With 75 percent of the MLB regular season in the rearview mirror, it’s time for the final power rankings of the year. Soon there will be only playoffs and the rush to see which of the 17 teams left in the pennant race will claim the 10 spots up for grabs. Here’s how those contenders—as well as the clubs who are just playing out the string—stack up.
1. Houston Astros (70-48)
The Astros of 2021 are starting to resemble the Astros of 2017. No, no, no, not for the reason you’re thinking. That 2017 team had plenty of star power, but perhaps even more important, its pitching and offensive production were dispersed evenly throughout the roster—particularly before the late August trade for Justin Verlander. Without an easy out in the lineup, the Astros could rip off big innings through both multirun homers and old-school conga line action. And while the lack of standout pitching left manager AJ Hinch scrambling after Verlander and Dallas Keuchel took their turns in the rotation, he was able to mix and match enough to find success in the playoffs.
This time around, the Astros are getting above-average production (by sOPS+, or OPS relative to league average production in that split) from eight of nine offensive positions. And while closer Ryan Pressly was the only Houston pitcher to make the All-Star Game, the six Astros who’ve thrown at least 75 innings all have an ERA+ of 120 or better (including Lance McCullers Jr., who’s in the middle of the best season of his career). No other team has more than three pitchers who meet those criteria.
That depth has allowed Houston to weather injuries to the likes of José Urquidy, Kyle Tucker, and Alex Bregman, and stay at or near the top of the AL pecking order in a pretty chaotic season for the rest of the league. And they’ve done it fairly quietly for a change.
2. San Francisco Giants (77-42)
It seems like that much-anticipated other shoe is just not going to drop on the Giants, who hold a four-game lead in the NL West with 43 games to play. After stealing Kris Bryant from Chicago in a trade deadline heist and getting Evan Longoria back from a shoulder injury, San Francisco’s lineup is deeper than it’s ever been. And America’s favorite band of geriatric millennials could soon add newly minted Olympic silver medalist Scott Kazmir to its pitching staff.
The Giants’ lead is far from impregnable—can anyone think of another memorable Dodgers-Giants pennant race?—but with only three games left against the Dodgers, they’ll remain in first place even if they lose every remaining game to their closest pursuers. Plus, on a squishier but still important note, this team really has nothing left to prove in the regular season. The players who everyone thought were washed up in April have now been producing for four and a half months. LaMonte Wade is hitting home runs at a pace that would give him almost 40 with a full season’s worth of plate appearances. And Kevin Gausman has the best ERA+ for a qualified Giants starter since Carl Hubbell. They might be the most orange team in the NL, but they’re not about to turn into a pumpkin.
3. Chicago White Sox (69-50)
Tim Anderson’s walkoff home run in the Field of Dreams game will go down as one of the most memorable moments of this regular season—and perhaps the iconic non-Ohtani highlight of 2021.
But with six weeks to go, the White Sox don’t have that much left to play for. Sure, they could still make a play for the AL’s no. 1 seed, but with an 11-game lead over second-place Cleveland in the division, they’re basically the only team in the junior circuit that has a playoff spot completely locked down. The job now is to keep the AL’s best starting rotation healthy—stay off that throwing shoulder, Carlos Rodón—and make sure Liam Hendriks’s bad weekend (seven runs allowed in 1 1/3 innings against the Yankees) is just an homage to an Art Brut song and not the start of a trend.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (73-46)
Since the trade deadline passed on July 30, the Dodgers are 11-4. That includes a split against Houston, taking two of three on the road from the white-hot Phillies, and a sweep of the Mets that included the Dodgers’ second and third extra-inning wins of the year. That’s the kind of run a chasing team would kill for in early August.
And yet the Dodgers are a game further out of first place than they were at the deadline. L.A. could win 100 games and finish with a plus-200 run differential and still see its run of consecutive division titles come to an end.
5. Tampa Bay Rays (72-47)
The Rays hung around in a wild-card spot early in the season, essentially waiting for one or more of the Yankees, Blue Jays, or Twins to snap out of their early-season funk and knock the defending AL champions back off their playoff bubble. Along the way, Tampa Bay even tried to help those teams out by jettisoning shortstop Willy Adames (who’s gone on to hit .297/.378/.551 for Milwaukee), trading Rich Hill to the Mets, and putting no. 1 starter Tyler Glasnow on the IL with a torn UCL.
But since July 4, the Rays have knocked Boston out of first place in the AL East, claimed (at least for the moment) the top seed in the entire AL playoff bracket, and recorded the best record in baseball—and done it all with the pomp and circumstance of a carbon monoxide leak. We’ll see if this ramshackle rotation can hold up in a playoff series against the likes of Houston or Chicago, but it looks more certain than ever that Tampa Bay will get a chance to prove it can.
