2024 MLB predictions: Playoffs, World Series, MVPs and more

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Opening Day is tomorrow, so you know what that means -- it's time for season predictions!

There are lots of questions going into the 2024 season: What does Year 3 of MLB's expanded playoffs have to offer? Will we continue to see top teams knocked out early? And is this the year your favorite team will make a run in October? Or your favorite player will win a postseason award?

No one can definitively know what's in store for this season, but that doesn't stop us from making our best guesses. We put 26 of ESPN's MLB writers, analysts and editors on the spot to predict what will happen in baseball this year, from the wild-card contenders all the way up to the World Series champion, plus the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year in both leagues.

For each category, we've asked a number of our voters to explain their picks. Did they hit the nail on the head or were they way off their mark? Only time can tell -- and you know we'll be circling back to these predictions come October to see how well, or poorly, we did.

Without further ado, let's see what our experts had to say.

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AL picks | NL picks | WS picks | AL awards | NL awards

AL East

Our pick: Baltimore Orioles (22 votes)

Who else got votes? New York Yankees (2), Tampa Bay Rays (1), Toronto Blue Jays (1)

The O's are the overwhelming favorite to win the division. How do the Yankees beat them? By getting -- and staying -- healthy. Injuries ravaged the Yankees' 2023 season, and they might again in 2024. Gerrit Cole and DJ LeMahieu are already dealing with setbacks. LeMahieu could miss the start of the season, but he should return soon thereafter. Cole's status is more unclear, and the Yankees' postseason hopes likely depend on it. Assuming Cole returns sometime before the All-Star break and is effective, the Yankees should win enough baseball games to be in contention for the division title if they stay healthy elsewhere. They'll score plenty of runs with Juan Soto and Aaron Judge in the lineup.

The Orioles, meanwhile, are loaded with young talent -- and they even went out and added ace Corbin Burnes during the offseason. They could be just as good, if not better, than last season's 101-win club. But there are injury concerns in the rotation behind Burnes and regression is always a possibility. Their Pythagorean record in 2023 was 94-68, suggesting they overperformed by seven victories. It should be a close race. -- Jorge Castillo

AL Central

Our pick: Minnesota Twins (16 votes)

Who else got votes? Detroit Tigers (5), Cleveland Guardians (3), Kansas City Royals (2)

Four of the five AL Central teams got votes to win the division. Why will the Twins take it? The Twins have the clearest path to a division title of any team in the American League, but don't just take my word for it. At ESPN BET, Minnesota is the only AL club listed as an odds-on favorite to win its division (-115). The quartet of Edouard Julien, Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa and Royce Lewis atop that lineup promises to be fierce (assuming good health, of course), while Pablo Lopez has emerged as a potential Cy Young favorite in the league. Suffice it to say, the Twins have more top-end talent on their roster than any other club in the AL Central. -- Paul Hembekides

AL West

Our pick: Houston Astros (14 votes)

Who else got votes? Texas Rangers (8), Seattle Mariners (4)

Texas got eight votes, but Houston got 14. How will the Astros beat out their rivals for the division? The pre-All-Star break health of the Texas rotation is the deciding factor for me in a race between two strong teams without much separation between them. The Astros have owned the division for seven years now and there's no clear reason to expect them to fall off in 2024. While the Rangers had the superior run differential in 2023, I think they are set up to be a much better team after the break -- though, by then, they might have some ground to make up. Houston also ended up with star closer Josh Hader, another reason to lean toward the Astros in a tight chase. But it would not at all surprise me to see these teams clash in October for a second straight season. -- Bradford Doolittle

How will the Rangers beat Houston? The Astros are actually in a similar boat to the Rangers in terms of the injuries befalling their rotation. For Texas, Max Scherzer is expected to be out until June, Tyler Mahle until July and Jacob deGrom until August. Houston should get Justin Verlander back soon, but Jose Urquidy is out until at least May and Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia won't return until midseason. Which leaves the lineups and gloves. And for as good as Houston is -- and the Astros remain a very good baseball team -- no lineup in the AL can match the Rangers', and their defense last postseason was immaculate. Add in Seattle, and the AL West is going to be one whale of a race. -- Jeff Passan

