While the MLB season is still a few months away, there has been plenty of excitement to what the new campaign could bring. With that, multiple analysts within The Athletes Hub have sat down and explained their personal opinions on what could take place.
What’s one team that missed the postseason in 2021 that makes it this season?
Davis Byrd: Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays reached 91 wins and didn’t make the postseason, which gives them a bit of fire to make it back in this year. Big questions loom around replacing the offense they lost after Marcus Semien signed with the Texas Rangers, but a formidable rotation of Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Robbie Ray, Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson could give AL East hitters nightmares.
Jake Crumpler: Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers missed the 2021 postseason, but their 77-85 record is misleading when considering their prospects of making a run at the postseason in 2022. A young and developing squad, the Tigers had a rough start to the season going 8-22 (.267% winning percentage) in their first 30 games through May 4th. The Tigers turned it around from there, playing better than .500 ball with a 69-63 (.523%) record the rest of the season, helping them to finish third in an uncompetitive AL Central division. That slow start held them back, as they would have finished ahead of the second-place Cleveland Guardians (80-82, .494%) if they had been able to keep up that previously mentioned rest-of-season pace for 162 games. Nonetheless, 2021 was just a stepping stone for a team emerging from a short rebuilding phase that began with the trades of J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, and Justin Upton at the 2017 Trade Deadlines.
Isaiah Hansen: Seattle Mariners
My first answer would have probably been the Toronto Blue Jays. Still, the Mariners reached 90 wins last season on the back of their young ascending talent and have added onto it. Adding Robbie Ray and Adam Frazier to the fold behind a healthy Kyle Lewis and further developed Jared Kelenic, fans have a lot to be excited about.
What’s one team that made the postseason in 2021 that misses it this season?
Davis Byrd: St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals rode an incredible hot streak to get into the postseason after being in the middle of the pack for a large portion of the regular season. The New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres should all figure themselves into the playoff conversation again as well. It isn’t an easy path back in for the Cardinals this year.
Jake Crumpler: St. Louis Cardinals
It took an incredible 17-game winning streak to get there, but the St. Louis Cardinals made the postseason in 2021, ultimately getting ousted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Wild Card Game. They’re going to need an equally magical run to get there again in 2022. They entered September 12.5 games out of first place in the NL Central with a -12 run differential and looked out of contention before that franchise record-breaking winning steak, finishing the season at 90-72 (five games out of first place, +34 run differential). With many aging veterans and a pitching staff plagued by injury, the Cardinals are going to need a lot to go right to stack up against the 2021 division champion Milwaukee Brewers.
Isaiah Hansen: Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox surprised a lot of people last year, as they had been written off after losing Mookie Betts and back-to-back weak seasons in 2019 and 2020. A couple of free agent signings can certainly change everything, but the playoff picture will get crowded. The Sox will have to contend with the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees again, along with ascending squads like the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays for the Wild Card slot.
Who is your pick for the American League and National League MVP next season?
Davis Byrd: Vladimir Guerrero Jr (AL), Juan Soto (NL)
Guerrero Jr. likely would have been the MVP in any other circumstance not including Shohei Ohtani. His 48 home runs and 111 RBI give him the traditional counting stats and a 166 wRC+ and .419 wOBA back those up. He is centerpiece of the Blue Jays, and I’d expect his success to be sustainable and for him to pick up where he left off next season. A similar story goes for Soto, who played at a high level following the All-Star break. Walking twice as much as he struck out, 53 RBI and an otherworldly .525 on-base percentage has placed him a cut above other hitters.
Jake Crumpler: Shohei Ohtani (AL), Juan Soto (NL)
The American League MVP Award has been hoarded by the Angels for almost a decade now and I don’t see that changing in 2022. Mike Trout was the perennial winner for the better part of the 2010s and now it’s Shohei Ohtani’s turn to lay claim to the title of the best player in the MLB with back-to-back MVP awards. He had a never-before-seen two-way season in 2021 with 46 home runs at the dish and a 3.18 ERA on the mound. He even swiped 26 bases for good measure, doing everything on the field at an elite level. If he doesn’t come close to those insane numbers, I think his production on both sides of the ball is more valuable than any other player. It will be interesting to see if Trout takes votes away from Ohtani with a return to health, but even his otherworldly production doesn’t compare to what Ohtani can do on a baseball field.
