April 17, 2024

Five MLB teams who can take down the Dodgers, Braves in 2024

Entering the 2024 MLB season, two superteams have stood out from the crowd. In truth, the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers have been in a tier of their very own at the top of our initial MLB Power Rankings and are the clear projected favorites to win all of it when the postseason rolls round. But that does not imply the remainder of the league goes to lie down and watch the Dodgers and Braves battle it out for supremacy this season.

We requested 5 of our ESPN MLB specialists to every decide one workforce they assume is finest suited to take down the Dodgers and Braves in October, when it counts the most. While none of our specialists essentially expects this workforce to be higher than L.A. and Atlanta for the 162-game lengthy haul, all of them made their strongest instances why their choice might be the workforce to knock L.A. and Atlanta out of the postseason. Just how robust have been their instances? We left that for our resident decide — the honorable Jeff Passan — to determine together with his ruling for every case.

The case for the Rangers: I already hear Judge Jeff: “No team has gone back-to-back since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998 to 2000. It’s impossible.” That simply means we’re due for a repeat champion — and this lineup can carry the Rangers to a different title. You know that is true, Judge. After all, you wrote the story in spring coaching heralding the coming of Wyatt Langford. The Rangers are including him plus a full season of Evan Carter to a lineup that already led the AL in runs scored a yr in the past. Yes, Josh Jung‘s damaged wrist stinks, however which means the Rangers can have solely eight good hitters as a substitute of 9 whereas he is out.

I’m much less nervous about Texas’ pitching than most. Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray and Dane Dunning are ok to maintain the rotation afloat till Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Tyler Mahle return later in the season. You wish to wager in opposition to Eovaldi, who merely went 5-0 with a 2.95 ERA final postseason, plus a wholesome deGrom and Scherzer in October? The bullpen can be deeper with the additions of David Robertson and Kirby Yates, which is sweet however does not even matter as a result of Bruce Bochy might handle a bullpen with three Class A pitchers, two school relievers, Jesse Orosco and Judge Jeff himself to a World Series title. — David Schoenfield

Judge Jeff says: I’ve been engaged on a splitter, however that is neither right here nor there. Your case is sound. It additionally depends upon the well being of men who have not been capable of keep wholesome. What model of deGrom returns in August? How rather more is left in the tank for Scherzer, who turns 40 in July? The lineup, even with out Jung, will probably be simply fantastic, and normal supervisor Chris Young’s aggressiveness nearly ensures the Rangers will get higher at the commerce deadline. For now, the lack of pitching certainty leaves them a contact gentle in comparison with the Braves and Dodgers.

The case for the Orioles: The Orioles received 101 video games final season and nonetheless have not come near reaching their ceiling. Baltimore has a lot younger expertise that its Triple-A workforce is extra fascinating proper now than not less than 4 massive league golf equipment. The ascension of those gamers is collectively steep, inevitable and natural. A lineup that inside a couple of weeks will characteristic Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Jackson Holliday and Jordan Westburg has stability, velocity, energy and athleticism to match up with anybody, and there may be extra on the means as the outfield will get youthful.

Yes, the expertise is tilted towards the place participant facet — however which means Baltimore can make focused additions to the pitching employees over the course of the season. The depth in younger hitters will permit the O’s to fill in gaps in the rotation and bullpen alike with top-of-the-market reinforcements. And it is not like these acquisitions could be counted on to show round a faltering employees. Baltimore, as is, has a playoff-caliber pitching employees. Everything that is put into the roster from right here is gravy. — Bradford Doolittle

Judge Jeff says: “Will allow” will not be the similar as “will,” and that is the flaw in the pro-Orioles argument. Everything you say about Baltimore’s lineup is right. It’s the Orioles’ willingness to maneuver controllable gamers that I doubt, even with David Rubenstein’s current buy of the workforce. Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal run the Orioles’ baseball operations division with a excessive diploma of judiciousness, and since their window to win is as massive as any American League workforce’s, including the crucial pitching would possibly come down to worth over urgency. And it’s certainly crucial. With Kyle Bradish’s return from an elbow harm unsure and John Means getting hammered in his first rehab begin at AAA, the questions on Baltimore’s pitching linger.

The case for the Phillies: There have been occasions watching the Phillies final October when it felt as in the event that they’d by no means lose. The electrical energy at Citizens Bank Park was unmatched, the confidence with which this workforce carried itself palpable. The Phillies appeared destined for the World Series. And if not for Craig Kimbrel — tagged with the loss in Games 3 and 4 of the National League Championship Series, serving to the Arizona Diamondbacks get again right into a sequence they in the end received — they most likely would have reached it. Kimbrel is now gone. What stays is a loaded lineup headlined by Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto; a devastating rotation duo in Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola; and a bullpen that, early hiccups apart, started the season with the highest WAR projections by FanGraphs.

