We’re now just beyond the midpoint of, by far, the strangest MLB regular season in history.
It is no aberration whatsoever to audaciously proclaim that more than two thirds of all teams in professional baseball hover well within striking distance of qualifying for the first year of the league’s expanded postseason format. I expect a few wet firecrackers and some bombshells during the fast-approaching trade deadline, too. Seems safe to say, for the vast majority of baseball, a lot can and will happen overnight. I anticipate these power rankings might change dramatically as well.
So with that all-allowing base-covering comment deployed up front, let’s get into a bunch of subjective hot takes to highlight excellence and flaws throughout the entire league. Onward to late October, and beyond!
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: The new lineup, like the juggernaut the last few seasons, is once again, practically flawless, and fast becoming something of a west coast’s Murderer’s Row. The offense is punctuated by a rejuvenated Mookie Betts, who is now only the third player ever to tie an all-time MLB record, having just recently notched his sixth three-home-run game. The rest of this colossal beast has a combined total of 61 dingers through Wednesday evening. That’s more than enough to comfortably lead all of baseball. Plus Kershaw’s fastball velocity is up from last year. This squad is altogether terrifying (impressive). They lead baseball in ERA, at 2.80. (An aside: Free Joe Kelly!)
2. Oakland Athletics: The A’s won a thriller in the inaugural rendition of the new extra innings format over nascent Angels skipper, Joe Maddon and company, via 1B Matt Olson’s walk-off grand slam. And Bob Melvin’s latest cadre of Money Ballers have not decelerated since. They won 9 games in a row – against division opponents – at the start of August, in a streak that was oddly reminiscent of – adjusting for a proportional, individual win representation – their 2002 campaign’s surreal proof of Beane’s now legendary, “buying wins, not players” concept, with a little help from the magic of a few consecutive Miguel Tejada walk-offs included. The team could go very deep, assuming everyone stays healthy, but they need SS Marcus Semien to snap back to life…well, yesterday. Also, Liam Hendriks leads all of baseball in saves, with 11.
3. Tampa Bay Rays: I’ll admit it – I did not see anything remotely resembling this type of exorbitantly high quality coming from this team at the start of the year. They pushed the Astros to the limit in the playoffs last year though, so I knew they were good. Albeit, I was unaware they were STACKED with blossoming talent. The Rays have won 16 out of their last 20, to go with 5 wins out of their last 6 against the Yankees. The bullpen is solid as well, racking up 12 saves, good for second in baseball. And with 150 RBIs, they rank fifth in baseball. Perhaps the hyper-exuberant analytics driven and at times ridiculous defensive shift revolution WILL, in fact, be televised; because it’s paying off tremendously; so far; and how could we not watch, right?
4. Minnesota Twins: We all know about the Bomba Squad’s theatrics, and the power hitting records smashed last season by this fully loaded, super slugging lineup. And I should mention the combined team ERA, 3.46, good for fifth in baseball, and 11 Saves, good for fourth in baseball. But all I can think about is former Seattle Mariner, Mr. Age-Is-Just-A-Number, Nelson Cruz, at a ripe, 40 years young, leading the team in every major hitting category: Batting Average, Home Runs, RBIs, OBP and Hits. The M’s front office assumed Cruz would fall off. They were wrong.
5. New York Yankees: Warning! Do not sleep on this team. They are vastly better than their record. Garret Cole is lights out, again. When Judge and Stanton get healthy, and come back to join the already ridiculously talented Bronx Bomber offensive slots dominated by Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Torres, Gardner, Fraizer, Tauchman, and Urshela…and do I need to continue? I don’t think I do. This team will, without question, be playing for the American League Championship later this year. That is a guarantee.
6. Atlanta Braves: After several early skids, the Braves, of late, have won 7 of 9. Ozuna is clobbering the ball. Freeman’s in-game audio tracks are winning friends, praise and influence throughout the league. That affability is symbolic of an upbeat team culture, assisting Acuna, Swanson, and D’arnaud – all showing flashes of brilliance. I expect this team has not even come close to peaking. There is a good reason Nick Markakis decided to go back on his early decision to opt out for the shortened season. This Braves team has unlimited potential if they can sort out their bullpen to complement baseball’s best individual starting pitcher ERA, Max Fried, at 1.35 – who also has a 5-0 record – in the next thirty games. Fried is a strong Cy Young candidate.
7. Cleveland Indians: I am a sucker for superlative starting pitching. And the Tribe have been flat-out dealin’ through the first half. They lead baseball with 320 K’s, are third in total team saves, 11, are second in team ERA, 2.85, and are first in quality starts, 21. They have relied heavily on the strength of front runner for the AL Cy Young, Shane Bieber, who has 75 punch outs, plus the same, identically terrific, baseball leading ERA as Max Fried, 1.35.
