Buy or Sell on Five MLB Teams off to Surprisingly Hot Starts

Every year there are some surprise MLB teams who find a way to defy the odds and rise to contention. Let's see who we're buying and selling.

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 08: Bryan Reynolds #10 of the Pittsburgh Pirates and teammates celebrate after defeating the Detroit Tigers 7-4 during inter-league play at PNC Park on April 8, 2024 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

We are now over a week into the 2024 MLB regular season and it feels incredible to have meaningful baseball back. Things are in full swing and we’re beginning to see the good teams rise and the bad teams fall.

The season has already seen a ton of storylines emerge. Ronel Blanco just threw a no-hitter-and-a-half across his last two starts, Spencer Strider and Shane Bieber are both facing long-term injuries and suddenly the Pittsburgh Pirates are the best team in the game.

Let’s focus a bit more on that final note. Every year there are some underdog teams who defy the odds and find themselves in contention. It’s unclear if a team like the Pirates can sustain it, but you never do know. In a wide open NL Central division, why can’t they continue to be one of the top MLB feel-good stories?

We’re here to take a closer look at five of these teams and whether we’re buying or selling their hot starts. Most of the time, a regression is on the horizon, but this is not always the case.

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Five MLB Surprises to Kick Off 2024: Buy or Sell

Boston Red Sox

Armed with one of the stronger rotations in MLB so far, the Boston Red Sox have all things going right for them. They enter the day with a cool 7-3 record and a +26 run differential, which is the best in the AL East.

It’s been nice to see the rotation dominate and the likes of Jarren Duran, Tyler O’Neill and Ceddanne Rafaela steal the headlines over in Boston, but it’s far from a sure thing that this continues. In fact, it’s probably not going to.

Shortstop Trevor Story is looking at an extensive absence thanks to a dislocated shoulder, and that’s going to immediately expose the Red Sox’s lack of depth. David Hamilton and Pablo Reyes are far from adequate replacements for the production Story brings.

Not to mention the fact that Enmanuel Valdez has looked overmatched through 35 plate appearances and the fact that the club doesn’t have a single reliable bench bat. Rafael Devers and Triston Casas have yet to get going, too, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how this shakes out.

Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock both struggled last season but have been utterly dominant this year. It’s their performances, along with Duran and O’Neill that will likely come back down to earth and see the Red Sox function as more of a middle-of-the-pack team than anything else.

Plus, this is the AL East we’re talking about. The Orioles? Dangerous. The Yankees? Dangerous. The Rays? Dangerous. The Blue Jays? We’ll see. The Red Sox have some incredible competition here, so they’ll need to be almost 100% perfect moving forward to keep this run up.

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Verdict: Sell

Cleveland Guardians

Over in the AL Central, things are much, much more wide open. At 8-2, the Cleveland Guardians are one of MLB’s biggest surprises. Their +36 run differential is tops in all of baseball and they’re clicking in every way.

As of right now, the Guardians are doing everything right on offense, ranking near the top of the league in runs scored, stolen bases, strikeout percentage, batting average and wRC+. Steven Kwan, Andres Gimenez, Jose Ramirez and Josh Naylor are all doing what they do best: hitting.

It’s just going to be a matter of whether the injuries nag them enough to drag them down. Bieber is out for the year and Sam Hentges, James Karinchak and Trevor Stephan – three of their four best relievers – are all on the injured list.

It remains to be seen how much Bieber’s absence will affect the Guardians. He was absolutely dealing prior to the injury, but if they’re able to bandage the wound his absence leaves, there’s a chance that they can find the staying power to remain atop the division as the year goes on.

It’s so difficult to figure out where exactly the Guardians are going to go as the year progresses. Their offense has a ton of household names and the likes of Logan Allen, Tanner Bibee and Triston McKenzie gives them one of the stronger top-threes in the game.

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The Guardians have less competition than the Red Sox do for their respective division, but – spoiler alert – there are a whopping three AL Central teams making this list. The other two clubs may be overperforming right now, but the division as a whole looks stronger than anybody thought it would’ve to kick off the season. Based off of where we thought they’d be entering the year, we’ll lean Cleveland for now.

Verdict: Buy

Detroit Tigers

Boy, oh boy, this Tigers team is fun. The problem is, though, that there’s no offense to speak of. Despite the fact that the club is off to a 6-4 start, they currently sit 20th in MLB in home runs, 23rd in batting average, 23rd in wRC+ and 25th in on-base percentage.

Pairing young guns like Riley Greene, Colt Keith, Spencer Torkelson and Parker Meadows with steady veterans like Mark Canha, Carson Kelly and Gio Urshela is an excellent move by Detroit’s front office. Veteran presence to help the prospects along can be invaluable.

However, this is not a team that’s ready for a legitimate jump to contention. Not yet, anyway. The starting rotation has some question marks and the offense has some kinks to work through. The Tigers’ bullpen has been an impressive bright spot (1.38 ERA in 39 innings), but relief pitching alone isn’t going to be enough to carry the club to the postseason.

Verdict: Sell

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Kansas City Royals

Much like the Tigers, the Royals are such a young and fun team. The 2024 version has a lot of similar makeup to the 2015 one, but a World Series run isn’t likely this time around.

Armed with promising young offensive talent in the form of Bobby Witt Jr., Maikel Garcia, Nelson Velazquez, MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino, it’s not that much of a surprise that things are going well for the Royals.

The pitching staff has been unreal, too. All five starters have an ERA of 3.09 or lower and have kept the club in nearly every game played so far. Notably, Royals relievers have thrown less innings than any other ‘pen in the game because their starters have been going so deep into games.

While I personally love this Royals team and am not surprised to see them doing well out of the gate, this run is not going to last. The bullpen is suspect and there’s still a lot of offensive development to go for the young guns. I don’t think KC is going to finish last in the AL Central, but they’re also not going to win the division this year.

Verdict: Sell

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a tough team to read, and always have been. They were active this past offseason, signing three position players and two pitchers to MLB contracts, and are another organization filled with premier young talent.

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Oneil Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes have gotten off to hot starts with the bat, while Martin Perez, Jared Jones and Marco Gonzales have proven to be strong starting pitchers early on.

I believe in the Pirates for a few reasons. First, they’re finding a way to win ballgames on a consistent basis while staff ace Mitch Keller and All-Star closer David Bednar are struggling. Once they turn it around, and that’s a when not an if, the outlook is only going to become more positive for Pittsburgh.

The second reason is that the NL Central is another MLB division without a clear favorite. The Cardinals may or may not bounce back, the Brewers are a question mark, and nobody knows what to expect from the Cubs and/or Reds. There’s no legitimate reason why the Pirates can’t leapfrog some of the competition.

As a matter of fact, FanGraphs’ playoff odds have skyrocketed for Pittsburgh. As of right now, there’s a 37.3% chance they make the postseason and a 19.1% chance they win the division. It could be anyone’s game, but the reasons to doubt the Pirates are starting to run out.

Verdict: Buy