MLB Bold Takes 60 Games Into 2024 Season (2024)

MLB Bold Takes 60 Games Into 2024 Season

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    MLB Bold Takes 60 Games Into 2024 Season (1)

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    As fun as it may be, giving takes after just a few weeks of action in baseball usually haunts you.

    For example, the Philadelphia Phillies got off to an uninspiring 8-8 start. Aaron Judge was hitting just .207 at the end of April. If you buried either on April 15, you've probably already made an appearance on Freezing Cold Takes.

    However, with more than 60 games in the books for each team, there's enough of a body of work to make predictions that are both bold and based in reality. To that end, here are nine thoughts from across the league based on how the first two months of the season played out.

Aaron Judge Is Going to Hit 60 Home Runs, Again

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    Even though Aaron Judge hit only .220 in April, he still homered six times. He was the AL Player of the Month in May, hitting .361 with 14 home runs and a staggering 1.297 OPS, reasserting himself among the game's most dominant players.

    In case you were wondering, the most home runs that Judge hit in a single month in 2022 was 13. He wound up setting a single-season record for the Junior Circuit that year with 62 home runs.

    B/R Walk-Off @BRWalkoff

    Aaron Judge's May was unbelievable 😳<br><br>(h/t <a href="https://twitter.com/JeffPassan?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JeffPassan</a>) <a href="https://t.co/63otJlprnI">pic.twitter.com/63otJlprnI</a>

    Is he going to top that mark in 2024? That's a tough ask, but if healthy, there's no reason to think Judge can't make a run at 60 home runs again this season. He hit 62 in 157 games in 2022. Despite being limited to 106 games in 2023, Judge still homered 37 times.

    So it stands to reason that if he plays 150-plus games this season, 60-plus is within reach. That's an insane standard for a player to have, but Judge at the height of his powers is that good.

    If Judge does hit 60 or more home runs for the second time, he'll join Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as the only players to ever have multiple 60-plus home run seasons in MLB history.

Both Leagues Will Have First-Time Cy Young Winners

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    Last year's AL Cy Young Award winner was Gerrit Cole, who has yet to pitch for the Yankees yet this season. Blake Snell won the NL Cy Young Award in 2023 with the San Diego Padres, and his first campaign with the San Francisco Giants has been a disaster.

    That means that each league will have a new Cy Young Award winner this season, and it will almost certainly be someone who's never won the honor before. Here's a look at some of the top candidates in each league.

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Tanner Houck, Painted 83mph Back Door Slider. đŸ–ŒïžđŸŽš<br><br>18 inches of horizontal break. <a href="https://t.co/on38q5DNOM">pic.twitter.com/on38q5DNOM</a>

    AL

    Tanner Houck, Boston Red Sox: One of the best stories in baseball this season, Houck leads all pitchers in WAR (2.7), FIP (2.15) and HR/9 (0.1). This comes just a year after he posted underwhelming marks in terms of ERA (5.01) and FIP (4.43) across 106 innings.

    Cole Ragans, Kansas City Royals: Ragans pitched at an ace level for the Royals after being acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Aroldis Chapman trade last summer, and he's continued that in his first full season in K.C. The 26-year-old southpaw has a minuscule 2.26 FIP, which is third among AL pitchers, trailing only the two pitchers he's wedged in between on this list.

    Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers: Skubal is the AL leader in WHIP at 0.88, and in the top five in ERA (1.97), FIP (2.25) and WAR (2.4). He is the odds-on favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award.

    Seth Lugo, Royals: The addition of Lugo on a three-year, $45 million deal this past offseason looks like highway robbery by general manager J.J. Picollo and the Royals. Lugo leads AL pitchers in wins (nine) and innings pitched (84.1).

    B/R Walk-Off @BRWalkoff

    SEVEN shutout innings for Shota Imanaga!<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/MLB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MLB</a>)<a href="https://t.co/j77luFzgMH">pic.twitter.com/j77luFzgMH</a>

    NL

    Ranger SuĂ rez, Phillies: The 28-year-old lefty departed his most recent start with swelling just below his left thumb on the bottom of his hand after a ball was hit back at him. Fortunately, he avoided a major injury. So far this season, SuĂ rez is 9-1, and he leads all pitchers in ERA (1.70) and WHIP (0.797).

    Shota Imanaga, Chicago Cubs: How dominant has Imanaga been in his first MLB season? Even after he allowed seven earned runs in a start last weekend, his ERA is still 1.88. He's the favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year, and certainly in the Cy Young conversation.