8. Chicago White Sox: Every fan knew upon going into this epic and frenetic sprint of a shortened regular season, we’d come across surprising feats. But how ‘bout the South Side of Chicago?! They lead baseball in batting average, .267, are third in Home Runs, 55 – and Jose Abreu just casually tied a big league record, clubbing six HRs against the Cubs in a 3 game set – and are fifth in quality starts, 12, which includes, but is not limited to big league baseball’s first no-hitter of the year – a gem! – and the nineteenth in franchise history. Big ups to Sam Giolito.
9. Chicago Cubs: Hard to know where they should sit in the power rankings. Maybe this nine spot is way too high, but I have not yet forgotten their blistering 13-3 start to the season, because, well, it was less than one week ago. Yu Darvish, at 34, is quietly having a stellar comeback year too. He’s tied for second best record in baseball, 5-1. He is fifth in ERA, 1.70, and ninth in punch outs, 44. All of these stats, relatively, proportionally speaking, are better than his career averages. The once, but no longer, lovable losers could get red hot down the stretch and make a deep run.
10. Houston Astros: I must admit that it pains me greatly to place these cheating ba*&%$#s in my top ten. But I cannot argue with strong starting pitching. The ‘Stros rank fourth in baseball in quality starts, 13, are (suspiciously) second in RBIs, 160 – trailing only the Dodgers. Also, a note, and a perhaps a verbose shot in the dark of a request, but, anyway: Will someone please tell the Astros in-game color commentators that it absolutely doesn’t matter how well Houston played against the M’s over the last 30-40 regular season games? These two cavalier dingbats routinely, incessantly, blithely and colorfully bring up and praise the team in orange’s copiously weird, and extravagantly lopsided stats, performing for thousands of spectators, the cerebral dandruff equivalent of highlighting Houston’s offensive statistical supremacy. No one cares anymore because we all saw what was behind the curtain. They will mention these stats, I’m not exaggerating, at least one dozen times or more every game the M’s and ‘Stros go head to head; like it actually matters or could possibly indicate some strange advantage Houston’s had historically. Let me ask this: if everyone, their brother, and their grandmothers know the Astros were lying, cheating and stealing more than every opposing pitcher’s signals – like, actual, entire jobs, stat lines, historical relevance, money – while also losing the respect of everyone in baseball concurrently, should it also not matter, nor hold any serious weight, nor garner any significant airtime chatter during games, how well the Astros were doing when amidst cheating (winning)? Case and point, two notable batting averages stand out to me: Springer is hitting .193 and Altuve is hitting .206. Let’s talk about that instead, shall we? Seems far more fair, balanced, relevant to what’s honestly happening on the diamond this year. (And, yes, I am a very sore loser. I know.)
11. Toronto Blue Jays – How could you not love a team that was rejected by its own country, but manages to slug bombs and win big games against very talented teams. These blue birds sit fourth in baseball in homers, 48. Now playing the first professional ball in the all-amenable city of Buffalo, NY for the first time in nearly a century upstate, these extra young Jays have soared above .500 recently, and are now in control of their playoff destiny, so, it seems. If the season ended today, they’d be in, with style to spare. (Google the family lineage of this team, trust me. Big League Star Power descendants are in abundance.) They’ve done especially well considering they play half their games in a neutral stadium for both teams, and therefore play every game on the road the entire season; all while being forced, via geography and improvisations, to routinely combat the super stacked AL East. Not to mention they’ve won more games against the Rays, 4 than the Yankees, 1, and that counts for something when one juxtaposes the Bronx Bombers with the Blue Jays starting lineups; perhaps less is more? Also, Vlad Jr. is a stud. (Get back on Google and find his HomeRun Derby highlights from last year, if you haven’t seen the wild footage yet.)
12. Philadelphia Phillies – This team is under .500 right now. But! Not for long. They will bounce back. And then the Phillies will get hot at the right time, before brazenly sweeping two thirds of their playoff series to eventually take on the Braves in Game 7 of the NLCS. Minus their atrocious pitching, they sit in the lower third in nearly every crucial category, the team boasts sluggers like Realmuto, McCutchen, Gregorius, Hoskins, Segura, and, oh yeah, Bryce Harper.