Why do you think the Mariners will win? The Mariners missed out on winning the division last season by just two games, so they were very much on par with the Astros and Rangers. Now, after three consecutive winning seasons, they're ready to take another step. As usual, Seattle didn't spend a lot of money in the offseason, but their pickups on offense have a chance to be sneaky good. Jorge Polanco, Mitch Haniger and Mitch Garver provide veteran and playoff experience for a team that needs it. I'm also picking Julio Rodriguez to win MVP.

But let's not bury the lede here: Seattle's strength is on the mound, where they added two more talents in righties Ryne Stanek andGregory Santos-- though, the latter is sidelined at the moment. The Mariners' biggest strength is their rotation, and, at least to start the season, it's the best in the division. -- Jesse Rogers

AL wild cards

Our picks: New York Yankees (17 votes), Seattle Mariners (14), Texas Rangers (13)

Who else got votes? Houston Astros (12), Tampa Bay Rays (11), Toronto Blue Jays (6), Baltimore Orioles (3), Boston Red Sox (2)

In recent years, the Rays have gotten a majority of votes from our panel to make the playoffs. Why are they on the outside looking in this year? I think of the Rays as a team with excellent big league depth and minor league inventory that also puts players in roles where they can succeed. It's through these things that the Rays take advantage of every little edge -- platooning non-star players, boasting lots of multi-positional types, having varied looks out of the bullpen -- to squeeze wins out of a long season when each little advantage could mean a win or two. This leads to them often beating expectations in the regular season.

However, because of their payroll limitations, they often don't have the aces or multiple star position players you see on teams that consistently win playoff series. That combined with a down-cycle of star players (Tyler Glasnow was traded, Shane McClanahan is hurt), the AL East being as good as ever and the Rays having a fair number of injuries right now are reasons for the doubts this March. -- Kiley McDaniel

Only two voters chose the Red Sox and you were one of them. Why? No doubt, on paper, the Red Sox look like the weakest team in a strong division, but my decidedly unscientific approach to this exercise is that we will have some playoff turnover -- because we always do. A couple surprises had to be in order, and the Red Sox have a chance to be better than everyone believes. Doolittle's system gives them playoff odds of 21%, the offense scored more runs than the Blue Jays last season -- and might be even stronger this year -- and I think the Rays' rotation injuries will catch up to them this season. Yes, the Red Sox will need their rotation to stay healthy, but if it does, they can steal a wild card. -- David Schoenfield

AL champion

Our pick: Baltimore Orioles (14 votes)

Who else got votes? Houston Astros (5), New York Yankees (4), Seattle Mariners (1), Toronto Blue Jays (1), Texas Rangers (1)

Why are the Orioles the favorite to win the AL pennant? It's as if evaluators look at the same script when they talk about Baltimore, emphasizing the same bold-faced word: talent. In the eyes of a lot of rival execs, the Orioles have far and away the most talent in the AL, with Adley Rutschman, who's perceived to be the best catcher in the sport; Gunnar Henderson, who won Rookie of the Year; and Jackson Holliday, who might win Rookie of the Year if he's called up to the big leagues soon enough. And when we get to the trade deadline, it's safe to assume that new owner David Rubenstein will green-light the resources needed for the front office to plug holes. -- Buster Olney

You were our only voter to pick the reigning World Series champions. Make the Rangers' case. A charitable reading of the Rangers' starting rotation is that it is in flux. Less charitably, it could be disastrous. But that's only temporary, and I think the lineup is good enough to carry the team through the early part of the season until all the injuries play themselves out -- no guarantee, but these are predictions, after all, and not promises. Scherzer will be back for one more (last?) run before the All-Star break and deGrom should be back in August. In the meantime, the Rangers will keep mashing, and manager Bruce Bochy will mix and match like he always does. Just like last season, they'll peak when it matters most. -- Tim Keown

