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Over a month into the MLB season, the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and New York Mets continue to dominate. In the past several weeks, though, some new faces have surfaced.
The Los Angeles Angels have won six of their past seven games, outscoring their opponents 52-19, while the San Diego Padres are flourishing despite the absence of their young star. How do they stack up against the greatest clubs in the league?
Based on what we’ve seen so far and what we already knew coming into the 162-game marathon that is a complete baseball season, our expert panel has ranked every club in baseball. We also asked ESPN MLB analysts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Joon Lee, Jesse Rogers, and Alden Gonzalez to provide an early prediction for each of the 30 clubs.
Week 4 of the preseason
Los Angeles Dodgers (#1)
Previous position: 2
The Dodgers have dominated through the first five weeks despite not hitting all of their stride. They could be getting there now that the weather is warming and the offensive is resuming. Max Muncy, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman have been especially hot recently, bolstering an offense attempting to match the Dodgers’ starting rotation’s domination. The Dodgers, on the other hand, have just suffered a huge blow, with Blake Treinen suffering from a shoulder ailment that will keep him out beyond the All-Star break. Even though he isn’t their closer, he is their most crucial reliever. Gonzalez —
New York Yankees, No. 2
Previous position: 1
The Yankees are rolling early in the season, with strong offensive performances up and down the lineup and a pitching staff that has seen the emergence of Nestor Cortes, who has been the team’s best pitcher through six starts, leading the position group with a 1.2 WAR on top of a 1.41 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. The Yankees bullpen corps, which includes Michael King, Clay Holmes, and Aroldis Chapman, has been among the finest in MLB. — Lee
3. The Mets of New York
Previous position: 3
Last Thursday, the Mets defeated the Phillies in one of the all-time great comebacks, trailed 7-1 in the ninth inning before recovering for seven runs and an 8-7 triumph. It was the first time the Mets had come back from a six-run deficit in the ninth inning since Sept. 13, 1997, when they beat the Expos. The defeat against the Phillies on Mother’s Day ended Max Scherzer’s streak of 24 consecutive regular-season starts without a loss. During that time, he went 15-0 with a 2.55 ERA. Schoenfield’s
Previous position: 5
Brandon Woodruff has yet to make an impact on the Brewers’ starting rotation, but there are some early cracks. On Monday, he was destroyed by Cincinnati. But what they lack in pitching, Rowdy Tellez has compensated for at the bat. He was named player of the week after hitting 13 home runs in only six games. During that time, his OPS was above 1.000, and he has settled comfortably at first base in Milwaukee. — Rogers
5. Angels of Anaheim
Previous position: 8
Reid Detmers, a first-round selection less than two years ago, pitched a no-hitter against the Rays on Tuesday night, lowering his ERA to 3.77 in six starts. Even better have been Patrick Sandoval (2.03 ERA) and Noah Syndergaard (2.45 ERA). The offense has the most home runs in the majors, the bullpen has a few trustworthy high-leverage relievers, and Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani seem to finally have enough aid to make it to October. At the very least, the Angels are having a great time right now. Gonzalez —
Previous position: 12
The Astros have been on fire lately, thanks to a pitching staff that has been almost impenetrable. On May 2, Houston started an eight-game winning streak. During that stretch, they had only allowed eight runs and had a combined ERA of 0.88. Everyone in Houston is struggling with something, not just the rotation or the bullpen. Don’t forget about the defense, as terrific as the pitching has been. During the stretch, Houston surged to the top of the defensive runs saved leaderboard, and rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena has been near the top among players all season. Doolittle’s quote
San Diego Padres (#7)
Previous position: 7
Manny Machado needed to perform at an MVP level if the Padres offense was going to be able to maintain itself without Fernando Tatis Jr. That is just what he has done. Through five weeks, Machado has led the majors in FanGraphs wins above replacement while batting.383/.460/.625 and playing his usual superb defense at third base. Meanwhile, Eric Hosmer has a slash line of.367/.434/.550, providing the Padres with just enough offense to back their strong starting rotation. Gonzalez —
Previous position: 4
Carlos Rodon didn’t sign until after the lockout, and he did so on a two-year, $44 million deal that allows him to opt out after 110 innings in the first year. It seems to be one of the greatest deals in the sport. Rodon has a 1.80 ERA after six starts and has struck out 53 hitters in 35 innings. With the Giants, the 29-year-old left-hander has dropped his changeup in favor of a fastball-slider combo that has yielded excellent results and a curveball that has held opponents to a.110 projected batting average. Gonzalez —
Previous position: 6
There are a few rising talents that stand out from the pack, but our top 10 is led by a unanimous No. 1 decision.
Who has most impressed you?
