The 2018 baseball season begins today! As teams ride that wave of Spring Training optimism into Game 1, three squads in particular have impressive rosters with the talent to contend for a championship. The New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros come into the season as the World Series front-runners.
New York Yankees
The Yankees were the underdog story off 2017. The 2018 version isn't sneaking up on anyone. New York made a bold move nabbing Giancarlo Stanton, instantly sending a message to the rest of the league. Stanton, who led both leagues with 59 home runs in 2017, joins a team that had an MLB-best 241 home runs last year. This season, the “Baby Bombers” expect to make an even bigger statement at the plate with their power. The Yankees’ game plan is simple: out-slug the other team.
Last year’s rookie sensation, Aaron Judge, hopes to continue making an impact with another superstar year. Judge has silenced the doubters who once assumed that his massive 6' 7" frame would lack the agility and quickness of an elite ballplayer. His surprising athleticism turns his size into an asset, as he slugs home runs at the plate and robs dingers at the wall. The Yankees infield is also loaded with talent, with big playmakers in Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Brandon Drury.
The Yankees may also have the best bullpen in the league. Closer Aroldis Chapman, capable of throwing over 100 mph, is the Yankees’ top weapon. Dellin Betances, coming off a shaky season, has rebuilt his delivery and hopes to be a multi-inning weapon. And David Robertson, who just had a career year, is another very dependable arm. This loaded team has high hopes of adding to New York's championship legacy.
The Cubs' lineup is stacked with the same young stars that have dominated baseball since their 2016 World Series Championship. In 2018, they’ll have a stronger pitching staff with a couple new faces. After Yu Darvish blanked the Cubs in last year’s NLCS, they went out and signed him. Brandon Morrow, another former Dodger, will drastically improve Chicago's bullpen which was one of their biggest weaknesses last year. Morrow emerged last year as a premier reliever with his mix of two lights-out pitches.
Kyle Schwarber appears ready to have a great comeback year for Chicago. Schwarber is reaping the benefits of an intense offseason training program He now packs bigger muscles and explosive power, which likely will translate to more extra-base hits. Additionally, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are dependable bats in the heart if the lineup and excellent fielders at first and third base. Last year, the Cubs came up just a little short in the postseason. Now, they look like the team to beat in the National League.
The defending World Series champions look like contenders for another ring. While no team has won in back-to-back years since the Yankees did in 2000, Houston is hoping to change that. Led by Jose Altuve, the Astros have a dynamic offensive lineup that led the league in runs, hits, RBIs, and batting average last year. Altuve, the reigning American League MVP, signed a seven-year contract, keeping the franchise player in Houston for years to come.
Houston’s young stars are starting to break out into superstar form. George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa are the driving force of the Astros’ team. At 35 years of age, Justin Verlander is the rare veteran on the team. The former Cy Young Award winner and six-time All Star was last year’s best late-season acquisition. If southpaw Dallas Keuchel also returns to his Cy-Young-caliber form, Houston will have a dominant duo anchoring their starting rotation. The Astros also will benefit from the confidence and experience they gained last October as they attempt another World Series push.
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