Saturday, June 3 2023

Major League Baseball’s coastal elites now have another weapon to further dominate the game: The schedule.

With highest-revenue teams hovering along the Eastern seaboard and West Coast, we’ve grown accustomed to the game’s top free agents landing there, and, subsequently, those teams gobbling up available playoff berths. Now, MLB has done away with the unbalanced schedule, cutting the number of intra-division games from 19 to 13, a move designed to generate leaguewide exposure to its greatest talents.

And the effect will be twofold on competition: Fewer intra-division behemoths battling each other – and more games against punching bags. That means a 32% reduction in Mets-Braves, Yankees-Blue Jays, Dodgers-Padres. And suddenly the Astros are guaranteed to play the Reds and Pirates, the Phillies will get the A’s and Royals, and so on.

Meanwhile, teams in the game’s Central divisions who are at least nominally competing will suddenly have six fewer games to pound the dregs of the division. Even with a balanced schedule, all the wild-card spots in the first season of the 12-team playoff format came from the Easts and Wests.

Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve helped the Astros win their second World Series title in 2022.Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve helped the Astros win their second World Series title in 2022.

Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve helped the Astros win their second World Series title in 2022.

Now, the Cardinals-Brewers runner-up suddenly can’t fatten up on the Reds and Pirates so frequently, further imperiling their wild-card chances.

The result might be a 100-win wild card team and a division winner somewhere in the 80s. We’ll know for sure come October, but for now, USA TODAY Sports’ six-person panel has produced this highly scientific projection of all 30 teams’ win totals this season:

AL East

It’s still the Yankees’ to lose, as Carlos Rodon’s acquisition and DJ LeMahieu’s health might be even more significant than retaining home run king Aaron Judge… The Blue Jays have been steady in their progress and now might be the time. A year ago, they won one more game to reach the playoffs; now, it’s win two more and get past the wild-card round into the main draw … Though slowed by an oblique injury, Tyler Glasnow’s shutdown ability will make the Rays a far more daunting October opponent … The Red Sox’s stagnant 2022 culminated with the loss of Xander Bogaerts. They should be more focused this year, but may not have enough pitching, regardless. … The Orioles’ wave of young talent is landing, but progress isn’t always linear. This could be a year of mild regression before the club really starts to cook.

AL Central

Are the Guardians quietly building a post-Lindor mini-dynasty? Seems like it, as they embark on a two-year window in which Shane Bieber will still front their rotation … Dylan Cease might win the AL Cy Young Award, but the White Sox’s hopes hinge on Lucas Giolito returning to form in his final year before free agency and Mike Clevinger proving viable after skirting punishment from MLB … Will Joey Gallo and Max Kepler get a big boost from the shift ban? The Twins hope so, and that they can piece together enough pitching to contend … In Miguel Cabrera’s swan song, injuries to pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal will hinder the Tigers, but their young hitters leveling up – Riley Greene, All-Star? Spencer Torkelson, consistent power threat? Kerry Carpenter, surprise star? – would represent big progress. … The baton has been passed to a crop of promising young hitters led by Bobby Witt Jr., but the Royals have not seen their pitching develop in lockstep. Can Zack Greinke and Jordan Lyles eat quality innings?

AL West

Lest we forget, the Astros won 96 games in 2021 without Justin Verlander. If young starter Hunter Brown comes anywhere near expectations, they should cross the century mark again … Even if they finish up the track in the division, the Mariners have few holes and the sort of power arms – Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, Robbie Ray – to establish them as a perennially live wild card … If this is it for Shohei Ohtani in Anaheim it behooves the Angels to start quickly – 13 of their first 26 games are against the A’s, Royals and Nationals. … Are the Rangers a juggernaut in waiting or a gaudy collection of museum pieces? It will be fascinating to watch Bruce Bochy aim to convert this collection of talent into a team … Might as well look it up now: Most losses by an Athletics team in Oakland is 108, in Rickey Henderson’s debut season of 1979.

Francisco Lindor and the Mets won 101 games last season – but finished second in the NL East.Francisco Lindor and the Mets won 101 games last season – but finished second in the NL East.

Francisco Lindor and the Mets won 101 games last season – but finished second in the NL East.

NL East

It’s not just that the window never closes for the Braves – it just seems like every player is forever in their prime. The Sean Murphy trade resets the lineup and new steals-friendly rules will make Michael Harris II, Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr. even more dynamic … Steve Cohen did not unload a small fraction of his billions to produce another 100-win wild-card team, but that scenario is very much in play again for the Mets … Steadying the back end of the rotation with Taijuan Walker should help mitigate Bryce Harper’s absence until roughly midseason, and it would be startling if the Phillies did not join the Braves and Mets in the postseason … Dealing Pablo Lopez for AL batting champ Luis Arraez should help balance the Marlins a bit; perhaps new hitting coach Brant Brown will aid in the final development of young hitters, a vexing problem in Miami … The Nationals roster is once again unappealing, but solidifying future pieces such as shortstop CJ Abrams and starters Cade Cavalli and MacKenzie Gore would represent progress amid what figures to be another trying season.

NL Central

The Nolan Arenado-Paul Goldschmidt 1-2 punch will always inspire awe, but the most important Cardinals figure to be pitchers Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty, whose battles against age and health issues, respectively, should shape the arc of their season … The Brewers finished a game out of the playoffs last year, but their margin seems thinner every season. Relying on bouncebacks (Jesse Winker) and young hitters finding their footing (Garrett Mitchell) further clouds the equation … Can the Cubs, spurred by Dansby Swanson and Jameson Taillon, sniff contention? A strange transitional year as they stumble out of an odd retooling seems inevitable … The Reds may yet see the 1-2 spots in their rotation solidify thanks to Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene, but the falloffs in both lineup and rotation at the back end are precipitous … Shortstop Oneil Cruz was 6 years old when Rich Hill made his big league debut. Now 43, Hill finds himself in the middle of another odd Pirates stew of recycled veterans and hope-he’s-a-keeper types.

NL West

Will the Dodgers allay the concerns arising after a too-quiet offseason followed by the loss of expected glue guy Gavin Lux to a torn ACL? Or is this finally the year they played it too cool? … The Padresrun to the NLCS was fun, surprising, delirious. Adding Xander Bogaerts suddenly makes them imposing, dangerous, World Serious, if you will … No Aaron Judge, no Carlos Correa, and still lots of good seats available in China Basin. Yet will the Giants rediscover their 2021 platoon mojo and get the thump they need from Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger? … The Diamondbacks are now so underrated that they risk being overrated. At the least, they’ll be fun to watch and a fringe wild-card contender … How soon will Zac Veen arrive in Denver, and can he invigorate the Rockies?

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB win totals 2023: Record projections for every team

Source: Yahoo Sports


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