When discussing the 2021 National League MVP Award, I told my friends that this would be Bryce Harper’s final shot at his second MVP Award. With Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto emerging as superstars, the reasoning behind that claim is sound. While Harper wound up winning the award over those two in 2021, I think he will be nowhere near the conversation in 2022 — not because of a lack of production, but because of how amazing Tatis and Soto are. My pick for the 2022 NL MVP is Juan Soto because of his unmatched patience at the plate. In four seasons (2018-21), from age 19-22, Soto has posted an incredible .432 OBP, behind only Mike Trout’s .442 mark and 33 points higher than third-place Bryce Harper during that time. He also tapped back into his power after getting his swing right at the 2021 Home Run Derby and could reach upwards of 40 home runs in 2022. At just 23-years old, he has more room to get even better and is the closest player we have to a modern-day Barry Bonds.
Isaiah Hansen: Shohei Ohtani (AL), Fernando Tatis (NL)
The only thing that can truly stop Ohtani from completing back-to-back MVPs is voters fatigue. Ohtani will also have Mike Trout and Noah Syndergaard joining the conversation in 2022, so hopefully he’ll remain motivated as ever. As for Tatis, I expect him to be hungry for an MVP award of his own. After an injury-riddled season, Tatis still mustered up a league-leading 42 home runs across 130 games. Between the stolen bases and his solid counting numbers, I’d expect an even better year.
Who is your pick for the American League and National League Cy Young next season?
Davis Byrd: Nathan Eovaldi (AL), Jacob deGrom (NL)
Eovaldi lead the American League in FIP and base on balls allowed last season. He has excellent command of his fastball and has relied on his hammer curveball to put away hitters. Opposing batters only slugged .228 against the pitch in 2021. He has efficient strikeout material and keeps the ball on the ground when he does give up contact. The return of Chris Sale will command the headlines, but Eovaldi is the anchor to Boston’s rotation. As long as deGrom plays at the same level he’s used to, he has to be considered the Cy Young favorite in the National League. He is in the midst of one of the most dominant stretches of any big league starting pitcher ever.
Jake Crumpler: Gerrit Cole (AL), Sandy Alcantara (NL)
In a down year in 2021, Gerrit Cole finished second place in the American League Cy Young voting with a 3.23 ERA and 243 strikeouts. I’m predicting a bounce-back to his old ways, making him a clear frontrunner for the award in 2022. Cole struggled when the foreign substance ban went into place (4.50+ ERA in June and July), but he had some gutsy performances along the way that showed he still has the stuff to make him the ace of aces. He pairs an upper-nineties fastball with a wicked slider and a sneaky changeup and curveball that help him rack up plenty of strikeouts, and as long as he can avoid the home run ball in the Yankee Stadium bandbox, he should coast to the win with few competitors getting in his way.
In the National League, my prediction is less by the books. Sandy Alcantara was one of the biggest improvers from the 2021 season where he showed a similar arsenal to second-place Cy Young award finisher, Zack Wheeler. I had Alcantara as my dark-horse Cy Young contender last season, but now I think he is a full-fledged frontrunner because he provides ace caliber volume )197.1 IP in 2019, 205.2 in ‘21) with great ratios (3.49 career ERA) that are helped by pitching in spacious LoanDepot Park. Most importantly, the flame-throwing (98.1 mph avg. fastball velocity) righty showed improved strikeout stuff in the final two months of last season (21.4% K% in first half, 27.4% in second half), suggesting a higher ceiling that, if realized for an entire season, would make Alcantara a clear contender to be named the 2022 NL Cy Young award winner.
Isaiah Hansen: Gerrit Cole (AL), Walker Buehler (NL)
I strongly considered mentioning the returning Shane Bieber into the Cy Young conversation, but I don’t expect the Guardians to be competitive enough to give him the absolute victory in comparison to Cole. Cole received much criticism after the decline in his overall performance after “spider-tac” was banned from the league. I expect Cole to have better results in 2022, as he’s had more time to adjust, while being a main piece of any Yankees playoff run.
