The first week of baseball is only the appetizer of the long season to come. That first bite can still pack plenty of flavor though, so we decided to have some fun by asking each of our writers to generate one bold prediction based on the early action, which we have ranked from the mildest to the spiciest of hot takes along with a flavor equivalent you might find on the menu at your local wing joint.
How do you like your hot takes served?
Oakland slugger Khris Davis, after hitting exactly .247 for the past four seasons, is going to hit … .252.
More importantly, really, Davis will increase his home run total for the sixth consecutive season, which is quite the feat considering Davis hit 48 in 2018. He will reach 50 this season or perhaps 52. Though with the “lowly” batting average, he still will not sniff many MVP votes. Oh, by the way and to bury the lead, the Athletics will hit the most home runs in baseball. Yes, even more than the Yankees. — Eric Karabell
Flavor equivalent: Lemon pepper. This take started off mild, but there’s a late kick here that still might have you reaching for a cold drink.
Adam Jones will be an All-Star.
Left for dead this winter, the former Orioles cornerstone signed with the Diamondbacks for dirt cheap (one year, $3 million) and has been mashing early (1.138 OPS). Arizona lost two of its three All-Stars from last season (Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin). The other was Zack Greinke, whose velocity is down and ERA is (way) up. The rules say that every MLB team needs at least one player at the Midsummer Classic. Even though he hasn’t been an All-Star since 2015, Jones will be that player for Arizona this year. — Eddie Matz
Flavor equivalent: Teriyaki. What we’ve got here is a classic that you might not have thought about in a while. Jones is a five-time All-Star, and the thought of him making it six in 2019 is bold — but MLB’s rule that every team gets an All-Star is like dipping that spiciness in a cool cup of ranch.
Luke Voit will lead all American League first basemen in home runs.
I’m not sure why I wasn’t more on the Voit bandwagon in the preseason — I worry too much about being fooled by small samples, I suppose — but watching Voit play over the season’s first few days, his all-field power is not only for real, but a dream fit for Yankee Stadium and its short porch in right field. Matt Olson was my preseason pick to pace the league/position, but with Olson missing significant time, Voit might need only 30 homers to claim the honor, which I don’t think is an unrealistic plateau. — Tristan Cockcroft
Flavor equivalent: Garlic Parm. You know that feeling when you order, hope it has some kick, but then take a bite and it is a little milder than expected? That’s what we have here. The out-of-nowhere slugger Voit leading AL first basemen in a category sounds pretty spicy, but as stated, the position just isn’t quite what it once was.
The Yankees will hit 307 home runs.
Not only am I predicting right now in this very moment, in this very space that the New York Yankees will blow past their single-season MLB-record 267 homers, but I’m predicting the exact number of round-trippers they are going to hit. That’s right. Mark it down, on Sept. 29 — the final game of the season — the Yankees are going to bid adieu to Globe Life Park in Arlington with two home runs in the stadium’s final game. The homers will be the 306th and 307th big blasts of the year for New York. Sure, the Bronx Bombers are banged up and currently missing some of their slugging stars from last season (Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andujar). But they’re still going to outslug the rest of the big leagues. Expect Aaron Judge to get hot by the summer. Look for production from Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez too. Once Hicks, Gregorius and Stanton return, the flirtations with 300 will appear more real. Now, is this hot enough for you? — Coley Harvey
Flavor equivalent: Chipotle. Now we’re getting some serious heat. Breaking an MLB record they set last year is pretty bold in itself, but calling the Yankees’ shot with exactly 40 bombs more than their previous mark takes it up a notch.
Terry Francona shouldn’t have gotten a contract extension.
Yes, he has made the postseason three years in a row, but after blowing a 3-1 World Series lead in 2016, the Indians haven’t come close to getting back to the Fall Classic despite playing in arguably the easiest division in the history of baseball. Francona has had to beat out three rebuilding teams and the Minnesota Twins — whatever they are these days. In 2017, the Indians won 22 in a row late in the season then once again blew a playoff lead after getting up 2-0 on the Yankees in the division series. And last year the Tribe was swept out of the ALDS. — Jesse Rogers
Flavor equivalent: Spicy BBQ. This one is pretty spicy — with a heavy dose of salt toward Tito’s new deal with the Tribe.
Say hello to your 2019 AL East Champions, the Tampa Bay Rays.
Only nine games into the 2018 season, the Rays were already seven games out of first place and staring up at the rest of the division. That early hole was largely the result of six losses in seven games (five by only one run) to the Red Sox, along with a pair of defeats at Yankee Stadium. Starting with that kind of a handicap made it almost impossible for the Rays to recover — and yet, they still managed to scratch and claw their way to a 90-win season. This year, Tampa Bay opened by winning three of four from the Astros. New York is hurting and Boston’s rotation is struggling out of the gate. Give Kevin Cash and the Rays a head start like this and I’m not sure they’ll be caught. — AJ Mass
Flavor equivalent: Medium buffalo. The low-payroll Rays topping two heavyweights is spicy — but given Tampa Bay’s hot start and sudden questions about both the Yankees and Red Sox, this doesn’t seem impossible.
