Through all of baseball’s evolutionary steps through the decades, one thing has remained a constant: Every team sets out from Opening Day with an end goal of winning the World Series.
So here we are, back at the beginning, wading into the new MLB season. While this annual blossoming has been with us since the days of steamboats, this season feels particularly new, thanks to the new set of rules — pitch clocks, the banning of the shift, etc. — to which we are still becoming accustomed.
Yet everything we’ve already seen — this spring’s scintillating World Baseball Classic, the preseason injuries, the first handful of refreshingly brisk games under the new rules — it’s all a means to the same eternal end of winning it all.
How realistic is that aspiration for each team? The answer for each club, as ever, varies.
So where does your favorite team stand? Here is how all of the 30 clubs stack up at the outset of the 2023 season — their chances to win a ring or make the playoffs this season (if any) — and what it means for the years to come.
A note on methodology: Teams have been slotted into tiers according to their likelihood of being handed the Commissioner’s Trophy after the last out of the World Series seven months from now.
That likelihood is based on my final preseason forecast for each team, a projection for each club’s win total built on a rating of the rosters, depth charts, strengths and weaknesses of the consensus projections for each team. That rating is then used in a run of 10,000 simulations of the 2023 schedule to determine each team’s chance to win it all.
Teams are ranked by average simulation wins and are then placed into one of five tiers according to their championship probability. For the latter tiers, a rough ETA for their arrival as contenders has been added.
Jump to a tier:
Tier 1: Their time is now | Tier 2: Their time could be now
Tier 3: We’re saying they have a chance | Tier 4: Wait ’til next year
Tier 5: Two years away … at least
TIER 1: THEIR TIME IS NOW
Teams in this group are the front-runners to land the top seed in their league and should be all-in trying to win the 2023 World Series.
Win average: 95.3
In the playoffs: 88%
State of the franchise: For most franchises, the Yankees would be the midst of a golden era. The Yankees are not most franchises. In terms of regular-season success, there’s no problem. New York has averaged 97.7 wins per 162 games over the past five seasons, a mark topped only by the Dodgers and Astros. The Yankees also have posted a winning record in 30 consecutive seasons, one of the most remarkable runs in sports. Yet it’s not enough, and to make that point, consider that the only MLB franchise in history to post a longer winning-season streak is … the Yankees, who did so for 39 consecutive seasons, from 1926 to 1964. So here we are again, with the Yankees projected to finish as this season’s top regular-season club, and their fans would be the first to tell you it doesn’t mean a thing. The only streak that matters is New York’s 13-year streak with neither a pennant nor a championship.
Pivotal issue: This team looks loaded, across the board. There’s a leading MVP candidate (Aaron Judge), two leading Cy Young candidates (Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon) and a leading Rookie of the Year candidate (Anthony Volpe). In my preseason unit rankings, I’ve got the Yankees’ rotation first, the bullpen third and the team defense second. Only the offense lags by comparison, and even there, the Yankees rank 10th. And yet injuries, as they so often have in recent years, hover over this towering enterprise. The key question for the Yankees as the season begins is whether or not they can get and keep their rotation healthy enough to land a top seed while being fully functional by the time the postseason begins.
Win average: 93.4
In the playoffs: 85%
State of the franchise: The Braves aren’t quite at the John Smoltz/Chipper Jones era of generational excellence. But with five straight NL East titles under their belt, the 2021 World Series crown and a roster full of still-young stars who are mostly signed for the long term, this edition of the Braves is fast approaching dynasty status. Atlanta’s five-year average of 94.2 wins per 162 games is the franchise’s highest since 2005. The previous Braves dynasty topped out at 101.5 wins per 162, in 1999, so this group still has a ways to go.
Pivotal issue: While there will understandably be a lot of attention focused on shortstop in Atlanta, the position no longer held by Dansby Swanson, perhaps the bigger issue to begin the season is the back of the bullpen. Kenley Jansen, last year’s primary closer, is now in Boston and his replacement, Raisel Iglesias, starts the season on the IL with an irritated shoulder. It’s not a panic-button kind of issue yet, but nothing can undermine an otherwise powerful club more than a spate of blown leads.
