The last power rankings post, on the eve of the season opener, was based on projections—educated guesswork, in other words. Now we’re passing the two-month mark of the season, the point at which we can start to draw meaningful conclusions from this year’s games. Here’s how all 30 MLB teams stack up now that we actually know something.
1. Boston Red Sox
Drew Pomeranz has a 6.75 ERA, Dustin Pedroia is just now back in the lineup after battling a knee injury, Jackie Bradley is hitting .196/.287/.301, and while I know the Red Sox have had good catchers since Carlton Fisk left town, it sure feels like it’s been that long since they’ve had one. And yet, the Red Sox are leading the majors in total runs scored and are tied for second in both ERA+ and OPS+, and their MLB-best 39-17 record is about a 113-win pace. So much is going right that J.D. Martinez’s 18 home runs and Andrew Benintendi’s long-awaited breakout season almost feel like afterthoughts.
2. Houston Astros
And yet you could still make a case for the Astros at no. 1, too. Houston’s run differential, a league-best plus-123, dwarfs Boston’s plus-89. Despite playing to just a 35-22 record thus far, the Astros’ Pythagorean record is 42-15, better than a 119-win pace. Marwin González’s struggles and a couple of noisy bullpen implosions feel like the Matrix correcting for an anomaly—if the Astros were really 42-15, we’d start to suspect our world was a simulation, so they needed to hit a couple of banana peels to dampen suspicion.
Incidentally, the Astros and Red Sox are in the middle of a weekend series. Here are the starting pitching matchups for Friday to Sunday: Chris Sale vs. Gerrit Cole, David Price vs. Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello vs. Charlie Morton. I doubt we’ll see a better three-game stretch of starting pitching matchups before the playoffs, and the Astros aren’t even throwing 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel.
3. New York Yankees
Twelve Yankees have batted at least 60 times this year. Led by Aaron Judge, 11 of them have an OPS+ of 100 or better. The one exception, Neil Walker, has posted an OPS+ of 106 or better in each of his eight full big league seasons, so I’m confident he’ll pick it up eventually—but come on, Neil, you’re dragging everyone else down.
This marks the end of the first tier: clubs that could win 100 games or more. The next group, from no. 4 down to perhaps as far as no. 19, is a mixture of underachieving preseason favorites and overachieving preseason sleepers jumbled together into a soup from which the remaining seven postseason teams will likely emerge.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
After a pedestrian 9-9 start, the Brewers are 27-12 since April 17, and it’s one of the quieter 27-12 runs I can remember. Maybe that’s a product of the NL Central being the Cubs’ and Cardinals’ division. And while every 27-12 run requires a couple of freakish standout performers, Milwaukee’s freakish standouts have been relievers Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress, who are second and fifth in win probability added among all MLB pitchers, and first and second among relievers. Either way, the Brewers are 4.5 games up on the Cubs, five games up on the Cardinals, and have the best record in the National League. Baseball Prospectus gives Milwaukee a 75.2 percent chance of making at least the wild-card round, and a 42.8 percent chance of winning the division, making them slight favorites over Chicago. So maybe it’s time to start talking about the NL Central as Milwaukee’s division.
5. Washington Nationals
The Mets, Phillies, and Braves have all had their turns atop the NL East standings and might figure in the pennant race, but they needed to put some distance between themselves and the preseason favorite Nationals in order to feel comfortable. Well, on May 31, Washington grabbed first place for the first time since April 3 despite having gotten practically nothing from Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy so far. The first couple of months of the season were a preview of the NL East in years to come, but I feel pretty confident about Washington holding onto the division lead in 2018.
6. Chicago Cubs
Even with their 4.5-game deficit in the division, the Cubs have the National League’s best run differential at plus-78. Right-hander Tyler Chatwood has a 4.10 ERA but has 45 walks and 44 strikeouts in just 48 1/3 innings, which gives him a DRA of 8.40 and places his neck on the Cosmic Chopping Block of Regression.
Apart from that, though, I feel pretty good about the Cubs. Sure, Yu Darvish is on the DL. And sure, it’d be nice if Anthony Rizzo hit a little more—it’d also be nice if he stopped slew-footing opposing catchers, but don’t tell Joe Maddon that. Everything else, though, seems to be working as it should, or seems easily fixable. Even Rizzo just ripped off an 11-game hit streak in which he raised his OPS by 100 points. Look for the Cubs to put up an uncharacteristically quiet season of about 93 wins or so, and we’ll check back in for their first playoff game.