Before dropping both games in their series with the New York Yankees, the Blue Jays had lost five of their previous seven games. Despite offensive troubles from Bo Bichette, Matt Chapman, Lourdes Gurriel, and Alejandro Kirk, the squad is still competing for first place in the American League East with the Yankees and Rays. With a 1.3 WAR, Alek Manoah is among the greatest starting pitchers in the game right away. — Lee
Previous position: 9
The Rays may have been no-hit by Reid Detmers, but they’ve played well against the Mariners and Athletics in recent weeks. Manuel Margot was named American League Player of the Week for the first week of May after going 12-for-24 with three home runs, two doubles, and a triple. He has been the team’s best player thus far this season, apart from Wander Franco. — Lee
Previous position: 11
The Twins began to win after a sluggish start and moved into first position in the AL Central. But, just when the Twins seemed to be putting some space between themselves and the rest of the division, the White Sox went hot, and the Twins were struck by the injury bug, with Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, and Chris Paddack among those who suffered different ailments. The timing is never ideal, but the Twins are at a weak place in their schedule right now. Minnesota will begin an 18-game homestand against struggling clubs Oakland, Detroit, and Kansas City after a three-game homestand against a Guardians squad coping with a COVID-19 epidemic over the weekend. Doolittle’s quote
Previous position: 10
The Cardinals had a mixed week, much like their season thus far. Three consecutive victories followed, with the team outscoring their opponent 20-3. However, they then lost three straight games, with a run differential of minus nine. So far, it’s been the story of their season. Back and forth without a clear direction. They’re still in the thick of the NL Central competition. While Nolan Arenado has cooled down a little, others, like Venezuelan youngster Juan Yepez, have gotten hot. At the bat, Dylan Carlson, Yadier Molina, and Tyler O’Neill all had solid weeks. — Rogers
Previous position: 13
Ronald Acuna Jr. returned from ACL surgery sooner than planned, and he’s looking fantastic (other than a high strikeout rate). Brian Snitker has him playing right field and DH, but the most shocking thing is that Acuna has been stealing bases, going 5-for-5 in his first ten games after swiping 17 in 82 games last year. It’s worth noting that his maximum sprint speed according to Statcast is only in the 68th percentile, compared to the upper 90s in the past, including the 97th percentile last season. Schoenfield’s
Previous position: 17
What a jumbled mess of a ballclub. We haven’t even played a month’s worth of games yet, yet the White Sox have already had a 6-1 run followed by a 1-10 slump in which Chicago has been hammered. It subsequently bounced back with a six-game victory run, five of which came on the road. When you add it all together, the White Sox have re-set a season that was on the verge of being a disaster, and the news keeps getting better. Yoan Moncada has returned to the lineup, Eloy Jimenez is healing faster than expected, Tim Anderson’s penalty was reduced to a fine on appeal, and Lance Lynn is expected to return to the rotation early next month. On the South Side, the good times may still be rolling this summer. Doolittle’s quote
Previous position: 20
Throughout the season, ESPN will broadcast the greatest names and finest teams in baseball.
Giants-Cardinals, 7 p.m. ET, Sunday
Josh Naylor is gradually getting established at first base as Terry Francona continues to shuttle about what has become a bevy of young breakthrough hitters in an attempt to keep everyone motivated. During the first several weeks of the season, Naylor has been one of the AL’s most improved hitters. While his.345 BABIP may not be long-term sustainable, it is backed up by gains in line drive rate and hard hit %. Naylor is still struggling against left-handed pitching, but his.876 OPS versus southpaws indicates that may change soon. In any case, considering Francona’s continuous fight with basher Franmil Reyes, Naylor’s progress has been a godsend. Doolittle’s quote
Previous position: 16
Should we bring up the Mets’ ninth-inning disaster from last Thursday? No, let’s just get on with it (see Mets comment for details). Let us instead return to the same old stale story: Bad defense and a shaky bullpen The bullpen is 23rd in the majors with a 4.11 ERA through Wednesday, despite the fact that it has been quite good in high-pressure situations. In terms of defensive runs saved, the defense is ranked 25th in the majors. Nick Castellanos is in the ninth percentile in Statcast’s outs above average, while Kyle Schwarber is in the 20th percentile with Bryce Harper still DHing. Schoenfield’s
Previous position: 14
The Mariners have lost 11 of their past 14 games, including a three-game sweep at Houston in which they were shut out twice, and have fallen well behind the Angels and Astros in the American League West. George Kirby made his big league debut against the Rays, pitching six shutout innings while striking out seven and walking none while reaching 98 mph. He takes over in the rotation for Matt Brash, who was sent down and will be converted to a multi-inning relief for the rest of the season. Schoenfield’s
Previous position: 18
The Rockies were one of the season’s most pleasant early shocks, but they’ve lost five of six games in back-to-back series against division rivals the D-backs and Giants, scoring just 13 runs. The Rockies have a winning record (as does every other club in the NL West), but they also have the fifth-lowest run differential in baseball. Their bullpen has been a complete disaster. Gonzalez —
Previous position: 23
The D-backs, believe it or not, are one of baseball’s hottest teams right now, having won 13 of their previous 20 games to move above.500 and give themselves a shot to compete in the crowded National League West. They’re largely carried by their starters. Merrill Kelly has a 1.71 ERA, Madison Bumgarner has a 1.78 ERA, and Zac Gallen has a 0.95 ERA. Gonzalez —
Previous position: 15
The Marlins have dropped from 12-8 to 14-17, including five straight losses to Arizona and a 0-7 record in one-run games over that time. The bullpen has a 3.35 ERA, which ranks 11th in the majors, but it hasn’t been very effective in those games. Marlins left fielders, right fielders, and designated hitters were all batting under.200 headed into the series finale against Arizona, which Miami won 11-3. Schoenfield’s
Previous position: 19
We go into how the season is shaping out and what it means for MLB’s future.
