April 7, 2022
Winner: Tampa Bay
Wild Card: Toronto
Wild Card: Boston
Toronto has a loaded lineup, what could be a pretty good infield defense and an imported rotation full of veterans who they hope will stay healthy surrounding top prospect Alek Manoah. The bullpen is full of names that might mean something to their parole officers, but nothing to me. But that’s most bullpens, these days. It’s hard to keep track of 250 guys who all throw 50-60 innings.
A name to remember: Alejandro Kirk, a 5-8, 265 pound third-string catcher who might get 400-500 atbats at DH. He’ll get on base and he has some power, and with those measurements he’ll be fun to watch.
Boston’s lineup looks thin to me, the sort of lineup where Chuck Tanner would say, “if they all have good years, we’ll win.” The pitching staff, same thing. The Red Sox have lots of money, so they can import help. But they don’t look like a World Series contender at the moment.
A name to remember: Chris Sale is battling back from broken ribs, and a lot of pundits have written him off as a broken-down has-been. But he can still hit 96-97, he still dominated last year when he was healthy, and he’s shown in the past that he can get people out throwing at 91-92. He just turned 33 (last week) but I think he has 8-10 more years in him. And a place in Cooperstown waiting.
New York’s outfielders are freaking HUGE. Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are all at least 6-5, 250+ pounds. If they play every day, that group will walk 300 times, strike out 600 times and hit about 120 home runs. Centerfielder Aaron Hicks is 32 years old and not all that spry himself; Marwin Gonzalez might wind up playing out there a lot.
Other than Gerrit Cole, nothing about this team screams “juggernaut.” I think the Yankees might squeak into the playoffs because they can spend for whatever they need and half the league is tanking. But it’s not a good team.
A name to remember: Marwin Gonzalez might wind up with 600 atbats. That’s not a good thing; he’s mediocre at best at this point in his career.
Tampa Bay is a good team. The pitching staff is loaded with talent and depth, the lineup is deep, the defense looks solid and Wander Franco is the game’s best prospect. Brandon Lowe might be a good sleeper pick for AL MVP.
A name to remember: Shane Baz won’t get more than 120 innings or so, maybe 150 if things go amazingly well, but he’s a future lockdown ace.
Baltimore will start showing signs of life this year, as the best of the expansion-type standouts from 2021 (Mullins, Means, Mountcastle, Mancini) are joined by their near-ready cadre of top prospects, the fruit of the tanking tree planted in 2018.
Names to remember: Catcher Adley Rutschman is ready for the majors, but he tweaked his triceps and won’t be up until May or June. He’s not going to be the next Mike Piazza or anything, but he’ll hit with power and draw lots of walks. He doesn’t have a fast bat, so don’t expect a high batting average. But 25 home runs and 80 walks might be his typical season.
I think Grayson Rodriguez is already better than 95 percent of major league pitchers, and that might be conservative. He struck out 162 in 103 innings in 2021, mostly in AA.
He leads with a steady 95 mph 2-seam fastball that he occasionally cross-seams to hit 98-99; he backs the heaters up with a wipeout slider and a low-rotation, high swing-and-miss changeup. An inconsistent overhand curve and the high number of changeups means he’ll give up some home runs, but his control is already terrific and his command is improving.
He’s going to be a Curt Schilling type of pitcher, lots of strikeouts, few walks, some home runs, hopefully health and durability. A star.
Wild Card: none
Chicago White Sox head a surprisingly feisty division. With some health luck, the Sox could have the best pitching staff in the AL and the lineup has a happy mix of upside and steady veteran production. The defense should be ok; Josh Harrison is a gold glove quality second baseman, Tim Anderson can pick it at short and Luis Robert can still run in center.
Name to remember: Eloy Jiménez. In his first 668 major league plate appearances, Eloy hit .276 with 45 home runs, 120 runs batted in. He missed most of last year, but he’s only 25 years old and healthy now. He needs better bat control to be a superstar, but he could win the 2022 AL home run title.
Cleveland has a couple of superstars but lacks depth, plus one of the superstars (Shane Bieber) isn’t fully healthy. For the last couple of years, they’ve feasted on the dregs at the bottom of the division, but the division isn’t dog meat anymore.
I think the Guardians will finish at the bottom of this particular Galax—no, I can’t finish that, too cheap and obvious. But a Chris Pratt-fall shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Name to remember: Triston McKenzie is a 6-6 stick figure, skinnier than a bulimic at fat camp, with electric stuff and rapidly improving command. In his final 10 starts he gave up 38 hits in 56.2 innings, striking out 57 and walking just 13. I don’t expect him to be that effective (his babip was really low), but he should be the Guardians’ number two starter going forward.
