What needs to go right for each team this season

1:55 AM UTC

Whether for players or teams, it’s hard to have a good season without a few things going right. And those things can take many shapes and forms over the course of 162 games: the right location on a fastball at just the right moment, a friendly hop here, a well-timed winning streak there, a healthy rotation all season.

All 30 teams have wish lists for what needs to go right for them in 2024. Some lists are longer than others, and some wishes may seem more like tall orders than comfortable predictions. But part of the beauty of baseball is how the game has a way of granting even bold wishes in the most surprising of ways.

With Opening Day upon us, here’s what needs to go right for each team in 2024.

AL EAST

Blue Jays: Bounce-back bats

The Blue Jays are betting big on internal improvements. Justin Turner headlined the offensive additions, replacing Brandon Belt’s role from a year ago, but the Blue Jays need more from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alejandro Kirk and Daulton Varsho, just to name a few. Power has to be a focus here, as this lineup is capable of so much more upside. It’s also dangerous to bet on the Blue Jays’ rotation repeating its excellent (and healthy) 2023 season, so this lineup needs to turn the clock back to ‘21 and put this organization on its back again. – Keegan Matheson

Orioles: Rotation reinforcements

In last year’s American League Division Series, the O’s didn’t have enough top-end starting pitching to compete with the eventual champion Rangers. They’ve since boosted their rotation with the Feb. 1 trade for ace Corbin Burnes. But they’ll also now be without two key arms to open the season – Kyle Bradish (right UCL sprain) and John Means (left elbow recovery). Baltimore would be a scary team to face in a postseason series with Burnes, Bradish, Means and Grayson Rodriguez as its starters. So it needs Bradish and Means to come back and pitch well – or, if not, reinforce the rotation in some other way. – Jake Rill

Rays: Power, speed and early leads

The Rays are typically built on a foundation of pitching and defense, but their lineup stole the show last season. They hit 230 home runs, fourth-most in the American League, and stole 160 bases, second-most in the AL, while producing a .776 OPS as a team that also ranked second in the AL. With a less proven rotation than in recent years, the Rays need a repeat of that kind of dynamic offensive performance this season. Because if they can create enough runs to secure an early lead, more often than not, their bullpen – which looks like the team’s greatest strength – should make it stand up. Pitching coach Kyle Snyder called this relief corps the deepest group of his tenure in Tampa Bay, and it’s hard to argue with that assertion. – Adam Berry

Red Sox: Defense needs to take big step forward

Defense, or lack thereof, was a huge problem for the Red Sox last season, making life tough on the pitching staff. If the club can stop giving away outs, its core of young pitchers has a better chance of taking a step forward this season. One thing that will help is having shortstop Trevor Story healthy from the start. The Sox also need more consistency at the corners from Rafael Devers and Triston Casas than they got a year ago. The outfield defense should be athletic and a strongpoint of the club, with Jarren Duran, Ceddanne Rafaela, Tyler O’Neill and Wilyer Abreu playing important roles. – Ian Browne

Yankees: The Soto & Judge Show

The Yankees recognized that their lineup had significant issues coming off a season in which they ranked 25th in runs scored. First, relying solely upon Aaron Judge to replicate his 62-homer performance in 2022 was probably not a good long-term plan, and second, the left-right balance that manager Aaron Boone values was noticeably absent. Enter Juan Soto. The Yanks paid a significant price to import the sport’s best left-handed hitter, and his arrival adds a necessary dimension to the offense. The one-two punch of Soto and Judge should team for video game numbers. Bounce-back seasons from Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu will also be important, especially while the Yanks wait for ace Gerrit Cole to return. – Bryan Hoch

