We are so close to baseball season. In fact, tomorrow is Opening Day for most teams, if we discount the Ichiro Retirement Tour that was the Tokyo Series. So, why not look at some bold predictions for the oldest professional league in sports, the National League?
Clayton Kershaw will win the Cy Young
It's incredible that only a few years ago this wasn't bold, but a foregone conclusion. Kershaw has accomplished everything in the game of baseball with the notable exception of winning the World Series (which he very well could still do). Kershaw had his “worst” full season since 2010 where he still posted a 2.73 ERA but missed the All-Star Game for the first time since that 2010 season. However, this year he'll be (mostly) healthy and back to being Clayton Kershaw, winning his fourth Cy Young over finalists Max Scherzer and….
Josh Hader is a Cy Young Finalist
Josh Hader is the best relief pitcher since Mariano Rivera retired. Who else can even compare? Hader's 2018 was just straight dominance, leading to his first ever All-Star appearance. He completely (almost singlehandedly) changed the ways relievers are looked at in Major League Baseball. No more will relief pitchers be judged on how will they finish the job like Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, but rather how they can come in whenever and how they can shut down an offense in a jam. I call this the Josh Hader revolution, but that's a story for another time. Expect Hader to have the greatest season of any reliever since Zach Britton was in his prime.
Craig Kimbrel goes unsigned until May, then signs with the Brewers
If Josh Hader singlehandedly revolutionized all relief pitchers, then Craig Kimbrel is the last hope for outdated “traditionalists” who still think closers are necessary for a good team to do anything successful. For what it's worth, Kimbrel is a good relief pitcher. Sure, if this was fifteen or twenty years ago, Kimbrel would be rivaling The Great Mariano as the best reliever in the majors, but he's still solid. His fatal flaw is his lack of versatility. While Hader can come in whenever, Kimbrel is only useful in the ninth or extras, and only then in save situations. Still, he could help a team, but not for the first month. He will sign with the reigning NL Central Champions, the Milwaukee Brewers. Why? The Brewers have a pretty good bullpen including Hader and fellow 2018 NL All-Star Jeremy Jeffress. They're the only team (except the Braves) to show real interest in Kimbrel, and they don't have a real “closer” in case they think that's important, for some reason. Signing Kimbrel will give the Brewers a 1-2-3 punch out of the bullpen and would probably be the best bullpen in at least the National League.
The Rockies win the NL West
The Rockies are very much on the rise. German Marquez and Kyle Freeland look to be blossoming, which is great news for a team that claims its best pitcher in franchise history as Ubaldo Jimenez. Trevor Story is blossoming into an MVP candidate, guys like David Dahl and Raimel Tapia have untapped potential, Daniel Murphy replaces DJ LeMahieu at second, which is at worst a wash and at best an improvement, they have the National League's best manager in Bud Black, and that's not even mentioning their franchise faces of Charlie Blackmon and especially Nolan Arenado. Don't be surprised if the Dodgers start to slip after back to back World Series losses, despite having won the NL West for six consecutive seasons.
Lorenzo Cain wins MVP
In the AL, the best center fielder is obvious: Mike Trout. But what about the National League? That's not so clear. I know nobody cares about defense, but I believe it's Lorenzo Cain. In Milwaukee, Cain has been even better than he was in Kansas City. But didn't a Brewers outfielder win MVP a year ago? Yes, Christian Yelich did. But here's the thing: for a lot of the season, Cain was just as good as Yelich. After the All-Star break though, Yelich flipped the switch. His OPS was 1.219 over the second half of the season. To put that number into context, only six players have ever OPSed 1.219 in a full season: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, and Mark McGwire. Before the break, Yelich would OPS .823, still good, but nowhere close to his second half. Cain's first half OPS was .820, just below Yelich. In fact, in that first half, Cain posted a higher OBP than Yelich did. It's more likely for Lorenzo Cain to keep on keeping on than it is for Christian Yelich to post a historically great season. Don't be surprised if Yelich has another good season, but Cain will outperform him in 2019.
The Milwaukee Brewers win the World Series
That's what, four Brewers predictions? Well, they should be optimistic after what they've done over the past few seasons, going from 73-89 in 2016 to 86-76 and the brink of the playoffs in 2017 to 96-67 and one game from the National League Pennant in 2018. They've taken a massive step forward every season ever since Craig Counsell got the interim tag removed, and there's isn't really any reason to believe they won't do more of the same in 2019, especially since they retained most of their same players. So, amazingly, the Milwaukee Brewers are my pick to advance to their second World Series in franchise history (remember: they won the American League Pennant back in 1982 before losing to the Cardinals) and they will capture their first ever World Series championship. And just for good measure, your 2019 World Series MVP will be Travis Shaw, and they'll win the series in six games.
So those are my bold predictions for the National League. Remember to check out my American League bold predictions, as I'll revisit both after the season to see how I did.