1 MLB Team from Each Division That Will Be Better Than You Think in 2022

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystApril 7, 2022

1 MLB Team from Each Division That Will Be Better Than You Think in 2022

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    Dodgers' Walker Buehler
    Dodgers' Walker BuehlerBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Opening Day of the 2022 MLB season has finally arrived. Though as far as we're concerned here, it's more like Hope-ning Day, because we've pinpointed one team from each division that will exceed expectations this year.

    For now, everyone is 0-0. But expected win totals range from 62.5 for the Baltimore Orioles up to 98.5 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, per DraftKings.

    Using those lines, we've selected one team from each division ripe for picking the over.

    Our goal here isn't to try to convince you that each of the projected last-place teams actually has a shot at the postseason. Rather, all 30 teams are fair gameeven the Dodgers, who are listed at seven wins better than the next-closest challenger in the National League.

    If you have the patience to bet on things that won't get settled until six months from now, come hop aboard these over trains with me.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays

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    Tampa Bay's Wander Franco
    Tampa Bay's Wander FrancoCharles Krupa/Associated Press

    DraftKings Win Total: 89.5

    There are plenty of reasons to like the Tampa Bay Rays in 2022, not the least of which is their .615 winning percentage since the beginning of 2019. This team always seems to exceed regular-season expectations, and other than Nelson Cruz, Joey Wendle and Austin Meadows, the Rays are bringing back every noteworthy batter from a team that won 100 games and fell only six runs shy of leading MLB in scoring last season.

    Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe both rank among the 16 top candidates to win AL MVP, per DraftKings. Randy Arozarena isn't exactly a long shot for that title, either. The Rays aren't loaded with household names like the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Angeles, but their lineup is still stacked, especially if Mike Zunino keeps mashing the ball like he did en route to a career-high 33 home runs last year.

    The question, of course, is the pitching.

    Tyler Glasnow (Tommy John surgery) might not pitch at all this year. Shane Baz also recently underwent elbow surgery and is likely to miss at least the first month of the season. And when you're sharing a division with the Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox, the last thing you want is question marks in the rotation.

    The Rays do have Shane McClanahan, though, who's fresh off a mighty impressive rookie campaign. They also picked up Corey Kluber at a relative bargain (one year, $8 million), which could be huge. He'll turn 36 in a few days, but the two-time AL Cy Young winner did have both a no-hitter and an eight-inning, 10-strikeout gem last May.

    If he can stay healthy, the Rays will be in business.

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

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    Detroit's Javier Baez
    Detroit's Javier BaezLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    DraftKings Win Total: 77.5

    Maybe the Detroit Tigers won't finish ahead of the mighty Chicago White Sox to win the AL Central. Maybe they won't come all that close to contending for what would be their first postseason appearance since 2014.

    But who seriously believes the Tigers are going to finish eight games below .500 again?

    After a brutal 9-24 start to last season, Detroit went 68-61 the rest of the way. All the Tigers have done since then is add talent to their roster.

    After years of pinching pennies (aside from continuously needing to pay Miguel Cabrera), they finally loosened the purse strings to sign Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez. They also traded for catcher Tucker Barnhart and OF/DH Austin Meadows, picked up Michael Pineda and promoted highly touted first base prospect Spencer Torkelson to the big leagues. Outfielder Riley Greene likely won't be too far behind once he recovers from a broken foot.

    That's six (soon to be seven) major additions. And what, pray tell, are the subtractions? Not re-signing Matthew Boyd and his career 4.96 ERA? Letting Niko Goodrum walk after landing Baez?

    The Tigers should be at least as good (if not better) than they were when they went seven games over .500 from May 8 onward last year. This line feels like it should be 87.5, not 77.5.

AL West: Los Angeles Angels

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    Los Angeles' Noah Syndergaard
    Los Angeles' Noah SyndergaardMatt York/Associated Press

    DraftKings Win Total: 83.5

    After six consecutive sub-.500 seasons, is this the year that the Los Angeles Angels finally break through and get Mike Trout the first postseason win of his career?

