The 8 tiers of contenders for 2022

March 27th, 2022

The 2022 season is scheduled to begin on April 7, and for the second year in a row, we feel grateful that all 30 teams are scheduled to play 162 games. After everything that has happened since 2019, it’s no longer something we take for granted. It’s something we value highly.

Over those 162 games, we’re going to learn a lot about who’s strong and who isn’t, who’s going to win and who is not. Some of that we feel pretty confident we know already. Some of it is going to be a surprise; surely you remember how things began and ended for the 2021 Giants and Twins, right?

So, as we did last year, let’s look ahead to the season by splitting those 30 teams into what we’ve decided will be eight subjective tiers, grouping similar teams together in descending order of awesomeness. As we said last year, it is not a 1-to-30 power ranking, because there’s not necessarily a ton of difference within a tier. (Teams will be ranked alphabetically for just that reason.) It’s a look at where teams stand, right now, in our view. We’re excited to find out where we’re wrong. We're sure you will tell us.

Tier 1: The cheese stands alone.

  • Dodgers

Yes, we get it, Atlanta fans. The Braves won the World Series. The Dodgers did not. Totally fair. And yet: there hasn’t been a repeat World Series champion in more than two decades, since the 1998-00 Yankees. Winning a ring doesn’t automatically make you next year’s favorites. It just makes you last year’s champs.

The Dodgers … are not a perfect team, because there’s no such thing. They didn’t even win the division last year, with tongue planted extremely in cheek, because, you know, they did win 106 games, even with an endless run of rotation injuries and the worst year of Cody Bellinger’s life. For most teams, losing Corey Seager and Kenley Jansen to free agency would be a crushing blow. For the Dodgers, they just went out and got Freddie Freeman instead.

He’s one of four MVPs on the roster, on a team that’s won 56 more games than any other NL club over the last five years, atop a farm system that is among baseball's best. They’re projected to win 101 games by at least one outlet, and that’s not even “if everything goes right,” that’s just “a reasonable expectation.” It’s a good time to be a Dodger fan. A really, really good time.

Tier 2: World Series or bust.

  • Astros
  • Blue Jays
  • Braves
  • Mets
  • Rays
  • White Sox
  • Yankees

The Dodgers, of course, are hardly the only team with title aspirations. This second group, the largest of any of our tiers, features teams that won as few as 77 (Mets) and as many as 100 (Rays) last season, but of course we’re not just making a list of “2021’s standings,” are we? Whether it’s returning talent, new imports or both, these teams are all focused on October glory.

The Astros … keep losing key pieces, like Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel and George Springer, to say nothing of their manager and general manager, and yet the machine just keeps on humming along. None of those losses stopped them from winning 95 games last year – this time, without the injured Justin Verlander – but their latest loss, that of Carlos Correa, might be the most difficult of all to overcome. It’s not that rookie Jeremy Peña can’t step in; he is, after all, highly regarded. But he’s not Carlos Correa, is he?

And yet: Verlander is back, and was hitting 95 mph regularly in his first spring start. They have six starting options, plus another when Lance McCullers Jr. is healthy. The offense is projected to score the seventh-most runs, and the pitching is projected to have the seventh-best ERA. Alex Bregman sounds healthy after a down, injury-plagued year. This might not be the Astros at the peak of their powers, but this club has still been in the playoffs five years in a row. Someday, that streak will end. We’re guessing it won’t be this year.

The Blue Jays … may have “won the offseason,” for whatever that is worth, though we’d advise offering at least a little bit of caution, because 2022 Matt Chapman and Kevin Gausman may not be as good as 2021 Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray. Really, though, who are we kidding? After two years of nomadic travels through the baseball world, the Jays not only get to play a full, regular schedule at home, they might actually have earned an advantage given the uncertainty about which opposing unvaccinated players will be allowed to enter Canada.

You look at the lineup, with a healthy George Springer joining Vlad, Bo and the gang. You look at the rotation, with José Berríos and Alek Manoah around Gausman, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Yusei Kikuchi. You look at how Chapman will solidify a below-average infield defense. You look at how the bullpen, while imperfect, has papered over some of 2021’s craters. You see the Blue Jays projected to win the second-most games in baseball, and you get it. You really do.

