The brutal heat of summer is starting to fade, football is somehow back on TV already, and the Dodgers once again have the best record in baseball. That’s how you know it’s the stretch run. Every MLB team has played somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 games, so with only a quarter of the season to go, it’s once again time to rank them.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (84-37)
Walker Buehler is out for the season. Clayton Kershaw’s back issues are, um, back. Doctors are nodding gravely over Cody Bellinger’s bat, telling its sobbing wife that it might never swing the same again. And yet the Dodgers are on pace to win 113 games, which, if they pull it off, would be the fourth-most wins in MLB history. More impressively, their run differential of plus-264 puts them on pace for a Pythagorean record of .725—for comparison, a team hits .650 once or twice a decade. So just ho-hum, another historically great season for Dave Roberts and his merry men.
2. Houston Astros (78-45)
A lot of people who were born in the mid-1980s—the microgeneration that not too long ago drank vodka out of plastic bottles and jammed out to the MGMT line about living fast and dying young—are waking up now experiencing the ravages of aging for the first time. (I’m speaking generally here; if anyone asks, I did not pull a muscle in my neck by yawning this past weekend.)
So we salute Justin Verlander, who despite being born in 1983 and having a borrowed elbow ligament is likely en route to his third Cy Young award. Not only are his basic numbers as good as ever—15-3 record, 1.95 ERA, 5.52 K/BB ratio—but also he’s succeeding despite striking out only 25 percent of opponents, his lowest mark in a full season since 2015. He’s done this by cutting down on the home runs that dogged him during his last two full seasons (12 in 143 innings this year, compared to an average of 32 in 218 innings per year in 2018-19). That’s how you make the successful transition into middle age. Plus stretching and drinking lots of water.
3. New York Mets (79-45)
On Sunday, the Mets gave 24-year-old right-hander José Butto his big league debut. He allowed three runs before he recorded an out, but New York came back to tie the game not once but three different times before ultimately prevailing. That’s the Mets’ season in miniature—always able to dig out of a hole. Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom get hurt? No worries. The Atlanta Braves rip off winning streaks of 14 and eight games and play to the fourth-best record in all of MLB? The Mets have managed to ward them off the way you’d shoo a nosy cat away from your dinner; they’ve been in first place every day but one this season, and their lead hasn’t been less than three games in a month.
The Mets look … resilient? Lucky? Possessed of better-than-average vibes? Reinforced against disaster by the immensity of their owner’s financial might? Perhaps a little bit of everything.
4. Atlanta Braves (76-48)
The big news for Atlanta over the past month has been the dual extensions for two young position players: 10 years, $212 million for Austin Riley; eight years, $72 million, plus two team options for Michael Harris II. Add on the Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies, and Ronald Acuña Jr. extensions, and the Braves have more than half of their ideal starting lineup locked up through 2026. And they’ve done it without guaranteeing anyone an annual salary higher than $22 million or risking paying substantially for any player’s decline phase.
Albies and Acuña signed for unrepeatably low salaries given their respective talent. Olson, Harris, and Riley signed for decent money (though MLB’s current rules keep young players underpaid for so long that there is a middle ground where a young player can sign an extension that secures the bag, so to speak, while still offering a substantial savings for the team). What the team does with those savings is the question; the Braves, at least for now, are reinvesting in the MLB roster. And if you can develop talent like the Braves have the past few years, and are willing to run a top-10 payroll, it’s not actually that hard to make the playoffs most of the time.
5. New York Yankees (75-48)
Just five or six weeks ago, we were talking about the Yankees chasing records: Aaron Judge becoming the first non-steroid era player in 60-plus years to break 60 home runs in a season, the Yankees winning 110 or more games. And sure enough, it seems like the team will probably blaze a new historic trail. By going 6-14 so far in August, the Yankees are a near lock to become the first team in the wild-card era to make the playoffs despite playing a full month (i.e., more than 20 games) of sub-.300 baseball. Before the All-Star break, the Yankees were 64-28—i.e., on pace for the 11th-best winning percentage ever, and just a hair behind the 114-win Yankees of 1998. Since then, they’re 11-20—nearly the same winning percentage as this year’s Washington Nationals. This despite the fact that Judge has gone even more berserk since the break: .324/.473/.765 in 132 plate appearances.
