How 9 teams can defy their playoff probabilities

February 21st, 2023

As Spring Training gets under way, some teams have more reasons to be optimistic than others about their postseason chances in the year ahead. But with every team starting from square one, there’s room for some surprises.

The odds are against the nine clubs below making the playoffs in 2023, but that doesn’t mean they have no chance to get there. Here’s what needs to happen for these teams to defy the odds, which range from as high as 40.7% to as low as 8.4%, per FanGraphs’ newly released projections.

Giants: 40.7%

Why the odds are against them: After the Giants signed , , , and but lost and failed to secure the superstar bat they were seeking in free agency, FanGraphs doesn't think they've improved enough to challenge the Padres and Dodgers in the NL West. The Friars have the best first-place odds (60.3%) of any team in MLB and the Dodgers have the fourth-highest projected win total (88) in the NL. Including San Diego and Los Angeles, seven NL teams are projected to win more games than San Francisco.

How they can defy the odds: Given the Giants’ lack of elite bats, their best chance of reaching the postseason lies on the shoulders of their pitching staff. San Francisco allowed 697 runs last season, over 100 runs more than it gave up during its 107-win campaign in 2021. With Rodón gone, the Giants need Manaea and Stripling to step up and for and to provide better results. In 2021, Wood and DeSclafani combined for a 3.47 ERA over 57 starts. Last year, they posted a 5.29 ERA in 31 starts. San Francisco could also use more from former No. 2 overall Draft pick , who had a .660 OPS and struck out in 38.5% of his plate appearances in his first season replacing behind the plate.

Angels: 39%

Why the odds are against them: FanGraphs projects the Angels to win nine more games than they did last year (73), after they spent the offseason adding solid veterans to their roster. But there’s still a sizable gap between the Halos and the defending World Series-champion Astros in the AL West. The Angels also share a division with the Mariners, who won 90 games last year to end a 20-year playoff drought.

How they can defy the odds: Having a healthy and productive to go with and would certainly help, but even that might not be enough if the Angels’ offseason additions don’t pay off. As’s Mike Petriello recently noted, the Halos gave the sixth-most playing time to players at or below replacement level last year, a problem general manager Perry Minasian tried to remedy with the additions of , , , , and this offseason. To make the playoffs, the Angels will likely need those players to perform closer to last season (combined 13.6 WAR) than their projections for 2023 (combined 8 WAR).

Rangers: 33%

Why the odds are against them: The Rangers are projected for a 13-win jump from 2022 (68-94), the largest in MLB, but FanGraphs still has Texas as just the ninth-best AL team -- and the fourth best in the AL West. The Rangers' rotation should be much improved after they added , , and , but their offense is a top-heavy unit behind , and .

How they can defy the odds: FanGraphs gives the Rangers just a one-in-three chance of reaching the playoffs this season, despite projecting the club’s shiny new rotation to be one of the best in baseball. Even if the best-case scenario for Texas’ rotation overhaul comes to fruition, the club is going to need more from an offense that ranked 12th in the Majors in runs scored last year. While the Rangers focused on improving their pitching this offseason, their biggest offensive acquisition was , which means the onus is on Semien (107 wRC+ in 2022) to improve and third baseman (MLB Pipeline’s No. 34 prospect) to break out.

Red Sox: 30.7%

Why the odds are against them: The AL East is stacked. It’s the only division in which all five teams are projected for at least 75 wins, and the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays rank first, third and fourth, respectively, among AL clubs in terms of playoff odds. Despite the losses of and in free agency and to injury, FanGraphs projects the Red Sox to have the fourth-highest-scoring offense in the AL. However, they're also projected to have the league's fifth-highest runs allowed average, reflecting the questions surrounding the team's rotation.

How they can defy the odds: More than anything, the Red Sox’s postseason hopes might rest on the health of and , two pitchers who have made a combined 17 starts since the beginning of 2020. On the other side of the ball, Boston needs new starting shortstop to rebound after falling from 3.9 WAR in 2021 to 0.5 last year. But Hernández isn’t going to be able to make up for the loss of Bogaerts’ bat on his own. A strong rookie year from first baseman would be a big help. It’s also possible we haven’t seen the best from newly minted $300 million man . Can he unlock a higher level at the age of 26?

