One of the keys to thriving in any sort of endeavor is managing your own expectations. If you go into a movie thinking it’s going to be the greatest movie you’ve ever seen, you’re bound to be disappointed; if you go into it thinking it’s going to be terrible, you might be pleasantly surprised. Even if, in fact, it’s the exact same movie either way. How we perceive success, in many ways, in fact defines success.
Thus, as we approach the 2022 season, it is perhaps instructive to look at the expectations for each team this year. At a certain level, every team wants to win the World Series, every year; no one goes out on the field not to do that, after all. But we’re talking realistic expectations. We’re talking the sort of success that, when you look back at the season when it’s over, fans can say, “That was a successful year for our team.”
So what are the reasonable expectations for every team this year? Let’s take a look:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Win an AL East title
The way the Blue Jays are gearing up for this year, you’d think it’s World Series or bust. But, you know, one step at a time. The Jays have won one AL East title in the last 30 years (2015), and they haven’t won a postseason game since '16. This is going to be one of the most difficult divisions in baseball. Winning it will be a nearly unprecedented achievement in Blue Jays history, no matter what happens in the postseason.
Orioles: Take an obvious step forward
The Orioles are still seemingly early on in their ongoing rebuilding process. While clear progress has been made in seeding talent throughout the O's farm system, there’s still a long way to go on the big league front -- particularly with the gauntlet that is this division. The Orioles have lost at least 108 games each of the last three full seasons. It wouldn’t seem like asking too much for the Birds not to lose 100 games this time through. But it would represent a substantial step forward.
Rays: Get back to the postseason, at least
The Rays are projected for third place in the AL East by Fangraphs’ Playoff Odds, which is lower than this team usually is slated … and lower than where they seemingly always finish. The aggression of the Blue Jays has changed the dynamics of this division; defending their AL East crown is an even taller order this year. But a playoff appearance is a reasonable floor to end up reaching, no?
Red Sox: An October appearance, and some forward momentum
This is still a team that reached the AL Championship Series last year, and this is a fanbase that’s never going to let off the gas. There was some concern that the Red Sox were going to sit idly by and watch the rest of the division make moves, but the addition of Trevor Story put to rest those fears. But with that move comes pressure, not just on Story, but the entire organization.
Yankees: Reach a World Series, finally
The Yankees might not necessarily be acting like a team that’s desperate for a World Series, but they probably should be. Seriously: It has been since 2009. What are we, the Phillies or something all of a sudden? There are kids in middle school who have not seen the Yankees in the World Series. In what Yankees universe is this acceptable?
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Guardians: Pivot back over .500
That might seem a little unambitious for a team that finished under .500 last year for the first time since 2012, but Cleveland hasn’t shown much impetus to floor it in its first year under its new nickname. There’s still plenty of pitching here, and this division isn’t exactly a juggernaut, but let’s not get carried away. Let’s get back above .500 first.
Royals: Get a good glimpse of the core
Bringing in Zack Greinke feels like a nostalgia acquisition, but he’s still a solid guy to have in your rotation -- and he’s also going to be as entertaining as ever. The Royals have some talent, but not enough, it would seem, to seriously challenge the White Sox -- let alone stave off everyone else in the division. But they should be respectable enough to stay out of last place … and hopefully get a good look at Bobby Witt Jr., baseball’s top prospect, along with some of their other top prospects.
Tigers: Clear, continued progress
I know the Tigers were one of those late-season chic picks, and they did look a lot better last year than they had in a while. But it’s still probably smart to pump the brakes a little bit here. Fangraphs has them finishing last in the AL Central. While that’s probably underselling them, it still feels like this team has farther to go than is currently the conventional wisdom. One step at a time here. The Tigers haven’t been over .500 since 2016. Start there.
Twins: Make last season forever forgotten
The Twins have acted in the exact opposite fashion of a team that just lost 89 games, but this is what you want from your team: To act like a bad season is a fluke, rather than a reason to start over. The Twins have obviously done the former: You don’t bring in Carlos Correa -- not to mention Gary Sánchez and Sonny Gray -- just to get back to .500. The Twins are trying to win the division. They’ve put themselves in a place to have a chance.
White Sox: Get off the playoff series schneid
Last year’s postseason was an undeniable disappointment: The White Sox were out of that Astros series before most realized they were even in it. For all the positive moves they’ve made, for all the strength they’ve shown in this division, the Sox still haven’t won a postseason series since the 2005 World Series. Suffice it to say, it’s time. A top-two seed is a reasonable goal, but that won’t mean anything if they don’t finally advance.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: End the Mike Trout 'curse'
There are few more dispiriting factoids in baseball than the fact that Mike Trout still has never won a postseason game. Everything the Angels do needs to point to making that factoid vanish from the face of the earth. Pitching, more bats, better defense, whatever it takes. Just get it done.
Astros: Win the division … again
It’s still up in the air how whole this team will be after Carlos Correa's exodus, but the 2021 AL pennant winners are still the favorites in this division -- and for good reason. There’s enough talent here to seed a whole new era of Astros division dominance. This is a terrific year to keep the transition going.