    Zack Wheeler, Phillies: Of the four NL candidates, Wheeler might have the most staying power. He's finished in the top six in NL Cy Young voting twice in the last three seasons, including as runner-up to Corbin Burnes in 2021. He currently is among the league leaders in ERA (2.23), innings pitched (80.2) and WAR (2.2).

    Chris Sale, Atlanta Braves: Like Imanaga, Sale recently had a clunker, surrendering eight runs over four innings against the Oakland Athletics on June 1. Still, he's having his best season in half a decade, as he leads the NL in FIP (2.48), BB/9 (1.3) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (8.20).

Frank Robinson Is Going to Have Company

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    One of the most amazing nuggets in baseball is that while seven pitchers have managed to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues, only one player—Hall of Famer Frank Robinson— has won MVP in both leagues. Robinson won NL MVP with the Cincinnati Reds in 1961, and AL MVP with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966.

    However, there's a very real possibility that Robinson will have company at the end of 2024 from one of two Los Angeles Dodgers teammates.

    Since joining the Dodgers in 2020, Mookie Betts has finished second in NL MVP voting twice (2020 and 2023). But he has adjusted to playing shortstop for the first time in his professional career and continues to be an offensive force with a .926 OPS. Betts won AL MVP as a member of the Red Sox in 2018, and this might be the year he wins it in the Senior Circuit.

    Doug McKain @DMAC_LA

    Shohei Ohtani hits his first walk-off as a Dodger! We've never seen a player win the MVP as a DH only, but we've also never seen a player like Shohei Ohtani. Moments like this will only help Ohtani make history. <br><br> <a href="https://t.co/w1wGWZocol">pic.twitter.com/w1wGWZocol</a>

    However, someone forgot to tell Shohei Ohtani that since he's not pitching in 2024, he needs to take a year off from being an MVP candidate. Ohtani won the AL MVP in 2021 and 2023 with the Angels, but did so as a two-way player.

    No primary DH has ever won an MVP. Then again, Ohtani has accomplished a lot of things no one had before him. He leads the NL in total bases (137) and has 14 home runs and a .988 OPS. He might have to hit 50 home runs to actually win MVP as a DH, but it's not difficult to imagine a few torrid home run stretches from Ohtani putting him in position to do that.

    Bryce Harper and William Contreras are among the players in the NL who could block either Betts or Ohtani from winning NL MVP. But if you have to take Betts or Ohtani against the field, it might be wise to lean with the history-making duo in L.A.

Jordan Westburg's Season Isn't Getting Enough Attention

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    The 2020 MLB draft—which took place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic—was a crapshoot. Both prep and collegiate seasons that year were either abbreviated or altogether canceled because of what was going on in the world at that time, which gave executives incomplete information to base high draft picks on.

    There are some really good stories from the 2020 MLB draft thus far, such as Patrick Bailey of the San Francisco Giants (No. 13 pick) and Bobby Miller of the Los Angeles Dodgers (No. 29 pick).

    But there are just as many disappointments to this point, like No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson of the Detroit Tigers—who was optioned to Triple-A recently—and No. 12 overall pick Austin Hendrick, who has struggled so much he isn't even one of the top 30 prospects for the Cincinnati Reds.

    As per usual, general manager Mike Elias and the Orioles seem to have hit in the 2020 MLB draft. No. 2 overall pick Heston Kjerstad is the No. 40 overall prospect in baseball and figures to play a role in Baltimore's future, whether it's as an outfielder for the O's or a trade chip. And it increasingly feels like he may not even be the best first-round pick the Orioles had that season.

    B/R Walk-Off @BRWalkoff

    Jordan Westburg goes OVER THE MONSTER to put the O's on top đŸ’Ș<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/Orioles?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Orioles</a>) <a href="https://t.co/mGjupVzbcU">pic.twitter.com/mGjupVzbcU</a>

    Third baseman Jordan Westburg was selected 30th overall in 2020, the first competitive balance Round A pick that season. He's perhaps gotten overlooked among all the young talent that the Orioles have, but that's becoming more and more difficult to do.

    Westburg has nine homers and an .838 OPS in his first full MLB season. The 25-year-old has seen time at both second and third base, with two defensive runs saved and four outs above average at the latter position.

    Baltimore has built an incredible young core with Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman at the forefront of a group that's also likely to include Jackson Holliday in the long run. But Westburg has forced his way into the long-term conversation and is another reminder that Elias is turning into one of the greatest evaluators of young talent in MLB history.

