ANALYSIS: Too early MLB 2022 team rankings and World Series prediction

I think I speak for most baseball fans by saying I’m thankful we’re even having an MLB season. After a pandemic-shortened 2020 season and a 2021 filled with missed games by players having to quarantine, the last thing the game needed was another setback.

While it’s nice to sit back and enjoy a game, we have to keep in mind that baseball isn’t just a game – it’s a competition. With that comes winners and losers, and at the end of the season, only one team will hoist up the Commissioner’s Trophy. Here’s my breakdown of the top five teams from each league and my prediction on who’s going to win it all come November.

American League

#5 – New York Yankees

This pick relies heavily on chance. One week the Yankees look like they could win it all, then the next it feels like watching the Orioles play. They’ve adopted this mindset of “let’s swing out of our shoes with the hopes of hitting the ball hard,” instead of working on a genuine approach at the plate. However, when everything’s right, they’re one of the best teams in the league. Outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton can easily be MVP candidates, but they’re never consistently healthy enough to make an impact. Trading Gio Urshela for Josh Donaldson broke the hearts of Yankees fans, but a veteran presence on the team can go a long way. He also had 3.2 WAR last season, 1.2 above MLB average, according to Baseball Reference.

#4 – Chicago White Sox

After losing 100 games in 2018, the White Sox climbed back to the Division Series last year, only to be defeated by the Astros. I think they’ll be in the same position this year. Trading starting pitcher Carlos Rodon certainly won’t help their chances, but their talent reaches much further. They still have Lance Lynn, who put up a 2.69 ERA and 1.07 WHIP last season, both of which would have been in the top 10 among major league pitchers if he pitched enough innings to qualify. They still have former MVP Jose Abreu at first base, along with Tim Anderson at shortstop and Luis Robert in the outfield, all of whom have an OPS+ above 118, making them well above average hitters.

#3 – Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays always surprise me with their success. They’ve taken Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” strategy, thrown in some star-power through minor league development and trade, and shocked everyone. Not only have they won the AL East for the past two years, but they’ve done it while maintaining a minimal payroll. According to Sportrac, they’re ranked 23rd in payroll, yet they have players such as postseason star Randy Arozarena, defensive phenom Kevin Kiermaier and rising star Wander Franco. Even with all this, there’s a better team in their division.

#2 – Toronto Blue Jays

It’s hard to find a team as well-rounded as the Blue Jays. Last year they were edged out of the playoffs by the Yankees and Red Sox by one game. This year they won’t want to leave anything to chance – and I don’t think they’ll have to fight very hard for a first-place spot. First baseman Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. put up an MVP-caliber season last year, slashing .311/.401/.601, and his best years lie ahead. Pair that with the rest of the infield – Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and the newly acquired Matt Chapman, and that’s an infield I wouldn’t want to face at either side of the plate. On top of that, they have Teoscar Hernandez in the outfield and a stacked pitching staff.

#1 – Houston Astros

The Astros cheated years ago, and I’ll never forgive them for that. One of the hardest parts of getting over that is the fact they’ve continued to dominate since then. In 2022, their offense won’t be talked about as much as their pitching staff. Sure, they have solid hitters in Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, and Alex Bregman, but their pitchers are loaded this year. The big news is the return of Verlander after getting Tommy John surgery last year, but at 39 years of age I think he’ll fall into the back end of the starting rotation. And that’s a wild thought alone – Justin Verlander at the back of the rotation. The Astros’ starters mix veterans like Verlander and Jake Odorizzi with young talent in Framber Valdez and Jose Urquidy. They have a solid bullpen too, featuring Ryan Pressly, Phil Maton, and Christian Javier. Their pitching staff combined for a 3.76 ERA, which was fourth in the AL. The Astros are going to be a hard team to beat, and I’d give them the edge in any close game.

National League

#5 – St. Louis Cardinals

With 11 World Series titles, the Cardinals are one of the better teams in the history of the sport. After their last win in 2011, however, they haven’t made much noise until they went on a 17-game winning streak to earn a playoff berth last year. This team is filled with speedy sluggers, left fielder Tyler O’Neill and center fielder Harrison Bader being the most notable. They also have incredible veteran mentors in starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina, who have a combined 33 years as players, adding immense value to the mental side of the game. The additions of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and third baseman Nolan Arenado in the past few years also bolster the corners of the infield. It’s also worth mentioning that future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was recently added to the roster – a welcome return to where he played when he was in his prime.

#4 – New York Mets

This team needs Jacob deGrom, plain and simple. When he’s healthy, he’s an easy Cy Young candidate who carries the team. However, like the other New York team, injury takes a heavy toll. Recently deGrom got hurt again, and reports show he’s not expected back until June at the earliest. The acquisition of Max Scherzer was meant to bolster their rotation, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be healthy for Opening Day. The additions of outfielder Mark Canha and starting pitcher Chris Bassitt will help the team, and I’m confident that Francisco Lindor will return to his all-star form. The big question is the bullpen, which saw several additions over the postseason. If they can lock down close games, the Mets will be a tough team to beat.

#3 – Milwaukee Brewers

I have more faith in the Brewers than most. While their division is exceptionally weak, most of us forget that they lost in last year’s divisional series to the team that went on to win the World Series. They put up a good fight too – the Braves were just better. Losing Eduardo Escobar and Avisail Garcia didn’t help their case, but they retained two Cy Young candidates in Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff. Burnes led MLB with an ERA of 2.43, while Woodruff ranked fourth with an ERA of 2.56. Their bullpen is also strong, with Devin Williams and Josh Hader returning. I also have faith that left fielder Christian Yelich will return to his 2018 MVP form, and there’s no better time than the present.

#2 – Atlanta Braves

After a rebuilding phase in the mid 2010s, the historic Braves are back to their full stride. They beat the Astros to win the World Series last year, and they didn’t even have their arguably best player. Outfielder Ronald Acuna, Jr. is set to return later this month, and I believe he’ll help take them to another division title. During Acuna’s 2021 season, which was cut short around halfway due to an ACL injury, he hit 24 home runs and put up an OPS+ of 155. He’s a true five-tool player on the field and a leader in the clubhouse. Joining him in the outfield is slugger Marcell Ozuna, as well as Eddie Rosario, who had an incredible postseason last year, accruing 23 hits, 11 RBIs and a 1.073 OPS. Their infield isn’t to be taken lightly either, with the addition of Matt Olson at first base, young star Ozzie Albies at second, and breakout star Austin Riley at third. They also retain a strong pitching staff. I don’t see the NL East being led by any other team.

#1 – Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have one of the most powerful teams in the sport right now. Going into the 2021 season, they’d won eight straight division titles. Also keep this in mind: from 2016-2021, whenever they lost a series in the playoffs, the team that beat them went on to win the World Series. Despite this dominance, they only have one World Series title in the past 34 years. I have a feeling that will change this year. They have MLB’s highest payroll, and it’s not hard to see why. They have veteran stars in Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, and Justin Turner. They have recent MVPs in Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts. The Dodgers have it all, and they want more. They easily have the best team in the game – we just have to wait and see if it’ll all come together.

World Series Prediction – Dodgers 4, Blue Jays 2

The postseason is almost impossible to predict. Sometimes the underdog wins the World Series in seven games, like the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks did in just their third year of existence. Sometimes the team with the most wins is eliminated in divisional play, like the Giants last year. In the end, I think the Dodgers and Blue Jays will duel it out in the Fall Classic, and the Dodgers will come out on top.

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