AL CENTRAL

Guardians: Youth has to be the answer

It’s time for all the prospects who have been sitting in Cleveland’s system to finally get a fair look in the big leagues. With youth comes a lot of question marks. If these young players can deliver, this can be a contending team, but that’s a big ask. Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen and Gavin Williams (once he’s healthy) need to build on tremendous rookie seasons and fight off sophomore hiccups. Bo Naylor will need to settle in offensively and be a consistent contributor to the offense. Tyler Freeman will need to take advantage of getting frequent at-bats in center field. Brayan Rocchio will need to demonstrate that everything he worked on with his approach at the plate can translate to the regular season. And when even younger guys (like Kyle Manzardo) inevitably get called up to the Majors, they will need to be immediate contributors. In short, everything has to go right for the Guardians to get back on track. – Mandy Bell

Royals: A good start

The roster additions need to prove they were worth the financial commitment, and the offense needs to improve. But the Royals really need to get off to a better start to the season this year. It’s true that all 162 games matter, and the most meaningful games are down the stretch. But the Royals have gotten off to a cold start in recent years, and last year it especially sank their season when they went 7-22 in the first month. This year, the Royals will play 19 of their first 32 games against teams that went to the postseason last year. The other 13 games are against the Mets, White Sox and Tigers, so the Royals do have a chance to make a statement in their division against the latter two and the Twins. The Royals are rightfully focused on one game at a time. But if they can emerge from the first four-to-six weeks of the season still fighting in the standings, momentum could start to roll – and that could make it a fun summer in Kansas City. – Anne Rogers

Tigers: Youth must serve up hits

The young hitters the Tigers have built their lineup around need to take steps forward. For Spencer Torkelson, that means translating his power numbers into more run production and becoming a more consistent hitter, especially against offspeed pitches. For Riley Greene, that means turning his hard contact into more line-drive and home-run power while staying healthy. For Kerry Carpenter, that means further lowering his chase rate and doing more damage against breaking balls. For Parker Meadows, that means using speed to his advantage on offense as well as he does in the field. An offensive rejuvenation from Javier Báez would be a boost, but a bonus. – Jason Beck

Twins: Any semblance of consistent health from the ‘Big Three’

There’s an enormous variance in the Minnesota lineup’s potential outcomes this season. If Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa and Royce Lewis are healthy and playing up to their incredible group potential, this could legitimately be one of the most dangerous offenses in the American League. And, as we all know, it’s also entirely feasible that one, two or all three are hurt and/or playing well below that level, as was the case for most of last season. (And still, the Twins finished fifth in the AL in scoring in 2023.) The reality will almost certainly end up somewhere in between – but where on that spectrum these three collectively fall will have a significant say in the Twins’ fate this year, especially if they’re playing in October. – Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Young talent needs to develop, perform

The White Sox are not going through a rebuild, as has been mentioned many times before. At least, they aren’t following the path of a complete teardown. But they will need young players such as right-handers Jordan Leasure and Nick Nastrini and even Opening Day starter Garrett Crochet, who is only 24, to perform in their elevated roles and learn as they go. Shortstop Colson Montgomery, the team’s top prospect and No. 9 overall according to MLB Pipeline, should reach the Majors at some point in ‘24. Good health also will be essential across the board, as there is talent on this team, but they need to stay in the lineup throughout the course of a season. – Scott Merkin

AL WEST

Angels: Healthy players and bounce-back pitching

The Angels won 73 games in both 2022 and 2023, and that was with two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani on the roster – so a lot has to go right for them to contend this season. Like every season, health will be key, as they can’t afford more injuries from Mike Trout or Anthony Rendon. The Angels need their starting pitchers to bounce back after a down season last year, as Patrick Sandoval, Reid Detmers and Tyler Anderson all took a step back. The club also needs the young players to perform, such as Logan O’Hoppe, Zach Neto, Nolan Schanuel, Reid Detmers and Chase Silseth. – Rhett Bollinger

