The five best bets of the 2018 MLB season

Big League Stew

The Major League Baseball regular season is nearly upon us. After months of research, you’ve likely put together your thoughts on how each division will shake out. You know which teams will remain on top, and you know which teams are waiting to strike.

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It’s one thing to say you knew the Oakland Athletics would contend for the American League wild-card in September. It’s another to make your convictions known before the season actually starts.

That’s what we’re asking you to do here. Below, we’ve found five teams we think have the best chance to either go over or under their projected win total in 2018.

All the totals we’re using come courtesy of Bovada, in case you feel the urge to check them out yourself. And be sure to leave your favorite over/unders in the comments. That way, you can prove to your friends you thought this was the San Diego Padres’ year back in March.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Win total: 84.5
Our take: Under
The Angels made splashes early in the winter, signing Zack Cozart, trading for Ian Kinsler and winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. That win total suggests the team should be considered a significant threat for the American League wild-card, and that’s a tough pill to swallow if you’ve seen their rotation.

The team is lacking dependable starters. Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs have promise, but both have spent significant time on the disabled list in recent seasons. Matt Shoemaker was also injured in 2017, tossing just 77 2/3 innings. Even Ohtani was hurt in Japan, and didn’t pitch as much as usual. That leaves JC Ramirez as the only guy in the rotation who tossed over 100 innings last season.

It gets worse. To accommodate Ohtani, the team has said it’s going to use a six-man rotation. The main candidate for that spot, Andrew Heaney, is already dealing with elbow inflammation. The Angels do not have a strong farm system to replace any of those guys.

If you want a counterpoint,  though, picking against Mike Trout is terrifying.

The Phillies will get a full year from Rhys Hoskins in 2018. (AP Photo)
The Phillies will get a full year from Rhys Hoskins in 2018. (AP Photo)

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Win total: 75.5
Our take:
Over
The Phillies won 66 games in 2017. In order to win this one, you have to find a way the team got 10 wins better in the offseason. You can start with the additions of Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta. Both players combined for roughly five wins in 2017. Done. That was easy. Figuring out where the next five wins will come from is a bit tougher, but the Phillies have what it takes to do it.

Much of the team’s improvement is based on their youngsters finally reaching the majors. J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams should have full seasons to show what they can do. Scott Kingery, who just signed a $24 million deal, should see significant time as well. Perhaps the biggest reason to be optimistic is that the team will get a full season of Rhys Hoskins. There’s nothing in Hoskins’ profile to suggest he’s a total fluke after last year’s breakout. Even if the home run rate drops, Hoskins could hit for a better average based on his low .241 BABIP. Aaron Nola is finally healthy, and could reach 200 innings for the first time. Are all those factors enough to get the Phillies five more wins? It’s close … but then consider how much worse the Miami Marlins got this winter and you should feel a lot more confident.

COLORADO ROCKIES
Win total:
82
Our take:
Under
The offense should remain strong, so this one is all about the pitching staff. Behind Jon Gray, the Rockies are depending on two veterans who missed time in 2017 and two youngsters who have to prove last year was legitimate. The two veterans are Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis. Neither player topped 81 innings in 2017. Anderson has decent strikeout and walk totals and could be OK. Bettis’ peripherals have never been overwhelming.

It’s almost exactly the same with the two youngsters. German Marquez had promising peripherals but an elevated ERA. Kyle Freeland walked a fine line. He’s not a big strikeout pitcher and he also walks more guys than you would like. If he slips just a little in either category, the team could have to consider other options.

Not convincing enough? Check the projection systems. FanGraphs has the Rockies pegged as an 80-win team in 2018. Baseball Prospectus is even more skeptical, projecting 78 wins from the club.

The White Sox might not be ready to compete yet, but they are a team on the rise. (AP Photo)
The White Sox might not be ready to compete yet, but they are a team on the rise. (AP Photo)

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Win total:
68
Our take:
Over
The White Sox aren’t going to be good in 2018, but will they really be this bad? The club only won 67 games in 2017, but there’s reason to think things will get better. For one, the club has very few assets to sell now. Jose Abreu could still bring something back, but he has value as a leader and mentor. Avisail Garcia is the only other piece who could be dealt. Even if those guys go, it won’t be a fire sale like last season, when the club dealt Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and everyone else in the bullpen.

On top of that, the youngsters should improve. Lucas Giolito just turned in a tremendous spring and Yoan Moncada will get another year to get used to the majors. At some point, those two will be joined by both Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech, two highly-regarded prospects. And they might not be the only reinforcements on the way. James Shields probably won’t last the entire season, which seems like a good thing.

The team also signed Welington Castillo early in the offseason, and he should be worth an extra win on his own, so maybe we should have just led with that.

TAMPA BAY RAYS: UNDER 77.5 WINS
Win total:
77.5
Our take:
Under
Ignore the projection systems! Yes, we know that sounds hypocritical after telling you to trust them for the Rockies, but Baseball Prospectus’ system, PECOTA, has routinely overrated the Rays. It happens every year. PECOTA anticipates the Rays will win 83 games this year. That’s not a typo. They’re not getting 83 wins and, heck, they’re not going to Bovada’s 77.5 projection either.

The Rays should be worse in 2018. They replaced Corey Dickerson and Evan Longoria with Denard Span and Matt Duffy. C.J. Cron, Adeiny Hechavarria and Joey Wendle are expected to receive a ton of at-bats.

The club is also going to utilize a four-man rotation, which could either be the next big innovation or a tremendous failure. We’re leaning toward the latter. And if things do go swimmingly early on, you have to wonder how the extra workload will impact the team’s relievers. Combine that with what could be a tough American League East, and the Rays could have a rough time staying afloat in 2018.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

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