One thing we got wrong for each team in 2023

August 17th, 2023

At the dawn of each new season, prognostication abounds as to how each team will fare, what its relative strengths and weaknesses will be, as well as many other elements that go into a baseball season. But inevitably, some of those predictions will be wrong.

Now that we're nearing the final month of the regular season, here's a look at one notion we got wrong for each club:

American League East

Blue Jays: The entire hierarchy of the starting rotation
Alek Manoah was coming off a dominant season that earned him a third-place finish in AL Cy Young Award voting. Yusei Kikuchi was coming off a 5.19 ERA and had a very loose relationship with the strike zone. They’ve gone in completely different directions since, with Manoah now optioned to the Minor Leagues for the second time and Kikuchi having a career year, pitching with incredible conviction. Add in José Berríos bouncing back from a brutal season of his own, and you’re looking at two of the most important members of this team, not just this rotation. The Blue Jays are extremely fortunate that Kikuchi’s performance has counterbalanced Manoah’s. -- Keegan Matheson

Orioles: That this team's ceiling in 2023 was Wild Card contender
Coming into 2023, many seemed to think Baltimore’s best-case scenario was seizing a Wild Card and returning to the postseason for the first time since '16. General manager Mike Elias said it himself at the Winter Meetings last December, stating it was “really hard to sit there and chart a course and say, ‘We’re likely to win the division.’” Yet, the Orioles may do just that: win the AL East for the first time since 2014. And they could do even more. They’re the top team in the AL in mid-August, and they’re clearly going to outperform preseason projections from PECOTA (which had them going 74-88) and ZiPS (80-82). Baltimore’s young core is blossoming, and it could be a scary team to face in October for that reason. -- Jake Rill

Rays: That they would finally have a traditional five-man rotation
Entering Spring Training, it seemed like a big deal that the Rays -- pioneers of the opener, noted for their deep, versatile and oft-used bullpens -- would roll out a “normal” starting rotation: Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen and Zach Eflin. Turns out, that group never completed one turn with everyone healthy at the same time. Glasnow missed the first two months, Springs and Rasmussen sustained season-ending injuries early on, and now McClanahan is done for this year and probably next. Tampa Bay has made the most of its available arms, with Eflin providing stability and Glasnow coming on strong lately, but the Rays are once again mixing and matching and getting creative -- as ever -- with their pitching down the stretch. -- Adam Berry

Red Sox: That Jarren Duran was fading away
Lots of prospects have failed to live up to expectations over the years, and Duran seemed to be a prime example. The center fielder was viewed as organizational depth when the season started and was beaten out by Raimel Tapia for the final roster spot in Spring Training. But after Adam Duvall broke his left wrist 10 days into the season, everything changed. Duran soon got a call-up and has emerged as one of the team’s best players this season, utilizing his bat, speed and much-improved glove. It turns out that former Sox great Dustin Pedroia played a major part in Duran’s resurgence by suggesting he move his hands up much higher in his batting setup. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: That this would be one of MLB’s best rotations
Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino and Frankie Montas. That was the starting unit the Yankees imagined they would be tormenting opposing lineups with this season -- a pair of aces, a pair of All-Stars and a promising 2022 Trade Deadline acquisition. Instead, they have the probable AL Cy Young Award frontrunner … and a whole lot of question marks behind him. All four pitchers have dealt with serious (and in some cases multiple) injuries for most, if not all, of '23, leaving the Yanks on the outside looking in at the postseason picture. -- Betelhem Ashame

AL Central

Guardians: That Josh Bell would take this offense to the next level
It had been a while since the Guardians made a splash in the free agent market like they did when they signed Bell this offseason. Last year’s offense refused to quit, despite the fact that it lacked power. So, the logical next step seemed to be adding Bell to bring pop, provide protection behind José Ramírez in the lineup and help take this team to the postseason. However, Bell never found his groove with the Guardians and was sent to Miami at the Trade Deadline so the organization could dump the approximately $21.5 million remaining on his contract. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: That the bullpen had back-end candidates ready to take the next step
The Royals are seeing great things from their offense and the makings of a rotation in the second half despite the overall record in 2023. But the bullpen has been shaky at best. We knew the Royals would likely be without Aroldis Chapman and Scott Barlow after the Trade Deadline, which meant other candidates had to step up. Carlos Hernández has the stuff to contend, but he’s struggled recently. The Royals really want to see Dylan Coleman take a step forward because of his high-velocity arm and nasty slider, but he walks too many batters in high-leverage spots. The Royals have work to do with their pitching staff this offseason and will need to add better relievers if they want to take a step forward in 2024. -- Anne Rogers

