The MLB’s offseason featured a lockout over a new collective bargaining agreement giving fans a scare. The players and the league did finally agree to a new CBA meaning the 2022 MLB season is a go. Opening Day is set for April 7 and all 162 games will be played this season. The regular season will end on October 5.
The new CBA did include some changes, one of which involves the postseason. Each league will add one more wild card to the postseason mix for a total of 12 teams in the MLB playoffs. Which of those teams has the best shot at capturing the American League pennant? Here’s a look at how the AL pennant race may play out.
Houston, We Have No Problem
The Astros have played for the last five straight AL pennants. With relatively few roster changes, Houston is the overall favorite to repeat as AL champion and represent the league in the World Series again. Remember, a year ago the Astros beat Boston in six games to win the American League but fell to Atlanta 4-2 in the World Series.
Houston has both the pitching and the hitting of a championship team. That is why they are the AL favorite at +450 to win it again. Last year, the Astros led the majors in runs per game and they could easily do that again in 2022. They have a former AL MVP in Jose Altuve who hit .277 with 31 homers and 83 RBIs last season. They have a favorite in this year’s MVP race in Yordan Alvarez. All Alvarez did last season with hit .277 with 33 home runs and 104 RBIs. Alex Bregman is back and healthy and Kyle Tucker is back after hitting .294 with 30 homers. Even after losing Carlos Correa to the Twins in free agency, there is not a weak spot in the Astros’ batting order.
Houston has three excellent young pitchers in Framber Valdez (11-6), Jose Urquidy (8-3), and Christian Javier who went 4-1 in nine starts last year. The Astros will also get two-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander back after he missed all of last season with an injury.
There is a reason why Toronto is given the exact same odds – +450 – as the Astros to win the AL pennant. The Blue Jays went 91-71 last season but didn’t make the postseason. They wound up fourth in a very competitive AL East. With one of the best young lineups in baseball, the Blue Jays have what it takes to win the AL this year.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. led the majors with 48 home runs last season. He also hit .311 and had 111 RBIs. Bo Bichette hit .298 with 29 dingers and 102 RBIs. Four more Blue Jays – Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., George Springer, and Randal Grichuk – each hit at least 22 home runs. Grichuk was recently traded, but the other three return. Hernandez hit .296 and had 116 RBIs.
The Blue Jays upgraded the pitching staff too. They signed Kevin Gausman away from San Diego in the offseason and recently acquired Yusei Kikuchi. They will join Jose Berrios, Alek Manoah, and Hyun Jin Ryu to form a competent starting lineup.
Others in the Mix
The White Sox won the AL Central and are given +500 odds to win the AL pennant this year. The Yankees still have Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton along with P Gerrit Cole. They are listed at +475. The more interesting candidates are Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Angels. Remember, it was the Rays that won 100 games and the AL East last year. They return AL Rookie of the Year Randy Arozarena and SS prospect Wander Franco. The Rays are given +750 odds to win the AL pennant.
The Angels are an interesting longshot pick. They return AL MVP Shohei Ohtani and a healthy Mike Trout, who owns three AL MVPs of his own. The Angels did upgrade the pitching staff with the addition of Noah Syndergaard. L.A. is currently listed at +1600 to win the AL.