Juan Soto and Aaron Judge Tim Warner/Getty Images

Way-Too-Early 2024 MLB Playoff Predictions

Tim Kelly

Less than a month into the regular season, playoff predictions shouldn't look a whole lot different than they did prior to the campaign.

With that said, it would be foolish to altogether discard what the first few weeks have shown us. Perhaps there's a team that entered the season looking like a likely wild-card entrant but now feels like a legitimate division contender. Or on the flip side, there might be a veteran club that looked to have one or two more runs in it but has been hit with enough injuries and underperforming stars early on to make you wonder if its window has closed.

Again, nothing has drastically changed from the B/R preseason playoff predictions, but here is an updated look at which 12 teams are the most likely to be playing October baseball in 2024.

NL East: Atlanta Braves

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Losing NL Cy Young contender Spencer Strider for the season is certainly a blow to the Atlanta Braves, but this is a franchise that's lost Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson in free agency in recent years and not skipped a beat.

Granted, there's probably not a Matt Olson-type replacement for Strider the way there was for Freeman, but with Max Fried and Chris Sale atop the rotation, Atlanta has enough pitching to make it to the summer, where president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos will likely add at least one impact starter.

It also doesn't hurt that Atlanta has arguably the best offense in the sport. Ronald Acuña Jr. is the reigning NL MVP. Olson finished fourth in NL MVP voting a season ago when he hit 54 home runs. And in any given season, Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies and Michael Harris II could probably make a run at the award.

Will the Braves match the 104 games they won a season ago? Probably not, which might mean the Philadelphia Phillies push them for the division title more than they have in recent years. Ultimately, though, the Braves should be able to win their seventh consecutive NL East title.

But after consecutive NLDS losses to the division-rival Phillies, the success of the Braves' 2024 season will be determined by whether they are able to make a World Series run.

NL Central: Cincinnati Reds

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None of the five teams in the NL Central have played poorly enough early in the season to be able to rule them out of the division race. In fact, the Pirates, Brewers and Cubs are off to even better starts than the Cincinnati Reds. But in a division that will likely only produce one playoff team, it's the Reds who seem to have the most staying power.

While electric shortstop Elly De La Cruz gets the most attention, the Reds lineup is flush with young talent. Spencer Steer has been one of baseball's best players in the early going of 2024, and it feels like Christian Encarnacion-Strand is going to start hitting.

Veteran Jeimer Candelario is a doubles machine who's come out of the gate slowly, but history tells us he's going to get better results. Both TJ Freidl and Matt McLain will be key cogs once they return from their respective injuries as well.

Perhaps no team had more of a boom-or-bust starting rotation entering the season than the Reds, but the early returns have been mostly positive. Nick Lodolo struck out 10 batters in his season debut. Andrew Abbott and Frankie Montas both have been tremendous in the early going, and the fact that Hunter Greene's 3.63 FIP is well below his 4.35 ERA leads you to believe better results are coming for him.

David Bell's squad isn't going to run away with the division, but it may only take 87-89 wins to capture the NL Central title. In a division where all five teams are bunched up early on, the Reds still feel like the best pick.

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers

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When you watch the Braves, it's hard to think anyone could have a better offense than them. But the Los Angeles Dodgers have three first-ballot Hall of Famers atop their lineup—Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freeman—and the length of their lineup makes them at least as good as Atlanta.

Predictably, it looks like Teoscar Hernández is going to have a monster season in terms of run production hitting in the middle of the lineup for the Dodgers. If Will Smith isn't the best catcher in baseball, he's pretty close.

Max Muncy has three seasons of 35 or more home runs. It's also pretty reasonable to think that James Outman, Gavin Lux and Chris Taylor will get going offensively.

For the Dodgers, having enough healthy starting pitching will determine just how much they are able to win the NL West by. Tyler Glasnow and James Paxton are both off to tremendous starts but have historically struggled to stay healthy.

Bobby Miller was recently added to the 15-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation. Also on the IL are Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Emmet Sheehan. Getting some combination of Buehler, Kershaw, Miller and May back in 2024 and pitching at a high level is obviously crucial.

Los Angeles is going to win the NL West over the Diamondbacks. But until we know what sort of pitching staff that manager Dave Roberts will have at his disposal in the postseason, it's hard to be certain that the Dodgers won't have another early playoff exit, perhaps even at the hands of the Snakes for the second year in a row.

NL Playoff Seeding

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X = Division winner

Y = Wild-card winner

* = First-round bye

1. Dodgers (X*)

2. Braves (X*)

3. Reds (X)

4. Phillies (Y)

5. Diamondbacks (Y)

6. Padres (Y)

NLCS: Dodgers over Diamondbacks

AL East: Baltimore Orioles

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Without much in the way of reliable starting pitching, it would be fair to assume the Red Sox aren't going to win the AL East. But all five teams in the division have gotten off to at least respectable starts, and four of them have realistic playoff aspirations.

The Blue Jays and Rays feel more like wild-card contenders, meaning the division will likely come down to the Orioles and Yankees.

