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OK, computers: How should we expect MLB's 2022 season to play out?

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The only thing worse than your MLB team having a bad season is … your team surprising you with a bad season. It’s going to happen sometimes — sorry about 2021, Padres and Twins fans — but basing your expectations in reality can help ward off unnecessary summer disappointment.

That’s where projections come in. They aren’t always right, but they are a helpful guide to what each team has assembled, at least on paper.

Especially after a whirlwind, lockout-interrupted offseason, it’s worth getting your bearings with the assistance of an unfeeling projection system or two. So, we consulted PECOTA system at Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs’ depth charts projections. Let’s break down what they foresee for each division.

AL East

Who’s winning the division? OK, starting with the toughest question. Really, anyone except the Baltimore Orioles could win this division, or the American League or the World Series. The New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays are two of the best teams in baseball, by the numbers, with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays not far behind.

PECOTA gives the Yankees an AL-best 99 wins and a 73% chance of winning the division despite an underwhelming offseason.

Meanwhile, FanGraphs disagrees, giving the Blue Jays a slight edge in a more tightly packed projection — 92 wins to the Yankees’ 91 and a 44% chance of winning the division. Both systems see the loser of that duel as by far the most likely wild card to join the AL playoff picture.

Who else could contend? The Red Sox and Rays could easily leap to the top. Both systems have both clubs between 85 and 87 wins — familiar territory for teams trying to build around depth and development more than a list of stars. FanGraphs’ most likely scenario involves every member of the AL East quartet making the playoffs.

Perhaps owing to the competition, PECOTA thinks Boston and Tampa Bay may have slightly lesser shots at October than two other potential wild card contenders — the Twins and Angels.

What’s the most interesting bet? No one really has a great feel for who should win this battle royale, much less who will, and it shows in the odds. The Blue Jays are favored to take the division at BetMGM at +195, with the Yankees next up at +230. If you’re looking for a tiebreaker, the Yankees have a significant advantage in the bullpen department — projected to be the best in baseball where Toronto’s looks middling. Of course, some of the Yankees’ best players may not be able to take the field for matchups in Toronto, which could be a tiebreaker in itself.

AL Central

Who’s winning the division? Despite big moves by the Twins and Tigers this offseason, the Chicago White Sox remain clear favorites. FanGraphs gives the South Siders — loaded with a stellar starting rotation — a 66% chance of taking the AL Central crown, while PECOTA has it at 70%.

Who else could contend? Newly led by Carlos Correa, the Twins are the obvious spoiler candidate. A year after everything went wrong, they have boosted their potential enough to contend for a wild card even without adding more pitching. PECOTA projects they will squeak in as the final AL team in the new playoff format, while FanGraphs sees them finishing at .500 and missing out.

Ever within striking distance, the frugal Cleveland Guardians have a puncher’s chance (10 to 15%) at the playoffs. Unless they plan to acquire some proven hitters to use in their barren outfield, they would need the Shane Bieber-led rotation to deal and to simultaneously unearth some hidden gems in the lineup to bolster Jose Ramirez’s production.

What’s the most interesting bet? Sorry, Tigers fans. An exciting offseason saw Detroit add Javy Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez to prepare for the arrival of top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene. But both systems agree it’s too soon to get too excited. Neither thinks they will get particularly close to the .500 mark, so taking the under on 78.5 wins at BetMGM seems like an easy move.

AL West

Who’s winning the division? Both systems like the Houston Astros to continue their domination, winning 91 games and the division for the fifth time in six years. A potent lineup remains despite Carlos Correa’s departure, and Justin Verlander returns to the rotation after Tommy John surgery.

Who else could contend? Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon should be the start of a playoff team, but some version of that logic has long been the case for the Los Angeles Angels. PECOTA sees this year’s version as an 88-win team with an inside track at a playoff berth, while FanGraphs’ more sour outlook pegs them for 82 wins and the disappointment of being the first team out.

The Seattle Mariners added reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray, as well as some sluggers from the rebuilding Reds. The projections give them a fringe shot — 25 to 35% — at breaking American sports’ longest playoff drought this season. They could get a huge boost if precocious outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez hits the ground running.

What’s the most interesting bet? Vegas is in lockstep with the projections here, but count the Mariners as the team with the most potential for positive variance in my book. Many of their young regulars — like recent top prospect Jarred Kelenic — could improve rapidly in ways that projections aren’t designed to count on. They’re +155 to make the playoffs at BetMGM, which seems like a feasible outcome.

