Opening day is almost here, and with the approach of Thursday’s full slate of Major League Baseball games comes the moment when the logic and reason of projections gives way to the chaos of a baseball season.

Across 162 games, there are always surprises – to the extent that the surest way to make incorrect predictions would be expecting last year’s best teams to rise to the top again.

Since MLB expanded the postseason field with the second wild card in 2012, roughly half of all playoff teams have come from the pool of clubs that missed October the previous season. And more than 20% of playoff entrants logged a losing record the previous MLB season. That pattern held true in 2023, when six 2022 also-rans made it (Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks), with four of them springing up from below the .500 line.

So heading into 2024, the math is clear: The only way to make MLB picks is to make them boldly. Below, baseball writers Ryan Fagan and Zach Crizer pick a winner and dish out a bold prediction for each division.

Fagan’s Winner: Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles might not reach triple digits in the W column again in 2024, but their surprising success last year was no fluke. This is a franchise set up to not just contend for the AL East title for the next several seasons, but World Series titles. Plural. Adding Corbin Burnes, a raw value superstar, as the team’s ace starting pitcher was one of the best offseason moves by any team. We’ve learned never to count out the Tampa Bay Rays, and the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays will be in the wild-card mix all season.

Most valuable pitches

Fagan’s bold prediction: Juan Soto hits like the next coming of Babe Ruth, and the Yankees make him an extension offer during the season that he can’t refuse. They don’t make the playoffs, though.

Crizer’s Winner: Tampa Bay Rays

There are four entirely reasonable picks to win the daunting, high-flying AL East (sorry Boston Red Sox). Why the Rays? Well, why not? Their lineup of opportunistic fly-ball pull hitters is almost totally complete, and their aptitude for squeezing good innings out of depth arms is unparalleled. If the rotation feels somewhat underwhelming on opening day, you might need to watch Zach Eflin and Zack Littell more closely. Or you can wait a month or two for the cavalry to arrive with youngsters Taj Bradley and Shane Baz returning from injury.

Crizer’s bold prediction: Wedged out of the postseason picture, the Blue Jays begin a reboot. Toronto is simultaneously carrying one of the sport’s most potent and most precarious powder kegs. I’d totally believe it if you told me Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette put it all together and led the team to the promised land. And I’d believe it if you told me the reverse happened: The Blue Jays suffered through a couple key injuries and watched the Yankees and Orioles snag playoff spots. By season’s end, they are staring at a middling roster littered with inconsistent stars rapidly approaching free agency.

Fagan’s Winner: Detroit Tigers

The talent on Detroit’s roster is elite, though it’s undeniably filled with players who have “yeah, but …” attached to their track record. If Riley Greene stays healthy and Spencer Torkelson really did finally figure out MLB pitching down the stretch – 16 homers the last two months – and if Colt Keith makes the type of instant impact his prospect hype predicts, the offense will be very solid. And that rotation? Matt Manning has a 3.51 ERA over the past two seasons (27 starts) but he couldn’t make the opening day rotation despite a healthy, solid spring.

Fagan’s bold prediction: For the first time since Bobby Witt Jr. was starring for Colleyville Heritage High School, the Kansas City Royals will spend much of the season at least on the fringes of the wild-card conversation. They probably won’t reach October – these are bold predictions, not crazy predictions – but the front office had a solid offseason, and guys like Cole Ragans and Vinnie Pasquantino are ready for their star turns.

Crizer’s Winner: Minnesota Twins

A relatively quiet offseason has made the Twins a stealthy contender, but I’ll add a bonus bold prediction here to say the Twins will finish with the American League’s best record. In addition to a healthier Carlos Correa, the Twins will get fuller seasons from a high-performing wave of youth that only saw limited time last year. Minnesota’s lineup will include five 26-and-under hitters who posted raw value+ (RV+) marks of 114 or better last season, none of whom recorded more than 402 plate appearances. Add that to a rotation headlined by Pablo Lopez, and we might have a World Series contender on our hands.

