Major League Baseball
MLB's best lineup? Pitching staff? 5 burning questions before the 2024 season
Major League Baseball

MLB's best lineup? Pitching staff? 5 burning questions before the 2024 season

Updated Mar. 19, 2024 7:47 p.m. ET

One of the more drawn-out cycles of free agency is virtually over and Opening Day is around the corner. With the transaction dust mostly settled, several teams appear to have significantly improved amid a busy offseason. 

But which clubs are the absolute best at the plate and on the mound? Which ones emerged as potential World Series contenders? Who's going to land postseason hero Jordan Montgomery?  

FOX Sports MLB experts Rowan Kavner, Deesha Thosar and Ben Verlander are tackling those topics and more in our first roundtable of the season.

RELATED: MLB 2024 season preview: Staff predictions on MVP, Cy Young, ROY, World Series


1. Which team has the best lineup?

Rowan Kavner: It's a toss-up between the Braves and Dodgers, and while I'd take the top four in Los Angeles, I'd give the slight edge overall to Atlanta because we already just watched them put up historic numbers. The Braves are returning largely the same group to an offense that just outscored every team by more than 40 runs, outhomered every team by more than 50 dingers and posted the highest slugging percentage in MLB history (.501). They were one of the greatest offenses ever, and the majority of the group is in its prime.

Deesha Thosar: The Braves. Yes, Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts will all be in the same lineup this year. But Atlanta's deep offense is mostly unchanged from last year, when it recorded one of the most productive seasons in MLB history. The Braves' lineup may not have three flashy superstars, but they have reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr., the league's reigning home run and RBI leader in Matt Olson, and a whole cast of dudes who can just plain hit. I'm expecting the Dodgers to be close to the top, but I still think Atlanta's lineup is the one to beat.

Ben Verlander: With the addition of Shohei Ohtani, many are expecting me to say the Dodgers have the best lineup. But not so fast: The best one-through-nine in baseball still belongs to the Braves. Their depth is unmatched.

2. Which team has the best starting rotation?

Thosar: The Braves. Spencer Strider and Max Fried are two legitimate contenders for the Cy Young. Charlie Morton and Chris Sale have nine All-Star awards and three championship rings between them. Bryce Elder, who was forced into the rotation last year due to starting-pitching injuries and earned his first All-Star nod, was just optioned to the minor leagues because the Braves decided they have a better fifth starter option in Reynaldo López. And if López doesn't find success as a reliever-turned-starter, Atlanta can promote Elder and bring up more pitching depth behind him. Of course, there's plenty of injury risk for aging veterans Sale and Morton. But this is an eyebrow-raising rotation with a high ceiling if all goes right.

Kavner: The Braves have an argument here, but I'll take the upside of the young Mariners arms. Seattle's rotation registered the lowest WHIP, the fourth-lowest ERA and the fifth-most FanGraphs wins above replacement last season at a time in which four of their starters were in their age-26 season or younger. Point being: They should only get better. Veteran ace Luis Castillo provides a high floor, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert both ranked in the top 25 in ERA and fWAR among all qualified starters last year, and it's not difficult to envision this being the most formidable group in the sport if the two youngest members of the group, Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo, take another jump forward.

Verlander: The Braves. You got two aces at the top of the rotation, a middle of the rotation with extreme upside, young talent that got valuable experience last year, and depth. This Braves rotation has so much depth. Plus, Spencer Strider and Max Fried could both push for a Cy Young Award this year.

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3. Who is your World Series dark horse for the National League?

Kavner: As tempting as it is to look at the NL West and take either the Giants, who've upgraded considerably this offseason, or the Padres, who massively underperformed last year, I'll go further down the dark-horse path and pick the Reds. Even with top prospect Noelvi Marte suspended, there's enough young talent here on both the offensive and pitching sides to envision an Arizonian-type ascension.

Verlander: The Reds are a team that will surprise people this year. Are they good enough to get to the World Series? Well, honestly, with the potential their rotation has, I would say yes. Pair that with a young, exciting lineup that is ready to take another step forward and what you have is a team that could shock the world.

Thosar: The Cubs. Now that Craig Counsell is leading the way, I'm expecting him to squeeze the most juice out of a solid Cubs roster that looked like a serious playoff contender toward the end of last year. Chicago brought back Cody Bellinger, signed Shōta Imanaga, acquired Hector Neris, and swung a trade with the Dodgers that gave them infielder Michael Busch, who could be their first baseman of the future. After reports that the Cubs were chasing Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto earlier in the winter, their offseason wound up being more shrewd than splashy. They might just have the pieces for an unexpected run to the World Series.

4. Who is your World Series dark horse for the American League?

Kavner: To qualify here, I think you have to have missed the playoffs last season, so I'll take the Mariners. As mentioned above, I think they could have the best rotation in baseball this year. That, plus Julio Rodríguez, is a great starting point for a deep run.

Thosar: The Mariners. It is impressive that they added to the lineup without subtracting from their rotation, a unit that recorded the fourth-best ERA (3.89) in baseball last year. Seattle's lineup is better than last year after the reshuffling of Jarred Kelenic, who went to the Braves, and Teoscar Hernández, who went to the Dodgers. The Mariners could've done more in the way of superstars, but they acquired Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver, Luke Raley and Mitch Haniger to fill their needs. While this is a club that can compete with the Rangers and Astros, the M's will need upgrades throughout the year to be better than those division rivals. But Julio Rodríguez's squad already has a high ceiling. 

Verlander: The Mariners. With a rotation as good as theirs is and a potential MVP patrolling center field, don't let this team shock you. They will be better than most people think.

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5. What team do you think will sign star pitcher Jordan Montgomery?

Thosar: I'm still surprised Montgomery has not reunited with the Rangers, even despite the drama surrounding their TV deal. The Rangers need more rotation depth until the cavalry of Max Scherzer, Tyler Mahle and Jacob deGrom join the group in the summer. Montgomery played a crucial role in the franchise's first ever successful championship run last fall. After seeing his value up close, I think the Rangers will still end up signing Montgomery, who is running out of time to ramp up before the season starts. Agent Scott Boras is likely to push Montgomery to the forefront now that his flashier free agents in Blake Snell, Cody Bellinger, and Matt Chapman are all off the board.

Verlander: I think Montgomery will ultimately end up in New York where it all began for him. With the news of Gerrit Cole out for maybe three months, the Yankees need someone to fill the void in that rotation and Montgomery is a great fit.

Kavner: This feels like something the Red Sox have to do.

Bonus: What's your boldest prediction for the 2024 season?

Kavner: How about a few? Three NL West and AL West teams make the postseason, Hunter Greene will lead the majors in strikeouts, and the Rangers' Wyatt Langford and Evan Carter will finish 1-2 in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

Thosar: The Detroit Tigers win the AL Central. Sure, they haven't enjoyed a winning season since 2016. But this is the year they grab the division crown. A second bold prediction of Tarik Skubal winning the AL Cy Young will help Detroit topple the rest of the Central.

Verlander: Tarik Skubal will win the American League Cy Young Award. The world will know his name after this season.

This story was compiled by: Deesha Thosar (@DeeshaThosar), Rowan Kavner (@RowanKavner) and Ben Verlander (@BenVerlander).


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