In addition to the holiday atmosphere that surrounds the All-Star Game, this break offers the baseball world an opportunity to sit back and take stock of how the season’s going. By this point, we know enough about all 30 teams to speak confidently about their strengths and weaknesses, and with the trade deadline just two weeks away, every team needs to take a long look at where it stands in the playoff race. For that reason, in addition to an ordinal ranking, it’s useful to look at the teams in tiers—it doesn’t matter that much which of the Yankees, Astros, or Red Sox is on top of the heap, but it matters a great deal that all three have loaded rosters and are locks to make the postseason.
So let’s see how those teams—and the 27 others—stack up at the All-Star break.
1. Boston Red Sox
FanGraphs projects that each of the teams in this group—which consists of three American League squads—will win at least 103 games, and each team currently has a 100 percent chance to make the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus is a little less bullish—they have all the teams at or above 102 wins (rounding up from Houston’s 101.9-win projection) and 99.8 percent to make the playoffs. What I want to know is how exactly one of these teams would end up missing the playoffs.
Boston is out in front by a little in the standings thanks to a strong push heading into the break (going 9-1 in the team’s past 10 games). The Red Sox are still figuring out their second base and catching situations, but Jackie Bradley Jr. (.323/.377/.548 over his past 18 games) looks like he’s finally turning the corner, or at least showing the positive side of being one of baseball’s streakiest hitters. Meanwhile, J.D. Martinez has been hitting like peak Hank Aaron for about a year and a half (.314/.384/.669 since the start of 2017), and going off public perception, he’s still the third-best hitter on the Detroit Tigers. Maybe this season, if he goes on an 80-homer pace down the stretch like he did last year, people will actually notice.
2. Houston Astros
Houston is once again in control in the AL West. With Carlos Correa hurt and Marwin González struggling on and off, Alex Bregman is enjoying a breakout season with a 159 OPS+ and 20 home runs—both are team and career highs.
In other Astros news, Héctor Rondón is looking like a pretty savvy signing right now. Rondón’s production fell off pretty steeply after ceding the Cubs’ closer role to Aroldis Chapman in 2016, and he struggled with a nagging back injury and command issues en route to a pedestrian 4.24 ERA in 2017. This past offseason, Houston snapped him up for two years and just $8.5 million, and in 37 appearances so far in 2018, Rondon’s on track for career highs in K/9 (11.5) and ERA+ (248). And it couldn’t have come at a better time, because speaking of “snapped,” Houston’s incumbent closer Ken Giles now finds himself in Triple-A after an extremely weird season.
The Astros called Giles’s demotion “a baseball decision,” which I guess is true, because when Giles allegedly said “Fuck you, man” to his manager on TV, he was technically on a baseball diamond. This comes after Giles punched himself in the face after a previous meltdown in May. The 27-year-old righty’s 4.99 ERA is the worst of his career and was the worst on the entire Astros staff at the time of his demotion. Manager A.J. Hinch has never been too tied to one closer—four different Astros have recorded saves this year—and the team’s best reliever might be converted starter Collin McHugh, who has a 403 ERA+ in a multi-inning role, but has no saves of his own. If the Astros do repeat as World Series champions, Rondón is probably the most likely pitcher to record the final out, though with this team, that’s by no means a certainty.
3. New York Yankees
If the Yankees win 103 games, as FanGraphs projects, they could end up making history. The Dodgers’ 104-win 2017 (with the 102-win Indians and 101-win Astros close behind) is a huge historical outlier. While it’s not out of the question that three teams would win at least 103 games this year—it’s happened once before, in 1942, though the teams weren’t all in the same league—only seven teams have won that many games since 2001. Of course, with the Red Sox playing the way they are, the Yankees could win 103 games and not even win the division—the last team to pull that off was the 1993 Giants, and before that you have to go all the way back to 1954, before divisions even existed. That year, the Yankees won 103 games and lost the pennant to the 111-win Indians.
