On The Blog: KILJ’s MLB Preview

Written by Nathan Bloechl on March 26, 2020

By: Nathan Bloechl — sports@kilj.com 

(KILJ) — Today would have been Opening Day 2020, one of the greatest days in sports, period.

But COVID-19 robbed us of that and now we have an unknown start time for this baseball season.

Here are my expert picks at each division, the wild card, and the entire playoffs, starting first in the American League.

American League 

AL East

  1. z-New York Yankees — 102-60
  2. x-Tampa Bay Rays — 90-72
  3. Boston Red Sox — 82-80
  4. Toronto Blue Jays — 73-89
  5. Baltimore Orioles — 53-109

Not many surprises here in the A.L. East which will undoubtedly be dominated by the Yankees. After signing former Astros ace Gerrit Cole to a record contract, the Yankees have set themselves up for a monster year. Tampa Bay’s success is always fun to see. They have one of the lowest payrolls but continually push out winning teams and superstar SS prospect Wander Franco isn’t far off. Boston traded former-MVP Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, signaling a rebuild for the Sox. Toronto is young, but doesn’t have enough pitching — the Orioles just plain stink.

AL Central 

  1. y-Minnesota Twins — 95-67
  2. Chicago White Sox — 87-75
  3. Cleveland Indians — 83-79
  4. Kansas City Royals — 68-94
  5. Detroit Tigers — 52-110

The Bomba Squad — Minnesota — is the team to beat in the A.L. Central again after acquiring slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson and pitcher Kenta Maeda. The Twins had five guys hit 30+ home runs last year, with no reason they can’t do that again. The Southsiders made some big money moves, signing ex-Brewer catcher Yasmani Grandal and former Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel. They’re close, but not playoff material quite yet. Cleveland is borderlining a rebuild after hemming and hawing about trading their superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor. Kansas City and Detroit are irrelevant.

AL West 

  1. z-Houston Astros — 101-61
  2. x-Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — 91-71
  3. x-Oakland Athletics — 91-71
  4. Texas Rangers — 77-85
  5. Seattle Mariners — 70-92

Hate them or love them, Houston still has an elite core led by All-Stars Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer. Yeah, they lost Gerrit Cole, but they have top prospect Forrest Whitley in the wings and Justin Verlander has found the fountain of youth. The Angels made waves by coming to terms with former National and 2019 World Series hero Anthony Rendon, finally giving superhero Mike Trout a running mate. Oakland, like Tampa, is seemingly always good. Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien and Matt Olson are as fun a big three as there is. Texas is just okay, while the Mariners — while having exciting youth — are still a couple of seasons away.

National League

NL East 

  1. z-Atlanta Braves — 95-67
  2. x-Washington Nationals — 89-73
  3. Philadelphia Phillies — 84-78
  4. New York Mets — 81-81
  5. Miami Marlins 70-92

The Braves remain the cream of the crop in the NL East led by star center fielder Ronald Acuna and first baseman Freddie Freeman. The Braves will go as far as their young pitching will take them. They have the ammo to make any midseason moves they wish, too. Washington will obviously take a dip after the departure of Rendon to the Nationals, but with a rotation that features Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasbourg and Patrick Corbin, they’ll be in the mix. Juan Soto could be a sneaky MVP-candidate. The Phillies signed Zack Wheeler, a former Met, to a big money deal, but it’s not enough. They’re going to regret that Bryce Harper deal soon, if not already. The Mets are the definition of average, hence the .500 record. The Fish are fun too, but they’re still fitting their pieces. Derek Jeter has them headed in the right direction, I believe.

NL Central 

  1. y-Milwaukee Brewers — 89-73
  2. x-St. Louis Cardinals — 88-74
  3. Chicago Cubs — 85-77
  4. Cincinnati Reds — 84-78
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates — 73-89

One of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball, the NL Central is going to be a blood bath this year. I think the Brewers have the edge for two reasons: they have the best player in the National League in Christian Yelich and the best reliever in baseball in Josh Hader. Their pitching is just good enough. St. Louis sat on their hands after making the NLCS last year. I just don’t think they did enough to improve. The same could be said for the Cubs, who miss out on the postseason for the second straight year. Cincinnati, on the other hand, made a ton of moves. The Reds brought in former Royal and Brewer slugger Mike Moustakas, hotshot outfielder Nicholas Castellanos and already have a collection of very good pieces. The Reds might surprise some. The Pirates not so much.

