This is the time of year when hope abounds, and best-case scenarios are debated among fans, when pitchers-and-catchers reporting day is a mere few weeks away.
Everything is golden, and nothing has been ruined by the cruel blanket of reality.
So let’s take a few minutes and make some optimistic predictions about the 2023 baseball season. We’ll try to keep them rooted in reality, at least a little, but we’ll look at one aspect of every team with rose-colored glasses.
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Yesterday, we looked at the American League. Up today, the National League, with listed alphabetically by nickname in divisions.
Optimistic NL East predictions
Braves — Mike’s back, for real: It’s been more than two years since Mike Soroka made his last pitch in a major league game — Aug. 3, 2020 — but he’s just 25 years old and our prediction is that this is the season that rescues him from the “what might have been club” and instead puts him squarely in the “what still might be” grouping. He’s reportedly fully healthy and ready to start a normal spring training, and if he can give Atlanta somewhere north of 25 starts at anywhere close to the pitcher he was in 2019 — 2.68 ERA, 6.1 bWAR in 29 starts — that would go a long way toward helping the Braves hold off the Mets and Phillies in the division.
Marlins — The summer of Jazz: He’s going to be a star, folks. The personality is there, and the talent is there. All he needs is a season of health. Don’t be at all surprised if he turns in a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season, even as he learns to play center field for the Marlins. He’s also on the cover of “MLB The Show ’23.”
Mets — Contend anyway: The Mets didn’t finish their deal with Carlos Correa. Thing is, with that roster, they’ll contend for 100 wins, the NL East title and a World Series championship anyway. The optimistic part? That everyone (or most everyone) stays healthy.
Nationals — Dom thrives: Remember the Dominic Smith who earned MVP votes for the Mets during the shortened 2020 season? He hit .316 with a 168 OPS+, with 10 homers and 42 RBIs for the Mets. That’s the Dom Smith we’ll see in 2023 for the Nationals. He was caught up in a numbers game in New York the past couple years, and he did not force his way into regular playing time. He’ll have no such restrictions in D.C., and a guy who is easy to root for will give Nationals fans plenty of reasons to cheer.
Phillies — We’re contenders!: Yes, the Phillies made a magical October run not just through the NL side of the playoffs, but they actually held a 2-1 lead in the World Series before the Astros took control. But they were afterthoughts in the NL East last year, finishing 14 games behind the Mets and Braves. The Phillies haven’t won more than 87 games or finished closer than 6.5 out of first place in the East since 2011. That won’t be the case this year. Don’t be at all surprised when that division has three teams —including the Phillies — pushing the 100-win mark.
Optimistic NL Central predictions
Brewers — Status quo, but up a tick: It’s been a turbulent run of roster changes for the Brewers, and that could be good or bad. But we’re all about the optimism today, so let’s go ahead and predict that William Contreras is ready to be an everyday primary catcher, that Garrett Mitchell and Tyrone Taylor are ready for full-time outfield duty, that Christian Yelich enjoys a renaissance season at 31 years old and that Rowdy Tellez repeats that 35 home run output while managing to get that on-base percentage above .306. If that happens, they’ll stay in that 86-89 win range and hopefully get back into the postseason after missing last year.
Cardinals — Jordan arrives: In a scenario that feels familiar to Cardinals fans, elite prospect Jordan Walker forces his way onto the Opening Day roster with an impressive spring training, then by the end of May establishes himself as the best hitter in the St. Louis lineup not named Paul Goldschmidt or Nolan Arenado.
Cubs —Seiya shines: It was an up-and-down MLB debut season for Seiya Suzuki, no doubt. But with that year of experience under his belt, he smooths out that roller coaster — his month-by-month OPS last year: .934, .617, .783, .697, .847 — and becomes the consistent slugger the Cubs were hoping for when he signed last offseason. And don’t be at all surprised to see the Cubs at least on the periphery of the playoff conversation into the second half.
Pirates — Jolly, indeed: The Pirates will be a fun team to watch in 2022, folks. It’s been a minute since we could say that. But with Andrew McCutchen back in town, Oneil Cruz up for a full season, Ke’Bryan Hayes in his Age 26 season and more prospects on the way, the Pirates will have more than their share of moments. The rotation isn’t good enough for a push toward .500, at least not as it’s currently constructed, but there will be improvement over a string of 60ish-win seasons.
Reds — Hunter becomes elite: I honestly can’t believe more people aren’t talking about Hunter Greene. He will be one of the 10 best starting pitchers in the NL in 2023. I’m all-in on 2023 being the year he becomes elite. He has the talent, he has the mindset, he has the work ethic to contend for Cy Young awards for years to come, even in that hitter-friendly ballpark. All those flashes he showed last year as a 22-year-old rookie — four starts of at least six shutout innings, and that doesn’t include the 7 1/3 no-hit innings effort — will become the norm for him in 2023. He will be as must-watch as any starter in the league.
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Optimistic NL West predictions
Diamondbacks — Snakes in the grass: The outfield grass, that is. And that’s a good thing for D-backs fans, because 2023 will be the year the youngsters in the outfield start to lift the franchise back toward playoff contention. Corbin Carroll, who had a 133 OPS+ in 32 games in the bigs last year, was just named the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball by The Athletic, Jake McCarthy had eight homers, 23 stolen bases and a 2.4 bWAR in 99 games. Alek Thomas struggled in his debut, but still has All-Star potential. The team likes that trio so much that they traded young outfielder Daulton Varsho — who had a 4.9 bWAR — in the offseason for elite catching prospect Gabriel Moreno and veteran outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Dodgers — More of the same: The Dodgers’ roster looks a little like a baseball Mad Libs, with seemingly random additions of players such as Noah Syndergaard, J.D. Martinez, Jason Heyward and Shelby Miller. Thing is, it always works. And even if the additions don’t actually add value to the LAD equation, the Dodgers will still thrive.
Giants — Conforto comfort: Yeah, this was a rough offseason for the Giants, losing out on Aaron Judge and then not figuring things out with Carlos Correa. But they took a chance on Michael Conforto, who missed all of 2022, and that should work out nicely. Not enough to get them into contention for the division title, but enough to help them improve on last year’s .500 disappointment.
Padres — MVP Manny: It’s high time Manny Machado gets that first MVP award. In his career, he’s finished second, third, fourth and fifth, not to mention one ninth-place finish and one 18th-place finish. Oh, and he almost certainly would have had another top-10 finish in 2018 if he hadn’t been traded from the AL to the NL at midseason. Not that he needs any extra motivation to succeed, but knowing he has an opt-out clause in his contract won’t hurt. Last year, perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt finally won his much-deserved award, and 2023 will be Machado’s turn.
Rockies — Rookie reasons: How’s this for ending your first taste of the major leagues on a good note? Ezequiel Tovar hit .319 with 14 homers, 17 stolen bases and a .927 OPS in 71 games in the minors (66 in Double-A, five in Triple-A), and then in Game 162 of the Rockies’ season, he hit a home run off Clayton Kershaw. Yeah, that’ll do. It’s going to be another long season in Colorado, but Tovar will give Rockies fans a reason to get excited.