Great teams have hiccups—the 2017 Dodgers famously stuffed a 1-16 run into a 104-win season that took them to Game 7 of the World Series—so maybe this isn’t a terminal tailspin. And good news for the Yankees: This is happening in a very low-pressure environment where everybody keeps their cool about bad bounces and losing streaks.
6. St. Louis Cardinals (70-51)
I thought about dropping the Yankees all the way out of the top five just for laughs, but there is genuinely a big dropoff in quality between them and the next group of teams on this list.
Of the second-tier contenders—the teams that will vie for the two Central Division titles and the various wild-card spots—the Cardinals have the best record, best run differential, and best recent results by far. They’ve gone 16-3 since the deadline. The two starting pitchers St. Louis picked up (Jordan Montgomery and José Quintana) are a combined 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 33 strikeouts in seven starts. And the Brewers all of a sudden have gone the other direction: 7-11 since the deadline, which leaves St. Louis with a five-game cushion in both the division and—should things go sideways—the NL wild-card race. You can blow that kind of lead over 40-odd games, but it doesn’t happen often. The consensus among the various playoff odds systems would seem to agree that the Cardinals are safe: FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and ESPN all give St. Louis between a 91 and 95 percent chance of making it to October.
7. Toronto Blue Jays (65-55)
Every single Blue Jays hitter with at least 100 plate appearances this year—11 in all—has a wRC+ of at least 92. Toronto has six players with a wRC+ of at least 119 in 390 plate appearances or more. In addition, the team has three starters with an ERA under 3.00 in at least 16 starts, plus Mitch White, who’s pitched well in three starts since virtually sneaking across the border from L.A. at the deadline. The wild-card contenders in both leagues are all intriguing in their own way, but Toronto just doesn’t have many glaring question marks. I expect this team to make the postseason, and to cause trouble once it gets there.
8. Philadelphia Phillies (67-55)
Last weekend, the Phillies dropped three of four at home to the Mets, which closed the book on their season series with their biggest rival weirdly early. (I use “biggest rival” advisedly, as the Phillies, Braves, Nats, and Mets are engaged in a decades-long, multipartite and deeply codependent feud whose factions realign with little to no warning. It’s like Europe in the 1800s.) But good riddance—the Phils are 5-14 against the Mets and 62-41 against everyone else this season, so I guess the plan from here is to play like a 97-win team, try to beat the Padres to the no. 5 seed, and hope someone else knocks the Mets out in the Division Series.
That’s a possibility. The Phillies’ top three starters (Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suárez) match up well against just about anyone’s. (Except, I guess, the Mets.) And as well as they’ve played this summer, the Phillies just got Jean Segura back from a two-month absence earlier this month, and Bryce Harper aims to return in the next two weeks.
9. Tampa Bay Rays (66-55)
In the midseason power rankings, I joked about Harold Ramírez and Isaac Paredes ruining some team’s season while America crashed Baseball-Reference’s servers trying to figure out who the hell those guys were. Turns out Tampa Bay is producing Guys at an astonishing rate; Jeffrey Springs, a hitherto unremarkable 29-year-old left-hander, has turned in a star-level performance out of the rotation. “Starter” can be a bit of a relative term for the Rays, but since June 1, Springs has a 3.05 ERA in 11 starts, of which he’s pitched five-plus innings eight times. He’s in the 97th percentile in opponent chase rate. And he has a name that lends itself to fun nicknames like “Hot” and “Hope” and “Outduels Framber Valdez in Game 4 of the ALCS.”
