Columns, Opinions, Sports

Klein ’20: Who will win the World Series?

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Sports Columnist
Sunday, March 24, 2019

As the weather warms, snow melts off the sidewalks of Providence, serving as a reminder that baseball season has returned. The MLB languished through a tumultuous offseason full of drawn-out free agency negotiations and the ominous words of a future work stoppage. But for now, with the 2019 season scheduled to start this week, it’s time for preseason predictions. Who will take home a championship in October?

In the American League, we have to look at the Boston Red Sox first. They won the World Series last year, completely overwhelming the rest of the league. But repeating as champions has proven difficult: Both the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros were widely expected to dominate after their respective championships but took steps back instead. Everything went right for Boston in 2018, but what about in 2019? Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez should continue to produce at MVP levels. But the bullpen remains a problem, especially if the Red Sox won’t re-sign Craig Kimbrel. Boston used Nathan Eovaldi in relief throughout the postseason to wriggle out of trouble, and Eovaldi hasn’t shown yet in his career that he can pitch consistently from year to year. Boston remains around the top of the AL, but they are a team with some holes.

The Astros seemed like the more complete team during the 2018 regular season, but lost soundly to the Red Sox 4-1 in the playoffs. Can they recover, or will they continue to plummet like the Cubs? Having Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole at the top of the rotation is a good start. The same goes for having George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in the lineup. Springer and Correa both underperformed last year and we can expect improvement from them moving forward. The addition of Michael Brantley should further elevate this group, providing even more All-Star level hitting. Houston will return in October hungry for revenge, and this time, they won’t lose a series in five games. I consider them AL favorites.

The New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians were contenders last year and still hold places in the hunt for the pennant, but I’ve got major concerns about both of these teams. The Yankees are starting off the year on the wrong foot. Shortstop Didi Gregorius won’t come back for months after Tommy John surgery. Luis Severino and Dellin Betances will miss the beginning of the season. So will CC Sabathia. And while the signing of Gio Gonzalez gives New York fans hope that the team can get through April all right, the fact remains that not much has gone well in spring training for the Yankees. The Indians, meanwhile, currently exist as a worse version of their previous teams that came up short in the postseason. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez form a fantastic combo, and the rotation (led again by Corey Kluber) is fantastic, but Cleveland lacks any kind of depth. The outfield could turn into a disaster. The Yankees and Indians are a full tier below the Red Sox and Astros.

Turning to the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies captured headlines with the signing of Bryce Harper to a monster 13-year, $330 million dollar contract. The Phillies are obviously looking to take the next step, but it would help a lot if Harper plays like he did in 2015 and 2017, instead of performing below expectations like in 2016 and 2018. Harper must play well consistently if he wants to live up to that massive contract. Don’t forget about the trades for Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto and the signing of Andrew McCutchen. Pair all these win-now moves with Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta, and we have a team ready to contend. The problem for Philly comes from inexperience. Can a team that hasn’t made the playoffs with their current core make a jump all the way to a championship? Unlikely. The Phillies should play in October, but are a year away from true contention.

The Milwaukee Brewers made that jump in 2018 and look to continue their rise. The addition of Yasmani Grandal and return of Mike Moustakas bolster the bottom half of their lineup, but the starting rotation is the real concern for me. I wouldn’t trust any Brewers starter to go deep in a big game. Luckily, Milwaukee features a historically strong bullpen, led by Josh Hader and Corey Knebel, whom no opposing hitter wants to face. The combination of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, meanwhile, makes for a tremendous duo at the top of the order. MVP hitting, dynamic relief pitching and lots of depth? Yikes. The Brewers should expect to play again in the National League Championship Series, and this time, I expect them to surge into the World Series.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed A.J. Pollock, a move that, along with the return of Corey Seager from injury, helps make up for the departure of Manny Machado. But this team is heading in the wrong direction. They were thoroughly outmatched by the Red Sox in last year’s World Series, and it will take a massive effort to return to the Fall Classic for a third consecutive season. You have to feel concerned about Clayton Kershaw’s shoulder, which will force him to miss Opening Day. He hasn’t looked like his prime self in a long while now. Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp are gone now thanks to a salary dump move. It feels like the Dodgers’ championship window has closed.

The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals enter the season with much to prove in a tough NL Central. Expectations surrounding the Cubs are surprisingly low, but between Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, the talent remains top-notch. The Cardinals added Paul Goldschmidt in the offseason, pairing him with Matt Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna in their lineup and terrifying NL pitchers. The Central could have three teams reach the postseason.

Clearly, there are several teams with legitimate shots at winning the championship. But the Astros and Brewers seem, on paper, to be a step above their respective competition. The Astros possess depth and starpower in each aspect of their roster, and the Brewers have a lineup and bullpen that can dominate come playoff time.

World Series Prediction: Astros over Brewers