgery, the Brewers are going to need to rely on a number of young, inexperienced arms in their push for the playoffs. I’m just not sure they can get it done completely this year.

Outside of the three powers that be in the NL Central, the Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds will battle it out for last place. The Pirates traded away face of the franchise Andrew McCutchen, and the Reds are still in the middle of an extensive rebuild. Dark days ahead, at least for now.

Out west in the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers will reign supreme in a division that continues to get better and better, even if some faces have changed in historic franchises. After coming up one game short against the Astros in last fall’s World Series, the Dodgers return largely the same rotation and lineup, while adding in some great young players. Los Angeles should once again sit atop the West, thanks to Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger. However, I expect the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies — the two NL Wild Card representatives last season — to be hot on LA’s heels.

Arizona should be a fun team to watch each and every night, thanks to Paul Goldschmidt and AJ Pollock, as well as a strong rotation with Zach Grienke, Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker, while the Rockies will continue to bash the ball all over the place, as Nolan Arenado should once again push for an NL MVP. It will come down to Colorado’s starting rotation taking another step forward this year, but with a stacked bullpen, the Rockies’ rotation might not need to be stout.

San Francisco should be decent this year, but without Madison Bumgarner for the first two months of the season, the Giants could get off to a bad start once again. San Diego is still two years away from being a year away.

In the American League, the AL Central and the AL West appear as locked up as you can be, at least on paper. The Astros bring everyone back, including adding Gerrit Cole in a trade from the Pirates. A stacked rotation, strong bullpen and a loaded lineup with the reigning AL MVP in Jose Altuve will once again have the Astros coming out on top of the baseball world for the second straight season.

The Cleveland Indians remain the top team in the AL Central, as Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen all return. The key for Cleveland is another push forward from the rotation behind Kluber, as well as the health of position players Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley. I can see the Indians winning around 100 games once again.

The AL East figures to be a bloodbath, with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox expected to slug it out for the division title. The Yankees’ lineup actually scares the life out of me, and they have a lights out bullpen that can turn a nine-inning game into five, taking pressure off of the pitching staff. Boston will compete with them on a nightly basis, but I like the Yankees a tad more for the 2018 season.

So, to recap, here are my division winners: NL — Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers; AL — Yankees, Indians and Astros. Which leads me to my Wild Card selections.

In the National League, I’m going with the Cardinals and the Rockies. In the American League? Give me the Red Sox and Angels.

The World Series will see the Astros on top, beating the Nationals in six games.

For AL MVP, I have Altuve winning it again, whereas in the NL, I have Cody Bellinger continuing his hot start to his young career, claiming his first MVP award.

Cy Young’s will go to the Yankees’ Luis Severino in the AL and Max Scherzer in the NL.

Baseball season is upon us; Thursday will mark the first time in more than 50 years that every MLB team will open the season on the same day. That makes for a busy day of baseball, which couldn’t be better for me. My MLB at-bat app will get quite a workout on Thursday, as well as throughout the spring, summer and early fall.

Josh Carney is the sports editor of the Post Independent. During baseball season, he’s a tortured Pirates fan, and enjoys watching Cleveland Indians baseball, and the Texas Christian Horned Frogs. He can be reached at jcarney@postindependent.com


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