The Braves … just won the World Series. We all saw it; you can’t un-see it. They also won only 88 games in the regular season, had their young superstar outfielder blow out his knee, chose not to re-sign franchise icon Freddie Freeman, had Charlie Morton break his leg in the World Series and had much of their playoff-hero outfield reach free agency. There’s a lot happening here.

But there’s a lot of good happening too; yes, Freeman is gone, and so are short-time outfield heroes Jorge Soler and Joc Pederson, but that’s all a little easier to swallow when you replace Freeman with Matt Olson and add Kenley Jansen and Collin McHugh to what was already a very deep and good bullpen. Marcell Ozuna is back, for better or worse, and at various points, Morton, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mike Soroka will be too. As we wrote last year, “we'll probably all underestimate Atlanta in 2021, like we do, every year, and we'll end up regretting it.” Roll that one back, please.

The Mets … went 77-85 last year, and 26-34 in 2020, and haven’t won 90 games since 2015. But each year, we hype them up, because they have such a talented collection of players that then end up playing to less than the sum of their parts. Maybe this year will be different, because they are different. They have Buck Showalter at the helm, and Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte, Chris Bassitt and Adam Ottavino in the mix. They have reasonable hopes for more than they got last year from Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco and Jeff McNeil.

Oh, and they added some guy named Scherzer to front the rotation alongside Jacob deGrom. We don’t mean to minimize everyone else on this team, but the truth here is simple. If they get 360 or so innings from Scherzer and deGrom, the Mets will be fine, because they will be of the highest-caliber innings. If they don’t – and here it’s worth noting that Scherzer is 38 and missed time in 2021 with both groin and arm troubles, and that deGrom didn’t pitch after July 7 with his own arm trouble, though his spring debut went well – then none of the rest of it matters. It’s a lot of pressure to put on two of the most talented arms in the sport.

The Rays … look like they’re going to do the same thing they do every year, which is “win a ton of games despite a starting rotation lacking big names and a general lack of team star power,” except this year is slightly different, because this year is The Wander Franco Year. Franco, who just turned 21 on March 1, posted a 129 OPS+ in 70 games last year, tying a record for a player his age by reaching base in 43 consecutive games. This is going to be his first full season; he is already projected to be a star.

And yes, Tyler Glasnow is hurt, and Shane Baz is hurt, and Nick Anderson is hurt, and Luis Patiño may be hurt, and Corey Kluber has a recent track record of being hurt. But it’s sort of their whole deal to do an excellent job preventing runs while using 38 different pitchers, at least a dozen of whom you’ve never heard of. Throwing a dart at the board: We'll ask you to remember Colin Poche.

The White Sox … sailed their way into October last year, winning the Central by 13 games, and they’re projected to be the class of the division again in 2022. It’s not hard to see why, anyway; few teams can match the star power of a group with Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn, Luis Robert, Eloy Jiménez, Liam Hendriks, Jose Abreu, Yoán Moncada, Craig Kimbrel, Yasmani Grandal and the best reliever you don’t know, Aaron Bummer. They could have done little else besides bring last year’s team back and they’d still be very good.

Of course, that mostly is what they’ve done, aside from welcome but relatively minor moves for Josh Harrison, Joe Kelly and Kendall Graveman. The White Sox don’t really have a great answer at second base or right field, and the bottom third of the lineup feels short a bat, particularly one who hits lefty. This is a really very good team, especially on the mound. It just feels like they’re one step away from being a great team.

The Yankees … have such high standards that they have what cannot possibly be considered as anything other than a very, very good team – at least one projection system has them down for 91 wins – yet it’s still one that feels incomplete and somewhat disappointing. That might be what happens when you’re Literally The Yankees and don’t come away from a loaded market with Freddie Freeman, Matt Olson, any of the big shortstops available or any added rotation depth.

Which is not to say they did nothing, because they did several things, namely completely upending their infield by adding Josh Donaldson, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa, Anthony Rizzo and catcher Ben Rortvedt, shipping out Luke Voit, Gio Urshela and Gary Sánchez in the process. Simply moving Gleyber Torres to second base should improve their defense, and the healthy return of Luis Severino should reinforce their pitching. There’s so much to like here. It’s just hard to look at it all without thinking of what this winter could have been.

Tier 3: Solid contenders.

