Here is everything you need to know to get ready for the first pitch of the new baseball season!
Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic are coming to a conclusion, meaning it’s just about time for the boys of summer to throw on their spikes and take the field. As per usual, there is no shortage of storylines to follow and look forward to. With new rules, young stars, seasoned vets and teams hoping to capitalize on new opportunities, it’s set to be an exciting year. To get you ready, let’s take a look at each of baseball’s divisions as well as some players and stories we expect to hear more about as the season progresses.
National League West
This year could spell big change for the NL West, as the division winners in nine of the last 10 seasons could be poised to take a backseat to the team often looked at as the little brother. The Dodgers went all-in last year, inking former-MVP Freddie Freeman to a megadeal to be their first baseman for the foreseeable future. That meant the Dodgers had four former MVPs on their roster, plus talent at almost every other position on the diamond. Well, it wasn’t quite enough, as they were knocked out by the San Diego Padres in the NLDS. In 2023, it appears that the Dodgers have taken a step back while the Padres have taken steps forward.
In addition to giving perennial-MVP-candidate Manny Machado a new deal, San Diego signed star shortstop Xander Bogaerts in the offseason and appears ready to take the next step with other young phenoms like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto. Don’t be surprised if they knock the Dodgers off their pedestal and take the division. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see the Giants make a run, as they’ve added players with major upside like Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto to a team with an extremely talented pitching staff. Still, it figures to be a two-team race all the way to the end, even with the Diamondbacks on the upswing with an elite slew of prospects and a true ace in Zac Gallen leading the rotation. Arizona could look to compete in future years, while both the present and the future appear quite grim for the Rockies and their loyal fan base.
National League Central
The NL Central is probably the division with the most questions, all the way from the top to the bottom. As we saw last year, despite their seeming disinterest in adding and retaining top-end talent, the Brewers keep coming back. Their pitching figures to be great once again with Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff anchoring the rotation, but it remains to be seen if the offense can keep up. Christian Yelich will certainly look to return to MVP form, while prospects and players with past struggles will look to take the next step. The St. Louis Cardinals are the other half of this two-horse race, adding Willson Contreras to a lineup that already has two bona fide MVP candidates in Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. They do have two questions, however: Will those stars show up in the playoffs, and will the pitching be able to match the offensive output?
Smack in the middle of the division figures to be the Cubs, who added multiple players with major upside during the offseason. Even with Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer all joining the lineup, however, they may still need help to be a playoff team. At the bottom of the division are the Pirates and Reds, both of which could have a fun year for both longtime and new fans. Former MVPs Joey Votto and Andrew McCutchen appear to be rounding out their careers, while young talents like Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz will look to provide fireworks. Still, the skill deficit expects to be too much to overcome for both teams.
National League East
Possibly the most fun division to look ahead at, the NL East figures to be a three-team war. We have to start with the defending NL champs, the Philadelphia Phillies, who added even more talent in the offseason. They brought in superstar Trea Turner to round out a lineup complete with heavy hitters like Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto. They also have the pitching to make another deep run in October. Still, they might be third fiddle to the Braves and Mets. The Braves have some of the best young talent in the league, and they seem to add more every year. The Mets lost likely the best pitcher in the game in Jacob deGrom, but they replaced him with the defending AL Cy Young Award-winner Justin Verlander. The rivalry between the two teams has grown so much the past few years, so it should be a fun battle for baseball fans to watch.
The Marlins will likely look to take fourth place in the division despite still having the potential to be fun. They added the 2022 AL batting champion Luis Arraez in a trade with the Minnesota Twins, and they will hope for a repeat from defending Cy Young Award-winner Sandy Alcantara as they try to compete for a wild card spot. There isn’t much to say about the Nationals, as the 2019 World Series team has nearly disbanded entirely. It’s set to be a very down season for a team that so shortly ago was a consistent contender.
American League West
This division is all-too fascinating while also being all-too predictable. We have to start with the two best players in baseball in Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Who is No. 1 and who is No. 2? The truth is, it doesn’t matter, because baseball fans win when those two are on the stage. Unfortunately, the Angels don’t win, and despite rostering two all-time greats, they never seem to have the supporting cast to make waves. Their most interesting story could be how they treat the Ohtani situation. Will they extend him, let him walk or make history with a game-breaking trade? The defending World Series champion Astros should also be interesting, as they still have a dominant pitching staff despite losing Justin Verlander, and their lineup is equally talented. They’ll look to compete for their third World Series in six years this upcoming season.
The Mariners, who made the playoffs for the first time in more than 20 years last season, hope for a repeat, or better yet, an improvement. Additions like Teoscar Hernández, A.J. Pollock and Kolten Wong could be the difference makers in their ability to go deep in October, or one of the game’s most fun players in Julio Rodríguez could carry them the way baseball’s top stars tend to do. Out in Arlington, the Rangers continue to spend, but it hasn’t quite paid off yet. They’ll hope for even more after adding the top free agent arm in Jacob deGrom in addition to other talented hurlers like Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney. Last, and least, are the Oakland A’s, who are currently playing baseball’s biggest game of “will-they-won’t-they.” Will they move to Vegas, or will they lock down a stadium on the water? The answer is uncertain, but we are pretty sure that they’ll finish last in the division, and we can’t help but feel for the fans.
American League Central
Possibly the division with the least top-end talent is also the division that might have the most competition. While most may expect the Twins or Guardians to come out on top, it’s not crazy to think that the White Sox could pop up and steal a division in which the winner may not even win 90 games. It was an offseason to be proud of for Minnesota, whose biggest move was probably retaining Carlos Correa. Though not exactly an addition, it has to feel like a win for fans who saw the superstar shortstop passed from coast to coast before finally settling in with his 2022 team. Correa will look to get back to work with his 2012 draft partner Byron Buxton, who baseball fans are dying to see a full, healthy year from.
Though not typically active in the offseason, the Guardians made a bit of a splash, adding power bats Josh Bell and Mike Zunino. They should pair nicely with Jose Ramirez and the pitching factory they seem to have in Cleveland. The White Sox could also be interesting after what most regard as one of the worst offseason performances in the league. Despite losing the face of their franchise in Jose Abreu, they still have three strong starters and some young, developing bats. The Royals and Tigers should round out the division, and they’ll likely measure their success by the quality experience they can give to their recent top prospects like Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino.
American League East
Fun for baseball fans but little fun for fans of the teams in the division is the AL East. It might, however, be a bit more fun now that fewer divisional games are played. Let’s start from the bottom on this one. It all came crashing down for the Red Sox after their World Series title in 2018. The latest loss is their longtime shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who joined the stacked San Diego lineup. Rafael Devers and his huge bat signed a long-term extension, but with an injury-riddled rotation, there’s little to look forward to for Boston this year.
The other four teams, however, could all fight for playoff spots, or even a World Series title. The Orioles and former No. 1 pick Adley Rutschman are on the upswing and could take the next step this year. Wander Franco, who was the only player keeping Rutschman at the No. 2 spot in most prospect rankings, will also look to lead his Rays to a fifth consecutive playoff appearance. Both teams are prepared for an exciting year, but the Blue Jays and Yankees should duke it out for first place. Megastars and bomb launchers like Aaron Judge and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are the class of the entire league, and additions like Carlos Rodon for the Yankees and Daulton Varsho for the Jays could shore up some of their weaknesses in the past season. We expect to see both in the postseason, and it should be a ton of fun if they meet up with each other.