As we head into Opening Day, with everyone getting a rare same-day start on Thursday, it's pretty easy to form a few groups and give every MLB team a label. There are winners and hopefuls and there's also the bloating, seedy underbelly of teams emboldened by the World Series victories of the Cubs and Astros and hoping to do the same via the draft. To them, 2018 is an end to justify their means of hoping to win in 2020 and beyond.
As the defending champion, the Astros start at No. 1 and it's up to everyone else to knock them from their perch. That will be no easy task but there are certainly candidates. Here's our look at how the teams shape up heading out of spring training:
1. Houston Astros. Carlos Correa, George Springer and Jose Altuve are now bonafide stars and third baseman Alex Bregman is set to join them this year but what's scary about Houston is that they're actually going to be better on the mound: They'll have Justin Verlander for a full year and he'll certainly be at the top of the Cy Young mix and they've added Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. The AL West should be a walkaway and then we'll see about the postseason as they get the next chance to be the first repeat champion since the 2000 Yankees.
2. New York Yankees. The Baby Bombers were in Game Seven of the ALCS last year and added 59-homer man Giancarlo Stanton to the lineup. He'll go deep with regularity but we have to see how he handles the fishbowl of New York; nobody cares about an 0-for-11 blip in Miami. Aaron Judge AND Stanton? That's just sick. The rotation is cause for concern if you over rely on CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka. And no one knows how Aaron Boone will be as a manager. This is massive on-the-job training. For all of George Steinbrenner's "You're fired" acts back in the day, Boone is just the Yankees' third manager in the last 23 seasons.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers. It starts with Clayton Kershaw and ends with him. Big Blue was one win shy of getting that elusive first World Series title since 1988 and certainly could land back there again. The lineup isn't all that imposing and Justin Turner's broken wrist last week was a big downer heading into the season. Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Roberts has shown impeccable dugout skills the last two years, going 195-129 as manager and nearly winning it all in just year two.
4. Cleveland Indians. The Sons of Tito Francona are back again looking for that first title since 1948 – and maybe they grab it in the final year of Chief Wahoo before the cartoonish caricature gets sent to logo heaven. There's plenty of motivation as many observers thought the 102-win Tribe was the best team in the game but simply didn't get the job done in the division series against the Yankees. Great lineup (Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, newcomer Yonder Alonso), great rotation (Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco), great manager. Progressive Field is great fun only three hours away. Highly recommended.
5. Washington Nationals. Maybe THIS is the year. It might have to be if Bryce Harper plays it out and heads to free agency. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez lead a stacked rotation. The lineup is again strong. But it seemed like a weird call to axe Dusty Baker and go to a first-time manager in Dave Martinez for what could be a last-ditch run.
6. Boston Red Sox. They're not getting a ton of the March chatter but they could easily be one of the major October talking points. J.D. Martinez adds badly needed power to a lineup that had just about everything else. The homegrown talent that features Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and Jackie Bradley Jr. is the envy of the game. And any team would take a rotation led by Chris Sale and Davie Price. Yet another first-time manager in Alex Cora. Top teams especially don't seem to be worrying about the skipper being inexperienced. The dugouts in New York (Boone), DC (Martinez) and Boston will be big storylines to watch all season.
7. Chicago Cubs. They will obviously remain big winners but it's just a question of how big come October. One key point: Will they get Yu Darvish the ace or Yu Darvis the World Series disaster? The stars of the '16 champions remain for many years. Bryant. Rizzo. Russell. Schwarber. Baez. Love the rotation, wonder about the bullpen, never miss a Joe Maddon press conference.
8. Milwaukee Brewers. Who could be this year's shoot-to-the-top champion akin to what we've seen the last two years? Here's your No. 1 candidate. This was already a pretty good team but adding Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich allowed them to, ahem, win the offseason. Now we see how that translates. Craig Counsell is off to a nice start as a manager and maybe it should have been no surprise the way he was a key to World Series wins with the '97 Marlins and '01 Diamondbacks.
9. Arizona Diamondbacks. Bisons legend Torey Lovullo squeezed out 93 wins last year and the D-Backs will remain in the wild-card hunt but the task got quite a bit harder when they didn't re-sign J.D. Martinez or closer Fernando Rodney. Lots of solid players who need more pub like first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, starter Robbie Ray and relief ace Archie Bradley.
10. Colorado Rockies. It never changes in Denver. Can you get just enough pitching because you know you'll have plenty of offense? Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon will be on the periphery of the MVP race and they'll win a lot of games at home they we see about the arms. Adding Wade Davis to the bullpen was a pretty stealth move.