6. Milwaukee Brewers (72-47)
In addition to Adames, who took one look at a bratwurst and immediately turned into Cal Ripken Jr., the Brewers have distanced themselves from the NL Central pack thanks to the best rotation in the NL. Yes, including the Buehler-Scherzer-Kershaw juggernaut down in Los Angeles.
Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta all have an ERA+ of 180 or better. (Burnes’s ERA of 2.23 is actually seven-tenths of a run worse than his FIP, which beggars belief.) Only two teams in MLB history have ever had two qualified starters with an ERA+ that good—or even two such pitchers in the rotation. One of those was the 1884 Providence Grays, whose no. 1 starter was Old Hoss Radbourn. Not “Old Hoss Radbourn” as a shorthand for the whiskey-soaked, rubber-armed rogues who dominated pro baseball in its larval stage, but literally Old Hoss Radbourn.
If you don’t want to adjust for park and era, the Brewers are the first team in 102 years to have three qualified starters with an ERA of 2.30 or better. The last time that happened was 1919, the final season of the dead ball era. And this doesn’t capture the league-average back-of-the-rotation work from Brett Anderson, Eric Lauer, and Adrian Houser. Or a bullpen that has four pitchers with at least 40 appearances and an ERA below 3.00. If this team was any better at run prevention, we’d have to start calling them the Milwaukee Imodiums.
7. Oakland A’s (68-51)
There are fortuitous trade deadline pickups, and then there’s Starling Marte. In his first 15 games with the A’s, Marte has hit .382. And he’s done this as Oakland’s incumbent center fielder, Ramón Laureano, was suspended 80 games for a PED violation.
Marte’s base-stealing exploits also deserve special notice, not just because any A’s outfielder who runs a lot is going to invite comparisons to Rickey Henderson, but because we’re in a period of relatively low stolen base attempt numbers. Since joining the A’s, Marte has reached first base with second base unoccupied 18 times—15 singles, two walks, and a fielder’s choice. And he’s stolen second 10 times without being caught.
8. New York Yankees (66-52)
The heaviest team in baseball is also one of the hottest. No team in the AL has a better record through its past 20 games than the Yankees’ 14-6 mark, and no team in all of MLB has won more games out of its last 30. Since the trade deadline, the Yankees have shaved off about two-thirds of their deficit to Boston, and they could pass the Sox in the standings during this week’s three-game series. This is all despite dropping 10 of 13 to Boston so far this year, including a pair of three-game sweeps in June.
The question now is whether the Yankees dug themselves too deep a hole early in the year. The Rays are probably too far ahead to catch for the division lead; the A’s seem entrenched in the top wild-card spot; and the best team in the AL East at this moment might actually be the fourth-place Blue Jays. Plus Boston, for all the consternation surrounding the team at the moment, just got Chris Sale back and outscored Baltimore 30-5 in a three-game sweep last weekend. The Yankees are undoubtedly good enough to make the playoffs; whether they actually get there, though, remains to be seen.
9. San Diego Padres (67-54)
The Padres went through the trade deadline with lots of ground to make up, and early returns have not been good. Fernando Tatis Jr. left the team’s July 30 game with a shoulder injury, and San Diego lost that game (and then seven of the 13 that followed) while he was out. Perhaps an even worse omen is the fact that the Padres—who traded for Yu Darvish, Mike Clevinger, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove in the past year, and have developed Chris Paddack, Ryan Weathers, and Adrián Morejón—are penciling Jake Arrieta into their rotation. The same Arrieta who was released by the Cubs last week after telling a reporter to take his mask off during a press conference. The 2015 Cy Young winner still has some name recognition, but after an injury-plagued three-year stint with the Phillies, he posted an ERA of 6.88 in 20 starts during his reunion with the Cubs. He’s gotten smoked so much that if you tried to put barbecue sauce on him, certain Texans would give you the side-eye.
The Dads have too much talent, and probably banked too many wins early this year, to raise the alarm just yet. But they’re now 11 games out of the NL West lead, seven games behind the Dodgers for the first wild-card spot, and just 1.5 games from falling out of the playoffs altogether.
10. Toronto Blue Jays (63-54)
The Blue Jays have the fourth-best run differential in MLB (plus-127), but the fourth-best record in their own division. And despite playing the Red Sox and Yankees basically to a draw all year, the Jays find themselves four games adrift of a playoff spot.