7. Cleveland Indians
This might be a reach for a team that’s just 29-25, but more than anything, it’s a statement of my confidence that Cleveland will end up winning the AL Central. That confidence stems from four sources: First, Michael Brantley is as healthy as he’s been since 2015, and is playing his best ball (.343/.383/.569) since his third-place MVP finish in 2014. Second, José Ramírez and Francisco Lindor—the backbone of this lineup—have combined for 29 home runs and 34 doubles, which is a ton for two teeny-tiny men.
Third, Cleveland’s bullpen has been the problem. In the month of May alone, Indians relievers have combined to go 1-7 with a 7.88 ERA and just three saves in nine attempts, all worst in the league. Their minus-3.25 WPA in May was also worst in baseball. (For context, Justin Verlander, who has the best WPA in baseball, is at plus-3.10 for the whole season. The best position player, Mookie Betts, is at plus-2.60.) This unit ranked among the best in baseball over the past two seasons. The only Indians reliever who hasn’t collapsed entirely is Cody Allen, and he’s been merely adequate instead of dominant.
In other words, they’ve been so bad they’ve got nowhere to go but up, either when Andrew Miller comes back healthy and Tyler Olson’s numbers start to match his peripherals (his ERA is 5.87 but his DRA is 2.49). Alternatively, Cleveland could ditch the whole bunch and find eight random dudes at Triple-A or in independent ball and probably do better than a 7.88 ERA. The Nats basically did this last year.
Finally, and most important, nobody in the AL Central is going to catch Cleveland. Despite having underachieved and tripped over their own shoelaces for two months, the Indians are tied for the biggest division lead in baseball at 4.5 games. Even if they don’t perform up to expectations—and their current five-game winning streak might indicate that they’re about to return to form—their competitors are fielding teams more out of obligation than a genuine belief in their own ability to contend.
8. Atlanta Braves
Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, and Mike Soroka have made headlines as Atlanta’s risen to contention this year, and deservedly so. When the Braves return to the playoffs, either this year or in the future, they will be the foundational players. But Nick Markakis is having a career year at age 34, hitting .332/.395/.500 and leading the NL with 73 hits. Which raises a question that’s going to sound weird: Does he have a shot at 3,000 hits for his career?
Markakis has been incredibly durable through his 13-year career, and while his on-base and power numbers have frequently been disappointing for a corner outfielder, he’s always been a good contact hitter. Let’s say he goes on to finish the season as the NL’s hits leader. Since 1919, the lowest hits total to lead the NL in a non-strike-shortened season was 184, by Andrés Galarraga in 1988 and Ben Revere and Denard Span in 2014. (Did anyone else know Ben Revere led the NL in hits one year?) Markakis has 73 hits now, and an additional 111 would get him to 2,236 by season’s end. Let’s say he finishes with 198 hits to make it an even 2,250, leaving him 750 short of 3,000.
At 163 hits a year, that would take about 4 1/2 seasons, which means Markakis would have to play into his age-39 season without dropping off too much. But even if he slows down his pace, he could still threaten 3,000 hits by playing part-time into his 40s. In MLB history, 66 players have recorded 750 or more hits starting in their age-35 seasons; 18 of those had more than 1,000 hits, led by Pete Rose at 1,709. So it’s not likely that Markakis would get to 3,000 hits, but it’s also not even close to impossible. At that point, do we have to consider Markakis—who’s nowhere near a Cooperstown-caliber player now—for the Hall of Fame?
9. Seattle Mariners
This Mariners season has been a disaster. They lost one of their best hitters to a drug suspension, had to force a franchise legend into semiretirement, and are watching another franchise legend post a 5.83 ERA as his arm runs out of gas after a decade of excellence. And yet they’re 33-22, just a game back of the implacable Astros. I love teams that bank a bunch of inexplicable wins then just hang around all year until they cross the line and make the playoffs, where anything is possible.
