MLB Season Preview - Rule Changes Abound For 2018

Are you ready for some foo…baseball!? Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks; I don't care if football ever comes back, because it's root, root, root for some quicker baseball games! As we head into the 2018 campaign, the main question is whether the offseason rule changes will make a lick of difference to these marathon games. Can the dirty 'stros repeat? Let's dive in.

Last season the MLB set a record for length of games at three hours and eight minutes, marking the sixth consecutive season that game times topped three hours. In response, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced four changes, the most noteworthy being limiting visits to the mound to six and shortening the commercial times between innings and pitching changes. Can I get an amen? I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief from true baseball die-hards. Each team will receive an additional visit per inning if the game goes to extra innings. Perhaps most interestingly, some players are already in open revolt over this change. Cubs' catcher Wilson Contreras, ever the contrarian, has stated that he is willing to accept a fine if he believes it's in the best interest of the pitcher to have a seventh visit to the mound.

Now, with the rule changes aside, who is going to take home the pennant? I've got to say that the 2017 regular season was a snooze fest if there ever was one. Two divisions were won by 20 games or more. The Indians dominated the AL Central by nearly as much at 17. The Dodgers went on their incredible run mid-summer and ended up taking down the division by double digits. Even the Cubbies ended up winning by six games. The only drama was in the AL East with the classic rivalry of the Red Sox and Yankees and the wild card chases. The projections have much of the same for 2018. Expect the Indians, Dodgers and Astros to cruise to easy division wins. You're going to have to pay the juice, but this should be easy money.

As a Blow (I'm sorry Blue) Jays' fan, I've got very little hope for the playoffs this year. When you've got over thirty games against the Red Sox and Yanks, it's going to be difficult. The Red Sox made a huge splash with the signing of designated hitter J.D. Martinez. They're going to need all the help they can get if they want any hope of keeping pace with Aaron Judge and the rest of the Bronx Bombers. That nickname may be deceptive because the Yankees have some epic pitching to back up their hitting: Severino, Sabathia, Tanaka, Gray. And yet the Sox are just as deep with Sale, Price, Porcello, and on. If I'm going to watch my Jays get crushed, it might as well be against the best. There's always hope for the wild card, I guess.

If you're placing some futures, you're going to want to take a look at some wild card teams who could sneak into the playoffs and make a mark. I like the deep bench of the Los Angeles Angels, led by two-time MVP Mike Trout, to make their mark. But the safest money will be on the heavy favorites to run train on their respective divisions. In the end, let's just hope that these games confine their excitement to 180 minutes or less.