Toronto has had a bit of a low-grade case of Dodgers syndrome this season (2-7 in extra-inning games, and 8-14 in one-run contests). And it’s hard not to imagine what this season would’ve looked like had George Springer been healthy all year. Springer is hitting .275/.368/.611 since returning to the lineup in late June, but he’s currently day-to-day with a sprained ankle. Now the Jays are in a similar situation to the Yankees, but with 2.5 additional games’ worth of deficit to make up. And with just seven weeks left in the season, those two additional games could end up being decisive.
11. Boston Red Sox (69-51)
There’s probably something slightly irrational about my pessimism surrounding the Red Sox. They’re 18 games over .500; they just got Chris Sale back; and they have a two-game buffer on a playoff spot. Not to mention the schedule; they’ll finish the season with nine of their last 14 games against the Orioles and Nats; they don’t have to play the Blue Jays, A’s, or Astros at all for the rest of the year; and their toughest remaining interleague series is a two-gamer against the Mets, who are now .500.
On the other hand, the Sox are a game under .500 since the All-Star break and 15-19 since their divisional lead peaked at 4.5 games on July 5. They’ve dropped 8.5 games in the standings to the Yankees over that span, seven to the Rays, four to the A’s, and 4.5 to the Blue Jays. Garrett Richards, one of the darlings of the first half of the season, has foundered after the crackdown on sticky stuff. And Boston needs him to figure things out in the bullpen because star closer Matt Barnes has pitched five times in the past 10 days, wherein he’s taken three losses and allowed seven earned runs in two innings of work.
Every team that breaks out for a surprisingly good first half of the season comes with a built-in sense of dread—a suspicion that the good times will end at some point. The Red Sox have started to take on water, but there’s still a chance they can right the ship.
12. Atlanta Braves (63-56)
I didn’t even mention the Braves in my trade deadline roundup because while the acquisitions of Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, and Richard Rodríguez were all nice pickups for a team that needed short-term help in the bullpen and the outfield, they didn’t move the needle much amid such an active deadline. Besides, the Mets were in firm control of the NL East, so what did it matter?
The most annoying people on the internet would respond to that with: “And then what happened?” Because now it’s Atlanta, not New York, that sits atop the NL East’s empire of dirt. And it is an empire of dirt: Atlanta’s plus-82 run differential is by far the worst of any division leader’s, and it’s also the only positive run differential in the division.
As if to prove that we inhabit an unjust world, at least one good AL team will miss the playoffs, while somebody from the NL East will get a free pass to the divisional round. And with an 19-11 record since the break, and with changeup-chucking wunderkind Ian Anderson on the mend, it might as well be these guys.
13. Cincinnati Reds (65-55)
The Reds are the object looming in San Diego’s side-view mirror.
Following a disastrous first two months of the year, Luis Castillo has bounced back with a 2.85 ERA, and Joey Votto (.279/.372/.573) seems to have rediscovered both his power stroke and his joie de vivre. If ballplayers were actors and Votto were Gene Hackman, this season would be his Royal Tenenbaums.
Then there’s rookie second baseman Jonathan India, who deserves special mention. There exists a certain subgenre of college second baseman—particularly from SEC schools—who aren’t particularly toolsy but just refuse to wash out and end up becoming a big league starter for 10 years. Like a grit-and-grind type who can actually play: Ryan Theriot, David Eckstein, Whit Merrifield, and so on. India was that kind of player before he suddenly slugged .717 as a junior and turned into a top-five pick in 2018. Three years later, he’s the Reds’ everyday second baseman, with a haircut and beard out of Almost Famous and a .395 OBP with 15 home runs. And in case anyone worried he’d gone Hollywood and lost his grinder dirtbag credentials, he’s been hit by an NL-leading 18 pitches. It’s nice to see a player like this not end up on the Cardinals for a change.
14. Philadelphia Phillies (61-57)
Two weeks ago, the Phillies looked lost and dejected. But an eight-game winning streak to start August put them back in the pennant race basically overnight. That momentum has slowed down some after series losses to the Dodgers and Reds last week, but the Phillies have one of the easiest remaining schedules, and with the Mets’ recent swoon, they have as good a chance as anyone of winning the NL East.
One simple move that manager Joe Girardi could make to help propel the team would be to stop wasting Bryce Harper. The $330 million man is hitting .297/.414/.567, with 21 homers and 12 stolen bases in 13 attempts. By wRC+, it’s his best offensive season since his 2015 MVP campaign, but he’s driven in only 49 runs so far this year. Twenty years ago, that RBI total would come off as a failure on Harper’s part, but we know now it’s a failure of lineup construction.
