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⚾️ Happy Opening Day! Please enjoy our full 2019 MLB season preview below.

Before we get to baseball, a quick reminder that the men's Sweet 16 is also on tonight:

  • FSU vs. Gonzaga (7:09pm ET, CBS)
  • Purdue vs. Tennessee (7:29, TBS)
  • Texas Tech vs. Michigan (9:39, CBS)
  • Oregon vs. UVA (9:59, TBS)
1 big thing: Wake up, it's time for baseball

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

After an offseason spent waiting patiently for free agents to get signed and, in turn, debating whether baseball's economic system is broken (sure seems like it!), Opening Day is finally upon us.

The big picture: Here are the trends and storylines that could define the 2019 campaign:

  • Walks, strikeouts, homers: "Off the field, MLB took some major steps toward change this spring. But the exhibition season showed us that fans should anticipate another year of games loaded with the three true outcomes," writes The Ringer's Ben Lindbergh.
  • A dying breed of managers: 10 of the winningest managers in history have worked in this decade, and when Giants skipper Bruce Bochy retires at the end of the year, only one of them (Terry Francona) will remain.
  • So many pitchers: With starters working fewer innings and bullpens becoming more specialized, a record 751 pitchers played in the big leagues last season. Expect even more in 2019.
  • A lot more: And we'll cover them all in the coming months! Yay!

P.S. Everybody loves predictions...

  • AL Awards: MVP: Mike Trout (Angels) — Cy Young: Gerrit Cole (Astros) — ROY: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays)
  • NL Awards: MVP: Paul Goldschmidt (Cardinals) — Cy Young: Aaron Nola (Phillies) — ROY: Victor Robles (Nationals)
  • World Series: Yankees over Brewers
2. Today's slate

Early afteroon

  • 1:00pm ET, ESPN: Orioles (Cashner) vs. Yankees (Tanaka)
  • 1:05: Mets (deGrom) vs. Nationals (Scherzer)
  • 2:10: Cardinals (Mikolas) vs. Brewers (Chacin)
  • 3:05: Braves (Teheran) vs. Phillies (Nola)
  • 3:37: Tigers (Zimmerman) vs. Blue Jays (Stroman)

Late afternoon

  • 4:00, ESPN: Diamondbacks (Greinke) vs. Dodgers (Ryu)
  • 4:00: Astros (Verlander) vs. Rays (Snell)
  • 4:05: Cubs (Lester) vs. Rangers (Minor)
  • 4:07: Angels (Cahill) vs. Athletics (Fiers)
  • 4:10: Giants (Bumgarner) vs. Padres (Lauer)
  • 4:10: Indians (Kluber) vs. Twins (Berrios)
  • 4:10: Rockies (Freeland) vs. Marlins (Urena)
  • 4:10: Pirates (Taillon) vs. Reds (Castillo)
  • 4:15: White Sox (Rodon) vs. Royals (Keller)

Evening

  • 7:00, ESPN: Red Sox (Sale) vs. Mariners (Gonzales)
3. Preview: AL East

Can the Red Sox run it back? Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

Projected standings:

  1. New York Yankees: 97-65
  2. Boston Red Sox: 95-67
  3. Tampa Bay Rays: 86-76
  4. Toronto Blue Jays: 75-87
  5. Baltimore Orioles: 60-102

1. New York Yankees (97-65)

  • Last season: 100-62
  • The intrigue: The Yankees set the single-season record for home runs last year (267) and had the best bullpen ever. This year, they could surpass their own dinger mark, and the bullpen is somehow even better.
  • Player to watch: Centerfielder Aaron Hicks had a breakout season last year, amassing 4.7 WAR (7th-best among outfielders). One of the best leadoff hitters in baseball.
  • The bottom line: A likable juggernaut (yes, the 2019 Yankees are somehow hard to hate).
  • Go deeper: Once Yankees' bargaining tool, Troy Tulowitzki is now their bargain shortstop

2. Boston Red Sox (95-67)

  • Last season: 108-54
  • The intrigue: The 2019 Red Sox are virtually identical to last year's World Series-winning squad — minus the bullpen (still haven't named a closer). Will that keep them from becoming the first repeat champs since the Yankees (1998-2000)?
  • Player to watch: Reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts is an impending free agent. Barring a major collapse, a Mike Trout-like payday could be coming his way.
  • The bottom line: If the bullpen holds up, they just might run it back.
  • Go deeper: The Red Sox are about to find out whether there's a cost to complacency

