Once again, it’s time for power rankings, because the standings don’t tell the whole story. Who’s getting lucky? Who’s dined out on an easy schedule? Whose talent is going to break out of a two-month slump, and who’s on the verge of collapse?
1. Houston Astros
At this moment Houston’s four best starting pitchers — Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton, and Collin McHugh — are all on the disabled list. And yet, even though the Astros are only 4–6 in their past 10 games, they are still on pace for 110 wins, which would be the highest total of any team since the 2001 Mariners.
For all the serious forehead-crinkling on the Gulf this year about the Astros’ starting pitching depth, maybe the truth is that they don’t need any starting pitchers? They still have 10 position players with at least 90 PA and an OPS+ of 100 or better. I’ve heard worse comparisons than the 2001 Mariners, too: That team had Bret Boone’s best season, Ichiro’s MVP year, and Edgar Martínez, but they benefited from a great bench led by Mark McLemore, who played seven positions and posted a 115 OPS+, and their pitching staff was led not by Randy Johnson but a 38-year-old Jamie Moyer and Sweaty Freddy García. The Astros have a few players putting up star-level seasons, like Keuchel, McCullers, José Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Brian McCann, but their strength is not in one or two great players but in their depth.
Most importantly, because the Angels lost Mike Trout and Garrett Richards, and because the Mariners and Rangers have been competitive only in fits and starts, Houston’s still up 12 games on its nearest division competitor. As of Tuesday morning, Baseball Prospectus gives the Astros a 99.7 percent chance of making the playoffs, which I imagine isn’t 100 percent just because of the natural predisposition to call something a literal certainty when there’s still almost four months of baseball to play. But this is as close as it gets.
2. New York Yankees
The Yankees have the best run differential in baseball (plus-117) and are now three games — a full weekend series — ahead of their nearest competitor, the Red Sox. I’d go into more detail, but in the past two and a half weeks I’ve written three stories that were at least partially about Aaron Judge, and I need a break.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have the best run differential in the National League, and only three things about this team feel particularly fluky: the usually injury-prone Alex Wood’s 2.01 ERA and 1.87 FIP; utilityman Chris Taylor’s .874 OPS, which has already come down more than 300 points in the past five weeks; and setup man Pedro Báez’s 436 ERA+, which I legitimately didn’t know about because I haven’t been able to stay awake during one of his appearances all season.
Also, apropos of nothing, Kenley Jansen’s struck out 44 batters in 26.2 innings and still hasn’t walked anyone. If he walks someone in the next three and a half months, the record for most innings pitched in a season without a walk will revert to Len Swormstedt of the 1906 Boston Americans —but it’s Jansen’s for now.
The Dodgers have already weathered Clayton Kershaw’s annual journey of self-discovery and a laundry list of injuries. With the Cubs still struggling, I’d call L.A. the favorite to win the National League this season.
4. Washington Nationals
The bullpen is a problem, and Washington’s four losses in the last five games, coupled with the Mets doing the reverse, closed the Nationals’ lead in the division to a harrowing … oh, it’s still 9.5 games? They’re fine. Move along.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona came into camp with six starting pitchers with either serious prospect hype or a track record of major league excellence, but all of them had turned in terrible 2016 campaigns: Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin, Taijuan Walker, Archie Bradley, and Shelby Miller. The Diamondbacks looked like an obvious breakout club because there was just no way all six of those guys would pitch like crap again, and midway through June, some of them have improved.
Sure, Miller continued his Book of Job tenure in Arizona by blowing out his UCL, and Corbin’s ERA is still north of 5.00, but Greinke, Ray, and Walker, who’s coming off the DL following blister problems, have all been good, and Bradley’s been lights-out as a reliever: 392 ERA+, 10.9 K/9, 2.1 BB/9. With Zack Godley sporting a 195 ERA+ through seven starts, suddenly, the Diamondbacks have a 134 team ERA+, the best in baseball. For comparison, Chris Sale finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting last year with an ERA+ of just 121.
