Experts pick division winners, World Series champion
Every season has its share of surprises that no one saw coming. Just take 2021 for example, when an 88-win Braves team that lost its best player to a season-ending injury in July took down a 106-win Dodgers team in the NLCS and defeated the Astros in the World Series.
With the postseason field expanding in 2022, things could get even more unpredictable, but we asked our prognosticators to give it their best shot. A panel of 73 MLB.com experts submitted their votes for each division winner and the Wild Card teams in both the American League and the National League, plus the two pennant winners and the World Series champion. Here are the results.
AL East: Blue Jays
The AL East made history in 2021, becoming the first division in the Wild Card era (since 1995) and the second in the divisional era (since 1969) to have four teams with 90 or more wins. Despite going 91-71, the Blue Jays were left out of the postseason field. The division is stacked again this season, but the majority of MLB.com voters think Toronto is ready to ascend.
Led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, George Springer, Teoscar Hernández and newly acquired third baseman Matt Chapman, Toronto should have one of baseball’s best offenses, even after losing Marcus Semien to the Rangers in free agency. The Blue Jays also lost AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray and Steven Matz from their rotation, but they signed Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi to replace them and will have José Berríos and Alex Manoah for a full season, potentially giving the club an improved pitching staff.
AL Central: White Sox
No team won its division by more games last season than the White Sox, who outpaced the second-place Guardians by 13 games. With the Twins adding Carlos Correa and Sonny Gray; Javier Báez, Eduardo Rodriguez and 2020 No. 1 overall Draft pick Spencer Torkelson (MLB's No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline) joining the Tigers; and Bobby Witt Jr. (MLB’s No. 1 prospect) set to debut for the Royals, the AL Central could be more competitive in 2022 -- but our panel sees Chicago taking the crown again.
It’s not hard to see why the White Sox received so much support in our poll. They have an excellent nucleus in place; added veterans AJ Pollock, Josh Harrison and Kendall Graveman; and could receive greater contributions from Luis Robert, Eloy Jiménez, Michael Kopech and Andrew Vaughn in 2022.
AL West: Astros
Despite losing Gerrit Cole, George Springer, Charlie Morton and others to free agency in recent years, the Astros have managed to keep their title window open, and our voters don’t think Correa’s departure will stop this train from rolling.
Houston reached the World Series last season for the third time in five years, and though its All-Star shortstop is gone, the club still has the talent to make noise again in 2022, especially if Justin Verlander returns to form after missing all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
AL Wild Cards: Rays, Red Sox, Yankees
Does the AL East have another big year in store? Our voters certainly think so, picking four teams from the division to grab postseason spots.
After reaching the World Series in 2020, the Rays won a franchise-record 100 games a season ago en route to a division title, and wunderkind shortstop Wander Franco has the small-market club poised to earn another postseason berth. After debuting last June at the age of 20, MLB’s former No. 1 overall prospect put together a historic 43-game on-base streak and finished his rookie season with a 129 OPS+, then signed an 11-year, $182 million contract -- the richest deal in franchise history.
Boston bounced back from a last-place finish during the shortened 2020 season to earn a Wild Card spot and nearly went on a storybook march to the World Series last year. The Red Sox defeated the rival Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game at Fenway Park before knocking off Tampa Bay in the ALDS and playing Houston tough in the ALCS. Boston now has Trevor Story at second base after signing the longtime Rockies shortstop to a six-year, $140 million deal in March.
The Yankees traded for Josh Donaldson, but they were uncharacteristically quiet when it came to the free-agent market. Instead, they’re counting on rebound seasons from holdovers such as DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres and Joey Gallo and looking for Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks to come back strong from injuries.
AL champion: Blue Jays
It’s been nearly three decades since the Blue Jays last reached the World Series and won back-to-back championships in 1992-93. Toronto came close in 2015 and '16, making the ALCS in each year but losing to Kansas City and Cleveland, respectively. Our panel thinks this is the year the drought ends, with the majority of voters predicting Vlad Jr., Bo and Co. will reach the Fall Classic.
