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Believe it or not, baseball is almost here. 2019’s Opening Day is on Thursday (well, except for that Japan Series which existed solely to pad Ichiro's stats and send him into retirement) so why not take a look at some bold predictions for the league of the reigning World Series champion, the American League?
The Red Sox don't produce an MVP Finalist
The Red Sox are very good, and barring something unforeseen, they will still be great in 2019. A huge part of that is Mookie Betts, who finished runner-up for the AL MVP in 2016 before winning it in 2018. JD Martinez also got some MVP talk last season although he wasn't named a finalist, finishing fourth in the voting. Now, they're both great players, but even for all-time greats (which, I should say, neither of them are yet) it's difficult to repeat an MVP-caliber season. So, if the Red Sox don't have someone make it to the finalists, who does? Well, Mike Trout is a given, considering he's never finished lower than second in a season where he was fully healthy. Another finalist is Alex Bregman, which sounds bold, but really isn't considering how good he actually is, and the last one….
Giancarlo Stanton is an MVP Finalist
Here's something that a lot of people seem to have forgotten, but is very much true: Giancarlo Stanton is good. Like, really good. “But he wasn't that good last season” you say. Well, you're not looking at the stats and instead choosing to follow a preconceived narrative created by a former Stanton fan and parroted by Red Sox fans who think Sweet Caroline is a good song, it's okay to wear pink hats to games, and that Dustin Pedroia should have his jersey retired. But I digress. Stanton still hit 38 homers and scored 100 runs in 2018, so if that's bad, then when he has a “good” season, watch out. A “good” season for Stanton is like his 2017 season, where he hit 59 home runs, OPSed 1.007, and won NL MVP. It's the only fully healthy season he's ever had. Even in 2018 he was injured down the stretch but still played due to injuries to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. In 2019, he'll return to healthy form and begin punishing AL pitchers like nothing the league has seen since the days of prime A-Rod.
Corey Kluber and/or Trevor Bauer gets traded
On the surface, this doesn't make that much sense. Why would a team fresh off three consecutive playoff appearances trade one or both of their All-Star pitchers? Well, it was a possibility this offseason. It was rumored one or both of them were on the block, but ultimately they held on to both. The Indians are well behind the rest of the league when it comes to this whole “spending money for good players” thing, saying it'll take a contract over $1 billion for them to even consider a $300 million contract, so it does make sense for them to clear more money for Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor to turn down.
Dallas Keuchel signs with the Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays won 90 games last season thanks to the revolution of the opener. Despite that, they had an ace going every fifth day in your reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell. They added 2018 All-Star Charlie Morton, but you really need two great starters to contend. Let's just quickly look at the last three World Series winners as proof of that: the 2018 Red Sox had Chris Sale and David Price, the 2017 Astros had Justin Verlander and Keuchel, and the 2016 Cubs had Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. The Rays have one great starter in Snell, and they very well could add another Cy Young winner in Keuchel.
Yusei Kikuchi pulls a Valenzuela
Firstly, what is a Valenzuela? This has only been done by Fernando Valenzuela with the 1981 Dodgers, hence the name. Now that we got that out of the way, who is Yusei Kikuchi? You can probably deduce he's a starting pitcher and a rookie, but what about beyond that? Well, he throws and bats lefty, he's 28 years old, and this past offseason, he signed with the Mariners after eight seasons pitching for the Seibu Lions in the Japanese league, Nippon Professional Baseball. That team is the same team that produced former major leaguers Kaz Matsui and Daisuke Matsuzaka. So, am I saying that just because his team also produced a couple former big leaguers who aren't really that great? Well, Yusei Kikuchi is actually good. He's posted an ERA of 2.80 in his Japanese career, and he's just entering his prime. I know it's more popular to pick Chris Sale or Justin Verlander for the Cy Young and Vlad Jr for the Rookie of the Year, but last time the Mariners signed a late-20's Japanese rookie it turned out alright.
Chris Sale does not start the All-Star Game
Chris Sale is great. Historically so. He's made seven consecutive All-Star games, and for the past three seasons, he's been the American League starting pitcher in the Midsummer Classic. But that streak will come to an end this year. Barring a major injury or something else completely unforeseen, he will make his eighth straight All-Star team, but for the first time since Dallas Keuchel started in 2015, another pitcher will start the All-Star Game for the American League. Who will it be? Well, Yusei Kikuchi would be in line with my Cy Young pick, but I doubt a rookie will actually be given the starting job, even in an exhibition game. More than likely, it'll be someone like Justin Verlander, maybe his Astros teammate Gerrit Cole, or even someone like the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.
So those are my bold predictions for the American League. Remember to check out my National League bold predictions, as I'll revisit both after the season to see how I did.