10. Seattle Mariners (66-56)
The Seattle Mariners last clinched a playoff spot on September 3, 2001. That’s the longest drought in the North American big four sports leagues—so long ago that America wasn’t sick of Nickelback yet. Between the Luis Castillo trade and the Julio Rodríguez breakout and the 14-game win streak, this does feel like the year Seattle finally gets back to the playoffs. Though after a wait this long, the Mariners and their fans would settle for a playoff appearance even if this didn’t look like a team of destiny.
11. San Diego Padres (68-56)
This is still an extremely good team that just traded for Juan Soto, but now the major story lines around the club are about how pissed the rest of the team is at Fernando Tatis Jr. He was the specter looming over the NL pennant race, until he stacked a PED suspension on top of the careless off-the-field injury and will now miss the entire season. He’s not the only problem, of course. Moving to southern California does not seem to have fixed whatever ailed Josh Hader before the trade deadline, and it seems to have broken Josh Bell, who’s hitting .138/.263/.262 in 18 games for the Fathers. But the rotation—plus the combined power of Soto and Manny Machado in the meaty part of the order—still makes this one of the NL’s most dangerous teams.
12. Cleveland Guardians (64-56)
I’ve been critical of Cleveland’s ownership in the past, arguing that eventually they’ll need to pony up and spend; that they can’t just wait for the other four teams in the AL Central to flounder and hand over the division every year.
It’s possible I was wrong. No matter what the Guardians do, they somehow find a way to insinuate themselves into the playoffs every year.
13. Baltimore Orioles (63-58)
After everything the Orioles have gone through this year—the rotten 6-14 start, the brutal schedule, the midseason trades of Trey Mancini and Jorge López—they are still just 2 1/2 games out of the playoffs with a quarter of the season to play. And unlike the NL wild-card race, the AL’s is pretty flat, meaning they need only one of the Rays, Blue Jays, or Mariners to slip up in order for a playoff spot to fall into their laps.
14. Minnesota Twins (62-58)
I thought the Twins had a great trade deadline; they supplemented their offense (no. 7 in baseball by wRC+) with an additional mid-rotation starter (Tyler Mahle) and two good relievers (López and Michael Fulmer). Well, Mahle got hurt, and while the Twins haven’t been terrible since the deadline, they’ve nevertheless lost 2 1/2 games in the standings to the Guardians—sort of a Cardinals-Brewers situation in miniature. They could still easily win the division, given that any team with a pulse could take the AL Central at this point, but time is running out.
15. Chicago White Sox (62-60)
Some of this was unavoidable and unforeseeable: Injuries to Lance Lynn, Eloy Jiménez, Yasmani Grandal, and Tim Anderson; some bullpen high jinks; Yoán Moncada hitting .200. But so many of Chicago’s other problems could’ve been helped: A lack of outfield depth, for instance, or the unfireable manager. And there have been some promising signs: Dylan Cease is a Cy Young contender, José Abreu’s been great, and Andrew Vaughn’s bat has bounced back from a disappointing rookie year. Johnny Cueto, who came to Chicago from his barbecue pit right as the season was starting, is pitching like it’s 2012 again.
They didn’t need a whole lot else to go right to distance themselves from Minnesota and Cleveland. But barring a huge hot streak over the last month of the season, Chicago’s going to be bitterly disappointed in how this year went.
16. Milwaukee Brewers (65-56)
The Brewers are the caboose on the Great Wild Card Train. Going 8-11 in August so far isn’t a great way to start the stretch run, but the NL Central race has turned on its ear less because Milwaukee’s been bad than because St. Louis has been basically unbeatable.
Hader was pitching badly enough at the deadline that it’s hard to blame Milwaukee for getting rid of him, but neither Taylor Rogers nor Matt Bush has put up great numbers since joining the team. And in the three weeks since the trade deadline, Devin Williams has tallied his first blown save of the year, along with his first two losses. The 10th-best offense through July 31 (105 wRC+) has been tied for the 22nd-best offense since (87 wRC+). The starting pitching has been just fine, but not good enough to overcome a slumping offense and less reliable bullpen. For the past five years, the Brewers have dined out on doing the little things right and seizing every opportunity; this year, the little things might be what keep them out of the playoffs.
