Consistently competing for titles is one of the most difficult objectives to maintain in sports. For some teams with World Series aspirations, one disappointing season can change a franchise’s direction. Will these three teams rebound in 2024, or does another lackluster year await?
Three MLB Teams That Need to Bounce Back in 2024
The Yankees have a tall task ahead of them. After finishing 82-80 in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, the outlook of this campaign will have to look vastly different despite only a few changes to the roster. There is, however, reason to believe this roster will be much improved compared to last year’s disappointment.
New York finished 25th in team runs and 24th in team OPS. That underwhelming offensive performance led to their failure to qualify for the postseason. There are several factors leading to a bounce back in this area- first, Juan Soto and Aaron Judge. Instantly one of the best duos in baseball, this combination will be a catalyst to the Yankees offensive woes. The Yankees will also need players like Anthony Rizzo and DJ LeMahieu to return to form after an injury-riddled 2023.
Finally, a breakout from Anthony Volpe in his second season and prospects like Austin Wells could add more threats throughout the lineup. 12 of the Yankees’ 17 hitters with at least 100 plate appearances last season were below-average at the plate. Even average production would be a welcome development.
The pitching is one of the most unpredictable aspects of this roster. On face value, Gerrit Cole, the reigning Cy Young winner, leads off an impressive rotation featuring Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes. The addition of Marcus Stroman builds in even more depth and consistency. The problem, however, is predicting how Rodón and Cortes will perform. They both pitched slightly less than 65 innings. After trading away so many of their depth starters, they need these two pitchers to supply both quantity and quality.
The Cardinals’ offense was disappointing last season, but their pitching staff is what truly doomed them. St. Louis entered this offseason with a desperate need for more arms. After replenishing their rotation, can they fight for a division title after finishing last in the National League Central in 2023?
The biggest addition was Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray. After a dominant campaign, Gray will be the new ace in St. Louis. Gray has had back-to-back seasons with ERAs of 3.08 and 2.79. Last season, he had the lowest home run rate among starters, which might lead to some regression in his ERA. Even if he doesn’t have another run at a Cy Young award, he is the quality of pitcher the Cardinals needed to rebuild this rotation.
The Cardinals added two other notable starters in Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn. Steven Matz lost his spot in the rotation midseason but returned for seven starts at the end of the season with a 1.86 ERA. This rotation doesn’t have the same upside as some other contenders, but these signings fulfilled the main objective of simply finding competitive innings.
The offense will be the cornerstone of a competitive Cardinals team. While the pitching staff should hopefully offer a sense of consistency compared to last season, the offense needs to be the driving force after some dips in performance from their cornerstone players. Nolan Arenado‘s 107 wRC+ was his worst in a full season. Paul Goldschmidt‘s 122 wRC+ was his worst since 2019. Those two players alone should form a strong base if they perform to their career averages.
There were some encouraging players on the offensive front. Lars Nootbaar is the real deal with a .261/.367/.418 slash line in 2023 with 14 home runs. He has an impressive walk rate and could still reach 20 home run-level production. Nolan Gorman established himself as an important piece of the puzzle. Gorman’s batted ball metrics are promising, but he strikes out over 30% of the time. The Cardinals have several young players who could contribute like Gorman, including Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn.
What a strange team this is. Are the Blue Jays good? Surely, they are actually good, right? Despite any misgivings after their rollercoaster 2023, this roster is loaded with talent. If the Blue Jays can rediscover what led them to become one of the most promising teams in baseball, there is no reason to think the Blue Jays can’t live up to expectations.
It starts with the franchise cornerstones Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. Guerrero Jr. continued to decline from his memorable 2021 season. He still mashes the ball and rarely strikes out, but struggled to hit pitches down and away, an area pitchers specifically targeted. Bichette looked like one of the better hitters in baseball last year, but struggled after returning from injury in August. He has had prolific expected stats throughout his career, but he has a swing-happy approach that leads to lots of whiffs and very few walks. It seems like a prerequisite that these two both perform like All-Stars if the Blue Jays are going to compete for a title.
There is a path forward where the Blue Jays can rely on their pitching and elite defense to make a run in the playoffs. Kevin Gausman is a true ace and other names like José Berríos and Chris Bassitt form a formidable trio. The Blue Jays can hope for a revitalized corps at the back of their rotation to assemble a threatening team in the American League. Yusei Kikuchi is coming off a career year and Alek Manoah will be given a chance to earn his spot in the rotation. If Kikuchi maintains his new level of performance and Manoah rebounds, the depth of the rotation could compete in the thick of the American League East.
As ever, only one team can win it all. But these three teams didn’t even give themselves a chance last season. Will they accomplish their goals after an offseason to retool and supplement their rosters? At the very least, it will make for an entertaining season as they each strive to build a championship roster.
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