The Yankees are off to the best start of the five teams in the AL East. On one hand, that's really impressive considering they've done it without reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole. On the other hand, it's still not clear if and when Cole will return this season. Elbows are tricky like that.

Juan Soto and Aaron Judge are as good of a one-two punch as there is in the sport, but Anthony Volpe and Oswaldo Cabrera have had unsustainably fast starts. Manager Aaron Boone also still isn't sure what the team will get from Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo and, eventually, DJ LeMahieu over the course of the full season.

Baltimore won the division a year ago with 101 victories and is even more talented than a year ago. While the Orioles are without closer Felix Bautista this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, they acquired Corbin Burnes and Craig Kimbrel in the offseason. Both have looked good early on for the O's. MLB's No. 1 overall prospect Jackson Holliday recently graduated to the MLB level, joining a lineup for manager Brandon Hyde that almost has too many talented young players.

If Baltimore gets Kyle Bradish and/or John Means back pitching at a high level in 2024, it is going to be a scary team when the postseason rolls around. Also, general manager Mike Elias has built a farm system so loaded with talent that the Orioles will have the opportunity to add an impact arm—be it in the starting rotation, bullpen or both—in advance of the July 30 trade deadline.

The Orioles should not only win the AL East, but they likely will earn a first-round postseason bye for the second year in a row. Expect the Yankees to be a wild-card representative.

AL Central: Minnesota Twins

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The Cleveland Guardians and Kansas City Royals are off to the best starts of the five AL Central teams, but expect this division to come down to the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers. Cleveland doesn't have enough offense and has lost ace Shane Bieber for the season. Kansas City is much improved, but going from 56 wins to the playoffs in one year might be too drastic of a jump.

Detroit feels like a team that's a year—and a couple of impact veteran additions—away from being a playoff team. Offensively, the Tigers are a young team that's off to a disappointing start at the plate.

Former All-Star Javier Báez continues to be a disaster for the Tigers and seems increasingly unlikely to remain with the team through the end of his six-year, $140 million deal. Tarik Skubal is an AL Cy Young candidate, but the early returns on veterans Jack Flaherty and Kenta Maeda behind him haven't been great.

With the offseason losses of Sonny Gray and Michael A. Taylor, the Twins are probably a worse team than they were a season ago. But with Bieber out for Cleveland, Minnesota probably still has the top rotation trio in the division with Pablo López, Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan, even if the former two aren't off to great starts.

Carlos Correa is on the injured list with an oblique injury, and history tells us Byron Buxton isn't going to play a full season. Edouard Julien and Alex Kirilloff are off to strong starts this season, and there's nowhere to go but up for Carlos Santana and Matt Wallner.

It's hard to feel great about any of the teams in this division, but star closer Jhoan Duran isn't far from returning, and the Twins still project to be the best team out of these five. They probably wouldn't win any other division in baseball, but that doesn't matter.

AL West: Texas Rangers

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The Astros have won the AL West in six of the last seven seasons, with the only time they slipped up coming in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season when they had to settle for a wild card with the A's taking the division crown. Despite a slow start, it is still tempting to take the Astros, because they seem to find a way every year to win the division.

However, the Texas Rangers are the defending World Series champions, and if they are within striking distance this summer in the AL West, they will probably win it.

The Rangers are hopeful that Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Tyler Mahle all will return from injuries at some point this summer. If two of those three are able to make an impact, the Rangers will have a pretty strong rotation when you also factor in Nathan Eovaldi and Cody Bradford.

Obviously, not much needs to be said about the lineup that powered Texas to its first championship a season ago. Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford provide two potential future superstars in a lineup full of accomplished veterans, including Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Adolis García.

Last year, the Astros won the AL West, only to lose to the Rangers in seven games in the ALCS. This year, the Rangers are the pick to win the division, but they could very well meet up again if the Astros are able to claim one of the three wild-card spots in the Junior Circuit.

AL Playoff Seeding

Tim Warner/Getty Images

X = Division winner

Y = Wild-card winner

* = First-round bye

1. Orioles (X*)

2. Rangers (X*)

3. Twins (X)

4. Yankees (Y)

5. Astros (Y)

6. Blue Jays (Y)

ALCS: Orioles over Rangers

World Series Prediction: Orioles Over Dodgers

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Mike Elias was one of the architects of the Astros' sustained run of success—dynasty?—serving as their scouting director when they selected the likes of Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. That may prove to just be a footnote when his career concludes.

Since Elias was hired as the general manager of the Orioles in November 2018, Baltimore has drafted Grayson Rodriguez, Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Jackson Holliday, among others. Even after all of that, the O's entered 2024 with the No. 2 overall farm system in baseball, per B/R's Joel Reuter.

Elias was able to flex the muscle of the farm system in spring training when he acquired Burnes in a trade with the Brewers. He'll have the opportunity to make another big trade or two this summer, which could put the Orioles over the top.

The Astros won their first World Series title—admittedly, under questionable circumstances—in 2017 by defeating the Dodgers in seven games. It would be quite the turn of events for the Orioles to win the first of what may very well be multiple championships in this era over the Dodgers, with Elias as the common denominator.


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