Contenders or pretenders? Evaluating 5 MLB teams off to hot starts

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If the Major League Baseball regular season ended today, only four of the 12 teams that made the postseason last season would be in contention for the World Series this season. As a result of some of the best MLB teams from 2022 slumping, more under-the-radar teams have surged in 2023.

While nearly half of the schedule is over, the dog days of summer are upon us, with vast potential for teams to grow and decline. Among the teams that have gotten off to strong but unexpected starts are the Baltimore Orioles (44-27), Texas Rangers (45-27), Miami Marlins (42-31), Cincinnati Reds (38-35) and Arizona Diamondbacks (44-29).

In this article, I’ll explore whether each MLB team listed above is a contender or a pretender.

Baltimore Orioles

In 2022, nobody expected the Orioles to fight for a postseason spot, let alone finish over .500. After winning 52 games in 2021, the Orioles won 83 games in 2022, an incredible 31-win difference. With top prospects Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson making their debuts in 2022, it marked the start of a new era of Baltimore baseball.

So far, the Orioles have built on their success from 2023, holding the fourth-best record in MLB. When healthy, the Orioles’ lineup is one of the best in baseball from top to bottom, and they currently have the ninth-best team wRC+ (107) in the majors. Additionally, anchored by Felix Bautista and Yennier Cano, Baltimore has a stout bullpen, leading all bullpens in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR).

While their lineup and bullpen are strengths, Baltimore’s starting rotation is ultimately what will hold this team back. Kyle Gibson, Kyle Braddish and Tyler Wells are fine pitchers, but ideally, they’d be middle or back end of the rotation pieces. Instead, they’re Baltimore’s three best starters, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving any of them the ball in games one or two of a postseason series.

Currently, Grayson Rodriguez is the only player in the organization capable of being ace, but he’s yet to prove that in the majors. Until he can, the Orioles need to acquire a front-end rotation piece or two at the trade deadline in order to establish themselves as true threats in the American League.

My verdict: Pretender
Consensus vote: 80% contender, 20% pretender

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