Baseball is unpredictable. Especially for those of us who are lousy at making forecasts.
But as a new year begins, it’s only natural to speculate about what might happen in this absurdly beautiful sport.
So, let’s go over some of the themes to watch in 2023 and try to guess how they will turn out.
Will the Mets live up to the hype? (I mean, will they win the World Series?)
First of all, the Carlos Correa situation complicates any analysis of the Mets’ roster. Without Correa, I’m not sure the Mets are the best team in the NL East on paper (for me, the best are still the Braves), no matter how much money they’ve spent this winter. It can be argued that investments in Justin Verlander, Edwin Diaz, Brandon Nimmo, Kodai Senga and others only allow the Mets to maintain the level they reached in 2022, not exactly improve.
Correa would change that – we repeat, on paper. Still, the Mets would risk joining a long list of teams that won the winter but then suffered unforeseen setbacks with injuries or disappointing performances. Their cohesion — and their veteran rotation (the 2023 Mets will become just the sixth team in history and the first in 21 years to try to get 20 starts apiece from five starters ages 30 and older) — will be challenged by the rest of the league daily.
To be clear, we’re not talking about a team like the 2012 Marlins who went haywire by making big signings. The Mets already had the core of a great team and I’m not crazy enough to think they won’t make the playoffs. But given his payroll, for this team, it’s either the World Series or nothing. And I don’t think they will, just because baseball has taught me to be cautious when it comes to teams making flashy winter moves.
Will Aaron Judge repeat as MLB home run champion?
No one in their right mind would predict that Judge will repeat one of the greatest individual seasons of all time. His record of 62 home runs must be out of his own reach.
But repeating as the major league home run champion is a more modest goal. Judge was not only the 2022 home run champion, but he did it by a 16-homer margin.
But a new season represents a new beginning. No player has repeated as a major league home run champion since Jose Bautista in 2010 and 2011. And that pattern will continue.
So who will hit more home runs than the new Yankees captain in 2023? A healthy Mike Trout could do it (he’s coming off a career-high 8% home run percentage in 2022 in an injury-shortened season). Cuban Yordan Álvarez, Kyle Schwarber and Pete Alonso represent other good possibilities.
But I’m going with the 2021 MLB hitting champion, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who couldn’t reach the goals he set for himself in 2022 but still finished in the 96th percentile in average exit velocity. in the 99th percentile in maximum exit velocity and 94th in hard-hit percentage. And besides, he’ll be just 24 when the season starts.
Will Shohei Ohtani be traded?
Another way to ask the same question is, “Will the Angels be in the playoff hunt when the trade deadline comes around?” My answer – which surprises me myself – is yes.
The Angels haven’t drawn much attention with their moves so far this offseason, but they’ve exceeded industry expectations with what they’ve been able to accomplish as a for-sale team. General manager Perry Minasian has done what he can to increase team potential and improve the level of competition in a club that has disappointed despite featuring two of the game’s biggest stars in Trout and Ohtani. The only thing the Angels need to be real contenders — besides health from those two stars — is for the rest of the club to do their part. The Ohtani-led Angels rotation was better than many thought last season and now features Tyler Anderson. The lineup with Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Drury now has more depth and power than it did when the season ended — and prospect Logan O’Hoppe could add to that.
I don’t think it’s a sure thing that the Angels will make the playoffs, but I think it’s a team that will be in contention come July. Only a mathematical disaster could motivate them to trade Ohtani in the middle of the season, because getting true value for a player as unique as the Japanese is almost impossible.
And maybe the new owner decides to give Ohtani an extension. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Will the Astros take over the American League again?
The Astros have reached the American League Championship Series six straight years and have won it four times in that stretch. Even after losing Verlander, they arrive in 2023 as the clear favorites to win the Young Circuit pennant again, to a minimum.
With the return of Michael Brantley and the arrival of Cuban hitter José Abreu, the Astros’ lineup looks stronger than ever. With Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier taking more prominent roles and Hunter Brown a candidate to break free, Houston’s rotation could continue to be just as strong.