3. Tampa Bay Rays (86-76)

4. Toronto Blue Jays (75-87)

  • Last season: 73-89
  • The intrigue: The focus will be on rookie third baseman and No. 1 overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who will begin the year on the Injured List (strained oblique).
  • Player to watch: Randal Grichuk is a solid outfielder and has sneaky power (averaging 24 HRs over the last three seasons). Could be a big-time contributor this year.
  • The bottom line: Waiting on Vlad G.
  • Go deeper: Why the Jays are gradually putting batting practice on the back burner

5. Baltimore Orioles (60-102)

  • Last season: 47-115
  • The intrigue: The 2018 Orioles were one of the worst teams in baseball history, and things could get even uglier this season. But hey, at least they're finally embracing analytics.
  • Player to watch: Chris Davis finished 2018 with the worst qualified batting average in MLB history (.168). Poor guy. Can the once-dominant slugger bounce back this season?
  • The bottom line: Avert your eyes.
  • Go deeper: The 2019 Orioles are one of the most anonymous teams in MLB history
4. Preview: AL Central

José Ramirez and the Indians didn't get better this offseason, but they're still the clear favorites. Photo: Norm Hall/Getty Images

Projected standings:

  1. Cleveland Indians: 95-67
  2. Minnesota Twins: 84-78
  3. Chicago White Sox: 71-91
  4. Kansas City Royals: 70-92
  5. Detroit Tigers: 68-94

1. Cleveland Indians (95-67)

  • Last year: 91-71
  • The intrigue: The Indians are by far the best team in this division, but they were reluctant to spend money this offseason, leaving them without the depth of other top clubs.
  • Player to watch: Carlos Santana is back, but he wasn't the same consistent hitter in Philly (.229 BA) as he was in his first seven seasons in Cleveland (.249). The Indians will be hoping he can recapture that form.
  • The bottom line: Trying to contend while slashing payroll — a luxury of playing in a weak division.
  • Go deeper: Could an AL Central superteam beat Cleveland?

2. Minnesota Twins (84-78)

  • Last year: 78-84
  • The intrigue: The Twins are still waiting on Byron Buxton and Miguel Sanó to fulfill their massive potential. Maybe first-time manager Rocco Baldelli's fresh approach will unlock their superpowers.
  • Player to watch: Life's three consistencies: Death, taxes and Nelson Cruz launching moonshots. The 38-year-old has averaged 41 homers over the past five seasons — hence why the Twins signed him.
  • The bottom line: With three rebuilds happening behind them, the Twins are the only real threat to Cleveland's reign.
  • Go deeper: Byron Buxton is the most exciting player in baseball, but can he become a star?

3. Chicago White Sox (71-91)

  • Last year: 62-100
  • The intrigue: Missing out on Manny Machado stings, but White Sox fans can look forward to the arrival of Eloy Jimenez (No. 3 prospect), who has already been locked up long-term.
  • Player to watch: Last season was rough for Yoan Moncada, who struck out 217 times (more than any other hitter). Can baseball's former "next big thing" and the prize of the Chris Sale trade make strides in 2019?
  • The bottom line: No Harper, no Machado — now what?
  • Go deeper: White Sox place $43 million bet that Eloy Jimenez is ready to become the face of the franchise

4. Kansas City Royals (70-92)

  • Last year: 58-104
  • The intrigue: It's going to be a long year in Kansas City, where the heroes of the 2015 champion team are either injured (Salvador Perez), in decline (Alex Gordon) or on a different team (Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer).
  • Player to watch: The Royals' new centerfielder Billy Hamilton has stolen more bases in the past five seasons than anyone else in baseball.
  • The bottom line: How did they fall so far, so quickly?
  • Go deeper: The Royals won't be good, but they are improving

5. Detroit Tigers (68-94)

  • Last year: 64-98
  • The intrigue: The Tigers have five pitchers in the MLB's top 100 prospects: Casey Mize (18), Matt Manning (53), Franklin Perez (67), Alex Faedo (79) and Beau Burrows (86).
  • Player to watch: Miguel Cabrera is a legend, but he only played 38 games last year and will be 36 next month. And he's still got five years and $154 million remaining on his deal.
  • The bottom line: Rebuilds can be painful, and it's a rebuilding year in Detroit.
  • Go deeper: The Tigers are a band of misfit toys
5. Preview: AL West