Kansas City is an interesting mix of old farts (Zack Greinke), aging how-the-hells (Sal Perez), veterans who used to supposed to be good (Andrew Benintendi) or actually were good (Whit Merrifield) and some youngsters who are supposed to be the Next Great something or other.
The team will likely live or die by the development of its young pitchers; Brady Singer and Brad Keller, in particular, need to get less sloppy and more consistent. But the pieces are there for a run at one of the final wild card slots.
Name to remember: Bobby Witt Jr. is the obvious one. He’s going to play third base and serve as the frontrunner for the AL Rookie of the Year award. I think .265 with 28 home runs and 15 or so stolen bases is a reasonable estimate.
I don’t think he’s going to be a superstar down the road (he’s more Mike Moustakas than George Brett) but he’ll be a regular for a decade, maybe longer.
Detroit added some veteran help to make a run for the playoffs this year, too. The sense I get is that a lot of teams see the Yanks and the Sox as down at the moment, so there’s opportunity this season.
The pitching staff is talented but not established, so things have to go right there. The lineup isn’t going to scare off the 1927 Yankees, but it’s above the expansion-level line it was the past couple of years.
Name to remember: Eduardo Rodriguez junked his curveball and improved his other pitches, leading to career-high strikeout and walk ratios. He gets to pitch without the Green Monster 10 feet behind his right shoulder, where he can get away with changeups to righthanded batters.
He’s been a rotation regular in two of the past three seasons and posted a career low FIP in 2021 as well. Toss a fin on him at 500/1 in the Cy Young voting; you never know.
Name to forget (for now, anyway): Spencer Torkelson was the top overall pick in 2020 and the Tigers are rushing him up the chain like he’s on a donor list. He’s pretty good – A Rhys Hoskins type, a low-average slugger who will take some walks – but he hit .238 in AAA in 2021. He’s going to hit .220 if he’s doing WELL. He’ll hit home runs and draw walks, so he’ll be good enough to play. But he’s more Andrew Vaughn than Anthony Rizzo at this point.
Aside: Does anybody else use the phrase, “working off a dead horse” to describe paying off the debt on something you bought on credit, but no longer use? If you look that phrase up in the dictionary, there’s a picture of Miguel Cabrera.
Minnesota finished last in 2021 after winning the division in 2019 and 2020. Is there a dead cat bounce in them in 2022? They’ve been making all sorts of moves, bringing in players who they must expect to help them. They aren’t tanking.
But some of the moves are head-scratchers. They brought in Gary Sanchez after trading away a player just like Sanchez, except better. They signed Carlos Correa, a guy with a huge rep that isn’t matched by his production. They let Jose Berrios go and replaced him with Sonny Gray, who is a poor man’s Berrios on his best days.
The combination of moves reminds me of Bill Bavasi with the Mariners, when he traded off all his assets for a bunch of beans and a can of creamed corn before leaving the Let’s Make a Deal stage wearing a barrel
Name to remember: Far from madding pennant race, Luis Arraez might contend for the batting title. Let’s pencil him in for .340. He hasn’t shown any power yet, but he’s a stocky guy who should develop power eventually. He’s still young; he turns 25 in a couple of days.
Wild Card: Seattle
Houston has the right mix of young hitters, veteran studs, quality depth and organizational smarts to keep this going for a while. For this year, Justin Verlander might be the key; if he’s healthy and still something approaching what he was at 37, now at 39, it allows the rest of the pitching staff to fall into place.
If he’s not, the pitching will be deep but lack a top-end anchor. The lineup is one of the best in the AL; defending batting champ Yuli Gurriel might not be one of their best five hitters.
Name to remember: Kyle Tucker is as good a pick as any to win the AL MVP. He turned 25 in January; his per-162 for 2020 and 2021 is .287, 32 hr and 110 rbis, 95 runs scored and 22 steals.
Seattle just missed last season and improved themselves quite a bit over the winter. They added Cy Young winner Robby Ray to the front end of their talented young pitching staff, plus they brought in Eugenio Suarez to replace Stewie at third and Jesse Winker to bolster the middle of the order.
More importantly, their talented cadre of prospects look like they are mostly major league-ready. The noise is in the outfield – noise that I’ll add to in a minute – but the signal is going to come from the rotation.
If Logan Gilbert, Chris Flaxen and Matt Brash are as good as I think they can be, the M’s could dethrone the Astros for the division title and (bites nails) … have a puncher’s chance at the World Series.
