In just a few days, Major League Baseball’s exhibition season will officially begin. That means we’re nearing the point in the spring when prognosticators try to fill the void inside by making predictions about anything and everything the sport has to offer. This week, we try to figure out which teams will experience a change in fortunes in regards to the playoffs.
While the new playoff format is too nascent to draw any conclusions about the average turnover rate from year to year, we know from the past that it was common to see at least three and an average of five teams fall from the bracket. There is no guarantee that the case will continue moving forward, but until we have more evidence we will continue to use these as guidelines.
So, with that in mind, below you’ll find our ranking of the five non-playoff teams from last season that we think have the best chance to take the field this October. These teams are ranked in order of odds and we’ve included a brief summary of what happened last year. why could this year be different; and what the top projection systems (Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA, FanGraphs’ ZiPS and SportsLine) say about their chances.
What happened in 2022: The Twins held a share of first place in the AL Central for more than 100 days, including one night in September. They went 2-8 in their last 10 series en route to 78 wins and a third-place finish.
Reason for optimism in 2023: Carlos Correa is making a surprise return after a stellar start year in Minnesota that saw him lead the Twins in OPS+. A rotation that ranked 19th in ERA last season will benefit from the addition of Pablo López, as well as getting full years from Tyler Mahle (acquired at the trade deadline) and Kenta Maeda (Tommy John surgery). Speaking of injuries, it’s generally safe to assume that teams that have been extremely lucky (or unlucky) in the health department will regress toward the middle in that regard. You can argue that the Twins will prove to be the exception — they employ Byron Buxton and Royce Lewis, both of whom are prone to wasting time. Plus, after this winter, it’s hard to ignore the possibility that Correa’s ankle could give him trouble — but there’s a long way between a pristine injury record and what they did last season, when they missed the second days of anyone’s IL association. .
What the viewing systems say: The AL Central has crowned a different champion in each of the last three years. PECOTA (88 wins, first place) and ZiPS (83, tied for first) give the Twins a good chance to extend that streak. SportsLine gives Minnesota a 20.7% chance to make the postseason.
What happened in 2022: The Brewers won the most games (86) of any NL team that failed to make the postseason. That inconvenient truth snapped their streak of consecutive playoff berths at four, the longest in franchise history. Top executive David Stearns resigned after the season, though his decision to do so was supposedly unrelated.
Reason for optimism in 2023: The Brewers didn’t see Stearns’ call as a reset. They kept Willy Adames and starters Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes (though since vexed Burns for a trifling sum of money). They moved Hunter Renfroe and Kolten Wong, their most productive players last season, and will look to replace their production with newcomers Jesse Winker and William Contreras. To the brewers credit, they do have the capacity for internal growth. Youngsters Brice Turang and Garrett Mitchell should start the year on the big league roster, and in time Milwaukee could push a few more quality outfield prospects, such as former first-round pick Sal Frlick and prospect five by Jackson Churio. (Chourio is more likely a late-season addition, if not this year.) The Chicago Cubs improved this winter, but the NL Central still looks like a two-team race.
What the viewing systems say: PECOTA and ZiPS again have the Brewers in the thick of the Central race. Their top seed has won 88 games, good for a division crown. ZiPS predicts 84 wins and a second place. SportsLine gives Milwaukee a 52.8% chance to make the postseason.
What happened in 2022: The Angels missed the postseason for the eighth straight year. Additionally, they have yet to record a winning season while using both Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout.
Reason for optimism in 2023: Well, the Angels continue to employ Ohtani and Trout, which is supposed to give them a wider slot than the regular lineup. General manager Perry Minasian again spent the winter trying to build a capable supporting cast. This time, that meant adding Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Drury and Gio Urshela to the lineup, as well as Tyler Anderson and Carlos Estévez to the pitching staff. Will it be enough? That’s the perennial question for a franchise that’s used to answering “no.” Here’s another reason to believe better times are ahead: a proven statistical observation is that teams that are particularly good or bad in a series games will usually break even the following year. The Angels had one of the majors’ worst single-game hitting records last season, playing like a club with 63 wins in those games.
What the viewing systems say: This, Ohtani’s walk season, could be the year. PECOTA has the Angels winning 86 games and finishing second in the AL West, while ZiPS projects 83 wins and a third-place finish. SportsLine gives Los Angeles a 21.1% chance to make the postseason.
What happened in 2022: The Rangers were disappointed after a winter spree that saw them ink two of the best free agents on the market, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. In fact, Texas finished fourth with a 68-94 record. General manager Jon Daniels and skipper Chris Woodward were fired.
Reason for optimism in 2023: The Rangers responded to their dismal season with another busy winter. They added Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney and Jake Odorizzi and retained Martín Pérez in an attempt to improve the sixth-worst rotation in baseball. There is plenty of injury risk among those five pitchers (not to mention Jon Gray), but the Rangers could have additional depth in the form of top prospects Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker, Cole Winn and Owen White. Here’s something else worth remembering: the Rangers were the unluckiest team in the majors last season, winning nine fewer games than expected, according to FanGraphs’ BaseRuns. It would be fair to assume teams with this kind of bad luck (and it’s not always just luck) are fair bets to win more games next season.
What the viewing systems say: The good news is that the Rangers are indeed expected to improve in a substantial way. The bad news is that it might not be enough for them to make their first trip to the postseason since 2016. ZiPS has won them 83 games, PECOTA says 78. That’s third or fourth, depending on the scenario which you prefer. SportsLine gives Los Angeles a 26.7% chance to make the postseason.
What happened in 2022: The Orioles are hatching a year earlier than expected thanks to a combination of their new talent arriving, their eye for acquiring and strengthening undervalued or underutilized talent, and the changes they made to the left field wall (“Waltimore”) . They won 83 games, the most by the franchise since 2016, and finished just a few games out of the last wild card spot.
Reason for optimism in 2023: Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson are likely to be joined by some more talented youngsters this season, including Grayson Rodriguez and Colton Cowser, among others. The Orioles should get left fielder John Means at some point this summer, bolstering their rotation. Their growth should continue to come through internal means because they took a no-nonsense approach to the offseason — adding only Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Adam Frazier and James McCann. Still, even if they chickened out this winter, it’s hard to knock the core they’re building or their aforementioned ability to find contributors on the cheap.
What the viewing systems say: Both PECOTA (74 wins) and ZiPS (78 wins) have the Orioles taking steps back and finishing in last place. In other words, if we were to go all projection systems for this piece, we’d have the Boston Red Sox — and not the Orioles — as one of those five teams. SportsLine gives Baltimore a 4.4% chance to make the postseason.