Athletics: Remind the world they know what they are doing
The A’s are clearly, uh, going through some stuff this year. But this is still a smart franchise run by smart people who are not emptying out their Major League roster for no ultimate end. These A’s rebuilds tend to be shorter than other teams’ rebuilds, and staying out of last in a rebuilding year would be a good proof-of-concept moving forward.
Mariners: Make this the year, please
This one isn’t complicated. It has been 21 years. It’s the longest playoff drought in North American professional sports. Get it done. Please. This has gone on long enough.
Rangers: Prove the moves were worth it
The Rangers have been as aggressive as anyone in baseball this offseason, signing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to megadeals. But there’s no question, they still have a long way to go. But you’ve got to start somewhere. They haven’t had a winning season since recording 95 wins in 2016. Their high since then has been 78, accomplished in both '17 and '19. That’s a fair target to aim toward.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Show Olson was the right choice
It’s excessive to ask the Braves to win the World Series again, not that Braves fans would mind. But even if you don’t go all the way this year, the last thing you want after not re-signing franchise icon Freddie Freeman -- and trading for Matt Olson -- the year after winning the World Series with him, is not to make the postseason at all.
Marlins: Take a step forward and get above .500
Other than the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Marlins haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2009. There are still some questions about this franchise in both the short and long term, but there’s enough young pitching here to at least make a run at .500.
Mets: Win the division, for starters
Clearly, the new owner is in it to win it, in that he’s basically judging all his moves by whether or not they ultimately take home the Commissioner’s Trophy. But in the short term, a division title would be an excellent way to show that the Steve Cohen Era of the Mets is off to a roaring start.
Nationals: Stay frisky, and figure out the next step
The Nats are still in a bit of a transitional period, in a strange spot where they are both focusing on young players and also signing Nelson Cruz. The health of that rotation is all that matters here. While that’s a lot to count on, there’s also enough talent -- and enough Juan Soto -- to at least shoot for the middle of this division, yes?
Phillies: Get these fans some October baseball
Obviously, this division, and really this whole National League, is awfully crowded. But there is no team this side of the Mariners that needs to make the playoffs more than the Phillies -- a franchise that stripped itself down to the studs for a rebuild, paid a ton of money for top-shelf free agents and has a famously impatient fanbase that is very riled up right now. The Phillies need to show their fans something -- and they need to show it right now.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Win more than just the division
Remember when the Brewers took the Dodgers to seven games in the NLCS back in 2018? When they were that close to making their first World Series since 1982? Well, their series sweep in the NL Division Series against the Rockies that year was the last playoff series they won. They’ve lost two NL Wild Card Games and an NLDS to Atlanta in that time. The projection systems like them to win the NL Central this year. It’s about time for that not to be enough.
Cardinals: Take back the Central
The Cardinals last won the World Series in 2011, and then won the NL Central three of the next four years. They’ve only won it once since. They’ve made the playoffs three consecutive seasons, but this is supposed to be the Cardinals’ division. It sure hasn’t felt that way for the last decade.
Cubs: Show that the dip will be brief
The Cubs finished over .500 every season from 2014 through 2020, before bottoming out and trading most of their stars away last year. A terrific way to show that this current valley isn’t going to last nearly as long as the last one did would be to start a new above-.500 streak.
Pirates: Bounce back with a purpose
Last year was the Pirates’ first 100-loss season since 2010 (and their third this century). One 100-loss season every decade is already too many. Pirates fans need a reason to believe. Avoiding such ignominy would be at least a baby step forward.
Reds: Show the plan isn’t a bad one
The Reds’ recent run of moves might not have been as long-term terrible as many yelped when they happened, but they certainly demoralized a section of the fanbase. They’re better than the Pirates: It’d be nice to make sure the record reflects that.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Remind the world of your resourcefulness
The bottom has fallen out on the D-backs after some surprising contention a couple of years ago. But it still feels like a long road back, particularly in this division. This team does have a recent track record of outplaying expectations, so don’t be surprised if it happens again.
Dodgers: Win the World Series, obviously
The only team in the Majors for which anything less, at this point, will feel like a massive disappointment.
Giants: Show last year was not a fluke
Considering what the Dodgers have done -- not to mention what the Giants have lost -- expecting 107 wins and another division title is downright excessive. But getting back to the postseason, during what still sort of feels like a period of transition for the team, would show just how resilient the Giants organization has become.
Padres: Don’t let bad news slow the momentum
Last year was obviously a disappointment -- and Fernando Tatis’ injury certainly doesn’t help matters. But there’s still enough of an all-in vibe for this franchise that the postseason shouldn’t just be the aspiration: It should be the expectation.
Rockies: Bryant helps prove the doubters wrong
The playoffs feel too ambitious, if you ask me. But if you sign Kris Bryant, you obviously feel differently. And therefore, your fans have every right to feel the same thing.