NL East: Braves
It would have been easy for the Braves to wave the white flag after superstar outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. suffered a torn ACL last July, but the team didn’t do that. Bolstered by its trades for Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson, Atlanta went on a magical run that resulted in the franchise’s first World Series championship since 1995. Most of the club’s key players are back to defend the title, with one glaring exception: first baseman Freddie Freeman, who now wears Dodger Blue.
The loss of Freeman will take some time to get over, but the Braves have a capable replacement in Matt Olson, who was acquired from the A’s and signed to an eight-year, $168 million deal. Acuña is expected to return in May, which could give Atlanta enough firepower to hold off the other challengers in what should be an ultra-competitive NL East.
NL Central: Brewers
Milwaukee earned its fourth straight postseason berth in 2021, winning the NL Central on the strength of an impressive pitching staff led by a trio of aces in NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta and a shutdown closer in Josh Hader.
Our expert panel expects the Crew to do it again, but for that to come to fruition, the club may need to get more production from 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, who has hit .234/.360/.392 with 21 homers in 175 games over the past two seasons.
NL West: Dodgers
It’s hard to lose the talent Los Angeles just did -- Max Scherzer, Corey Seager and Kenley Jansen are all gone -- and not miss a beat. But if any team can do it, it’s the Dodgers, who not only have the infrastructure to keep churning out stars from within but also the financial might to add the necessary reinforcements. Trea Turner, acquired from the Nationals in the same deal that brought Scherzer to Los Angeles at the 2021 Trade Deadline, has moved over to shortstop to replace Seager, and the Dodgers re-signed Chris Taylor and Clayton Kershaw before inking Freeman to a six-year, $162 million deal.
It took a 107-win season by the Giants to snap the Dodgers' eight-year streak of division titles, but our experts think L.A. will be back on top in 2022.
NL Wild Cards: Giants, Mets, Padres
Although there’s an extra Wild Card this year, the field of teams vying for the three spots could be crowded. The Cardinals remain a contender after winning the second NL Wild Card spot last season, and the Phillies, Marlins, Nationals and Cubs all made improvements, but MLB.com's experts picked the Giants, Mets and Padres to emerge from the pack.
Coming off a franchise-record 107 wins, San Francisco had a lot of work to do after Buster Posey retired and Kris Bryant reached free agency along with four-fifths of its rotation. The Giants brought back Brandon Belt, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood and signed Carlos Rodón, Alex Cobb, Matthew Boyd and Pederson. Joey Bart, MLB’s No. 31 prospect, is set to take over catching duties.
The Mets’ postseason chances took a hit with the news that ace Jacob deGrom was being shut down from throwing for four weeks after an MRI revealed a stress reaction in his right scapula, but the team’s offseason moves make it better equipped to handle a deGrom injury than it was last year, when he threw only 92 innings. New York added Scherzer and Chris Bassitt to its rotation and addressed its offense with the additions of Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha.
On the subject of injured stars, Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is expected to miss several months after undergoing surgery on his fractured left wrist. Tatis’ injury came on the heels of San Diego’s epic collapse last season, when the club closed the year on a 12-34 run. But the Friars still have an abundance of talent, especially on the pitching side, with new acquisitions Sean Manaea and Nick Martinez, prospect MacKenzie Gore and the returning Mike Clevinger joining Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell and Chris Paddack in the team’s stable of arms.
NL champion: Dodgers
The Dodgers in the World Series has become a familiar sight for baseball fans: Los Angeles has represented the NL in the Fall Classic in three of the past five years. The Dodgers have seemingly positioned themselves to make another run in 2022.
World Series champion: Dodgers
This team has stars all over the diamond -- including four former MVPs in Freeman, Kershaw, Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger -- and is hungry for another championship after falling short a year ago. Our experts see the Dodgers prevailing in a World Series matchup against the Blue Jays and raising the trophy for the second time in three years.