Tigers: That the bullpen would struggle after losing veterans
Detroit’s relief corps was supposed to struggle after trading closer Gregory Soto and setup man Joe Jiménez and losing Andrew Chafin in free agency. Instead, the Tigers found youngsters to fill the void. Jason Foley has grown from a ground-ball specialist into an outstanding setup man. Alex Lange was an All-Star candidate at closer before midseason command issues arose. José Cisnero has rebounded from a rough 2022 season to become a steady power arm. Beau Brieske has made the jump from starter to nasty power reliever in a variety of roles since his return from injury. Brendan White looks like he could be the next young hurler to make the progression with his mix of high-spin slider, sweeper and mid-90s fastball. Tyler Holton has been a waiver-claim revelation in a multi-inning lefty role. -- Jason Beck

Twins: That the offense would rise and fall with Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton
The Minnesota lineup was built around a pair of superstars in Correa and Buxton, hence the offense’s ultimate success (or lack thereof) should be heavily predicated on their performance, right? Actually, no. Correa and Buxton have both struggled throughout the year, but the Twins’ offense has found a new cast of core characters who have emerged from the youth movement, including Edouard Julien, Matt Wallner, Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff and Ryan Jeffers, who have stepped up to carry the team while the Twins have waited for their stars to blossom. -- Do Hyoung-Park

White Sox: That the White Sox would contend in the AL Central
The White Sox won the division by 13 games two years ago, and despite fading in late September, they stayed in the race for much of 2022. This team still was talented and in the midst of what was supposed to be their competitive and hopefully championship window after a much ballyhooed rebuild. The division also wasn’t exactly a powerhouse. But a 7-21 start to the '23 campaign pretty much put an end to their chances before they even got started in manager Pedro Grifol’s first year. The absence of Liam Hendriks, who went through chemotherapy and immunotherapy to battle Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma into remission, was a significant loss for the team, although his return was the most uplifting story of the year. -- Scott Merkin

AL West

Angels: That Mike Trout would bounce back with a healthy, MVP-caliber season
Much was made entering 2023 about the potential of an Angels lineup with Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout steering the Halos back to the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade. Ohtani has kept his end of the bargain, setting unthinkable new records on a seemingly daily basis, but Trout has been mired in yet another frustrating campaign. Coming off a mostly healthy 2022 (119 games, 40 homers and MVP consideration), this season has been a struggle. A fractured left hamate bone sustained on a routine swing in San Diego on July 4 has kept him sidelined ever since. Even if he’s able to come back at full strength, 2023 will still be another shortened season for the perennial All-Star, who is hitting .263/.369/.493 with 18 homers, 44 RBIs, an fWAR of 3.1 and wRC+ of 136 through 81 games. -- Adrian Garro

Astros: That José Abreu would be an impactful middle-of-the-order bat
The Astros’ biggest move of the winter was signing Abreu, the 2020 AL MVP, to a three-year, $58.5-million contract to replace the popular Yuli Gurriel, who won two World Series titles in Houston. Abreu struggled out of the gate and, despite his history of hitting better as the season progresses, the veteran first baseman hasn’t lived up to the contract. Abreu has just 10 home runs in 464 plate appearances, and last week he landed on the injured list and admitted his back has bothered him at different points during the season. He has a .634 OPS and 75 OPS+, which are career-worst numbers. The Astros have him for two more years and can only hope they can get some kind of value in return. -- Brian McTaggart

Athletics: That the kids wouldn’t be ready yet
Entering a rebuilding season in 2023, the feeling was that A’s top position player prospects Tyler Soderstrom and Zack Gelof would reach the big leagues at some point in September. Instead, it’s August, and not only are Soderstrom and Gelof in Oakland, but they have also been joined by Mason Miller (the club's No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline) and Lawrence Butler (No. 5). With these top prospects ahead of schedule and a few more knocking on the door of a callup, the A’s are laying a foundation for what they hope will be a big step forward in '24. -- Martín Gallegos

Mariners: That they finally might have second base covered
When Seattle acquired Kolten Wong from Milwaukee last offseason -- a deal that allowed them to move on from Jesse Winker -- the club landed a player that it had long coveted and admired from afar. And with Wong coming off a combined 29 homers from his 2021-22 stint with the Brewers, it looked like the Mariners would finally pack some punch at a position that they’ve been trying to adequately fill since trading Robinson Canó after 2018. But Wong never found his footing and was designated for assignment, then released, shortly after the club made some moves at the Trade Deadline. Overall, Mariners second basemen entered Wednesday hitting .195/.293/.277 for a .570 OPS that ranked last in baseball. -- Daniel Kramer