Jacob deGrom is going to be better this year than last year
I tend not to traffic in spicy takes, so my forgiveness if this one is more Bhut Jolokia than Carolina Reaper. But a year after turning in one arguably of the 10 best pitching seasons of the live ball era, New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom is going to be even better this year. Before you quibble about the first part, here are the overall rankings since 1920 for his 2018 season: ERA (10th), ERA+ (13th), FIP (T-9th). In other words, he is in the conversation. And now, over his first two starts of 2019, he has thrown 13 shutout innings, struck out 24, walked two and unveiled this shadow demon, which I’m pretty sure killed Renly Baratheon. Seriously, look at that. It’s a 95-mph slider. Maybe it’s a little cutterish, but still. Ninety-five. Tilting like that.
With a 98 mph fastball and a changeup that moves like Keith Hernandez loaded it up with the Magic Loogie and a curveball he’ll break out now and again to remind batters who’s in charge. Jacob deGrom may not be ’66 Koufax or ’68 Gibson or ’72 Carlton or ’85 Doc or ’99 Pedro, but he’s looking at real estate in the neighborhood. — Jeff Passan
Outtake: The Boston Red Sox will not make the playoffs
The Boston Red Sox are seven games into a 162-game season. That means more than 95 percent of their games remain — 155 tries to remedy the wrongs of this opening week, in which the defending champions lost five of seven. And it’s what that record almost was that could have led this avowed non-hot-taker to spit some Carolina Reaper-inspired fire: The defending World Series champions, who won 108 regular-season games last year, who play in an American League with five playoff spots and seemingly without five playoff-quality teams, not playing this October.
But the Red Sox rallied Wednesday night to improve to 2-5 instead of falling to 1-6 so I couldn’t quite go there. The history of 1-6 starts is incredibly ignominious. Over the last 35 years, 68 teams have started 1-6 or worse. Twelve of them finished over .500. Only three made the playoffs.
There is some hope for these slow-starting Sox in the lessons of 1-6 starts past though. In 2011, the Red Sox started 1-6. They rebounded to win 90 games – and miss the postseason by one game. The team that finished ahead of them? The Tampa Bay Rays, who also started 1-6 that season and were the last to lose six of their first seven and still play in the postseason. — Also Jeff Passan
Flavor equivalent: Medium buffalo, but hey, can we try a couple of those insanely hot ones that get your picture on the wall if you can handle the whole order? DeGrom was unbelievably dominant a year ago, so picking him to be even better this time around is a fine choice. It’s the kind you share with your friends over a few beers and everyone enjoys. But the Red Sox — the 108-win reigning World Series champion Red Sox — missing the playoffs? That’s the kind of spice only a few can handle. And you almost went there. Almost.
Hot, hot, hot
The Dodgers’ Joc Pederson will finish in the top 10 of NL MVP voting.
Pederson has put it all together, laying off pitches he can’t hit and smoking those he can. His xWOBA so far is nearly .700. Pretty soon, Dave Roberts might even start letting him face lefties. Every year, some hitter has a stunning age-27 performance, like the one Seattle’s Mitch Haniger had last season. This year, it’s Pederson’s turn. — Bradford Doolittle
Flavor equivalent: Caribbean jerk. This comes in much hotter than you might think — Joc Pederson wasn’t even among the top 10 on the Dodgers in WAR last season.
A player you didn’t even notice was traded could end up flipping two playoff spots.
Cleveland traded Yandy Diaz to Tampa Bay this winter. It was a three-team deal with lots of parts, but Tampa basically got Diaz for Jake Bauers. We’re obviously overreacting in this space, but Diaz (a projections darling coming into the year) has hit everything hard, shown good plate discipline and hit .333/.440/.619 while switching between corner infield spots. Cleveland, meanwhile, has looked hopeless at the plate, and with Francisco Lindor still out, it’s hard not to notice how steeply the lineup falls off after Jose Ramirez. Bauers is young and Cleveland might ultimately love the exchange, but they might also come up one hitter short of winning the AL Central this year; the Rays, meanwhile, are in a good position to take the second wild-card spot, with Diaz hitting in the heart of the order. — Sam Miller
Flavor equivalent: Flamin’ Cheetos. You try it mainly because it’s so unusual. Diaz, the biggest hot take of the season? Really? But then you realize there’s some serious kick here with not one, but two postseason spots being shaped by Diaz changing teams over the winter.
The Padres will make the playoffs.
The Padres were considered at least a year away from serious contention; they probably still are, but they will also ride this momentum of excitement to become one of the most surprising playoff teams in recent memory. The Padres showed they’re serious about winning by signing Manny Machado to a $300 million contract and by putting top prospects Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack on their Opening Day roster, opting against waiting the extra three or so weeks to gain that extra season of control. But the biggest reason for optimism revolves around the early signs from the starting rotation, the most glaring weakness on the roster. Paddack, Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi and Nick Margevicius combined to give up only two runs in 21⅓ innings the first time through the rotation. — Alden Gonzalez
Flavor equivalent: Blazing buffalo. The Padres haven’t finished above .500 since 2010. The National League is loaded this year. This is spicy.
The Nationals will finish last in the NL East.
The offense is sputtering. The bullpen is a mess. The injured list is standing room only. Not only will the Nats win fewer games than the Phillies, Braves and Mets, they’ll also finish behind the Marlins. Yes, those Marlins. — Eddie Matz (again)
Flavor equivalent: Ghost pepper. This take is so hot we let Matz give it to us even though he had already provided another hot take. No Bryce Harper and some early struggles might be concerning, but worse than the Marlins? That level of heat will get your picture on the wall at the local wing spot — if it comes true.