TIER 2: THEIR TIME COULD BE NOW
Teams in this group don’t project to land the top seed in their league but could easily end up in the top tier by season’s end. They are all clearly in the win-now category.
Win average: 92.4
In the playoffs: 80%
State of the franchise: The Blue Jays’ three-year wins per 162 games (90.7) is at its highest point since 1994, when Toronto was not far removed from back-to-back championships. Thus, this current flock of Jays has already surpassed the high point of the playoff clubs from the past decade. Still, while the 2015-16 Jays played 20 postseason games, this version has managed just four playoff games in three years. On paper, this looks like Toronto’s best team yet during the new window of contention.
Pivotal issue: After the Jays beefed up their defense over the winter to combine with their prolific offense and highly ranked rotation, the onus now falls on the bullpen, or at least the crew working in front of top closer Jordan Romano. These aren’t the kind of names that make a lot of national headlines, but they might be the key to Toronto hanging with the Yankees and Rays in the AL East, and actually making a dent in the postseason this time around. Among those names: Yimi Garcia, Erik Swanson, Anthony Bass, Adam Cimber and Tim Mayza.
Win average: 92.1
In the playoffs: 81%
State of the franchise: After coming out of a rebuild, the Padres’ three-year W/162 figure has climbed from 69 to 73 to 78.5 to 86.5, where it sits entering a season in which San Diego projects to continue that climb. The Padres’ up-and-mostly-down franchise has never reached 90 in this measure. In addition to the regular-season success, the Padres’ past season converted a No. 5 seed into a National League Championship Series berth. That puts one of the six remaining franchises without a World Series crown that much closer to its ultimate goal.
Pivotal issue: There is little concern about the top of a San Diego rotation led by a big three of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove. But it’s the rest of those who will take turns in the rotation who might well determine whether the Padres can overtake the Dodgers in the NL West and snag a top seed in the senior circuit’s playoff bracket.
Win average: 91.6
In the playoffs: 78%
State of the franchise: Can it get any better? The Astros’ five-year W/162 (100.7) is at a franchise apex. They’ve made the playoffs six straight seasons and have played 86 postseason games during that stretch. For context: Thirteen of the 30 active franchises have played fewer postseason games than that in the entirety of their history. With two titles in six years, six straight trips to the American League Championship Series and four pennants during that span — and a roster that looks more than title-capable in 2023 — things are good deep in the heart of Texas.
Pivotal issue: The Astros begin the season with some key contributors on the sidelines, with Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Lance McCullers Jr. among those who are starting off on the IL. The Astros’ position player depth in particular will be tested in the early going. It’s not a high-level problem and might actually tell us a lot about the club. Because if the Astros start off hot, look out.
Win average: 91.3
In the playoffs: 81%
State of the franchise: As one of baseball’s flagship franchises, the Cardinals have been rock-solid for decades. Their 25-year W/162 has been above 81 every year since 1934. That long-term measurement climbed to 89.6 after last season’s 93 victories, putting the Redbirds at their highest total in this measure since the mid-1960s. Yet, as with the Yankees, the bar is awfully high for this franchise. St. Louis has made the playoffs four years in a row. Over the past three of those, the Cardinals have played just six total postseason games. Finding October success is where it’s at for the 2023 Redbirds.
Pivotal issue: In terms of two-way acumen, the Cardinals might have the best group of position players in the majors. For St. Louis to crack the top of charts like this, the pitching staff has to keep up with its bat-wielding brethren. With a capable group that as ever seems more deep than dynamic, the floor is high, but the Cardinals could use the likes of Jack Flaherty, Ryan Helsley and Jordan Hicks to hit their respective ceilings sometime after the first of October.
