Early returns on the 2024 MLB season: Yankees, Royals looking strong; Astros, Marlins not so much


Eventually, we’ll no longer need to caveat any and all observations about the 2024 MLB season with reminders that it’s still early and there’s a long road ahead for every team, regardless of whether they look invincible or hopeless over the first handful of games.

We’re not there yet. But with each passing day of the season’s first month, we learn a little bit more about how the standings will shake out as the season unfolds. While the sample remains small, early standouts, disappointments and, unfortunately, injuries can impact our perception of teams relative to how we felt about them on Opening Day — even if that wasn’t all that long ago.

In turn, as teams accumulate wins and losses, the probabilities shift. Eight percent of the season might not seem like a lot, but it’s more than enough for projection systems to recalculate the likelihood of a team finishing in or out of the postseason.

With all that in mind, here are some takeaways for each division after two weeks of play, with a look at how each team’s playoff odds have changed since the start of the season (according to FanGraphs, comparing odds the morning of March 28 to the morning of April 11).

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AL EAST

  • Yankees’ playoffs odds: 72% on March 28 to 86.3% on April 11

  • Rays’ playoffs odds: 59.6% to 60.2%

  • Orioles’ playoff odds: 52.8% to 63%

  • Blue Jays’ playoff odds: 49% to 36.8%

  • Red Sox’s playoff odds: 22.9% to 27.3%

Credit to the Yankees for surging to baseball’s best start even with the cloud of Gerrit Cole’s elbow injury looming over the organization. Not only have the new guys such as Juan Soto, Alex Verdugo and Marcus Stroman seemed to fit right in both on and off the field, but crucial holdovers such as Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Anthony Volpe have looked sharp as well. While the pressure is firmly on the rotation to keep things steady with Cole out, the best version of this lineup — which we have yet to see — should give the pitching staff ample wiggle room in the event of some struggles on the mound. Even with Cole out for at least another couple of months, I feel comfortable tabbing the Yankees as division favorites moving forward.

As for the defending AL East champs, the arrival of top prospect Jackson Holliday was going to be an exciting day regardless of where the Orioles were in the standings. At the same time, it’s the pitching staff that has done the heavy lifting thus far for Baltimore, with the offense yet to fully start clicking. I’m curious to see if Holliday can help spark the lineup right away or if it will take some time for him to find his footing. Long-term, I have more confidence in the O’s offense ranking among the league’s elite than the pitching staff. Corbin Burnes sure has looked good, though.

Boston continues to weather a storm of unfortunate IL stints, with Trevor Story’s shoulder injury and Nick Pivetta’s ominous elbow pain putting a serious damper on what has otherwise been an encouraging start from a record and run-differential perspective. Injuries aside, Boston’s tremendous run-prevention efforts (2.08 ERA ranks No. 1 in MLB) have been one of the most surprising and significant developments of any individual unit in MLB. Add Tyler O’Neill playing like the best player on Earth, and there might be enough ingredients here for us to take Boston seriously as a postseason threat. The injuries might doom them, though.

For Toronto and Tampa Bay, it has been a mixed bag so far. The Blue Jays’ offense is continuing to underperform the star power of the names in the lineup, while the Rays’ bullpen — historically excellent, regardless of the anonymity of the pitchers who comprise it — has been shockingly shaky.

AL CENTRAL

  • Twins’ playoff odds: 65.3% on March 28 to 54% on April 11

  • Guardians’ playoff odds: 33.4% to 36%

  • Tigers’ playoff odds: 28.1% to 31.3%

  • Royals’ playoff odds: 13.2% to 30.6%

  • White Sox’s playoff odds: 0.5% to 0.0%

Minnesota’s slow start, particularly on offense, has already opened the door for Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City to dream of a division title. That’s not a massive shock for the Guardians, who won the AL Central as recently as 2022 and had the infrastructure in place to believe they could bounce back after a disappointing 2023. Losing Shane Bieber to Tommy John surgery is a tough pill to swallow, but few organizations are as equipped as Cleveland to backfill a major loss on the mound. If the offense can continue to be even slightly above average — a welcome jump from last season’s lifeless lineup — the Guardians are a real threat to recapture the division crown.

