Mitchell and Phillips make their 2023 MLB predictions
For the first time since 2019, baseball normalcy has arrived for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Whether it was a pandemic in 2020 and 2021, or the lockout and a condensed schedule changing things last year, it’s amazingly been four years since the Jays spent their standard six weeks in Dunedin and then returned home to start the regular season in normal fashion.
Just like last year, expectations are sky high and nothing but a deep October run will satisfy the Jays brass internally or their fan base externally.
Once again, TSN baseball insider Steve Phillips and I are set to tackle some key questions when it comes to this season of Blue Jays baseball, and we take a shot at predicting the next seven months, all the way up to award season in November.
You can check out last year’s predictions here to see how we did.
Let’s get this started with some pertinent Blue Jays questions, betting leans, and then all sorts of season and awards predictions.
Daulton Varsho Toronto Blue Jays
After two straight 90-plus-win seasons, can the Jays finally get over the hump and make a postseason run?
MITCHELL: Can they? Definitely. Will they? That’s another story altogether, one that will take 162 games and then some to unfold. While it wasn’t the splashiest off-season league-wide, the Jays and GM Ross Atkins did an excellent job remaking this roster, adding balance to and athleticism to the lineup, more reliability to the rotation, and what should be an excellent weapon in Erik Swanson to the bullpen. On paper, it’s a better team now than the one that lost to the Seattle Mariners last October, but on paper doesn’t mean much in a still-loaded AL East. One thing I will say: Top to bottom, pound for pound, this is the best Blue Jays team that’s been put together since the early 1990s, and that includes the 2015 team that stalled out in in the ALCS.
PHILLIPS: The Blue Jays feel like they have been building for this year. They have learned what it takes the past couple of seasons, and this year they will take that education deep in the postseason. They are improved in every facet of the game. The Jays have three centre fielders in the outfield who should run down everything hit in the gaps. The offence is deeper and more balanced with the addition of the left-handed bats of Daulton Varsho and Brandon Belt. The offence will have a speed element to it as well as Varsho and 2022 trade-deadline acquisition Whit Merrifield can steal bases. The pitching is deeper and more predictable as well with Chris Bassitt joining the rotation. The bullpen added power arms at the trade deadline last year with Zach Pop and Anthony Bass coming from the Marlins. Throw in Eric Swanson, who came over from Seattle in the Teoscar Hernández trade, and the Jay have transformed their relief core. The team has no major weakness and is primed to compete on the tough AL East
We know this is a well-rounded team with many strengths. What are its weaknesses?
MITCHELL: The lineup is balanced and potent, the rotation is deeper than it has ever been, and the bullpen returns all of the key arms from a decent group in 2022. But that’s where the one red flag arises for me: Is the bullpen October dominant? Swanson is a nice addition if he can come anywhere close to duplicating his 1.68 ERA from a year ago — his Statcast expected ERA of 2.30 will work fine, too — but he still only works in the 93-95 mph range with the fastball. There’s definitely a need for some extra gas at the back end of the ‘pen to pair with Jordan Romano. Maybe it’s Nate Pearson or Yosver Zulueta providing that internally, or maybe they have to address it at the trade deadline, but the best teams come October don’t sport just okay bullpens.
PHILLIPS: Regardless of the fine spring that Yusei Kikuchi put together, the fifth spot in the rotation is still a question mark. Plus, the bullpen in front of Romano needs to be stable out of the gate. Someone has to be available to close games at times to give Romano a break. They need a reliever to emerge as that guy.
What will the Jays’ record be — the over/under is set at 91.5 wins heading into the season — and will it be enough to once again make the expanded postseason?
MITCHELL: From .414 in 2019 to .533 in 2020 to .562 in 2021 to 92 wins and a .568 winning percentage last season, the Jays continue to improve year over year during the regular season. Winning 90-plus games is really hard to do, especially in the AL East, but the Jays are improved on paper and seem in line to take another step. The American League overall is competitive this year, but 93 wins will get them another wild-card berth.
PHILLIPS: I definitely take the over on 91.5. The balanced schedule calls for fewer games against the AL East, which is a benefit to Toronto. They are going to throw a ton of quality innings with their pitching staff and the defence is much improved. The offence has better balance and depth. The Jays are a better team this year. I predict 96 wins.
What are your favourite team-related and World Series futures bets?