Win average: 90.6
In the playoffs: 75%
State of the franchise: Well, the Dodgers are the reason I put together all of these rolling averages for wins per 162 games that you’re looking at because it seemed like L.A. was at a historic level in terms of multiyear regular-season winning. And that intuition turned out to be true. Over the past three seasons, the Dodgers have 109.7 wins for every 162 games they’ve played. The only teams to ever have a three-year W/162 win rate better than that are the 1908 Cubs and the 1931 Athletics. L.A. is also in the 98th percentile or better in five-year W/162 (104.6) and 10-year (99.3).
Pivotal issue: Usually, every forecaster from the analytics quarter to Vegas reaches a simple consensus on the Dodgers: They are elite. That’s still mostly true, but their projection entering the season isn’t as airtight as in seasons past, mostly because L.A. is going to feature a little more youth than we’ve seen. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it does mean a certain amount of scrutiny for the likes of Miguel Vargas, James Outman, Michael Busch, Ryan Pepiot, Bobby Miller, Gavin Stone and Michael Grove as the season goes along.
Win average: 90.4
In the playoffs: 74%
State of the franchise: The Guardians are overlooked when it comes to being recognized as one of the steadiest winners in the majors. Certainly, part of that is a byproduct of owning baseball’s longest active title drought, with the franchise’s last World Series win coming in 1948. Still, Cleveland is working on a streak of 10 straight seasons of winning 80 or more games per 162. The five-year total is 89.5 and the 10-year figure (90.3) is the high-water mark for the franchise since the 1990s and the heyday of Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton & Co. After an ALDS trip in 2022 with the majors’ youngest team, the Guardians’ winning ways don’t figure to end any time soon.
Pivotal issue: For the Guardians to become a complete team that can challenge the top powers in the AL, they need their starting pitchers to be healthy and at the top of their respective games. Working in front of what might be baseball’s best bullpen, the Guardians don’t have to lean hard on their starters. They just need them to be durable and consistent. That hope is off to a rough start with Triston McKenzie starting the season on the IL.
Win average: 89.5
In the playoffs: 71%
State of the franchise: There is more veteran talent on the Mets than there has been in a long time. That’s what a $375 million payroll gets you. With all of the spending and change in Flushing, and last season’s 101 wins, it’s easy to forget that entering the 2022 campaign, the Mets had been under .500 two straight seasons and four seasons out of five. Last year’s leap (a 24-win improvement) usually screams a coming regression. But the Mets have spent unprecedented amounts of money to keep that from happening.
Pivotal issue: With Edwin Diaz going down for the season, Justin Verlander and Jose Quintana starting off on the shelf, and a roster full of 30-somethings (and a 40-something, in the case of Verlander), the onus is going to be on the quality of the depth assembled by GM Billy Eppler. But it’s also going to be on manager Buck Showalter and his ability to balance winning and load management while trying to get this talented team positioned for an October run.
Win average: 88.7
In the playoffs: 65%
State of the franchise: Last year’s .531 winning percentage was a five-year low, but the Rays have earned four straight trips to the playoffs and have played 32 postseason games during that span. Before that, they had played just 30 playoff games in franchise history. In terms of regular-season success, this winning stretch for the Rays is on par with Tampa Bay’s first multiyear window of contention from 2008 to 2013. The only hurdle the young franchise has left to clear is the highest one: a World Series title.
Pivotal issue: The model for the Rays is ever-evolving, but the overstory for this iteration of the franchise is that it’s built on run prevention and everything that entails. Thus, the thing that could tilt the Rays from a Tier II team to a Tier I team is a leap in offensive firepower. Insofar as you can pin that kind of hope on one player, the spotlight moves to Wander Franco. He has been good. But the Rays need him to be the special player it seems inevitable he’s going to become.
