By now, you know the drill. These are my weekly power rankings, my best estimate of the relative strength of all 30 teams (NOT their playoff chances, mind you, but their actual, bedrock quality). The catch is that each team gets treated in precisely the number of words equal to their games played to date.
Each week, we know a little bit more about every team in the league, perhaps a sentence more, perhaps less than that. By September, I’ll be writing two paragraphs about each club, but for now, it’s still just a few sentences.
Russell Carleton did his usual, phenomenal work at Baseball Prospectus on Tuesday, finding that team-level early performances begin to have a real effect on final record at around 40 games. The season is not a substantial enough sample to change our real understanding of who they are, with externalities stripped away, until about 70 games. Therefore, my rankings won’t change as much as some others might at around this time of year. In a month, if I’m still being proven wrong by some team, I’ll be more proactive about changes.
That said, there are some changes every week, or have been thus far, and this week is no exception. Here we go.
30. Houston Astros (10-24): Their .288 OBP is the worst in the AL, and their 5.00 ERA is the worst in baseball. I’d like to strap Jeff Luhnow to a polygraph and see whether he’d want a mulligan.
29. Chicago Cubs (11-21): I have a theory that some unidentified aspect of the Cubs’ setting or schedule prevents them from having successful bullpens or high team OBPs, but it’s more likely that they just suck.
28. Minnesota Twins (15-17): Twenty of first 32 have been day games, a scheduling nod to the frigidity of what Minnesota calls spring. 4-8 in night games. That’ll be the majority of their games again soon.
27. Chicago White Sox (18-17): The White Sox have struck out more than any other team in baseball. Their pitching staff is a mess, one of their off-season rotation gambles having fallen flat, and Chris Sale hurt. Jose Abreu, though!
26. Philadelphia Phillies (15-17): There’s something admirable about their core (Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels, especially) staying together for most of a decade. Admirable, but not advantageous. They still stink.
25. San Diego Padres (15-20): They’re much lower this week. I’m off the bandwagon. These are a bunch of intriguing players who just aren’t going to turn into anything. You also have to wonder why they can’t keep anyone healthy.
24. New York Mets (16-17): They have 22 quality starts already. If their bullpen gets the boost I envision once their top pitching prospects come up, their run prevention will be stellar. Now they just need an offense.
23. Arizona Diamondbacks (13-24): Starting to come out of it, as illustrated by winning two of three over the league-leading Brewers. They have a balanced, versatile team. They just jettisoned too much talent in order to get that balance and versatility.
22. Colorado Rockies (22-14): This isn’t a total mirage. They have been building this stable of position players for years, and it’s always been a group with upside. But the 1.001 OPS at home and .726 away sound regression alarms.
21. Miami Marlins (19-15): Like the Rockies, only better, because their pitching staff is stronger. It’s not crazy to think they can win more than they lose. That said, they’re not going to surpass Atlanta or Washington anytime soon.
20. Cincinnati Reds (15-18): An offense that relies on just a few players is risky. If one (Brandon Phillips) begins to age badly, and another (Jay Bruce) gets hurt, you’re in trouble. Rotation won’t save them again.
19. Pittsburgh Pirates (14-20): Jordy Mercer’s age-26 rookie breakout didn’t stick? Francisco Liriano isn’t Death to Lefties? Charlie Morton wasn’t worth an early extension? I’m shocked—SHOCKED. (Subpar offense from right field is a self-inflicted wound.)
18. Seattle Mariners (17-16): Really like their set of young and prime-age players. They’re just one good pitcher and one well-balanced outfielder from a big step up. Having Nick Franklin as trade bait should help.
17. Kansas City Royals (16-17): I’m tired of waiting on the positional core to come together—and I have no stake in it. There’s no shortage of talent, but it doesn’t feel like things are about to click.
16. Baltimore Orioles (17-14): Despite a league-low 10 Quality Starts, they’re keeping their heads above water in terms of run prevention. Still a team that will have to hope to outslug you. That’s precarious.
15. Toronto Blue Jays (17-17): Jose Reyes will be better. Encarnacion and Bautista will stay good. The Jays just need to plug their gaping, glaring holes, at second base and at the back of the rotation.
14. New York Yankees (18-15): I don’t foresee the starting pitching holding up, especially once the league gets a book on Masahiro Tanaka. The offense has been about as good as could be hoped, a back-handed compliment.
13. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (16-17): It’s all going to be a question of what their pitching staff can manage. Exaggerated version of the Orioles, right down to early injury issues with key players. Farm system limits upgrade potential.
12. San Francisco Giants (21-13): They strike out and hit home runs, which is very unlike their last few iterations. Same old reliance on veterans, though, and they’re delivering beautifully. Pablo Sandoval is the last tumbler out of place.
11. Cleveland Indians (15-19): Exceptional pitching depth has helped them weather the departures of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. They just haven’t hit. I still believe they will. Lacking a certified superstar, though, they all have to hit.
10. Milwaukee Brewers (22-13): Heavy investment in starting rotation has paid off. They’ve gotten Quality Starts in 27 of their first 35 games. Offense has quietly been bad. They need Ryan Braun back, but also to get more disciplined.
9. Texas Rangers (17-17): Run differential indicates a 13-21 team. With so many early injury problems, you’d expect that. Being .500 despite that is an achievement. Now, they just need to hit on all cylinders, with everyone healthy.
8. Boston Red Sox (17-17): Some cracks in the offense have shown up (Daniel Nava), leading to a 9-13 record against right-handed starters. With so many options bubbling up for them, though, there’s no weakness they can’t overcome.
7. Detroit Tigers (20-9): They’re 7-2 in one-run games. They’ve played a weak schedule. It’s not their record that puts them here. It’s Miguel Cabrera taking off and the bullpen shaping up.
6. Tampa Bay Rays (15-19): All those pitching injuries can’t help but dampen one’s enthusiasm. It’s also worrying when the bullpen wavers: Is the magic gone? Still, they have a strong, deep lineup and they field well. Good team.
5. Washington Nationals (19-15): They never seem to have everyone healthy at once, but even 90 percent of this team is good. Nationals pitchers have the highest strikeout rate and third-highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in MLB.
4. Atlanta Braves (18-15): Their 2.77 ERA would be the lowest since 1972, or 1968 for NL teams. (I’m not counting the 1981 Astros.) The offense runs hot and cold, but the parade of arms won’t stop.
3. St. Louis Cardinals (18-17): Plagued by the best possible problem: they’re so stuffed with talent that using everybody becomes difficult. It’ll take some work, but this much talent can’t lose. A trade to consolidate roster spots is in order.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (19-16): Clayton Kershaw’s return is huge for them. The pitching staff is dominant, and needs to be, because the offense still amounts to less than the sum of its parts. The hitters seem unable to gel.
1. Oakland Athletics (20-15): Nine different A’s batters have walk rates of at least 10 percent this season, each in 70 or more plate appearances, most in baseball. They also have the best park-adjusted defensive efficiency in baseball.
Only five teams are at least five games over .500. Only five teams are at least five below .500. Nothing is settled yet. We’re starting to see the shape of teams’ successes and failures, but it’s all in silhouette. Keep an open mind.