  • Brewers
  • Padres
  • Phillies
  • Red Sox

It’s not at all hard to see this quartet of teams making the playoffs, or going far within them if they do. After all, two of these teams won 92 or more games last year, and a third, the Padres, was universally considered to be a top contender, even if it didn’t work out. There’s just something about each of them that puts them ever so slightly behind our top tiers.

The Brewers … are absolutely loaded with pitching, just like they usually are. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta may be three of the top 25 starters in the game; Josh Hader and Devin Williams are two of the top 10 relievers in the game. There’s more than just them, of course, but just about any club would be thrilled to start there. The question, as always, is offense, after Milwaukee had just the 23rd-best slugging percentage last year. It was nice to add Andrew McCutchen and Hunter Renfroe, and trading Jackie Bradley Jr. ended up being some amount of addition by subtraction.

But the question here is the same as it’s been for the last two years: What are you getting from Christian Yelich, and what are you getting from Lorenzo Cain? And, since we just talked about five outfielders, will you get enough from a thin infield? The answer to those concerns may define how far the Brewers can go.

The Padres … didn’t find takers for Wil Myers or Eric Hosmer (though they did add Luke Voit and manager Bob Melvin), but they did lose Fernando Tatis Jr. for three months due to a fractured wrist, capping off what had been a frustratingly quiet winter for what seemed like it was going to be 2021’s loudest team. They are unquestionably talented, and adding Nick Martinez (from Japan) and Mike Clevinger (from injury) to a back-end group that includes Chris Paddack and Ryan Weathers should help them avoid the catastrophe that saw late-season starts going to Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez.

The real question, perhaps surprisingly given the names in their lineup, is whether they’ll hit enough, without Tatis, without Tommy Pham (signed with Reds), with more Ha-Seong Kim and continued Hosmer. Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth remain impact players, and a rotation fronted by Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove remains enviable. It’s not that hard to see everything clicking for this team. It would just be a lot easier with a full season of Tatis around.

The Phillies … are probably already sick of hearing about their extremely weak defense, but it’s a question that will absolutely dog them all season long until they prove it will not, because new additions Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos will surely slug, they just won’t bring much on the other side of the ball to support a unit that was already poor. Now: when you add those two to Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and Jean Segura, and if you get any sort of rebound from Alec Bohm or Didi Gregorius, maybe you don’t care. Maybe you just pound every other team into submission; a win is a win, whether it’s 2-1 or 10-9.

Really, it’s not the defense that is the biggest roadblock towards Philly’s potential success. It’s Zack Wheeler’s shoulder, which has slowed him this spring. It’s a bullpen that is built mostly on short-term deals to talented-but-not-always consistent veteran relievers. There’s a version of this where it works, where the offense pounds, a rotation led by Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez is very good, and the bullpen and defense only cause heartburn, not disaster. It can work. It’s just a lot of it has to work, because the fielding will not.

The Red Sox … didn’t add Freeman or Olson, but they did lose Chris Sale to a rib fracture, making for the third year in a row he will not be available on Opening Day. The rotation depth seems terrifyingly thin, though it’s pretty clear what they’re attempting to do behind Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck, which is to hope that multiple versions of veteran starters – Rich Hill, James Paxton, Michael Wacha – can kick in 60-80 good-enough innings at the various points of the year they are healthy enough to do so. It’s not exactly Toronto’s rotation or Tampa Bay’s pitching factory.

On the other hand, they did sign Trevor Story to add a third star to a formidable infield, which should be one of baseball’s best no matter what, and would likely be the best if Bobby Dalbec can routinely corral that top-end power he sometimes shows. Throw in J.D. Martinez, Alex Verdugo and Enrique Hernández, and this team will score runs. How many they can prevent will be the most interesting question.

Tier 4: The Giants zone.

  • Giants

We interrupt this ranking to delve into The Giants Zone, a very spooky area inhabited by a team that wildly outdid any reasonable expectations to win 107 games, then lost a big chunk of their roster, and now has the entire baseball world watching to see if they can do it again. There is only one team in The Giants Zone. That team is …

The Giants ... who are an absolutely impossible team to forecast. They did just win 107 games, after all. In many ways, that success seemed to be based on real, actionable changes, not just everything breaking the right way. But even if there’s still a lot to love here, everything did break the right way, didn’t it? It went so right that they could lose a dozen more games in 2022 – and still win 95 games!