Perhaps most impressive, the Yankees are doing all this with an uninspiring rotation. Luis Severino is going to get some Cy Young consideration, but Masahiro Tanaka’s been on and off the DL, Jordan Montgomery’s out for the year, and Sonny Gray’s barely playable at this point. The pitcher keeping it all together is 37-year-old left-hander CC Sabathia, who’s throwing some top-notch old man ball. The 2007 Cy Young winner has a 122 ERA+ in 18 starts, despite ranking 66th out of 80 qualified pitchers in K% and 54th in fastball velocity. And even that’s a little misleading: Sabathia has thrown his four-seamer just 23 times this year, using his cutter (with an average speed of 89.5 mph) as his primary fastball. I can’t get enough of it—I hope Sabathia pitches until he’s 50.
4. Chicago Cubs
It doesn’t feel like the Cubs have really hit their stride this season, and yet here they are, with the National League’s best record and run differential. After holding the Yoenis Céspedes Memorial More-Fun-Than-He-Is-Good Trophy for the past two seasons, Javy Báez is finally putting up big offensive numbers to match his defense: a team-high 131 OPS+ with 19 home runs and, most impressively, 18 stolen bases in just 20 attempts.
BP puts Chicago’s playoff odds at 96.2 percent, and no other team in the National League has even hit 80 percent. This speaks to a weird distribution of quality between the two leagues. It’s pretty obvious by this point that the three best teams in baseball are in the AL, and that there’s a huge gulf in quality from no. 3 to no. 4. But the National League has nine of the next 12 teams in these power rankings, and even the Cubs aren’t completely safe in their division with the Brewers just 2.5 games back. At the break, the only thing that’s clear about the National League’s pennant race is that it will be more fun than the AL’s—all three division titles and both wild-card spots are very much up for grabs, with as many as 10 teams still in the hunt.
5. Cleveland Indians
Despite having just the 11th-best record in baseball, Cleveland is fifth in these power rankings for two reasons: First, their plus-82 run differential is tied for fifth in baseball and suggests that the Indians have been slightly unlucky so far this year; second, BP gives Cleveland a 98.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, which puts them one foot into October with two and a half months to go. Cleveland’s godawful AL Central division will deliver this club to the ALDS, where any team with Corey Kluber has a decent chance at advancing. I’m not to the point yet where I resent Cleveland for having such limp competition, but we’re getting there.
Good Teams With Work to Do
6. Los Angeles Dodgers
After looking like the Kansas City Royals through April and May, Los Angeles has gone 27-13 since the start of June, which put them back in first place at the break. Clayton Kershaw is back, Kenley Jansen went from seriously worrisome in April to an All-Star in July, and those early struggles look very much like a thing of the past. And now it looks like Manny Machado is coming over from Baltimore to fill the Corey Seager–shaped hole in the lineup. The rest of the NL West will regret not killing the Dodgers off when they had the chance.
7. Seattle Mariners
This group of teams is heavy on clubs that had a chance to cap off surprising first halves by solidifying their playoff berths, but instead headed into the break in a tailspin. After July 3’s action, Seattle was just half a game out of the division lead, with an 87.8 percent chance of making the postseason for the first time since 2001. Since then, the Mariners have dropped eight of 11, lost ace James Paxton to a back injury (all the while thanking God it wasn’t an elbow or shoulder injury), and fallen to just about an even-money bet to make the playoffs. The Mariners had been playing better than their run differential would indicate, and while most teams regress to the mean eventually, very few do it all at once like that.
8. Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee’s situation is like Seattle’s—they’ve shed 18.3 percentage points off their playoff odds in the past week, second only to Seattle—but perhaps even more perilous. The Mariners were realistically never going to bypass Houston in the AL West, and even after their swoon they still have a three-game lead on Oakland, the only club with a realistic chance of catching them for the second wild-card spot. Milwaukee, however, enters the break on a six-game losing streak that cost it the division lead, and will now have to fight the six other NL teams that sit within five games of a playoff spot. The Mariners have to outrun only one team in particular, while the Brewers have to outpace five out of six competitors. It’s going to be a tense next two months in Milwaukee.