Astros starter Gerrit Cole is a preseason Cy Young favorite. Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images

Projected standings:

  1. Houston Astros: 98-64
  2. Oakland Athletics: 83-79
  3. Los Angeles Angels: 80-82
  4. Seattle Mariners: 79-83
  5. Texas Rangers: 70-92

1. Houston Astros (98-64)

  • Last year: 103-59
  • The intrigue: Despite losing Charlie Morton and (probably) Dallas Keuchel to free agency, the Astros are still the World Series favorite because their pitching staff is still extremely deep and they got better at other positions (particularly catcher, where Robinson Chirinos will replace Brian McCann).
  • Players to watch: Jose Altuve spent most of last year battling a knee injury, but still had .316/.386/.451 splits over 137 games. Never bet against this guy.
  • The bottom line: Another World Series run would surprise nobody.
  • Go deeper: Alex Bregman has a new contract and big dreams

2. Oakland Athletics (83-79)

  • Last year: 97-65
  • The intrigue: The A's offense is just as good as it was last year, but they'll need plenty of things to go right if they want to reach similar heights.
  • Players to watch: Don't sleep on third baseman Matt Chapman, who had the sixth-best WAR (7.3) for all batters last season. He's a two-way stud.
  • The bottom line: Typical A's team capable of exceeding all expectations.
  • Go deeper: Creativity still a must for A's to win on a budget

3. Los Angeles Angels (80-82)

  • Last year: 80-82
  • The intrigue: Mike Trout is rich and good.
  • Players to watch: All eyes are on two-way sensation Shohei Otani (22 HR, 3.31 ERA) and his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
  • The bottom line: There's work to do, but the Angels might have the most enviable pair of superstars in baseball in Ohtani and Trout.
  • Go deeper: Next year might be the year for the Angels

4. Seattle Mariners (79-83)

  • Last year: 89-73
  • The intrigue: If there was ever a tanking team in baseball, the Mariners are it. Robinson Cano, James Paxton, Nelson Cruz, Edwin Diaz, Jean Segura, and Mike Zunino are all gone.
  • Players to watch: Well, it would've been Ichiro Suzuki but he retired. So we'll go with Edwin Encarnación, who hit 32 dingers for the Indians last season.
  • The bottom line: Most big-name players are gone.
  • Go deeper: Long live Ichiro.

5. Texas Rangers (70-92)

  • Last year: 67-95
  • The intrigue: The Rangers have finally begun a full rebuild, and will be moving into a new ballpark next year, so 2019 is the definition of a "transition season" for them.
  • Player to watch: Joey Gallo either strikes out (37% of plate appearances through two full seasons) or hits an absolute bomb (41 homers in 2017; 40 in 2018). Not ideal but fun to watch.
  • The bottom line: Homers aplenty, but wins could be hard to come by.
  • Go deeper: Rangers unveil two-pound chicken tender
6. Preview: NL East

Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies, not sure if you heard. Photo: Mark Brown/Getty Images

Projected standings:

  1. Washington Nationals: 89-73
  2. New York Mets: 85-77
  3. Philadelphia Phillies: 84-78
  4. Atlanta Braves: 84-78
  5. Miami Marlins: 64-98

1. Washington Nationals (89-73)

  • Last year: 82-80
  • The intrigue: They may have lost Bryce Harper, but the Nationals are still one of the NL's best teams thanks in large part to sophomore phenom Juan Soto and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Victor Robles.
  • Player to watch: Prized free agent signing Patrick Corbin joins a frightening rotation where he will be third fiddle behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Heck of a third fiddle...
  • The bottom line: In Juan Soto we trust.
  • Go deeper: Bryce who? The Nationals are a prime Ewing theory candidate

2. New York Mets (85-77)

  • Last year: 77-85
  • The intrigue: Everybody loves making fun of the Mets, but you might want to bite your tongue when they come to town to play your team. This squad looks really good.
  • Player to watch: Robinson Cano is a bit of a wild card, but he brings a much-needed big bat to the Mets' lineup.
  • The bottom line: They got better, but so did the rest of the division.
  • Go deeper: Jacob deGrom's new deal is a gamble the Mets had to take