17. Boston Red Sox (60-62)
Sometimes it’s just not your year, and given the injuries the Sox have suffered to Trevor Story, Enrique Hernández, and Chris Sale, this just wasn’t Boston’s year. The interesting question now is what happens if Xander Bogaerts decides to opt out and test free agency this winter. Does Boston risk losing a consistent All-Star-caliber shortstop? Or do the Red Sox roll the dice on replacing him in a strong free agent market? Arguing this would be a fascinating way to make the time pass while waiting for Rafael Devers to hit free agency next year.
18. San Francisco Giants (60-61)
This year, San Francisco is basically Boston with more wind and steeper hills. You can point to various injuries, or instances of players in their mid-30s not aging quite like Verlander, but last year the Giants had a good offense and exceptional run prevention on the aggregate. This year, they’ve had an average offense and average run prevention, and would you look at that, they’re around .500.
Here’s a fun bit of trivia: The Giants have zero financial commitments to players beyond 2024, and their total commitments for that season are limited to $12 million for Anthony DeSclafani, plus the odd option buyout or two. It’s right to be concerned about San Francisco’s aging offensive core, but Farhan Zaidi could turn over 95 percent of this roster in the next 18 months if he were so inclined.
19. Texas Rangers (56-66)
I understand why team owner Ray Davis would want to fire Chris Woodward and Jon Daniels. The team’s been pretty bad for a few years now, and after committing more than half a billion dollars to free agents last winter, even Daniels—architect of the back-to-back AL champions in 2010 and 2011—ran out of rope. But doing so in such a public fashion and on separate days sends a message that this slightly below-average club isn’t meeting expectations. The reclusive Davis said as much when he made a rare press conference appearance after letting Daniels go.
On one hand, it’s fair to ask exactly how good the Rangers were supposed to get after one offseason. The Rangers had almost nothing of value on the MLB roster after trading Joey Gallo, Kyle Gibson, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa last year. No two or three free-agent signings were going to turn this into a playoff team in 2022. And while Marcus Semien has struggled, Jonah Heim took a big step forward, and Nathaniel Lowe and Adolis García built on promising 2021 seasons. Even Leody Taveras, who’s been on Rangers prospect lists so long he played with Rusty Greer in Double-A, is starting to hit. I think getting to a .450 winning percentage is a pretty big achievement for a team that bottomed out in 2021.
On the other hand, this is a big-market team that’s en route to its sixth losing season in a row. And honestly, there are worse things an owner can do to a baseball team than spend gobs of money and then demand results sooner rather than later. Davis let Daniels run that team for 17 years, in good times and bad, and if the era of the long leash is over, Texas could become a very interesting team very quickly.
20. Arizona Diamondbacks (55-66)
Speaking of teams that were nowhere in 2021 but are headed in the right direction now. The Diamondbacks are in the enviable position of being bad not because all their players are bad, but because they have a few very good players and a few extremely replacement-level players. Mark Melancon having 17 saves, 10 losses, and an ERA over 5.00 takes me back to the nadir of the one-inning True Closer around the turn of the century. Very Heathcliff Slocumb. Very Derrick Turnbow.
But holes like that close up really quickly once a team starts running a nine-figure payroll. Go sign a shortstop, pick up a couple of relievers, and let Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, and Ketel Marte figure it out from there. All of a sudden this is a .500 team that only needs a few breaks to get into the wild-card race.
21. Chicago Cubs (52-69)
Poor Willson Contreras. He’s not only one of the last holdovers from the World Series team, but he’s also having a hell of a year: hitting .250/.359/.476 with 20 homers and an MLB-leading 23 HBP in 101 games. As a good player on a bad team, and an upcoming free agent, Contreras seemed all but certain to be traded at the deadline, and the process seemed to take a lot out of him emotionally. I know the Cubs aren’t headed anywhere anytime soon, but why not re-sign him? There’s value in continuity, in having recognizable faces for fans to cheer for. Particularly if said player wants to be there even when the team is bad.
