With Opening Day around the corner, it’s time to make some bold predictions about the MLB season. While not quite on the level of Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto predicting an alien invasion will spur his rebuilding team to an improbable World Series title, a few of these predictions are a bit more out there than your typical preseason prognostications. While rooted in analysis and based, in part, on last year’s performances, they’re supposed to be more fun than serious. Here are 12 things that probably won’t (but maybe will!) happen this season:
American League East
The Toronto Blue Jays will win the World Series.
Why it could happen: The Blue Jays went 46-28 — a 101-win pace — after firing manager Charlie Montoyo in July and replacing him with bench coach John Schneider. Toronto upgraded its outfield defense by trading Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Daulton Varsho and signing center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. The 26-year-old Varsho tied for first among outfielders in defensive runs saved, and the 32-year-old Kiermaier is a three-time Gold Glove winner. Toronto’s pitching staff, led by Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman, stands to benefit. FanGraphs gives Toronto the sixth-best odds to win the World Series.
Why it probably won’t: Toronto said goodbye to slugger Teoscar Hernández, who hit 57 home runs over the past two years. The Blue Jays’ potent offense, which led the majors in hitting and finished fourth in runs last year, could take a step back, especially if Vladimir Guerrero Jr. doesn’t return to his MVP-worthy numbers of 2021 and free agent acquisition Brandon Belt can’t stay healthy. The AL East figures to be among baseball’s most competitive divisions, making the path to the postseason and a potential first World Series title since 1993 difficult. The Blue Jays’ bullpen could be a weakness.
The Baltimore Orioles will make the playoffs.
Why it could happen: Manager Brandon Hyde’s club was one of the biggest surprises of 2022, finishing four games over .500 after Baltimore lost at least 108 games in each of its previous three full seasons. Rookie catcher Adley Rutschman was a big part of the Orioles’ resurgence, and top prospect Gunnar Henderson, who more than held his own after an August call-up, is slated to start every day at third base. Grayson Rodriguez, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, will begin the season in the minors but figures to spend most of the year in the big league rotation.
Why it probably won’t: For a team with aspirations of making a major leap forward after a long and painful rebuild, the Orioles didn’t take any big swings in free agency. While the future is bright, a last-place finish in a formidable division wouldn’t be surprising if Henderson, Rodriguez and the other inexperienced players on the roster struggle. FanGraphs gives the Orioles a 9.9 percent chance to make the postseason.
American League Central
Byron Buxton will be the AL MVP.
Why it could happen: In 153 games over the past two seasons, the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft posted a 150 OPS plus. That’s the eighth-best mark in baseball during that span, ranking the 29-year-old center fielder between Juan Soto and Guerrero Jr. Buxton earned his first All-Star Game nod and had 28 home runs and 51 RBI last year before undergoing season-ending arthroscopic knee surgery in August. The Minnesota Twins should compete for the division title after re-signing shortstop Carlos Correa. Manager Rocco Baldelli said he will try to keep Buxton fresh by occasionally using him as the designated hitter.
Why it probably won’t: While Buxton has been terrific when healthy in recent years, there’s little reason to believe his injury fortunes will change. His 92 games played last season were the most since he played 140 as a 23-year-old in 2017.
Triston McKenzie will win the AL Cy Young.
Why it could happen: Overshadowed by Cleveland Guardians ace Shane Bieber, McKenzie had a quietly stellar season, registering a 2.96 ERA and a 0.95 walks and hits per inning pitched. The 25-year-old, who boasts a wicked curveball, averaged only about one strikeout per inning in 2022, but he has strikeout stuff, as evidenced by the fact that he was one of five pitchers with three games of 12 strikeouts or more. After cutting his 2021 walk rate in half, McKenzie’s 4.32 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked 16th among qualified starters.
Why it probably won’t: McKenzie is prone to giving up the long ball, though 16 of the 25 home runs he allowed last season were solo shots. Hitters’ batting average on balls in play against McKenzie was .238, which was the third lowest in the majors among qualified starters, and his left-on-base percentage (80.3) ranked eighth, so some regression could be in order. McKenzie winning the Cy Young is even more unlikely after he was diagnosed with a muscle strain in his shoulder that could sideline him for up to eight weeks.
American League West
Corey Seager will win the batting title.
Why it could happen: After slumping to a career-worst .245 batting average in his first year with the Texas Rangers, there’s good reason to expect him to bounce back, beyond the fact that Seager posted a .295 average over his first six major league seasons. Perhaps no one stands to benefit more from baseball’s new rules banning the defensive shift than the 28-year-old left-handed hitter. According to Statcast, Seager pulled 107 groundballs into the shift, resulting in six hits. His .242 BABIP ranked 123rd out of 130 qualified hitters — and well below his career .317.
Why it probably won’t: Excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is the only player since 1901 to win a batting title one year after hitting under .250 in enough at-bats to qualify for the award. Anderson hit .240 in 2018 and an AL-best .335 in 2019.
The Los Angeles Angels will win the division.
