American-Statesman columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden address some key questions for the 2018 MLB season that opens on Thursday:
1. Will the Astros repeat?
Bohls: They will. I do worry that Ken Giles might not remain the closer all season long, but Houston has the best offense and pitching rotation in all of baseball. I expect the Astros to win 100 games and beat the Cubs in six games in the World Series.
Golden: The won’t. The Astros are mega-talented and young, but history is against them. There’s a reason why no team has repeated since the Yankees won their third in a row in 2000. It’s that hard.
2. Who will be this year’s MVP?
Bohls: Astros second baseman Jose Altuve will repeat and duplicate his 24-home run, 32-steal season. He’s the best player in baseball. I think there may be too much pressure on Bryce Harper before his free-agency season, and Mike Trout can’t be Mike Trout forever.
Golden: Trout is off to a Hall of Fame start to his career and 2018 will do nothing to stop his rise. He’ll continue to cut down on the strikeouts and raise that batting average to around .320 with 42 homers and 117 RBIs.
3. Who’ll win the Cy Young Awards?
Bohls: I like Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw as a natural pick in the National League over the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard — although I’m hoping my fantasy headliner Max Scherzer of the Nationals gives him a run for his money. In the AL, I’m going with the Yankees Luis Severino; with that potent offense behind him, he may win 28 games this year.
Golden: Severino is finally starting to harness his huge talent and will pick up where he left off; he finished last season with a 14-6 record and a 2.98 ERA. Look for him to become New York’s first 20-game winner since Mike Mussina in 2008. Give me Kershaw in the NL. Safe pick, but a smart one since the Cy Young is a regular-season award.
4. Is there a sleeper team that can make the playoffs?
Bohls: Don’t write off the Mets. If somehow, someway New York’s other franchise can stay healthy with Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, the Mets can make a run.
Golden: The Oakland A’s are intriguing because they have game-changing power. The A’s led the league with 109 homers after the all-star break.
5. Who will be the two rookies of the year?
Bohls: I think Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna will wow in the major leagues and outfielder Texas outfielder Willie Calhoun, who starts the year in Texas’ triple-A club Round Rock will win it in the AL.
Golden: Give me Japanese import Shohei Ohtani of the Angels in the AL and Atlanta’s Acuna in the NL.
6. What’s the most over-rated team in baseball?
Bohls: I just don’t get the Angels. I’ve never liked their starting pitching. Shohei Ohtani started just two spring training games and is a risky bet to excel in his first year from Japan, especially if he tries to do double duty and hit. Justin Upton will either be an MVP candidate or begin his decline.
Golden: The Cleveland Indians have plenty of star power, but injuries and age could catch up to them this season. They have great young pieces in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez but Edwin Encarcion is 35 and Andrew Miller will soon be 33.
7. How would you fix the Texas Rangers?
Bohls: Blow ‘em up. Some may think they only need a closer, but this is a team with a few exciting parts but no impressive sum of those parts. I do like outfielder Nomar Mazara and first baseman Joey Gallo, but the rotation has a No. 3 pitcher for its ace in fading Cole Hamels and a bunch of No. 5 pitchers. I’m not sure the Rangers are going to win 75 games. General manager Jon Daniels will work the trade phones in July and should be ready to trade future Hall of Fame first baseman Adrian Beltre as well as Hamels and maybe second baseman Rougned Odor if he only hits balls out of the park and still has no plate discipline.
Golden: Start over. You have some stars that will yield young talent. Beltre is old as dirt but could help a team that needs a veteran presence. Take advantage of that good farm system and part names with your big names while there’s still some value there.
8. Who will be the best new manager?
Bohls: I would assume TV analyst-turned-manager Aaron Boone because many are already penciling in the Yankees as the World Series favorite, but I’ll go with former Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who’s now leading all that young talent in Boston. I love new Detroit manager and former Longhorn Ron Gardenhire, but he inherited a mess of a rebuilding job.
Golden: Washington’s Dave Martinez is replacing a legend in Dusty Baker, but inherits some great young talent in Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer.
9. What would you change about the game?
Bohls: I’d extend nets further down the lines to protect the fans from foul balls, and I’d outlaw all mound visits that make games interminably long.
Golden: I’d definitely limit mound visits and make sure each MLB park has cameras down the foul lines. And if there’s a way to make the technology work, why not incorporate tennis’ Hawk-Eye line-calling system for determining fair and foul balls down the line?
10. If you were starting a franchise, which young pitcher and player would you want?
Bohls: I’d grab 24-year-old Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola with his great curve and Astros third baseman Alex Bregman for his clutch bat and terrific defense.
Golden: Cardinals right-hander Luke Weaver struck out 72 and walked only 17, going 7-2 in 10 starts. The player would be Houston shortstop Carlos Correa — clutch, hungry, and only 23.
11. Whose career is done?
Bohls: I just don’t think lefty CC Sabathia has much left for the Yankees despite a strong comeback season last year. It’s too easy to say Bartolo Colon should be in a rocking chair.
Golden: Ichiro. It’s time to let it go. The greatest MLB player to come out of Japan should call it a career at age 44.
12. Who was the biggest offseason pickup?
Bohls: For all his World Series troubles when he was also tipping his pitches, Yu Darvish was an outstanding acquisition for the Chicago Cubs because Jon Lester’s days as a top pitcher may not last much longer. But I’ll go with Giancarlo Stanton, who may hit 60 homers in the Bronx.
Golden: The Yankees picking up Stanton after he hit 59 homers and 132 RBIs and adding him to a lineup that led the majors with 241 homers? Doesn’t get much better than that.