Crizer’s bold prediction: The division produces three teams over .500 for the first time (in a full season) since 2015. I can’t quite get on board with the Royals or Tigers making the leap this season and pushing into the postseason picture, but I do find it likely at least one of them will make enough progress to post a winning record, potentially alongside the Cleveland Guardians.

Fagan’s Winner: Texas Rangers 

This division race should be a lot of fun. The Mariners have that incredible rotation. The Astros have Josh Hader, Ryan Pressley and Bryan Abreu at the back of the bullpen. But that Rangers lineup? Hoo-boy, that’s really something. Texas led the AL in runs scored and offensive raw value+ last year, and now they’re adding a full year of Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford, two of the best rookie hitters we’ve seen in the past decade? If the Rangers had brought back Jordan Montgomery, they’d be the clear favorites. For now, a tiny slight edge.

offensive rv

Fagan’s bold prediction: Maybe this is more of a hopeful prediction than a bold one, but here goes: Mike Trout ends up in the top four of the AL MVP rankings for the first time since winning his third trophy in 2019. It’s all about health for Trout, of course, and that’s a difficult thing to predict, especially for someone who has spent as much time on the IL as he has lately. He only played 82 games last year, but his RV+ was still a healthy 140. If he can get to 135 games or more, we’ll see Trout’s name on all the MVP ballots.

Crizer’s Winner: Seattle Mariners

A bunch of big blinking arrows point to the Mariners having the best pitching staff in baseball. Their bullpen was MLB’s best by RV- in 2023, and the rotation was fifth while, crucially, throwing more innings than any other team’s group of starters. Led by the steadily great Luis Castillo and highlighted by 26-year-old dynamos George Kirby and Logan Gilbert, this is an enviable collection of arms that should have enough support — in the form of burgeoning MVP candidate Julio Rodriguez — to dislodge the Astros from atop the division.

Crizer’s bold prediction: The Astros fall in the division … but still make their eighth consecutive ALCS appearance. New manager Joe Espada will have his hands full with a starting rotation in flux. That uncertainty — Justin Verlander and Jose Urquidy have joined Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. on the IL to start the season — could be enough to knock Houston’s regular season record down a peg. But when push comes to shove in October? I’m not ready to doubt Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and company just yet.

Fagan’s Winner: Atlanta Braves

This is an honest question: Does anyone in Atlanta or Philadelphia really genuinely care which team wins the National League East? Better yet, does it even matter? Both squads are elite. Both squads will enter October as favorites to win the World Series, as long as they’re reasonably healthy. And this is very true: Both squads will be a lot of fun to watch for the next six or seven months.

Fagan’s bold prediction: The rest of baseball world recognizes that Francisco Alvarez is a slugging star. It’s kind of mind-boggling that Alvarez hit 25 home runs in 123 games during his age-21 season and it hardly registered a blip on the national radar because the season was such an overall disaster for the New York Mets. Expectations for the team are muted this year, though, and maybe that will take the blinders off as others look at Alvarez, who could hit 35 homers this year.

Crizer’s Winner: Atlanta Braves

For all the hubbub around the Dodgers’ offseason, MLB’s best roster still resides in Atlanta. Brian Snitker will have nine returning hitters (including both catchers) with RV+ marks of 105 or better, led by reigning MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. (178 RV+, for the record). The left field job, which might be the lowest-pressure lineup assignment of all time, will go to either old standby Adam Duvall or reclamation project Jarred Kelenic. Their rotation starts with Spencer Strider, the face of the next generation of pitching, continues with the quiet excellence of Max Fried and might be punctuated by a Chris Sale renaissance. Anything less than a pennant would be a disappointment.