22. Miami Marlins (53-69)
Brian Anderson is in his sixth season with the Marlins, and every single year he’s posted an OPS+ between 94 and 116. Being a consistently average-to-above-average hitter at third base isn’t anything to take for granted, so I wondered how many third basemen in the wild-card era have had 2,000 plate appearances and a 100 OPS+ or better before turning 30.
Forty-seven, it turns out, including Anderson, as well as future Hall of Famers like Adrián Beltré, Chipper Jones, and (I hope) Scott Rolen. But at the other end of the scale are some delightful names to remember: Garrett Atkins, Corey Koskie, Yangervis Solarte. Anderson might slip out of the public consciousness just as quickly, but dependably solid performers deserve to be saluted.
23. Los Angeles Angels (52-70)
24. Cincinnati Reds (48-72)
If the Giants are in a position to start from scratch, the Reds are in an even better position to clear the decks. Their only commitments beyond this year are to Joey Votto, Mike Moustakas, and a $13 million team option or $1 million buyout for Mike Minor (which, seeing as how he’s 2-10 with a 6.44 ERA this year, it’s probably going to be the latter). Whether the Reds decide to reinvest, as they have in the recent past, or just tear it all down, though, is a different question.
25. Colorado Rockies (53-70)
We all got a laugh when the Rockies, instead of making any trades at the deadline, re-signed 37-year-old closer Daniel Bard. But of the 15 pitchers to throw at least 25 innings for the Rockies this year, Bard has the lowest ERA by more than a run and a half, at 2.27. Eleven of those 15 pitchers have an ERA at least double Bard’s. So maybe there is a logic to that decision, given that it’s so hard to get outs from anyone else.
26. Pittsburgh Pirates (47-75)
When Oneil Cruz came up earlier this year, with his absurd exit velocities and record-setting arm at shortstop, he was like the Giannis Antetokounmpo of baseball: capable of things nobody his size had done before him. Now, after 50 games this year, he’s hitting .196/.247/.386 and striking out 37.9 percent of the time. But don’t worry, Giannis was pretty bad his rookie year too and didn’t really figure it out until his third season in the NBA. The comparison still holds.
27. Kansas City Royals (50-74)
The Royals pushed their window of contention as far into the 2010s as they could. But one danger of trying to rebuild from within is that sometimes none of your pitching prospects pan out. Which isn’t literally the case in Kansas City, since Brady Singer is having a good year, but is mostly the case. The plan at this point was probably not to have a rotation of Singer, a semi-retired Zack Greinke, and then explain that if you look at Daniel Lynch’s FIP instead of his ERA he might be a no. 5 starter on a playoff contender.
28. Oakland Athletics (45-78)
Also participating in the 2022 season: the Oakland A’s, who are weirdly loaded at catcher for a last-place team. The Mets, who are going to win 100 games, have zero good catchers. The A’s, who are going to lose 100 games, are having to rotate Sean Murphy and Shea Langeliers to DH just to keep both of them in the lineup. Now, for the rest of the roster …
29. Detroit Tigers (47-76)
For a lot of the teams at the bottom of this list, I just don’t get what they’re trying to do, or what the plan is. The Tigers, however, took a big swing this year: Having already hired a championship-winning manager in A.J. Hinch, they signed Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Báez to complement a group of prospects that matured together. And the division—in case you couldn’t tell by how much I’ve complained about the Guardians, Twins, and White Sox in this post already—was quite winnable. They stepped up to the tee and took a big cut, but unfortunately missed the ball, lost their grip on the club, and then hit themselves in the forehead.
30. Washington Nationals (41-82)
This team was bad before it traded Soto; now it’s four games out of 29th place in the league and has a run differential 34 runs worse than the next-worst team. But this was always going to happen if they failed to re-sign Soto and rebuild; it’s going to be a rough ride for the foreseeable future.
All stats current through Sunday’s games.