Therefore, the American League is seen as a group of teams fighting to catch up with Houston. That’s definitely the plot within the division, where the Angels will try to make the most of Ohtani’s final year under contract, the Rangers are spending big to speed up their rebuild, and the Mariners are struggling to stay in the game. promotion after breaking a two-decade playoff drought. And it’s the plot across the rest of the league, too, as the Yankees and Blue Jays strengthened their rotations in an attempt to go further in October.
On paper, the Astros are still better than all those teams, which is why they’re going to be AL West champions again. Again.
But this is another opportunity to go against it. So here goes: After going 18-5 in the ALDS team over the past six years, Houston will finally be eliminated in the best-of-five series.
Have the Padres passed the Dodgers?
Forecast: Yes, in a sense.
When AJ Preller became the Padres’ general manager prior to the 2015 season, the Dodgers’ dominance in the NL West was in its infancy. It’s amazing to think of all the moves the Padres have made since then in an attempt to get to the level of Los Angeles, including the failed acquisitions of Matt Kemp, James Shields, Justin Upton and others before the 2015 season, the rebuilding that followed (which was accelerated by the Shields trade for Fernando Tatis Jr.), the signings of Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado, and the trades for Mike Clevinger, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Josh Hader, Juan Soto and Josh Bell .
But while they have proven themselves as playoff contenders, the Padres are a combined 16-32 against the Dodgers in the regular season over the past three years.
However, in the 2022 National League Division Series, the Padres prevailed, eliminating a Dodgers who had set a franchise record 111 wins.
Now, with Aruban Xander Bogaerts as their recent impact acquisition, the Padres might have what it takes to topple the Dodgers in the division, even though they finished 22 games off the top in 2022.
So let’s say yes, the Padres are going to win the National League West. It’s time.
But where things are going to get interesting is in October. Because of the seed, the Padres will not have a chance to face the Wild Card-winning Dodgers in the playoffs, because they will be eliminated in the NLDS. When the ALCS begins, Los Angeles will be the last team in the Old Circuit standing.
Will a Central team make it to the ALCS at last?
The last three National League Championship Series have been between teams from the East and the West. The situation is even worse in the American League, where no team from the Central Division has reached the ALCS since 2016. That six-year absence is the longest of any division since the ALCS was played for the first time. time in 1995 under the three division format.
The new nuance those teams will have to overcome is the balanced schedule. If recent history tells us anything, it’s that such a schedule will hurt the win totals of the winners of the two Central divisions — perhaps relegating both champions to the Wild Card Series (again) while also lessening the chances that the Wild Card winners come from the Central.
In other words, things are not in favor of the teams that play in said divisions.
But we’re here to be bold and take risks, so I’m forecasting the Central’s drought ends in 2023. Both reigning champions of those divisions — the Cardinals and Rangers — have beefed up their offenses this winter. After defending their division titles, both will play in the Championship Series. The Guardians will be the ones to dethrone the Astros, while the Cardinals will take out the Padres.
In 2023, the ALCS matchups will be: Cardinals vs. Dodgers and Guardians vs. Yankees.
So who will win the World Series?
The Dodgers won 111 games in the regular round last year. But given that they often come up short in October and lost key players to free agency and didn’t make any big-time signings, they won’t be as popular a pick anymore.
The Dodgers’ inactivity creates an opportunity — and I’m going to take it. I’m going with the Dodgers because they’re still a very good team. Maybe younger, with prospects like Miguel Vargas, James Outman and Bobby Miller poised to take major league jobs, but very good ones. And given that Walker Buehler could return to action down the stretch in September, the Los Angeles Ninth could enter October in position to overcome previous postseason disappointments. And in the World Series, they will defeat a Yankees who will finally advance beyond the SCLA.
Dodgers over the Yankees. It is written, so it will be so. (Or maybe not.)