2022 MLB predictions: From the expanded playoffs and the World Series to MVPs and Cy Youngs

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Better late than never, we have arrived at opening week of the 2022 MLB season.

With -- among other changes -- more playoff spots available, is this the year your favorite team will make a run in October? Will your favorite player win a postseason award?

No one can know for sure, which is why we put 38 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. Were they on the mark ... or way off? We'll know about seven months from now, if they post this page on social media -- or pretend it never existed.

Here goes!

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AL picks | NL picks | AL awards | NL awards

AL East

Our pick: Blue Jays (29 votes)

Who else got votes?Rays (5), Red Sox (2), Yankees (2)

The Blue Jays are heavy favorites among our voters in the AL East. You picked the Rays. Tell us why.

The name of the game in 2022 is pitching depth and power hitting. You need lots of pitching to get through a season and you have to hit home runs to score -- and that's how the Rays won 100 games in 2021. No team has the pitching depth to match Tampa Bay's -- and young arms Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino and Shane Baz can improve or, in Baz's case, once he returns from arthroscopic surgery on his elbow, make an immediate impact as a rookie. The Rays, oh by the way, scored more runs than the Blue Jays last season. Maybe the offense overachieved a bit, but it will benefit from a full season from sophomore Wander Franco, the rising superstar who might win the batting title. -- David Schoenfield

AL Central

Our pick: White Sox (34 votes)

Who else got votes? Twins (4)

All but four of our voters chose the White Sox to win the division. You picked the Twins. Explain yourself!

I am leaning into the great potential of their lineup. The upside up the middle is limitless with Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, Jorge Polanco (33 home runs last season) and a focused Gary Sanchez. Then you add Miguel Sano, and a contact hitter like Luis Arraez and they can make pitchers truly work. They were an above-average defensive team last season that added a Gold Glove shortstop. It will take some breakout seasons by the other young players, especially on the mound, but they have the talent to do just that. -- Doug Glanville

AL West

Our pick: Astros (35 votes)

Who else got votes? Angels (2), Mariners (1)

The Astros were a nearly unanimous pick here. You were the sole voter who took the Mariners. Why Seattle > Houston?

Did you see Seattle's offseason? The Mariners are loaded and can actually still play the underdog card even though they became a known quantity last year. The addition of Robbie Ray might be the single most important addition for any team. He fills such a big void at the top of the rotation, while Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez bring the kind of veteran bats any team needs when it wants to make a leap in the standings. While they were adding, the Astros lost their star shortstop and pitching coach. Don't underestimate the latter change as Brent Strom was instrumental in helping along Houston's young pitchers. It'll be a tight race, but Seattle will prevail. -- Jesse Rogers

AL wild cards

Our picks: Yankees (30 votes), Red Sox (25), Rays (24)

Who else got votes?Angels (9), Blue Jays (8), Mariners (5), Twins (4), Tigers (3), White Sox (3), Astros (2), Rangers (1)

Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, Rays. We've chosen all four AL East teams to make the playoffs(there's a rumor the AL East has a fifth team, but that's unconfirmed at press time). What will make this division so dominant?

There's a lot that goes into it, but it starts with the Yankees setting a high bar for winning the division. Not only has New York stretched its remarkable streak of winning seasons to 29, but in 26 of those campaigns, the Yankees have posted a winning percentage of .537 or better, which translates to 87 wins over a full season. That's the starting point for the Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays. (And also those poor Orioles.) We're at an inflection point where all of those contending clubs have built their rosters to be at least 87-wins good. At the same time, none of the teams in the other AL divisions, beyond projected champs Chicago and Houston, project to be much better than .500. Of course, one or two of them will probably break out and pass that barrier, so the wild-card races aren't likely to be the routs they look to be right now for the AL East. Those teams in the Central and West also have a significant advantage: Unlike the AL East contenders, they don't have to play the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays 19 times apiece. -- Bradford Doolittle

AL champion

Our pick: Blue Jays (16 votes)

Who else got votes? White Sox (10), Rays (4), Yankees (4), Red Sox (2), Angels (1), Astros (1)

You picked the Yankees to win the pennant. What do you think gives them the edge over our panel's favorites -- namely, the Blue Jays and White Sox?

I haven't loved every move of the Yankees' offseason, but they're at least solid average at every spot except maybe fifth starter and middle relief, though those are also the easiest places to find unexpected contributors. With quality prospect depth lingering (Oswald Peraza, Anthony Volpe, Clarke Schmidt, Ken Waldichuk, Luis Medina, Deivi Garcia, et al.) to possibly contribute, the pieces to make another major move if needed, and the inclination to go for it this year, I think the incentives and talent level are right for the Bombers to break through this season, though I'd love to see a couple more pitching contributors emerge. -- Kiley McDaniel

NL East

Our pick: Braves (28 votes)

Who else got votes? Mets (8), Phillies (2)

The Mets got some tough news on Jacob deGrom heading into the season. But you still have them down as your NL East pick. What makes you so high on the Amazin's?

