Baseball season starts Thursday for all 30 MLB teams. Here’s my annual fearless predictions on how things will shake out:
American League division winners: Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees.
AL Wild Cards: Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners -- It’s a toss-up on which team wins the AL East between the Yankees and Red Sox. The Mariners have a strong lineup that will score a lot of runs, but the big question is whether their starting pitching can hold up.
AL Champ: Astros -- Deepest and most talented team in many years. They could challenge for the MLB wins record of 116 (set by the Cubs 1906 and the Mariners in 2001).
National League division winners: Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals.
NL Wild Cards: Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers.
NL Champ: Nationals -- A new manager in Dave Martinez and it may be now or never for the Nats since Bryce Harper will be a free agent after this season.
World Series winner: Astros
AL MVP: Shortstop Carlos Correa, Astros -- Already the best young player in baseball, and at 23, he’s going to get better. Correa was hitting .320 with 20 homers and 67 RBI last season before suffering a thumb injury on July 17. He missed 42 games. If he’s healthy for the full 2018 season his numbers likely will be 30-plus homers and 120-plus RBI.
AL Cy Young Award: Right-hander Corey Kluber, Indians -- He would become the first AL pitcher to win it back-to-back since Pedro Martinez in 1999-2000. No reason to think he won’t do it after going 18-4 last year with a 2.25 ERA.
NL MVP: Third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies – Over the past three seasons, Arenado has averaged 40 homers and 131 RBI with a .296 average.
NL CY Young winner: Left-hander Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers -- Not only the best pitcher of his era, but one of the best in history. He has a career ERA of 2.36 in 10 MLB seasons to go with a 144-64 record. His ERA over the last five seasons is 1.95, an unimaginable stat today. Kershaw has 2,120 strikeouts in 1,935 innings pitched. And he’s only 30 years old. By the way, Kershaw did not give up an earned run in spring training.
Best player at each position:
1B: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks -- A career .299 average in seven MLB seasons, averaging 31 homers and 108 RBI the last three years.
2B: Jose Altuve, Astros -- The 2017 AL MVP.
SS: Correa -- Can do everything well.
3B: Arenado -- Did I also mention he has won five Gold Gloves?
C: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants -- Plays 1B sometimes now, but hit .320 in 2017 and he’s still a rock behind the plate. In 99 starts at catcher last season, he had only one passed ball and threw out 38 percent of runners trying to steal on him.
CF: Mike Trout, California Angels -- Most would say he’s still the best all-around player in baseball. I think Correa may take the claim away from him, but Trout’s greatness is clear.
RF: Aaron Judge, Yankees -- An evolving young slugger who still has a few flaws in his game, but superstardom likely is here to stay.
LF: Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees -- Will be a DH most of the time for the Yankees while Brett Gardner plays left. However, I want Stanton and Cruz in my lineup if I’m picking the best of the best.
DH: Nelson Cruz, Mariners -- No one in baseball works harder to become the best player he can be.
SP: Kershaw -- A free agent after the season. Another Cy Young and the Dodgers will need to give him the city of Malibu to keep him.
Closer: Kenley Jansen, Dodgers -- Only one blown save in 42 chances last season while making 65 appearances, averaging 15.6 strikeouts per nine innings.