Astros: Starting pitching holds it together

That starts with getting healthy. Justin Verlander and José Urquidy are starting the season on the injured list but could be back early in the season. The Astros also hope to get Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia back midseason. Until then, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier will be looking for bounce-back seasons after struggling for long stretches last year, and the Astros need 2023 rookies J.P. France and Hunter Brown to take a step forward. – Brian McTaggart

Athletics: Rotation needs some stability

It can’t get much worse than last year, when the A’s tied a Major League record with 24 different starting pitchers. They sought to address that issue this offseason by acquiring veterans Alex Wood and Ross Stripling to join a rotation that includes Paul Blackburn, JP Sears and hard-throwing No. 10 prospect Joe Boyle as the likely fifth starter. The A’s know they’ll go through more than five starters in a season, but keeping that number of starters used significantly down from last year will go a long way in their quest for a big step forward in 2024. – Martín Gallegos

Mariners: Julio and starting pitching

They have a blossoming star who, at his best, could be capable of winning the American League MVP Award, and a cadre of starting pitchers on a short list among favorites for the AL Cy Young Award. The bullpen has question marks but a track record, and the new-look lineup features players with injury histories but also promise. Yet, the blueprint for how the Mariners are built hinges so heavily on Julio Rodríguez playing at an elite level for the entire season rather than in spurts, and the rotation of Luis Castillo, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo (who’s already ticketed for the IL to start the year) remaining healthy. – Daniel Kramer

Rangers: Rotation needs to make it to the Trade Deadline

The Rangers have a trio of veteran pitchers expected to make their return from injury this summer: Max Scherzer in June, Tyler Mahle in July and Jacob deGrom in August. But the rotation – now headed by Nathan Eovaldi, with Jon Gray, Dane Dunning, Andrew Heaney, Michael Lorenzen and Cody Bradford falling behind him – absolutely has to make it until then for it to even matter. The rotation has a relative lack of depth at the moment, with few big league-ready options in Triple-A Round Rock, so the first half of the season hinges on the health and stability of those six starters. – Kennedi Landry

NL EAST

Braves: Keep everyone on the field

This team simply needs to stay healthy. They return many of the same players from a team that claimed 104 wins, despite going most of the season without two of their top starting pitchers (Max Fried and Kyle Wright). Fried and Spencer Strider are legit Cy Young candidates and Ronald Acuña Jr.’s bid for a second straight MVP could be threatened by the production of teammates Matt Olson and Austin Riley. Atlanta possesses one of the game’s best offenses and an elite rotation. But it won’t be surprising if the team’s fortified bullpen draws equal praise as Atlanta bids for a seventh straight NL East title. – Mark Bowman

Marlins: Everyone must step up

If the 2023 Marlins taught us anything, it’s that injuries can be overcome if others pitch in. Miami reached the postseason despite prolonged absences from the likes of Jazz Chisholm Jr. to Trevor Rogers. In ‘24, the Marlins will be without ace Sandy Alcantara and All-Star slugger Jorge Soler. That means guys in new roles like A.J. Puk and Ryan Weathers, and newcomers Tim Anderson and Christian Bethancourt, must do their parts. – Christina De Nicola

Mets: Luis Severino and Sean Manaea must hit their ceilings

The Mets are paying Severino $13 million and Manaea $14.5 million this season in hopes that those salaries will wind up seeming like bargains. Both are veterans with notable upside, as Severino demonstrated during All-Star seasons with the Yankees in 2017 and ‘18, and Manaea showed throughout a strong second half last year. But Severino has been injury-prone, while Manaea has produced a 4.73 ERA over the past two seasons combined. If both pitchers can hit on their upside, the Mets might coast into a playoff berth. If neither does, it could be another long summer in Flushing. – Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Improve offensive production

The Nationals ranked last in home runs and scored the fourth-fewest runs among NL teams last season. Aiming to boost their offense, they are looking for a turnaround season from Joey Gallo. The veteran connected on 21 home runs last season with the Twins, but he only hit .177. Gallo has not batted above .200 since a 2019 All-Star season, and the Nats hope he can establish consistency at the plate similar to what Kyle Schwarber and Jeimer Candelario did in recent years. – Jessica Camerato