Steve Cohen's money goes a long way toward filling prospective in-season roster holes, especially since it's clear he's not going to worry about silly things like the luxury tax, and I think he'd be much more apt to bring in additional starting pitching help if and when it's needed. But even sans deGrom, Max Scherzer is a plenty talented ace, and Chris Bassitt is underrated. On offense, I expect a big bounce-back year from Francisco Lindor, and I see him, Pete Alonso and Starling Marte leading a formidable offense. There's just too much depth here, and Cohen's not going to let injuries deplete it. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft

NL Central

Our pick: Brewers (32 votes)

Who else got votes? Cardinals (6)

Tell us why you think the Cardinals are going to overcome the Brewers, whom our voters chose overwhelmingly.

The Brewers have incredible pitching, and it's not as if the Cardinals made big moves in the offseason. But the difference between the teams is incredibly thin, and day after day, the Cardinals will be fueled by this internal push to get Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright to the end of their respective careers in style -- and that push will extend to the front office, which will fill holes and add needed help at the trade deadline. Sometimes these milestone situations can drag down teams, but in this case, the last dance of this trio will energize the group. -- Buster Olney

NL West

Our pick: Dodgers (35 votes)

Who else got votes? Giants (3)

You picked the Dodgers to win the NL West. (SPOILER ALERT: You also picked them to win the NL pennant and the World Series.) You certainly weren't alone. What makes L.A. special?

The Dodgers have a relentless lineup, one of the best we've seen in the last 10 years. One through nine, they'll have someone who can hit it out of the ballpark. They led the NL in runs scored last year. Now, they have Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner for a full season. Wow. -- Tim Kurkjian

NL wild cards

Our picks: Giants (24 votes),Mets (23), Padres (21)

Who else got votes?Phillies (19), Cardinals (12), Braves (10), Dodgers (2), Brewers (1), Cubs (1), Rockies (1)

You picked both the Giants and the Padres to make the playoffs. Tell us why.

The Padres, who spent the 2021 season systematically dismantling high expectations, and the Giants, who won 107 games and the National League West, will join the Dodgers in the postseason. The Padres rescued manager Bob Melvin from the rubble in Oakland, and his presence alone will change the culture. A better rotation (with Sean Manaea) and more power (Luke Voit) won't hurt, either. In San Francisco, the attention has been on the loss of the retired Buster Posey and spring injuries to Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria andLaMonte Wade Jr.,but the Giants have retooled with the deepest -- if not the best -- rotation in the NL. Logan Webb, Carlos Rodon, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Alex Cobb provide a diverse right-left-right-left-right lineup. It's also a safe bet president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi once again has unearthed a few more players -- pitcher Jakob Junis might be one, infielder Luke Williams another -- who will write their redemption stories. -- Tim Keown

NL champion

Our pick: Dodgers (27 votes)

Who else got votes? Brewers (5), Braves (4), Giants (1), Mets (1)

Why did you take the Braves to repeat as NL champs?

Because the Braves won just 88 games in the 2021 regular season, the strength of how they performed in the last three months of last season seems to be underrated constantly. They won the World Series even without Ronald Acuna Jr., arguably baseball's best player, and now the postseason experience that the likes of Max Fried, Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies have accumulated will be leveraged. They lost Freddie Freeman, yes, but added Matt Olson, Collin McHugh and Kenley Jansen -- and yes, Acuna, who is expected to return relatively early in the season. -- Olney

World Series champion

Our pick: Dodgers (16 votes)

Who else got votes? Blue Jays (8), White Sox (5), Braves (2), Brewers (2), Yankees (2), Giants (1), Rays (1), Red Sox (1)

The Dodgers are our favorite to win the World Series, but the White Sox got their share of votes too -- including yours. What makes them so dangerous?

The way everyone talks about the Toronto Blue Jays reminds me of how we used to talk about the Chicago White Sox. While this team lost Carlos Rodon, the White Sox still have a really strong rotation led by Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn, while top prospect Michael Kopech could make a splash in fortifying this group. A full year of health from Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez would help take this lineup over the top, and while the team will certainly miss having Garrett Crochet in the back end of the bullpen, the team's depth across its roster will make it a favorite to win the World Series. -- Joon Lee

You picked the Blue Jays (over the Dodgers) to win the World Series. Why?

The Blue Jays' offense -- headlined by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, Bo Bichette, Matt Chapman and others -- is one of few that can even compare with that of the Dodgers. But their rotation -- featuring Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Hyun Jin Ryu, Alek Manoah and Yusei Kikuchi -- looks significantly better. And the energy they play with is palpable. It'll win them the final series of the season. By then, the rigorous AL East will have this relatively young group tested and ready. -- Alden Gonzalez


Our pick: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (13 votes)

Who else got votes? Shohei Ohtani (9), Mike Trout (9), Aaron Judge (3), Yordan Alvarez (1), Byron Buxton (1), Luis Robert (1), Trevor Story (1)

Vladdy won a close three-way race in our vote for AL MVP over Ohtani and Trout. You took Trout. What made you choose him to bounce back and outplay the others?