White Sox: 27.8%

Why the odds are against them: The White Sox fell from 93 wins in 2021 to 81 last season, and FanGraphs doesn’t see a bounceback coming. In fact, Chicago is projected for fewer wins (80) than it recorded in 2022. Chicago's roster lacks depth, which could be problematic after , , and missed a combined 283 games in 2022. The White Sox also lost longtime first baseman José Abreu, who signed a three-year deal with the Astros in free agency.

How they can defy the odds: Although Abreu is gone, the core of the roster that won an AL Central title two years ago is still mostly in place, and the division remains eminently winnable. It’s not far fetched to think the White Sox could vault back to first place if they experience better health and/or get improved performances from rebound candidates such as and . A breakout from would also soften the blow of Abreu’s departure.

Marlins: 17.5%

Why the odds are against them: After ranking last in the NL and 28th in MLB in runs scored last season, the Marlins upgraded their offense with the additions of AL batting champion and . But the club still lacks power. No one on the team’s current roster hit more than 14 homers in 2022. Trading starter in the deal for Arraez also makes the Marlins more reliant on inexperienced arms behind reigning NL Cy Young Award winner . Sharing a division with the Braves and Mets, who both won 101 games in 2022, and the Phillies, who added to a club that reached the World Series a year ago, gives Miami a narrow path to the playoffs.

How they can defy the odds: The Marlins’ postseason chances would get a significant boost if their rotation lives up to its potential. In addition to Alcantara and free-agent signing , the club has a number of high-upside young arms, including , , , , and (MLB Pipeline’s No. 13 prospect). Keeping on the field is also imperative. The team’s new starting center fielder was potentially on his way to a 6+ WAR season before suffering a season-ending back injury last June. However, Chisholm can’t do it alone. The Marlins are counting on and to supply some much needed pop after combining for just 21 homers in 2022, less than half of what they hit for other teams in 2021 (56).

D-backs: 10.9%

Why the odds are against them: The D-backs took a step forward last season, but they still had a -38 run differential and a 74-88 record. Arizona made some additions around the margins of its roster this offseason, but only four D-backs hitters are projected to post a wRC+ above 103. Meanwhile, is the only member of Arizona’s expected Opening Day rotation who is projected to post a sub-4.00 ERA in 2023.

How they can defy the odds: There’s a lot riding on 's (MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 prospect) ability to make an immediate impact as a rookie. The team’s lineup also needs more production from , who hit .240 with 12 homers over 137 games in 2022. Arizona’s elite defense should help with its run prevention, but the club has to find a competent No. 5 starter. Last season, , , and combined to make 29 starts with a 6.05 ERA for the D-backs, who went 11-18 in those games. Perhaps one of their MLB-ready pitching prospects -- , or -- is the answer.

Orioles: 9.9%

Why the odds are against them: The Orioles were one of last season’s biggest surprises, making a 31-game improvement after winning only 52 games in 2021. However, their Pythagorean record based on their -14 run differential was 79-83, and their biggest offseason additions were pitchers and and second baseman . Having to play in the AL East doesn’t help.

How they can defy the odds: If multiple players from Baltimore’s next wave of top prospects -- a group that includes infielder (MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 prospect), right-hander (No. 7), outfielder (No. 40), infielder (No. 74) and left-hander (No. 97) -- can do what did for the club last season, the O’s could surprise again.

Cubs: 8.4%

Why the odds are against them: Coming off a 74-88 record in 2022, the Cubs were one of the offseason’s busiest clubs, acquiring , , , , , and . But Swanson is the only one of those players FanGraphs projects to post more than 2.2 WAR in 2023. Chicago also saw longtime catcher jump to the rival Cardinals in free agency.

How they can defy the odds: Although their defense is much improved and their rotation might be better than expected, the Cubs’ postseason chances will likely depend on how much they hit. Chicago ranked 22nd in MLB with 657 runs scored a year ago, 115 fewer than the Cardinals and 68 fewer than the Brewers. While Swanson and 2022 All-Star should be solid, Bellinger and are the team’s two most important bats, in terms of raising the club’s ceiling to postseason caliber. If Bellinger can get anywhere close to what he did over his first three seasons (37 homers per season, .928 OPS) and Suzuki can find the All-Star form he showed in Japan, the Cubs could be a surprise contender in what might be a winnable division.