The National League Doesn't Deserve 3 Wild Cards—or Maybe Even 2

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    At the time of publication, there are only four teams with winning records in the NL—the Phillies, Dodgers, Braves and Milwaukee Brewers. The Padres and Cubs are hovering around .500, but there's not even a ton of mediocre teams in the Senior Circuit.

    The AL's White Sox are baseball's worst team, but not terribly far behind are the Colorado Rockies and Miami Marlins, both of whom are on pace for close to 100 losses. Other teams with negative run differentials in the NL this season are the Cubs, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets and Washington Nationals.

    Last year's NL champions, the Arizona Diamondbacks, are slightly above water in terms of their run differential but are below .500. The Cincinnati Reds, a trendy preseason playoff pick, also have a positive run differential but are under .500.

    The biggest fear when MLB went to a third wild-card team in each league in 2022 was that teams that are .500 or just a bit better would sneak into the playoffs. That didn't happen in 2022, as the lowest-seeded team in the NL playoffs were the 87-win Phillies. However, a year ago, both the Marlins and Diamondbacks made the postseason with just 84 wins.

    This year, either the Braves or Phillies—whichever doesn't win the NL East—will likely win 90-plus games and be the top wild-card representative in the NL. After that? You could make an argument that there's not another team that deserves to be in the postseason outside of the three division winners. If the season ended today, the 32-32 Padres and 30-31 Cubs would be in the playoffs as the second and third wild-card teams in the NL.

    There's something to be said for playoff expansion keeping more teams involved over the course of a 162-game season where it's often clear pretty early on who is going to win each division. But if a pair of 80-82 teams reach the NL playoffs this year, that might be the best argument against the even larger playoff field owners want. (They won't care, because their thinking is all about maximizing dollars, but nonetheless.)

    -

Pete Alonso Will Have an Impact on the AL Pennant Chase

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    The New York Mets' 2024 season feels increasingly doomed, and considering blowing past the luxury-tax thresholds would limit the return they would get if Pete Alonso declined a qualifying offer and signed elsewhere in free agency this upcoming offseason, there definitely is an argument for trading the slugger this summer.

    While some of the top NL contenders—the Dodgers, Phillies and Atlanta Braves—already have an entrenched option at first base, there are plenty of teams in the AL that would make sense as landing spots for Alonso if owner Steve Cohen and president of baseball operations David Stearns are willing to trade the three-time All-Star.

    B/R Walk-Off @BRWalkoff

    Buy or Sell: Pete Alonso will be traded by the Mets this year<br><br>(w/ <a href="https://twitter.com/JonHeyman?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JonHeyman</a>) <a href="https://t.co/PU2ne8vbSY">pic.twitter.com/PU2ne8vbSY</a>

    Let's assume that even if Anthony Rizzo doesn't heat up, the Yankees probably aren't going to be in play for Alonso. It would be one thing for the Mets to trade Alonso; it would be another to send him to their biggest rival.

    But considering the acquiring team would only be guaranteed Alonso for a few months, some lower-budget clubs that might not be in play for him as a free agent could view him as a realistic trade target. Among the playoff-caliber teams that fit that bill are the Cleveland Guardians (Josh Naylor could shift to DH), Seattle Mariners (more on them in a minute) and Minnesota Twins.

    The Mets may even prefer to trade Alonso to a smaller-budget team if they plan to make a run at him again in free agency. Even if he wins a World Series, the new team probably won't be in play to sign him in the winter. In the meantime, the Mets will have collected prospect capital. And just maybe, they'll be able to lure Alonso back home in the winter. Rarely does that happen, but it seems more realistic in this case.

The Mariners Need an Offensive Makeover

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    MLB Bold Takes 60 Games Into 2024 Season (8)

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    The good news for the Seattle Mariners is that they have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, with the quartet of Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller and George Kirby. The bad news in Seattle is that the lineup has been one of the worst in the league, as only the Chicago White Sox have scored fewer runs in the AL.

    Seattle recently dismissed bench coach and offensive coordinator Brant Brown, probably in large part because the established players on the team—Julio Rodríguez, J.P. Crawford and Cal Raleigh—have all underperformed offensively to varying degrees.

    But realistically, there just isn't enough talent in this lineup. For whatever flaws Teoscar HernĂĄndez and Eugenio SuĂĄrez had, they were Seattle's two biggest sources of power a year ago outside RodrĂ­guez.