9. Atlanta Braves
It’s close, but I think Atlanta’s pitching depth is more than enough to make up Philadelphia’s half-game lead in the division. And speaking of pitching depth, Aníbal Sánchez, who’s 34 years old and hasn’t pitched effectively in the majors since 2013, has a 2.60 ERA in 65 2/3 innings at the break. And his 3.07 DRA says that if this is fluky, it’s not all that fluky.
10. Philadelphia Phillies
The sour taste of missed opportunity might not weigh as heavily on the Phillies’ tongues as the Mariners’ and Brewers’, but it’s still there. In the week before the break, Philadelphia lost four games: two walk-off losses to the Mets; a 2-0 loss in which Aaron Nola pitched well but the Phillies couldn’t manage a single run (against the Marlins, of all teams); and another loss to Miami in which the Phillies led 5-0 but surrendered 10 unanswered runs, eight of them in one inning. This half-game lead in the NL East would look downright insurmountable if it were a 4.5-game lead and Manny Machado were on the way, but that no longer appears to be the case.
11. Oakland Athletics
Last year, the A’s traded relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle to Washington for prospects Jesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse, as well as a reliever, Blake Treinen, who was supposed to be Washington’s closer but carried a 5.73 ERA at the time of the trade. It wasn’t out of the question—or even particularly unlikely—that Treinen would turn it around eventually, but the Nats didn’t have the luxury of waiting for him to figure it out.
A year later, Baseball Prospectus ranked Luzardo the no. 13 overall prospect on its midseason top 50, and Treinen looks like the second coming of Rollie Fingers: an 0.94 ERA in 48 innings over 40 appearances, with 24 saves in 27 opportunities. The less said about Oakland’s starting rotation the better, but the A’s have seven different hitters with double-digit home run totals, and as Seattle continues to tumble in the standings, the A’s are lying in wait like the goddamn chupacabra. It’s a pretty nice place to be.
12. Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona’s pitching staff could be really dangerous if they make it to the postseason, but the Dodgers’ reemergence complicates matters. The good news is that Arizona’s weaknesses should be relatively easy to fix. For instance, Chris Owings, a shortstop who’s never been a good hitter, has played 53 games in the outfield for Arizona this year and is hitting .194/.259/.284. They don’t need to trade for J.D. Martinez again to upgrade that position—just stick any old stiff out in right field and it’d be a huge improvement.
Hanging On by a Thread
13. Washington Nationals
Maybe Bryce Harper’s dramatic Home Run Derby victory will be the thing to get Washington to finally turn the corner. The Nats have gotten lucky this season with offensive contributions from Matt Adams, Mark Reynolds, and teenage outfielder Juan Soto, but the team as a whole still feels like it hasn’t realized the season started 96 games ago. I keep expecting them to just wake up, switch it on, and chase down the Braves and Phillies, but they’re .500 at the break, and if Harper’s Derby win on home soil doesn’t do the trick, they’re very close to running out of time.
14. San Francisco Giants
The Giants lost Johnny Cueto, Mark Melancon, Madison Bumgarner, Joe Panik, and Hunter Strickland for big chunks of time this season, watched Jeff Samardzija post a 6.25 ERA in 10 starts, and gave 127 plate appearances to Hunter Pence and his 44 OPS+ before the break. And somehow they’re 50-48, just four games out of first place in the NL West, despite playing in a division that produced three playoff teams last year. Looking at this roster, I’m not convinced they’re that good, but I can’t write off a team that went through what San Francisco did and came out the other side with one foot in the pennant race.
15. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are 7.5 games behind the Cubs, and they just fired their manager for (among other things) mouthing off in a story about how his closer’s bullying his setup man. Alex Reyes is out for the season again, Dexter Fowler hasn’t hit worth a damn all year, and that’s masking the fact Marcell Ozuna has only hit worth a small fraction of a damn. There’s nowhere to go but up.