Win average: 88.6
In the playoffs: 66%
State of the franchise: Whatever time frame you use, the Phillies’ curve reflects perfectly the shape of a championship-level team (2007-2011) that fell out of contention (2013 -2017) and then plateaued in its rebuild (2018-2021). Last season, the Phils improved only marginally during the regular season, as you wouldn’t term an improvement from 82 wins to 87 as a breakout, but in the 12-team playoff format, any progress in that win range can get you over the barrier for postseason participation. And, as the Phils showed, once you’re there, anything can happen. Still, the Phillies were just an 87-win team and their three-year and five-year W/162 figures are both in the 81-83 range. That middle-class standing suggests this past offseason wasn’t one in which the Phillies should have rested on their pennant-winning laurels. Indeed, they did not.
Pivotal issue: The Phillies look like a more solid club across the board, especially on the pitching side. The team defense looks better from a forecasting standpoint than it has in some time, a standing bolstered by the recent acquisition of Cristian Pache. That puts the spotlight on the lineup, which is missing Bryce Harper for the first chunk of the season and Rhys Hoskins for all of it. The Phillies really need a couple of their key hitters to perform at the upper end of their probabilistic ranges. So it’s your move, Nick Castellanos, Darick Hall and Alec Bohm, the most likely sources of better-than-expected production that can fill the void created by the injuries.
TIER 3: WE’RE SAYING THEY HAVE A CHANCE
The odds looked stacked against these teams in terms of immediate title contention, but a playoff berth is in play, so anything can happen.
Win average: 85.2
In the playoffs: 49%
State of the franchise: On the strength of back-to-back 90-win seasons, the Mariners’ three-year W/162 (87.3) is as high as it’s been since the powerful Lou Piniella-led teams of the early 2000s. Another strong season, which is a distinct possibility, might push the Mariners out of what you might call an extended period of consistent mediocrity. Their 10-year W/162 peaked in 2003 (88.9), bottomed out in 2013 (71.8) and has been climbing steadily since, reaching 81.3 after last season. But of course the prime directive remains the same: The Mariners are still hunting for their first pennant and first championship.
Pivotal issue: It might seem odd to point to a team strength as their biggest question, but I’m putting the onus on the Mariners’ rotation. The parts of this group have a chance to create a whole with the potential to be elite. For this edition of the Mariners to create an identity, that’s what might need to happen. Luis Castillo, an acknowledged ace, is in his first full Seattle season. Robbie Ray was so-so last season but won the AL Cy Young in 2021. Logan Gilbert was one of last season’s breakout hurlers. George Kirby earned Rookie of the Year support and looks like the real deal. Chris Flexen is serially underrated, and Marco Gonzalez is, at the very least, a dependable source of innings. If all this lines up right, the Mariners’ best hope of closing the gap between them and the Astros is for this group to coalesce into a top-five rotation.
Win average: 85
In the playoffs: 48%
State of the franchise: It’s hard to say. The Twins have been under .500 over the past two seasons and three of the past five. In between they had back-to-back seasons with a .600 winning percentage or better. The Twins’ roster has evolved, but they have neither torn down into a full rebuild nor have they really gone all-in from a payroll perspective. They remain a solidly in-the-middle franchise. In Minnesota’s case, that description has an extra layer of urgency to it because after two straight seasons of missing the playoffs, this unfortunate fact remains in effect: The Twins have lost a record 18 straight postseason games, and until that streak is snapped, it’s the big thunderhead that looms over Target Field.
Pivotal issue: According to Spotrac, the Twins lost 2,363 player days to the IL last season, the second-highest figure in the majors. Ex-Twin Luis Arraez was the only hitter to reach 600 plate appearances (603) and none of their starters came particularly close to qualifying for the ERA title. It’s almost as if the Twins are defined by the traits of their most talented player, Byron Buxton, who over the past five seasons has a 125 OPS+ and has averaged 37 homers, 98 runs and 19 steals per 162 games played, all while piling up 39 defensive runs saved. He also has played in just 43% of the Twins’ games and is starting off this season as a DH in an effort to change that trend. The Twins really, really, really need more playing time from their core contributors.
