AJC’s MLB power rankings: Braves begin season No. 1

Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley (27) celebrates with Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Olson (28) after hitting a solo home run during the fourth inning of Atlanta Braves’ home opener spring training baseball game at CoolToday Park, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley (27) celebrates with Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Olson (28) after hitting a solo home run during the fourth inning of Atlanta Braves’ home opener spring training baseball game at CoolToday Park, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Editor’s note: Welcome to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s new feature, our own MLB power rankings. This feature will run weekly during the season with our ranking of the top 10 teams. We are debuting the list in spring training as pitchers and catchers reported this week. Our power rankings will return March 24, just before the start of the regular season, and appear each week through until the postseason.

Welcome to the 2024 MLB season. The games count beginning Thursday, when the Braves will start their quest for a seventh consecutive division title and second World Series championship in four years.

A few teams’ circumstances have changed since our first power rankings, which we unveiled as pitchers and catchers reported. These lists, of course, are fluid throughout the season. One team bumped out of the top 10 could have a different outlook in another week or two. That’s the fun of unofficial rankings, right?

With that said, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s top 10 teams as the season opens (with parenthesis noting the change from our previous rankings):

1. Atlanta Braves (-)

The past several weeks haven’t given reason for change here. The Braves are loaded again. The lineup will be superb, even if Jarred Kelenic’s underwhelming spring foreshadowed his campaign. Signing Adam Duvall strengthened the team’s depth and provides more power and a (beloved) familiar face. The upside of a Spencer Strider-Max Fried-Chris Sale trio is preposterous. On paper, it’s hard to argue anyone but the Braves as No. 1 because of their reliability.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (-)

The Dodgers remain No. 2 here, and they’re obviously a World Series favorite after a thrilling winter, but there are reasons for pause. Tyler Glasnow wasn’t his sharpest in his opening-day outing, but the bigger question there is whether he’ll stay healthy over the season. Also, after struggling this spring, Yoshinobu Yamamoto lasted only one inning in his debut.

Then there’s the Shohei Ohtani off-field situation, in which his interpreter and friend Ippei Mizuhara was fired after allegations that he stole money from Ohtani to service illegal gambling debts. There will be more details about the situation.

No one will be surprised if the Dodgers win the championship. But there are several “waits and sees” that the Braves don’t necessarily have, which is why we’ll keep the former ahead here as the season begins.

3. Baltimore Orioles (+1)

The Rangers were No. 3 here last time. We’re anointing the Orioles as the American League favorites entering the season, though, especially after watching their prospects impress this spring. It’s a matter of time until infielder Jackson Holliday, 20, not only is a mainstay in the Orioles’ lineup, but an annual presence at All-Star games.

Baltimore fans should be giddy over the present and future. A bet here is Corbin Burnes, in his first season as an Oriole and final season before hitting free agency, will make a strong case for the Cy Young. The Orioles will probably try to add another starter before the trade deadline, too.

4. Texas Rangers (-1)

The Rangers are placed here because the defending champions deserve respect, even as many pick the Astros or Mariners to win the AL West. The rotation remains a question, though adding Michael Lorenzen was a nice move. Young outfielder Wyatt Langford was the star of spring. The former Florida Gator made the opening-day roster and will be among the favorites for Rookie of the Year.

5. Philadelphia Phillies (+1)

The Phillies are returning the same roster with a few tweaks, which included adding veteran utilityman Whit Merrifield. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, both signed for the future, are among baseball’s best pair of aces. The lineup, led by perennial MVP candidate Bryce Harper, should be excellent.

Can the Phillies challenge the Braves over a 162-game season? That remains to be seen, but given both teams resemble their recent forms, it doesn’t seem the Phillies would’ve closed the gap enough (injuries and unanticipated performances can change that, though). The Phillies can compete with anyone in October, as the past two years have shown.

6. Houston Astros (-1)

The Astros have rotation concerns. Justin Verlander will begin the season on the injured list. Jose Urquidy has a forearm strain. Lance McCullers is out until summer, and Luis Garcia won’t pitch this season. The Astros are hoping once-heralded prospect Hunter Brown has a breakout season. The team’s remaining pitching depth largely is inexperienced behind Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier.

Still, no one is betting against the Astros as a contender. They’ll be competing for the AL West and pennant as usual.

7. New York Yankees (-)

The Yankees will play without ace Gerrit Cole for the foreseeable future, which is a gigantic blow to a rotation that desperately needed him. The offense, headlined by the Juan Soto addition, might need to slug its way to wins. The Yankees will cross their fingers that Aaron Judge stays healthy. They’ll hope Giancarlo Stanton bounces back from last season. The Yankees are talented, but there is some variance here. They could be a force, or they could miss the postseason.

8. Seattle Mariners (-)

The Mariners are led by an exciting up-and-coming rotation. Outfielder Julio Rodriguez could be an MVP candidate. It feels like one of these years the Mariners will explode and win the AL West. Maybe this is the season. It would’ve been better to see the team make a substantial offseason addition, but instead it made modest lineup upgrades (veteran hitters Mitch Garver, Mitch Haniger and Jorge Polanco).

9. Tampa Bay Rays (-)

The Rays get the benefit of the doubt, remaining in the top 10 ahead of teams like the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Giants and Blue Jays, who possess more star power. After winning 99 games last season, FanGraphs projects the Rays for 85 wins. The team already is a bit banged up even beyond the rotation, with three infielders slated to open on the injured list. The Rays have a strong farm system and surely will unearth some unexpected contributors, but this might end up being a “one step back for two steps forward” type of season.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks (-)

The Diamondbacks won the National League pennant in October and improved their roster. The group of Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez is one of the better rotation trios. Reigning Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll could cement himself as a top-10 player. Joc Pederson and Randal Grichuk were solid outfield additions. This team overperformed last postseason, and that experience has value. On paper, it’s better than last year’s 84-win club.