Which team is most likely to go worst to first?

January 19th, 2023

Ten years ago, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series the year after they finished last in the American League East. So it can happen. There is hope for everyone.

Why do we mention this? Because there were six teams who finished last in 2022, teams for whom just about everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. And while winning the World Series like the '13 Red Sox might be pushing it, the nice thing about finishing last is that, as the saying goes: There’s nowhere to go but up. Merely finishing fourth is an improvement for these six teams.

So who’s most likely to surge from the bottom toward the top in 2023? Here’s one man's guess at most likely to least likely.

1. Kansas City Royals
2022 record: 65-97

Considering how much went wrong for the 2022 Tigers, it’s a little surprising to remember that the Royals were, in fact, worse (by one game). That led to a clearing of the decks in the offseason: The team now has a new manager (Matt Quatraro), a new head of baseball operations (J.J. Picollo) and a new direction entirely.

There’s reason for some hope here. Neither the pitching nor the lineup is particularly overwhelming, but there’s still talent to go around, particularly in that lineup. Lots of teams would be delighted to pencil in up-and-comers MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino and Bobby Witt Jr. every day. It’s that last name, Witt, who’s the most exciting: A talent like his has the potential to explode into superstardom at any moment. The Royals are probably a couple of years away from competing for the division title, but considering that the AL Central lacks a juggernaut, they are a club to keep an eye on in 2023.

2. Boston Red Sox
2022 record: 78-84

Look, there are reasons to be down on the Red Sox this year. They lost Xander Bogaerts. Trevor Story may miss most, if not all, of the season recovering from elbow surgery. Chris Sale hasn’t thrown more than 43 innings since 2019. The rest of this division is stacked.

But all that said: If you were to make an All-Star team composed solely of players on the six last-place teams in '22, you can make a strong argument that half of the players would be Red Sox. At the very least. No one on any of these teams is as good as Rafael Devers, and for all the frustration for letting Bogaerts go, they did bring in solid veteran players like Corey Kluber, Nick Pivetta, Chris Martin, Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Adam Duvall this winter, not to mention the intriguing addition of Masataka Yoshida from Japan. The other four teams in the AL East should be good, but the Red Sox, despite the narrative around them, might be a bit better than people think.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates
2022 record: 62-100

For what it’s worth: The Pirates and Reds actually tied for last place in the NL Central last season. (But the Pirates had a much worse run differential, so we’re putting them here.) It is possible that Bryan Reynolds is an ex-Pirate any minute now, and I don’t think anyone has any illusions that Pittsburgh is going to make a World Series run anytime soon. But they could be frisky in 2023, particularly in the second half, when some of their excellent prospects start to show up. And don’t look past the emotional factor of having Andrew McCutchen, not to mention the on-field boost: He's still a good hitter (especially against lefties), after all.

A lot of this may rely on what Oneil Cruz can turn into: He’s an otherworldly talent, albeit one who is not always able to translate that talent into on-field success. But you look around, and you sort of wonder if the Pirates don’t have the ability to be a little bit more of a headache for contending teams than you might immediately expect.

4. Colorado Rockies
2022 record: 68-94

The Rockies have historically marched to the beat of their own drummer. Sometimes it pays off, like with the World Series run of 2007, or their 91-win season in '18. They’re just eccentric and quixotic enough to be a little tougher of an out than you’re expecting, particularly in that ballpark, which has vexed the franchise for decades but tends to vex opponents even more. (As per usual, the Rockies actually had a winning record at Coors Field in '22, but went 27-54 on the road.)

If Kris Bryant is healthy -- and that’s a big if -- this offense is deeper than it has been the past couple of years, and the rotation is stable, especially since they avoided any temptation to trade any stalwarts away the past few years. They’re probably not catching the Dodgers or the Padres, and the Giants and the intriguing D-backs would seem out of their grasp as well. But the Rockies never quite do what you think they’re going to do. Keep an eye out.

5. Washington Nationals
2022 record: 55-107

The Nationals, at last, are undergoing their long-delayed rebuild, and all told, it sure looks like they did pretty well with that Juan Soto trade. (CJ Abrams could blossom into a star here, and Robert Hassell III could arrive sooner than we think.) There is also Keibert Ruiz, who came over from the Dodgers in the Max Scherzer trade of 2021, and he looks like a catcher who is going to make some All-Star games. All that said, it’s still going to be a while.

6. Oakland A’s
2022 record: 60-102

The American League West is going to be a dogfight this year. You have the defending World Series champion Astros. You have the surging, exciting Mariners. You have the Rangers, who are spending money left and right to bring the team back to respectability. And you have the Angels, who are doing everything they can to support Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, who helpfully are two of the best players in baseball. Then you have the A's, who have traded away most of their established players and will be showcasing everyone who isn’t a rookie for the opportunity to make future trades.