Win average: 84.5
In the playoffs: 49%
State of the franchise: As one of the six franchises without a World Series title, the Brewers are in a three-way tie with the Rays and Rangers for the most playoff appearances (8) without a crown. Milwaukee’s four-year streak of playoff appearances ended last season, though the Brewers finished over .500 for the fifth time in six years. Their 10-year W/162 (83.0) is at its highest point since 1989, when Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were still lineup fixtures.
Pivotal issue: The Brewers have relied on run prevention during their recent run of success, and that formula remains in effect this season. The starting rotation is a powerhouse. Meanwhile, the bullpen is beginning its full first season without Josh Hader at the back of it. While Devin Williams is a worthy replacement, that opens up the key setup role he previously filled. The Brewers have been able to cobble together strong bullpens around their elite high-leverage core, and a new front office leader (Matt Arnold) has to prove he can keep that strength strong. There are no worries in the dugout, where Craig Counsell is as good as anybody at managing a bullpen.
Win average: 83
In the playoffs: 37%
State of the franchise: The Rangers haven’t reached 80 wins since 2016, and after 196 losses over the past two seasons, Texas’ five-year W/162 (67.5) is at its lowest point since 1974. As mentioned elsewhere, the Rangers/Senators remain one of the six franchises without a championship, but they’ve been at it the longest. With a debut season of 1961, the Rangers/Senators had an eight-year head start on the Padres and the Brewers/Seattle Pilots franchises, which launched in 1969.
Pivotal issue: Luckily for long-suffering Rangers fans, their owner and their front office aren’t taking a passive approach to ending the epic title drought. It’s not easy to go from that many losses to a forecast for a winning season, but Texas’ free agent splurges over the past two winters has improved its outlook by leaps and bounds. Winning actual games, rather than forecasts, is the hard part and so much depends on a Jacob deGrom-led rotation completely built through free agency.
Win average: 82.1
In the playoffs: 34%
State of the franchise: Despite last season’s slip back to a .500 mark, the White Sox’s longer-term trend is still pointing up. After snapping a seven-year streak of losing seasons with two straight playoff appearances before the 2022 step back, Chicago owns a three-year W/162 (88.2) that is the franchise’s highest since 2006. While a .500 season doesn’t kill the momentum, a losing season in 2023 definitely would. With a forecast like this one, the only thing you can say is that in this crucial season for the White Sox, the range of possibilities is large.
Pivotal issue: The depth of the pitching could be put under the microscope if the White Sox can’t keep their frontline producers healthy, and the bullpen has to show it can compensate for the absence of closer Liam Hendriks. But the brightest light will be on the hitters, who are supposed to be the backbone to this era of White Sox contention. Last season’s group showed a startling collective decline in secondary skills. More walks and, especially, more homers are needed. It’s time for Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert Jr., in particular, to step up and stay healthy for full seasons.
Win average: 80.8
In the playoffs: 29%
State of the franchise: This most recent Marlins rebuild hasn’t featured a breakout campaign that signifies a return to relevance. Instead, it’s been slow progress, so slow as to be almost undetectable. Miami’s three-year W/162 has climbed each season since it fell to a franchise-low 63.9 in 2020. With a forecast that puts Miami on the cusp of break-even, in a 12-team playoff world, the Marlins are maybe, just maybe, a sleeper fringe playoff contender should one of the favorites ahead of them fall apart.
Pivotal issue: When you talk about the Marlins, you talk about their starting pitching. But other than the spectacular Sandy Alcantara, the Miami rotation remains a group that is still longer in potential than production/consistency/durability. That’s especially true after the offseason trade that sent Pablo Lopez to Minnesota. The Marlins’ ranks by unit are all middle of the pack, which is one route to get to a .500 forecast. The best route to get from there to contention is for those behind Alcantara in the rotation — Jesus Luzardo, Trevor Rogers, Edward Cabrera et al — to push the group into the elite.
TIER 4: WAIT ‘TIL NEXT YEAR
These teams are mostly recent rebuilding units that have moved toward contention status and might be just a move or two away from climbing up the tier hierarchy.