    HernĂĄndez left for the Dodgers in free agency, while SuĂĄrez was traded to the Diamondbacks. They were nominally replaced by Mitch Garver, Jorge Polanco and Mitch Haniger, all of whom have OPSs under .650.

    The 2021 Braves won a World Series post-Ronald Acuña Jr. ACL tear in large part because president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos hit on the in-season acquisitions of Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall, changing the complexion of their lineup.

    Granted, they already had the base of Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson, which Seattle doesn't. But for the Mariners to not only hold off the two Texas teams in the AL West but have a chance to do damage in the postseason, DiPoto needs to have a similarly productive summer on the trade market.

The Diamondbacks Are an Interesting Team to Monitor as Trade Season Arrives

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    Given how up-for-grabs the second and third wild-card spots are in the NL, it's fair to wonder if there's any circ*mstance that the Arizona Diamondbacks—who made a run to the World Series after sneaking in as the final playoff team in the Senior Circuit last year—would sell before the July 30 trade deadline.

    If anything, general manager Mike Hazen might be motivated to add this summer, even if the Diamondbacks are a few games under .500.

    At the same time, it's impossible not to at least have your interest piqued a bit about some of the expiring contracts the Diamondbacks have that could turn players into trade candidates if they fall out of the race.

    1B Christian Walker: A two-time Gold Glove Award winner, Walker has an .827 OPS since the start of the 2023 season. The 33-year-old would be an obvious fallback for a team that's unable to land Alonso.

    LHP Jordan Montgomery: He's struggled after not having a spring training, but Montgomery was a playoff hero for the Rangers last season and the Diamondbacks would be as motivated to trade him as any player listed because he's not eligible to receive a qualifying offer.

    3B Eugenio SuĂĄrez: After being acquired from the Mariners in the offseason, SuĂĄrez has disappointed in his first season with the Snakes. But SuĂĄrez has four seasons of 30-plus home runs and would be a worthwhile gamble for a team looking for a corner infield/DH type.

    Closer Paul Sewald: Though he missed all of April with a left oblique strain, Sewald has returned and is pitching as well as he ever has, with six saves in six attempts and an 0.96 ERA over 10 appearances.

    DH/OF Joc Pederson: This is pretty obvious: Pederson is a two-time World Series champion who has a .920 OPS this season. He's probably more of a fit for a team looking for a primary DH but could play a corner outfield position on occasion as well.

    MLB HR Videos @MLBHRVideos

    Joc Pederson - Arizona Diamondbacks (7) <br> <a href="https://t.co/gsxHDuuqlU">https://t.co/gsxHDuuqlU</a>

    Again, it doesn't feel likely the Diamondbacks will be sellers. But if they are, hoo boy, they have some interesting pieces.

Don't Count the Braves Out

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    One of the things that made the Atlanta Braves winning the 2021 World Series despite losing Acuña for the season with a torn ACL in July was that it's so rare to lose an MVP-caliber player and not have it derail your season.

    So in general, it's lazy to just point to the 2021 Braves when a key player is lost for the season as a reason a given team's season is over. But this is the same organization, and while some of the faces have changed, there's reason to believe the Braves could still be a dangerous team in October.

    Even without Acuña, this is still a lineup that's loaded with talent. If last year's MLB home run and RBI leader Matt Olson hits his stride after a slow start, manager Brian Snitker still has one of the best lineups in baseball, when you add in Austin Riley, Marcell Ozuna, Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris II and the catching tandem of Sean Murphy/Travis d'Arnaud.

    Olson isn't the only player who history tells us better results are going to come from, as Riley, Harris and Orlando Arcia have all underwhelmed this season, and Murphy just returned from an oblique injury that cost him close to two months.

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Chris Sale, Vicious 78mph Slider. đŸ˜€ <a href="https://t.co/QByGdmosGy">pic.twitter.com/QByGdmosGy</a>

    Workload should be a concern for the Braves starting rotation, but the way Sale and Reynaldo Lopez are pitching right now, Atlanta has a pretty good trio atop its rotation with Max Fried also in the mix. It burns that they lost NL Cy Young contender Spencer Strider for the season, but if healthy, this could still be a rotation that's scary in a short series in October.

    The aforementioned Anthopoulos also has a track record of being able to make impact additions during the season. If he hits on a high-leverage reliever, a starting pitcher and an outfielder this year, the Braves will still be dangerous in the playoffs, even if they don't win their seventh NL East title in a row.

MLB Bold Takes 60 Games Into 2024 Season (2024)

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