So let's focus on what we know. Buster Posey retired, leaving catcher full of question marks. We know they completely reimagined their rotation around breakout ace Logan Webb, bringing in Carlos Rodón, Matthew Boyd and Alex Cobb around returnees Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani. We know that they didn’t really do much to reinforce the offense other than adding platoon bat Joc Pederson, meaning some of last year's shocking surprises (like Darin Ruf and LaMonte Wade Jr.) need to do it again. We are confident they’ll be good, that much of 2021’s magic was real. But not all of it, either. One hundred and seven wins is impossible enough to do once. It’s all but unprecedented to do it twice.

Tier 5: High-variance .500.

  • Angels
  • Cardinals
  • Twins

We are not comfortable saying either that these teams are clear, obvious contenders, nor that they are not. Which, we understand, may be hard to swallow considering one of them won 73 games, one won 90 games and the other has two unprecedented superstars doing things we've just about never seen before. But things have changed a lot since 2021, and so far as projections go, these three are all right in that "let's go with .500, with the understanding this could all go very right or terribly wrong" zone again.

The Angels … still have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and no other team can say that. They have Anthony Rendon, Jared Walsh, Raisel Iglesias and Noah Syndergaard, too; there are some very impressive names here. Of course, there are always impressive names here, and for all the talk of Trout not being in the playoffs since 2014, the larger issue is that they haven’t even been above .500 since 2015. To their credit, they did import pitching, with Michael Lorenzen, Aaron Loup, Archie Bradley and Ryan Tepera joining Syndergaard as new options for Joe Maddon. Will it be enough this time? It generally hasn’t been. Projected at 82-80 by FanGraphs, that would be their best record in eight years.

The Cardinals … didn’t even get onto the field for their first spring game before the bad pitching news started rolling in. Alex Reyes is out with shoulder trouble. Jack Flaherty is out with shoulder trouble. That leaves the ageless Adam Wainwright alone atop the rotation, except he’s not ageless, he’s nearly 41, and they’re counting a lot on Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson to be healthy after they pitched in just 11 combined games last year. It’s still a good team, of course, and there’s a good chance that the young outfield might be one of baseball’s best. But even before the pitching concerns, St. Louis fans weren’t pleased the team didn't add a big bat, particularly at shortstop. There might be more uncertainty for Yadier Molina's final season than he, or they, would have liked.

The Twins … had a great offseason, really. How could it be anything but, when you manage to come away with Carlos Correa as your shortstop? He’s not the only add, of course; Sonny Gray, Dylan Bundy, Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela are all new in town, with Mitch Garver, Josh Donaldson and Michael Pineda among those headed out. This really should be a much improved Minnesota team, especially up the middle since Byron Buxton is in center field. Problem is, they lost 89 games last year, and the rotation depth remains extremely thin, which means that even with Correa, there remains work to do here, and it feels like they have one more move up their sleeves -- and it's not hard to connect them to one of Oakland's remaining starters.

They can, and should, be a lot better. But even adding 10 wins would just only get them above .500. It'll take 20 to really get into contention for the division. We're not quite sure the rotation, as currently constituted, can pull that off.

Tier 6: Not yet, but maybe soon.

  • Mariners
  • Marlins
  • Rangers
  • Royals
  • Tigers

This tier of five teams features four clubs that lost 85 games or more, plus a Seattle club that won 90 but were outscored by the kind of margin that fits more on a team that ended 76-86. Yet each of them have improved this winter, with all the arrows pointing in the right direction towards making some real noise in 2023-24 and beyond. We’re just somewhat skeptical it happens right now, in 2022.

The Mariners … and their fans expect they should be a lot higher than this. We get it. They’re easily the most likely team of his group to ascend quickly. Here’s where we’re at, though; the 90-win team scored like a 76-win team, and is projected to be an 80-win team. We think a bit more highly of them than that, because the trade for Jesse Winker (and Eugenio Suárez) was a masterful piece of work, and it’s very easy to see an outfield of Jarred Kelenic, Mitch Haniger, Winker and Julio Rodríguez blowing up (in a good way), and oh yes, they did sign Robbie Ray.