NL West

  1. z-Los Angeles Dodgers — 104-58
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks — 86-76
  3. San Diego Padres — 82-80
  4. Colorado Rockies — 79-83
  5. San Francisco Giants — 63-99

I see no avenue in which the Dodgers are not the best team in baseball. Their star-studded cast is anchored by 2019 MVP Cody Bellinger. They brought in 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts. They already have elite regulars like Mike Muncy, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Gavin Lux. Their rotation is dominant. Their bullpen is good enough. The Dodgers, if they can put it all together, should run away with the the NL Pennant. Arizona struck a deal with Madison Bumgarner and traded for Starling Marte but I still think they’re not quite there yet. San Diego makes some strides amidst their young core but they still have a ways to go. The Rockies have three of the best hitters out West in Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon but their pitching is beyond abysmal. San Francisco is just starting their long rebuild.

Playoffs 

AL Wild Card Play-In

Oakland Athletics 5, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 3

  • Oakland’s sluggers do just enough and their bullpen sends Mike Trout packing in his first ever playoff appearance.

AL Wild Card Game 

Tampa Bay Rays 4, Oakland Athletics 2

  • In rematch of last year’s game played in Oakland — one in which the Rays won — Tampa picks up another huge win moving into the Division Series.

ALDS 

New York Yankees defeat Tampa Bay, 3-1 (Best-of-5)

  • Tampa is able to sneak a game in this series, but the Yankee bullpen and star power is just too much to overcome for the small market Rays. The investment in Gerrit Cole pays huge dividends as he pitches a complete-game shutout in game four to lead the Yanks to the Championship Series.

Houston Astros defeat Minnesota, 3-2 (Best-of-5)

  • Despite the whole world cheering for the demise of the ‘Stros, Houston picks up a huge Game Five win to set up a Darth Vader vs. Darth Vader ALCS between them and New York. Minnesota gives the Astros everything they can handle but fall short, thanks in part to Houston’s elite collection of bats.

ALCS 

Houston Astros defeat New York Yankees, 4-3 (Best-of-7)

  • What a series this would be, as two teams who flat out hate each other exchange blow after blow in an epic clash. Most of the world hates both of these teams and they both revel in knowing that. Houston finds a way to get things done in Game Seven at Yankee Stadium as Justin Verlander outduels his former teammate Gerrit Cole in a 2-1 Astro win on a quintessential October night in the Bronx.

NL Wild Card Game

Washington Nationals defeat St. Louis, 6-2

  • In a one-game scenario you always favor the elite pitcher, in this case it’s Washington’s Max Scherzer who is the masterclass at his position, defeating Cardinal ace Jack Flaherty.

NLDS 

Los Angeles Dodgers defeat Washington, 3-1 (Best-of-5)

  • The first step to the Dodgers getting to the World Series includes a gentleman’s sweep of the Nationals. Los Angeles being able to throw Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, David Price and some form of Julio Urias/Dustin May make them an unstoppable force.

Atlanta Braves defeat Milwaukee, 3-2 (Best-of-5)

  • This actually would be a really fun series between two of the game’s bright young stars in the Braves’ Ronald Acuna and Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich. Ultimately, I give the edge to Atlanta due to their collection of high-end young arms and clutch hitting, but Milwaukee would be no easy out.

NLCS 

Los Angeles Dodgers defeat Atlanta, 4-2 (Best-of-7)

  • Another really fun series to think about, the Dodgers drop the first two before coming back with four in a row against the Braves. The Dodger bats wake up and Mookie Betts is the NLCS MVP proving the worth of that trade true in one set of games. Atlanta is going to be good for a long, long time. But the Dodgers nip them here.

World Series

In a rematch of the epic 2017 World Series, the Dodgers and Astros meet up again.

The outcome: Los Angeles defeats Houston 4-3 (Best-of-7)

What a doozy of a series, between the two best teams in the league with star power at every corner. Houston has the arms to be in this to the end, but the abilities of Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and Max Muncy are just too much for Houston to contend with down the stretch. In front of sold out Dodger Stadium crowd in Game 7, Bellinger hits a towering 456-foot walk-off home run in the 11th inning off of Roberto Osuna to give Los Angeles their seventh World Series title and first since 1988.