13. San Diego Padres – They’re great now, but I just don’t feel it working out long term. Hard to admit this, but they peaked way, way too early. And so now comes the, like clockwork every season, it seems, San Diego (land)Slide. Big names with big bats like Tatis, Machado, Pham and Hosmer will not make up for the fact that their bullpen is decimated and their starting pitching is at best, feckless and lukewarm. Two weeks and change until this team hits a record seven games below .500, thus falling from playoff contention. (The cursed and goofy uniforms and color schemes seem to have, again sabotaged the Friars, because they will never believe that if you look on the diamond, you play good. *Coughs* Yankee pinstripes are unparalleled *Coughs*)
14. St. Louis Cardinals – Everyone on SportsCenter wanted to yak about the upstart, division leading Marlins after their prolonged virus-related delay, but it seems like the sleeper Cards have perhaps benefitted the most from an extended, early season break. Their pitching leads baseball in opponent batting average, .180, are second in WHIP, 1.06, and sit third in ERA, 3.37.
15. Seattle Mariners: I know what you’re thinking! But! Hear! Me! Out! (Please!) I have two words for you, “DARK HORSE.” And this is why. Get ready: Kyle Lewis will win AL ROY. He’s third in batting average in all baseball. He might win a Gold Glove over Mike Trout. And J.P. Crawford will definitely win a Gold Glove at SS, leading the AL in Runs Prevented, and he’s good for a web gem every night, like a modern Ozzie Smith. Catcher, Austin Nola, sits in an unanticipated, but statistically bolstered second, behind only Philly’s Remulto, in terms of hitting prowess for all catchers in baseball. Evan White crushed a HR recently at T-Mobile Park that boasted – get ready for this one – a blistering 110 MPH Exit Velocity, and that – here’s another one – broke off a tap handle deep inside Edgar’s Cantina. Symbolism anyone?! Plus White piled on three hits in four ABs, adding to the M’s total of thirteen knocks during last night’s drubbing against “Sham Diego” and has just, for all intents and purposes, only recently turned the corner, so give him some more time. The sky is the limit once one also considers the leather, because White has Gold Glove talent at 1B. Are you counting? I’m giving the M’s realistic chances to win three Gold Gloves under the guise of a rebuilding year. We’re dumping waste and scrap – Vogelbach and Walker. While Seager, Dylan Moore, and damn near all our starting pitching – and for the first time in team history, three starting pitchers age 24 or younger earned three straight wins, tabulating 18 K’s against just 3 walks with a combined 2.60 ERA over just under eighteen innings – have shown flashes of brilliance. I’m not finished! As of this evening, this writing, the M’s lead all of baseball in stolen bases, and have just recently, won four games in a row – that’s a nice run for a bunch of young guns who no one saw flourishing in this abbreviated season. If anyone has any doubts about a power ranking this high for the baby M’s, they should read my sled dog puppy paw size projection piece from several weeks ago. It’s an elaborate leap of optimism from my extra subjective point of view, but this team is the real deal – “Dark Horse.”
16. Colorado Rockies: Despite three straight wins over the D-backs, they dropped an abominable 14 of the last 16 before this most recent leveling off and return to form. They have an outside shot at the playoffs. Although not even the superhuman .390 hitting Charlie Blackmon can save this squad from tumultuous, mile-high inconsistencies, if that’s the trend they’ll adhere to from here on out. Who knows what will happen next on high?
17. Milwaukee Brewers: Yes, Yelich is slumping, batting a woeful .200 through yesterday, a number good for an abysmal tie at 148th throughout all of baseball. But the reigning NL MVP will adjust, he always has, and he’ll turn on the jets soon. He’s overdue for a Blackmon run of excellence. The Brew Crew are the NL Central’s best bet for a sleeper squad to make a late run, assuming they get within striking distance five to seven games out from the start of the playoffs.
18. New York Mets: After the early splash of power and skill, and then his abrupt departure, the most recent, mystifying, Yoenis Céspedes chapter elapsed and simmered like a wet firecracker, just becoming another in a criminally undernourished franchise’s goofy string of front office debacles that elicit one response, one rejoinder only, “Wait, what, why?” This second-tier NY side has, tragicomically, again, become the epitome of less than decent. But, who knows? Maybe A-Rod and J-Lo buy the team, and then Alonso, Cano and Diaz turn the ship around? And just in time for next season, which, coincidentally is when Céspedes claims he’ll be ready to play at full strength again. I hope he’s serious this time. I seriously miss that neon arm sleeve in the outfield.
19. Miami Marlins: After a quirky start featuring a bunch of players none of us has ever heard of, the Florida fish have been at best, run-of-the-mill, and mostly average or predominantly mediocre. No need to take the bait, nor the hype, they’ll finish dead last in their division. I hope Jeter knows what he’s doing. (Maybe they’ll move the team to Portland, Vegas, Nashville – or, Hey! Long shot, but, perhaps Buffalo could work for the fish?)
