In 2018, Boston Red Sox took the crown with perfect performances. They were no-doubt the finest team. However, as the 2019 season gets going, the glory of the 2018 champions has already been dimmed. The season has been unpredictable so far as underdog teams Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Tampa Bay Rays making early rushes, while injuries are changing the outlook for the favourites. It is shaping up to be an exciting year in the MLB.
In spite of an amazing 2017, The Minnesota Twins’ 2018 season was screwed up with 84 loses because of their core players,Miguel Sano (BA .199) and Byron Buxton (BA .156) struggling with injuries. However, they are getting back to their primary positions, and Twins’ offence has taken the next step by adding three bashers, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and CJ Cron. The trio produced 88 homers in 2018 while Twins only hit 166. As Katherine Acquavella of CBS Sports expected, “If this trio shows off the power they’re capable of this season, the Twins bounce back becomes more of a real possibility.” In addition, better performances are anticipated from younger players such as Jose Berrios and Eddie Rosario who each marked 12 wins and 24 home runs. The Twins main competition in the central division of American League are the Cleveland Indians to reach the postseason. The Twins have started the season fairly well with 6 wins in the first 10 games. If their core players do their work as expected, they will be able to play on the field until the end of fall.
The Pirates’ former ace and clubhouse leader, Gerrit Cole and Andrew Mccutchen respectively, were traded to Astros and Giants before 2018 season. A lot of Pirates fans got frustrated, and experts expected they would have the rough time to bear. Their previews were very critical and negative; nevertheless, they won over half of their games. The brand-new starter trio, Jameson Taillon (14W-10L), Trevor Williams (14W-10L), and Joe Musgrove (6W-9L), and the consistently good batting lineup shortened the rebuilding period. They are now aiming for the postseason. Chris Archer from Tampa Bay deepens the pitching rotation, meanwhile the come back of third baseman Jung-Ho Kang (who had been suspended for two years for drunk driving) strengthens their infield depth. As Jason Guilbault speculated, “Jung-Ho Kang… would give [Pirates] a bump in the power department.” He hit 20 homers in 2016 and the Pirates, who homered even less than Twins at 157, will need his power. Although a lot of question marks have not solved yet, their start is as fine as the Twins’, taking 6 wins in their first 10 games. It will be intriguing to watch whether or not Pirates can get over another negative season preview and survive in their division.
Tampa Bay Rays
Last year, the Rays spent a meaningful season though they were not invited to the postseason. Winning 90 games in the toughest division of American League surpassed the rebuilding team’s projections. The main factor was definitely Blake Snell who recorded 21 wins with ERA 1.89 and received the CY young award which is given to the best pitcher of that year. The harmony between newly acquired players and their “opener” strategy in which a relief pitcher takes the role of a starting pitcher for one game ended up being successful. Now, it seems time for them to play for first place of the east division. The lack of power hitters is still their big weakness, but as CBS sports suggests, “This club’s among the most unpredictable teams in baseball so if there’s a team who can exceed expectations in 2019, it’s Tampa Bay.” The appearances of new faces such as Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows and their second-best farm system are anticipated to possibly redeem the defect. The Rays’ season start is great, stacking seven wins in the first ten games. If their early rush continues, the Rays, who are spending the least money this season, will be able to defeat the defending champs, Red Sox whose payroll is about four times larger.
The Rays, Pirates, and Twins all have one thing in common: they are not big market clubs. They used to get back to the rebuilding positions after aiming for the postseason for a couple of years. Now, it is a period for them to fight against other big market teams for higher spots. It is hard to say whether they are going to make the postseason, but they possess the ability to turn the tables for sure. Watching their possible “Cinderella” seasons will bring a lot of excitements and fans to their games. As Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Picture from David Berkowitz, Flickr