Barring another major injury, I expect Trout to play the way he always has. Trout has been one of the most consistent athletes in all of sports, and his skill set will continue to age well as he advances in his career. As much as I love Vladdy's game, I think he will take a very small step backward in 2022 as the league adjusts to his success last year. Ohtani presents the biggest challenge to Trout, and I got very close to picking the two-way star as a back-to-back MVP. -- Lee

AL Cy Young

Our pick: Gerrit Cole (10 votes)

Who else got votes?Shane Bieber (8),Lucas Giolito (7),Jose Berrios (6),Dylan Cease (2),Justin Verlander (2),Kevin Gausman (1),Chris Sale (1),Framber Valdez (1)

Our AL Cy Young was a close race between four aces -- Berrios, Bieber, Giolito and your pick, Cole. Why him?

Cole is the safest combination of that group of production and health, finishing fifth, second, fourth and second in the Cy Young voting over the past four seasons, with his only missed time coming last year when he contracted COVID-19. Yes, I'm a little concerned that he didn't pitch as well after the crackdown on Spider Tack and other grip substances, but this is a durable power pitcher who had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the American League and will benefit from an improved Yankees defense. He's due to finally win his first Cy Young Award. -- Schoenfield

AL Rookie of the Year

Our pick:Bobby Witt Jr. (18 votes)

Who else got votes?Spencer Torkelson (8),Adley Rutschman (3),Riley Greene (2), Julio Rodriguez (2), Gabriel Arias (1),Shane Baz (1),Josh Lowe (1), Gabriel Moreno (1),Jeremy Pena (1)

What makes Witt so special? What can we expect this season from him?

Witt is one of the most talented rookies we've seen in some time. He was posting eye-popping exit velocities as a prep underclassman who stood out against the older kids and has continued to beat expectations since then. There may be some up-and-down as his good-not-great pitch selection and power-focused approach could see growing pains against the best pitchers in the world. But he's plus at everything else (bat speed, raw power, in-game power, speed, defense, arm) and has never really failed on a baseball field in a meaningful way. Hitting .260 with 20 home runs and real speed/defensive value is basically expected, with face-of-the-franchise upside as the next step. -- McDaniel


Our pick: Juan Soto (19 votes)

Who else got votes?Ronald Acuna Jr. (3),Freddie Freeman (3), Austin Riley (3),Trea Turner (3), Francisco Lindor (2), Matt Olson (2), Mookie Betts (1), Nick Castellanos (1),Bryce Harper (1)

He has finished ninth, fifth and second in the NL MVP balloting the past three seasons. Why is this the year Soto finally wins it?

Since the beginning of the 2020 season, Soto has a 1.042 OPS. That gets him into the conversation. At 23 and with a steeled work ethic, he keeps making upgrades to his plate approach. His walk rate has increased during all four of his seasons while his strikeout rate has dropped. Thus his on-base percentages the past two seasons have been Barry Bonds-esque. When Soto swings, he makes contact at an elite level, giving him a baseline of a .330 BABIP. And we've seen in the Home Run Derby just how much raw power Soto has. All Soto needs to put up a season for the ages is to match that raw power with game power for a full season. With an isolated power figure of .291 after the All-Star break last season, that process appears to already be well underway. If Soto stays on the field for 150 games or so, this is the season it all comes together for him and the numbers could be massive. It doesn't hurt that he's motivated by the pursuit of a potential record-breaking contract extension. -- Doolittle

NL Cy Young

Our pick: Walker Buehler (21 votes)

Who else got votes?Max Scherzer (6),Logan Webb (3),Jacob deGrom (2),Aaron Nola (2),Sandy Alcantara (1), Corbin Burnes (1),Zack Wheeler (1),Brandon Woodruff (1)

With deGrom on the shelf to start the season, Buehler became our runaway pick here. What makes him so good -- and what do you expect from him this year?

For one, he's supremely confident and downright fearless. The Dodgers noticed this immediately, then watched him channel that in some of their biggest games over the past four years -- Game 163 against the Rockies in 2018, NLCS Game 7 against the Brewers later that October, NLCS Game 6 against the Braves in 2020, and World Series Game 3 against the Rays six days after that. Buehler can command as many as six pitches, throws into the upper 90s and has established himself as the Dodgers' ace, taking the mantle from Clayton Kershaw. The 2021 season, which saw him finish fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting, marked the first time Buehler surpassed 200 innings. He said he learned a lot from the experience. Backed by a potent offense and a deep bullpen, Buehler, 27, looks primed to take the next step. -- Gonzalez

NL Rookie of the Year

Our pick:Seiya Suzuki (16 votes)

Who else got votes?Oneil Cruz (12),Hunter Greene (4),Joey Bart (2),CJ Abrams (1),Edward Cabrera (1),Cade Cavalli (1),Bryson Stott (1)

What are the Cubs expecting from Suzuki -- and what's one thing fans might not know about him that they should?

You don't pay a guy $85 million -- $17 million a year -- and not expect big things. Having said that, the Cubs will be more than patient as Suzuki transitions to his new surroundings and league. His power will play during the summer at Wrigley Field, as one scout said he exhibits a "pretty" right-handed swing -- a description usually saved for left-handed hitters. Even via an interpreter, baseball fans should see his sense of humor, as Suzuki has already proved to be fun and self-deprecating. -- Rogers

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