MITCHELL: Since I’ve got the sleeper Seattle Mariners going to the World Series, I guess I like them at +2000 — ninth-shortest odds on the board — to win the whole darn thing. I also like the Tampa Bay Rays to win the AL East by a hair this year, so getting them at +2000 to win the World Series is decent value, as well. I really like Steve being all-in on the Milwaukee Brewers, but if I’m looking for extreme value I’m probably going back to the competitive AL and the clump of teams with middle-of-the-pack odds like the Cleveland Guardians (+2500), Minnesota Twins (+3000), Chicago White Sox (+3500), Los Angeles Angels (+4000) or Texas Rangers (+5000). I’d confidently bet that things come together for one of those clubs and they’re in postseason position come September at least, I just have no clue which one it is. A couple of win total bets I like: Cleveland to go over 86.5 wins, Miami under 75.5 wins, Pittsburgh under 67.5 wins, San Francisco over 81.5 wins, Seattle over 86.5 wins, St. Louis over 88.5 wins and Tampa Bay over 89.5 wins.
PHILLIPS: I really like the Milwaukee Brewers to win the NL Central at +165, to win the NL pennant at +1500 and to win the World Series at +3500. They will be a playoff team and their pitching will be a very difficult matchup in a short postseason series. They could run the table and a big payout can be had. I also like the Guardians to win the World Series at +2500. Again, they have great pitching that can neutralize good lineups and an improved offence. The Blue Jays are at +1900 for the best regular-season record in baseball. They can win the AL East and if they do they can very well have the best record. It's a good payday.
What are your favourite league-wide player prop bets?
MITCHELL: Some of my awards picks that you’ll read down below are showing some pretty good value, with Mariners righty Luis Castillo +1600 to win the AL Cy Young. With Shohei Ohtani showing no value to win MVP at +220, I’d rather take a Cy shot at +1100, especially with potentially more of an innings load this year. Luis Severino for AL Cy Young at +6000 is also nice value on a team that should win a lot of games. My NL Cy Young pick, Brandon Woodruff, is also sitting at +2000, while Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (+1300) and Trea Turner (+1100) to win MVP in their respective leagues are both intriguing. I’ll also gladly bet the over on Ohtani’s 32.5 home run line.
PHILLIPS: Giancarlo Stanton has twice led baseball in home runs. He is at +3200 to lead this year. If he stays healthy he can do it again. I like Chris Sale to log more than 200 strikeouts at +240. He has done it seven times in his career. Now that he is healthy, he can easily do it again. The over/under on home runs for Aaron Judge is 42.5 at -118 for over and -104 for under. He hit 62 last season, so take the over.
What are your favourite Jays player prop bets for this season?
MITCHELL: Kevin Gausman has punched out more than 200 batters in each of his last two seasons, so over 190.5 seems like a pretty good bet if he stays healthy. I’m all over some Matt Chapman props this season, with over 27.5 homers looking nice, as well as a shot-in-the-dark MVP bet at +15000 in a contract year. Steve beat me to it below, but there are worse ideas than betting Bo Bichette at +7000 to steal an MVP award with a 30/30 season.
PHILLIPS: I like the over/under number for Alek Manoah’s strikeout total. He struck out 180 batters last year, so the 168.5 total seems easily attainable for the workhorse ace. Take the over at -110. Bo Bichette is at +7000 to win the AL MVP. I believe the potential exists for him to do this and that is a nice payout. I also like both Manoah (+1200) and Kevin Gausman (+1500) for AL Cy Young.
Toronto Blue Jays celebrate
Mitchell: Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays just always seem to find a way and some of their young position player talent is starting to show up in the bigs.
Phillips: Toronto Blue Jays
This is the year that everything comes together for Toronto. They have matured into a championship-calibre team.
Mitchell: Cleveland Guardians
They’ve got a sneaky good lineup that gets on base and their pitching is really deep throughout the organization, allowing them to weather injuries better than most.
Phillips: Cleveland Guardians
The Guardians will throw more quality innings than anyone in the division and they will score enough to win. The rule changes benefit them a ton as a contact-hitting team with great team speed.
Mitchell: Houston Astros
Despite the Jose Altuve blow, the defending champs are loaded once again and don’t really have a glaring weakness. If they do, they’ll address it at the trade deadline.
