Actual baseball that actually counts actually is here. Before it does, though, baseball writers are contractually obligated to predict a bunch of stuff which will almost certainly end up making them look spectacularly dumb. So, without further ado, here are this particular baseball writer's predictions for the coming season, which will almost certainly make him look spectacularly dumb in a matter of months (if not weeks!).
NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt
Since the 2013 season, Goldschmidt is 1st in fWAR, 2nd in wRC+, 7th in AVG, 2nd in OBP, 3rd in SLG and has been insanely valuable on the bases. If Arizona makes the postseason again (hint, hint), Goldschmidt will have been there, destroying opposing pitchers all season.
AL MVP: Mike Trout
Let's be honest. If you pick anyone else to win it, you're being contrarian. That's fine. I may or may not do that at some point before this is all over. But, really, I don't think you need me to tell you why; the fact that you're reading this means you already know. It doesn't hurt that his team improved around him and might actually make the postseason this year, either.
NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard
Gone are the days when you could just pencil in Clayton Kershaw here and write the same thing I just wrote about Trout. After two straight years of missing out on the 200-innings club thanks to back issues, I'm not ready to give him the benefit of the doubt like I did last year. So, ummm, I guess I'll pick the pitcher who missed almost all of 2017 with a lat injury, then? Maybe not picking Kershaw or Scherzer here is foolish, and woe unto the prognosticator who looks to spring training starts, but Thor is looking godlike.
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
For some reason, my brain always wants to tell me that Sale already has one. It seems like that should actually happen.
NL Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuna
Despite the temptation to pick a random Cardinals infield prospect, I decided go with a more traditional approach. There's a reason Acuna is at the top of all the prospect lists, as he's demolished pitchers at every stage of the minor league, and he hasn't had any problems hitting in the tiny sample size of spring training either (.432/.519/.727).
AL Rookie of the Year: Shohei Ohtani
Despite (foolishly) invoking Spring Training when discussing Syndergaard and Acuna, I'm not going to write Ohtani off over less than 3 innings and a week's worth of plate appearances. There's certainly going to be a period of adjustment, but I think he's going to come around and be very good in his "rookie" season, even if he's not immediately the second coming of the Great Bambino.
Division & Wild Card Predictions
NL West: Dodgers
AL West: Astros
NL Central: Cubs
AL Central: Indians
NL East: Nationals
AL East: Yankees
And so we arrive at the only seemingly compelling divisional race in baseball, thanks to the increased stratification of the have-it-alls and everybody else. If I'm correct about Sale winning the CYA, maybe we push Boston up here. I just think that, even with a bit of regression from Aaron Judge, the Yankees are going to hit a billion home runs and their pitchers aren't going to give up that many.
NL Wild Cards: Diamondbacks & Cardinals
With the divisional races looking so boring at this point, at least the Wild Card races should provide a modicum of excitement. In the National League, you can make a compelling argument that basically any team except for the Marlins, Reds, Braves and Padres have a shot. The Phillies are a dark horse candidate, with a breakout here, a promoted prospect there and maybe a mid-season acquisition if things look good. The Giants are looking a little worse for wear after losing Bumgarner for the start of the season. But basically choose any of the non-division winners or aforementioned rebuilding teams and your guess is as good as mine.
Tiebreakers: NL MVP Goldschmidt and Cardinal devil magic.
AL Wild Cards: Red Sox & Angels
It goes without saying that, if it's not Boston here, it will be the Yankees. Hedging my bets again. It also goes without saying that, after that, it's a also hot mess for the second Wild Card in the AL. Since I've got Trout and Ohtani each taking home individual awards, there's really no other way to go right now.
Where anything can happen!
NL Wild Card: Arizona Diamondbacks over St. Louis Cardinals
AL Wild Card: Angels over Red Sox
NLDS: Dodgers over Diamondbacks
NLDS: Nationals over Cubs
ALDS: Astros over Angels
ALDS: Yankees over Indians
NLCS: Nationals over Diamondbacks
ALCS: Astros over Yankees
World Series: Astros over Nationals
Happy baseballing, y'all.