10. Los Angeles Angels
Part of the Mariners’ success story has involved the Angels following up a hot start by going .500 in May. The big reason to be optimistic about the Angels is that while Shohei Ohtani’s gotten all the headlines, the Angels have had six pitchers—Ohtani, Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Nick Tropeano, and Jaime Barria—pitch pretty well out of the rotation. Having six reliable starters is a luxury in this Age of Never Having Enough Pitching, and the Angels know this as well as anyone after losing Blake Wood, Matt Shoemaker, Alex Meyer, and J.C. Ramírez for the season.
11. Philadelphia Phillies
Whatever else happens, the growing pains of Gabe Kapler’s first week as manager appear to be in the past. Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta are pitching as well as any one-two punch in the game, while Nick Pivetta, acquired in 2015 for a season and change of strangulation-era Jonathan Papelbon, is having a breakout season with a 119 ERA+ and a 10.4 K/9 ratio. The young lineup is still going through growing pains—literal pains in the case of Rhys Hoskins, who broke his jaw on a foul ball this week—so this might end up being a promising mid-80s-win season, but the Phillies are in a better position at this point in the season than they’ve been in years.
12. St. Louis Cardinals
In the preseason power rankings, I wrote this: “The Cardinals’ season hinges on four relatively inexperienced pitchers: Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Luke Weaver, and former global no. 1 prospect Alex Reyes when he returns from Tommy John surgery this summer.” Here’s how they’re doing so far. Mikolas has a 2.58 ERA through 10 starts, Flaherty a 2.15 ERA through five starts, Weaver a 4.63 ERA through 11 starts (but with more promising underlying numbers, including a 3.75 DRA). After striking out almost two batters an inning in four rehab starts, Reyes just returned to the big league rotation with four scoreless innings on Wednesday, though he’s going back on the DL with a “significant” lat strain after that single start.
In other words, not perfect, but not bad. The Cardinals are 29-24, and would be right in the thick of the NL Central race if the Brewers hadn’t gone out of their minds over the past six weeks. Like the Cubs, the Cardinals’ fortunes will be determined in large part by how the Brewers hold up over the season’s final four months.
13. Colorado Rockies
I don’t really believe in the Rockies that much. They’re only four games over .500, they have about the same run differential as the Detroit Tigers, and Ian Desmond is playing first base and hitting .196 in Coors—just to name a couple of scary future indicators. But there’s a power vacuum at the top of the NL West right now, and they’ve filled the void. They won’t stay atop the standings for long if the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, or Giants figure things out, but we’re two months into the season and that hasn’t happened yet.
14. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have withstood substantial injuries to their two best position players (Justin Turner and Corey Seager) and five of their seven best starting pitchers (Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, and Julio Urías) so far this year. Kenley Jansen and Scott Alexander, two of their best relievers, looked completely spent at one point. It’s only by sheer force of economic might that the Dodgers are within three games of .500 right now, and perhaps only by divine intervention that they’re within 3 1/2 games of first place in a division where the other contenders are just as injured and/or bumfuzzled as the Dodgers themselves. This team ought to be cooked by now, but they’re a hot weekend out of a playoff spot.
15. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks were 20-8 through the end of April and looked very much like one of the best teams in baseball. Since the start of May, A.J. Pollock has fractured his left thumb and Paul Goldschmidt has hit .144/.252/.278, while Robbie Ray joined Taijuan Walker and Shelby Miller on the DL. Sometimes a great team collapses and leaves everyone scratching their heads. This isn’t one of those times: They were great until their best players got hurt and/or stopped hitting, and now they look completely beatable.
16. Pittsburgh Pirates
Colin Moran is hitting .275/.359/.416 and Joe Musgrove’s been great in his first two starts, striking out 12 and allowing just a single run in 14 innings. The Pirates are also just 1 1/2 games behind the Cubs. On the flip side, Moran and Musgrove are just reminders of how well Gerrit Cole’s doing in Houston, and Pittsburgh’s six games out of first place in the division with three more talented teams to climb over. How they feel about this club will let you know which of your friends are optimists and which are pessimists.
17. New York Mets
During the Mets’ 11-1 run to start the season, someone asked me on Twitter if a new power rankings post was due out soon, and if not, where the Mets would rank. Presumably, he wanted to see them at no. 1. Noah Syndergaard, Todd Frazier, Yoenis Céspedes, and Wilmer Flores are all on the DL, and Steven Matz might join them soon, and after that 11-1 start, the Mets have gone 16-25. I think about that guy almost every day.