Win average: 79.9
In the playoffs: 26%
State of the franchise: After the Giants set a franchise record by winning 107 games in 2021, some regression was an inevitability. But “some regression” is not the best description for a fall all the way to a break-even record. And while you can say the “real” Giants are somewhere between those outcomes, their projection suggests they are more like 2022 than 2021. Over the long term, this remains one of baseball’s flagship franchises and one of its most stable. The Giants haven’t had a 25-year W/162 below 81 this century. It hasn’t been below 79 at any point during the modern era (since 1900).
Pivotal issue: The Giants don’t forecast as elite in any area, though they do have a roster that by design is rich in depth and versatility. The team defense doesn’t look great, and you wonder if San Francisco’s cutting-edge operation will be able to scheme around that with a rather unathletic group of defenders in the post-shift age. You also have to wonder, if stolen base totals explode this season, whether the Giants have the right mix to take advantage of the new environment.
Win average: 78.6
In the playoffs: 18%
State of the franchise: Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout have been teammates for five full seasons. They have yet to play together on a team that finished .500, much less made the postseason. The Angels’ 10-year W/162 (79.3) is below break-even despite having baseball’s best starting point in Trout during that entire decade. Ohtani, of course, can become a free agent after this season. There is more than a little pressure on the Angels to break out over the next six months.
Pivotal issue: For once, the default answer here isn’t the rotation, which is as good and deep as the Angels have had in some time. The bullpen is a bigger question mark but, really, health is the central issue. For the Angels to reach their ceiling, they need Trout, Anthony Rendon and Ohtani to stay on the field. It’s really as simple as that.
Win average: 77.9
In the playoffs: 17%
State of the franchise: Despite Boston’s run to the ALCS in 2021, this could conceivably be a franchise trending in the wrong direction. Their three-year W/162 (81.8) is the Red Sox’s lowest since 2016 and they’ve missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. Now the Red Sox enter 2023, at best, on the fringe of contention. This wouldn’t be an emergency for most franchises, but the demands are awfully high at Fenway Park.
Pivotal issue: When was the last time you started a season wondering whether the Red Sox could score enough runs? Well, you take the middling lineup from 2022 (102 OPS+) and subtract Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Trevor Story, and that’s what you get. That puts a big-time focus on newcomers like Justin Turner and Masataka Yoshida, and younger hitters like Triston Casas.
Win average: 77.6
In the playoffs: 18%
State of the franchise: The Diamondbacks are at their franchise nadir in three-year (63.7), five-year (72.8) and 10-year (75.1) W/162. And, like the Rays, they have only one 25-year measurement (78.5), so that’s at the bottom as well. And yet you hear the Diamondbacks — for good reason — commonly referred to as a sleeper contender and breakout candidate. This forecast only begins to indicate why that is the case. This is a team that, as Marv Albert might say, is showing some signs.
Pivotal issue: You hate to put pressure on the kids, but that’s really where everything starts with the Diamondbacks’ hope for a lurch forward. That’s just the reality for a team that’s built gradually from within and hasn’t yet splurged in free agency to fill in the cracks. That’s probably because it’s too soon to know where the cracks are going to be found. So watch the youngsters, which is always fun: Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, Jake McCarthy, Gabriel Moreno, Ryne Nelson and Drey Jameson are among those who will keep you entertained.
Win average: 74.9
In the playoffs: 12%
State of the franchise: The Cubs are fighting to emerge from the quick-turnaround rebuild after they broke up the core of the 2016 World Series champions. Their three-year W/162 (75.5) hardly reflects that, not just because of where it’s at but because it has declined each season since peaking at 97.5 in 2017. That sustained level of play hadn’t been seen at Wrigley Field since the Great Depression. This forecast suggests a plateau, but there are a lot of new faces on hand and hopes are high.
