It’s opening week, and you know what that means — season predictions!
There are lots of questions going into the 2023 season: What does Year 2 of MLB’s expanded playoffs have to offer? How will rule changes play out over the season? Is this the year your favorite team will make a run in October, or your favorite player will win a postseason award?
No one can definitively know what’s in store for us this season, but that doesn’t stop us from making our best guesses. We put 28 ESPN writers, analysts and editors on the spot to predict what will happen in baseball this year, from the wild-card contenders all the way up to the World Series champion, plus the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year in both leagues.
For each category, we’ve asked a contributor or two to explain why they chose what they chose. Did they hit the nail on the head or were they way off their mark? Only time can tell — and you better believe we’ll be circling back to these predictions come October.
Let’s see what our experts had to say.
Our pick: New York Yankees (16 votes)
Why will the Yankees win the AL East?
The Yankees will win the AL East by a slim margin over the Blue Jays and Rays because their injured rotation will get healthy — and when they are, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon, Luis Severino and Nestor Cortes can match any foursome in the game. The Yankees needed a spark, a player that might make them a better offensive team in October. They might have found him in rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe, whose first live batting practice of spring training began with a home run over the batter’s eye off Rodon. The next pitch, Volpe homered over the left field fence. Talk about knocking the door down. — Tim Kurkjian
What is the Blue Jays’ path to winning the division?
The Blue Jays were plenty dangerous last season until facing the Mariners in October. They had the lineup and the aces to advance as the Phillies did. This season, the Jays will take the AL East over the Yankees and Rays. Rotation depth matters, as well as bullpen and lineup depth, and the Jays have it all. They needed offensive upgrades, notably from the left side, and added Brandon Belt and Daulton Varsho. Getting defensive stalwart Kevin Kiermaier was critical, too. Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi will bounce back. This is a complete team that can represent the AL. — Eric Karabell
Our pick: Cleveland Guardians (15 votes)
Why will the White Sox beat out the Guardians for the division title?
If we choose to put stock in exit comments from Jose Abreu about not being a “family,” it helps frame why a team with this much talent can stall out. They have a potent and deep lineup that will be chomping at the bat rack. They also have some stellar arms in their rotation to balance it out. Their manager (Pedro Grifol) has been waiting an eternity for this opportunity, and he will hit the ground running, literally. They have more offensive firepower than Cleveland but they must catch the ball and keep the uber talented Eloy Jiménez from running into a fence. Please. — Doug Glanville
Our pick: Houston Astros (26 votes)
Who else got votes? Seattle Mariners (2)
Why did you pick the Mariners to win the AL West?
(1) The starting rotation is strong and deep, and they have Luis Castillo the entire season. (2) They upgraded at positions that were offensive black holes last season (Teoscar Hernandez, Kolten Wong). (3) The bullpen is good. (4) Jarred Kelenic is — gasp! — figuring things out. (5) Cal Raleigh is going to hit 35 home runs. (6) Julio Rodriguez is a super-duper star.
Look, the Astros are a powerhouse; Vegas has made them the betting favorite to win the World Series and become the first repeat champ since the 2000 Yankees. But Justin Verlander is a huge loss, Jose Altuve is out for a couple of months, lack of depth is a concern, there is some age in the lineup and, frankly, it’s time a few things just happen to go wrong. — David Schoenfield
AL wild cards
Our picks: Seattle Mariners (20 votes), Tampa Bay Rays (17), Toronto Blue Jays (16)
The Rays have made it to the postseason the last four years, and you and 16 other voters are predicting a fifth. To what do they owe their consistency to?
The Rays have become a player-development behemoth that majors in run prevention as well as practically any team in baseball. From 2018-22, there were three teams that allowed fewer than four runs per game — the Dodgers, Astros and Rays. And every year in that span, their minor-league system ranked in the top two in organizational winning percentage. Their regenerative success has enabled them to thrive at the big-league level, paying cents on the dollar in relation to many of their peers. — Paul Hembekides
You and nine other voters picked the Angels as a wild-card team. Why do you think they’ll make it?
