The first pitch of the new Major league Baseball season is just around the corner. Christopher Reive picks his top five contenders – and one wildcard - to win the World Series this October.
Friday marks one of the most exciting days of the MLB calendar – opening day, where teams set of on their 162-game journey to reach the playoffs. So, here's a look ahead to the end of that journey and which teams might just be the last one standing.
Division: American League West
2017 record: 101-61(Won World Series)
Likely rotation: Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton
It would be rude not to start with the defending champions. If anything, the roster they're bringing into their 2018 campaign is stronger than that of a year ago when they went all the way. The acquisition of former Pittsburgh Pirates pitching ace Gerrit Cole gives them one of the more formidable rotations in the American League. In field and at the plate, they're largely unchanged, with last year's MVP Jose Altuve, fellow infielder Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer likely to lead the side to another 90-plus win season. Their big test will come in the playoffs, where the road back to the World Series gets a lot tougher. It's not easy to repeat as champions, but this team has the ability to be the first since 2000 to do just that.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Division: National League West
2017 record: 104-58 (lost in World Series)
Likely rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu
Is this the year the boys in blue finally put it all together? The Dodgers have topped their division for the past five seasons straight, but have only reached the World Series once during that time. With perennial All-Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw at the helm, they've consistently had a damaging rotation in recent years. The question here is whether the rotation can stay healthy this season. They have streaky bats in the outfield in Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson, but their infield is what should scare some pitchers. Youngsters Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager combined for 174 runs batted in and will again lead the side's offence, with the streaky hitters sure to make an impact. They're in probably the toughest division in the league, but should be good enough to win it for the sixth straight year and try, once again to push on.
Division: American League Central
2017 record: 102-60 (lost in American League Division Series)
Likely rotation: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Josh Tomlin
The Indians are primed for a big year. They're a stacked team in one of the weaker divisions in the league. In recent times, the AL Central has been strong and competitive, however with the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals joining the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins in rebuilding stages, the division is the Indians' to lose. The Cleveland side play almost half of their games against teams in the own division and should get close to the 50-26 record they posted last year against the AL Central. In 2017, they were dealt to by the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs because they tried to play Yankee-ball – either hit home runs or nothing. So, the trick for the Indians will be to play their own brand of baseball in October. And of course, making sure they're still involved in October too. They can't get complacent.
New York Yankees
Division: American League East
2017 record: 91-71 (lost in American League Championship Series)
Likely rotation: Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery
The potential of this team has is frightening. As if Aaron Judge (52 home-runs in 2017) and Gary Sanchez (33) weren't enough power, they went and added former Miami star Giancalo Stanton (59). With the likes of shortstop Didi Gregorious and veteran infield presence Neil Walker in the mix, this team is going to put up a lot of runs. They're also going to strike out a lot, which is also fun to watch if you're like me and love watching a pitcher get the better of a hitter. For the casual baseball fan, this will be an entertaining team to watch. But this isn't just a run-scoring team, they also have the arms to back them up, or keep them out of trouble if their bats are cold. They have quality starters and two of the best closers in the league in Dallin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. If you give them a head start, good luck to you.
Division: National League East
2017 record: 97-65 (lost in National League Division Series)
Likely rotation: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, A.J. Cole
Performing well this season might just be even more important for the Washington Nationals, with superstar slugger Bryce Harper set for free agency at the end of the year. He'll have plenty of suitors, and Washington will have to shell out big bucks to bring him back. But, if they win the World Series, that gives Harper more incentive to come back. They're set up to be in the race right until the end, with a roster full of players who are solid both at the plate and on the field. Unlike last season, they're going to be challenged in the NL East. The New York Mets look set for a deep run this time around, so first and foremost, they need to win the division. Despite the Mets building a stronger team, the Nationals should clinch this division, and have all the talent needed to go all the way.
Wildcard: San Francisco Giants
Division: National League West
2017 record: 64-98 (finished with the worst record in the league)
Likely rotation: Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Ty Blach, Derek Holland
It's an even year, and they won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, so ignore the Giants out at your peril. They start on the back foot right away with Madison Bumgarner out for two to three months after being hit on his pitching hand by a line drive in Spring Training. However, without their lefty ace, they've recruited well to make a run at the playoffs. With veteran outfielders Andrew McCutchen (ex-Pittsburgh) and Austin Jackson (ex-Cleveland) as well as three-time All-Star infielder Evan Longoria (ex-Tampa Bay), this is a team who could surprise a lot of people throughout the course of the season. They probably won't have a better record after 162 games than the Dodgers, so they'll have to go through the wildcard process, but this is a team with the capacity to challenge all 29 other teams in the league.