Mark Clark: Bold predictions for the 2018 MLB season

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A year ago, I made my predictions of which teams would be the best in Major League Baseball. I am about to do that again, but with a few twists to liven up those prognostications. It is just a little something to make the upcoming season a little more exciting – if these predictions come true.

I will get this one out of the way first because I have a friend who is without a doubt a diehard Atlanta Braves fan. I think I predicted the Braves to finish last in their division in 2017. The first words I heard from that friend after he read my column were, “Last place! You have got to be kidding me.” I wasn’t kidding. I really, truly, honestly felt the Braves were that bad of a team. How well did I do in making that prediction? Well, the Braves finished in the middle of the NL East, third place, just a measly 25 games behind the Washington Nationals.

So, where do I predict the Braves to finish in 2018? How about fourth place? Sounds good to me. The rest of the NL East will look something like this: 1. Washington Nationals 2. New York Mets 3. Miami Marlins 4. Atlanta Braves 5. Philadelphia Phillies. Here are a couple twisters for the NL East: The Nationals will make it to the NL Championship series after spending their history pretty much as a one round and gone team. And, the second twister might make my friend happy, if the Braves’ Ronald Acuna can break his way on to the team this season after tearing up the minors, he will certainly be the No. 1 contender for the National League Rookie of the Year.

In the NL Central, there will not be a lot of change in store. The Chicago Cubs will repeat as division champs. Here is how I see the NL Central shaping up: 1. Chicago Cubs 2. St. Louis Cardinals 3. Milwaukee Brewers 4. Pittsburgh Pirates 5. Cincinnati Reds. A twist for the NL Central: The Chicago Cubs have a shot at winning 100 games this season. Not much else will be exciting in this division.

In the NL West, expect the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the division again, but by a closer margin. This is one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. Three teams reached the playoffs in 2017 – Los Angeles, Arizona and Colorado. Here is how I think 2018 will play out: 1. Los Angeles Dodgers 2. Arizona Diamondbacks 3. Colorado Rockies 4. San Francisco Giants 5. San Diego Padres. Here are a couple of twists: The Colorado Rockies’ pitcher Jon Gray will be a finalist and possible winner of the 2018 Cy Young Award. The Rockies have never had a pitcher among the finalists for the NL award because, well, mostly altitude, not attitude. The other prediction? Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, surprise, surprise, will finally reach the 30-30 mark, 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases. He has toyed with the mark the last three seasons.

Now on to the AL East. The New York Yankees are loaded and ready to claim first place once again in the AL East. It is hard to believe that with all the hype about Aaron Judge last season that the Yankees were not the division winners. That honor went to the Boston Red Sox by two games. Here are my predictions for the AL East in 2018: 1. New York Yankees 2. Boston Red Sox 3. Toronto Blue Jays 4. Tampa Bay Rays 5. Baltimore Orioles. How about this for a twist: Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez will combine to out-homer at least two other teams in baseball. Last season, the four had 153 homers while on different teams. Being together on the Yankees will give each a chance to produce more homers as pitchers will have to decide which of these bats is the lesser evil. With Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge on the same team, we could be looking at a combo reminiscent of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Just sayin’.

In the AL Central, no I am not predicting my Kansas City Royals to win; the top dog is going to be The Cleveland Indians – again. Expect this team to make another run at 100 wins. The Indians had 102 wins last season and finished 17 games ahead of Minnesota. Here are my AL Central predictions: 1. Cleveland Indians 2. Minnesota Twins 3. Detroit Tigers 4. Chicago White Sox 5. Kansas City Royals. A twist for the AL Central: Okay, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera had the worst season of his life – at least since becoming a regular player in 2004 – in 2017. He had his worst batting average (.249), fewest homers (16) and fewest RBIs (60). He even sat the bench at the end of last season nursing a bad back. This year will be different. Miggy Cabrera will return to past form and be a top hitter in the league, hit at least 25 homers and have at least 75 RBIs – possibly even better numbers.

In the AL West, the World Champion Houston Astros are the team to beat. Boy, was that ever an understatement. Here are my AL West predictions: 1. Houston Astros 2. Los Angeles Angels 3. Oakland Athletics 4. Seattle Mariners 5. Texas Rangers. The twists: Los Angeles’ Mike Trout will be among the top players when it comes to the annual MVP voting. That is not the twist. I think he can become a 40-40 guy this season. Why? Why not? Mike Trout has done about anything he has wanted in his career. A 40-40 season (40 homers and 40 stolen bases) is something only four others have achieved in baseball and none of them had the raw, pure talent of Mike Trout. Also, look for Shohei Ohtani to be the best pitcher or best hitter or both for the Los Angeles Angels this season. The Japanese Babe Ruth is finally going to play in the Major Leagues. It will be interesting to see how the Angels make use of his talent.

It would be easy to pick the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees to win the 2018 World Series. It would be a bold prediction to select the Washington Nationals. I will not select any of these teams. I will go with the Cleveland Indians. That is a pretty bold prediction. If I am wrong, it will not be the first time.

Mark Clark is a local sports writer for 

The Citizen of East