16. Los Angeles Angels
I really thought this would be the year the Angels would surround Mike Trout with a decent supporting cast—they did for a while, but then everyone got hurt. The Angels’ “Current Injuries” section on Baseball-Reference is 14 names long, and that doesn’t count two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who’s still DHing but hasn’t pitched in a game in six weeks thanks to a damaged UCL. Other notable damaged UCLs on the Angels this year: starting pitchers J.C. Ramírez, John Lamb, and Garrett Richards, and closer Keynan Middleton. But it gets worse—pitcher Alex Meyer and third baseman Zack Cozart both have torn labrums, and pitcher Matt Shoemaker is still recovering from surgery to decompress the nerves in his right arm, which sounds like something out of a David Cronenberg movie. Maybe nothing the Angels try will get Trout back to the playoffs.
17. Tampa Bay Rays
Fair enough. Tampa Bay, led by All-Star left-hander Blake Snell, is having a surprisingly not-terrible season—though with a 6.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus, they’re only still in the race by the most liberal of definitions.
18. Colorado Rockies
Every team has a few fun statistical quirks, but the Rockies’ rotation is a full-on ontological crisis. Left-hander Kyle Freeland has a 3.11 ERA—no mean feat for a pitcher whose home base is Coors Field—and according to bWAR (which includes runs allowed), he’s been worth 4.5 wins, tied for sixth-most in baseball with Trevor Bauer. Right-hander Jon Gray’s 5.44 ERA isn’t good, even in Coors Field, and by bWAR, he’s been worth one win—in fact, the Rockies were forced to send him to the minors late last month. But Freeland’s underlying numbers say he’s pitched closer to league average than his Cy Young–level adjusted ERA would suggest, while Gray has been historically unlucky. Gray is 12th out of 80 qualified pitchers in strikeout rate, but dead last in opponent BABIP and second-to-last in strand rate. So WAR measures that use ERA estimators—fWAR and WARP, specifically—say he’s been about a win better than Freeland.
So who’s having the better season? It depends on whether you value a pitcher’s results or our best estimate of how he performed after putting those results in context. An ERA estimator might be fairer to a pitcher by ironing out luck, but it’s raw results, not context-neutral performance, that impact the standings directly. I don’t know if this argument would get two strangers at a sports bar worked up, but it’s a fascinating window into how we evaluate pitchers.
19. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are the least interesting team in baseball at this moment in time. They’re close enough to a playoff spot that they probably won’t be sellers at the deadline, but not close enough that one or two aggressive trades could put them over the top. And while it’s easy to upgrade a team that’s average because it has a few stars and a few sub-replacement-level players to cancel them out, the Pirates are an average team composed mostly of average players. According to Baseball-Reference, every player the Pirates have used this year is within 1.6 wins of league-average one way or the other. A few of those players—Jameson Taillon, Felipe Vázquez, and all of the team’s outfielders—are fun to watch, but there’s very little boom or bust potential.
Bad, but Possibly Fun
20. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds fired manager Bryan Price after a 3-15 start, and since then, the team has gone 40-38 under interim skipper Jim Riggleman, even though Riggleman’s about the most boring, uninspiring retread manager in the league. Cincinnati has an inconsistent but talented rotation, a killer bullpen, and a lineup with real star power in Joey Votto, Eugenio Suárez, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s the world we live in now) Scooter Gennett. With a better start, the Reds could have been the National League’s version of the Oakland A’s, but even as it stands, they’re probably going to seriously screw up some unsuspecting contender’s playoff chances late in the season. I’d tell you to circle a certain series on the calendar, but between now and the end of the year, the Reds play nearly every NL team ahead of them in these power rankings at least once, so just watch every series to be safe.
21. Toronto Blue Jays
Good news, Canada! Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the no. 1 prospect in baseball, has recovered from his knee injury, which means it’s safe to start pounding your fists and demanding for him to be called up to the big leagues again.
22. Minnesota Twins
Eddie Rosario’s got to feel a little hard done by as he’s sitting at home watching the All-Star Game—or even if he’s chosen to go on vacation and he’s sitting on a beach somewhere not watching the All-Star Game. Rosario took a long time to develop into the player he is now, one who’s hitting .311/.353/.537 and playing good defense in left field. And it’s not just that he’s on pace for an almost seven-win season, but the way that he’s gotten there has been tons of fun to watch: He has speed and power, and his aggressive, chaotic, slightly weird style of play would have already made him a folk hero if he played for, say, the Cubs or Red Sox.
