The saying “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” definitely applies to baseball this year. For 99 days there was no MLB season. The lockout took away free agency, trades, part of Spring Training, and even the first two series of the season. But then baseball came back and we realized just how much we really missed it. And now we don’t have to miss it anymore because starting on Thursday baseball will be in our lives once again. Baseball seasons always seem to be exciting because of the unpredictability of them. Every year there are breakout players and surprise teams. Part of the fun is to try to predict those surprises (or just safely predict what is supposed to happen). That is what I will attempt to do over the next two days. Today will be my predictions for division, league, and World Series winners, and tomorrow I will make my picks for the end-of-season awards.
AL East Champion: Toronto Blue Jays
The AL East is shaping up to be the toughest division in the sport this year. The Yankees and Red Sox are full of talent and the Rays just always find ways to win baseball games. But I’m not picking any of those teams to actually win the division. I’m going with the Blue Jays. Despite not making the playoffs last year (they were extremely close though) there is a ton of hype surrounding Toronto and what they can accomplish this season. With hitters such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, George Springer, and Matt Chapman the offense should be top tier once again. The thing that puts the Blue Jays over the top this year is their pitching. Not many teams can claim that they improved their pitching despite losing the reigning Cy Young award winner, but Toronto can. Even without Robbie Ray, the Blue Jays have a very potent rotation with newly signed Kevin Gausman, newly extended Jose Berrios, and ready-to-breakout Alek Manoah. Throw in the shrewd signing of Yusei Kikuchi and this is the rotation of a division champion.
AL Central Champion: Chicago White Sox
Of all six divisions, this one figures to be the easiest to predict. The White Sox probably won’t get much opposition from Kansas City or Cleveland for the division crown and while Detroit and Minnesota both improved this offseason, they didn’t do nearly enough to truly contend with Chicago. This team is a legitimate World Series contender so they should run away with the division. This team is led by its pitching, which features a dominant rotation. Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Dylan Cease are all ace-caliber and have the potential to carry this team through the regular season. They won’t need to do all the heavy lifting because the lineup is equally as powerful. Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Yasmani Grandal are all very good players. Robert and Jimenez even have the chance to take a big step in the development and become true superstars for this team. All in all, the White Sox are one of the most complete teams in the majors, and them winning the division is one of the few sure things about this season.
AL West Champion: Seattle Mariners
Maybe it’s because I’m a homer or maybe it’s because I love a good underdog, but something about this Seattle team just feels right this year. It also helps when Houston loses Carlos Correa, Oakland decides to suck, and Los Angeles can never stay healthy. The Mariners got very close to a wild card spot last year but this season I think they won’t have to worry about contending for those spots. If Houston falls off a bit (which is very reasonable), then this could become one of the most wide-open divisions in the league. The Mariners have added a lot of talent to last year’s surprise team and look poised to take advantage of a winnable division. The biggest weakness of the 2021 Mariners was the starting pitching so they went out and added reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray. Adding him to a rotation with Logan Gilbert, who is ready for his breakout season, and the steady arms of Marco Gonzales and Chris Flexen should ensure that the group is no longer the weak link. On the offensive side of the ball, Seattle added two all-stars from last year, Jesse Winker and Adam Frazier, via trade to go along with Mitch Haniger and Ty France. But the true potential of the lineup will come down to the young players. Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez were both touted as future faces of the franchise and now it is their time to prove it. Kelenic had a rough start to his major league career last season but showed improvement near the end. Rodriguez hasn’t played above double-A yet but secured a spot on the opening day roster and should have an immediate impact in center field. If those young players can play up to their potential then this Seattle team will end up being a very dangerous unit in 2022.