    If they can stay healthy, it should be.

    The Angels paid Trout, Anthony Rendon and Justin Upton nearly $90 million in 2021, but that trio missed a combined 303 games. Despite that inability to shake the injury bug, they were still a .500 team as late as Labor Day weekend before finishing 77-85.

    The Angels recently designated Upton for assignment, so he won't be playing any games for them in 2022. But getting Trout and Rendon healthy were the big keys anyway. If those two do their thing while Shohei Ohtani and Jared Walsh continue to produce at anywhere near the same rate as they did this past season, this should be one of the best lineupscertainly one of the best hearts of the orderin the majors.

    They also did a fine job of upgrading what had been a mess of a pitching staff (aside from Ohtani).

    Although they were unable to lure in any of Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Rodon, Robbie Ray, etc., they took a calculated $21 million gamble on Noah Syndergaard, who has missed all but two innings of the past two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery in March 2020. They also picked up former Cincinnati reliever Michael Lorenzen with the hope of converting him back to a back-of-the-rotation starter.

    More importantly, Los Angeles also beefed up its bullpen, adding Archie Bradley, Aaron Loup and Ryan Tepera and also re-signing closer Raisel Iglesias to a four-year deal.

    Angels relievers had a collective 4.59 ERA in 2021, the seventh-worst mark in the majors. Retaining the one guy they could trust last year while also picking up three of the best middle relievers on the market should pay huge dividends.

    Not only are the healthy Angels batters better equipped to build up a lead, but the pitching staff is now better equipped to hang onto it.

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

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    Philadelphia's Kyle Schwarber
    Philadelphia's Kyle SchwarberLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    DraftKings Win Total: 86.5

    If they can get their third base and center field situations figured out, the Philadelphia Phillies have the potential to be frighteningly good this year.

    With both Andrew McCutchen and utility man Brad Miller on their way out the door, the Phillies picked up two huge bats in free agency: Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber. Both slugging outfielders had career years (or at least a career June, in Schwarber's case) in 2021, but we'll see if they can maintain that level of dominance.

    Even if the newbies are both only 75 percent as effective as they were last year, where is the weak point in the top seven spots in this batting order? Going through Schwarber, Castellanos, Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura and Didi Gregorius will be a meat grinder for opposing pitchers.

    The last two spots in the order is where this over mark could get dicey.

    It's still anyone's guess as to whether Alec Bohm, Johan Camargo or Bryson Stott is Philadelphia's preferred option at third base. The same goes for Odubel Herrera, Adam Haseley and Matt Vierling in center. But if the young guys (Stott and Vierling) are able to hold down the fort, look out.

    As far as pitching is concerned, the starting rotation should be stoutmaybe top five in the majors. Both Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola have ace material up top, and Ranger Suarez was fantastic regardless of whether he was starting or closing games in 2021. And it's pretty hard to argue with Kyle Gibson and Zach Eflin at the back of the rotation.

    And with any luck, the relief pitching will not be terrible for a change.

    Per FanGraphs, only the Rockies and the Nationals have had worse bullpens than the Phillies since the start of 2019. But they brought in Corey Knebel from the Dodgers to presumably serve as the closer, as well as both Brad Hand and Jeurys Familia to help bridge the gap from that starting rotation to the new closer.

    The Phils have been hovering around .500 for the past four years, and they finished 82-80 in 2021. Maybe they'll be mediocre again, but it seems much more likely that they'll be battling the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown than jostling with the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals for positioning in the basement of the division.

NL Central: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Pittsburgh's Bryan Reynolds
    Pittsburgh's Bryan ReynoldsLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    DraftKings Win Total: 65.5

    I'm not a huge fan of any of the overs in this division, so, hey, let's try to talk ourselves into the Pittsburgh Pirates not having the worst record in the National League, shall we?

