The MLB Season and playoffs have come and gone with the Red Sox taking home their 4th World Series crown in 14 years. For baseball fans (and in particular Yankees fans), the upcoming offseason will be a long one and will see several fans pondering over what might have been. Luckily, we have plenty of time to reflect on the magnificent 2018 season. Over the course of the last 6 months, we have seen the rise and fall of various teams and players throughout the league, exciting playoff races and more.
With that said, here are the top 10 takeaways from the 2018 season.
The Atlanta Braves are here and they will be dangerous
The Atlanta Braves’ success this season is no mistake, it is the beginning of a payoff to a multi-year plan. This season marked their first playoff appearance since 2013, and it is in large part due to their young core. The contributions of Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Mike Foltynewicz are the major reason that the Braves emerged to win the NL East. Acuna, 20, led the team in home runs and OPS while establishing himself as one of the premier young outfielders in the game. However, it wasn’t just the youngsters who provided the spark for the Braves, as perennial All-star first baseman Freddie Freeman once again was the big-time player for the club. As one of the major surprises in the league this season, the Braves have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with in the future.
This offseason will be very important for Atlanta, with key free agents such as Nick Markakis and Anibal Sanchez set to hit the market. The Braves had an average age of 27.7 this season, which ranked 8th in baseball. With a young core that is only going to get better, it is safe to say that things are looking up in Atlanta.
The Rays’ unorthodox pitching strategy could be the way of the future
The Rays were one of the teams that flew under the radar this past season, with little buzz being made of their success. Tampa Bay managed to win 90 games in the top-heavy American League East, but despite this success, they still finished 7 games behind the Oakland Athletics for the second wild-card spot. One of the more successful moves implemented by Rays Manager Kevin Cash this season was the utilization of the “opener” strategy. This involves starting the game with a relief pitcher pitching the first inning and then bringing a starting pitcher or long relief pitcher to pitch starting in the second inning. This strategy proved to be quite successful as the Rays finished the season with the 2nd best earned run average in the American League.
The opener strategy is not without its faults though, as the Oakland Athletics used it in the wild card game and ended up falling to the Yankees 7-2, partly due to their opener giving up a two run home run to Aaron Judge in the first inning. Admittingly that single game is part of an extremely small sample size. The Rays’ success is promising and it could lead to more teams like the A’s adopting this strategy down the line.
The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is back
It took 14 years, but the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox finally met in the playoffs once again. Both teams reached 100 wins this year and met in the division series where Boston won the series 3 games to 1. Throughout the series, simmering tension built between the two teams, with each team taunting each other in sly ways following victories in the series. Both teams are currently built on the foundation of homegrown stars. Supplemented by key free agent signings and blockbuster trades, both clubs will be postseason contenders for years to come. There is a plethora of young stars between these two teams with Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar in pinstripes and Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and Xander Bogaerts in Beantown. The young players on each squad will ensure that these two teams will be doing battle with each other for years to come.
The Washington Nationals look to be headed for a rebuild
Arguably the most disappointing team in baseball this season, the Nationals’ priorities and goals may have dramatically shifted over the course of this past year. Entering 2018, they were the clear favorites in the NL East, possessing one of the most talented rosters in the league. However, they never were able to find their groove and spent the majority of the season chasing the Braves and Phillies in the standings.
The major question mark comes in the form of Bryce Harper. The 26-year-old outfielder is hitting free agency this offseason, and despite having a “down” season this year by his standards, Harper will carry a hefty price tag. The Nationals’ struggles this season indicate that they may move in the direction of a rebuild. Whether or not that rebuild includes Harper, remains to be seen…
Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will be the talk of the offseason
Speaking of Harper, he is one of the two most talked about free agents this offseason alongside Manny Machado. Both players have been rumored to be in line for some pretty serious dough, with $300 million being considered a possibility. There is a precedent in the market for such a deal to be given to one of the sluggers. Recent deals such as Robinson Cano’s with the Mariners, and the Giancarlo Stanton deal with the Marlins have set the stage for big money deals in free agency. Both players are extremely talented, but carry baggage as well. For Machado, that baggage comes in the form of his lack of hustle and tendency for unsportsmanlike conduct. For Harper it is based upon his temper and previous incidents with teammates. One thing is for certain though, the whole league will be watching to see where the two end up, as they both have the ability to transform a club into a contender.