Four MLB Teams Ready to Jump Into the Playoffs After Losing Seasons in 2023

For the last three decades, nearly every MLB season has featured one or more teams who pulled off a loser-to-postseason turnaround. Who will do it in 2024?
Skubal has posed a 2.28 ERA in 2024.
Skubal has posed a 2.28 ERA in 2024. / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

I’ve got a sure bet for you. One or two teams that had a losing record last year are going to the playoffs this year.

As I’ve been tracking for about a decade, surprise teams—losers one year, playoff bound the next—happen every year in MLB. The numbers are undeniable:

  • The playoffs have included at least one such turnaround team for 18 straight years and 28 of the 29 seasons in the wild card era.
  • There have been 68 such turnaround teams in those 29 seasons, an average of 2.3 teams every postseason.
  • Last season four teams jumped from a losing record to the postseason: the Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Minnesota Twins and Miami Marlins.
  • The most common traits of turnaround teams are a new manager (38% of turnaround teams), improved run prevention (more important than improved run production) and an inevitable reversal in luck in one-run games (the Rangers, Diamondbacks and Marlins were the three worst teams in close games in 2022).

As I annually track this trend at the start of each season, I identify the teams most likely to pull off the turnaround. Last year my two best bets to reach the playoffs coming off a losing season wound up in the World Series: the Rangers and Diamondbacks.

I felt strongly about Texas, given its new manager (Bruce Bochy), investment in pitching (Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, Jacob deGrom) and awful one-run record (15-35).

This year? Sorry, I don’t see another Texas-sized turnaround. There are 13 possibilities to pull off the annual turnaround this year. Here, without the same conviction I had last year, are the teams most likely to surprise (2023 records in parentheses):

1. Detroit Tigers (78-84)

The Tigers? A team that hasn’t posted a winning season since 2016 or made the playoffs since 2014? A team that has ranked among the five worst offenses in the American League seven straight years?

Admittedly, it’s a stretch. But here’s their path to 87 wins and the postseason: they tread water for a couple of months before becoming a better second half team as their young hitters—with more coming—start to flourish. The positional core of Colt Keith, 22, Riley Greene, 23, Parker Meadows, 24, Spencer Torkelson, 24, and Kerry Carpenter, 26, could be supplemented with Jace Jung, 23, Justyn-Henry Malloy, 24, and Justice Bigbie, 25. It’s not quite the high-end lode of young hitters the Baltimore Orioles have, but it’s rich with potential.

“We’ve got to get out of the bottom five offensively,” manager A.J. Hinch says. “We feel our pitching is pretty deep. Our pen has been good. We have to create more runs. It’s going to come with guys growing up and hopefully get a full season of Riley. It’s an interesting team, for sure. And we’re starting to have answers.  

“It’s fun to watch these guys grow up and they’re all getting engaged. They’re all growing up. But they do expect [to win], which is a good start. We hopefully we get off to a better start. We’ve never had a good start in my time here. That puts you behind the eight ball.”

The Tigers haven’t had a winning April since 2016. Over the previous five March/Aprils they are 49-79 (.383). They enter play Monday with a 12-10 start. So far, so good.

The pitching is solid. Detroit has an ace in Tarik Skubal, a bounceback veteran in Jack Flaherty, a deep bullpen and possibly 50 innings coming from Jackson Jobe, a 21-year-old prospect who could quicken his timeline for arrival. With a bit more offense, the Tigers can improve by nine wins, which gives them a playoff spot in a weak AL Central.

2. Cleveland Guardians (76-86)

There is no way the Tigers and Guardians are both making the postseason. Cleveland is the default surprise team if Detroit’s hitting does not improve. The Guardians, despite these first few weeks, are not a great offensive team, but they put the ball in play, they run the bases well, they play solid defense and their track record of pitching well must be respected (a top five staff eight of the past 10 seasons). Like many breakout teams, they have a new manager (Stephen Vogt) and they should improve their run prevention after a rare down year last season.

While I like the early returns on the Kansas City Royals, I’m not buying a team that lost 106 games last season is ready for the postseason. (Only one team in the wild card era made the playoffs in a full season after losing 100 games the previous year: the 2018 Twins.) With the strikeout-prone Twins taking a step back, I like the Tigers or Guardians to win the Central.

Apr 18, 2024; San Francisco, California, USA; Giants DH Jorge Soler at the plate.
Soler will have to help carry a weak San Francisco lineup. / Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

3. San Francisco Giants (79-83)

The Giants have a huge variance. Even with the signings of Matt Chapman and Jorge Soler, their offense doesn’t have enough power or depth and their hitters take too many strikes. Their path to the postseason depends on threading the needle when it comes to pitching—that Jordan Hicks holds up, Blake Snell, 31, throws 150 innings in a second straight season for the first time in his career and that Alex Cobb, 36, and Robbie Ray, 32, bounce back from major injuries.

4. New York Mets (75-87)

There is still some high-end talent here, with Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso and Edwin Díaz. The offense can be both dangerous and streaky because it chases launch angle and flyballs so fervently. The bullpen is solid, especially if Reed Garrett, 31, he of four teams and a 5.83 ERA, really is as filthy as he looks. The question here is how a rotation of thirty-something, mid-tier pitchers holds up over six months.

The rest:

The Pittsburgh Pirates (76-86) are intriguing, especially when they stop wasting Paul Skenes’s bullets in the minors and get him in the big leagues in about two weeks. The offense shows some underlying metrics (too many groundballs, the worst average exit velocity) that suggest trouble on the way.

The St. Louis Cardinals (71-91) and Boston Red Sox (78-84) chose not to add enough talent while in transition. The Los Angeles Angels (73-89) can’t be trusted. The Washington Nationals (71-91), Chicago White Sox (61-101), Colorado Rockies (59-103), Royals (56-106) and Oakland Athletics (50-112) have too far to travel.

Tom Verducci


Tom Verducci covers Major League Baseball and brings Sports Illustrated 41 seasons of experience. Tom is a five-time Emmy Award winner, two-time National Magazine Award finalist, two-time New York Times bestselling author and a member of the National Sports Media Association Hall of Fame. He was the first baseball writer to be named National Sportswriter of the Year for three consecutive years and the only to call the World Series as an analyst. He appears on MLB Network and Fox. He holds a degree from Penn State and lives in New Jersey with his wife. They have two sons.