With the All-Star break coming to an end, it’s time for another set of power rankings! Who’s set to cruise through the second half of the season and into October? And who’s already looking ahead to 2018 … and beyond?
1. Houston Astros
Twelve Astros have batted at least 150 times this season. Of those, 10 have an OPS+ of 109 or better. Baseball Prospectus has them at 100 percent to win the AL West. Or to put it another way, the Astros are 16.5 games up on the second-place Rangers, which means that if through the end of July the Astros lost every game and the Rangers won every game, the two teams would be tied in the standings on August 1.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
With Justin Turner, Clayton Kershaw, and Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers have a pretty good shot of sweeping the NL MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year awards.
Beyond that, there’s reason to believe that this is the year the Dodgers bullpen finally holds up through the playoffs: Kenley Jansen is better than ever, Pedro Báez has a 1.43 ERA, Brandon Morrow is pitching well and hasn’t blown up his shoulder yet, and power arms Walker Buehler and Wilmer Font await in Double- and Triple-A, respectively. The thing is the Dodgers are so obviously the best team in the National League right now, they could probably get away with the normal playoff bullpen of just Jansen and a bunch of guys Dave Roberts doesn’t trust.
3. Washington Nationals
I wonder if Max Scherzer’s outrageous numbers are obscuring how well Gio González (153 ERA+) and Stephen Strasburg (127 ERA+, 10.2 K/9) have pitched this year. On the other side of the ball, the top three leaders in the National League in batting average (Turner isn’t qualified) are all Nationals, and none of those players (Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, and Bryce Harper) is even leading the team in position player WAR. It’s Anthony Rendon, who’s hitting only .304/.407/.552.
Washington’s stars have to be that good, though, because the bullpen is 29th in the MLB in bWAR, 29th in adjusted ERA, and 25th in WPA. I’d guarantee GM Mike Rizzo at least tries to do something about that before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
This isn’t shocking anymore; the Diamondbacks are legitimately good now. Arizona has the second-best record and second-best run differential in the National League, an MVP candidate in Paul Goldschmidt, and the best starting rotation in the game, according to Baseball-Reference’s wins above average. Robbie Ray is striking out 12 batters per nine innings, and two different Zacks (Greinke and Godley) have an ERA+ of 160 or better.
Thanks to Archie Bradley, who’s pitching like a bigger, hairier Chris Devenski, the bullpen’s better than the presence of Fernando Rodney and his 22 saves makes it look, but could still use another arm, and Arizona’s sort of punted offensive production at catcher, much like Cleveland did last year. Improvements at either position would fortify the Diamondbacks for the overwhelmingly likely playoff run they’re set up for.
5. Boston Red Sox
A lot of things have gone wrong for Boston this year: Rick Porcello and Sandy León went into the tank after exceptional 2016 campaigns; and in the offseason, the Sox offloaded Travis Shaw (and others) to Milwaukee (where he’s slugging .570) for Tyler Thornburg, who has yet to throw a pitch for Boston. SinceShaw’s departure, third base has become a giant grease fire.
Despite all of that, Chris Sale looks like he’s going to win the Cy Young, and Boston’s 11 games over .500 and 3.5 games up on the second-place Yankees and Rays.
6. Colorado Rockies
You could look at the Rockies as a team that (1) has a starting rotation made up mostly of rookies who don’t strike anyone out, (2) has overperformed its run differential, (3) has benefited from a fluky hot start from Mark Reynolds, and (4) has started to decline, as evidenced by an eight-game losing streak at the end of June.
Or you could look at them as a team that (1) has seven legitimate big league starting pitchers, and (2) is 7.5 games up on the wild card despite getting nothing offensively from Trevor Story, David Dahl, Carlos González, or Ian Desmond so far.
Since they’re up so big in the wild-card race, and because the teams chasing them (Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta) don’t exactly look like the 1951 Giants, it really doesn’t matter whether the Rockies are as good as their record suggests. They’re probably going to the playoffs no matter what.
7. Cleveland Indians
A six-game winning streak in mid-June finally put Cleveland in first place, and I’d imagine they’ll stay there for the rest of the season. Injuries — first to Corey Kluber and Jason Kipnis, now to Danny Salazar, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Kipnis again — are forcing Cleveland to get creative, but José Ramírez is one of the hottest players on the planet, and this team always seems to get production from unexpected places when it needs to.
8. New York Yankees
This team is way better than 45–41. In fact, the Yankees are underplaying their run differential by seven games, the largest margin in baseball. Their 7–17 swoon over the past month will probably work itself out when Matt Holliday, Aaron Hicks, and Starlin Castro return from the DL. And while players returning from injury are like new signings, as the saying goes, the Yankees also have the wealth in both money and prospects to swing a trade for just about anyone on the market if GM Brian Cashman decides to go that route.
9. Tampa Bay Rays
Here’s another team that’s doing well despite a litany of injuries: Kevin Kiermaier, Tim Beckham, Matt Andriese, and Matt Duffy are on the DL right now, and second baseman Brad Miller and catcher Wilson Ramos have just returned to the lineup in the past three weeks. Colby Rasmus, meanwhile, was on the DL with a hip injury but has decided to “step away” from baseball, and whether that turns out to be a sabbatical to deal with personal issues or a permanent retirement, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll return to the team this season.
