The MLB season is 162 games of ups and downs, highs and lows, and so much more. Yet every year, some teams put themselves ahead of the field, win their divisions, and lock up a coveted playoff spot. With many potential battles this season, here are my predictions for each division winner.
The AL East is the one division where you could make a believable argument for all five teams. The Yankees are the reigning division champs, and they are bringing back pretty much the same team, except for the addition of Carlos Rodon. The Blue Jays made a bunch of changes this past offseason. The Rays did what the Rays do best and made minor moves that will most likely pay big dividends for them. The Orioles have their ever improving young core, and the Red Sox have undergone some big changes, including the loss of Xander Bogaerts.
When you dig into each team, you can find their strengths and weaknesses, with injuries always a risk of changing what happens. However, the 2023 AL East champions will be the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays are always a team that sneaks under the radar, and if injuries abide, they might just have the strongest all-around team in the AL East. Their rotation is very, very good, with Shane McClanahan as their ace, followed by two of the most underrated starters in the league, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs. They have a very good lineup, with Wander Franco ready for his first full healthy season. And they always have an elite bullpen.
If you ask me tomorrow my answer might be different. But I believe in the construction of the Rays roster, and I can’t not pick them solely based on fear of injuries. Plus, I can’t deny what their rotation could look like at the end of the year if everyone is healthy, with McClanahan, Rasmussen, and Springs potentially being joined by Tyler Glasnow and Rays top prospect Taj Bradley. I haven’t even mentioned Zach Eflin, who they gave a three-year deal worth $40 million. With a lineup consisting of guys like Franco, Yandy Diaz, Randy Arozarena, and more, I believe that this Rays team can get the job done and win the AL East.
With no disrespect to the Royals and Tigers, it is pretty clear to me that I am deciding between three teams for the AL Central crown. And with all three of those teams, it will come down to injuries. However, the one team that has proven it can stay healthy for the most part has been the Cleveland Guardians. Losing Triston McKenzie for the start of the season isn’t ideal, yet the Guardians have tons of talent on their roster. And the Twins and White Sox have struggled with health for a while now, especially when it comes to guys like Byron Buxton and Luis Robert. Both guys have MVP potential, yet they can’t fulfill it because they can’t stay healthy.
The Guardians have one of the deepest bullpens in the league, as well as having, in my opinion, the best closer in baseball in Emmanuel Clase. Last year, Clase, James Karinchak, Trevor Stephan, and Nick Sandlin all had a sub 3.00 ERA out of the pen, and Enyel De Los Santos and Eli Morgan were also good out of the pen with ERAs of 3.04 and 3.38 respectively. Even without McKenzie to start the season, the Guardians have a good rotation headed by 2020 Cy Young winner, Shane Bieber.
However, Cleveland isn’t a team with just pitching talent. Their lineup is headed by perennial MVP candidate Jose Ramirez, and there is a lot of talent around him. Steven Kwan, Amed Rosario, Josh Naylor, and Andres Giminez all had good years last year, as did Oscar Gonzalez once he was called up. Then they went out and added Josh Bell to the lineup to add protection for Ramirez. They also brought in Mike Zunino, who is one of the better defensive catchers in baseball, and he has 30 homer upside. Then Myles Straw rounds out the lineup, and he’s one of the best center fielders across the big leagues. The Guardians have a talented team, and with Terry Francona leading the way, they should be able to win the AL Central.
The AL West might be a more interesting division than people expect, as there’s a chance this division could have four teams trying to make the playoffs. Obviously there’s the Astros, but the Mariners had a good second half of 2022 and finally made the playoffs, the Rangers have gone out and made some big signings, and the Angels added a bunch of pieces to try and support a playoff push in what could be their last chance with Shohei Ohtani on the roster. However, even with the division having a chance to be interesting, I’m still picking the Astros to win the division.
The Astros might’ve lost Yuli Gurriel this past offseason, but they upgraded by signing 2020 AL MVP Jose Abreu. They might’ve lost Justin Verlander, but they have Verlander clone Hunter Brown ready to play his first full season in the big leagues. Yes, Jose Altuve and Lance McCullers are both out to start the season, but it’s better to have them early in the season than late in the season or in the playoffs. The Astros have a strong rotation led by Framber Valdez, the king of quality starts, and Cristian Javier, who has the most unhittable 95 mph fastball ever (it feels that way at least).
The Astros lineup is probably their strength. Both Altuve and Michael Brantley will be out at the start of the season, but Jeremy Pena, Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, and Jose Abreu make a scary 1-5 of the lineup. And when Altuve and Brantley are healthy, the 1-7 of that lineup will be a nightmare for pitchers. And I haven’t even mentioned how good the Astros bullpen is, with Ryan Pressly closing games out for them. Overall, the Astros are the favorites to win the AL West, and are also a World Series favorite. The only question is can they be the first team to repeat as World Series champs in the 21st century?