Even if the Phillies do not win the National League East, they’ve greater than proved they can take down the Braves when it issues most, having eradicated them from every of the previous two postseasons. As for the Dodgers? These Phillies appear to own what the Dodgers have lacked in current years: an October swagger that radiates via your tv display screen.

Judge Jeff says: When it involves star-level expertise, the Phillies have as a lot as any workforce, Dodgers and Braves included. Their capacity to take the leap would possibly rely upon the secondary characters, although. Is Cristopher Sanchez — together with his 2 mph velo leap and filthy changeup — a viable rotation piece for a full season? Can a wholesome Spencer Turnbull be the man whose first begin included 5 scoreless innings? Does the finest model of Nick Castellanos present up? If the reply to all three is sure, I’m much more bullish on the Phillies’ prospects, notably contemplating the workforce’s October pedigree.

The case for the Yankees: Brian Cashman’s multiyear obsession with making an attempt to stability his lineup lastly got here to fruition when the Yankees acquired Juan Soto in the offseason. It was important to their October objectives. The postseason is plagued by good teams who bowed out early as a result of they have been too proper handed. See the White Sox in 2021 and the Blue Jays, principally yearly, for proof. New York was in that class, counting on Anthony Rizzo and a solid of characters (Matt Carpenter, Joey Gallo et al), to offer slug from that facet of the plate. It by no means labored. Now we’re already seeing what having a premier left-handed hitter can do to stretch the lineup whereas taking some strain off Rizzo. This group, when wholesome, performs in the fall.

But let’s not bury the lead right here. Pitching remains to be the title of the sport, and Gerrit Cole must get wholesome whereas Carlos Rodon, Marcus Stroman and Nestor Cortes have to be the finest variations of themselves. I do not consider that is asking an excessive amount of. And there was chatter final July that the Yankees would have moved a high prospect for Cody Bellinger, so do not low cost a giant commerce for a pitcher this time round. I’m positive they do not wish to hand over a recovering Jasson Dominguez or the extremely touted Spencer Jones, however there was a time when championships have been all that mattered in New York. With probably having Soto for just one yr, Cashman must go for it. The Yankees can topple the giants if he does. — Jesse Rogers

Judge Jeff says: Sweeping the Houston Astros over 4 video games to start the season — all in come-from-behind vogue no much less — validated the these-Yankees-are-different buzz that accompanied them getting into the season. The validity of their case boils down to 1 factor, nevertheless: Do they or do not they’ve Gerrit Cole come October? If he’s wholesome and himself, the risk for championship No. 28, and their first since 2009, could be very actual. Without Cole, the Yankees’ rotation is ok, simply not the kind that screams World Series winner.

Houston Astros

The case for the Astros: For the Astros to take down the Dodgers or Braves themselves, they must attain the World Series. And if current historical past is any indication, they may not less than give themselves a shot to take action. The Astros have superior to the American League Championship Series a file seven straight seasons. They went to the World Series 4 out of these seven years and have been one win away from a fifth look final fall. They’ve received all of it twice. October baseball is completely different, and there hasn’t been a greater workforce in October than Houston over the previous decade.

Two managers, a couple of stars and a few valued complementary veterans have come and gone, however an elite core stays intact in 2024. Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Alex Bregman spotlight a deep lineup that additionally options Jose Abreu, Yainer Diaz and Chas McCormick as a part of the supporting solid. The again finish of the bullpen, bolstered by Josh Hader‘s arrival, is the finest in the majors on paper.

The beginning rotation has query marks to begin the season — sufficient for Houston to have strongly thought of signing Blake Snell in mid-March — however the expertise is there. Justin Verlander is anticipated to return off the injured listing by the finish of the month. Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia ought to comply with. Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier have been elite in 2022. Ronel Blanco, a rotation fill-in, tossed a no-hitter Monday. If want be, the Astros might handle the rotation at the commerce deadline. An 0-4 begin was lower than perfect, however the Astros are constant winners when it issues most. The Dodgers and Braves, who have each been knocked out in the NL division sequence the previous two years, can’t say the similar. — Jorge Castillo

Judge Jeff says: What, nobody needs the Pirates? Tigers? Brewers? And you are going to go together with a workforce that has performed six video games, led all of them at one level and received only one? This can be a workforce with similar-to-Texas considerations about beginning pitching well being, a payroll already at an all-time excessive with out a lot deadline wiggle room and a weak farm system. Then once more, these are the Astros. In addition to Alvarez, Tucker and Altuve, Diaz is mashing. A low-strikeout offense with few holes, a still-strong defensive unit and a nasty again finish of the bullpen, Hader’s early hiccups however? There’s a motive the Astros are one good run shy of an all-time LCS streak, and as the Yankees and Phillies discovered in 2022, solely a idiot sleeps on Houston in October.