Well, it’s finally here. The 2023 MLB season has arrived, and it serves as the main entree after the amazing appetizer that was the World Baseball Classic.
There's plenty of buzz going into the regular season with the new rules, including the pitch clock, which sped up the time of games exponentially this spring. The changes will undoubtedly be a shock to the system of baseball fans, but there is little doubt they have been a needed improvement.
The theme of the offseason was the roster upgrades of the powers at the top of each league. The New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals made major splashes in the National League arms race. In the American League, the Texas Rangers continued their push for the postseason with the surprise addition of right-hander Jacob deGrom, and the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox are looking to shake off disappointing 2022 seasons and get back on track.
The Angels have as much pressure to win as any team in what could be the final year of Shohei Ohtani in Anaheim. The two-way superstar can become a free agent after the season.
Below are my predictions. Hopefully, I can get one or two of them right.
|NL East||Philadelphia Phillies|
|NL Central||St. Louis Cardinals|
|NL West||San Diego Padres|
|AL East||New York Yankees|
|AL Central||Cleveland Guardians|
|AL West||Houston Astros|
|NL WC1||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|NL WC2||New York Mets|
|AL WC1||Seattle Mariners|
|AL WC2||Toronto Blue Jays|
MLB preview: Six players to watch, plus predictions
Biggest storyline: Shohei Ohtani’s future
If you thought Aaron Judge’s walk year was crazy, it will be nothing compared to the next nine months for the best player in baseball.
Ohtani has become a superstar both on and off the field, and even before he reaches free agency this winter, teams are salivating about the chance to sign him. The situation puts even more of an onus on the Angels to get off to a fast start. If they don’t, general manager Perry Minasian will have a predicament on his hands.
Would he trade away Ohtani to recoup assets? Or would he risk watching Ohtani walk for nothing in the offseason?
American League preview: Six teams to watch
AL MVP: Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros
The ball that Alvarez hit to seal the 2022 World Series still hasn’t landed. The 25-year-old has become not only one of baseball's best sluggers but also one of its best hitters. In an Astros lineup featuring Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker and now Jose Abreu, Alvarez is the most feared by opponents.
Last year, Alvarez set career highs in home runs (37) and walks (78) and cut down his strikeout rate significantly from 24.3% to 18.9%. To win an MVP award among All-Stars, you have to do something special to set yourself apart, especially as a designated hitter and left fielder. Alvarez plays in the right ballpark to put up monster numbers, so if he can stay healthy, he can make a run at Jeff Bagwell's franchise record of 47 home runs. Alvarez could reach 50 homers this year.
AL Cy Young: Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox
Dylan Cease knows how to do one thing on the mound — dominate.
The right-hander took his game to another level in 2022, going from a really solid starter with nasty stuff to one of the elite starters in MLB. Whether it’s his electric fastball or Bugs Bunny slider out of the zone, Cease has the ability to throw a no-hitter every time he takes the mound.
What had always been the question for Cease was whether he could harness his amazing stuff every five days. He showed he could last season, but what separates Cy Young winners from the rest is the ability to be dominant year after year.
The White Sox need the 27-year-old to overpower hitters to have any chance of contending in the AL Central. He'll definitely do his part.
National League preview: Six teams to watch
NL MVP: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
Since the Red Sox traded Betts to the Dodgers, it sometimes feels like he doesn’t get viewed as the same player as he was in Boston. But make no mistake about it, he’s still one of the game’s best.
Last season, the 30-year-old outfielder proved he remains a dynamic player with a 6.6 WAR. His 117 runs were tied for the NL lead (with Dodgers teammate Freddie Freeman), and he produced a .873 OPS. He won a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove and finished fifth in NL MVP voting.
If the Dodgers are going to get where they want to go this year, they'll need their $350 million man to be … the man. With what Betts can do offensively and defensively, it would not be a shock to see him post a 7, 8 or 9-WAR season, which would make him a favorite to take home the second MVP award of his career.
If he wins NL MVP, Betts will join Hall of Famer Frank Robinson as the only players to win the award in both leagues.
NL Cy Young: Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves
One of the biggest surprises in 2022 was the emergence of Atlanta's young fireballer. Strider began the season as a reliever and finished it as a starter in the NL Division Series. The 24-year-old right-hander was so good that the Braves made him a part of their long-term future by signing him to a six-year, $75 million extension.
Strider struck out 202 batters in just 131 2/3 innings as his ridiculous 13.8 K/9 showed an uncanny ability to sit down hitters. It's hard to predict how a player will respond to the league's adjustments in his second season, but if Strider’s growth and development last year taught us anything, it’s that his potential has no limit.
World Series: Padres beat Astros in seven games
The Padres had their 2022 season end in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series against the Phillies, but that memory will motivate San Diego all the way to the 2023 World Series.
In the offseason, the Padres upgraded their roster, adding shortstop Xander Bogaerts to an already stacked lineup that includes Manny Machado, Juan Soto and a returning Fernando Tatís Jr. San Diego also possesses a deep rotation and a strong bullpen, especially in the back end with Robert Suarez and Josh Hader.
The Phillies will again be a threat in the NL, but they'll fall to the Padres. And the road to a championship will again go through Houston. However, San Diego's depth and top-end talent will prove to be too much for the Astros.
The Padres will win their first World Series title in franchise history.