3. Philadelphia Phillies (84-78)

  • Last year: 80-82
  • The intrigue: Bryce Harper stole all the headlines, but the Phillies also traded for JT Realmuto — one of the league’s top catchers. Fans are expecting a postseason berth.
  • Player to watch: Byrce Harper for 330 million different reasons. He needs a rebound year.
  • The bottom line: The first season of the Harper era will bring newfound attention and criticism to the City of Brotherly Love.
  • Go deeper: The Phillies grace the cover of Sports Illustrated for the first time in eight years

4. Atlanta Braves (84-78)

  • Last year: 90-72
  • The intrigue: The Braves won the division last season but this year's NL East looks to be far more competitive, so repeating won't come easy.
  • Player to watch: Ronald Acuna Jr. hit 26 homers while batting .296 as rookie and will enter his sophomore season as a legit MVP candidate.
  • The bottom line: Can Atlanta's youngsters separate themselves from the pack once again?
  • Go deeper: The Braves are already playing catch-up again

5. Miami Marlins (64-98)

  • Last year: 63-98
  • The intrigue: The Marlins will, once again, be very bad. Or maybe they won't! But they probably will.
  • Player to watch: Third baseman Brian Anderson finished fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting last season after hitting a solid .273/.357/.400. Don't sleep.
  • The bottom line: There's always next year.
  • Go deeper: The Marlins' full-on youth movement
7. Preview: NL Central

Christian Yelich and the Brewers are legit contenders. Photo: Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Projected standings:

  1. Milwaukee Brewers: 86-76
  2. St. Louis Cardinals: 85-77
  3. Chicago Cubs: 84-78
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 79-83
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 77-85

Milwaukee Brewers (86-76)

  • Last year: 96-67
  • The intrigue: A blistering finish from the Brewers, led by NL MVP Christian Yelich (36 HRs, 110 RBIs), had them within a game of the World Series. If they keep that same fire, they could be back.
  • Player to watch: Milwaukee is considered a favorite to land free agent closer Craig Kimbrel, who would be joining an already dominant bullpen.
  • The bottom line: The NL Central's strongest team and a legit World Series contender.
  • Go deeper: The Brewers' April will tell us a lot about this year's squad

2. St. Louis Cardinals (85-77)

  • Last year: 88-74
  • The intrigue: The Cardinals are in jeopardy of missing the postseason four seasons in a row for the first time since 1995. First world problems, right Marlins fans?
  • Player to watch: New addition Paul Goldschmidt is a perennial MVP candidate and probably the best hitter the Cardinals have had since Albert Pujols left in 2011.
  • The bottom line: The Brewers and Cubs might get more national attention, but don't be surprised if the Cardinals quietly have the best season of the three.
  • Go deeper: The Cardinals were barely gone — but they're definitely back

3. Chicago Cubs (84-78)

  • Last year: 95-68
  • The intrigue: Since winning the World Series in 2016, the Cubs have taken steps back each year since winning the World Series in 2016, and they've got a ton of expensive deals on the roster. Another step back may mean big trades.
  • Player to watch: Yu Darvish (4.95 ERA) had a disastrous year last season. If he bounces back, so does Chicago.
  • The bottom line: Has their championship window already closed?
  • Go deeper: Joe Maddon is on the hottest of hot seats

4. Pittsburgh Pirates (79-83)

  • Last year: 82-79
  • The intrigue: The Pirates have baseball's second-lowest payroll ($62.8 million). Almost half of their active roster is minimum-salary players.
  • Player to watch: Jameson Taillon, who was famously drafted between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado in the 2010 draft, will look to expand upon his breakout 2018 season (3.20 ERA).
  • The bottom line: This team is just not very interesting.
  • Go deeper: Pittsburgh's increasingly cold relationship with the Pirates

5. Cincinnati Reds (77-85)

  • Last year: 67-95
  • The intrigue: The Reds have quickly — and quietly — constructed a competitive roster that could be a lot of fun to watch this season.
  • Player to watch: The newly-acquired Yasiel Puig because duh.
  • The bottom line: They aren't contenders, but this is the most relevant and interesting the Reds have been in years.
  • Go deeper: Meet new Reds manager David Bell
8. Preview: NL West