NL East Champion: Philadelphia Phillies
This might be my biggest curveball in my predictions because of just how tough this division is. The Braves won the World Series last year and the Mets just spent approximately 100 billion dollars to acquire superstars like Max Scherzer and Starling Marte. But the Phillies are the team I like to come out on top in this division. Part of it is my doubts about the other teams. The Braves lost franchise icon Freddie Freeman (although they did a good job replacing him with Matt Olson) and will be without Ronald Acuña to start the season. The Mets have a boatload of talent but are already struggling to keep everyone healthy, plus they’re the Mets. The Phillies have a golden opportunity to slide past those two teams if they do struggle. Philly also has its fair share of talent with reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper and pitchers Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola, who have both been Cy Young candidates in recent memory. They also did some spending in the offseason, bringing in Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber to ensure their offense can back up the stellar pitching. The last piece of the puzzle is an improved bullpen (which cost them a lot of games last year) which they addressed by bringing in Corey Knebel and Brad Hand. This prediction could end up being very far off but I like the Phillies’ odds to be the team to emerge from this division.
NL Central Champion: St. Louis Cardinals
There is something about the Cardinals that just scream success. This team had no business making the playoffs last year but went on an absolute tear at the end of the season to get to the playoffs. This team just flat-out wins. I’m expecting more of the same this year in order for them to win this division. It really is a two-horse race for the division crown between St. Louis and Milwaukee. And even though the Brewers have one of the best pitching staffs in the game, their lineup needs to show some more consistency before I bet on them in the regular season. The Cardinals, on the other hand, always seem to have exactly what they need to win. Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt provide consistent production in the middle of the lineup. Adam Wainwright is somehow still a very efficient pitcher. Yadier Molina defies time to still be an excellent catcher, and the young guys in the outfield (Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Harrison Bader) add just enough extra to put them over the top. I would believe in this team a lot more if they could get a full season out of Jack Flaherty but even with his injury questions, this is still a team that can get it done in the regular season.
NL West Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers
When one of the best teams in baseball goes out and adds Freddie Freeman, it’s hard to pick against them. And even though they lost Corey Seager, Kenley Jansen, and Max Scherzer, this team is still loaded with talent. Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Walker Buehler, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Clayton Kershaw, and Julio Urias are all still there and still very good. It also helps that the rest of the NL West is made up of two bottom-feeder teams (Arizona and Colorado) a good team with a ton of injury issues (San Diego) and an old team that might have hit its peak last year (San Francisco). There probably is not a safer pick to make than the Dodgers winning their division, even though they failed to do so last year (which probably will just make them play even harder this season). The real question about Los Angeles is whether they will be the best team in the entire league and if they can win a World Series in a full season.
AL Champion: Toronto Blue Jays
I’ve said most of what I can say about the Blue Jays already but if you haven’t figured it out by now, I really like them this year. Guerrero described last season as the “trailer” for the “movie” that is this season and I am buying the hype. The only question for me about this team is how they will fare once they get into the playoffs. Save for George Springer, most of the important players on the team haven’t played in a lot of playoff baseball games. That kind of inexperience can sometimes be a team’s downfall, but not always. I see Toronto as able to overcome that because the young superstars on this team are just that good.
NL Champion: Milwaukee Brewers
I know, it’s kind of crazy to pick a team to win the league if you don’t even pick them to win their division. Well, call me crazy because I love the Brewers’ chances in the postseason. I mentioned how I don’t necessarily believe in their hitting in the regular season, but the playoffs are totally different. All it takes is a few guys getting hot at the right time to provide enough offense to get it done. And Milwaukee has those types of guys. Willy Adames, Hunter Renfroe, and Lorenzo Cain all have the potential to go on a tear in October. The Brewers also have this guy named Christian Yelich (ever heard of him?) who has previously won an MVP, so he can also be the offensive fulcrum the team needs in the playoffs. The offense doesn’t have to be too crazy for them to win the NL considering the pitching is downright filthy. Corbin Burnes, the winner of the 2021 NL Cy Young, leads the way, but Brandon Woodruff (fifth place in the 2021 Cy Young voting) and Freddy Peralta are also aces. And even once those guys are off the mound you still have to face Josh Hader, the best reliever in the game, Devin Williams, and a host of other solid bullpen arms. As long as Milwaukee gets just enough offense from its hitters, the pitching should be enough to get this team to the World Series.
World Series Champion: Toronto Blue Jays
Surprise! It’s me again picking the Blue Jays. I have already said everything I need to say about this team. To me, this is the best team in baseball and the best team in baseball is usually the one that ends up winning the World Series.