Pivotal issue: Last season, the Cubs finished 12th in the majors in rotation bWAR after finishing below replacement level as a group in 2021. Their projections in this area (27th) are lagging and the sudden leap is the culprit for that, despite the presence of free agent addition Jameson Taillon. We’ve heard plenty of assertions that the Cubs’ pitching leap was the product of real improvement based on better processes. If the 2023 Cubs prove that assertion to be true, you can add eight to 10 wins to that forecast and, suddenly, a run at a wild card comes into play.
Win average: 73.7
In the playoffs: 7%
State of the franchise: Like the Cubs, the Orioles are trying to flip the switch from rebuilding to contending. The shape of these two franchise resets is very different, though. The Cubs have sought to rebuild rapidly without bottoming out and are only two seasons removed from a postseason appearance. The Orioles, on the other hand, kept digging deeper just when you thought they had bottomed out. Their three-year W/162 after the 2020 season (53.2) ranks in the last percentile of every team during the modern era. Things stayed terrible with a 110-loss season in 2021. Then, out of nowhere, the Orioles finished 83-79 last season and contended into the final week. With young stars popping up at Camden Yards and the game’s best farm system, it’s safe to say that the trend arrow is pointing straight up.
Pivotal issue: The strength of the Orioles’ surprise run was the bullpen, and it still looks like a strong group. Obviously the Orioles need their young hitting stars like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson to keep getting better. However, in the short term, for Baltimore to replicate or accentuate last season’s push, it needs a lot more from its rotation. Baltimore added mid-rotation help over the winter (Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin) but needs more than anything for its top pitching prospects to break through. And, yes, I’m more or less talking about Grayson Rodriguez.
Win average: 71.2
In the playoffs: 5%
State of the franchise: Last season’s three-year W/162 climbed to 69.6, up more than nine wins from the franchise-worst mark of 60.3 in 2020. But when you’re still under 70, it’s hard to call it an upward movement. And clearly Royals owner John Sherman was not satisfied, as Kansas City now has a new front-office leader (J.J. Picollo) and dugout leader (Matt Quatraro) replacing the brain trust who began last season.
Pivotal issue: The ability of this new team of decision-makers to get more out of the Royals’ young players will determine whether or not they can beat this tepid forecast. Kansas City has graduated a number of prospects over the past couple of years, such as Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Brady Singer, Vinnie Pasquantino and a number of others. Turning those players into winning-level big leaguers is the chief to-do item for Picollo and Quatraro.
Win average: 70.4
In the playoffs: 4%
State of the franchise: With three straight seasons of sub-.400 baseball, the Pirates’ three-year W/162 has dipped to 59.9. That’s the franchise’s worst mark since the dark days of the early 1950s, when Branch Rickey was running the show. The losing has become generational. With just four winning seasons since 1992, Pittsburgh’s 25-year W/162 has dropped to 72.4. Only the Royals (71.1) have been worse during that span, and it’s the Bucs’ worst 25-year mark of the modern era.
Pivotal issue: For most of the teams from here on out, it’s going to be about the young players developing. In Pittsburgh, that’s Ke’Bryan Hayes taking a step forward with his bat. It’s Oneil Cruz turning his ridiculous physical gifts into steady production. It’s Canaan Smith-Njigba and Ji Hwan Bae establishing themselves. And it’s about Mitch Keller finally finding the consistency to match his stuff.
Win average: 69.6
In the playoffs: 3%
State of the franchise: After two straight winning seasons (2020 and 2021) that came on the heels of six years of losing, last season’s collapse to 100 losses had to be gut-wrenching for Cincinnati fans. It was the Reds’ first 100-loss season since 1982, but unlike with the 2022 Reds, that earlier collapse came on the heels of two decades of domination. In this instance, the triple-digit defeats dropped Cincinnati’s 10-year W/162 to 73, the franchise’s lowest point since 1955. What made last year’s losing particularly hard to digest is that it felt more like a disinvestment than a rebuild.
