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USA Today and Baseball Prospectus say the Cubs will be N.L. Central champions again

The PECOTA projections and a newspaper’s predictions.

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Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the time of year when people begin putting together predictions for the upcoming baseball season. As is my tradition, I’ll post mine the day before Opening Day.

USA Today is one of the first national publications to come out with theirs, and here they are:

Here’s how USA Today determines these standings:

Our win totals - comprised of season simulations provided by six writers and editors - correctly forecast all six division winners last year. It’s not because we’re brilliant - reader comments and email indisputably put that notion to rest - but simply because at a time when so few teams are trying to win, the chance that a “surprise team” messes up the calculus is greatly diminished.

So, they’ve got the Cubs not only winning the division, but with the same record as they had in 2017. They’ve also got the Brewers again finishing six games behind, and with those records Milwaukee would host the wild-card game. Before that, though, there would be a tiebreaker game between the Cardinals and Rockies for the second wild-card spot.

In the American League, a similar game would take place between the Twins and Angels for the second wild-card position; the winner would then travel to Boston to face the Red Sox in the wild-card game.

USA Today’s predictions have five of the six division winners repeating from 2017 — the only difference is the flip-flop of the Yankees and Red Sox.

I haven’t completed my own predictions yet but I can’t imagine they’ll be too much different from these. Several of these division winners should cruise easily to their title (Nationals, Astros).

At this time — and with many free agents still unsigned — if I had to pick a “surprise” team that could come from 90+ losses to the postseason like the Diamondbacks did last year, it would probably be the Phillies. That team’s got a pretty good offense, and if they can put together a decent pitching staff they might be a wild-card contender.

Baseball Prospectus also posted projections Wednesday, using their PECOTA (“Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm”) system. It also has the Cubs winning the N.L. Central, with 89 wins rather than 92. Most of their current projections are pretty similar to USA Today’s predictions.

It’s early, but then there’s not much going on right now, so I thought I’d put this out there for discussion.