Rangers: The dynamics of the AL West
Coming into the 2023 season, it’s easy to see why nobody expected the Rangers to spend almost every day of the campaign atop the AL West. After all, the reigning World Series champs are right down the interstate in Houston, and two of the best players of this generation reside in Anaheim. Even the Mariners made the postseason in '22. And yet, Texas has been alone or tied atop the division for 138 of the season’s first 139 days (the lone exception being April 8) thanks to a high-powered offense led by Corey Seager and a rotation that withstood losing Jacob deGrom to season-ending UCL surgery. The club has not only gotten contributions from its superstars, but guys like Jonah Heim, Ezequiel Duran and Josh Jung have broken out and proven to be everyday players. Now the Rangers have the chance to win the division and make the playoffs for the first time since 2016. It’s well within reach. -- Kennedi Landry

National League East

Braves: Marcell Ozuna’s future
It seemed like Ozuna’s days in Atlanta were dwindling, especially when he exited April hitting .085 with a .397 OPS. He struggled on the field and had multiple off-the-field issues the previous two seasons. So, it seemed the Braves would be willing to eat the approximate $37 million left on his contract. But they ultimately decided not to, and entering Wednesday, Ozuna was hitting .275 with 22 homers and an .874 OPS since May 2. At the same time, he has seemingly been a positive influence within the clubhouse. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: Just how competitive they would be
Fourth place in the division seemed a likely finish, especially coming off a 93-loss season. Few outside of the organization could've imagined first-time manager Skip Schumaker building a winning culture this quickly, but Miami went from historically bad to historically great in one-run games and positioned itself as a buyer at the Trade Deadline. Despite Sandy Alcantara not being in Cy Young form and Jazz Chisholm Jr. missing significant time again, the Marlins are nearing September in playoff position. -- Christina De Nicola

Mets: World Series, here we come? Nope.
The Mets had every reason to believe they were World Series contenders going into the 2023 season. They fortified their rotation by adding Justin Verlander and Kodai Senga. And the core of the team -- Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil and Brandon Nimmo -- was back for another year. But disaster struck before the season started when closer Edwin Díaz suffered a complete right patellar tendon tear during the World Baseball Classic. It went downhill from there. After 81 games, the Mets were a surprising 36-45, 17 1/2 games behind the first-place Braves in the NL East and nine games behind the Dodgers for the last Wild Card spot. By the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline, New York had decided to focus on replenishing the farm system, which it did by trading Verlander, Max Scherzer, Tommy Pham, Mark Canha and David Robertson. -- Bill Ladson

Nationals: That the second half would be much like the first
When a team is in a development phase, the ups and downs of a learning curve can be reflected in the win/loss columns. But the Nationals began to get into a rhythm, notably at home, in July. And while they traded a veteran leader and top offensive producer in Jeimer Candelario, young players, eager callups and a locked-in bullpen have emerged to boost second-half production. The Nationals are 20-13 dating back to July 8, and they have won 13 of their last 16 games at Nationals Park. -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: That Trea Turner would hit leadoff
Shortly after the Phillies signed Turner to an 11-year, $300 million deal this offseason, manager Rob Thomson said he had already penciled out approximately 15 possible lineup combinations. Most of those included Turner in the leadoff spot, which is exactly where he was on Opening Day. Quickly, however, he slid down to the No. 2 spot. Then, with his season-long struggles, he more recently slid down to the bottom half of the order. Even with Turner appearing as if he may be turning the corner, Thomson said last week that his ideal spot for Turner would be No. 2 -- between the left-handed-hitting Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper. -- Paul Casella

NL Central

Brewers: That Christian Yelich was 'just a leadoff guy' now
After posting a .745 OPS, a 108 wRC+ and 4.5 fWAR from the shortened 2020 season through 2022, it appeared Yelich’s days as an MVP candidate were, for a variety of reasons, behind him. But he’s back to producing at an elite level in 2023, with an .838 OPS, a 128 wRC+ and 3.9 fWAR entering Wednesday -- good for the top 20 of MLB’s qualified hitters. From June 1 through Tuesday, Yelich’s OPS was .910, which ranked 14th among hitters with at least 200 at-bats in that span. One mechanical change -- adding a toe tap -- made a difference, but just as important, as manager Craig Counsell sees it, is that Yelich “stayed in the fight” instead of wilting under the frustration of several down years. -- Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: That they had enough pitching to survive
The Cardinals went into the season thinking that they had enough pitching to once again dominate the NL Central. However, that plan quickly soured. Adam Wainwright opened the season on the IL. Miles Mikolas struggled early. And Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz were inconsistent over the season’s first two months. Complicating things further was the fact that the bullpen struggled to close out games. The poor pitching led to the Cardinals starting 10-24, a hole from which they never fully recovered. Montgomery, Flaherty and relievers Jordan Hicks, Chris Stratton and Génesis Cabrera have since been traded. Now the Cardinals will head into the offseason needing to acquire three starting pitchers and multiple relievers to contend in 2024. -- John Denton