18. San Francisco Giants
Ty Blach, a 27-year-old left-hander with a 4.57 career ERA, has thrown 61 2/3 innings so far this season, while the Giants’ closer and three best starting pitchers—Mark Melancon, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Madison Bumgarner—have combined for 67 2/3 innings. But like the Dodgers, they’ve benefited from the Biblical plagues striking the NL West as a whole, and they sit only four games out of first place with Bumgarner and Melancon set to return in the next few days. Their playoff hopes are dim, but they’re still alive even though they shouldn’t be.
19. Oakland Athletics
Oakland’s vaunted power-hitting offense has turned out to be closer to average, and the team’s at .500 in a division that includes three of the six best teams in the AL. If they were in the NL West, the A’s would probably be five games up on the division, but c’est la guerre.
On a happier note, Daniel Mengden, an undersized right-hander with a mustache and K/9 ratio (5.8) from the 1970s and mechanics from the 1920s, threw a complete-game shutout last week and currently boasts a 2.85 ERA.
Daniel Mengden, Nasty 84mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/U4qGlwcDRJ— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 27, 2018
Oakland is the Mecca of surprisingly competent but extremely weird starting pitchers.
20. Tampa Bay Rays
This past offseason, the Rays DFA’d All-Star left fielder Corey Dickerson, traded starter Jake Odorizzi to Minnesota, traded franchise icon Evan Longoria to San Francisco, traded outfielder Steven Souza to Arizona, and let workhorse reliever Tommy Hunter and first baseman Logan Morrison walk as free agents. In short, they took an 80-win team and liquidated about 200 quality innings of pitching as well as their top four home run hitters.
They’ve also begun to reject the traditional starting pitcher, giving five recent starts to relievers Sergio Romo and Ryne Stanek in an attempt to gain the platoon advantage against lineups stacked with right-handed hitters at the top. (Both Stanek and Romo are right-handed.) It’s either a devilishly clever innovation or an attempt to get away with paying only three starting pitchers, or perhaps a little of both. In four of those starts, a kind of fringe-average left-handed starter/long man relieved the “opener,” as they’re calling it: Anthony Banda, Vidal Nuño, or Ryan Yarbrough (twice), and all four times the fringy lefty has pitched like Chris Sale. Over those four outings, Banda, Nuno, and Yarbrough have combined to go 3-0 and allow just three earned runs against 20 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings.
Then last week, Tampa Bay traded leadoff hitter Denard Span and closer Alex Colomé to the Mariners. Clayton Kershaw will make about $35.6 million this year, while Tampa Bay’s entire 25-man roster, the second-cheapest in baseball, will make a shade under $42.3 million. They play in a division with at minimum two of the three best teams in baseball, and they’re still two games over .500. Tanking ain’t as easy as it looks.
21. Minnesota Twins
If there’s one team that’s going to crawl out of the slimy puddle of busted mush that is the AL Central and grab Cleveland by the ankle, pulling the Indians back into the pit, where both teams drown but Cleveland drowns slightly faster—well, this is it. Which is not to say that everything’s gone perfectly or even well in the Twin Cities—it’d be nice, for instance, if Byron Buxton weren’t hitting .156/.183/.200 or better yet if Buxton didn’t have to play on a broken toe. But how’s this for good news: After sitting at or near the bottom of the AL strikeout leaderboard for the better part of a decade, the Twins have five starters within a rounding error of striking out a batter per inning: José Berríos, Fernando Romero, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, and Lance Lynn. And hey, Lynn’s ERA is back below 6.00!
22. Toronto Blue Jays
This past week, catcher Russell Martin made his first MLB starts at shortstop and left field. This comes a little more than a year after Martin was slated to play shortstop for Canada in the WBC but had to withdraw from the tournament due to injury. I support this Play Russell Martin Everywhere movement—every team should have an old guy who just gets to play wherever he wants.
23. Detroit Tigers
Heading into the season, I thought the Tigers were going to be truly unwatchable, but here they are, just five games under .500, even with nominal ace Michael Fulmer’s ERA at 4.60 and Miguel Cabrera limited to 26 games by a hamstring injury. It’s also encouraging to see third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who came over from the Cubs in the Justin Wilson–Alex Avila trade last year, hitting .272/.363/.521. That’s good for a 139 wRC+, sixth among MLB third basemen with a minimum of 100 plate appearances.