6. Colorado Rockies
Three different NL West teams would be in first place in another division in the National League. At the moment, the Rockies are in first place in the actual NL West, but I’m a little skeptical of 33-year-old Mark Reynolds’s ability to hit .305/.388/.571 all year, and I’m a little worried about how rookies Antonio Senzatela (131 ERA+, 6.3 K/9) and Kyle Freeland (141 ERA+, 5.6 K/9) are going to fare in the long term if they don’t start striking out more batters.
7. Boston Red Sox
The number of things that had to happen for Mitch Moreland to be leading the team in OPS+ is mind-boggling, particularly because while Moreland, with a 129 OPS+, is having the best season of his career, he’s not close to the class of Judge or mid-April Eric Thames.
The new Killer B’s — Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, and Xander Bogaerts — are doing fine (all between an OPS+ of 100 and 120), but they’re supposed to be better than fine. Bogaerts was supposed to be hitting like Correa and Corey Seager, Betts was supposed to be in the best non–Mike Trout player discussion, and they’re not so far. The good news is that the underperformance means this team probably has another gear. The bad news is that they’ll need to find it to catch the Yankees and hang with the Astros. So far, they haven’t.
8. Tampa Bay Rays
This team is a poor man’s Astros. They have a couple of players, most notably DH Corey Dickerson, who’s hitting .337/.375/.608, on season-long hot streaks, but mostly this is a balanced ballclub, with league-average or better offensive production from seven of its nine positions. They have four starting pitchers at more or less a league-average level so far this season, but the team leader in ERA+ is Matt Andriese at just 115.
This is a tough division, perhaps one of the toughest ever, so it’s going to be difficult for the Rays to keep pace with the Red Sox for the wild card, let alone the Yankees for the division. That also further complicates the saga of Chris Archer’s trade status. The Rays can’t trade Archer if they’re in the pennant race, but even if they wanted to, how much is Archer even worth? He’s got only a 107 ERA+, but he’s striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings and he’s a reliable 200-inning pitcher who’s under team control through 2021. Even if the Rays wanted to trade him, they don’t have to be in any rush.
Of course, all of that is predicated on Tampa Bay falling out of touch with the contenders in the American League, which, given its depth and the paucity of good teams in the league’s other two divisions, might not happen.
9. Chicago Cubs
This is the part of the program where underperforming teams with a lot of talent start running into surprising teams that look like they’re playing over their heads. The bullpen is still incredibly good, but apart from Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, everyone is sleepwalking. I don’t know if there’s a trade or adjustment to be made to snap the Cubs out of this funk, because it’s so sudden, so comprehensive, and so persistent as to be completely inexplicable. This team is just too talented to have a worse collective OPS+ than the Braves, White Sox, and Mariners. The Cubs are fortunate that no other team has capitalized on their slow start and gotten out to the kind of lead Washington and Houston have built. To be at exactly .500 on June 14 and in second place, only one game out of the division lead, is a gift.
10. Toronto Blue Jays
This is by far the biggest mover in the past month. The Blue Jays played themselves out of contention with a 6–17 start, but they’re 25–16 since. Josh Donaldson is back after missing 38 games with a calf injury, and his OPS+ is up to 184. Justin Smoak, the poster boy for why you don’t draft first basemen in the first round, has 18 home runs. Hell, if the Cubs can be in playoff contention at 32–32, why can’t the Blue Jays?
Well, due to the division. Toronto, at two games under .500 and a minus-12 run differential, is in last place. The Jays would be at least tied for second in the NL East, but thanks to geography they not only have to jump four teams, but they have to play 48 more games against the toughest division in baseball. And because they play in Canada, they don’t even get to see Saturday Night Live when it airs. Life just isn’t fair.
11. Cleveland Indians
Last season’s edition of this club was my favorite MLB team to watch in the past five years, but it depended on a lot of thin margins: Josh Tomlin pounding the zone without walking anyone, Brandon Guyer getting plunked once every 10 plate appearances without getting hurt, Terry Francona nailing every situational substitution. Now Danny Salazar and Cody Anderson are hurt, Tomlin and Trevor Bauer are getting torched, and since Francisco Lindor has cooled off a little, nobody’s really hitting except for Lonnie Chisenhall.
This is as high as I’m willing to rank a team that can be described accurately as “nobody’s really hitting except for Lonnie Chisenhall.”
