10 bold predictions for 2023 MLB season
What new delights will the 2023 Major League Baseball season bring us? We’re a few days away from the start of a highly-anticipated campaign, especially in superpower-stuffed New York, and it’s hard not to dream.
So here are 10 bold predictions for this year, from baseballs flying into the night in both Queens and the Bronx to the return of the art of the theft. Shohei Ohtani, always top of mind, will again be the most amazing star in the game. But he carries new intrigue now along with all that talent – what does his future hold, beginning around the trade deadline?
It was tempting to go with a bit of local fan pandering and predict a Subway Series – hey, the Mets and Yankees are stacked, even though we see their flaws, too. We don’t think we can write that splendid scenario into existence, though, so the World Series champ comes from elsewhere. Hey, there’s other stacked teams out there.
So read on and let’s have some fun. Feel free to disagree (outrageous!). It’ll be a blast to see who’s right.
MLB’s home run race will become the city’s home run race as both Aaron Judge and Pete Alonso hit 50-plus each. It’s a delicious scenario – they’ve both hit 50 before, Alonso beat Judge’s rookie homer record two years after Judge set it in 2017 and then Judge set the single-season AL record with 62 last year. But, since Alonso’s career started in 2019, he’s hit more homers (146) than anyone, including runner-up Judge (137). And it would be historic.
Judge would match Álex Rodríguez’s total of three 50-homer seasons – only Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have four – and Judge would join that foursome as the only sluggers with consecutive years of 50-plus. Bring your glove to the bleacher seats.
Heaven or hell?
We’ve been thinking a lot about the Angels since Ohtani struck out Mike Trout to clinch the WBC for Team Samurai Japan. Ohtani will be a free agent after this season, so it’s natural to wonder if the Angels would trade him at the deadline to reap as much as possible before he signs a gazillion-dollar deal, probably elsewhere. Hence, he’ll garner a frenzy of attention, beginning around June. That’s not the bold part.
This is: He won’t get traded because the Angels will actually be in contention this year. Yes, they are an easy punchline because they’ve been to the playoffs once with Trout and never with Ohtani. But what if Anthony Rendon rebounds and some pitching blooms and they stick around? We’re not going to put them in the World Series – the assignment said “bold,” not “bonkers” – but it sure would be fascinating if the Halos were really good.
No shift? No problem
During baseball’s shift era, Jeff McNeil flummoxed opposing defenses with his bat-to-ball skills. That got him an NL batting title (.326) last year. Well, it’s the first of multiple titles, we think. No matter how McNeil is played, he will get his hits and now he seems to firmly grasp that he’s best as a hits machine who doesn’t need to belt the ball over the wall. That leads him to flirt with .350 this year and win again.
The last NL batting champ to hit .350 or better in a non-pandemic season? Chipper Jones (.364 in 2008), though DJ LeMahieu got close in 2016 (.348).
Chaos and calm
MLB’s new rules were an entertaining part of spring training as pitchers and hitters tested limits in search of an edge in their never-ending tussle, players got used to speeding up their pre-pitch mental machinations and everyone generally got home earlier. Now that the stakes are supercharged, the impact of the pitch clock, particularly, could get even more interesting. We’ll certainly see some rules-related controversy detonate during a game and it probably won’t be in a Nationals-Pirates, play-out-the-string affair. If it costs a contender a win, it could reverberate into October. What fascinating theater.
Ultimately, however, the sport will transition into this new era and we’ll enjoy sorting through how the new rules affect gameplay.
Why don’t we steal away?
Speaking of new rules, the bigger bases and “disengagement” limits for pitchers will add more of the running game back into baseball. Before you celebrate by wearing your 1980s Cardinals jerseys everywhere, it’s not going to get that wild. Jon Berti, who led MLB with 41 steals last year, will certainly grab more bags. He was caught just five times, an 89.1 percent success rate. If he tries to steal 80 times this year at the same rate, that’s 71 thefts. No player had gotten even to 50 since Dee Strange-Gordon swiped 60 in 2017. Berti and AL leader Jorge Mateo will run.