This offseason, the Angels did what they long needed to do — they filled their 40-man roster with more major league-quality players, and thus, significantly increased their floor. A roster that for years was incredibly top-heavy with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani and very little beneath them is now a lot more well-rounded, particularly on the position-player side. Their rotation, meanwhile, was sneaky good last year and should be better with the addition of Tyler Anderson. This could be the year they finally break through. If they want to keep Ohtani, it probably has to be. — Alden Gonzalez
The Rangers received just three wild-card votes, and you were one of them. How do you think they’ll sneak into the playoffs?
The Rangers have made an all-in commitment, spending $500-plus million during the 2021-22 offseason and nearly $300 million on pitching this winter, while bringing in a three-time championship manager in Bruce Bochy. And, at least for now, their rebuilt rotation is healthy. If the team can maintain that good fortune in the injury department for long enough, I see them mounting a competitive enough start that they’d make aggressive, in-season moves to fill any prospective holes. There often seems to be a surprise wild-card team, and the Rangers are atop that list for me. — Tristan Cockcroft
Our pick: Houston Astros (11 votes)
Who else got votes? New York Yankees (8), Toronto Blue Jays (6), Seattle Mariners (3)
Wait … you picked the Jays to win the AL East but the Yankees to win the AL. Explain yourself!
The Yankees are in a tough spot with their rotation, but that’s the question for the rest of their division rivals as well. If Rodon can pitch for most of the season, Cortes successfully stretches out as a starter and Severino can play his part, this rotation has the most potential in the division. Additionally, Volpe could be a game-changer for the offense. He affects the game on the base paths, in the field and at the plate. Over the last few years, shortstop has been a major weak point for the team, so just solidifying the spot with someone who could be anywhere from above average to an All-Star might change the dynamic of this offense dramatically. — Joon Lee
Our pick: Atlanta Braves (21 votes)
Why did you pick the Braves to win the NL East?
Injuries are already playing a key role in what figured to be a high-powered, three-way chase in the division. The Mets of course lost Edwin Diaz, and Jose Quintana will miss a chunk of time. The Phillies began spring unsure of when Bryce Harper will be back and now have to add Ranger Suarez and Rhys Hoskins to that list, the latter a probable season-ending injury. Maybe the Braves join this unfortunate party if Raisel Iglesias‘ irritated shoulder turns into something serious, but for now, Atlanta seems like the team that has its key parts all lined up for the long haul. — Brad Doolittle
Why do you think the Mets will beat out the Braves?
The Mets, with their two aging aces, appear to be built more for the rigors of a seven-game series than a 162-game regular season. And that’s why it seems counterintuitive to pick them to win the NL East over the Braves, a younger team with better pitching depth and a deeper lineup. But here’s a hunch: Max Scherzer and Verlander, two of the most competitive pitchers of this era, will go back and forth all year trying to outdo each other, and they’ll take the Mets along for the ride. — Tim Keown
Our pick: St. Louis Cardinals (25 votes)
Who else got votes? Milwaukee Brewers (3)
Why will the Brewers win the NL Central?
History tells us we rarely see the same teams make the playoffs, so I didn’t want to pick the same six in the NL as last season, and it’s hard to pick against the Braves, Mets, Dodgers, Padres or Phillies. Picking against the Cardinals isn’t rigorous analysis, but the projection systems see this as a close race: PECOTA has the Brewers, while FanGraphs sees the Cardinals as one win better. With Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and a healthy Freddy Peralta, the Brewers might have three starters better than anyone on the Cardinals. Milk in some regression from Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado and then note that the Brewers were second in the NL in home runs. — Schoenfield
Our pick: San Diego Padres (16 votes)
Who else got votes? Los Angeles Dodgers (12)
Why are the Padres the favorites to win the NL West over the Dodgers?
The Padres, for the first time in a long time, simply have more talent than the Dodgers, who punted on the most expensive free agents in order to create more opportunities for their younger players and then watched their young shortstop, Gavin Lux, suffer a season-ending knee injury. The Dodgers probably have more long-term sustainability — largely because they’ve been more pragmatic about the long-term deals and the win-now trades that have made their NL West rivals a juggernaut — but the Padres are better at the moment. They’re better offensively, better in their starting rotation and might be at least just as good in the bullpen. — Gonzalez
NL wild cards
Our picks: Philadelphia Phillies (22 votes), New York Mets (21), Los Angeles Dodgers (16)
Who else got votes? San Diego Padres (11), Atlanta Braves (7), Milwaukee Brewers (5), St. Louis Cardinals (1), San Francisco Giants (1)
Why do the Phillies find themselves as a wild-card favorite despite last year’s WS run?