NL East

Our pick: Atlanta Braves (24 votes)

Who else got votes? Philadelphia Phillies (2)

Why do you think this will be the Phillies' year to usurp the Braves atop the division? The Phillies could not match the Braves during the regular season the past two years, but then they topped them twice in October, which matters more. Atlanta figures to play it safer during the regular season and enter October better-rested than it has in past seasons. Philadelphia has the better rotation and bullpen and should edge Atlanta out as each team approaches 100 wins. -- Eric Karabell

NL Central

Our pick: Chicago Cubs (16 votes)

Who else got votes? Cincinnati Reds (6), St. Louis Cardinals (2), Milwaukee Brewers (2)

The Cubs are the favorite to win the NL Central, despite missing the playoffs last year. What makes this year different? It's a tough call between Cincinnati and Chicago to win the division, but the Reds have some injuries to start the season and the Cubs have a more experienced roster, so they're my pick to win it. But it will go down to the wire. On the surface, the Cubs won 83 games last season with a plus-96 run differential, and with nearly the same roster this year and new manager Craig Counsell in the fold, they're less likely to leave wins on the table. A key pickup this offseason was Japanese pitcher Shota Imanaga, and he, along with the team's deep farm system, will undoubtedly be needed to contribute on the mound this year. The Cubs are void of multiple true, top-end stars but have a good 40-man roster to endure the grind of a long season. -- Rogers

Make the case for the Reds to take the division. I project the National League Central to be the most wide-open division. I think 86 wins might even net a team the division title, and last year, the Reds were just four wins shy of that number. Granted, I felt better about the Reds' absurd prospect depth before Noelvi Marte's suspension and Matt McLain's injury, but they still have both the raw talent and prospect capital to make the trades they'd need to bolster their playoff chances. If they made a big move for a pitcher, I think they'd be broadly looked at as more of a division favorite.-- Tristan Cockcroft

NL West

Our pick: Los Angeles Dodgers (26 votes)

Not a single voter picked another team to win the NL West. Why is this a lock for the Dodgers? Because we've seen them do it with so much less. The 2024 Dodgers are imperfect -- in terms of their rotation stability and infield defense, specifically -- but nowhere near as flawed as they were last year, when they reeled off 100 wins and claimed their 10th division title in 11 years. They've already mastered the six-month regular season, and now they're the deepest and most talented team in the entire sport, let alone the NL West. There have been years when the Dodgers have been vulnerable through this run. This is not one of those. -- Alden Gonzalez

NL wild cards

Our picks: Philadelphia Phillies (23 votes), Arizona Diamondbacks (19), San Francisco Giants (16)

Who else got votes? San Diego Padres (8), Chicago Cubs (7), Atlanta Braves (2), Cincinnati Reds (2), St. Louis Cardinals (1)

You picked all three of the teams that were the favorites among our voters to be a wild card. Why will that be the NL wild-card field? Well, first, I'm a little surprised that the Giants were such a popular pick. I think of them more as a sleeper candidate, even though I picked them, as well. Here's the dynamic in the NL, circa 2024. You have the Braves and Dodgers on their own level with no one else projected to be anywhere near them. At the other end of the spectrum, you have the Rockies and Nationals forecasted to be the league's punching bags. Then you have the Phillies, who look like the clear No. 3 in the league. Since Philly shares a division with Atlanta, that marks them as the most likely of the NL's wild-card candidates.

