MLB

MLB Early Season Reactions: Divisional Leaders and Other Teams to Watch

Thoughts on early division leaders in MLB: can any team go wire-to-wire, or are we in for a number of divisional races?

April 10, 2024

Nearly two weeks have passed since Opening Day, but that’s enough time to have developed some early reactions to how the 2024 MLB season has unfolded so far. We’ll take a look at each early division leader and assess whether they have staying power. We’ll also identify some other teams to watch as the season progresses.

AL East

New York Yankees (10-2)

Early Reaction: Buy

Instead of just treading water until reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole’s (elbow) expected return in June, the Yankees have exploded out of the gate with the best record in the AL. Offseason additions Juan Soto and Marcus Stroman have been early hits, as Soto boasts a 1.009 OPS and Stroman is putting on his best Cole impression with zero earned runs allowed through 12 innings in pinstripes.

Second-year shortstop Anthony Volpe won’t maintain his 1.154 OPS all year, but there’s plenty of room for Aaron Judge (.708 OPS) to heat up as Volpe cools down. A wire-to-wire run atop the AL East in 2024 isn’t out of the question for the Bronx Bombers after the bitter disappointment of missing the playoffs entirely in 2023.

Other team to watch:

Toronto Blue Jays (6-6)

This is a nice buy-low opportunity on the Blue Jays, who reached the playoffs in three of the past four seasons and missed with 91 wins in the other year during that stretch. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.762 OPS), George Springer (.657 OPS) and Bo Bichette (.614 OPS) are all off to slow starts, so the Blue Jays should be just fine once their big bats wake up.

AL Central

Cleveland Guardians (8-3)

Early reaction: Buy

The Guardians have an early two-game cushion on both the Tigers and Royals, neither of whom have won more than 80 games in a season since 2016. Cleveland is seeking a sixth playoff berth in the last nine seasons, and the Guardians’ excellent pitching has them in good shape in what has generally been baseball’s weakest division in recent years.

Only the Red Sox have a lower team ERA than Cleveland’s 2.05, and there’s enough talent on the Guardians’ staff to overcome the loss of ace Shane Bieber, who is headed for Tommy John surgery. Expect them to keep chugging along.

Other team to watch:

Minnesota Twins (3-6)

Minnesota is the likeliest team to capitalize if Cleveland falls back to the pack. The Twins have won the AL Central in three of the previous five seasons, and they have nowhere to go but up offensively. Only the White Sox are currently averaging fewer runs than Minnesota’s 2.88. 

AL West

Texas Rangers (6-5)

Early reaction: Buy

The Shohei Ohtani-less Angels are also 6-5, but the edge between the two current AL West co-leaders clearly goes to the reigning World Series champions. Houston is still favored to win the division, but Texas’ roster is laden with talent and has proven it can deliver in the clutch. Throw in the Rangers’ slight early cushion over the Astros, and they make for an appealing bet to finish atop the AL West at +160.

Other team to watch:

Houston Astros (4-8)

Houston has righted the ship somewhat with a 4-4 record since a four-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees to begin the season. Houston is still viewed as the favorite to win the division, and the Astros will likely be in contention come playoff time as usual after reaching the ALCS in each of the previous seven seasons. If things get really dire, the Astros can always break out the trash cans or buzzers from the supply closet to boost their bats down the stretch.

NL East

Atlanta Braves (7-3)

Early reaction: Hold

Atlanta will almost certainly be a playoff team and has a great chance of winning the division for a seventh consecutive season, but there isn’t much value in betting on the Braves to win the NL East right now. The 5-5 Phillies have the talent to make this an interesting race, especially after eliminating the Braves in each of the past two postseasons.

Other team to watch:

Miami Marlins (1-11)

As Yankees announcer Michael Kay likes to say, baseball is a stew, not a microwave sport. The Marlins reached the playoffs with an 84-78 record in 2023, and while they have dug themselves an early hole in 2024, it’s too early to declare their season completely cooked.

Miami has faced the Pirates, Angels, Cardinals and Yankees, three of which have at least a share of the lead in their respective divisions, so perhaps the Marlins will start swimming in the right direction once the schedule eases up. They’re currently at rock bottom, so a bet on Miami to reach the playoffs could be a low-risk, high-reward proposition.

NL Central

Pittsburgh Pirates (9-3)

Early reaction: Sell

The Pirates have one of the best records in baseball, but the consensus remains that this hot start is fool’s gold rather than a treasure chest full of doubloons. If you’re going to bet on Pittsburgh, you may as well wait for the Pirates to cool off and drop a few games, giving them some longer odds.

Other team to watch:

Cincinnati Reds (6-5)

The NL Central is wide open, and the Reds’ ascendant trajectory suggests this could be the year they finally get back to the postseason in a 162-game campaign, be it via winning the division or a wild card. This young roster went from 62 wins in 2022 to 82 wins in 2023. Don’t expect 102 wins in 2024, but enough victories to reach the playoffs or even win the NL Central are certainly possible, especially with 22-year-old shortstop Elly De La Cruz (.960 OPS) and 26-year-old left fielder Spencer Steer (1.222 OPS) both playing like franchise cornerstones.

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers (10-4)

Early Reaction: Buy

The Dodgers’ offense has been excellent, while their pitching and defense have left much to be desired. That formula could find LA faltering in the postseason as usual, but there’s more than enough talent on this team to out-slug any deficiencies in other areas.

LA has scored at least four runs in all but one game, Shohei Ohtani has a 1.056 OPS in the early stages of his Dodgers tenure, and incumbent superstar Mookie Betts has been even better with a 1.300 OPS. The rest of the NL West is under .500, so the Dodgers have also built a nice early cushion in their quest for an 11th division crown in 12 seasons.

Other team to watch:

Arizona Diamondbacks (5-7)

The Diamondbacks snuck into the playoffs with 84 wins last season and went on to reach the World Series. They’re off to a slow start in 2024, but last year’s playoff run has earned Arizona the benefit of the doubt. The NL East and NL West each have only one team above .500 so far, so the D-Backs’ early hole isn’t all that deep yet.

Sasha Yodashkin
Sasha Yodashkin has been contributing NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and Tennis content to RotoWire since 2015, with an emphasis on DFS. He is a huge New York sports fan who has been playing fantasy sports since middle school.
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