2024 MLB predictions: Our hottest hot takes two weeks in

Friday, April 12, 2024

We are two weeks into the 2024 MLB season, and teams have played about a dozen of their 162 games. While that isn't enough for bold declarations, we're not about to let that stop us.

As we do every year at this time, we asked our MLB experts to go all-in on one thing they've noticed this season by making a prediction based on the small sample size. They were allowed to pick anything they wanted with two ground rules: It had to be bold, and it had to be something they actually believe could happen.

Some of our predictors brought the heat, while others have taken a mild approach, so we have taken the liberty of ranking the predictions -- and identifying their hot sauce equivalent.

Take a walk on the mild side

Kiley McDaniel: Four pitchers will shake up the Cy Young leaderboard

I'll pick some pitcher breakouts. Royals LHP Cole Ragans will post a 4+ WAR season and finish in the Top 8 in the American League Cy Young voting. Garrett Crochet, Jared Jones and Chris Sale will all post 3+ WAR seasons with Jones grabbing a top 5 National League Rookie of the Year finish. Ragans broke out last year and I think he'll build on that with more innings. Crochet has made three big league starts and Jones has made just two, but I'm pushing my chips to the middle that what they've done is for real. I'm hoping Crochet will post enough innings to hold up his end of my prediction. That is also the question for Sale, but his velocity so far this season is his best since 2018.

Hot sauce equivalent: The house sampler. Individually, any of these could have seemed bold. But you've left yourself the easy out of simply picking the one that comes true to point out you were right.

Eric Karabell: The Dodgers will make RBI history

No MLB team has had more than five players with 100 RBI in one season. The 1936 Yankees were the last with five, thanks to a lineup featuring Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. Last season's Dodgers became the fourth team this century with four such players -- and this year, I predict they'll pass those Yankees with six. This is an historic lineup off to a great start, led by Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman, and there will be ample run producing scenarios for Will Smith, Teoscar Hernandez and Max Muncy.

Hot sauce equivalent: Frank's Red Hot. Look, we appreciate the classics too, and you caught our attention with a mention of names like Gehrig and DiMaggio. But at the end of the day, you are predicting two more players to reach a milestone that four players in the same lineup did a year ago -- and that's more mild than spicy.

We're heating up

Buster Olney: The Mets won't contend again this year -- or any time soon.

What we're seeing early this year are red flags that, despite carrying the highest payroll in baseball, the Mets may not be competitive this year -- but more importantly, also not for years to come. Their rotation is currently built on older veterans signed to short-term deals, and their farm system is largely void of high-end pitching prospects. By the time the Mets can rebuild their organizational pitching, their core position-player group could be on its collective downslope. They are off to a slow start, and what we see on the horizon looks bleak, too.

Hot sauce equivalent: Homemade. This hot take doesn't follow a recipe you'd see for sale in any store, but you took it and made it your own.

AJ Mass: The New York Mets will make the playoffs in 2024 ... And the New York Yankees will not.

Are the Yankees a better team than the Mets? Absolutely, but they also play in a division where (as of April 10) all five teams were at .500 or better and it's likely to be a tight race all season long. Plus, they've already lost Jonathan Loáisiga for the season from a not-so-scary bullpen. Despite starting off 10-2, five of those wins were one-run affairs, and this stacked lineup has already been shut out twice.

Meanwhile, Flushing's Finest spotted the rest of the NL five games to start the season (two of those losses coming in extras) and the Mets are still sitting just two games back of the last wild-card spot. Edwin Díaz is all the way back and there's no "sword of Damocles'' hanging over this patchwork rotation where the status of one injured ace could dash all postseason hopes.

Yankees win 90 and start golfing early. Mets win 83 and still see October action.

Hot sauce equivalent: Chili lime. You took two flavors we weren't quite sure went together and yet you made them work. The only reason this isn't spicier is, as you admit, this is more about circumstance than the performance of either team.

Paul Hembekides: Anthony Volpe will produce more value in his age-23 season than Derek Jeter did.