With MLB's opening day approaching, is it the Mets' time to win the NL East? Pete Alonso will be joined by a revamped outfield and newly signed star Max Scherzer in pursuit of the Atlanta Braves. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
With MLB's opening day approaching, is it the Mets' time to win the NL East? Pete Alonso will be joined by a revamped outfield and newly signed star Max Scherzer in pursuit of the Atlanta Braves. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

NL East

Who’s winning the division? The defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves have a challenge from the New York Mets. Right now, it is shaping up as a photo finish. PECOTA projects the Braves for 92 wins and the Mets for 91, while FanGraphs has it as 92 and 90, also for Atlanta.

One obvious factor that could change the race? Jacob deGrom’s health. The world-beating ace is projected for 126 innings by one system and 164 by the other. If he puts up a full 185 to 200 innings, the Mets may have an edge.

Who else could contend? The Phillies are going to be interesting, if nothing else. A season after falling short of October despite Bryce Harper’s MVP season, they have doubled down on big sluggers who can’t play defense. There are still serious concerns about this team’s fielding capabilities, but they have the bats and the frontline pitching (Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler), to put up a fight. They are long shots for the division, but both PECOTA and FanGraphs think they can win 86-87 games and snag a wild card.

What’s the most interesting bet? The Marlins! They aren’t going to win the division or be October threats (probably) but their pitching is legitimately excellent. Both systems have them beating the 76.5 win total at BetMGM.

NL Central

Who’s winning the division? Led by reigning NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes and a brilliant starting rotation, the Milwaukee Brewers are strong favorites to repeat as division champs and make their fifth straight postseason. FanGraphs sets their division odds at 72% while PECOTA has it at 88%. By the projections’ estimation, the Dodgers are the only other squad standing this head and shoulders above their competition.

Who else could contend? Those ever-overachieving St. Louis Cardinals are the principal competition here. They’re projected to be a .500 team after playing like one for much of 2021 before an epic sprint to the finish landed them a wild-card berth. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado anchor a lineup with some burgeoning stars like Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill, but an uncertain pitching staff will be the make-or-break element of the team.

What’s the most interesting bet? The other three teams in this division are in obvious rebuild modes, but one of them appears to be working on a faster timeline. The Chicago Cubs pulled in interesting young big league pieces like Nick Madrigal in their teardown. Then, they snagged high-potential Japanese slugger Seiya Suzuki and reliable starter Marcus Stroman this offseason. They aren’t pointed toward playoff contention, but it wouldn’t be a shock if this team threatens .500 — so the 74.5 over/under at BetMGM feels like an opportunity to get in on a rising team early.

NL West

Who’s winning the division? In what has become the game’s default setting, the Los Angeles Dodgers are favorites for the division, the pennant and the World Series. PECOTA is spitting out an almost unheard of 101-win projection. Of course, the rule that the Dodgers will win the NL West got its exception last year when the San Francisco Giants rose from nowhere to win 107 games.

The Dodgers rotation is shallower than it has been in recent years — though the top three of Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and Clayton Kershaw is still daunting — but the lineup more than makes up for it. Adding Freddie Freeman brought L.A. into the universal DH era looking stronger than ever. PECOTA projects them to score 66 more runs than baseball’s second most potent offense.

Who else could contend? Coming off a letdown season torpedoed by injuries and cold streaks, the San Diego Padres project as the division’s second fiddle and a strong wild-card contender. Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Mike Clevinger should return to normal and form a dynamite rotation with Joe Musgrove. However, human highlight reel Fernando Tatis Jr. is already out for several months due to a wrist injury that might have been suffered in, uh, one of his motorcycle accidents.

Lurking around the .500 mark in the projections are those Giants. The computers have a hard time envisioning a replication of 2021’s burst of simultaneous breakouts and career years. Understandably so.

But PECOTA and FanGraphs are pretty divided on exactly how close the Giants will be to the race. PECOTA only sees 78 wins here while FanGraphs pegs Gabe Kapler’s bunch for 84. There’s plenty of room for some magic with a full season of young ace Logan Webb and the addition of Carlos Rodon. It just may not threaten the Dodgers again.

What’s the most interesting bet? Last year was miserable, but both systems agree the Arizona Diamondbacks are considerably better than their 65.5-win over/under at BetMGM. This is a team that just signed Ketel Marte, its best player, to an extension instead of trading him. This curve should be going up, if only slowly.