    To the surprise of no one, the Pirates didn't do much in free agency. Catcher Roberto Perez was their biggest splash, and they got him for his defense (two-time Gold Glove) much more so than for his offense (career .206 batting average). They also picked up veteran starter Jose Quintana in hopes of getting the guy who had a 3.73 ERA from 2012-20 and not the one who had a 6.43 ERA in 2021.

    But the hope with this eternal rebuild is that some of the young'uns will tap into their potential and stay healthy.

    Bryan Reynolds (.302 BA, 24 HR) had a fantastic 2021 campaign, finishing 11th in the NL MVP vote despite playing on a team that barely won 60 games. But the outfielder was pretty much flying solo, because star third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes made it all of two games into last season before landing on the IL for two months with a wrist injury. (Adam Frazier also had a great year for the Pirates, but he got dealt to the Padres at the trade deadline.)

    If Reynolds and Hayes can both stay healthy in 2022, that's a two-fold building block for this franchise. And it should only be a matter of time before highly touted middle infield prospects Nick Gonzales and Oneil Cruz get the call for what would quickly become an exciting young nucleus.

    Pittsburgh's pitching is...well...there's a reason why I'm not a fan of any NL Central overs.

    The Pirates had only two pitchers make at least nine starts and finish with a sub-5.00 ERA last season, and both Chad Kuhl and Tyler Anderson are no longer on the roster. They also traded away closer Richard Rodriguez at last year's deadline, leaving the bullpen devoid of quality arms, too.

    At this point, it looks like David Bednar and his 78.0 career innings of work might be the closer, while littler-known names like Zach Thompson, Wil Crowe and Dillon Peters figure to get plenty of shots at the back end of the rotation.

    But 65.5 wins isn't asking that much. This team was terrible last year and still won 61 games in a division where both Milwaukee and Cincinnati were better than expected. If the Reds regress and the Cubs stay down, the Pirates could win enough of their many games against those two teams to mess around and finish 70-92.

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Los Angeles' Freddie Freeman
    Los Angeles' Freddie FreemanCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    DraftKings Win Total: 98.5

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have the highest win total of any MLB team, but it isn't nearly high enough. 

    At $277.8 million, the Dodgers have the largest payroll in the league, nearly 10 percent higher than the second-place Mets ($252.3 million). The result is a roster that is basically an all-star team.

    The Dodgers lost shortstop Corey Seager to the Texas Rangers, but the lineup might be even better than last year with the addition of five-time All-Star Freddie Freeman.

    If Cody Bellinger can bounce back from a disastrous 2021 regular season to anything close to his 2019 NL MVP form, how are you supposed to pitch to anyone in this batting order? AJ Pollock hit .297 with 21 home runs in 2021 and he's probably going to be in the 9-hole for the Dodgers.

    Even though they lost Max Scherzer to the Mets and no one knows if Trevor Bauer will be allowed to take the mound again, the Dodgers aren't exactly hurting for starting pitching. They still have the fearsome threesome of Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and Clayton Kershaw, and they picked up both Andrew Heaney and Tyler Anderson, as if having Tony Gonsolin, Danny Duffy, Dustin May and David Price wasn't enough.

    It's a similar story in the bullpen, where they lost Kenley Jansen, Corey Knebel and Joe Kelly, yet they still have an embarrassment of riches. In Blake Treinen, Craig Kimbrel and Daniel Hudson, the Dodgers have three guys with a proven ability to toe the rubber in the ninth inning. And once the likes of Tommy Kahnle, Jimmy Nelson and Caleb Ferguson are fully healthy, the Dodgers are probably going to have the best sixth- and seventh-inning options in the league on top of all their other strengths.

    The Dodgers tied a franchise record with 106 wins last season, and that was with the San Francisco Giants going blow for blow with them en route to 107 wins of their own. If the G-Men take a step backward (as expected) and the San Diego Padres struggle to find their way with Fernando Tatis Jr. out for possibly two months, the Dodgers should win the NL West in blowout fashion.

    Barring a relentless visit from the injury bug, triple-digit wins seems like a safe bet here.

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