Everything you should know about
The Red Sox fan base is setting off fire alarms as the club continues to struggle offensively, putting a significant pressure on the bullpen. While Trevor Story is the most notable player who has struggled early on, Alex Verdugo, Kike Hernandez, Bobby Dalbec, Christian Vazquez, and Jackie Bradley Jr. also need to improve. Michael Wacha, one of the Red Sox’s finest pitchers, was also placed on the disabled list. — Lee
Previous position: 25
After a poor start, the Rangers are progressively correcting the ship. They swept the Phillies in a short two-game series last week, then battled the Yankees, allowing just five runs in a series defeat. After starting the season at the bottom of baseball, their pitching has steadied to the point where their team ERA has dipped below 4.00. Last time around the rotation, Dane Dunning, Martin Perez, Glenn Otto, and Jon Gray were all productive. Otto, in particular, has shown significant progress, allowing just eight hits in 141/3 innings. — Rogers
Previous position: 22
The Athletics’ early hot start has cooled considerably after they went on a nine-game losing run, which was ended on Monday by a solid start from Paul Blackburn, one of the team’s bright spots. Ramon Laureano, who was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, has returned, while shortstop Sheldon Neuse and reliever Dany Jimenez have been bright spots among the team’s recent woes. — Lee
Previous position: 21
The Cubs were swept by the Dodgers after the White Sox done the same to them during a previous home series. They’re just outclassed in nearly every aspect of the game, but Kyle Hendricks put up a strong showing in his hometown of Southern California on Monday. After losing five straight games by a total score of 27-7, Monday’s victory against the Padres was much-needed. — Rogers
Previous position: 29
Yadiel Hernandez has been one of the season’s happy stories. The Cuban outfielder made his big league debut in September 2020, at the age of 32 (he didn’t start his professional career in the United States until 2017), hit.273 in a part-time position in 2021, and is presently batting around.350, largely against right-handed pitchers, at the age of 34. Because the Nationals don’t have much of a need for him during their reconstruction, he may be a useful bench piece or platoon outfielder for a postseason contender in need of some offense. Schoenfield’s
Previous position: 27
Pittsburgh is still alive and well, sitting in third place in the NL Central’s fairly ordinary division. When lefty Jose Quintana stymied the Dodgers on Monday, they finally received a victory from a starter for the first time this season. The Pirates were able to stay afloat thanks to big weeks from Bryan Reynolds and Ben Gamel at the bat. Maybe they’ll turn out to be better than everybody expected? — Rogers
Previous position: 28
Cedric Mullins struggled early on, but has since hit.366/.381/.659 in May, including three home runs and doubles. While the Orioles will not be in contention for a postseason berth this season, the future seems to be getting closer as anticipation grows for Adley Rutschman’s debut in the big leagues. This season, Baltimore’s top prospect is hitting.378/.500/5.14 in the minors. — Lee
Previous position: 24
It’s no surprise that the Yankees and Mets are at the top of our April rankings, given their great beginnings.
A’s and an F-minus-minus are being handed out.
If there’s any consolation in the Tigers’ poor start, it’s that they went through the same thing a year ago. Detroit began the 2021 season with a 9-24 record and seemed to be on the verge of a 100-loss season, but rallied to threaten.500 later in the season. The Tigers’ pitching has been adequate, if not great, but has been hampered by an inept offense. So far, the Tigers have 11 batters with at least 50 at-bats. Austin Meadows is the only one with an OPS of at least.700. Five of them have a.600 or below OPS. To put it another way, there is a lot of opportunity for development. Doolittle’s quote
Previous position: 26
In principle, a team that organizes its position group on speed, defense, and batting average should do well in a season when home run rates are dropping. In actuality, the Royals have had one of baseball’s poorest offenses so far, probably only bettering Oakland and Cincinnati, two teams who have just begun full-scale rebuilds. The Royals have struck out the fewest batters in the league, but they are still batting under.220 as a club. Even in today’s MLB, that isn’t going to cut it for a club that hasn’t hit for power and hasn’t drawn many walks. Doolittle’s quote
Previous position: 30
After a dreadful start to the season, Cincinnati showed some signs of life. At the very least, they’ve begun scoring runs while waiting for Luis Castillo to return to the mound. He ran out of steam in his first start against the Brewers on Monday, but the Reds still won by chasing Brandon Woodruff after just 413 pitches. Cincinnati might be settling into the ideal spoiler position for the remainder of the season. — Rogers
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