Picking 6 teams who could go from under .500 to a WS title

January 29th, 2024

The Rangers just went from having a losing record one season to winning the World Series the next. They were 68-94 and came all the way from that to winning it all. No one would have picked them to do what they did after the way they played in 2022. But it was their time.

By the way, it turns out that going from a losing record all the way to the top isn’t as rare an achievement as you might think. It actually has happened three other times in this century. The Giants went from a 76-86 record in 2013 to winning another Series the next year. The Marlins, 79-83 in ’02, won their second World Series in ’03, knocking off the Yankees in six games in the process. The year before that, the Angels had gone from being 75-87 in 2001 to beating the Giants in a seven-game World Series in ’02.

No one saw any of these teams coming. Didn’t matter in the end. It was their time.

So which team might come out of the Dreamers Division this time and give themselves a chance to do what the Rangers did, or at least make a big run into October? (Remember: Texas didn’t win its division, and none of these teams need to do that, either.)

Here are a few possibilities, teams that might surprise us, even with the odds -- and last season’s records -- working very much against them:

1. Tigers
2023 record: 78-84
The young Tigers team managed by A.J. Hinch could win the American League Central this season. Yup. That’s right. They could. If the Tigers had finished stronger last season, they could have ended up at .500. They were still a tough out from the month of May on, had a terrific record in the division and have young stars in the batting order like , and (recovering from Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing arm). Speaking of Tommy John surgery, the Tigers are also counting on , the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, to come back and make an impact after missing all of 2023 recovering from the procedure. Elsewhere on the mound, they have , one of the more underrated arms in the game. They added a professional hitter in for the top of Hinch’s batting order and still have . A team to watch this season, without question.

2. Giants
2023 record: 79-83
The Giants have been on a slippery slope for the past two years, going from 107 wins to 81 to 79. You know they’re in the NL West with the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Padres. But there are still professional hitters in the batting order -- , , , and -- and they added KBO star as a free agent. And the Giants have a potential starting rotation featuring , , and . One thing about the Giants that has held up even after their five-year stretch with three World Series titles ended in 2014 is this: They never stay down for long.

3. Pirates 
2023 record: 76-86 
Maybe this is the year when you really can’t go to sleep on the Pirates and they will have a team worthy of PNC Park, one of the best ballparks in this world. They’ve got , , and still have . Their head of baseball ops, Ben Cherington, just added to  in the back of the bullpen. Is it crazy to think the Pirates could make their own big move in the NL Central? Maybe not so much with all that young talent and a division that doesn’t have a juggernaut.

4. Red Sox 
2023 record: 78-84 
The Red Sox just finished last again in the AL East, a meat grinder of a division. They’ve added , and , but that wasn’t the “full throttle” offseason an increasingly ornery fan base was promised by ownership. But they do have some young arms go with Giolito’s in the rotation (, , ). They’re going to hit with , and , who might break out in a big way. Saying the Red Sox might go from last to first the way they did in 2013 sure isn’t the way to bet. But, hey, they have done it before.

5. Cardinals 
2023 record: 71-91 
Crashed and burned last season, finished dead last in the NL Central. But the Cardinals still have greatness at the corners in and . They’ve added , and to Oliver Marmol’s rotation. And, well, they’re still the St. Louis Cardinals. In a wide-open division, it’s not a stretch to see them being in play at the end of the summer.

6. Mets 
2023 record: 75-87 
Wait, what? The Mets. Justin Verlander is gone, Max Scherzer is gone, Buck Showalter is gone. They had the biggest payroll in baseball history last season and nearly finished last in the NL East. But they still have and and , one of the underrated stars of baseball. They’re getting back, a year removed from when he was one of the best closers of all time. , a key figure when the Mets won 101 games in 2022, is expected to be healthy again. If can find his old form behind , maybe they can cobble together a real rotation again. They don’t need to finish ahead of the Braves or the Phillies to make the playoffs, and once you’re in the tournament, who knows?

That’s it, then. Dreamers Division, 2024. Can they all break out? Of course not. But could one or two of them do it? Why not? It’s baseball. Dream on.