Saturday, April 13, 2024
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MLB Power Rankings: Baseball’s five best rivalries for 2024 season, and why Yankees vs. Red Sox misses cut

This edition of the Official Power Rankings will be the last one before we return to the actual ranking of 30 teams. It’s a nice departure here in the spring to stray and have a little fun with different MLB-related topics, isn’t it? I enjoy it. It’s much more fun than trying to earnestly rank the teams through a half-week of regular-season play, that’s for sure. 

With this one, let’s go with rivalries. These are team-level rivalries and it is only for the 2024 season. 

Generally speaking, I think MLB has a titan of a rivalry in each region. The East has the Yankees and Red Sox. Sure, it’s been run into the ground via national broadcasts for the last two decades, but it’s still the top draw if both teams are contenders. Alas, I don’t expect the Red Sox to be contenders this year, so this won’t make the top five in 2024. The Cubs and Cardinals have the juicy Central rivalry while the Giants-Dodgers take the West.

For 2024, though, we need to factor the current climate around each of the 30 teams and weigh all the circumstances. 

Here are my top five. Kind of. I’ll admit I somewhat cheated here on No. 5… 

5. Pick your poison in the NL Central 

The Cardinals-Cubs rivalry reigns supreme in this division as a general rule and it’s entirely possible that they’ll be 1-2 in the division this season, possibly even fighting to the end and maybe even without a wild-card coming out of the division. That would be incredibly fun and, if anything, would probably move that one higher in these rankings than fifth. 

We also can’t be sure the Cardinals can avoid a repeat of last season where the pitching staff just fell apart and they finished in last place with 91 losses. The Cubs might just be mediocre. If that happened, there’s room for the Reds and Brewers

Last season, the Reds got scorching hot in June and early July and held first for a stretch. The Brewers then won five of six wrapped around the All-Star break to set the tone for the rest of the season. The Brewers would go 10-3 against the Reds and win the division by nine games. You know that is stuck in the minds of the young Reds players.

The Cubs hired Craig Counsell this past offseason after he managed the Brewers for nine seasons. They made the playoffs five times in his tenure and had only previously been to the playoffs four times in franchise history. Maybe the front office is playing professional about Counsell’s departure, but Brewers fans have some bones to pick with the Cubs.

What if the Pirates sneak in there and contend? I believe it’s totally possible and we know they can work up a good hatred for any of the other four teams. 

Basically, there’s going to be plenty of opportunity for exciting divisional blood here. We just can’t be 100% sure which matchup will be the most juicy. I’ll pick the Cubs-Cardinals mainstay, but myriad other possibilities exist. 

4. Diamondbacks vs. Dodgers

The Dodgers are going to command an absurd amount of coverage this coming season, rightfully, after the huge offseason they had in signing Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and trading for Tyler Glasnow, among other moves. They won 100 games last season and have been in the playoffs each of the last 11 seasons. Think about that! Corey Seager was NL Rookie of the Year in 2016 and that was the Dodgers’ fourth straight playoff berth and they still haven’t missed the postseason since. 

But.

They have won the World Series one time in that stretch and haven’t been there in a full season since 2018. They’ve been bounced in the NLDS two straight seasons, including an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the 84-win Diamondbacks last year. The D-backs outscored the Dodgers 19-6 in that three-game sweep, which included jumping out to a 6-0 lead in the top of the first in Game 1. 

The Dodgers are very likely to win the division this season and, on paper, they are far superior to the D-backs Still, Arizona has a good shot to be a playoff team again and, if that’s the case, a playoff rematch will make sparks fly. In the meantime, there’s the defending NL champions who are still viewed as an underdog against the juggernaut who keeps losing playoff games. 

The first series between these two teams starts April 29 in Arizona’s Chase Field and it’ll be tons of fun. 