Phillips: Houston Astros
The Astros enter the season with some injuries, but they have enough depth and talent to hold off the Mariners. But the gap has been narrowed.
Mitchell: (1) Toronto Blue Jays, (2) Seattle Mariners, (3) New York Yankees
The AL wild-card race is going to be must-see TV because a lot of teams improved this winter and you can make a legitimate case for the Los Angeles Angels, with the two best players on the planet, the Texas Rangers, with their billion dollars spent the past two off-seasons, and the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, thanks to a weak division and solid pitching, as wild-card contenders if things break right. That being said, the Jays, Yanks and M’s are all 90-plus-win teams out of the gates.
Phillips: (1) New York Yankees, (2) Seattle Mariners, (3) Chicago White Sox
The Yankees are still a force in the AL while the Mariners take what they learned in 2022 and take it a step further nearly winning the division. The White Sox bounce back under new manager Pedro Grifol and edge out the Rays, Twins, Rangers and Angels.
Mitchell: Atlanta Braves
It’s a tough division but like the Astros they don’t really have an obvious weakness as the season gets underway. One of the few teams that could threaten the 100-win plateau.
Phillips: Atlanta Braves
The Braves will throw more quality innings than any team in the NL. Their bullpen is phenomenal. They have a potent offence and stellar defence to go with the pitching. They will win more than 100 games.
Mitchell: St. Louis Cardinals
The division is bad, and the Cards are really deep and really good all across the roster.
Phillips: Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers will out-pitch the Cardinals over the course of the season and will score enough to support the good arms.
Mitchell: Los Angeles Dodgers
They didn’t spend Dodger-type money this winter, but the high end of this roster is still elite and don’t underestimate the analytical side making up for the tighter budget.
Phillips: San Diego Padres
This is the year that it all comes together in San Diego. Analytics will only take the Dodgers so far. Talent will prevail and the Padres have more of it.
Mitchell: (1) San Diego Padres, (2) New York Mets, (3) Philadelphia Phillies.
Unlike the American League where I could make a case for at least seven potential wild-card teams, the NL is an easier road. The Padres could threaten the Dodgers for the division, as could the Mets and Phillies in the loaded NL East. Other than that, it’s just the Brewers, who have the high-end pitching needed, but the offence is a mish-mash work in progress. The Marlins, Nationals, Cubs, Reds, Pirates, Rockies and D-Backs are all terrible and in various stages of rebuilding, leaving only the San Francisco Giants as a potential surprise contender.
Phillips: (1) Philadelphia Phillies, (2) St Louis Cardinals, (3) New York Mets
The NL East will be a battle, but three teams will still emerge as legitimate World Series contenders. The Mets finish as the third wild-card team because of the loss of Edwin Diaz, their closer. The Phillies won't catch the Braves even after Harper returns, but are a scary team all the same. The Cardinals find a way to get in, but have to slug their way to October.
WORLD SERIES PICK
MITCHELL: I honestly hate making World Series picks because it’s so, so, so easy to just look at the favourites and feel like that’s the way it’s going to go. Only it rarely does. Sure, lots of people had the Astros last year, but not a soul had the Phillies coming out of the NL. Anyway, I really like the Mariners this year thanks to a potentially elite rotation AND bullpen, and I’ll take them over the Padres in six games.
PHILLIPS: The World Series will be the Alex Anthopolous Series. The Braves and Blue Jays will meet. It is their time. Young stars vs young stars. Big arms vs big arms. Thunderous bats vs thunderous bats. It will be an epic match-up and a seven game series. Jays win in seven games.
Shohei Ohtani Los Angeles Angels
MITCHELL: Look, Shohei Ohtani should be the pick every year while he’s smack dab in the middle of his prime and provided he stays healthy there’s a pretty good chance he’s at the very least top five on the ballot in the end, which makes it a solid bet even at short odds. But this year I’ll go back to the same well as last with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who I think is going to hit more balls in the air and really like the shortened up power alleys at the Dome this year.
PHILLIPS: Shohei Ohtani will edge out Vlad Guerrero Jr and Aaron Judge for the MVP award. Guerrero and Judge will out-slug Ohtani, but the hitting-pitching combo of the Angles star will propel him over the top.
