Can these 7 teams keep up their early success?

April 17th, 2024

Last week, we looked at seven teams that had high hopes coming into the 2024 season but were off to slow starts and tried to gauge how panicked they should be at this early point.

Now, we flip that concept around. The plan here is to break down some teams that had serious concerns heading into 2024, but so far at least, have been better than anyone (perhaps even the teams themselves) could have expected. These are clubs that missed the playoffs a year ago, or went through less-than-ideal offseasons, or maybe both. But a few weeks into this new season, they are riding high.

Can they keep it up? Or is it just an early-season illusion? Here are seven teams that are plenty pleased with how 2024 has begun, listed in ascending order of their perceived sustainability.

Angels (8-9, 2nd in AL West)

Why we were concerned: Well, they lost the best and most famous player in baseball, which would be a big problem even if you didn’t account for the fact that they haven’t won a playoff game in 15 years. They also traded away a big chunk of their future last summer in a doomed attempt to reach the playoffs. Oh, and their shoo-in Hall of Fame superstar was coming off his third consecutive season in which he missed significant time due to injury -- and the first in which his performance on the field also showed noticeable signs of slipping.

What has gone well so far: That superstar, after a sluggish and even somewhat alarming spring, is launching the ball as well as he has any time in his career: Mike Trout is tied for the Major League lead in homers and has a 1.032 OPS. He’s also getting some lineup support from Taylor Ward and looking-like-an-All-Star-catcher Logan O’Hoppe, who lost much of his promising 2023 campaign to a shoulder injury. It also doesn’t hurt the Halos that they’re in a division where there’s only one team at .500, with the Astros and Mariners both scuffling out of the gate.

Likelihood of sustainability -- 15%: The Angels' pitching has been better the last couple of years than has been appreciated -- it has been the lineup that's faltered -- but L.A.'s arms are off to a slow start with a 4.54 ERA. Anthony Rendon still can’t get it going, the bullpen has been uneven and, let’s face it, Trout hasn’t played more than 119 games since 2019. Plus, the Astros and Mariners aren’t both going to play like this forever. Oh, and let’s not get carried away: They’re only playing around .500 ball, and three of those wins are against the Marlins. Trout may have to hit 60 homers to keep them afloat, and even that might not do it.

Pirates (11-7, 2nd in NL Central)

Why we were concerned: Well, they’re the Pirates: They haven’t made the playoffs in a decade and haven’t won their division since 1992. Even with some exciting young players, they didn’t look ready to turn the corner anytime soon.

What has gone well so far: Having four games against the reeling Marlins was the ideal way to start the season: 4-0 will buy you some nice margin for error. Pittsburgh has played .500 ball since then thanks to some surprising starting pitching (Martín Pérez has been a happy early find), splendid defense and timely hitting. The Pirates have the undeniable feel of a team on the rise, particularly with Paul Skenes lurking in Triple-A.

Likelihood of sustainability -- 20%: The Pirates have been a happy story so far, and lord knows those fans deserve something to be happy about. But their early-season schedule has been fortunate, and their pitching is a little thin. (And remember, this team started 20-8 last year, too, then went 56-78 the rest of the way.) They still feel a year away. But it’s going to happen for this team, and soon.

Royals (11-6, 2nd in AL Central)

Why we were concerned: Again: They’re the Royals. Even with a new front office mindset and the good vibes of the Bobby Witt Jr. extension, this was still a team that lost 106 games last year.

What has gone well so far: Well, Witt is playing like the MVP candidate the Royals expect him to be for years to come, and Salvador Perez is hitting like it’s 2021 again. But the real story has been the pitching. The Royals have a 2.86 ERA -- the best in baseball -- with Cole Ragans looking like a Cy Young candidate and Brady Singer, Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha and Alec Marsh a stable, even reassuring Nos. 2-5. The Royals are winning games in oddly calming fashion.

Likelihood of sustainability -- 30%: As much as we’d love to see the rest of the non-Ragans rotation keep up their incredible numbers so far, eventually you’d think they’ll return to Earth. This division is likely to fall to Earth a bit as well, though, and the Royals’ vibes are impeccable right now. Can Witt carry them all season?