In 1997, a 23-year-old Jeter -- playing his second full season -- slashed .291/.370/.405 (103 OPS+) with 116 runs (4th in AL) and 190 hits (3rd in AL). As (about) a neutral defender at shortstop, Jeter generated 5.0 WAR for a Yankees team that finished 96-66. Volpe is poised to outperform him this season. The glove at shortstop already plays up (+18 career DRS) and his approach at the plate looks dramatically improved. Volpe is making better swing decisions and producing more hard opposite-field contact. He produced 3.3 WAR in an up-and-down rookie season, a figure he could double as a sophomore.

Hot sauce equivalent: Sriracha. Comparing a potential future star favorably to a legend from his team's past has a certain sweetness to it -- and a little kick.

It's getting hot in here

Bradford Doolittle: The Detroit Tigers will win AL Central

The peak temperature for this take is a little tepid since the division is so bad, but there is a lot of good stuff happening in Detroit. It is off to a good start on the strength of good pitching and great defense. And there are many reasons why the Tigers should get better as the season goes along. Their four under-25 regulars -- Spencer Torkelson, Colt Keith, Riley Greene, Parker Meadows -- haven't hit yet but should. If you follow the prospect reports, the news gets really exciting with Jace Jung and other high-upside types pushing their way upward. Beware the Bengal.

Hot sauce equivalent: Hell Fire Detroit Poblano. Picking any team to win the AL Central -- outside of the White Sox, of course -- is on the mild side, but we like to see the rising Tigers raising the heat in Motown.

Alden Gonzalez: The Pirates will win the NL Central

Granted, the NL Central isn't the greatest of divisions. But FanGraphs' projections had the Pirates -- 32 years removed from their last division title and perpetually cheap under owner Bob Nutting -- finishing last on Opening Day. What about them finishing first? A lot will have to go right, of course. Oneil Cruz and Ke'Bryan Hayes need to emerge as legitimate stars. Henry Davis needs to take major steps in his development. Paul Skenes needs to come up and thrive in the rotation alongside Jared Jones. The supporting group of Bryan Reynolds, David Bednar, Mitch Keller and Jack Suwinski, among others, needs to remain healthy and productive. And, most improbably, ownership needs to greenlight midseason additions to push the Bucs over the hump. It's a lot. But they don't call them mild takes.

Hot sauce equivalent: Hammajack OG. Another Central Division pick, another hometown hot sauce.

Jesse Rogers: The White Sox match the 1962 Mets with 120 losses

As hard as it is to win 120 games, it's just as hard to lose that many. But hear me out: The White Sox turned over their entire pitching staff yet that's the best part of their team right now. Or should we say, the least worst part of their team. They can't hit a lick and with Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert down with injuries, and there is no end to their offensive futility in sight.

Finally, new general manager Chris Getz is going to keep ripping the team apart at the seams come July. If the White Sox ever get off that 120 loss pace, they'll be right back on it over the final two months.

Hot sauce equivalent: Garlic Pepper. Predicting tough times on the South Side this season is as mild as it gets ... But 120 losses? That's got some spice -- along with some extra salt.

Feel the fire

Tim Keown: Mike Trout will have a 10-WAR season

The first two weeks of the season feel like a re-introduction: Remember Mike Trout has morphed into remember this Mike Trout? Short sample size and all, he's back to being the best player in baseball. He's had three 10-WAR seasons in his career, the last in 2018, and he's going to have another one this season, in his 14th year in the big leagues, in the year he turns 33. He hasn't played a full season since 2019, but he's going to stay healthy, and the Ron Washington-led Angels will finish over .500.

Hot sauce equivalent: Habanero. In a sea of flavors, this is a traditional pick you might have forgotten about that still carries plenty of heat.

Jorge Castillo: Trout won't finish the season with the Angels

Here are Trout's career postseason numbers: 1-for-12 with three walks in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Royals in 2014. That's it. And that's a travesty. Trout has been loyal to a fault to a franchise that figured out how to not reach the playoffs with two of the five best players in the world. Now Shohei Ohtani is gone, and Trout's loyalty might be running on E. Trout's comments in spring training about the Angels' offseason were illuminating. He didn't stick to his usual pacific script. No "the team is going in the right direction" like in past years. This time he admitted that he was "pushing, pushing, pushing" owner Arte Moreno and team president John Carpino to make a splash in free agency. That didn't happen. It isn't a stretch to think that Trout publicly acknowledging his advocacy is a tell that he isn't pleased. Ultimately, he'll have to not only waive his no-trade clause but push, push, push Moreno, who is allergic to rebuilds, to trade him. If the Angels play as expected -- and Trout stays healthy -- the door will open for Trout to advocate for himself to have a chance to play in October again.