After two ugly losses at home to the Twins to start the season, the Royals have won eight of their past 10, including a four-game sweep (a mop) of the lowly White Sox and two emphatic victories over Houston. Kansas City has experienced an even more dramatic turnaround on the mound than Boston: Last year’s Royals ranked 28th in ERA (5.17), but they slot in at No. 2 (2.50) through 12 games in 2024. That’ll regress some, surely, but the personnel — pitchers and coaches — are different enough for us to believe that a lot of the success could sustain. If enough of the young hitters step up around superstar Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City could start to look like more of a complete team — one that could realistically challenge the Twins or at least hang around the wild-card conversation. MJ Melendez has done his part so far.

Detroit’s ultra-soft schedule had made it tougher to gauge its true talent level, but everyone’s favorite dark horse Cy Young candidate, Tarik Skubal, has been as advertised, and the bullpen has been sneaky dominant. That said, the lineup still has a lot to prove. This weekend’s series against the Twins is a nice April opportunity for Detroit to prove its worth.

And for all the optimism among their rivals, I’m not too concerned about the Twins. The staggeringly low batting averages will not remain at ugly depths all year, and Carlos Correa starting to look like Carlos Correa again will be an even bigger deal once the rest of the lineup gets up to speed. Hopefully Royce Lewis comes back soon.

AL WEST

  • Astros’ playoff odds: 85.9% on March 28 to 68% on April 11

  • Mariners’ playoff odds: 60.1% to 41.7%

  • Rangers’ playoff odds: 37.9% to 46.3%

  • Angels’ playoff odds: 16.8% to 17.2%

  • A’s playoff odds: 2.5% to 1.2%

The defending World Series champion Rangers have looked about as expected: an uneven pitching staff treading water while the high-powered offense is often good enough to win games on its own. There’s a real opportunity for Texas to gain some ground early, with Houston and Seattle scuffling out of the gate.

The Astros haven’t started a season 4-9 since 2013, when they lost 111 games. I’ll take the under on 111 losses for the 2024 ‘Stros, but there are real reasons for concern. The pitching injuries keep piling up, and losing Framber Valdez for any significant amount of time would be a devastating blow to a pitching staff already scrambling to fill innings. Justin Verlander’s imminent return should help. More concerning for the defending division champs are the ice-cold starts from Alex Bregman and Jose Abreu, both in important seasons for different reasons: Bregman with free agency looming this winter and Abreu trying to live up to the contract he signed a year ago after a lackluster first season in Houston. While I’d have to see a far larger sample of bad baseball to write off a team with this track record, I don’t think it’s unfair to consider the Astros less of a bona fide contender based on what we’ve seen thus far.

It has been an unquestionably disappointing start for Seattle, with a revered rotation pitching poorly outside of a couple of standout showings from Logan Gilbert and Bryce Miller and an offense remodeled to strike out less somehow racking up whiffs at an even worse rate. The Mariners have yet to win a series, but they’ve also avoided being swept, leaving them at 5-8, a mark that looks palatable only due to a similarly sluggish start from Houston.

As for the Angels, it’s hard not to get excited about Mike Trout looking like an MVP candidate again, yet here they sit at .500. I’ve seen this movie before, and I’m not especially fond of it. Let’s hope the supporting cast can round into form enough to keep Anaheim in the mix for more than the first couple of months.

NL EAST

  • Braves’ playoff odds: 98.3% on March 28 to 98.9% on April 11

  • Phillies’ playoff odds: 54.6% to 51.6%

  • Mets’ playoff odds: 29.9% to 23.6%

  • Marlins’ playoff odds: 29.8% to 4.3%

  • Nationals’ playoff odds: 0.2% to 0.2%

Coming off another frustrating October exit at the hands of their rivals, the Braves remained the heavy favorites to defend their longstanding reign atop the NL East. So far, nothing has changed there. If anything, Atlanta’s all-around excellence has been reinforced, with a lineup that once again ranks atop the league in most offensive categories and a pitching staff that has the depth and top-end personnel to withstand the brutal news of ace Spencer Strider hitting the IL due to elbow issues. That said, while we don’t yet know how long Strider’s elbow injury will keep him out, losing him is obviously a massive development that could in theory give a slight edge to Philadelphia in the rotation over the rest of the season (and beyond).