3. Yankees vs. Orioles

Remember when the Yankees owned the Orioles? Back in 2019, the Yankees went 17-2 against the lowly O’s. Things slowly started to turn since then and last season, the Orioles won seven of the 13 games between the two ballclubs. They also won 101 overall while the Yankees missed the playoffs at 82-80. 

The Orioles look pretty stacked again while the Yankees loaded up. The mega-market Yankees have the star power in MVP types Aaron Judge and Juan Soto in addition to the 2023 AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole (though he’ll start the season on the injured list). The small-market Orioles have plenty of up-and-coming stars and also traded for 2021 NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, though he appears to be a one-year rental. The Orioles are the defending AL East champs while the Yankees are the betting favorite to win it this year. 

It’s entirely possible that the best rivalry in the division this year involves one of these teams along with the Rays and/or Blue Jays, but I think the highest level of intrigue lies with this Orioles-Yankees matchup. My hopes are sky high for this one this season. I could easily be wrong, but that’s the pick for now. 

2. Phillies vs. Braves

While the rest of these were relatively difficult selections — hell, I didn’t even actually pick one for No. 5 — these top two were easy and obvious. I just had to decide how to slot them and that was the tough task. I’m still not sure I have them ordered correctly. 

The Braves won the World Series in 2021 and followed that up with two 100+ win seasons. They were bounced in the NLDS both of those seasons by these Phillies, who won the 2022 NL pennant and then lost in Game 7 of the NLCS last year. Heading into 2024, it seems clear that the Braves are the much better regular-season team but that the Phillies are better built for the playoffs. That makes for a possible third-straight postseason battle between these two NL East rivals. 

There were some other things coming out of the playoffs last year, too. There was the whole, totally unbecoming, storyline about how the Braves apparently forgot how to play baseball due to having too many days off. There was the whole “atta boy Harper” thing. That’s totally harmless, of course, but since it went public, it became a storyline and Harper homered twice in Game 3, even staring Arcia down during his home run trots. 

All of these things become heightened when it’s a true rivalry, so that’s where we are. 

The Braves won the NL East by 14 games last year over the Phillies and took eight of the 13 regular-season games. But the Phillies went 3-1 in their playoff series. 

The two teams first meet this year on … Opening Day. Yep. Thursday, March 28 in Philly. Atta boy, schedule. 

1. Astros vs. Rangers

The Astros came out of the AL in 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2022. They won the World Series twice in that timeframe. The Rangers came out of the AL last season, winning their first-ever World Series title. That alone would be pretty damn intriguing, but there’s a lot more. 

The Astros owned the regular-season series, going 9-4 with a +19 run differential. The two teams ended the season knotted up at 90-72. That head-to-head record sent the Astros to the ALDS while the Rangers had to head to the road for the wild-card round. No matter, they ended up seeing each other in the ALCS. That series involved tons of drama and went seven games, with the road team taking all seven. 

Remember Game 5? The Adolis García home run, García being hit by a pitch and then the benches clearing shortly thereafter …

… only to see Jose Altuve hit a three-run bomb to turn the series on its head next inning? Then in Game 6, García was booed all night in Houston and went 0 for 4 with four strikeouts, much to the delight of the Astros fans, before hitting a grand slam in his last at-bat. 

Further, there was a big deal made about the Rangers popping champagne to celebrate a playoff berth at the end of the regular season while the Astros were much more subdued. Given the difference in recent franchise playoff success, it made sense on both ends, but hey, drama is drama and the Rangers ended up getting the last laugh. 

Then there was the whole dueling Kanye quotes feud from Alex Bregman and then, getting the last laugh, Corey Seager. 

We could keep going, but it’s pretty awesome to finally see the two Texas teams build a rivalry with both mutual respect and a healthy dose of sports hatred when they didn’t even used to be in the same league. 

Even if it was tough to pick this over the Phillies-Braves, I do feel like I have the order correct, at least for now. 

We don’t have to wait long until these teams see each other for our viewing pleasure, either. They first face off Friday, April 5, in Arlington. The following weekend the rivalry heads to Houston. 

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