24. Texas Rangers
The Rangers are allowing 5.31 runs per game, third most in MLB, but the Rangers and Astros together are allowing just 4.07 runs per game, less than the MLB average of 4.39 runs per game, despite both teams playing in the American League. Are the Rangers good at run prevention? No, but Texas is.
25. San Diego Padres
There’s a baseball truism that facing a variety of looks in one game can screw with hitters—going from a knuckleballer to a conventional pitcher, for instance, or a conventional pitcher to a submariner. Whoever coined that truism would love this year’s Padres. Take this single game, April 4 against the Rockies. Here’s starter Clayton Richard:
Richard threw five innings, then turned things over to rookie reliever Adam Cimber, who wears no. 90. You have to be kind of weird to wear no. 90, and Cimber pitches like a guy who wears no. 90.
After one scoreless inning, Cimber handed off to Robbie Erlin, an entirely conventional left-hander who must’ve looked like Fernando Valenzuela to Rockies hitters.
And after Erlin came Kazuhisa Makita, a 33-year-old NPB veteran in his first big league season. How did he cross the Pacific? In a submarine.
Is this effective? Not really. Despite playing in a pitcher’s park in the National League, with a team of well-regarded individual defenders including shortstop Freddy Galvis, first baseman Eric Hosmer, center fielder Manuel Margot, and (when healthy) catcher Austin Hedges, the Padres are 22nd in MLB in run prevention. But the worst thing a team can be is bad and boring at the same time, and San Diego’s Mutter Museum of weird wind-ups is, at the very least, not boring.
26. Cincinnati Reds
Raisel Iglesias is up there on my list of players I want to see play for a contender. The 28-year-old Cuban signed with the Reds as an amateur free agent in 2014, and after a brief flirtation with the starting rotation, he has become a dominant closer with the capability to pitch multiple innings. Send him up I-71 to Cleveland and Iglesias could be a star by the end of October. For now, though, he’s a good closer on a team with a bad offense, which makes him extremely valuable in fantasy baseball but feels like kind of a waste in real life.
The Reds’ bullpen has been a bright spot, in fact: Iglesias, Amir Garrett, and Jared Hughes have combined to allow just 59 hits and 16 earned runs in 85 2/3 innings—that’s an ERA of just 1.68. Garrett, never a big strikeout guy in the rotation, is striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings.
27. Kansas City Royals
Over the past two months, I’ve watched Ringer contributor Rany Jazayerli (the biggest and possibly only Royals fan I know) slowly try to talk himself into right fielder Jorge Soler.
Good to see Soler is coming back around. April was starting to look like a mirage, but a .278/.372/.481 line at the end of May will do just fine.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) May 31, 2018
I could cite Kansas City’s record or run differential here, but “talking yourself into Jorge Soler” pretty much tells the whole story.
28. Chicago White Sox
Lucas Giolito was a five-time top-100 prospect, a three-time top 10 prospect on the Baseball Prospectus list, and a surefire future ace. His fastball and curveball both merited an 80, the highest scouting grade. Instead, Giolito’s stuff has backed up every year—this season, his heater, which once touched triple digits, is averaging just 92.2 mph—and his ERA through 11 starts is 7.53. And yet I can’t bring myself to give up on him. I am going down with the USS Giolito, if that’s what it comes to.
29. Miami Marlins
The big-name prospect the Marlins got back in the Christian Yelich trade was outfielder Lewis Brinson, an effusive South Florida native who seemed jazzed to be playing for his hometown club and made a big deal out of wearing no. 9 to honor his favorite player from his childhood, Juan Pierre. Through 53 games, Brinson is hitting .155/.202/.262.
30. Baltimore Orioles
Fifty-six games into the season, the Orioles have had five discrete losing streaks of five games or more. They are 22 games out of first place in the AL East. All four teams chasing the Rockies in the NL West are a combined 15.5 games out, all four teams chasing the Nationals in the NL East are a combined 19 games out, and all four teams chasing the Astros in the AL West are a combined 23.5 games out. The Orioles were hesitant to trade Manny Machado until they were completely sure they were out of the pennant race; the time has come to kick Machado up this list a few spots.
All stats updated through Wednesday’s games.