After that, there is no eventual end-of-season order of the other 10 teams that would shock me. I like the Diamondbacks as a team on the rise, one that should be better than last season even if they don't catch lightning in a bottle again at playoff time. And I like the Giants for the quality bulk of their offseason acquisitions, the potential of Jung Hoo Lee to be a catalyst atop their lineup, their overall depth and especially the potential of a rotation led by a big three of Logan Webb, Blake Snell and the electric Kyle Harrison. -- Doolittle

How can the Padres disrupt the wild-card race to replace one of the favored teams? The third wild-card spot in the NL could go to a half dozen teams, but I'm taking the Padres based on two factors: 1) Their starting pitching is pretty good, especially with Dylan Cease added to that rotation to go with Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish, and 2) They still have a dynamic lineup 1-5. I think Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. are poised for their best years ever. Even with the departure of Soto, I still think the Padres can score enough runs, and combined with their great starting pitching, they have a chance to secure a wild card in the loaded NL field. They might have had too many mouths to feed last year -- but this year, with fewer mouths to feed, I think they'll be better. -- Tim Kurkjian

NL champion

Our pick: Atlanta Braves (14 votes)

Who else got votes? Los Angeles Dodgers (6), Philadelphia Phillies (4), San Diego Padres (1), San Francisco Giants (1)

Make the case for the Dodgers to beat out the Braves for the pennant. The Braves and Dodgers are clearly the class of the NL right now. Both have had their successes and failures in recent playoff series, so instead of focusing on if they will have the magical thing it takes to win in the postseason in 2024, I choose to focus on how much better they can get in the second half. The Dodgers' rotation depth could get much better (Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May, and Emmet Sheehan are all on the injured list right now) and they have a top-10 farm system, while Atlanta's is in the bottom five. A lot will happen between now and the playoffs, but the Dodgers have a lot more room for error to fix what goes wrong. -- McDaniel

Make the case for the Phillies. The Phillies will come into this season driven by their surprising exit from last year's playoffs. At the time they were knocked out, it appeared that they had all the elements of a championship team, with a deep and powerful lineup, an improved defense and a dominant postseason ace in Zack Wheeler -- so their loss at the hands of the Diamondbacks must've gnawed at them maybe even more than losing the World Series in 2022 did. This is going to be the chip on their shoulder all season, and they know from recent experience that they can be as good or better than the Braves. The Phillies are an incredibly dangerous, highly focused team, and they're aching to take the next step. -- Olney

World Series champion

Our pick: Atlanta Braves (13 votes)

Who else got votes? Baltimore Orioles (4), Los Angeles Dodgers (4), Philadelphia Phillies (2), Seattle Mariners (1), New York Yankees (1), Toronto Blue Jays (1)

Why will this be the Braves' year? This team is simply too good and too powerful to go down in the division series for a third straight season -- although avoiding Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola might be a good idea. The most important reason why this will be the Braves' year is that the pitching staff is the best one they have had this decade, much better and deeper than the 2021 World Series winners. The bullpen looks extremely strong, which will allow manager Brian Snitker to back off his starters some in the regular season to keep them healthy for October. And in Spencer Strider -- owner of a new curveball -- and Max Fried, they have a 1-2 punch that rivals any tandem in baseball and can shut down any lineup, including the Dodgers. -- Schoenfield

Despite their historic offseason, the Dodgers are not our favorite to win the title -- but they are yours. Why? We all think of the Dodgers as that regular-season machine, a prospective 100-win dynamo that has struggled at times to clear the postseason hurdle (well, except for the shortened 2020 campaign), but I actually see their 2024 roster as one of their best-aligned for short playoff series of any from the past decade. Their offense is rock-solid, and look at that prospective October rotation, assuming all goes well on the health front: Glasnow, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Kershaw and Bobby Miller, with Buehler, May, Sheehan and Gavin Stone available as insurance policies if any of the front four is absent. How many teams can claim a comparable postseason staff, at least this far out? -- Cockcroft

You were the lone voter to choose the Blue Jays to win the AL East, the pennant and then the World Series. Explain why you're all-in on them. I have stuck with the Jays since I saw the coming wave of children of some of the great Hall of Fame players I played against. The Jays are in an interesting sweet spot -- they have young talent who are now also experienced. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is clearly on a mission in 2024, knowing he wasn't at his best a year ago, and they still made the playoffs. Their rotation has a lot of arms and while every team's pitching staff needs better health, the Blue Jays' pitching was also a strength last year. They can win on the road, they beat up lefties and righties without pride or prejudice and half their team is so athletic that they could be playing in March Madness (and they are probably still young enough to be on a college team).