Just like with Boston, there’s nowhere to go but up, and nobody else except for Minnesota seems to want this division. Also, Andrew Miller’s ERA+ is (and this is not a typo) 870.
12. Baltimore Orioles
Forget about this year. The future’s never looked brighter.
13. Milwaukee Brewers
It’s tough to tell whether the Brewers are trending in the right direction. Ryan Braun’s been on the DL since late May with a strained calf, and Jonathan Villar had to be carted off with a back injury last weekend and is also on the DL. Those are two enormous losses.
On the other hand, top outfield prospects Brett Phillips and Lewis Brinson and pitcher Josh Hader have all made their major league debuts in the past two weeks. Those three represent the bulk of the trade haul for Carlos Gómez in 2015 and Jonathan Lucroy last summer. Closer Corey Knebel (1.11 ERA, 16.1 K/9) is having a phenomenal season, as are starting pitchers Chase Anderson (158 ERA+) and Junior Guerra (184 ERA+).
The truth probably goes something like this: Milwaukee is starting to assemble the pieces of the next good Brewers team, and they’re in first place because they’ve gone 9–2 against the Reds and Padres while the Cubs kept tying their own shoelaces together. This team’s going to end up within a few games of .500, but whether that’s good enough for a division title depends on the Cubs.
14. Minnesota Twins
Copy the Brewers take, place it in back of moving van, and drive it about 300 miles west on I-94.
In the day and age of three true outcomes — since the Padres demoted their home run leader, Ryan Schimpf, for hitting .158 — nobody has more truthful outcomes than Twins third baseman Miguel Sanó: 56.5 percent of Sanó’s plate appearances end without the ball in the field of play, more than any hitter in baseball. (Baltimore’s Chris Davis, who doesn’t even need to take his bat off his shoulder, is second at 55.6.)
15. Seattle Mariners
This team could be pretty good if it could ever get everyone healthy at the same time. Mitch Haniger (175 OPS+) and James Paxton (187 ERA+) just came back from the DL, while Jean Segura, the shortstop who earned a five-year, $70 million contract extension, just went on the DL with a high ankle sprain. Starting pitchers Félix Hernández, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Drew Smyly are all still on the DL. Just because the Astros can play like a 110-win team while missing their entire starting rotation doesn’t mean everyone can.
Even so, the Mariners are within two game of erasing the damage they did with a 2–8 start and getting back to .500. While the crowded field (12 of the 15 AL teams are within two games of a playoff spot) is going to make it difficult to grab a wild-card berth, Seattle’s finally back in the hunt.
16. Texas Rangers
This is a hard team to pin down. It’s obviously similar to the teams that lost consecutive division series to Toronto, but Cole Hamels is hurt for the first time in a three years, Adrián Beltré’s played only 11 games, and Rougned Odor and Jonathan Lucroy are having the worst seasons of their careers. The bullpen’s been decimated by Sam Dyson’s self-immolation and Jake Diekman’s absence while he underwent surgery for ulcerative colitis. On the flip side, Andrew Cashner has a 142 ERA+ despite more walks than strikeouts. This has been a weird season.
Still, the Rangers are ahead of the Mariners in the standings, with a better run differential (plus-16, compared with minus-2), placing them precisely in the second wild-card morass that currently consumes two-thirds of the American League. I believe the key player for Texas is Nomar Mazara, one of the best pure hitting prospects since Trout and Harper, who jumped out to a scalding hot start in April of his rookie year before cooling off and hitting .251/.305/.408 in 597 plate appearances from May 1, 2016, to April 30, 2017. That’s not good for a corner outfielder.
Since May 1, however, Mazara is hitting .326/.403/.519, which is more like it. If Mazara’s really turned the corner, he’s going to be on base for a lot of Joey Gallo home runs as the Rangers climb out of that muddy middle and back into the playoffs.
17. St. Louis Cardinals
When the Cardinals called a press conference after an 0–7 road trip, then took that opportunity to reshuffle their major league coaching staff and DFA Jhonny Peralta, it looked like a token effort to right a train that had already jumped the track. Since that press conference, however, the Cardinals are 4–1, a game and a half behind the Cubs. Guess who’s laughing now.
18. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
If you’re an optimist, you could point out that the Angels have been without Mike Trout for two weeks, while Garrett Richards and Cam Bedrosian have combined to pitch 11.1 innings all season, and they’re still in the wild-card hunt. But I’m not sure why you’d be an optimist if you were an Angels fan.
19. Detroit Tigers
The core of this team — Justin Verlander, Francisco Rodríguez, Ian Kinsler, Víctor Martínez, and Miguel Cabrera, all 34 or older — is starting to show its age, but the Tigers are only three games out of the wild card because they’re still hitting. Led by J.D. Martinez (182 wRC+) and Alex Avila (177 wRC+), Detroit is tied for the fifth-best wRC+ in baseball.
But The Tigers are going to need more than Michael Fulmer in the rotation to leapfrog the seven teams that stand between them and the playoffs. Apart from Fulmer and Buck Farmer, who has all of 15.1 innings under his belt this year, no other Tigers starter has an ERA or a FIP below 4.00.
20. New York Mets
Given how good the Nationals have been, given that the Mets have been without David Wright, Noah Syndergaard, Jeurys Familia, and Yoenis Céspedes for most of the season, and given that Jacob deGrom’s struggled and Matt Harvey took a suspension for acting out the finance bro version of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist the night before a game, 9.5 games out of first place looks pretty good right now.
21. Chicago White Sox
They’re only five games out of a wild-card spot with a minus-1 run differential. We haven’t seen the best of José Quintana, Carlos Rodón should be back in a couple of weeks, and Yoan Moncada has a .369 OBP in Triple-A. That 300-to-1 bet on the White Sox winning the World Series isn’t dead yet.
22. Oakland Athletics
I really like this rotation, and first baseman Yonder Alonso has apparently eaten Paul Goldschmidt and is currently slugging .649. So Oakland is now [tallies on fingers] only seven or eight position players away from being a serious American League contender.
23. Miami Marlins
Given that Edinson Volquez (121 ERA+, 8.5 K/9) and Dan Straily (106 ERA+, 9.0 K/9) have pitched pretty well, and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton is hitting like the old TMGS (.571 SLG), it feels like Miami ought to be better than 28–35. Marlins pitchers also seem to have merely a casual relationship with the strike zone: Miami’s team 10.5 percent walk rate and 4.10 BB/9 are both major league highs.
24. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds had sole possession of first place in the NL Central as recently as May 7, but since then, their playoff odds seem to have …
25. Atlanta Braves
This team’s all about the future, so let’s look to the future: The Braves did well to snap up Vanderbilt right-hander Kyle Wright, a potential no. 1 overall pick coming into the draft, when he fell to them with the fifth pick. Speaking of first-rounders out of Vanderbilt, shortstop Dansby Swanson is hitting .284/.359/.490 over the past 28 days, which counts as a sign of life for a player who slugged .233 in April.
26. San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey’s having an incredible season: .352/.440/.528, as a catcher! He’s one of two Giants hitters with at least 50 PA and an OPS+ over 100. Meanwhile, not one Giants starter with more than 30 IP has an ERA+ over 100: not Johnny Cueto, not Jeff Samardzija, and not Matt Moore. It’s no surprise, then, that the Giants are 26–40.
27. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates might not be that bad, but between Starling Marté’s suspension and disappointing seasons from Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, and Gregory Polanco, it feels bad. After Pittsburgh missed the playoffs last season, it feels like the end of an era for a team that made three straight wild-card games (one leading to an NLDS appearance).
28. Kansas City Royals
The Royals are 28th in baseball in runs scored, behind 13 teams that don’t use the designated hitter.
29. San Diego Padres
Other than the Giants, the only team that the Royals have outscored is the Padres, who don’t get to use the DH, who are carrying three Rule 5 players, and who play in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in baseball.
30. Philadelphia Phillies
I find all these rumors about the Sixers drafting Josh Jackson out of Kansas with the no. 3 pick a little disconcerting, because I worry about having another wing who can’t shoot with Ben Simmons running the offense. If I were Bryan Colangelo, I’d either try to trade down or put together a huge package to pry the no. 1 pick from the Celtics. The Sixers have so many young players and draft picks that I’d be OK overpaying for a player like Markelle Fultz.