Each week during baseball season, I do this project called MLB Power Rankings. In my early years of doing this, I began to really limit my comments on teams to the top 10. To be perfectly honest, while it’s not impossible for a team outside of the top 10 to win it all, this year’s group is interesting and capable. But capable of becoming relevant in the top 10 come the second half?
Let’s take a gander.
The Atlanta Braves have been red hot, winning 11 games in a row. With a trip Washington and then the Windy City, the good times could just keep on rolling this week. But will they have enough to move into the top 10 and really have a chance to repeat as world champions?
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Ronald Acuna Jr. is back and rounding back into All-Star form. Austin Riley has grown by leaps and bounds in his confidence, and he currently has 16 homers and 35 RBIs. But there are a lot of players like Marcell Ozuna, Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies, Adam Duvall and Travis d’Arnaud who aren’t hitting like they’re capable of.
While Kyle Wright and Max Fried are both having very good seasons, Charlie Morton has an ERA well above 5.00 and Ian Anderson is sitting at 4.53. Beyond that, they really are mixing and matching for a fifth starter. The bottom line is that the starters at least are keeping heat off the bullpen, which is like a lifeline to every team in almost every game.
It looks to this observer that the Braves are poised to jump into the top 10 next week and get close to the top five. It seems as if they’ll need Acuna to go on a tear, and he is quite capable of carrying them. At deadline time, they’ll be in the market to improve their starting pitching by adding one more solid arm.
Alex Cora has been like a master jockey and has almost willed his Boston Red Sox club to play closer to their capabilities. The starting rotation has been OK, but Nathan Eovoldi (back) is on the IL, and they are talking about having to use Chris Sale as a reliever when he gets back to ease him back into action.
The bullpen has been so unpredictable that Cora was using fringe lefty Matt Strahm in high leverage. They quickly decided that of all the arms and personalities on hand, Tanner Houck had the best chance to get the job done and now he is this generation’s Jonathan Papelbon.
The lineup features three studs in the middle: Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez.
But the rest of the hitters in the lineup — Kiké Hernández, Alex Verdugo, Bobby Dalbec and Christian Vasquez — are having down years.
While Devers is otherworldly, I’m not sure how the Red Sox get past this Eovoldi injury and keep pace with the Rays and Jays in the chase of the Yankees.
People forget that the San Francisco Giants won one more game in the regular season a year ago than the Dodgers. It’s really a shame to pile it all on the loss of catcher Buster Posey and the failed first half of Joey Bart, who was just optioned back to Triple-A with his batting average sitting at .156.
That said, there is very little help for Joc Pederson and Mike Yastrzemski throughout the rest of the lineup. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has been incredibly judicious with his dollars, but he has to try and improve the offensive mix before the Giants can be taken seriously.
They need Bart to go down and apply himself to being the player he can be, return in 30-40 days and be that difference-maker.
Despite their impressive three-game sweep of the Dodgers this past weekend, I don’t expect the Giants to be serious players for a shot at the World Series. This offseason, Zaidi will to try to attract a couple of serious free agents (think Carlos Correa and Bogaerts). They have the money.
The Cleveland Guardians sit at No. 14. The best news for them has been that skipper Terry Francona has been healthy enough to go to the post for every game this year. The next-best news for Cleveland is that its starting rotation is getting in a groove … all except Aaron Civale, on the IL with a 7.84 ERA.
Shane Beiber, Cal Quantrill, Triston McKenzie and Zach Plesac have been keeping the Guardians in almost every game. It may not last long, but with Civale still down, lefty Konnor Pilkington (acquired from the White Sox last year in the Cesar Hernandez trade) is getting a look as the fifth starter.
Emmanuel Clase after a brief stumble has been marvelous now for six weeks. Francona has begun to use Eli Morgan as the bridge to Clase. As is usually the case with Francona, he’s getting a lot of work out of Anthony Gose, Nick Sandlin, Bryan Shaw, Sam Hentges and Enyel De Los Santo.
Jose Ramirez is playing like an MVP candidate and Josh Naylor has been productive. Owen Miller has become a bit of an RBI machine. But big-time DH Franmil Reyes has been hurt the past two weeks and prior to that he was awful.
The Guardians’ starting pitching can help them win a lot of games in their division. If Reyes can come back and go off, they could make a run at the Twins.
Not sure if another team spent as much as the Philadelphia Phillies this past offseason. They spent heavily in doling out an extension to catcher J.T. Realmuto and bringing in outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. The expectation was that manager Joe Girardi was being handed a team capable of winning now.
But with the club just 22-29 and having lost two of three at home to the Giants and having gone just 5-11 in its last 16 games, team president Dave Dombrowski pulled the plug on Girardi and inserted bench coach Rob Thomson as skipper. Thomson gets his chance to prove he is the man for the job.
All the Phillies have done since hiring Thomson is go 8-1. This week they play the very pesky Marlins and then the last-place Nationals. If the Phillies truly are going to be a different team under Thomson, this would be a good week to prove it.