Why it could happen: With Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout among the favorites to combine for their third AL MVP award in the past five years, the Angels are eyeing their first playoff berth since 2014, which is tied with the Detroit Tigers for MLB’s longest postseason drought. Trout hit 40 home runs in 119 games last season. Ohtani would have won his second consecutive MVP award if not for Aaron Judge’s historic year. Third baseman Anthony Rendon, who has been limited to 105 games over the past two seasons, is healthy — for now — and poised to bat cleanup in a lineup that added Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Drury.
Why it probably won’t: The defending World Series champion Houston Astros are still the Astros and are the favorites to win another division title. The Seattle Mariners, who ended what had been MLB’s longest playoff drought last season, look like postseason contenders again, and the Rangers should be more competitive after a busy offseason. The Angels’ young starting pitchers are promising but don’t have long track records of success.
National League East
J.T. Realmuto will be the NL MVP.
Why it could happen: Even with Bryce Harper out for at least the early part of the season after Tommy John surgery, the Philadelphia Phillies’ lineup is stacked. The World Series runners-up signed shortstop Trea Turner, who is likely to lead off, meaning Realmuto will have plenty of RBI opportunities. Realmuto overcame a slow start last season to hit .276 with 22 home runs and a career-high 21 stolen bases. He also threw out 44 percent of the runners who attempted to steal against him and finished seventh in MVP voting.
Why it probably won’t: Joe Mauer (AL, 2009) and Buster Posey (NL, 2012) are the only catchers to be an MVP in either league since Iván Rodríguez took AL honors in 1999. Turner, who shined at the World Baseball Classic, is the more likely MVP candidate on the roster. As the only player to start at least 120 games at catcher last season, the 32-year-old Realmuto could feel the effects of that heavy workload and his team’s deep playoff run.
The Atlanta Braves or New York Mets will miss the playoffs.
Why it could happen: The Braves lost shortstop Dansby Swanson in free agency and will start Orlando Arcia in his place after sending prospects Vaughn Grissom and Braden Shewmake to the minors. It’s a lot to expect NL rookie of the year Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider, the runner-up, to repeat their success of last year. The Mets could disappoint if their star-studded rotation starts showing its age. Max Scherzer will turn 39 in July, Justin Verlander is 40, José Quintana is 34, and Carlos Carrasco is 36. New York already lost lights-out closer Edwin Díaz to a knee injury suffered at the World Baseball Classic.
Why it probably won’t: Most projection systems give Atlanta and New York a better than 90 percent chance to reach the postseason. Both teams are so loaded with talent, including young prospects poised to step in if needed, that an injury or two isn’t going to derail them.
National League Central
The St. Louis Cardinals will finish below .500.
Why it could happen: The Cardinals outperformed expectations to win 93 games and the division title last year, and while they have the lineup to do it again, the rotation is suspect. Adam Wainwright, who turns 42 in August, posted a 4.69 ERA in 14 starts after the all-star break, and he will start the season on the injured list with a groin strain. Jordan Montgomery pitched well after being acquired from the New York Yankees at the trade deadline, and Miles Mikolas is coming off his best season since 2018, but Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz combined for only 18 starts because of injuries.
Why it probably won’t: Outperforming expectations is what the Cardinals do. They have exceeded Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projections for their win total in nine straight years, and if that trend continues, put them down for at least 86 wins. St. Louis has finished above .500 each of the past 15 years.
The Milwaukee Brewers will lead the majors in wins.
Why it could happen: In Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers boast one of the best pitching duos in the majors, and Freddy Peralta is a solid No. 3. Rowdy Tellez hit 35 homers last year, and prospects Brice Turang, Sal Frelick and Garrett Mitchell appear ready to contribute. Free agent outfield acquisition Jesse Winker could be in store for a big season after a down year in Seattle.
Why it probably won’t: The Brewers are projected to win 84 and 87 games, per FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, and both project at least 10 teams to finish with more wins than Milwaukee. The offense could struggle if Winker doesn’t bounce back.
National League West
Brandon Pfaadt will be the NL rookie of the year.
Why it could happen: A fifth-round pick in 2020, Pfaadt led the minors in strikeouts with 218 in 167 innings across two levels last season and walked fewer than two batters per nine innings. The Arizona Diamondbacks prospect also posted a 2.63 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Pfaadt was recently optioned to the minors after a strong spring, but expect him to be called up sooner rather than later.
Why it probably won’t: Pfaadt isn’t the most likely rookie of the year on his own team. That would be outfielder Corbin Carroll, who posted an .830 OPS in 32 games last season and will have every opportunity to shine atop Arizona’s lineup.
Fernando Tatis Jr. will lead the NL in homers.
Why it could happen: Tatis hit 42 home runs in 130 games for the San Diego Padres in 2021. He says he’s fully healthy after missing all of last season with a broken left wrist and a performance-enhancing drug suspension.
Why it probably won’t: Tatis is suspended for the first 20 games of the season, giving the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Pete Alonso and Austin Riley a nearly one-month head start in the homer race. Because of some bad injury luck and poor decisions, Tatis hasn’t been able to stay on the field early in his career. The 24-year-old has undergone two surgeries on his wrist and a surgery on his shoulder since he last played a regular season game, so it could take him a while to regain his form.