As it stands, Walker Buehler is the last in what was the ‘Big 3’ alongside Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw. There is a chance Trevor Bauer could return at some point, but the heavy lifting will be done by Buehler for the most part. He should expect to have more than enough run support this season. Considering the health and age of a lot of the other candidates, Buehler deserves strong consideration after posting 2.47 ERA heading into the prime of his career.
Who is your pick for your American League and National League Rookie of the Year next season?
Davis Byrd: Shane Baz (AL), Joey Bart (NL)
The Rookie of the Year in 2021 served as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays with Wander Franco, so I’m going with another member of the franchise. Baz threw 13.1 innings for the Rays in 2021 and looked like the real deal, despite the limited sample size. He struck out 18 batters across 13.1 innings and held opposing batters to a miniscule .167 xBA with his high-90’s fastball and wipeout slider.
In the National League, Buster Posey’s retirement in Joey Bart could give way to several more years of top class play from the backstop if he pans out how many think he will. Bart might not be an exciting pick here, but he’s equipped with the tools to hit for power and play great defense for a Giants team that appears to be hungry to make it back to the playoffs.
Jake Crumpler: Bobby Witt Jr (AL), Oneil Cruz (NL)
With so many top prospects to pick from in the American League, the Rookie of the Year Award race is going to be a close one in 2022. With the likes of Julio Rodriguez, Adley Rutschman, and Spencer Torkelson on the verge of the MLB, the American League is about to get an influx of top-tier talent. My bet for Rookie of the Year is a different top prospect who had a lot of fanfare surrounding his possible call-up in 2021. I think shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. of the Kansas City Royals takes home the award next season as he shows off his incredible tools. Witt showed why he was drafted second overall in 2019 by mashing 33 home runs with 29 stolen bases while batting .290 across AA and AAA, showing his readiness for a Major League call-up. With his elite power and speed as well as a serviceable enough glove to play a premium position, I see Witt emerging as one of the up-and-coming superstars in the AL in 2022.
Oneil Cruz might not have had the same prospect fanfare as his contemporaries, but in just a two-game taste of the MLB in 2021, he put up some notable metrics that make him a standout Rookie of the Year candidate heading into 2022. Across AA and AAA last season, the 6’7” lefty-hitting shortstop tallied 17 home runs and 19 steals while hitting .310 in a 69-game sample. He was called up in September and made headlines by hitting a ball 118.2 mph, showing the elite caliber of his power and making him one of just 15 players to record a batted ball of at least 118 mph last season. Max exit velocity is a good measure for raw power and it bodes well for Cruz’s power production going forward. Steamer projects him for 20 home runs, 14 steals, and a 122 wRC+ in just 110 games, and that would be more than enough to secure him a spot in the Rookie of the Year Award discussion.
Isaiah Hansen: Julio Rodriguez (AL), Joey Bart (NL)
It’s difficult to predict the Rookie of the Year because a lot of teams tend to manipulate service time and Julio Rodriguez is on a team that does just that. However, with a new CBA agreement pending and the Seattle Mariners being players in the West, I don’t think they’ll try to get too cute. Rodriguez has great potential and he’ll be surrounded with solid hitters for protection.
I’ve been trying to avoid matching up with my fellow writers, but the main answer has to be Joey Bart in the National League. He is officially set to pick up the torch that Buster Posey left behind and has had plenty of time to develop. He is also unlikely to have to deal with service time manipulation. This would be tougher if we knew that New York Mets’ Francisco Alvarez was debuting, but I doubt that is happening until July at the earliest.
Who is your way-too-early pick for the 2022 World Series? Who wins?
Davis Byrd: Tampa Bay Rays def. New York Mets
The Rays have been so close to breaking through their World Series expectations and with full seasons now from Randy Arozarena and Wander Franco on the offensive side, anchored by their excellent bullpen and potential anchors to their rotation with the new signing of Corey Kluber as a bounce-back candidate and my Rookie of the Year pick in Shane Baz, they’ll be too much for Steve Cohen’s new look Mets.