Manny Machado and the youthful Padres should be fun. Photo: Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Projected standings:

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers: 95-67
  2. Colorado Rockies: 82-80
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks: 79-83
  4. San Diego Padres: 75-87
  5. San Francisco Giants: 71-91

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (95-67)

  • Last year: 92-71
  • The intrigue: The Dodgers lost plenty of pop (Manny Machado, Yasmani Grandal, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp), but Corey Seager is returning from Tommy John and they have depth for days.
  • Player to watch: Max Muncy (35 HRs) was the unexpected star for the Dodgers last year. Can he shock the world again?
  • The bottom line: The Dodgers' reign atop the AL West won’t last forever, but we’re still a few years away from that reality.
  • Go deeper: A deep talent pool should keep the Dodgers afloat

2. Colorado Rockies (82-80)

  • Last year: 91-72
  • The intrigue: Colorado's rotation, led by Kyle Freeland (2.85 ERA) and German Márquez (3.77 ERA), might be the best in franchise history.
  • Player to watch: 36-year-old Chris Iannetta is the Rockies' best catching option, which is less than ideal. If he can put together a strong campaign, it'd be huge.
  • The bottom line: They have a few holes in the lineup, but this Rockies team has "surprise contender" written all over it.
  • Go deeper: Mike Schmidt’s heir apparent is Nolan Arenado, says Mike Schmidt

3. Arizona Diamondbacks (79-83)

  • Last year: 82-80
  • The intrigue: The D-Backs need someone to step up on offense now that Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock are gone. Looking at you, David Peralta (30 HRs).
  • Player to watch: Zach Greinke is owed $105 million over the next three years. If Arizona falls out of contention early, don't be surprised if you start hearing trade rumors.
  • The bottom line: The post-Paul Goldschmidt era begins...
  • Go deeper: After a flurry of deals, Zach Greinke stands alone

4. San Diego Padres (75-87)

  • Last year: 66-96
  • The intrigue: Manny Machado is the headliner, but the Padres' youth movement is what convinced him to come — and it's the biggest reason to watch this year.
  • Player to watch: Many expected top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. to begin the season in the minors, but he's on the Opening Day roster. This is good news for baseball fans.
  • The bottom line: With Machado aboard, the future in San Diego is brighter than it's been in quite some time.
  • Go deeper: Here come the Padres

5. San Francisco Giants (71-91)

  • Last year: 73-89
  • The intrigue: This will be manager Bruce Bochy's last season, and Madison Bumgarner will be a free agent at season's end. Could be a bittersweet season in the Bay.
  • Player to watch: The Giants have made it known that they don't plan on extending Bumgarner, so expect a trade if things aren't going well early.
  • The bottom line: An aging roster's last hurrah.
  • Go deeper: Team CEO Larry Baer is suspended until July 1
9. 🎰 Pick 3: Make your picks!

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Pro-tip: Download The Action Network app to become a master at all this stuff.

1. Will Diamondbacks-Dodgers go over or under 7 runs?

  • Know this: Diamondbacks starter Zack Greinke finished last season with a 3.21 ERA, while Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Rye finished with 1.97 ERA (in 15 starts).
  • Watch: 4pm ET (ESPN)

2. The defending champion Red Sox are big road favorites over the Mariners (-200). Will they start the season with a win?

  • Know this: When the Red Sox were a -200 favorite or higher last season, they were 14-0, winning by 3.79 runs per game. Starters: Chris Sale vs. Marco Gonzales.
  • Watch: 7pm ET (ESPN)

3. Who will cover the spread between Purdue and Tennessee (-1)?

  • Know this: Tennessee has drawn more than two-thirds of spread betting tickets according to The Action Network's live betting data.
  • Watch: 7:29pm ET (TBS)

🎰 Play now: Make your picks (cutoff time: 4pm ET)

Yesterday's results: 31.1% said Lipscomb (+2.5) would cover the spread against NC State. They won 94-93 … 63.8% said Paul George would score over 30.5 points. He scored 31 … 55.9% said the Bruins (-1.5) would cover the spread against the Rangers. They won 6-3 … Winner(s) announced on Friday!

Thanks,

Kendall "Long-suffering Orioles fan" Baker