Now, the next step for them, which I believe they will take, is to perform better in their division. They proved they can beat the teams they are supposed to beat, but now, they need to beat the favorites to fully realize they are the favorites. -- Doug Glanville


Our pick: Juan Soto (8 votes), Julio Rodriguez (8)

Who else got votes? Gunnar Henderson (3), Adley Rutschman (2), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1), Bobby Witt Jr. (1), Corey Seager (1), Yordan Alvarez (1), Jose Ramirez (1)

Our voters were tied between Soto and Rodriguez for AL MVP. Make the case for Soto. It's hard to think of a better fit than Soto in Yankee pinstripes, playing under the bright lights of the biggest city in America. It almost feels as if he was born for this. It will energize him, as will being only a season away from his highly anticipated run at free agency. That, and the short right-field porch in Yankee Stadium, might lead to the best offensive season of his career. And when it comes to separating himself from J-Rod, Soto will have one crucial thing in his favor: a fellow superstar in Judge batting behind him. -- Gonzalez

Make the case for J-Rod. It came down to Soto and Rodriguez for me, too. I initially was going to pick Soto -- I also think he's going to have a monster season playing at Yankee Stadium, capitalizing on that short porch and feeding off playing in New York. But I also think Judge is going to have another MVP-caliber year, which made me wonder if Soto and Judge would actually hurt each other's chances for the award. That led me to Rodriguez, a young superstar who just about everybody believes will take the next step this season, including me. The Mariners should be really good -- that rotation might be the best in the majors -- and Rodriguez should be the clear best player. That combination made him my pick. -- Castillo

AL Rookie of the Year

Our pick: Wyatt Langford (20 votes)

Who else got votes? Jackson Holliday (5), Evan Carter (1)

Langford just made the Rangers' Opening Day roster, but he is already our favorite to win Rookie of the Year. What makes him so special? Langford's teammates already are marveling at the entirety of the package he provides, from the linebacker's body -- 6-foot-1, 225 pounds -- to the home run power to the advanced swing decisions. That he slipped to the fourth overall pick in last July's draft was as much a function of the all-time class 2023 may be, but fortune smiled on the Rangers, and under general manager Chris Young, their willingness to be aggressive is a guiding light. They could've tried to manipulate Langford's service time. Instead, they're trying to win another World Series. -- Passan

AL Cy Young

Our pick: Corbin Burnes (10 votes)

Who else got votes? Pablo Lopez (6), Luis Castillo (4), Tarik Skubal (4), Kevin Gausman (1), Framber Valdez (1)

Multiple AL pitchers received four or more votes to win Cy Young, with Burnes getting the most at 10. Why was he your pick? Burnes is a rather trendy pick because he won the NL Cy Young award for the 2021 Brewers, and his new team, the ascending Orioles, are coming off a 101-win season. Burnes is fourth in innings pitched over the past three seasons and second in strikeouts, and with Gerrit Cole sidelined and Shohei Ohtani in the NL, he seems as good a choice as any. -- Karabell

Lopez was next at 6 votes. Explain why you chose him. Year 1 in Minnesota was a rip-roaring success for Lopez, who increased his strikeout total by 60 from 2022 to '23 (174 to 234) in the same number of starts (32). The league batted .184 and slugged .303 against his sweeper and curveball, which sported a ridiculous 96-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. With his arrow pointing up, Lopez is poised for a 200-inning, 250-strikeout season that culminates in the Twins' first Cy Young winner since Johan Santana in 2006. -- Hembekides


Our pick: Mookie Betts (14 votes)

Who else got votes? Ronald Acuna Jr. (6), Fernando Tatis Jr. (3), Freddie Freeman (2), BOF - Betts/Ohtani/Freeman (1)