Brewers (10-6, 1st in NL Central)

Why we were concerned: After winning the division last year -- they’re the only team on this list that reached the playoffs in 2023 -- they lost not just their ace starter in Corbin Burnes, but their beloved (and deeply respected) manager Craig Counsell. (Oh, and star closer Devin Williams got hurt.) It was unclear if the Brewers were even aiming to return to the playoffs this year, or if they instead were setting up for some sort of rebuild.

What has gone well so far: No rebuild here! For years, the Brewers’ pitching has boosted a mediocre offense, but it’s the exact opposite so far: The Brewers' offense has been one of the best in baseball. Christian Yelich looks like an MVP candidate again, William Contreras looks like the best catcher in that big A’s/Braves/Brewers trade from the winter of 2022-23 (he’s hitting .375!), Brice Turang is stealing bases like crazy and Rhys Hoskins turns out to have found the exact right fit in Milwaukee.

Likelihood of sustainability -- 50%: The offense is going to have to cool off at some point, and the loss of Williams is going to be felt by the bullpen more and more as the season goes on. But Yelich looks like he’s the real deal again -- though his recurring back issues have him on the IL again -- and Jackson Chourio will only improve as he gets more reps under his belt. The NL Central has been one of the biggest surprises in 2024, and the Brewers are likely to be a central presence in its pennant race well into the fall.

Guardians (12-5, 1st in AL Central)

Why we were concerned: They finished a listless 76-86 last year and brought back nearly the exact same roster, except with 39-year-old rookie manager Stephen Vogt stepping in for retiring legend Terry Francona. This was hardly an organization that seemed to be feeling all that much urgency.

What has gone well so far: As always with the Guardians, it’s the pitching. Despite the season-ending injury to Shane Bieber, the staff has the fifth-best ERA in baseball. A big reason has been the lights-out bullpen. And, in a very happy improvement, the Guardians aren’t near the bottom of the league in homers: They’ve got 18, middle of the pack, with Josh Naylor emerging as the legitimate power source this team has been lacking for a while.

Likelihood of sustainability -- 55%: This whole division is improved, but the Guardians still have the best pitching in the AL Central and have the sort of prospect depth that should help them weather the loss of Bieber. No one in this division is winning 95 games or anything, but Cleveland has as good a chance to come out on top as anyone.

Tigers (10-7, 3rd in AL Central)

Why we were concerned: The Tigers are more than a decade removed from their last playoff appearance, and while they were aggressive in the offseason, we’ve seen some of their aggressive offseasons go haywire in the past.

What has gone well so far: For all the excitement about the young Tigers hitters, including rookies Colt Keith and Parker Meadows (along with Riley Greene, Kerry Carpenter and Spencer Torkelson), the pitching is what is driving this club. They’ve got a 2.96 team ERA, Tarik Skubal is justifying all the second-half excitement from last year and the bullpen, led by Jason Foley (who has two wins and five saves for a team that has won 10 games), has been fantastic. The only pitchers struggling are the two free agents they brought in: Jack Flaherty and Kenta Maeda.

Likelihood of sustainability -- 60%: The Twins are vulnerable, and the Tigers’ pitching not only looks like it can keep this up, there’s even room for improvement if Flaherty and Maeda can get it going. And those young bats should warm up with the weather. This remains our stealth pick to win this division.

Yankees (12-6, 1st in AL East)

Why we were concerned: Gerrit Cole got hurt, adding to the cavalcade of injury woes this team has suffered, and honestly, this was starting to feel like a franchise in danger of flying off the rails.

What has gone well so far: Heck, you name it. We know it feels strange to see the Yankees even mentioned in a “surprise successes” piece; they are the Yankees after all. But with Cole out and the team missing the playoffs last year, there was potential for an implosion. It turns out, though, that having Juan Soto makes your team a lot better! Soto is playing like an MVP, but the real joy has been seeing that Anthony Volpe is playing like one, too, after an uneven rookie year. Add in Giancarlo Stanton showing signs of life, and, well, imagine what this might look like when Aaron Judge finally starts hitting like Aaron Judge again.

Likelihood of sustainability -- 75%: They’re a little light on starting pitching still, but the way they’re hitting, they’re going to remain in the race long enough that they’ll be able to supplement as the Trade Deadline approaches. This Yankees team looks the exact opposite from how many thought it would look: It looks downright fun.