If Tampa Bay can ever get everyone healthy at the same time, this lineup could have nine average or better-than-average hitters and support a playoff rotation — Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, and either Andriese or Blake Snell — that doesn’t have a real dud in the bunch. That’s contingent on navigating the crowded AL wild-card race, but Tampa Bay has the advantage of not relying all that heavily on one particular player, so one slump or injury won’t sink them.
10. Milwaukee Brewers
11. Chicago Cubs
12. St. Louis Cardinals
You can tell the NL Central race is heating up because both the Cubs and Brewers traded for left-handed pitchers on Thursday (José Quintana to the Cubs, Tyler Webb to the Brewers). Quintana’s a far superior player, so that’ll close the gap between the two, but we’re past the point where we can expect the Cubs to just wake up and overtake Milwaukee by sheer force of talent. That might happen, but Chicago’s been bad for long enough that we’ve got to stop assuming it will.
I’m putting these three teams together because the parallels between this year’s NL Central and the 2015–16 Premier League season are starting to freak me out. In both cases, the season started with a seemingly implacable, unfathomably wealthy defending champion (Chelsea) with blue uniforms, an ancient stadium, and a manager who loves to talk to the media. That defending champion then went ass-over-tea kettle right out of the gate, allowing a perennial bottom-feeder (Leicester City) to take over first place thanks to a couple of unexpected breakout performances. (Eric Thames, the bearded offensive juggernaut who came from overseas to little fanfare at the time, is Riyad Mahrez in this metaphor, though Thames could probably curl the 137-pound Mahrez without breaking a sweat.)
As the season went on, that defending champion continued to show its ass while the rest of the traditional contenders had their own less severe crises, most notably a team with red and white uniforms and a fixation on Doing Things The Right Way, whose fans all want their manager fired. With the defending champion unexpectedly self-destructing, the time to strike was never better for Arsenal (or the Cardinals), but they kept tripping over their own feet too often to rise any higher than second place.
The point is, Milwaukee is way better than we thought, but this isn’t the 2001 Mariners we’re talking about; the Brewers have the seventh-best record in baseball and a rotation led by Jimmy Nelson, so they could be had if the Cubs or Cardinals could ever get out of their own ways. But time is running out, and as the Brewers look less and less like they’re going to capitulate, it looks more and more like the Cardinals are going to look back on this season as an enormous missed opportunity.
13. Texas Rangers
Sam Dyson forgot how to pitch; Rougned Odor and Jurickson Profar forgot how to hit; Jonathan Lucroy forgot how to hit and frame pitches; and Cole Hamels and Adrián Beltré both got hurt. Yet the Rangers are still just three games out of the wild card.
Where they go from here will have a huge impact on the rest of the league, because the Rangers could act like a big-market club that sees its window closing and wants to take one last run, or they could act like a team that’s not going anywhere this year, gutted its farm system the past two seasons, and is set to lose several big free agents. That could set up trades of Lucroy or Yu Darvish, and an ace-level talent like Darvish has the capacity to swing a pennant race if he moves teams.
14. Minnesota Twins
Did you know Robbie Grossman is walking in 15.7 percent of his plate appearances this year? That’s more than any American League hitter except Aaron Judge. Which makes sense: The weather’s lovely in Minneapolis this time of year, and if I lived there I’d walk all the time, too.
15. Los Angeles Angels
All the pain of the first half is washed away because Mike Trout is back.
16. Kansas City Royals
This team went 7–16 in April and got back to .500 in eight weeks, which is not only incredible in its own right, but it threw the “Will the Royals trade Lorenzo Cain?” discussion that started the day after the 2015 World Series into absolute chaos.
The Royals are in an impossible position right now, because even if they do think they can keep playing above-average ball, they’re in a nine-way dogfight for the wild card. And if they make it, they’re going into a one-game playoff with (most likely) Jason Vargas on the mound. Then, after the season, they’ll lose Cain, Vargas, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Eric Hosmer to free agency, while Alex Gordon (57 OPS+), Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy, Sal Pérez, and Jason Hammel are due a total of $24 million in raises next year. I don’t envy the decisions Dayton Moore will have to make in the next few weeks.
17. Seattle Mariners
I would love it if Mike Zunino decided once and for all whether he is good at hitting or not:
- 2014: 88 OPS+ (476 PA)
- 2015: 48 OPS+ (386 PA)
- 2016: 113 OPS+ (192 PA)
- 2017: 97 OPS+ (222 PA)
Even within 2017, Zunino hit .172/.243/.234 in April, then .278/.349/.626 in May and June, while in eight games in July, he’s 2-for-23 with 10 strikeouts. My kitchen faucet doesn’t run this hot and cold.
18. Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays are another team that could upend the trade market depending on whether or not they stay in the playoff race over the next few weeks. Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano, and likely José Bautista, who has a mutual option for 2018, are in their last year with Toronto, Josh Donaldson will be a free agent after 2018, and young players like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, and Devon Travis will be in line for big raises in arbitration.