Hot sauce equivalent: Ghost pepper. We just had Angels fans hyped for a return to MVP level for Trout -- and then here you are predicting he'll ghost the Halos midseason.

Tristan Cockcroft: Bobby Witt Jr. wins an MVP, while almost single-handedly leading his Royals to a division title

The AL Central is going to be much more fun this year -- well, if your style of "fun" is an 85-win division champion -- and Witt and the Royals will play a huge part in why. Witt is already taking the league by storm, en route to his joining Barry Bonds as the only ever 40/40 Gold Glove Award winners.

I was all-in on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as my preseason MVP; I'm pivoting now as I picked the wrong Junior!

And Witt's Royals -- behind the underrated Maikel Garcia, Seth Lugo, MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Cole Ragans andBrady Singer--will play their first October baseball in nine years. What'll help: Realizing their extreme need to upgrade their bullpen, and midseason deals for Tanner Scott and Carlos Estevezthat will provide a boost.

Hot sauce equivalent: K.C. hot BBQ -- with a scorpion pepper sprinkled on top. With a deal keeping him in town through 2034, Witt could become as associated with Kansas City as award-winning barbecue so picking him to win MVP this year isn't that bold. But then you added flames to the fire by picking a team to go from 106 losses to division champs. The only thing keeping this from being even spicier is that division is the AL Central.

Please sign the waiver before reading

David Schoenfield: The Red Sox will represent the American League in the World Series

The Red Sox are off to a nice start thanks to ... Pitching and defense? Yep, you read that right. I look at rookie center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela flanked by Jarren Duran and Tyler O'Neill -- three guys who can really run -- and I'm reminded of the 2013 World Series champs, who had Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Shane Victorino in right, or the 2018 World Series champs, who had outstanding outfield defense with Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi. New pitching coach Andrew Bailey has the staff throwing fewer fastballs, and it's working wonders as four of the five starters had ERAs under 1.00 through their first two starts (although Nick Pivetta just landed on the IL). Rafael Devers and Triston Casas haven't even hit yet -- but O'Neill has, with six home runs.

And if you're worried about the pitching depth, well, nobody else has it either, and the Red Sox have a ton of payroll room to make some in-season moves.

That 2013 team came off a losing season and won it all. This team can do the same.

Hot sauce equivalent: Carolina Reaper. Peppers this hot can affect your vision -- and maybe that's what happened here. Are you sure the Red Sox are the AL East team you meant to mention for a World Series pick?

Passan: Elly De La Cruz is going to steal the most bases this century -- and become the first 30/80 player in history

In MLB's modern era, the 80-stolen base mark has been reached just 23 times. The last time it happened was in 1988, when both Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman exceeded it. De La Cruz, the Cincinnati Reds' dynamic 22-year-old shortstop, will break that 35-year drought -- and on top of that, hit at least 30 home runs.

There are serious impediments to De La Cruz achieving this, beyond his age and the fact that this is his first full season in the major leagues. He strikes out a lot. Like, a lot lot. And getting on base, an imperative to making this prediction come true, is not something at which he excelled in his rookie season, doing so only 30% of the time.

Still, this is a bet on his immense talent -- the sprint speed that is the fourth fastest in MLB, the home runs that go 450 feet to dead center. Coleman stole 110 bases with .320 on-base percentage in 1985. Henderson fell two homers short of 30/80 in 1986. It wouldn't be bold if it wasn't unlikely, but De La Cruz's start -- six stolen bases and three homers in 12 games -- puts him on track.

Hot sauce equivalent: Pepper X. For years, the Carolina Reaper held the title of the world's hottest pepper because it took until last year for the Guinness Book of Records to acknowledge that Pepper X even existed -- which sums up De La Cruz and this hot take perfectly. Until he burst on the scene last summer, would you believe that a 6-foot-5, 200-pound shortstop who throws harder than anyone, runs faster than anyone and has light-tower power exists? Of course not. But De La Cruz is real -- and as flamin' hot as it sounds, he could turn 30/80 into a reality, too.

Related Video