Here’s a tortured prediction: By the end of the regular season, the Phillies will be the third-best team in the NL East; by the end of the postseason, they’ll be the second-best team in the National League, losing to the Padres in the NLCS. The logic, or illogic, is that the defending NL champs won’t be at their best until the second half of the season, after Harper returns to the lineup. The injuries to Harper and first baseman Hoskins have lowered expectations for the season’s first 162, but history shows a wild-card berth is not always a postseason hindrance. — Keown
You were the only one to vote for the Cardinals as a wild-card team. Why is that?
Because recency bias is real. In 2021, the Brewers won the NL Central by five games — and I’d argue that with a full year of Rowdy Tellez, William Contreras, Garrett Mitchell, Brice Turang and the soon-to-arrive Sal Frelick, they’re a much better offense. St. Louis has also amped up its offense, with Jordan Walker, Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman — so this is a bet on pitching, and really as much out of fear that the Cardinals’ staff is vulnerable as anything. I’ll just take Burnes, Woodruff and a healthy Peralta over what St. Louis offers. The NL Central should be a great race. — Jeff Passan
Our pick: San Diego Padres (11 votes)
Who else got votes? Atlanta Braves (10), New York Mets (5), Los Angeles Dodgers (1), Philadelphia Phillies (1)
Why do you think the Padres will top the Braves as the NL champion?
We always go into each season wondering which teams will be aggressive at the trade deadline — as the Braves were in 2021, when general manager Alex Anthopoulos added a small army of outfielders — and it’s safe to say: The Padres are all in. Owner Peter Seidler will spend what is necessary to plug any hole that pops up on the San Diego roster, which is exactly the right thing to do, given their investments in older players. Few teams have big money available to add in July, but the Padres will be one of those. — Buster Olney
World Series champion
Our pick: San Diego Padres (7 votes), Atlanta Braves (7)
Who else got votes? New York Yankees (5), Houston Astros (4), New York Mets (2), Los Angeles Dodgers (1), Philadelphia Phillies (1), Toronto Blue Jays (1)
Our voters are tied between the Padres and Braves winning it all. Make the case for Atlanta.
The Braves simply have the best team. Last season, Michael Harris II debuted on May 28 and Spencer Strider made his first start on May 30. From June 1 on, Atlanta played at a 112-win pace and dispatched the Mets’ 10.5-game division lead in the process. Ronald Acuña Jr. is another year removed from knee surgery, the Braves have an embarrassment of riches behind the plate (Sean Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud), and Mike Soroka should make his long-awaited return. Add it all up, and — even without Dansby Swanson — this Braves team should be the favorite to win it all. — Hembekides
Make the case for San Diego.
The Padres are the most intriguing, most compelling and most combustible team in the major leagues. By late October, they might be the best team in the game. They have a terrific rotation, an elite closer, a great manager and potentially the best lineup in baseball. Their success likely will hinge on Fernando Tatis Jr. He’d rather play shortstop or center field, but if he can play right field effectively and be a dynamic leadoff guy, 1-5 looks like this: Tatis, Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Jake Cronenworth. Wow. — Kurkjian
You have the Yankees beating the Mets in a Subway World Series. Explain your reasoning.
It’s a juicy storyline for sure, but I also have both of those teams as favorites in October. The Yankees will have a youth infusion with Volpe and/or Oswald Peraza, while the Mets’ top four prospects will all play in the big leagues this year. That optionable depth with upside is key for filling unforeseen holes or making a key trade down the stretch. It also doesn’t hurt to have a big financial advantage. — Kiley McDaniel
Only four people picked the Astros to repeat. Why were they your vote?
