Looking Back at MLB 2018
Photo by Medium.com
Breaking down MLB in the year that was 2018
By Uppercut staff
In most years pitching leads to victory whether in the National League or the American League. But that’s not what happened in 2018.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros led their respective leagues in pitching but in the end, it was the team with the most dynamic hitting that prevailed in the World Series and that was the Boston Red Sox.
Hitting was the leading proponent for Boston to break out of the starting gate and win a total of 108 wins and only 54 losses. Their team batting average of .268 led the American League by far. The closest to the Red Sox in terms of batting average was Cleveland at .259.
Dynamic hitting helped Boston score a total of 876 runs which led the American League. The next closest team was New York which tallied 851 runs.
Though Boston ranked around fifth in pitching their incredible hitting attack - sparked by the arrival of JD Martinez – allowed them to simply out-score opposing teams. No lead was safe against Boston especially with Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xavier Bogaerts and Steve Pearce all topping .800 in OPS (That’s on-base percentage plus slugging average combined.) Having four players exceeding .800 OPS is an incredible array of hitting.
But can that quartet do it again?
In the World Series against the stellar Dodger pitching only two of the four Red Sox continued to hit with Bogaerts and Pearce leading the Sox nation to victory over the Dodgers in five games.
The best AL team in pitching was Houston but they were unable to stop Boston’s hitting when it counted. One major factor was Houston’s relief corps. All season long they lacked relief pitching and it continues this season.
In the National League the Dodgers battled to the World Series with a starting pitching staff that went seven deep and that was beneficial. Injuries to Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Julio Urias were speed bumps to them in 2018. With the emergence of Walker Buehler, Caleb Ferguson and Ross Stripling the Dodgers were able to survive a slow start then mount a rally in June to catch and surpass both Arizona and Colorado.
Can the Dodgers do it again?
Kershaw was injured again for the third consecutive year and lost some zip to his fastball, but he’s a lefty and that’s already an advantage. He won’t be as dominant as in years before but he still will win most of his games. Starting pitching was not a weakness for the Dodgers. They still have the best set of starters in the Major Leagues despite trading off the very capable Alex Wood to Cincinnati.
It’s L.A.’s relief corps that showed signs of weakness especially in the World Series. Their closer Kenley Jansen is showing signs of slowing and the team needs to find someone to pick him up should he suffer another setback due to injury or illness. Last year the Dodgers blew 26 saves out of 74 opportunities. Atlanta was better in only blowing 20 during the 2018 season. The Chicago Cubs also had a strong bullpen and only blew 19 saves out of 65 opportunities.
The Dodgers, Cubs and Braves all made the playoffs and that’s not a coincidence. Another team with strong pitching was Milwaukee which depended heavily on its staunch bullpen. They almost knocked off the Dodgers in the playoffs and could compete again next year.
Colorado arrived last year and it was mainly due to its pitching. The Rockies pitching staff on paper doesn’t look good but when you factor in the mountain elevation and expansive ballpark, the usual suspects don’t apply to them.
Overall the Rockies won 91 games and ended in a tie with Los Angeles. Last season they brought in relief pitching and cultivated their own starters and discovered the recipe for success. Acquiring Wade Davis to be the team’s closer proved to be a perfect fit and he seemed to coalesce the bullpen into an effective unit. The starting rotation was anchored by southpaw Kyle Freeland and German Marquez who are both under 25 years old. Freeland finally learned the art of pitching in Denver and Marquez at 23 years old had another successful year.
The Rockies look to be the Dodgers main competition with Arizona letting some of its best players leave through free agency. Look for the two teams to battle it out until the end once again.
In the other NL divisions it’s not as clear and won’t be until spring training.
As for the American League, both Boston and New York are gathering ammunition for the coming battle.
New York won 100 games and still ended up eight games behind Boston in the standings. But acquisitions of J.A. Happ and James Paxton can’t hurt the team which already has a strong bullpen.
Last year Boston caught everyone by surprise but this year it won’t be as easy. Expect a very close race between the Yanks and Red Sox.
The other divisions are still too murky to decide. Until the new season arrives and rosters are relatively set there are no sure things.