On the other hand, this is another big-market team with an aging core that might get to July 31 a couple of games out of the playoffs and go all in to take one last shot at it. I think they’ve got another run in them, but imagine what could’ve been if the Blue Jays hadn’t started 1–9. They’ve played .513 ball in their past 78 games, which isn’t great, but extrapolated out over the season to date that winning percentage would put Toronto a game out of the wild card.
19. Baltimore Orioles
Manny Machado’s OPS+ is 96 and Adam Jones’s is 97. Zach Britton’s thrown 12 innings all year, and Baltimore’s starting pitchers have reached a game score of 50 (the starting point) only 38 times in 88 games. (Washington’s done it 62 times in 88 games, and only the Reds have done it less often than Baltimore.) The Orioles have the second-worst run differential in the American League (minus-78), and somehow they’re only four games out of a playoff spot on Bastille Day. That’s good work all around.
20. Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s been a disappointing year in Pittsburgh, but one bright spot is former no. 2 overall pick Jameson Taillon, who’s leading Pirates starters in ERA+ and strikeout rate, despite missing a month of the season while undergoing treatment for testicular cancer. Since returning July 12, Taillon’s 3–1 with a 1.98 ERA, with three scoreless outings in five starts.
21. Miami Marlins
Somebody named Jorge Mas is willing to pay Jeffrey Loria in excess of $1.1 billion. Mas isn’t as interesting a potential owner as Derek Jeter; he’s just some super-rich dude who earned his money … somewhere, I guess. I dozed off reading about his history as a businessman so I’m not sure.
However, there’s another potential ownership group that includes one Armando Christian Perez, a.k.a. Pitbull, Mr. 305, Mr. Worldwide, the hereditary God-King of South Florida.
Now, musicians owning bits of sports franchises tends to be less interesting than it sounds, but I didn’t realize how much I wanted Pitbull to own part of the Marlins until I realized it was a possibility. Baseball is a fundamentally stodgy sport, and Pitbull has more fun than anyone else in any room he’s in. Several years ago, there was some sort of online contest in which Pitbull was supposed to perform at the Walmart that got the most Facebook likes, which, due to some internet shenanigans, ended up being in Kodiak, Alaska. You know what Pitbull did? He went to Kodiak, Alaska, and had a blast.
This is a man who can make a Walmart in the middle of nowhere fun. Imagine what he could do for the Marlins.
22. Atlanta Braves
Here’s something cool: Mike Foltynewicz has a 115 ERA+ through 93 innings. Foltynewicz, along with Andrew Thurman and Rio Ruiz, came over from Houston in the Evan Gattis deal in January 2015, but struggled to get big league hitters out despite a big fastball. Not only is it cool that Foltynewicz is finally having sustained success, it’s amusing that the Astros, who tanked for what feels like an eternity, are now watching their own cast-offs from win-now moves take root and succeed elsewhere.
23. Chicago White Sox
24. Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera hasn’t had an OPS+ below 150 since 2009, but in his age-34 season, his OPS+ is down to 112. Time comes for everyone.
25. Cincinnati Reds
To my surprise, Orioles starters are not only 29th in starts with a game score of 50 or better, they’re 29th in ERA- and Baseball-Reference wins above average as well. The one team with a worse starting rotation than the Orioles in all three categories is the Reds. Which makes “Thank God for Cincinnati” the “Thank God for Mississippi” of baseball.
26. New York Mets
Pass. This is too depressing.
27. Oakland Athletics
Two months ago I wrote about catcher Stephen Vogt and Oakland’s fun, young pitching staff. Let’s check in and see what’s happened since then.
- Vogt: Waived, now in Milwaukee (otherwise known as the Reverse John Jaha)
- Kendall Graveman: On the DL (shoulder)
- Jesse Hahn: 7.65 ERA in May and June, demoted to Triple-A
- Jharel Cotton: On the DL (blister)
- Andrew Triggs: On the DL (hip and back, return uncertain)
- Sean Manaea: 69 IP, 66 K, 3.26 ERA since the start of May. So at least he’s doing well.
28. San Francisco Giants
Henry Schulman’s Giants midseason report in the San Francisco Chronicle is subtitled: “How to rebuild on a lost season.”
29. San Diego Padres
Earlier, I mentioned that the Yankees were underperforming their run differential more than any team in baseball. The flip side of that is the two teams that are up seven wins compared with what their run differential would predict: the Twins, who are 45–43 and very much alive in the AL Central and wild card, and the Padres, who are 38–50 and the biggest reason San Diego won’t make U.S. News & World Report’s next list of the 20 best American cities to live in.
30. Philadelphia Phillies
Ken Rosenthal is now dropping trade rumor bombs over on Facebook, most notably that the Phillies are kicking the tires on Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich in a trade that could involve them eating the remainder of The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton’s contract. That’s a potential $339.5 million between the two deals. Trade rumors that leak this early in the process almost always evolve by the time they’re consummated, but at least it’s something to talk about for Phillies fans, who couldn’t be more miserable right now if they’d eaten TMGS himself.