We just released our first Power Rankings of the season and the No. 1 team was … the Astros. If our experts believe the Astros should start at the top, why can’t they also finish it there? Maybe we’ve just grown used to the idea that a team won’t repeat, but this one is still loaded. The lineup should be even better once Altuve returns, given the addition of Abreu. And sure, losing Verlander hurts — but it was the depth of the pitching staff that carried them through October, not any one pitcher at the top of it. — Dan Mullen
Our pick: Shohei Ohtani (25 votes)
Why is Ohtani the overwhelming favorite to win the AL MVP?
Ohtani is the overwhelming favorite to win the MVP in any league and will be for the foreseeable future. For him, it’s gone way beyond the two-way novelty of his act. He’s not just a pitcher and a hitter, he’s an elite pitcher and an elite hitter. There are no words that do justice to this guy. He could have an average hitting year and still be an MVP candidate. He could have an average pitching year and be an MVP candidate. He might not win, but it’s hard to see how anyone else could be favored at the outset of a season. — Doolittle
You were the only pick for Alvarez to win AL MVP, while Ohtani had 25 votes. Why did you pick Alvarez over him?
Considering there’s been only one player in over a decade to win the MVP award after being named the preseason favorite, it’s not unthinkable to pick against Ohtani. Of course, that player was Trout, and he did it three times, so it’s certainly possible the obvious choice wins it. But Alvarez was neck-and-neck with Aaron Judge for the award last season before the latter player pulled away in the second half. The arc Alvarez has been on points to another monster season as long as he’s healthy. He’s done everything else in his young career. An MVP is the next step. — Jesse Rogers
AL Rookie of the Year
Who else got votes? Anthony Volpe (6), Hunter Brown (1)
Henderson and Yoshida tied for 11 votes each for AL Rookie of the Year. Why did you go with Henderson?
Yoshida benefits in this voting from what we saw in the WBC — the bat-to-ball skills, the power — to the degree that we may all be wondering if he could constantly dent the Green Monster with that amazing swing. But I picked Henderson because of the athleticism he showed last season, and because of how well-rounded a player he is. Some rival executives wonder about Yoshida’s defense, and whether he’ll inevitably move to DH. There are no such questions about Henderson, who figures to have a high impact offensively and defensively. — Olney
Why do you think Volpe will win it?
Henderson was the favorite in most minds entering March, and I still think he’ll be a good rookie and very good player going forward. The buzz and hype around Volpe is palpable and I think his year will include important games late in the season as a tiebreaker with comparable rookies. While I think Henderson is a slightly better prospect long-term, Volpe’s frame and style of play lends itself slightly more to an immediate impact. — McDaniel
AL Cy Young
Our pick: Gerrit Cole (6 votes)
Who else got votes? Kevin Gausman (3), Shohei Ohtani (3), Jacob deGrom (3), Alek Manoah (3), Cristian Javier (3), Dylan Cease (2), Shane Bieber (2), Shane McClanahan (1), Framber Valdez (1), Michael King (1)
Why is Cole our voters’ pick to win?
It’s the raw stuff that Cole brings to the mound every time he starts. While he relies heavily on his fastball, he’s always been a smart pitcher who’s able to maximize his abilities due to his secondary stuff. He’ll have a chip on his shoulder after having a season that was below his standards in 2022 — and when he’s at his best, there are few pitchers who are scarier to face as a hitter. Plus as prognosticators, Cole represents a pretty safe bet at a time when the skill level of a starting pitcher can vary dramatically from season to season. He remains consistent in terms of his floor as a starter. — Lee
You picked Ohtani to win the AL MVP and Cy Young. Explain your reasoning as to why.
Ohtani is the best player in baseball, thriving as both a versatile offensive player and a dominant starting pitcher. He’s already earned one AL MVP award, and now it is time for him to take the top pitcher award, too. Frankly, he could have won it last season, as he compiled more pitcher bWAR than Verlander, led the AL in strikeouts per nine innings and was fourth in ERA. It is a wide-open AL Cy Young race with Verlander in the NL and as long as the voters are cool with Ohtani winning multiple awards, he will deserve it. — Karabell
Why do you think Javier will win the AL Cy Young?