Harper returned to the lineup on June 5 after a forearm contusion. Since then, he’s made 59 starts, all of them in the three- or four-hole. In 27 of those, Odúbel Herrera, who has a .265 OBP as a leadoff hitter this year, batted first. Harper is fourth in baseball in wRC+ among qualified hitters, but he’s tied for 134th in plate appearances with men on base and tied for 163rd in plate appearances with runners in scoring position. The players he’s tied with: Omar Narváez and Mookie Betts, who has not only played in 10 fewer games, but has made 82 out of his 83 starts out of the leadoff spot. Harper could quite feasibly drag the Phillies to the playoffs and win a second MVP in the process, but Girardi’s got to get guys on base for him to drive in.
15. New York Mets (59-59)
I almost don’t want to write a blurb for the Mets and instead just say that if anyone in the tri-state area needs a hug, I’m here for you. The four-game lead from late July has vanished—and then some—in the past three weeks as the Mets have lost a five-game series against the Braves and three of four to Miami, and gotten swept by the Phillies and Dodgers. Take out a skin-of-their-teeth comeback win against Cincinnati on July 31 and a three-game set against the ghost of the Washington Nationals, and the Mets would be 1-12 since July 29.
And while it’s not like the Mets did nothing at the deadline—Javy Báez is far from nothing—they were counting on getting the front end of the rotation back from injury at some point this season. Well, Carlos Carrasco’s in the rotation again, but he has a 10.32 ERA in four starts; Noah Syndergaard’s bound for the bullpen in September if he comes back this year at all; and Jacob deGrom hasn’t even started throwing after being shut down with elbow inflammation. I’d say it’s time to panic, but I’m not sure if you’d be able to tell the difference from the Mets’ normal state of affairs.
16. Seattle Mariners (63-56)
The Mariners are still hanging around—taking two of three from Toronto over the weekend was huge in that respect. But regardless of whether and when they do drop off, this season has been a positive step forward for a club that’s got more than enough minor league talent to challenge the Astros within the next few years. If they can finish strong enough to stay above .500 and put the stink of the Kendall Graveman trade behind them, the Mariners ought to be very happy with what they’ve accomplished this year.
17. St. Louis Cardinals (61-56)
At 10 games out of the division lead and four games out of the second wild-card spot, the Cardinals have just a 6.2 percent chance of making the postseason, according to FanGraphs. This is about as far down the pecking order as you can say the P-word without sounding like you’re communing with beings from an alternate dimension. But the early injury to Jack Flaherty put the Cardinals on their back foot from the start, and basically the entire lineup and rotation ought to return next year—minus whoever of Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, and Matt Carpenter might choose free agency or retirement. So St. Louis can write this season off as an anomaly.
18. Los Angeles Angels (59-61)
Somewhere out there is an Angels fan who said, “I’d give anything for Shohei Ohtani to be healthy all year,” before the season and is now overwhelmed with regret. Still, life is about more than winning and losing. And Ohtani has provided more joy and good memories in the past four months than a third of the league’s teams have in the past five years. Ohtani is hitting .271/.363/.653 with 17 stolen bases and an MLB-high 39 home runs. And in 17 starts, he has a 2.93 ERA and what would be the best H/9 ratio and sixth-best K% if he had enough innings to qualify. That combination still doesn’t compute for modern MLB fans.
19. Miami Marlins (51-68)
Yes, the Marlins are 17 games under .500 and sold at the deadline. But they’re better than their record—they have basically the same run differential as the Mets and Phillies—and next year’s starting rotation could feature Trevor Rogers, Sixto Sánchez, Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, and Jesús Luzardo, plus appearances from Max Meyer and Edward Cabrera, both global top-50 prospects who have yet to debut in the big leagues. That collection of names makes me instinctively rub my hands together in anticipation.
20. Cleveland Future Guardians (57-60)
Still a good pitching staff—Triston McKenzie took a perfect game into the eighth inning on Sunday!—and still an absolutely execrable lineup. Cleveland is 10th in the AL in runs scored per game, ahead of three tanking teams, the Mariners, and (somehow) the Yankees. Perhaps next year’s cool new logo will usher in some more productive bats.
21. Washington Nationals (50-68)
The Nats sold off their core faster than a post–World Series Marlins team, and they’re paying the price. Since the two-day massacre that sent Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, and numerous others packing, Washington is 3-13. In fact, the Nats shift the NL East race every time they start a new series: The hottest team in the division usually ends up being whoever’s playing Washington on a given day.
