With the thrilling World Baseball Classic in the books, all eyes now turn to the pitch clock era of Major League Baseball. Starting with the NL East, let’s go division by division about what to expect in the 2023 MLB season. But first, let’s break down some key rule changes that will change the game like never before.
MLB Rule Changes
Major League Baseball shocked the world by finally outlawing the shift and adopting a pitch clock. If spring training was any indicator, it looks like it’s going to be a learning experience for all of us. However, the pitch clock was not the only major rule change to take place in the offseason. The big three everyone will be talking about when the season begins:
- Pitch Shot Clock: the first of two major rule changes to the Major League game, the owners opted for after seeing a 25-minute reduction in the average Minor League game. The official pitch clock will be 15 seconds when there are no runners on base and 20 seconds with runners on. However this new rule doesn’t just regulate the pitchers, batters must be in the batter’s box and “engaged” within 8 seconds or an automatic strike will be called by the home plate umpire. Read more about the MLB Pitch Clock Rules.
- No Shift: Discussed for a long time in baseball circles, the infield shift which effectively ended Ted Williams’ career has officially been outlawed. Two infielders must be on either side of the second base bag “at the time the pitch is released.” Additionally, the third baseman, shortstop, second baseman, and first baseman must have their feet on the infield dirt when the pitch is released.
- Enormous Bases: The MLB reports that larger bases helped reduce injury events by 13% in minor league games last year and deemed that evidence enough to adopt the practice. Bases will be enlarged from 15″ square to 18″ square inches.
NL East Season Preview
Despite a red-hot Phillies team last year dashing their chances at repeating as World Series Champions, the Atlanta Braves are in a prime position to take the division for a sixth consecutive year. In actuality, it appeared to be a surefire bet until the Braves made the shocking decision not to start the season with either Vaughn Grissom or Brandon Shewmake as the team’s starting shortstop. While Orlando Arcia will presumably get the nod, the Braves now have an unexpected and unwelcome hole in the center of the infield.
The same cannot be said of the arch-rival Philadelphia Phillies whose offseason acquisition of Trae Turner showed big time in the World Baseball Classic. The whole in the Phillies lineup lies elsewhere as just days before the season was set to begin, disaster struck with a season-ending injury to star first basemen Rhys Hoskins.
As of now, the Atlanta Braves are the favorite to win the division at even money, followed fairly closely by the New York Mets at +155. The Philadelphia Phillies sit third behind the Mets at +400 ahead of the two longshots Miami (+4000) and the Washington Nationals (+250000).
NL West Season Preview
The San Diego Padres, a team once deemed as the little brother to the illustrious Los Angeles Dodgers, has emerged from the shadows with a newfound sense of confidence. A stunning triumph over the 111-win Dodgers in the NL Division Series fueled the fire within the Padres, as they have since embarked on a fearless spending spree, courtesy of their indomitable owner, Peter Seidler. As the upcoming season approaches, the Padres appear well-positioned to challenge for the highly coveted NL West title, and perhaps even the elusive World Series crown that has long eluded them.
Boasting a formidable lineup that includes the likes of Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts, and Manny Machado, the Padres’ faithful can scarcely contain their excitement. Come April 20, manager Bob Melvin will welcome back a fourth superstar from an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, further solidifying the Padres’ status as a force to be reckoned with.
The Padres are expected to dish out a whopping $255 million, placing them third in payroll rankings, behind only the illustrious New York Mets and Yankees. The Dodgers, winners of nine of the last ten NL West titles, will be left scratching their heads in bewilderment as the Padres make it rain.
Nevertheless, the Dodgers still open as the favorite to win the division at -125. They are followed closely behind by the aforementioned Padres (+120). There’s quite a dropoff from there as the Giants (+1200), Diamondbacks (+4000), and the Colorado Rockies (+15000) do not seem to have much of a chance in the eyes of the oddsmakers.
NL Central Division Preview
With no obvious weakness in their lineup the St. Louis Cardinals are back on top in the NL Central (at least on paper). While the reigning National League MVP, Paul Goldschmidt, is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the Cardinals, let’s not forget about the other heavy hitters they’ve got in the mix. In the infield, we’ve got Nolan Arenado, who finished third in MVP voting last season, and Tommy Edman. And let’s not forget about Nolan Gorman, who is looking to build on a respectable rookie season.
Though the Cardinals were unable to make a splash with a starting pitcher, they did make a noteworthy addition to their catching roster with the acquisition of Willson Contreras, who comes to them as a three-time All-Star with some pretty impressive stats to his name. He achieved a career-high in wRC+ and home runs last season, which helped earn him a sweet five-year deal with St. Louis. And with Yadier Molina out of the picture, Contreras is poised to make a big impact.
For this reason, the Cardinals are the odds-on favorite (-130) to win the division in 2023. The Milwaukee Brewers come in at +165, followed by the Dansby Swanson-led Cubs (+600), the Pittsburgh Pirates (+3800), and finally the Cincinnati Reds (+6000).
AL East Division Preview
The big-budget New York Yankees, after finally being able to iron out a long-term deal with star Aaron Judge, are everyone’s favorite once again to win the AL East Division (+120). But this isn’t a one-division team. The Blue Jays have some promise in the eyes of oddsmakers with Vlad Guerro Jr. being joined by Bo Bichettee, Matt Chapman, Whit Merrifield and George Springer to project as one of the league’s top offenses.
In Boston, things are not looking up. As the 2022 trading deadline approached, GM Chaim Bloom stood firm, refusing to sell off key assets. Yet, despite this show of confidence, the team finished in second-to-last place in the AL East for the second time in just three seasons. Then the offseason saw the departures of both JD Martinez and, more devastating, franchise centerpiece shortstop Xander Bogaerts. For these reasons, the Red Sox’s are now fetching 20 to 1 on the open market to shock the world and take down the division crown. Finally, at +2500, the Baltimore Orioles enter 2023 with as much optimism as ever. A full year with top prospect Adley Rushman behind the plate should be something even non-Orioles fans should be excited to see.
AL West Division Preview
Coming into the season the AL West was thought to be the least competitive division with the Houston Astros running away with it. However, disaster struck during the World Baseball Classic when Jose Altuve took a pitch off of his thumb. While he should return to the team this year, the star second baseman is expected to miss at least the next two months after having his thumb operated on. This sets the stage for the young Seattle Mariners to become a popular pick around the league to upset the Astros and take the division crown. Lost in the middle, the Los Angeles Angels who aren’t in Los Angeles get one more chance to make some noise with the dynamic duo of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
|Los Angeles Angels
AL Central Division Preview
In the AL Central, the Guardians are looking like the cream of the crop and poised to defend their division title. With a deep pitching staff and a talented group of up-and-coming position players, led by the electrifying George Valera, the Guardians have all the pieces they need to make another run at the playoffs.
However, the competition is fierce, and if the division is still up for grabs at the Trade Deadline – which is highly likely – both the White Sox and Twins will be highly motivated to make moves to improve their chances and might force the hand of the typically guarded Guardians front office.
As we get ready for opening day, the AL Central appears to be one of the tighter races in all of baseball. A three-horse race is expected to take place between perennial AL Central champions Cleveland Guardians (+115), the Minnesota Twins (+180), and the Chicago White Sox (+300). An order of magnitude behind these three is the struggling Detroit Tigers (+3000) and finally, the Kansas City Royals who are having trouble getting out of their own way.