11. Minnesota Twins. How about Paul Molitor going from 103 losses to the playoffs? They'll sneak up on no one this time. Maybe they regress some but adding Jake Odorizzi to the rotation and Fernando Rodney to the pen were signs they mean business. The lineup doesn't stack up to other AL powers.
12. St. Louis Cardinals. Landed Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins' fire sale to add power to a lineup that has most everything else. Even with questions about the rotation, it's hard to ever count them out.
13. Los Angeles Angels. Shohei Ohtani didn't make the Spring splash everyone hoped, struggling to bat over .100 and not blowing anybody away on the mound while making a couple 'A' appearances and throwing to minor leaguers. He's penciled into a six-man rotation to start and could DH. Still, he's expected to be a big help as the adjustment to American baseball continues. Someday, Mike Trout will play on a winner. You wonder how many more chances manager Mike Scioscia will get: That lone World Series title was now 16 years ago.
14. Seattle Mariners. Just call them the Buffalo Bills of baseball. No playoffs since 2001, now the longest drought in the four major sports. It's been 17 years. Maybe, like Sean McDermott's boys, it will be time. They reunited with Ichiro Suzuki at age 44, which will be interesting. Love the addition of Dee Gordon but this is all about how far Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz can take them.
15. Toronto Blue Jays. No one knows what will happen. They could win 90. They could lose 90 and be big sellers. A big injury, especially on the mound, would be a disaster. Does Josh Donaldson stay or go? Will Troy Tulowitzki ever be healthy again? (Aside from the 716: Can they finally get the Bisons over the postseason hump?).
16. San Diego Padres. If the Brewers don't make the big leap, this could be the other candidate. Eric Hosmer is a strong addition to the middle of the lineup. The prospect pool is growing. Andy Green is an underrated manager who players love. Still too thin in the rotation.
17. Baltimore Orioles. Last-chance time with Manny Machado and Adam Jones doesn't look all that promising. If you've got one eye out the door, aren't you already gone? Zach Britton's ruptured Achilles put major coal in their Christmas stocking five days before the holiday and will be felt for the entire first half.
18. San Francisco Giants. They got moved down a rung when Madison Bumgarner fractured his hand last week. Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria were big pickups and there's still World Series players sprinkled through the lineup. But the rotation is now too thin.
19. Texas Rangers. Like young guns Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo. Outfielder Willie Calhoun, acquired for Darvish, has Rookie of the Year potential once he's called up from the minors.
20. Atlanta Braves. This will be the last year they spend in this category. They could legitimately be back in 2019 and it will be fun to watch the development of infielders Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson as well as outfielder Ronald Acuna.
21. New York Mets. If Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia all stay healthy and pitch well, this is a playoff team. But when is that ever going to happen? Same with Yoenis Cespedes. What are they doing adding Adrian Gonzalez?
22. Oakland Athletics. They play in the game's dumpiest stadium and no one cares about them until the Golden State Warriors' season finishes across the Coliseum parking lot. There's some burgeoning young talent here but it's just not ready yet. A story to watch will be outfielder Dustin Fowler, who is back after blowing out his knee in his first game with the Yankees last year.
23. Kansas City Royals. The fans were happy Mike Moustakas came back on a one-year deal but this offense will struggle. Those summers and Octobers of 2014 and 2015 seem a long time ago.
24. Philadelphia Phillies. Jake Arrieta was an interesting late signing. Young talent like Rhys Hoskins is coming along. No one knows how Gabe Kapler will be as a manager, since he's never been a skipper above Class A. Good Future Watch group.
25. Cincinnati Reds. Joey Votto has six top-10 MVP finishes in his career. He's the best player in the game nobody talks about. At age 34, shouldn't they send him somewhere he can win?
26. Detroit Tigers. Why did Ron Gardenhire agree to take over this group? Yeesh. Miguel Cabrera is on the downside. Former Bisons lefty Daniel Norris might be poised for a breakout.
27. Chicago White Sox. They have a lot of prospects and are hoping for a few more. But they can hide on the South Side while everyone in town pays attention to the Cubs.
28. Tampa Bay Rays. They traded most everybody else. Doesn't Chris Archer have to be next? Desperate to get out of St. Petersburg and get a new ballpark in Tampa.
29. Miami Marlins. Has any new executive blown his goodwill faster than Derek Jeter? What's the plan here? Will anybody be in the stands to watch? How does poor Don Mattingly keep his sanity?
30. Pittsburgh Pirates. They better hope the Penguins are playing into June again so nobody notices how bad they are for a while. Trading Cole and McCutchen ended the era of contention.
Story topics: MLB Power Rankings