Maybe he’d already be a folk hero if the Twins hadn’t thrown away their best shot at a division title in years, but there’s always next year.
23. Texas Rangers
A team like the Rangers—far off the pace and at the end of its competitive cycle—is easy to ignore this late in the season, so Shin-Soo Choo has gone under the radar a little bit. You probably know that Choo made the All-Star team, but it’s unbelievable that, at age 35, this is his first All-Star appearance. Choo has had three 20-homer, 20-steal seasons, and four seasons with a .390 OBP or better, and had never before been so honored. Meanwhile, Yadier Molina, who’s the same age as Choo with similar MLB experience and a similar career bWAR total (37.7 for Molina, 33.8 for Choo) has made nine All-Star teams in the past 10 seasons.
Choo has also reached base in 51 straight games, the longest such streak since 2007, which feels like something we ought to be paying more attention to in this day and age. The rest of the Rangers have been uninspiring, but Choo deserves his moment in the sun.
24. San Diego Padres
The big league team I could take or leave, but the Padres’ farm system is the best in baseball, as you could probably tell if you watched the Futures Game on Sunday. San Diego landed six prospects in the BP midseason top 50, and five in the top 35, led by no. 2 overall prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. (Yes, Fernando Tatis Sr., is who you think he is.) Tatis is a smooth fielder for someone his size (he’s 6-foot-3, and at age 19 is beginning to fill out) and has big power potential.
We’re just starting to see the fruits of this farm system percolate to the surface: For instance, back in April, left-hander Eric Lauer became the first player from the first round of the 2016 draft to reach the big leagues. More and better is on its way, and soon.
25. New York Mets
Jacob deGrom looks like he’s on his way to a Cy Young Award and is the only unreservedly fun thing about this team. Or at least he was, until his agent issued a “shit or get off the pot” directive to the Mets this week, suggesting that if they’re not going to sign the 30-year-old ace to a contract extension, they should trade him. That 11-1 start feels like it was years ago.
Bad, and Probably Not Fun
26. Detroit Tigers
Ron Gardenhire ended his tenure as manager of the Twins with four straight 90-loss seasons, and he’s picking up right where he left off in Detroit. The Tigers are on pace for a 94-loss season, and they’d be a lot worse off if they hadn’t gone 8-1 against the White Sox so far this year. And here I thought Shin-Soo Choo’s streak was impressive.
27. Chicago White Sox
The average K/9 ratio in MLB this year is 8.5, an all-time record. Nine pitchers have started at least one game for the White Sox this year, including two former All-Stars and four first-round picks, and none of them has a league-average K/9 ratio. The closest anyone’s gotten is Carson Fulmer, who in addition to striking out 8.1 batters per nine innings is walking 6.7 batters per nine innings and giving up a home run, on average, once every four innings. Fulmer and his 8.07 ERA have returned to Triple-A where the results have not been much better.
28. Miami Marlins
Thank God for the Mets.
29. Baltimore Orioles
Now that Manny Machado is as good as gone, the Orioles have a real ghost-ship vibe to them. It’s likely that Buck Showalter will leave the club before next season starts, but who knows? 28-69 is such a bad record it doesn’t seem real, and the only way to get that bad is to be so directionless that nobody in charge is paying enough attention to actually bother getting rid of the manager. The Orioles are what you’d get if “I’m not sure I locked the front door before I went on vacation” was running a baseball team.
30. Kansas City Royals
I’d be interested in seeing this year’s Oregon State team play the Royals over, say, a seven-game series. Oregon State just won a national championship with a loaded roster that included three first-round draft picks, the front-runner for next year’s no. 1 pick in sophomore catcher Adley Rutschman, and national freshman of the year Kevin Abel. I don’t think Oregon State could beat the Royals—nowhere is the tired “this good college team could beat this bad pro team” trope less realistic than in baseball—but I want to see how close they’d get because MLB teams this bad don’t come around very often.