Still, we’re putting them here because – as Kelenic just showed – prospects do not always succeed immediately, and it’s easy to see him, Rodriguez, George Kirby, Emerson Hancock and Logan Gilbert, the future core, needing a year of acclimation before really going full-speed in 2023. It's hard to complain too much about any placement when it's been two decades since the last playoff appearance, really. The most likely outcome, we think, is that they’ll outscore their opponents and win fewer games while doing so. No one will be satisfied. The world will keep spinning.

The Marlins … have fantastically interesting young pitching and potentially not enough hitting, which is a thing we say pretty much every year. We’ll say it this year too, though adding Avisaíl García, Joey Wendle and Jorge Soler are meaningful changes that ought to help. (So will catcher Jacob Stallings, though far more on the defensive side). Thing is, those are more supporting players than the star the Marlins really needed, and after scoring the 29th-most runs in 2021, Miami is projected to score the 24th-most in 2022. A breakout season from Jazz Chisholm Jr. would really, really help here.

The Rangers … are in the fascinating situation of “having lost 102 games” while also “spending a half-billion dollars to add Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Jon Gray,” plus interesting veteran adds in Mitch Garver, Kole Calhoun, Brad Miller and Matt Carpenter. Texas is coming from so far away that even though FanGraphs projects them to win 15 additional games – a huge one-season jump – that’s still a 74-87 club, one with a top-heavy, depth-free roster, one still with big questions on the mound, in the outfield and at third base.

Have to start somewhere, though. The 2021 Rangers weren’t leading anywhere good. The 2022 Rangers might be.

The Royals … also think they’re headed in the right direction, and they might be right, because it’s been a long stretch in the wild since they won the World Series in 2015. (In the six seasons since, only three teams have lost more games.) Last year, they had the sixth-weakest offense, and the 10th-highest ERA. There remains a lot of work to do here, and as much as we enjoy seeing Zack Greinke back in Royals blue, he alone isn’t going to do it.

Bobby Witt Jr., however, might. The No. 1 prospect in the land should see plenty of Major League time this year. Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez may not be far behind. There is just a ton to love about how the Royals have revamped their Minor League hitting approach; the question, then, is if they can do the same for their pitchers, since none of the 26-and-under starters they rolled out last year were terribly effective.

The Tigers … like the Royals, have taken up residence at the bottom of the AL Central over the last half-decade; like the Royals, they have some highly touted hitting prospects they’re very excited about (Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene); like the Royals, they have some very talented young starters in the Majors who haven’t truly had that breakout yet. The comparisons end there, though, because the Tigers made some moves this winter, signing Javier Báez to a six-year deal and inking Eduardo Rodriguez for five seasons, as well as smaller moves for catcher Tucker Barnhardt, Michael Pineda and Andrew Chafin.

They are clearly talented, and better. That they’re not higher than this reflects the level of uncertainty here, in that Torkelson and Greene haven’t seen their first Major League pitch yet, in that Báez has a .303 OBP over the last three years, in that Miguel Cabrera turns 39 in April, in that the young starters have much to prove. The pieces are in place, here. Let’s see it all work.

Tier 7: Still lurking.

  • Cubs
  • Guardians
  • Nationals
  • Rockies

These teams have had some success in the recent past; all have seen the playoffs since 2018, and all have a big star or two to point to. But for the most part, the depth just is not there to support it, whether because the trajectories of their franchises are "trying to bounce back" or "sort of stuck in place." These aren't the worst teams, or the best. It's just sort of hard to see what they're all trying to be in 2022.

The Cubs … were 71-91 in 2021. But there were really two different Cubs teams, weren’t there? On July 26, after a win over the Reds, they were a respectable 50-51. Within a week, they’d traded Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Anthony Rizzo, Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera. The team that had been 50-51 on July 26 then went 21-40 after. It’s true that Marcus Stroman, Seiya Suzuki, Nick Madrigal and Wade Miley ought to help. But this is still a roster that bares no resemblance to the 2016 champs, one that is quite far away from true playoff competition.

The Guardians … have a brand new name, but sort of the same roster they do every year, which is to say “the pitching could be pretty good, yet the lineup is more than a little lacking.” Confoundingly, they didn’t make a single move to improve their offense, and last year’s offense had the third-weakest OBP in the Majors. The presence of José Ramírez, Shane Bieber, Cal Quantrill, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale and Emmanuel Clase will make this a competitive team, but once again, they will not score enough runs, and that pitching rotation will suffer for it.