The NL East is a very intriguing division because of how good the three teams at the top of the division are. The Braves and the Mets both won 100 games last year, and the Phillies made it all the way to the World Series. All three teams made moves in the offseason, with the Mets signing Justin Verlander and Kodai Senga, the Phillies acquiring Trea Turner, Taijuan Walker, and Craig Kimbrel, and the Braves trading for Sean Murphy and Joe Jimenez. However, as much as people may pick the Mets or Phillies, I’m sticking with the Braves to win the NL East.
The Braves have a very deep lineup filled with star power, with guys like Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris II, and Sean Murphy. The Braves also have a good rotation that is led by Max Fried, and a very good bullpen with guys such as Raisel Iglesias, A.J. Minter, Joe Jimenez, Collin McHugh, and Dylan Lee, and guys like Nick Anderson and Kirby Yates who have had previous success, but have pitched only a combined 13 innings over the last two seasons between the two of them.
The competition inside the NL East should make for a very tight race, but I believe the Braves will be able to get the job done and secure the division title. The Braves have won the NL East five years in a row, and I don’t see that streak ending. The Braves are a very talented team with one of the best coaching staffs in the big leagues. They have all the pieces to not only win the division, but to go all the way and even win a World Series.
The NL Central is a division where most people will pick the same division winner in the St. Louis Cardinals. However, the Brewers can still pose a threat, as could the Chicago Cubs if things break well for them. And with that, I’m going to pick the Chicago Cubs to win the NL Central. I have a very sneaky suspicion that the Cubs will be good this year and can win the division.
The Cubs may not have the most star studded roster, but when you look closely you can see a team start to come together. I believe that the pitching will be the strength of the Cubs, especially in the rotation. Marcus Stroman looked good in the WBC, and after he played in the WBC in 2017 he put up arguably the best year of his career, where he finished eighth in AL Cy Young voting. Stroman is a dark horse Cy Young candidate in the NL. Jameson Taillon is one of the more underrated arms in the big leagues. Taillon gets to return to a division where he’s had success before and he is the definition of a solid mid-rotation arm. Then there’s Justin Steele, who in 24 starts last year was probably the Cubs best pitcher. Then add in Drew Smyly, who was good last year, and Hayden Wesneski, who was acquired from the Yankees at last year’s trade deadline and had a good stretch in his first taste of big league action.
The Cubs also have a solid bullpen, and although there isn’t a clear closer, Michael Fulmer, Brad Boxberger, and Brandon Hughes all had good years in 2022. The lineup is much improved, bringing in Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, Eric Hosmer, Trey Mancini, and more to supplement the talent they have in guys like Nico Hoerner, Seiya Suzuki, and Patrick Wisdom. This Cubs team isn’t perfect, but they might be more talented than people give them credit for, and they can always add in-season, whether it be by calling guys up or making a trade to fill a hole. The Cubs could surprise some in 2023.
The NL West might be the hardest decision. Do the Dodgers have the edge? Or is it the Padres? San Diego might have the better bats, while the Dodgers might have the better pitching. But at the same time, the Dodgers might have the better bats and the Padres might have the better pitching. The gap between the two teams is extremely tight, but I am going to pick the San Diego Padres to win the NL West.
I have stated this previously, but my crazy bold take is that Juan Soto flirts with a .500 OBP. If he gets on base that much with the guys that he’ll have hitting behind him, the Padres are going to score a lot of runs. Bogaerts, Machado, Soto, and Tatis might be the best four hitter group of any team. And on top of that, there’s still Jake Cronenworth, Ha-Seong Kim, and more. They have a clear big three in the rotation with Musgrove, Darvish, and Snell, and a good bullpen with one of the best closers in baseball in Josh Hader. It’s a complete team that still has room to grow, as it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make a move at the deadline to add another piece or two to this already stacked team.
The Dodgers will keep the division battle close, but a couple of injuries are already piling up. They won’t have Walker Buehler or Gavin Luxin at all in 2023, Tony Gonsolin sprained his ankle, and Blake Treinen is currently out from shoulder surgery. They lost a lot of pieces, and they are giving a lot of their prospects a chance to prove themselves by playing every day in the big leagues. I think that might have the Dodgers fall a little short in the division, but they could still win 100 games and finish second. Both teams should be really, really good in 2023.
Those are my official predictions for the 2023 MLB division winners. I guarantee I won’t get them all right, and hopefully I won’t get them all wrong. So let me know which ones you think I will get right and wrong by tweeting @BleacherBrawls and to myself @derrik_maguire and letting us know.