The turnaround sans Giradi has been so startling, that it’s impossible to pull the plug on a team just off a nine-game winning streak. But we’ll know soon enough if they have top-10 mettle. My gut says no.
Here are my power rankings.
1. New York Yankees (44-16, No. 1 last week): This engine sure is humming like a finely-tuned machine, but the Yankees can’t let up in AL East because the Rays and Jays are on the docket in the next nine games and the Red Sox seem to be in the midst of a kick.
2. New York Mets (40-22, No. 2): The Mets are coming home after a so-so 5-5 West Coast trip against the Dodgers, Padres and Angels. While for the most part they have held this rotation together with smoke and mirrors, early-season savior Chris Bassitt has struggled of late. Bassitt had a 2.34 ERA in his first 42.1 innings, but his ERA has jumped all the way to 4.35. He has a 7.62 ERA in his last 26 innings (five starts).
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (37-23, No. 4): The Dodgers are just 4-9 during the past two weeks: 0-3 at home against the Pirates, 2-2 at home against the Mets, 2-1 on the road against the White Sox and 0-3 on the road against the Giants. They just got Clayton Kershaw back this past weekend but lost Walker Buehler (elbow strain) until late in the year.
4. Houston Astros (37-23, No. 3): Justin Verlander threw just six innings in 2020 and missed all of 2021. So at the age of 39 coming off Tommy John surgery, all he has done so far in 2022 is throw 78.2 innings to the tune of an 8-2 record, 1.94 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. Update on Kyle Tucker: 11 steals in 12 tries.
5. San Diego Padres (37-24, No. 6): Regular readers know I am not a Padre pal, but this week (three games apiece at Wrigley and Coors) gives San Diego a good chance to keep closing in on the Dodgers.
6. St. Louis Cardinals (34-27, No. 7): I moved Cardinals up to sixth, their first time in the top 10 in 2022. The Rays dealt the Cards a three-game sweep in St. Petersburg, Fla., last week. So why are the Cards sixth and Rays ninth? Sometimes positions are affected by how teams in front of you do. Plus, this Nolan Gorman fella really has me with a Red Bird crush.
7. Milwaukee Brewers (34-28, No. 5): If you think the Angels had it rough during their 14-game losing streak, the Brew Crew has gone a very uncharacteristic 2-10 in their past 12. The Brewers start the week with three at Citi Field, but they have a good chance to end the week in an upbeat way with three at Cincy’s Great American Ball Park. Historically, you’d be wise not to bet against them under manager Craig Counsell.
8. Toronto Blue Jays (35-24, No. 8): The Blue Jays between have quite the gauntlet to run through from June 13-July 3. But of the 21 games, 15 will be contested at Rogers Centre. The Jays have a big home-field advantage, as visitors often have a couple important players who have not been vaccinated. The Jays host the Orioles for four, Yankees for three, Red Sox for three and Rays for five. The six they have on the road are against two playoff teams from last year (three against the White Sox and three against the Brewers).
9. Tampa Bay Rays (35-25, No. 9): The Rays have a much easier path during that same time period, as they play only 19 games. Six of those come against the Pirates and Orioles. If you are looking for an on-field reason to like the Rays, their rotation just got fortified with Shane Baz back from injury. He was awful in that first start, but with Shane McClanahan and Jeffrey Springs as the Nos. 1 and 2 starters, Baz should give them the 1-2-3 to compete with any team in the AL East.
10. Minnesota Twins (35-27, No. 10): It’s been 10 years since the 2012 MLB Draft. The top two picks were Carlos Correa (Houston) and Byron Buxton (Minnesota). Now they are — when healthy — providing a different kind of 1-2 punch. We can debate until the cows come home who was more deserving of being the No. 1 pick, but if both can stay healthy, the Twins have a hell of a chance to win the AL Central. Buxton especially looks like he is on a tear.
11. Atlanta Braves (34-27, No. 13)
12. Boston Red Sox (32-29, No. 11)
13. San Francisco Giants (33-26, No. 12)
14. Cleveland Guardians (29-27, No. 14)
15. Philadelphia Phillies (30-30, No. 20)
16. Chicago White Sox (27-31, No. 15)
17. Seattle Mariners (27-33, No. 18)
18. Texas Rangers (28-31, No. 19)
19. Miami Marlins (27-31, No. 22)
20. Arizona Diamondbacks (29-33, No. 17)
21. Los Angeles Angels (29-33, No. 16)
22. Colorado Rockies (27-34, No. 23)
23. Baltimore Orioles (26-35, No. 24)
24. Pittsburgh Pirates (24-34, No. 21)
25. Detroit Tigers (24-35, No. 27)
26. Chicago Cubs (23-36, No. 25)
27. Washington Nationals (23-39, No. 28)
28. Kansas City Royals (20-39, No. 29)
29. Oakland Athletics (21-41, No. 26)
30. Cincinnati Reds (21-39, No. 30)