20. Detroit Tigers: These cats just won consecutive three game sets against the Indians and the Cubs. That’s not half bad considering they lost seven in a row immediately before bouncing back. However, that gargantuanly overblown Zimmerman contract still haunts the franchise. Eating up payroll like that is something of a soft curse. I anticipate they’ll miss the playoffs this year because, not more than two weeks ago, they were swept by the worst team in baseball, the dreadful, swaggerless, Pirates.
21. Washington Nationals: The defending champs are wounded all around, and limping. No Cinderella run forthcoming, ace pitcher, last year’s World Series MVP, Stephen Strasburg will undergo a season-ending surgical procedure very soon. At least it’s fun to watch Soto clobber hanging breaking balls. He’s tied for second in baseball right now with a .380 batting average.
22. Cincinnati Reds: The Baseball Gods bluffed, then successfully pulled a fast one on every single sports writer watching the game closely this year. I had this Reds team as my preseason dark horse to run the table in the NL. Lately though, Trevor Bauer is about the only thing fun to watch on this team. They’re just bad. And Bauer is bored – a bad omen? – and pulling alternative uniform pieces together on the fly, including a self-mocking, “Send It!” t-shirt, and he flashed crispy and abruptly, Insta-Famous, “Free Joe Kelly” cleats – though the league banned the spikes before game time – like they goofy shoes were about as much fun as selecting day-of venues for the Wiffle Ball games he ran, and threw as hard as he could in, back during the MLB shutdown, after the first rendition of Spring Training. Bauer has got the 4th best ERA in baseball, an ice cold 1.65, through the middle of this week. He’s not a Try-Hard if he makes it look believably, and not excessively, nonchalant, right?
23. San Francisco Giants: Rebuilding year? Well, not exactly. The G-Men have won seven in a row. Playoffs? They’re on the outside looking in. They don’t pass any of my eye-tests, and yet they’re still tied for fifth in baseball in runs scored. They’re climbing higher every day, it seems.
24. Baltimore Orioles: Pitching? Decent. And they were hot near the front end. Then they slid. And fast. It was brutal. They, like the M’s of old, are not allowed to have nice things, nor any fun. Similar to the Rockies, Cubs, Marlins, the hype was exhilarating for about a dozen games, then reality slapped into focus, and clapped back hard. Catcher Pedro Severino is tied for sixth in baseball for batting average.
25. Texas Rangers: Bleh. Whole lotta nothing. The new ballpark is getting roasted on the internet. Hard to muster charisma when the criticism is unyielding and red-hot incisive. The Rangers are 1-9 in their last 10. But I must admit, it was fun, and will continue to be fun, to watch the M’s slap around their bullpen, and often. Seems the two Kyles love the new park.
26. Arizona Diamondbacks: A seven game slide is their latest major team statistic of note. The rest? Well, they run pedestrian, to woefully inadequate. Seems like they’re mailing it in this year.
27. Kansas City Royals: They’re dead last in the AL Central and very inconsistent. Whit Merrifield is an awesome bright spot for this squad with not much else going for it as of late.
28. Boston Red Sox: Many baseball writers speculated before the season began, we’d see a drop in prime player performance, due to the lack of a crowd. The absence of noise would crush the spirits of, and ultimately demoralize, players who have historically received an extra iota, or maybe 49 – what the Bo-Sox would require to net a positive run differential right now – from being at the center of the action and getting a consistent adrenaline boost. But Boston has already started their Garage Sale. They moved pitchers out for parts and prospects last week, they may wind up selling everything but the Green Monster before the forthcoming Trade Deadline.
29. Los Angeles Angels: Same story as the Red Sox, minus the sale-a-bration; so far, at least. This team looked great on paper. But they’re atrocious. And I’m not exactly sure why. Although, I sense Joe Maddon lost the squad’s respect early on by sending bizarre and contradictory, so ultimately cynical mixed signals about his star, Mike Trout, potentially opting out for the season to attend to his new family. He did leave, but came back safely. Trout’s son’s initials spell, B.A.T. though. So, that’s kind of fun, right? A lot better than playing for the broken Halos this year.
30. Pittsburgh Pirates: The team numbers and the variables don’t lie: No Power + No Pitching + No Pop, and minus any glimmer or fragment of swashbuckling swagger = well, No Plunder nor precious metal of any kind. I’m hard pressed to identify even one potential All-Star here. It’s sad. The Bucs will continue to waste another year in the abysmal depths of Davy Jones’ Locker.