It is safe to say that 2023 will be the greatest baseball-viewing year of my life. The excitement starts on Saturday, 11 March 2023, when Great Britain pits itself against the dream team (or perhaps nightmare team) of the USA in the World Baseball Classic. With superstars like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Aaron Judge on the USA roster, this is a truly mouth-watering fixture for Drew Spencer’s team.
A little more than 100 days after the WBC opener, the eyes of the baseball world turn to London for the first-ever NL game played in Europe. The honour of representing the National League falls to the Chicago Cubs and St Louis Cardinals, two teams with a rich history and bitter rivalry. The Red Sox against the Yankees in 2019 still feels like a dream. Did the first inning really finish with the scores tied 6-6? It is unreasonable to expect the Cubs v Cardinals series to reproduce the excitement of the first London Series, but the atmosphere inside the former Olympic Stadium will be electric, with both fanbases well represented on this side of the pond.
When the Cubs and Cardinals head back stateside for the second half of the season, we should have a pretty good idea of which teams have postseason ambitions. And, as it is never too early to start thinking about the World Series, let us look at the likely contenders in 2023.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Are we witnessing a dynasty or overpaid chokers? Excluding the covid-shortened 60-game season in 2020, the last time the Dodgers won the World Series was back in 1988. That is a dismal conversion rate for the team that is consistently the best in the regular season. As if to demonstrate their dominance, since the start of 2012, the Dodgers have been the only team to notch over 1,000 wins. There is clear daylight between Los Angeles’ 1,017 wins and second-place Yankees’ 953.
It appears that the MLB betting markets expect the Dodgers to be the team to beat, although much will depend upon their offseason moves to fill the hole at shortstop that Trea Turner previously filled.
No team has won back-to-back World Series this century, but the Astros roster has the potential to make history. A lot went right for Dusty Baker’s boys in 2022, from the emergence of rookie Jeremy Peña to the reappearance of superstar veteran Justin Verlander. The three-time Cy Young Award winner declined his option, and although his presence will be missed, the Astros are stacked with talented arms. Perhaps the most crucial offseason move in Houston will be the appointment of a replacement for general manager James Click.
New York Yankees
Cast your mind back. Do you remember the song Fight for This Love by Cheryl Cole? It was a long time ago, but the track was number one in the UK when the Yankees last won the World Series. Shocking, isn’t it? As one of the world’s biggest and most successful sporting franchises, the lack of recent success is an embarrassment to the legacy of the pinstripes. The failure to secure Aaron Judge’s future in the Bronx could prove a costly mistake; sluggers capable of hitting 60-plus homers do not grow on trees, and it is likely to cost New York significantly more to re-sign Judge than it would have to extend him before the 2022 season started. However, money, like ambition, talent and self-belief, is something the Yankees are not short of.
Despite a 101-win regular season, the 2021 World Series champions were comprehensively demolished by the Philadelphia Phillies in the postseason. By signing Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Michael Harris to long-term, below-market deals, the Braves are financially secure and can strengthen their roster in whichever areas are necessary. Carlos Rodón, Jacob deGrom or Justin Verlander would seriously improve the Braves’ World Series aspirations when joining a rotation already overflowing with aces like Charlie Morton, Kyle Wright, Max Fried, and Spencer Strider.
Outside of the top four World Series favourites, the contenders become more intriguing. Can the Philadelphia Phillies build on their success of 2022 by signing one of the high-profile shortstops while also securing Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola to long-term deals? What will the San Diego Padres look like with the returning Fernando Tatís Jr., and where will he play? Can the Seattle Mariners, the fairytale story of 2022, find extra offensive power that could make a decisive difference? And can the Toronto Blue Jays, with their star-studded lineup, finally take the World Series back to Canada for the first time since the early 1990s or is the salary dump of Teoscar Hernandez an indication of the closing of the window of opportunity?
Of course, an outsider could shock the baseball world and take a huge step forward to World Series glory. The Texas Rangers have a new stadium and splashed the cash during the last offseason; surely, fourth in the AL West is not the limit of their ambitions. Or maybe, the Kansas City Royals will invest heavily in free agency to add veteran quality to the youth of Bobby Witt, MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino and the others that made their mark in 2022.
Over the last 10 seasons, the Boston Red Sox have finished top of the AL East four times and bottom of the division four times. The Jekyll and Hyde franchise has some of the smartest minds, some of the most talented players, an abundance of money, and a demanding fanbase. Disregard Boston at your peril.
The way free agency shakes out will influence which teams enter the season as serious contenders, but the team that everyone else should be watching is the New York Mets. Owner, Steve Cohen, said he would do “whatever it takes” to win the World Series, and although sporting success cannot simply be bought, Cohen has created the foundations for the franchise to eclipse their New York rivals. The Cohen/Billy Eppler/Buck Showalter Owner/GM/manager combo is a trio that means serious business. And by signing closer Edwin Diaz to a record-breaking deal, the Mets have shown they are not messing about.
World Series success depends on a solid 162-game campaign and some good fortune in the playoffs. Despite winning 101 games, the Mets were unfortunate not to have won the division and avoid the Wild Card series, and then doubly unfortunate when Max Scherzer allowed seven runs in Game one against the Padres. Winning or losing is often decided by the finest of margins, so expect the Mets to stack the odds in their favour in 2023.
Featured photo of the Houston Astros, 2022 World Series champions, by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Gav is the editor and feature writer at Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @GavTramps. Want to write for Bat Flips & Nerds’ audience of 10,000+ followers? Click on the “Write for us” link above.