The Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers fell short of expectations in different ways last season. They'll try to open 2019 on a positive note when they meet on Thursday in Arlington, Tex.
Two years after winning the first World Series in 108 years, the Cubs lost the NL wild-card game against the Colorado Rockies last October. They had won 95 regular-season games, but finished second in the Central Division after losing a one-game tiebreaker to the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Rangers lost 95 games last season and finished last in the AL West, 36 games behind the Houston Astros.
Jon Lester struggled during spring training, most recently allowing six runs, nine hits, a walk and a hit batter in four innings against the Rockies.
Lester went 18-6 last season with a 3.32 ERA and made his fifth All-Star team. His dependability has been just as impressive, as he's started at least 31 games in each of the past 11 seasons.
The Cubs will be without shortstop Addison Russell, who is serving a domestic violence suspension and won't be eligible to return until May 3.
Javy Baez will slide over from second base to shortstop, and Ben Zobrist will move to second, where he played 58 games last season in between stints in the outfield.
The Cubs will also be down a key reliever.
Brandon Morrow, who is expected to handle closing duties, will miss at least the first month of the season after undergoing elbow surgery in the offseason. He was shut down in mid-July because of right-biceps inflammation.
Pedro Strop is expected to handle closing duties while Morrow is out.
The Milwaukee Brewers required an additional game to win the Central Division in 2018, then pushed the National League Championship Series to its limit before falling short of booking their first World Series appearance since 1982.
The Brewers look to take a few more steps this season, with the journey beginning against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday afternoon in the opener of a four-game series.
Christian Yelich recorded team-leading totals in homers (36), RBIs (110) and batting average (.326) en route to claiming NL Most Valuable Player honors.
Bonafide slugger Paul Goldschmidt was acquired from Arizona in December and recently finalized a new five-year, $130 million extension on Saturday. The 31-year-old joins a Cardinals club that belted 205 homers last season, fourth-best in the NL.
Miles Mikolas tied for the NL lead in wins after posting a superb 18-4 record with a 2.83 ERA in 32 starts last season. The 30-year-old, who was a first-time All-Star last year, posted a 3-0 mark with a 4.01 ERA in four starts against Milwaukee in 2018 after failing to record a decision in his lone previous appearance versus the club.
Hoping to turn disappointing projections into promising reality, the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals open the 2019 season with plenty to prove.
The two clubs will open with a three-game series in Kansas City, Mo., beginning on Thursday. They finished the 2018 season with two of the three worst records in Major League Baseball. They spent the offseason taking two different approaches to rebuilding, and they'll get to measure progress against one another.
The White Sox tried to spend big money in free agency, looking to add power bats and star power. They were rumored among the pursuers of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Both players signed elsewhere, so the White Sox will look to their young core, including Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, to blend with veterans such as Jose Abreu, John Jay (signed as a free agent) and Yonder Alonso (acquired by trade).
The White Sox finished 62-100, the third worst record baseball. Some computer projections call for them to win 70 games this season, which would mark an eight-win improvement.
Carlos Rodon (6-8, 4.29 ERA last year) will get the start on the mound for Chicago.