Jake Crumpler: Toronto Blue Jays def. San Diego Padres
Despite missing the postseason in 2021, the Toronto Blue Jays emerged as serious contenders with one of the most dangerous lineups in the Major Leagues, led by some of the brightest young talents in the game. Now they have an equally scary rotation with the likes of Kevin Gausman and Jose Berrios in tow for the long haul. If they can add to their shaky bullpen and find a replacement for the departed Marcus Semien, they could find themselves being the team to beat come October.
On the National League side, the Padres struggled with injuries and a late-season fade and ultimately missed out on October baseball. They had high hopes heading into last season and were projected to give the Los Angeles Dodgers a run for their money, but ended up finishing third while the San Francisco Giants followed the narrative predicted for the Padres. They look to be in the same situation as they did last year with one of the deepest offenses in the game starring shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. With better health in the rotation and the return of Mike Clevinger from Tommy John surgery, the Padres might finally live up to the hype bestowed upon them since their 2020 trade deadline spree.
It would be a tight matchup with two powerhouse lineups and deep rotations trading blows, but in the end, I think the Blue Jays are more set up for success with fewer question marks heading into next season. I predict a signature Vladimir Guerrero Jr. moment and some fireworks from Bo Bichette, but I think seasoned postseason hero, George Springer, walks away with the World Series MVP award.
Isaiah Hansen: Toronto Blue Jays def. New York Mets
This might seem like a bold prediction, but I think both of these teams are ready. The Toronto Blue Jays are at the culmination of the dynasty that they have built on the back of patience and developing young talent. They have one of the best offenses in the game led behind Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The one thing that the Jays have lacked was pitching and now they have it. While the bullpen could be improved upon, they have a top-notch pitching rotation, even with the loss of Robbie Ray.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves have stood still for the most part during the offseason, while Steve Cohen has remained active in preparing the New York Mets for a World Series run. The loss of Javier Baez is tough, but the Mets have a complete roster.
What is one bold prediction you have for the 2022 season?
Davis Byrd: It’s really early to say at the moment, but this could be the first season since 1994-95 to result in canceled games due to the ongoing lockout. I’m not sure how bold that may be, as rumors have been flying about how nasty this process will be to iron out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. A prediction about the on-the-field product will be the New York Yankees missing the playoffs. As of yet, the Yankees have failed to make a splashy signing to improve their team. Their division looks as tough as it’s ever been. With an improved Blue Jays roster, it’s not all that feasible to see them in a dogfight in their division once again and battling for an increasingly competitive Wildcard spot in the American League.
Jake Crumpler: Alec Bohm and Rhys Hoskins combine for 60 home runs and 200 RBI, while Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler both finish inside the top ten of NL Cy Young award voting, but the Phillies still miss the playoffs. The Phillies have continuously wasted great performances on sub-.500 teams because of their inability to fill glaring team weaknesses. Bohm will be in his third big league season and should have his bearings by now, while Hoskins fixed his swing last year, but missed a majority of the season due to injury and should bounce back with a return to health. Both have big power and if Bohm is still unable to reach his fullest potential, Hoskins could make up for it by eclipsing the 40-home run barrier. The ace duo of Wheeler and Nola is equally compelling. Wheeler had a breakout season last year and I see a continuation of that in 2022, while Nola has great peripherals that suggest a return to the ace-form he showed in previous seasons.
Isaiah Hansen: The Minnesota Twins will bounce back. I don’t know if they have enough to knock off other teams mentioned in terms of playoff contention, but after winning 101 games in 2019 and finishing atop their division in the shortened 2020 season, they took a big step back in 2021. They haven’t done a ton to improve their team to this point, but I expect them to improve this season. They still have a great offense, though their pitching could use some assistance. Another year of Alex Kiriloff alongside Max Kepler, Miguel Sano and Josh Donaldson should fair well. All in all, this is a team that can finish with 90+ wins in 2022.