MLB predictions: An AL West shocker?
Predicting postseason teams and major award winners in March can be a fool's errand. That's okay. Sometimes, acting foolishly can be fun.
The world wide web is teeming with predictions for the upcoming MLB season. Most of these prognostications inevitably turn out to be epically wrong. Mine probably might be even worse. But I’m still going on record with my picks.
East - Blue Jays
Central - White Sox
West - Mariners
WC - Astros
WC - Yankees
WC - Angels
In the AL East, Toronto looks like a team on the rise. Especially after making the postseason last year and adding starter Chris Bassitt, reliever Erik Swanson, and Daulton Varsho, Brandon Belt, and Kevin Kiermaier to the lineup and defense.
The Yankees spent a lot of money in the offseason. But most of it went to re-signing AL MVP Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo. The team did sign starter Carlos Rodón, but he’ll begin the season on the IL. So will rotation-mate Luis Severino. In many ways, New York has the same flawed roster that went 43-42 after July 1 last year.
The White Sox underachieved in 2022, but the team remains talented and has new leadership in the dugout. The defending AL Central champion Guardians should be in the mix. But Cleveland's hard-hit rate ranked last in the majors, which is a big strike against the lineup in my book.
My most controversial pick is the Mariners winning the AL West title. Seattle’s major offseason pickups Teoscar Hernández, Kolten Wong, and AJ Pollock should transform last year’s average-ish offense into a top-10 lineup. But what’s truly fueling my eagerness to go out on a very long limb is a rotation and bullpen that should be among the best in MLB.
The easy (and perhaps smart) choice in the AL West would have been the Astros. After all, Houston earned a World Series title and won its division by a 16-game margin over second-place Seattle in 2022. But I have doubts about the champs.
Losing Jose Altuve for the first few months of the season will hurt. But my chief concern with Houston is its rotation, which lost reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to free agency. Compounding matters, Lance McCullers Jr., a starter with a history of availability challenges, begins the season on the IL.
Maybe I’ll end up being endlessly mocked for picking the Mariners over the Astros in the AL West. That’s okay. We’re all friends here.
I debated over the Rays, Angels, and Guardians for the final wild card spot. In the end, I liked the Halos’ rotation more than Tampa Bay’s and their lineup more than Cleveland’s.
MVP - Mike Trout
The safe picks would be last year’s MVP (Aaron Judge) or the WBC star, who won the award the season prior (Shohei Ohtani). Instead, I’m going with the best player I’ve ever seen, who happens to be a three-time MVP and runner-up four other times.
Sure, Trout has dealt with injuries in recent seasons and is on the wrong side of 30. But the pride of Millville, New Jersey remained in the top 5% last year in multiple offensive categories, including home runs, SLG, OPS, and wRC+. Plus, his 31-year-old legs remain vibrant with a top-20 sprint speed.
Cy Young Award - Dylan Cease
Cease was a well-deserved Cy Young runner-up last year - top-5 in ERA, strikeouts, opponent AVG, xwOBA, and fWAR. If there’s any concern with the Georgian, it’s a 10.4% walk rate, which was highest among qualified AL starters.
Breakout star - George Kirby
Had Kirby thrown more innings last season, I might have considered him for the Cy Young conversation. His stuff is that good. That said, I expect the Elon product to take the next step in his march towards becoming a frontline MLB starter.
Rookie of the Year - Masataka Yoshida
I won’t act like I’m an expert about any Rookie of the Year candidate. There are so many variables with players just breaking into the majors. It’s not just talent that impacts the likelihood of big-league success. Opportunity and emotional maturity also come into play.
For this reason, I went with Masataka Yoshida. He’s 29-years-old and an established professional after seven seasons in Japan. Then again, the left-handed hitter will be playing in the pressure cooker known as the Boston market.
East - Braves
Central - Cardinals
West - Dodgers
WC - Mets
WC - Padres
WC - Phillies
The NL East was a tough one for me. The easy choice is the defending division champion Braves, which is the route I went. But I suspect Atlanta is at risk of getting off to a slow start due to rotation injuries. Still, I like the club’s chances of rebounding and gaining momentum later in the season - just like it did last year.
I’m not as concerned as many others about the Mets losing closer Edwin Díaz to an ACL injury. What bothers me most about New York is the age of the rotation and lineup. There are a lot of thirty-somethings in crucial roles with limited depth behind them. This makes me uneasy.
The Phillies did sign shortstop Trea Turner and starter Taijuan Walker this winter. Plus, they’re defending National League champions. But losing slugger Bryce Harper for an extended period and first baseman Rhys Hoskins for the entire season likely offsets the gains made over the winter.
Much like its AL counterpart, the NL Central isn’t dynamic. The Pirates and Reds aren’t trying to field a competitive team. The Cubs have improved, but the roster doesn’t look ready for primetime. That leaves it up to the Brewers and the Cardinals. In the end, I went with St. Louis. The Brew Crew could prove me wrong if the rotation remains healthy and several offseason pickups live up to their potential.
In the west, I stuck with the defending division champion Dodgers despite a lackluster offseason. Honestly, I won’t be surprised if the Padres unseat Los Angeles to win the NL West. But I’m going with the established and more disciplined organization until proven wrong.
MVP - Manny Machado
As he enters his age 30-season, last year’s runner-up is primed to earn his first MVP trophy. Performance-wise, Machado was top-3 in AVG, SLG, OPS, wRC+, and fWAR. Something else to consider, the Floridian rarely misses time. Dating back to the start of the 2015 season, he’s appeared in 96.8% of his teams’ games.
Cy Young Award - Aaron Nola
I was tempted to select Sandy Alcantara, who won the award last season or Verlander, the AL Cy Young winner. But that wouldn’t be fun, so I went with Nola. The fourth-place finisher in last year’s voting was top-3 in SO%, BB%, xwOBA, and fWAR.
Breakout star - Rowdy Tellez
I suspect Tellez will benefit greatly from the new defensive shift rules. Last season, he had a .219 AVG/.306 OBP/.461 SLG slash-line despite having a 46% hard-hit rate and better-than-average walk and strikeout rates. Expect the California native’s slash to noticeably improve in 2023.
Rookie of the Year - Corbin Carroll
As with the AL award, I’m throwing darts at the board. However, I didn’t go with the established Japanese veteran (Kodai Senga) because he’s a pitcher. The last time a Rookie of the Year award didn’t go to a position player during a full season was 2016 when Michael Fulmer of the Tigers took home the hardware.
Perhaps after the postseason ends, I’ll cobble together an article re-hashing how my predictions played out. More than likely, I’ll be making excuses rather than patting myself on the back.
That’s okay. We’re all friends here.
My Oh My…
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