Four MLB divisions have a clear favorite this season, which begins on Thursday: The White Sox at -190 in the AL Central, the Astros at -170 in the AL West, the Brewers at -180 in the NL Central and the Dodgers at -225 in the NL West. Let’s break down the two divisions that aren’t so clear cut: The AL East and NL East.
Favorites On MLB Division Title 2022
Toronto is +165 to win the AL East. The Jays did lose excellent second baseman Marcus Semien in free agency as well as 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray, but they replaced Ray with former San Francisco Giants right-hander Kevin Gausman.
Gausman posted a 3.62 ERA with the Giants in the shortened 2020 season, then accepted the qualifying last offseason and put up a career year, pitching to a 2.81 ERA over 192 innings in ’21, earning an All-Star nod and a sixth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award race. Gausman showed his usual feel for the zone, walking just 2.3 batters per nine, but ramped up his strikeout rate with 10.6 per nine. Gausman also brings a unique pitch mix to the mound, leaning very heavily on a fastball, which averaged 94.6 mph in ’21, and a splitter.
He slots in with Jose Berrios, who got a seven-year, $131 million extension, with Hyun Jin Ryu and young right-hander Alek Manoah. The Jays have the foundation of a postseason rotation as they look to take the next step following a 91-71 season in 2021 that saw them fall just short.
Toronto also has maybe the best offensive player in the sport in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He hit 48 home runs last season to tie for the most in the majors and finished as the runner-up in AL MVP voting to Shohei Ohtani. Manager Charlie Montoyo has recently toyed with the idea of batting Guerrero at No. 2 in the lineup, a spot above where he spent most of 2021. Baby Vlad has lost a bunch of weight and could run more, although Montoyo doesn’t want him running too much.
“That’s one thing about Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: He could be a 30-30 [player], if he tried,” said Montoyo. “Because he’s big, people don’t think he’s fast. We don’t want him [trying] to be 30-30, but 30-10 or 40-10? We’ll take that. He could do it. He’s just so talented.”
The Yankees are +225 second favorites on the division and the defending AL East champion Rays are +260. The Yankees boosted their bullpen on Sunday in a rare trade with the crosstown Mets. The Yanks got Miguel Castro in exchange for Joely Rodríguez.
Castro, 27, went 3-4 with a 3.45 ERA (70.1IP, 48H, 30R/27ER, 43BB, 77K, 7HR) in a career-high 69 appearances, including two starts (both as an opener) with the Mets in 2021. His 3.45 ERA marked a MLB career-best, in addition to his 0.90 HR/9.0IP and 6.14 H/9.0IP. He led all Mets relievers in appearances and innings pitched, and held batters to a .189 (48-for-254) opponents’ batting average. He should work in middle relief.
New York’s big trade was landing former AL MVP Josh Donaldson from the Twins a few weeks ago. The veteran third baseman hit .247/.352/.475 with 26 homers and 72 RBI in 135 games with the Twins last season.
In the NL East, the defending World Series and division champion Braves are +125 favorites. They did lose franchise icon Freddie Freeman, the former NL MVP, in free agency to the Dodgers but filled his spot quite capably with Matt Olson in a trade from Oakland for prospects. Freeman led MLB first basemen with a 16.9 fWAR over this span of four seasons. But he is five years older than Olson, who is from Atlanta, and he was likely going to be about $18 million more expensive this year. Olson is arbitration-eligible these next two seasons and would be eligible for free agency after the 2023 season.
Olson has hit at least 29 homers in each of the past three seasons that consisted of 162 games. He produced a 37-homer pace during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
“With where we are as a club right now coming off the World Series, I think we still feel good about a very competitive, contending club,” Anthopoulos said. “You are trading for now and you’re trading for down the road. Obviously, Matt’s track record speaks for itself. He’s one of the elite players in the game.”
The Mets’ odds to win the NL East rose to +185 with the news that ace pitcher and two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom likely is out until late May with a stress reaction in the scapula of his pitching shoulder.
Prior to his injury, deGrom had allowed just one run and struck out 10 in five innings this spring. When healthy in general over the past two years, deGrom has been excellent, going 11-4 with a 1.63 ERA. But durability has been an issue as deGrom missed the entire second half of last season due to right elbow inflammation. Elbow, shoulder, lat and back issues have all affected him since the start of 2020.
As for deGrom’s rotation spot, Tylor Megill, David Peterson and Trevor Williams are the primary candidates to replace him. Of that group, Megill has impressed the most this spring, catching new manager Buck Showalter’s eye with his size, his stuff, and his spring results: 6 2/3 shutout innings to date.