Can I just say, “I heart Cristian Javier”? He made my fantasy value picks column for 2023, after his tough-to-decipher combo of high-spin fastball and darting slider that fueled a 2019 Double-A breakthrough contributed to a pair of combined Astros no-hitters last season. Javier has filthy stuff, and while the big question about his Cy Young candidacy ties to whether he’ll amass the innings required to seize writers’ votes, I think on a per-inning basis he’s as good as anyone in the league. I like a good long-shot pick, and he’s my guy. — Cockcroft
Our pick: Ronald Acuña Jr. (8 votes)
Why do you think Soto will beat out Acuña for NL MVP?
Certainly Acuña is a great all-around player, and if he goes 30/40 … or 40/40 … or 40/50 … I may well regret this choice. But his bat is not like Soto’s. No one’s is, really. Since Soto’s debut in 2018, he has been on base 1,130 times — more than anybody but Freddie Freeman. When Soto is locked in, he’s one of the best power hitters on the planet. The lack of pop with San Diego last year bothered him, and with something to prove and a phenomenal roster surrounding him, we’re primed to see the best of Soto this season. — Passan
You were the only vote for Betts. Explain why you chose him.
Since 2015, only Trout has more bWAR, and that’s just by a fraction. Since 2018, when Ohtani entered the majors, Betts has nearly 3.0 more bWAR than any other player. For me, Betts has reached that rarefied space where he is both appreciated for elite skills and all-around performance, but also a little overlooked because he’s as constant as the Northern Star. The NL MVP race has been fairly wide open in recent seasons, and I just don’t see any way that Betts doesn’t win another. Since he’s hitting his age-30 season, it probably will be sooner rather than later. Finally, there is a chance that his performance will stand out a little more on this version of the Dodgers, who might have to lean a little more on their stars this season. — Doolittle
NL Rookie of the Year
Our pick: Corbin Carroll (18 votes)
Why do you think Corbin Carroll will win NL Rookie of the Year?
Because we’ve already seen him perform at the highest level, as evidenced by the .830 OPS he put up in 115 plate appearances last season. Carroll played most of the 2022 season at the age of 21. It acted as his first full season of professional baseball, and yet he surged through Double-A and Triple-A and seemed very much ready for the big leagues. Carroll can hit for average, slug, play elite defense and run with the best of them. He’s very polished for a player his age and should only get better, given that he has played in only 174 games as a pro. — Gonzalez
NL Cy Young
Our pick: Corbin Burnes (6 votes)
There’s no clear favorite in the NL Cy Young race. Why is that?
The addition of Verlander to the NL added to a crowded field of Cy Young candidates led by the reigning 2022 winner, Alcantara. But the Marlins righty isn’t a sure thing to repeat. As elite teams have loaded up on starting pitchers, several have multiple arms that could take home the honor in 2023. — Rogers
Why do you think Alcantara will repeat as the NL Cy Young winner?
Seems like every time I called a Braves series, Braves manager Brian Snitker would mention how Alcantara is the best pitcher on Earth. He has electric stuff on the first pitch and psychic powers on the last pitch. He is a legendary Pokémon on the mound. Everything he throws is an optical illusion. Hard to dethrone the best pitcher on Earth unless of course, you recruit on Mars. Can someone turn one of those rovers into a scout? Even so, it would take 9 months to get him back to Earth anyway. Oh well. — Glanville
Why is Burnes our voters’ favorite to win?
Over the past three seasons, Burnes has a 2.62 ERA, a 33.4% strikeout rate and a .558 OPS allowed. Among qualified starters, those totals rank first (tied with Scherzer), first (ahead of Cole) and first again (46 points ahead of Scherzer). He wasn’t quite as dominant in 2022 as in his Cy Young campaign of 2021, but he did pitch 202 innings — a 35-inning increase — so he also showed he can handle a heavier workload. There are a lot of good candidates, but Burnes is the best starter in baseball entering the season. — Schoenfield
Why is your pick Strider?
Seeing as there’s no clear favorite, I went pure upside. Strider’s strikeout rate of 13.83 per nine was the highest ever for a starting pitcher with at least 100 innings. If you extrapolate Strider’s per-start innings average over 33 outings and he replicates the K rate, he’ll strike out 271 batters in 177 innings. Perhaps he’ll need to up the innings total slightly to stand alongside Alcantara, Burnes, Verlander and Scherzer, but Strider has taken care of the hard part — dominating hitters — already. — Passan