NL RV leaders

Crizer’s bold prediction: The Mets beat out the Philadelphia Phillies for second place and a wild-card berth. Look, count this in the category of things that could happen. Is it likely to happen? No, but something unlikely always does. David Stearns, the new president of baseball operations, has tweaked his first Mets team in ways that would be familiar to Brewers fans – adding pitching projects and depth. With Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso and Brandon Nimmo in tow and Edwin Diaz back, the Mets will be in serious business if something clicks for one or two of Sean Manaea, Luis Severino and Tylor Megill.

Fagan’s Winner: Cincinnati Reds

The confidence level in this pick is not high, but the talent level in that Cincinnati clubhouse is just ridiculously high, and with the lack of a true division favorite – all five teams could realistically wind up between 78 and 86 wins – that’s enough for the Reds to get the nod. Let’s put it this way: If any team in this division is going to run away and hide from the other teams, it’s Cincinnati. That rotation could be dynamic, full of young arms and swing-and-miss stuff. The infield is full of impact players, even with Noelvi Marte suspended and Matt McLain starting the season on the IL.

Fagan’s bold prediction: I will keep making this bold prediction until it comes true (because one day it will): This is the year Reds right-hander Hunter Greene harnesses his massive talent and challenges for his first NL Cy Young Award.

Crizer’s Winner: Milwaukee Brewers

The most tightly bunched division in the game is stuffed with teams right in the middle of shifting gears. The Chicago Cubs are trying to wait on a wave of prospects while also leveling up. The St. Louis Cardinals are trying to cobble together enough pitching to compete with Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt. The Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to launch from rebuild to contention. In a way, the Brewers feel the least momentous. They lost their manager to the rival Cubs. They traded away Cy Young-winning ace Corbin Burnes. And yet, the defending division champs also have a groundswell of talent coming – led by 20-year-old outfielder Jackson Chourio – and the best track record of pitching development in the division. In a division that could produce entropy, I’m going with inertia.

Crizer’s bold prediction: The Pirates surge to a second-place finish, setting themselves up as imminent contenders in 2025. The Pirates, Reds and Cubs all have exciting young talent ready to play a role in 2024, but I’ll notch a vote for the Pirates getting the most major league promise from their unit this season. Breakout candidate Ke’Bryan Hayes at third base and 6-foot-7 power threat Oneil Cruz at shortstop could make the future look very bright.

Fagan’s Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers

Of course it’s the Dodgers. Starting a lineup with Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman is just silly. And Bobby Miller is about to become a star in the rotation. With Jordan Montgomery suddenly and shockingly on board, Arizona just might have the best rotation in the division (league?), making the Diamondbacks the Phillies of the West (y’know, won’t win the division but just might be the best October team of the group). The San Francisco Giants are better than last year, and the San Diego Padres will be, too. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see two of the three wild-card clubs come from this division.

Fagan’s bold prediction: Jordan Hicks and Kyle Harrison both make the All-Star squad for the Giants.

Crizer’s Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers

What are you going to do? When you’re an opposing pitcher staring down this lineup, you’re going to either accept your fate or perhaps just cry on the mound. There are more question marks than you might expect on the pitching side following a billion-dollar offseason that place Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow atop the rotation, but the fire hose of ability in this organization has too deep a well to fail to win 95 or more games. As ever, the real test will be what the team looks like when jewelry is up for grabs.

Crizer’s bold prediction: Buoyed by offseason acquisitions, the Giants make the playoffs. It might have been desperation by Farhan Zaidi, the embattled president of baseball operations, but it can still work. A patchwork of platoons and odd pitching plans has largely given way to a more conventional roster studded with free-agent additions Jung Hoo Lee, Matt Chapman, Jorge Soler and, most recently, Blake Snell. Given the scaffolding of experienced standbys – which also includes returning Cy Young contender Logan Webb – the Giants’ as-yet-unsorted menagerie of options looks far more promising, a contender to join the Diamondbacks representing the division in October.

And finally … we’ll leave you with the tradition of a pick sure to look silly by season’s end.

Crizer’s World Series pick: Braves over Twins

Fagan’s World Series pick: Orioles over Phillies

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