It’s going to be a fun summer for a team that hasn’t given us very many of those; the Mariners haven’t been in the playoffs since their 116-win 2001 season, the longest drought in the major leagues.
The M’s have been in the league since 1977, 45 seasons, but all of their playoff appearances came in a 7-year stretch between 1995 and 2001.
Name to remember: Julio is getting all the hype this spring, but don’t forget Jarred Kelenic. He went 3-4 with a home run in his second career game, and then hit .082 in his next 110 atbats, .131 in his next 191. From July 30 to the end of the season his slugging percentage was .455.
He needs to cut the strikeouts down some, but Kelenic draws walks at a good pace and his isolated power was at an elite level in the second half. He won’t have another .219 babip, and he’s still just 22 years old.
And, of course: Julio Rodriquez was the sensation of Spring Training with his crazy power and athleticism. I think he’s the new George Springer, and young enough to make us forget the old one. For one thing, Springer didn’t make the show until he was 25.
Julio is 21. Rodriguez ain’t going to be a centerfielder for long (he’s built like a young Dave Parker) but he has more than enough arm to be a really good rightfielder. Maybe he’s the new Dave Parker?
Don’t expect him to hit 40 home runs, though, not this year. He’s still learning how to hit for power consistently; If he gets 600 Plate appearances, I think he’ll hit .270 or so with 20-25 home runs. Expect Kelenic to hit more home runs.
Go win some bar bets with that one; M’s fans are suckers (I hope my brother isn’t reading this).
The Disneyland Angels are a hard case, a team that could win a wild card or stink-bomb their way to a 75-87 season. The top-end talent is as good as any in the game; Mike Trout was the best player of the 2010s, and Shohei Ohtani might be the best player of the 2020s. The pitching staff has talent, and there are several could-be-greats in the lineup, including former MVP candidate Anthony Rendon.
But it’s not a deep roster. Rendon hasn’t been great since he was in DC (2019) and the pitching staff is filled with reclamation projects. The Great White Hope of the bunch is Noah Syndergaard, a man of many talents but few accomplishments over a long career of standing up every pitching coach who dared date him. Trout played 36 games in 2021 and hasn’t played 140 games in a season since Obama was President
Name to remember: Joe Adell is a post-hype sleeper who had a strong spring. He doesn’t walk and he strikes out a bunch, but he has legit power and his plate control is improving. I expect a .240-.260 batting average but 30 home runs.
Texas brought in a lot of veteran talent over the winter for a team that is supposed to be rebuilding. Jon Gray, Mitch Garver, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager … these are the types of veterans who wind up on contending teams. Had they sat tight, I’d have projected them to lose about 70 percent of their games that weren’t against the A’s. Now they might win 75 games or so
Name to remember: Jon Gray comes from Colorado, something that in and of itself isn’t as happy as you’d think. Former Rockies pitchers have a spotty record after leaving the mile high atmosphere, and Gray has mostly pitched better in Colorado than on the road.
But he added a sweeping slider (think Rich Hill’s sweepy sweeper) this spring that seems to have changed the game for him. It’s a pitch you can’t throw in the light Colorado air.
Other than 2020, Gray has been durable and consistent for several years. He’s 30- years old and he still throws 95. And his best pitch has generally been a tighter slider that he used in Colorado. He could be more same-same, or he could be great.
Oakland traded off or sold all of its good players except for Frankie Montas, who will most likely wind up elsewhere by the end of May. This, folks is how you tank. Credit Billy Beane for being thorough (pronounced “THUR-uh”) about it. He ain’t hiding his intentions.
The A’s will almost certainly be the worst team in the major leagues.
Name to remember: Whoever they draft first overall in June, 2023.
So who’s going to win the AL this year? How in the hell would I know?
Seriously, some odds I’d be willing to pay:
75/1 Angels, Royals
100/1 Tigers, Twins
500/1 Guardians, Rangers
1,000,000,000/1 still not the A’s
1. Vladdie Guerrero Jr.
2. Shohei Ohtani
3. Bo Bichette
4. Kyle Tucker
5. Mike Trout
Wild card picks: Brandon Lowe, Jarred Kelenic
Cy Young race:
1. Lucas Giolito
2. Gerrit Cole
3. Justin Verlander
4. Robby Ray
5. Alek Manoah
Wild card picks: Eduardo Rodriguez, Dylan Cease
Rookie of the Year:
1. Bobby Witt Jr.
2. Julio Rodriguez
3. The Wrath of Kwan
4. Grayson Rodriguez
5. Adley Rutschman