Phillies: Stay healthy

The Phillies know everybody still favors the Dodgers and Braves in the NL, but they also know they have advanced further in the postseason than either team the past two years. They like their chances because they believe they have an elite offense, one of the best rotations in baseball and a high-octane bullpen that throws gas. It should not surprise anybody if the Phillies make the postseason. If it doesn’t happen, it is most likely because they lost some of their stars along the way. They need to stay healthy. Taijuan Walker and Orion Kerkering will both open the season on the IL. Kerkering (illness) should be back by April 9. The Phillies hope Walker (right shoulder impingement) will only miss a few weeks. – Todd Zolecki

NL CENTRAL

Brewers: Players have to seize their opportunities

Freddy Peralta is no longer waiting in the wings behind Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff; he needs to be a No. 1, and ideally reach the goal he’s set for himself of becoming a 200-inning workhorse. Rhys Hoskins is on a new team after missing all of 2023; he needs to prove he’s still the 30-plus home run hitter who can anchor the middle of an order. Someone needs to emerge as a reliable closer while Devin Williams recovers from the stress fractures in his back. Promising pitchers like DL Hall need to prove they can eat valuable innings. Young players like Sal Frelick, Brice Turang, Blake Perkins and Joey Wiemer need to take steps forward with playing time up for grabs – especially after Garrett Mitchell suffered a fractured left hand just before Opening Day. And Jackson Chourio needs to stay calm through the hype and show the Brewers he belongs in The Show. – David Adler

Cardinals: The starting staff must get healthy and stay that way

The Cardinals took a huge gamble this offseason by trying to patch their pitching problems with 34-year-old Sonny Gray and 36-year-olds Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson. Already, Gray missed most of Spring Training with a hamstring strain and will open the season on the 15-day injured list (backdated by three days). Meanwhile, Gibson (10.80 ERA) and Lynn (5.79 ERA) struggled during rocky springs. Factor in more spring struggles from Steven Matz (9.00 ERA) and Matthew Liberatore (moved to the bullpen) and the Cardinals could regret not chasing after younger, more reliable starters. On the positive side, Opening Day starter Miles Mikolas (2.25 ERA) seems poised for a big bounce-back season and No. 2 starter Zach Thompson (2.81 ERA) has shown the promise of living up to his massive potential. However, they won’t be able to support the staff without healthy and productive seasons from Gray, Lynn, Gibson and Matz. – John Denton

Cubs: Steps forward in ‘23 need to prove to be real

There were a handful of important developments last season that the Cubs need to be indicators of what’s to come, as opposed to misleading mirages. Cody Bellinger was the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year and one of the game’s elite situational hitters. Seiya Suzuki was one of baseball’s best hitters over the final two months. Justin Steele emerged as a Cy Young contender and Adbert Alzolay stepped up as a lock-down closer. The pitching pipeline started to shore up weak spots in the rotation and bullpen. If that can all hold up as real, the Cubs will be in great shape in ‘24. – Jordan Bastian

Pirates: Starting pitching needs to step up

The Pirates have a newly extended All-Star at the top of their rotation in Mitch Keller and plenty of uncertainty afterwards. The team’s had success with soft-tossing lefty reclamation projects recently, and it has two more in Martín Pérez and Marco Gonzales this year. After that, it’s plenty of young arms, some of which have a bit of Major League experience (Luis Ortiz, Quinn Priester), some of which have none (Paul Skenes, Jared Jones). Keller alone can’t carry this rotation, so three or four pitchers are going to need to step up to at least get the ball to the bullpen, which is probably the strength of this staff. – Alex Stumpf