Acuna is not our voters' favorite here, but you were one of six people to pick him to win his second consecutive MVP. Explain your reasoning. Acuna's 40/73 season -- 41 home runs, 73 stolen bases -- was statistically historic and helped him to his unanimous MVP selection in 2023, but here's what everyone is overlooking: He would have been the MVP even if he had stolen 13 bases instead of 73. He was the best hitter in the NL, slashing .337/.416/.596, and he can do that again for a clear reason: He cut his strikeout rate from 23.6% in 2021 and 2022 to 11.4% last year. That's a real, repeatable skill and it made him not only one of the game's top sluggers but the sixth-most-difficult player to strike out. He may not run as much this year after tweaking his knee in spring training, but another .330, 40-homer season means he can take home MVP honors. -- Schoenfield

BOF?! We're going to need to hear your reasoning on this one. We have to pause and realize what the Dodgers have put together at the top of the order. It is a three-headed legendary spirit animal that can accomplish anything you can imagine on a baseball field. You could field an entire team with these three players. Betts could play 3B, SS, 2B, LF, RF, CF, C, as well as be manager, hitting coach and GM. Ohtani could DH, pitch, break Statcast, hit or pitch baseballs in orbit and make peace with our Martian friends (since he hit a baseball there for diplomatic purposes). Freeman could just worry about picking up any bad throws on his way to 200 hits while running for mayor, governor and eventually, president. (He has my vote.) These are not just three amazing players -- they are generational talents.

I thought it could be fun to track the amazing things they do this season under the BOF umbrella. Since everything has a metric now, we should personalize it. We could slap new adjectives on it and call it Ohtanic, Bettsositic and Freemantic, but better to combine it into one metric, BOF, because of their potential altogether. Forget MVP for a season, since there is a good shot one of these guys will win it -- and the only reason they may not (outside of Acuna also being legendary, and Soto being in the AL now) is because they keep knocking into each other. I wish I could go back and be a nine-hole hitter in front of those three. Never again would the nine hole be so glorious. Whoever hits ninth could score 250 runs by just breathing. -- Glanville

NL Rookie of the Year

Our pick: Jackson Chourio (9)

Who else got votes? Yoshinobu Yamamoto (6 votes), Jung Hoo Lee (6), Jackson Merrill (2), Paul Skenes (2), Shota Imanaga (1)

Why is Chourio your choice for Rookie of the Year? I remember when Chourio was having his breakout season in 2022 and I asked a pro scout how high up I should move him in my midseason top 50 prospects update. He argued for top 10 and when I brought up some concerns, he said: "Look, the scouts that have seen him think he has three 7s." He means three of his five tools (power, speed, arm) are a 7 on the 2-8 scale, or 70 on the 20-80 scale, while the other two might both be 60s. How many guys in the big leagues can match that? It's a single-digit number, and it might be as small as three. Add on top of that how highly Milwaukee raves about Chourio's makeup and it's hard to justify picking anyone else. -- McDaniel

Yamamoto and Lee tied with six votes apiece. What makes Lee your pick? First off, Lee is fun, and baseball needs more fun. He's fast and flashy and ready for his moment. He had a strong spring training, showing more power than expected, and he feels like the type of rookie who can come in and hit the ground running. He might not be the best player from this rookie class in five years -- give that to Chourio -- but he'll be the best one over the next 6 months. -- Keown

NL Cy Young

Our pick: Spencer Strider (15 votes)

Who else got votes? Zack Wheeler (7), Yoshinobu Yamamoto (1), Zac Gallen (1), Dylan Cease (1), Max Fried (1)

There's more of a clear favorite in the NL Cy Young field than in the AL -- and Strider's it. Why? Based on the quality of his stuff, he'll probably lead the league in strikeouts again. And based on the quality of his teammates, he'll probably lead the league in wins again. But the separator could be a stronger finish. Strider accumulated a career-high 186 2/3 innings last season, more than a 50-inning jump from the year before. But he seemed to wear down near the end, posting a 5.67 ERA over his past six regular-season starts. If not for that, he probably would've won the Cy Young in 2023. -- Gonzalez

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