Pivotal issue: As the Reds wait for some of their top young position players to break through, the unit with the highest 2023 breakout potential is the rotation. In 2022, it was headlined by three rookies, or at least it was once Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle were traded away. Now those rookies — Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft — are looking to lead the way toward Cincinnati’s next window of contention.
TIER 5: TWO YEARS AWAY … AT LEAST
There is work to be done, probably too much to hope for a serious run this season.
Win average: 65.4
In the playoffs: 1%
ETA: 2025 and beyond
State of the franchise: The Tigers are perhaps harder to read than any other team in the majors. Part of that is because a Tigers team that improved to 77 wins in 2021, added some significant free agents the following winter and seemed to be out of rebuilding mode slipped to 96 losses in 2022 while scoring just 557 runs, the franchise’s lowest total in 70 years. Part of that is because the foundation of that rebuild — a plethora of young starting pitchers and a couple of hitters with star potential — collectively struggled with injuries, production or both. And part of that is because it’s too early to get a read on the new front office chief, Scott Harris.
Pivotal issue: All we know right now is Detroit didn’t go into an offseason subtraction, so the expectation appears to be that the club’s baseline is more 2021 than 2022. Obviously the Tigers need their top young players to take steps forward, but this is one Tier 5 team whose hope to surprise lies more with veterans. Detroit needs better seasons from Javier Baez, Austin Meadows and Eduardo Rodriguez.
Win average: 63.6
In the playoffs: 1%
ETA: 2025 and beyond
State of the franchise: The Nationals’ three-year W/162 was over 88 each season from 2013 to the club’s championship season of 2019. Last year, that figure dipped to 61.6 after Washington dropped 107 games, the franchise’s most since the Montreal Expos lost 107 in 1976. The three-year mark is the low point for the franchise. So presumably that’s rock bottom?
Pivotal issue: It’s impossible to reduce it down to one thing, but the closest you can get is the Nats need the young talent they’ve acquired to emerge as the foundation for their next winning club. Thus eyes should be on Keibert Ruiz, CJ Abrams, Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore at the big league level. Alas, that group won’t include Cade Cavalli, lost during spring training to Tommy John surgery.
Win average: 63.1
In the playoffs: 0%
ETA: 2025 and beyond
State of the franchise: For most of the past quarter century, the Athletics have been in a constant cycle of building up and tearing down, trying to win with limited resources. Their 25-year W/162 is 85.1, even after last season’s slip to 102 losses, Oakland’s most since 1979, the latter days of the Charles O. Finley era. This latest step back feels a little different, the hole a little deeper. With its stadium saga ongoing and its future in the Bay Area in doubt, this forever-in-limbo franchise is hard to read. Is this that old familiar cycle, or has Oakland entered a stadium-induced holding pattern?
Pivotal issue: During the most recent teardown, the Athletics acquired a lot of young players either on the cusp of the majors or very early on their big league service-time clocks. Already, the return from the 2022 trade that sent Matt Olson to Atlanta looks like a loser. They need these acquisitions to pay off. The group includes Shea Langeliers, Esteury Ruiz and Kyle Muller.
Win average: 59.6
In the playoffs: 0%
ETA: 2025 and beyond
State of the franchise: The Rockies’ back-to-back playoff appearances in 2017 and 2018 don’t seem like that long ago. But those seasons of modest success (87 and 91 wins) are bracketed by 10 seasons before and after in which Colorado didn’t win more than 75 games. Last season’s 94 losses were the Rockies’ most since 2015 and their run differential (minus-175) was the franchise’s worst since its expansion season of 1993 (minus-209). And, after a fairly puzzling offseason, their forecast for 2023 is … not great.
Pivotal issue: While the Rockies organization can infuriate fans, GM Bill Schmidt has always been well spoken of for his scouting acumen. And therein lies the hope for the franchise. Elehuris Montero and Ezequiel Tovar were in the Opening Day lineup. Zac Veen and Drew Romo have a chance to join them before the end of the season. Where there’s youth, there is always hope.