Reds: Limit sophomore jinxes

Cincinnati had 16 rookies make their Major League debuts in 2023, but Elly De La Cruz, Andrew Abbott and Christian Encarnacion-Strand are expected to be the most important contributors in 2024. As they’ve become more known, opponents have made their adjustments. These second-year players will be counted on to take steps forward in 2024 and avoid regression years, which will be key to the club contending in the NL Central race. Matt McLain would headline this list, but his availability this year is uncertain after he underwent shoulder surgery two days before Opening Day. – Mark Sheldon

NL WEST

D-backs: They need to stay away from major injuries

The D-backs were fortunate on the injury front last year. Catcher Gabriel Moreno missed a little bit of time, as did right-hander Merrill Kelly, but otherwise most of Arizona’s key performers were able to stay off the injured list. In the final week of Spring Training, the D-backs watched No. 3 starter Eduardo Rodriguez and closer Paul Sewald go down with injuries. The D-backs have improved their depth and can probably overcome those two injuries the late addition of left-hander Jordan Montgomery certainly helps but they can ill afford to have any other top-end guy get hurt. They took things slowly with both Zac Gallen and Kelly this spring in hopes of keeping them strong throughout the season. That will be a key for them. – Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: Starting pitching health

While the Dodgers’ star-studded lineup will likely steal all the headlines this season, the real key to success for Los Angeles will be what it gets in terms of health and production from the starting pitching staff. Not having sufficient starters was what ultimately doomed the Dodgers last season despite having one of the best offenses in the league. This year, they’re relying on Tyler Glasnow, who has never pitched more than 120 innings in a season, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who is making the transition to the Majors. There’s also Walker Buehler, who is getting close to making his return after undergoing a second Tommy John surgery. If the Dodgers can get into October healthy, they’re going to be a really tough out. – Juan Toribio

Giants: The starting rotation needs to dominate

With Blake Snell and Logan Webb in the fold, the Giants will have the top two finishers in the 2023 National League Cy Young race leading their rotation this year. The group figures to become even nastier once 2023 All-Star Alex Cobb (left hip surgery) and 2021 American League Cy Young winner Robbie Ray (Tommy John surgery) are back at full strength. Throw converted reliever Jordan Hicks and young pitching prospects like Kyle Harrison into the mix and San Francisco has the potential to boast the best starting staff in the Majors by midseason. The Giants will go as far as their arms take them, so they’ll be leaning on their starters to consistently shut down opposing lineups and carry them back into the postseason in 2024. – Maria Guardado

Padres: Everything that didn’t go right in 2023

The Padres need to be better in close games after they finished 2-12 in extras and 9-23 in one-run games. They need to be better situationally, and they need to capitalize on their opportunities. (And, yes, they probably need some better late-game luck, too.) But perhaps more than anything, when the season gets tough – and at some point, it will – the Padres need to punch back. Here’s how first baseman Jake Cronenworth put it: “The biggest thing is: How do we battle through and get through adversity? I don’t think we did the best job of that last year. We were definitely all trying to get out of what we were in. But I think we all learned a really valuable lesson in … what we learned from those times that were tough.” – AJ Cassavell

Rockies: Health and basic quality from the starting rotation

Even during last year’s 103-loss season and so far this spring, the Rockies’ most prominent trait is a strong defense at nearly every position. Second baseman Brendan Rodgers (2022) and center fielder Brenton Doyle (2023) own Gold Glove Awards, and third baseman Ryan McMahon, shortstop Ezequiel Tovar and right fielder Charlie Blackmon have been finalists. Left fielder Nolan Jones displayed an impact throwing arm last season. While it’s easier said than done, the pitchers can give the Rockies a fighting chance if they merely keep the ball in the strike zone and inside the park. The staff is not highly regarded and depth is an issue, but lefty Kyle Freeland and righties Cal Quantrill and Dakota Hudson have pitched in postseason games and are capable of strong years, but none of them – or any of the other potential starters – are high-strikeout pitchers. They have to win with defense, but there is a defense that they can win with. – Thomas Harding