The Nationals … are coming off a 97-loss disaster that was their worst since 2009, but teams with Juan Soto and Stephen Strasburg can’t stand still, not that this is Washington’s style anyway. So, they imported a variety of short-term veterans like Nelson Cruz, Steve Cishek, César Hernández and old friend Sean Doolittle in an attempt to stay afloat, which is admirable enough, but is unlikely to make them serious contenders. The entire goals of the 2022 season come down to two things: 1) Can Strasburg stay healthy? and 2) Can they sign Soto to an extension? Everything else is gravy.

The Rockies … signed Kris Bryant, which is undeniably cool and exciting, not to mention shocking. The issue is that they lost Trevor Story and Jon Gray, which means that the Bryant addition doesn’t make the 2022 Rockies noticeably better than the 2021 Rockies, it just helps them regain some ground lost. Gray’s departure is something of an underrated one, because despite the fact Colorado proudly (and rightly) points to their solid rotation led by Germán Márquez, they didn’t have enough pitching depth with Gray. They certainly don’t have enough without him. Bryant is a fun add, and fans are rightfully happy they got the big star after a few very quiet winters.

Tier 8: Pulling up the rear.

  • A's
  • D-backs
  • Orioles
  • Pirates
  • Reds

There are probably three sub-tiers in here, because the A’s and Reds are in sell mode, the Orioles and Pirates are hopefully coming out of the darkness, and the D-backs are just sort of there. But we’re not doing 30 different tiers, are we? We are not. This group appears likely to finish near the back of their respective divisions in 2022.

The A’s … won either 97 games or were on pace to do so for three straight seasons between 2018-20, but they’ve been telling anyone who would listen they’d be open for business this winter. They did not mislead us. Gone are Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Mark Canha, Chris Bassitt and Starling Marte. Gone is manager Bob Melvin. Not gone yet, but likely with one foot out the door, are Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea. Gone, too, are their chances of dethroning the Astros in the AL West, though the haul from their various trades was impressive. That’ll be the heart, we assume, of the 97-win 2025 A’s.

The D-backs … were probably better than the 52-110 mark they posted in a year where seemingly everything went wrong, and they do not consider themselves to be in a rebuild. But, as GM Mike Hazen accurately noted, that doesn’t change the fact that they just did actually go 52-110. Nor does it change the fact that aside from adding veteran reliever Mark Melancon, they’re returning more or less the same roster that just lost those 110 games. There’s upside, obviously, if a talented rotation can stay whole. It’s just that even if you win 15 more games, that’s still 95 losses.

The Orioles … will eagerly and rightly point you to their farm system, because in Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez, they have two of the six top prospects in baseball, including the best pitcher. For a team that has lost at least 108 games in each of the last three full seasons, there finally seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. But the window, if it arrives, won’t open in 2022. It might not even be visible in 2022, because they did not do much of anything to make the Major League team better. Rutschman will help, of course. John Means and 30-30 man Cedric Mullins are quite good. But it does appear to be another triple-digit loss total in Charm City – especially considering the strength of the AL East. There will, at least, be fewer homers in Camden Yards.

The Pirates … and their vastly improved farm system are kind of like the Orioles, right down to having a big-time center fielder (Bryan Reynolds) that every contender wants to trade for. There's more to like here than just Reynolds, of course; Ke'Bryan Hayes could have a breakout year, maybe Oneil Cruz and his insane skills mesmerize Pittsburgh this summer, and maybe Mitch Keller's velocity boost actually sticks. Still, this pitching staff might be the NL’s weakest, making a fourth-straight last-place finish likely. You can see a future where the 2027 World Series features Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore. You just won’t be able to glimpse too much of it in 2022.

The Reds … made the playoffs in 2020, and were the next-best team in the Wild Card race in 2021, but it’s difficult to see a repeat of either of those outcomes in 2022, now that they’ve bid farewell to Sonny Gray, Nick Castellanos, Tucker Barnhart, Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suárez, Wade Miley and Amir Garrett. Because they still have Joey Votto, Luis Castillo (so long as his shoulder injury is not serious), Jonathan India and a few others, they’ll likely finish ahead of the Pirates.