Spring training persists and -- other than all the injuries -- it remains a necessary and fun venture that gets things going each baseball season. Still, we aren't about to proceed with a weekly Official Power Rankings based upon spring performances. Those games don't count and have very little meaning or impact on the regular season. Instead, we find ways to keep ranking things, such as the offenses, rotations or WBC teams.
This time around, we won't even be ranking teams. We will zero in on each division and rank those. These aren't ranking the divisions by ballparks (NL West, maybe, off the top of my head?) and it doesn't matter which divisions I watch the most. No, we're going to be ranking how tough each division is this coming season, in terms of team strength. Top-to-bottom can matter, as well as having multiple World Series contenders. Above all else, it's just a feeling of: In which division would you most/least want your favorite team to play.
There's an added wrinkle here, too. For quite a while, MLB has been using an "unbalanced" schedule. This season, it is a lot more even. For the full details, we've got you covered here. Just to scratch the surface, though, in-division games for each team have dropped from 76 to 52. With more games outside the division, which divisions are stronger has much more meaning in the regular season than in years past, especially with three wild cards in each league.
Keeping that in mind, let's rank the divisions for 2023.
1. American League East
The Boston Red Sox were 52-34 last season when they didn't have to play a team in their division. That means they played like a 98-win team when they weren't dealing with their division-mates. And yet, they finished in last place. They are probably a touch worse than last season, but they aren't bad. It's likely they'll have better luck against their fellow AL East brethren this time around and now they get fewer of those games while getting more outside the division.
Why am I talking so much about the Red Sox? Because most people would call them the worst team in the AL East heading into the season, but they are also likely a playoff contender. Personally, I think the Orioles are the worst team here, but they won 83 games last season and shouldn't take a huge step back.
The point is, there are zero pushovers here and you could argue there are five playoff contenders. The Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays would be reasonable predictions to win the division, which means they wouldn't be terrible picks to win the AL or even the World Series.
This thing is loaded.
2. National League East
Arguably, the NL East is tougher at the top than the AL East. The Braves and Mets both won 101 games last season and again look like two of the very best teams in all of baseball. The Phillies made a run to the World Series and look better this time around, even without maybe a half-season of Bryce Harper. By the end of the year, the best bet is this division has three World Series contenders.
The Marlins aren't bad, either. They can pitch and the front office has done its damnedest to find some offense. You could argue the Marlins are in the ballpark of the Red Sox and/or Orioles. If you were an NL East person, I could see this argument, too: Braves/Mets/Phillies > Yankees/Blue Jays/Rays. If you did that and also liked the Marlins to hang in the area of the Red Sox and Orioles, I guess you could ... oh wait. We're leaving something out, aren't we?
Yeah, the Nationals really drag things down here and that's the main separation point between the AL and NL East.
As for the predictably boring "east coast bias" nonsense that'll surely come from somewhere: Feel free to argue against either East being up here, but I challenge you to do so on merit and not geography. Good luck.
3. National League West
This division has been pretty top heavy the last several years and that is likely to remain the case. The Padres look like one of baseball's best teams and the Dodgers have established themselves to the point that it would be foolish to bet against them. There's an argument to be made that this division has the best 1-2 punch in baseball, but that isn't what we're doing here.
The Rockies look like one of baseball's worst teams.
The Giants took a huge step backward last season, going from an MLB-best 107 wins to 81. If you look at their roster, though, if anything, it looks like they should have lost a lot more games. They just never seem like they should be as good as their record says, whether they are great, bad or in between. Somehow, they find a way to be relevant. I have no doubt that'll be the case again this season. At worst, I've got them reliably average.
That leaves the Diamondbacks. I don't think they will be good. I don't have them pushing for a playoff spot. But they are interesting and have "upstart" potential. Once you get to the fourth team in the Central divisions, you can't say that. I don't know if the D-Backs are good enough from the four spot for a boost -- the Red Sox or Orioles would be much better picks -- but they certainly aren't a detriment.