MITCHELL: With the Dodgers losing Trea Turner to free agency, it immediately makes me look at both Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, who will get more attention as the guys carrying the offensive load for a likely playoff team, if not a division winner. But they aren’t the pick. It’s the aforementioned Turner, a player who should run wild on the bases with the new rules, love hitting inside Citizens Bank Park in Philly, and also has the benefit of increased east coast attention, especially with Bryce Harper slated to miss half the season.
PHILLIPS: The Padres will win the NL West in runaway fashion. Juan Soto will have the best offensive numbers in San Diego but the combination of offence, defence and leadership will earn Manny Machado his first ever MVP Award.
AL CY YOUNG
MITCHELL: The shackles may be coming off Ohtani to an extent and his 170 innings could be glorious, but the guy ready to take the jump to elite is Seattle Mariners righty Luis Castillo, who enters his age-30 season on a really good team, in a really good park, and with a really good arsenal that he showed off last postseason in Toronto. He’s primed to be one of the rare ones that goes 200 frames.
PHILLIPS: Gerrit Cole finally gets the hardware. The Yankees workhorse throws the most innings in the AL and wins the pitching triple crown. He wins 20+ games leads the AL in strikeouts and ERA. He beats out Jays ace Alek Manoah and Guardians righty Shane Bieber.
NL CY YOUNG
MITCHELL: I’ve been waiting for the season that Aaron Nola puts it all together and gets some luck, but I’m going to instead go with Milwaukee Brewers righty Brandon Woodruff, another electric arm entering his age-30 season with another level to get to. One thing working in Woodruff’s favour is he gets to take advantage of a terrible division against the Reds, Pirates and Cubs.
PHILLIPS: The Brewers will have a Cy Young Award winner, but it won't be Brandon Woodruff. Corbin Burnes will win his second Cy Young award. He won in 2021 and does it again. He leads the NL in ERA, strikeouts and WHIP. He lost his arbitration case to the Brewers so he has a season that confirms they can't afford him and his new agent, Scott Boras, on a long-term deal.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
MITCHELL: Despite nailing Julio Rodriguez from the get-go last season, the top rookie is usually hard to predict because of the subjective nature of weighing playing time versus overall impact. A sleeper is Texas Rangers third baseman Josh Jung, but it’s impossible for me not to go with the favourite, Gunnar Henderson, who’s an absolute stud and makes for another scary AL East duo with Adley Rutschman.
PHILLIPS: It's not fair, but it doesn't matter. Red Sox outfielder, Masataka Yoshida, has played seven seasons in Japan and had a .326/.419/.538 slash line there. He is a rookie in MLB, and he will put up the best numbers in this year's class.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
MITCHELL: It would be easy to go with the other betting favourite here in Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carrol, who’s going to play from the jump on opening day and should have no problem putting up numbers. Instead, I’ll go down the board a little bit and peg Ezequiel Tovar as this year’s top rookie in the NL, simply because of playing time plus the Coors factor equals eye-catching stats. If he gets 600 plate appearances, there could be a 20/20 season in the offing, and that would have him in the ROY convo.
PHILLIPS: This spring, Jordan Walker of the St Louis Cardinals has taken the organization back to 2000 when a young stud prospect named Albert Pujols burst onto the scene. Walker did the same this spring and he will continue it into the season. He will do Pujols-like things this year, including winning the Rookie of the Year.
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
MITCHELL: After becoming the seventh person in major league history to win a championship as a player and as a manager last October, Dusty Baker continues to add to his trophy case with his first AL manager of the year and his first in either league since the Barry Bonds-led 2000 San Francisco Giants. Houston is too deep and too good, while the Baker final chapter narrative is appealing.
PHILLIPS: In his first year as a manager, Pedro Grifol leads the White Sox to a playoff berth. He inspired a team that was so inconsistent in 2022. The energy would come and go last year but this season they show up on a daily basis under Grifol's leadership. He wins the Manager of the Year Award.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
MITCHELL: He led his surprising Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series last year, and after adding Trea Turner and others in free agency Sarnia, Ont., native and Stratford resident Rob Thomson has a chance to really put himself on the managerial map in a tough division. Battling the loaded Braves and Mets won’t be easy but the Phillies have the rotation horses to hang.
PHILLIPS: No manager gets more from less than Brewers manager Craig Counsel. Once again, he navigates the matchups and personnel on his roster and sets his guys up to succeed. They win the division, and he wins the Manager of the Year Award.