The other good news for the Phillies is that there remains a large gap between them and the rest of the division, if not an even larger one based on early-season trends. It’s too early to fully punt on the Mets, but the organization seems content to treat 2024 as a transition year, no matter how many high-profile stars remain in the lineup. Meanwhile, a slew of pitching injuries, a new front office and a horrific start have the Marlins heading toward full rebuild — or, at least, reset mode just a year after reaching the postseason. There’s reason to believe the Nationals could be better than last year — the full-blown CJ Abrams breakout is very much in progress — but not to the point that they are going to be relevant in the playoff picture.

In turn, Philadelphia just needs enough of its stars to start playing like stars to maintain a comfortable position in the standings, no matter how far ahead Atlanta gets. I think they’ll do just that.

NL CENTRAL

  • Cardinals’ playoff odds: 48.2% on March 28 to 41.6% on April 11

  • Cubs’ playoff odds: 41.3% to 47.5%

  • Brewers’ playoff odds: 30% to 43.1%

  • Reds’ playoff odds: 23.1% to 23.4%

  • Pirates’ playoff odds: 16.2% to 35.6%

Before the season, I considered the NL Central by far the most challenging division to project for 2024, and through two weeks, it has somehow gotten even messier. All five teams having at least a 10% chance to win the division is a wildly fun and chaotic scenario, regardless of where we are on the calendar. I don’t know how long that will sustain, but I do know that each of these teams has given me ample reason for both optimism and trepidation already.

What to make of Pittsburgh’s hot start? A division title seems ambitious, but I’m way more bullish on the Bucs’ talent this season compared to the team that had a monster April 2023 before crashing back to Earth. I was the lone member of the Yahoo team to tab St. Louis to win the division, but their veterans’ poor play hasn’t exactly given me confidence in that pick the rest of the way. Outside of the marvelous Elly De La Cruz and the super-underrated Spencer Steer, Cincinnati has been the most underwhelming of the bunch, but the Reds sit at .500 with a chance to go above it when they visit the lowly White Sox this weekend. While the Cubs’ offense has looked plenty formidable, the pitching staff has succumbed to some ugly losses, leaving doubt regarding the team’s ultimate ceiling. And beyond a resurgent Christian Yelich — that’s a big deal, of course — the Brewers have so many new faces on the roster that it’s difficult to know what to expect from them moving forward.

All of which is to say: I have no idea what’s going to happen here. Are any of these teams actually good? Are any of these teams actually bad? I can’t wait to find out.

NL WEST

  • Dodgers’ playoff odds: 93.3% on March 28 to 96.4% on April 11

  • D-backs’ playoff odds: 51.2% to 53.4%

  • Giants’ playoff odds: 43.4% to 36.7%

  • Padres’ playoff odds: 41.6% to 44.2%

  • Rockies’ playoff odds: 0.0% to 0.0%

We can move the Dodgers and Rockies aside, as nothing has happened to change our expectations that Los Angeles will be one of baseball’s best teams and Colorado will be one of its worst. But the three other clubs resemble the NL Central as a challenging trio to assess, except with arguably much higher stakes. Arizona, San Diego and San Francisco were three of the most active teams in the offseason, leaving us with three rosters full of star players with something to prove.

Yet despite all the roster turnover, each of these clubs has shown glaring weaknesses or inconsistent vibes eerily similar to what they exhibited in the regular season last year. Jordan Hicks has been a spectacular surprise in his new starting role, but the San Francisco lineup, even with the fresh faces, looks stuck in the mud all too often. San Diego’s star-studded offense has also run hot and cold, and the team is still trying to find its identity on the mound with so many new pitchers in the fold. Arizona’s upcoming home stand against the Cubs and Cardinals will provide a nice barometer of where they stack up in the NL pecking order.

Is this division somehow going to be sweating to get a second team into the playoffs, the way it was a year ago? Or do the middle three teams have the high-end talent to push for a third October entrant? The early returns haven’t been the most encouraging, but based on how the rest of the league is shaking out, I’m still bullish on the latter.



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