But fears that this will be a multiyear to-the-studs teardown are so far unfounded. Riley Adams and Josiah Gray are both in the majors already, while Keibert Ruiz, the cornerstone of the Turner-Scherzer deal, is more or less big-league ready. And after July’s mass exodus, the Nats have only three players under contract for 2022, which means that they can remake a winning roster around Juan Soto quickly if they so choose.
22. Detroit Tigers (58-62)
For the first time since 2016, the Tigers … don’t suck? Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan Schoop have built on encouraging 2020 campaigns, and now an offense that was 11th in the AL in runs per game last year and dead last by a huge margin in 2019 is basically league average. Injuries to Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull have dampened the optimism around the rotation, but all the young talent filtering in suddenly has the Tigers within shouting distance of .500. It might seem patronizing to praise a team for being mediocre, but consider how bad they were just two years ago.
23. Chicago Cubs (52-69)
Two of the Cubs’ three best players this year, by bWAR, are no longer with the organization. The third, Willson Contreras, is currently on the IL. So too are both ends of the team’s double-play partnership of the future, Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal. But there’s a green light for a DraftKings-branded sportsbook at Wrigley Field, so full steam ahead, I guess.
24. Minnesota Twins (53-66)
The deadline trade rumors around Byron Buxton, and the fact that Buxton will be a free agent after next year, raise a couple of interesting questions: How exactly do you value someone who’s one of the most talented players in the game when he’s healthy, but is basically never healthy? And how do you factor in the fact that, even when he is healthy, he sometimes thinks the strike zone is 11 feet wide? Last year, Buxton became the first position player since World War II to register more bWAR than walks in at least 100 plate appearances.
It was fair of the Twins to dangle Buxton as trade bait on the off chance that one of the other 29 front offices would pay sticker price for Mike Trout with better defense—which is what Buxton looked like in 27 games this year. But I genuinely have no idea what a fair trade return for him would be, or what kind of contract he’ll get in free agency.
25. Colorado Rockies (53-66)
Trevor Story is hitting .383/.473/.681 since the trade deadline. It sure would be nice if that mattered at all.
26. Kansas City Royals (50-67)
The Royals divested themselves of some familiar names at the deadline—most notably Soler and Danny Duffy—which was probably appropriate given the tailspin this team’s been on since early May. But Duffy is the only pitcher who’s made a start for the Royals this year and has an ERA below 4.00. And apart from Salvador Perez, who’s in the midst of a career renaissance, only one Royal (Adalberto Mondesi, 38 PA) has an OPS+ of 100 or better in any number of plate appearances.
27. Texas Rangers (42-76)
If you squint hard enough, you can start to see the outline of the next good Rangers team taking shape. Texas did well to sell high on Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy, Adolis García made the All-Star team, and newly drafted Jack Leiter could be huge for this franchise in the future. But losing Joey Gallo has to sting. In addition to being the Rangers’ best and longest-tenured player, Gallo was a fan favorite who himself had mixed emotions about leaving the only franchise he’d ever played for. With Gallo headed for free agency after next year, and the Rangers nowhere close to contending, it made all the sense in the world to trade him. But understanding that baseball is a business doesn’t make business decisions hurt any less.
28. Pittsburgh Pirates (42-76)
Half a season ago, I ranked the Pirates 28th in my power rankings and wrote about Bryan Reynolds. Feels like it’s time for another Bryan Reynolds update. Short answer: He’s doing great! After an abysmal 2020 season, Reynolds is hitting .309/.391/.536, and his OPS+ of 149 puts him in the company of Ginger Beaumont, Andy Van Slyke, Brian Giles, and Andrew McCutchen as the only Pirates center fielders since 1900 to have that high of an OPS+. Van Slyke, Giles, and McCutchen are also the only Pirates center fielders ever to post a six-win season, which Reynolds is on pace to do. Be sure to check back in May for the next edition of the Bryan Reynolds Update.
29. Arizona Diamondbacks (38-81)
A 162-game season probably feels like purgatory for a team like the Diamondbacks, who haven’t had anything to play for in about three months and have had far more trades of and regressions from key players than they’ve had breakouts. But there are consolations in baseball’s relentless volume, its crushing there-ness; among them is a multitude of opportunities for a completely anonymous career minor leaguer to throw a no-hitter in his first MLB start, and to do so in front of numerous exhilarated and mustachioed relatives.
30. Baltimore Orioles (38-79)
The Orioles were in last place in the AL East, 25 games back, on August 3. They’ve since lost 12 straight and are on pace to lose 109 games, which would make three full seasons in a row of 108 losses or more. Expect the national anthem to change soon, because Baltimore hasn’t gotten hit like this since the Battle of Fort McHenry.
All stats current through Sunday’s games.