Cubs: That Cody Bellinger might need a platoon partner
Given the multiple seasons of injury setbacks, combined with Bellinger’s tough showing overall and especially against lefty pitching (.213 average and .583 OPS) in 2022, a thought going into the year was the Cubs should have a righty complement in center. Well, it turns out Bellinger is just fine and putting up numbers reminiscent of his MVP season. Bellinger has been a force in the heart of the Cubs’ resurgent lineup and has mashed lefties (.333 with a .986 OPS). Bellinger has bounced between center field and first base, giving manager David Ross an extra layer of mixing and matching. Bellinger has been an X-factor for the North Siders and will be a fascinating free-agent case in the offseason. -- Jordan Bastian

Pirates: That there was enough starting pitching
Coming into this season, the Pirates, on paper, had more than enough starting pitching to get them through the year. Due to a myriad of circumstances, that hasn’t been the case. JT Brubaker, Vince Velasquez and prospect Mike Burrows all underwent season-ending surgery. Rich Hill was traded. Luis Ortiz and Quinn Priester had stints in the big leagues but were optioned. Roansy Contreras spent a month in the Florida Complex League. With Priester optioned to Triple-A on Tuesday, the question of how the Pirates will cover innings has only grown more pressing. -- Justice delos Santos

Reds: That they were still a year away from truly competing
At this time last year, the Reds were well on their way to 100 losses. Now? They’re right in the thick of the postseason race, and the NL Central crown is within reach. The offense took off thanks to an impressive rookie corps, most of whom weren’t even on the Opening Day roster. Last season’s trades have already paid off, and the pitching staff has held together despite being hit by injuries and underperformance. -- Allie Kaylor

NL West

D-backs: That the back end of the bullpen was stronger
General manager Mike Hazen made improving the back end of the bullpen a priority during the offseason when he added Miguel Castro, Andrew Chafin and Scott McGough. Manager Torey Lovullo declined to name a closer during Spring Training and instead went with whomever offered the best matchups in the ninth inning. While the strategy worked early as the D-backs got off to a hot start, the blown saves began to pile up. That forced Hazen to acquire closer Paul Sewald at the Trade Deadline to try and once again shore up the late innings. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: That the offense would take a step back
Coming into the season, there was so much unknown surrounding a Dodgers’ lineup that would be without Justin Turner, Trea Turner and Cody Bellinger. But the Dodgers, once again among the best offensive teams in the Majors, have not taken much of a step back. David Peralta, Jason Heyward and rookie James Outman have given them quite the lift from the left side. J.D. Martinez has also proven to be a strong free-agent signing. Every move the Dodgers made this offseason has worked quite well. -- Juan Toribio

Giants: That a hitter would finally produce a 30-homer campaign
The Giants haven’t had a hitter slug more than 30 home runs in a single season since Barry Bonds in 2004. That’s the longest such drought in the Majors. But there was reason to believe it would finally come to an end after the Giants assembled an offense that was projected to have Joc Pederson, Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto hitting in the heart of the lineup in 2023. Still, with nearly three-quarters of the season in the books, no Giant has hit more than 16 homers. Haniger has missed most of the year with a right forearm fracture, and Pederson and Conforto have been inconsistent at the plate, leaving the Giants in the bottom third of the league in slugging percentage. -- Maria Guardado

Padres: That the star power was enough
There’s no shortage of superstars in San Diego. Yet somehow, a team with Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts and a number of other perennial All-Stars sits well outside the NL playoff picture. There’s reason to believe the Padres have gotten somewhat unlucky this season (see: their run differential and record in close games). But it’s more than that. The Padres’ roster imbalance has spelled plenty of trouble. They might have the best top five to 10 players of any team in baseball. But based on their current record, they don’t have the best 26 or 40. -- AJ Cassavell

Rockies: That the starting rotation would return to being the strength of the team
Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela were holdovers from teams that went to the postseason in consecutive seasons. Senzatela was going to miss a month recovering from 2022 left knee surgery, but he would be back. There were reasons to be optimistic these starters would form a formidable corps. However, Márquez sustained an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, and Senzatela made just two starts before needing the same procedure. Freeland’s year has been disjointed -- no run support when he pitches well, but he has given up his share of home runs when shutdown innings were needed. Lefty Austin Gomber has been by far the most consistent of the club record-tying 15 starters used so far. -- Thomas Harding