But here’s what you won’t see: most of the big stars adding steals back into their repertoires. Regardless of what analytics will say about new potential success rates, it’s still risky, health-wise. Trout once stole 49, but he won’t go after a number like that because all that pounding isn’t worth it. Will Starling Marte steal? It’s a nifty part of his game, but he’s had health issues and is 34.
Has it felt like the Yankees are missing a certain something in recent seasons, even with the ALCS trips and Judge’s record homer chase? Yes. They get it this year when they give important jobs to Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe. They competed for the starting shortstop gig in spring training and, before midseason, both will be heavy contributors.
Perhaps the Yanks will trade Gleyber Torres, something they were willing to do at last year’s deadline and over the winter, executives from other teams say. That makes Peraza and Volpe the starting infield and they’ll add dimension to an offense spearheaded by Judge. Athletic middle infielders will be key in the post-shift era, making the duo even more important. It’ll be fun watching Peraza, Volpe and Oswaldo Cabrera racing around the field making plays.
deRangers a surprise?
Jacob deGrom got some blowback in New York when he signed with the Texas Rangers last winter. But what if he joined them at just the right time and they are a surprise AL Wild Card entrant? They’ve added mega-talent over the past two winters in Corey Seager, Jon Gray, Nathan Eovaldi and Marcus Semien and re-made their rotation. Some things would have to click, obviously – deGrom’s health over a long season, for starters. But Bruce Bochy didn’t sign up to manage a rebuild. If they pitch, they could sneak in.
If not them, how about the emerging Orioles? They were 83-79 last year, long before anyone thought they’d be a winning team. Plus, they have Adley Rutschman, this generation’s Johnny Bench (OK, maybe), Cedric Mullins, promising youngsters Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez and more.
Losing Edwin Díaz was a significant blow to the Mets and they might have been shy one relief arm even before his injury shook up the pen pecking order. They have able replacements, yes, but they will make a trade for a significant bullpen arm before or at the deadline. That’s no comment on the capabilities of David Robertson, who should be the closer and would be good at it. Or on other options such as Brooks Raley.
But every mega-contender needs a wave of quality arms surging out of its pen, closing or setting up. This is neither the time nor the team to bank on discovering a high-leverage reliever in the system. While the Mets are paying lip service now to not overreacting, they’ll realize how big a move would be to a win-now team.
Gerrit Cole flirted with a no-hitter last June but lost it in Tampa Bay after seven innings and has never thrown a no-no. That changes this year. Cole can have overwhelming stuff – a fastball averaging 98 miles per hour, a deadly slider that held hitters to a .160 average against the pitch last year and a strikeout rate of 32.4 percent, which is in the top 8 percent of baseball, according to Baseball Savant. After pitch No. 75, opponents only batted .246 against Cole last year, according to baseball-reference.com.
That’s territory he’ll have to get to for a no-hitter and, on a night when his stuff is peaking, we’re betting that the opponent average sits at .000 an entire game and he gets the first Yankee no-hitter since Corey Kluber in 2021.
OK, Blue Jays
With all of Toronto’s young talent, their ascension has seemed imminent for a while. They’ve contended, but lost all four of their playoff games since 2016. Last year, they blew an 8-1 lead in Game 2 of their Wild Card Series with Seattle to get eliminated. Now they have a mid-2010s Royals feel – ready after being kind of a boutique pick.
The Blue Jays are going to win the World Series, thanks in large part to future AL Cy Young winner Alek Manoah, the swaggy righty who was third in the voting last year, and a resurgent Vlad Guerrero, Jr., who saw his OPS drop nearly 200 points from 2021-22. Ex-Met Chris Bassitt helps bolster a rotation that also includes Kevin Gausman and is hoping to get Hyun Jin Ryu back in July. Bo Bichette rakes, Daulton Varsho does everything and Toronto takes the World Series trophy north of the border for the first time since 1993. Sorry, Mets. Sorry, Yanks.