4. American League West
The defending champion Astros were my No. 1 team in my pre-pre-season Power Rankings and I can't imagine I'll move them off that spot for a bit. They dominated the AL West last year (51-25 head-to-head) but played like a 103-win team outside the division. More succinct: They are awesome and the schedule change won't matter.
On the flip side, the A's might be the worst team in baseball.
As for the other three, there's a lot of talent with plenty of questions.
The Mariners were an amazing story last season and it's possible they are better. It's just as possible there's a backslide coming and if we were matching them up against the NL West, they are far less reliable than the Dodgers or Padres.
The Angels are the antithesis of the Giants. Where we could look at the starpower of the Angels and get excited, the Giants just seem kind of boring, you know? And yet, even last year when the Giants just didn't feel very good, they still won 81 games. The Angels were in a first place as late as May 16 and then fell apart, losing 89 games. I said the Giants are reliably average. There is nothing at all reliable about the Angels. When it comes down to it, I'd much rather watch the Angels play and it's possible they end up better than the Giants, but if you had to bet your life on one of these teams having a winning record this year, you'd surely take the Giants, right?
On the Rangers, I've mentioned before the big upside that their rotation has. It could be the best rotation in baseball and if everything is working at the right time, they could even win the World Series! But they are already dealing with injuries to basically everyone in the rotation and the season hasn't even started yet, a melancholy reminder of the depths to which things could plunge with this group.
In fact, the Rangers in a way feel like this AL West ranking. If things break right for the Mariners, Angels and Rangers, there's a road here for this division to be in the discussion for the best in baseball. If things go wrong for these three, we're talking about a division that is the Astros away from being the worst.
Between everything going right or wrong lies a fight with the NL West for the three spot.
5. National League Central
The Reds have a pair of young arms who will prove to be a pair of aces, maybe as soon as the latter part of this season. The Pirates have Oneil Cruz and he's must-see TV pretty much every single game. Still, I expect both teams to be among the worst in baseball this year.
That puts the Cubs as the third-best team in this division. Just for comparison's sake against the top two divisions in these rankings, that would put them against the Rays and Phillies. Not close, huh? I expect the Cubs to be better than last year and maybe hang on the periphery of playoff contention for at least a little bit, but they are basically mediocre.
So that's two bad teams and one mediocre team. Let's move to the positive!
The Brewers and Cardinals are both going to be good teams. The Cardinals have one of the best offenses in baseball while the Brewers sport one of the best rotations.
Of course, we need to point out the Cardinals were 20 games over .500 in division last year and were 45-41 outside it. The Brewers were 44-42 outside the division. Things change from year to year and both of these teams are good, but, again, I think there will be an impact on full-season win totals with this new schedule. Getting to beat up on the Pirates, Reds and, to a lesser extent, Cubs for a decent number fewer games will move the needle.
6. American League Central
The Guardians were 45-41 outside the division last season, but thanks to dominating the AL Central, they won 92 games. By no means is four games over .500 a bad record, but they played like an 85-win team outside the division and they won this thing by 11 games. For the millionth time, it's a different year and things will change, but there hasn't been substantial enough movement to believe things are going to change all that much.
In glancing around at the projection systems and just using my eye test/gut feeling, the conclusion is we'll be hard pressed to see a 90-win team here and it's possible a win total in the mid-80s takes it. No only that, but there appear to be two terrible teams and while the White Sox have plenty of potential, their lack of depth makes it look like there's a chance they will bottom out.
Since both Centrals look similar in strength, we can divide it up. We can pair the White Sox and Cubs together -- I know all Chicagoans love doing that -- while matching the bottom two teams in each of the Centrals (Tigers, Royals, Reds, Pirates) and even if there are nitpicks, I think a good number of people would agree the two divisions are similar there. We're then left with the Guardians and Twins against the Cardinals and Brewers. I'm very strongly on the NL side there. That means ...
The AL Central is the worst division in baseball.