MLB Power Rankings: Yankees rise; Braves, Dodgers battle for No. 2

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Seven weeks into the season, we're still seeing dominant performances from a number of American League teams, with seven of our top 10 teams residing in the AL.

That has not been the case in the National League, with preseason juggernauts like the Mets and Padres -- teams that went big this offseason to put together playoff-caliber rosters -- struggling. Both are currently below .500 and stumbling in their divisional races, though the Mets' 8-7 walk-off win Wednesday night over the Rays could be the catalyst they needed to get going.

Two teams, however, have risen above the rest to vie for the title of best NL team. After stumbling out of the gate, the Dodgers have overtaken the Braves for best record in the league. Who will reign supreme?

Our expert panel has combined to rank every team in baseball based on a combination of what we've seen and what we already knew going into the 162-game marathon that is a full baseball season. We also asked ESPN MLB writers David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Jesse Rogers, Alden Gonzalez and Joon Lee to weigh in with an observation for all 30 teams.

Week 6 | Preseason rankings

1. Tampa Bay Rays


Previous ranking:1

The Rays' pitching factory is truly being put to the test, with Drew Rasmussen, Jeffrey Springs, Shane Baz and Tyler Glasnow all on the injured list. As it currently stands, the Rays are taking things day by day with their rotation -- they haven't officially announced their starting pitchers for the next four days. But Tampa Bay will likely be relying on arms like Jalen Beeks, who has made two opener-type starts in the past week, allowing no runs in six innings. The Rays do have a cushion to figure things out, currently sitting 3.5 games ahead of the second-place Orioles. -- Lee

2. Los Angeles Dodgers


Previous ranking:3

The Dodgers snapped a six-game winning streak when they lost to the Twins on Tuesday, the end of a stretch that saw them win 17 of 21 games. Their offense is clicking, their starters have been effective and their bullpen has turned things around. And as if that wasn't enough, Walker Buehler, who's recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, told reporters he hopes to be a member of the rotation by the start of September. Manager Dave Roberts says that might be a little overly aggressive, but Buehler in any capacity -- in the rotation or out of the bullpen -- would be a major lift. For now, though, the Dodgers seem to have plenty. -- Gonzalez

3. Atlanta Braves


Previous ranking:2

The Braves were cruising along until they lost four straight to the Red Sox and Blue Jays in the past week -- with A.J. Minter receiving the "L" in two of the games, dropping his record to 2-5 with an 8.06 ERA. His overall stats aren't as bad as the ERA indicates, with two home runs in 19 innings and a fine 24-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he has allowed a .500 average with runners in scoring position and a .340/.385/.511 slash line in "late and close" situations -- thus the five losses.

"He's a year removed from being one of the most effective relievers in baseball. This game's cruel. It just keeps testing you," manager Brian Snitker said. "He's just going to have to keep getting after it and competing ... and not be careful." The Braves do have a cushion in the National League East, and given that there aren't severe home run or control issues here, they'll likely keep him in high-leverage situations for now. -- Schoenfield

4. Texas Rangers


Previous ranking:5

We're not quite at Memorial Day -- a common time to assess teams' standings -- but it's looking more and more like Texas is in the race for the long haul. Playing the A's over the course of four games doesn't hurt either, as the Rangers took three of four over the weekend, but that doesn't mean they'll walk away with a division title. A wild-card spot still seems to be the most likely outcome, despite their current place atop the American League West.

In the absence of Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi has emerged as the leader of the rotation. He had gone three straight starts without giving up a run, all lasting at least eight innings, before giving up three runs in seven innings in Wednesday night's loss to the Braves. Shutting down the A's is one thing, but when he did the same against the Yankees and Angels, it made people take notice. Yes, New York had some injuries in its lineup, but Eovaldi passed the eye test either way. His stuff has been electric. -- Rogers

5. Toronto Blue Jays


Previous ranking:4

The concerns about Alek Manoah's start to the season are getting more and more real. Through nine starts, Manoah has a 5.40 ERA, 1.80 WHIP and -0.4 bWAR. He has given significantly more hard contact this season and has not been throwing as many strikes, a problem for a pitcher who does not rely on strikeouts to get batters out. If Toronto hopes to achieve its World Series aspirations, it will need more from a pitcher it expected to lead the rotation. The team has gotten strong performances from Kevin Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Bassitt, which has helped lessen the impact of Manoah's struggles. -- Lee

6. Baltimore Orioles


Previous ranking:7

Baltimore continues to dazzle in the early going of the season. Its most impressive pitcher hasn't been a starter -- rather, it's rookie reliever Yennier Cano, who has 25 strikeouts with no runs or walks in 21 innings pitched. The Orioles' bullpen duo of Cano and established reliever Felix Bautista looks like one of the most dynamic late-inning combos across the game. Combine that with Adley Rutschman putting together a season that could vault him in the MVP conversation and it's hard to imagine this Baltimore team fading into irrelevance. -- Lee

7. New York Yankees


Previous ranking:9

Yankees fans are inching away from the panic button after the team put together a strong week against the lowly Athletics, a series split against the Rays and high-scoring outputs against the Blue Jays (though, New York was shut out by Toronto on Wednesday). In the past week, Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo have carried the offense, hitting five and three homers, respectively. Meanwhile, rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe's statistics continue to creep up after a slow start -- he has hit three homers in the past week. -- Lee

8. Houston Astros


Previous ranking:6

Jose Altuve has been on a rehab assignment in the minors and his return from a thumb injury is approaching. Once Altuve resumes his place as the Astros' everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter, the question then becomes: What does manager Dusty Baker do about Mauricio Dubon? It's a good problem to have, since Dubon has sparkled as Altuve's replacement, with a league-average bat (albeit one fueled by a sky-high BABIP) supported by terrific defense and production on the basepaths. Dubon has been particularly lethal against lefties, and you wonder if he might usurp some of Jake Meyers' playing time in center field when a southpaw is on the mound. Dubon has started 79 games in center over the past three years but has yet to appear at the position in 2023. -- Doolittle

9. Minnesota Twins


Previous ranking:12

Wrist injuries have hampered the progress of Alex Kirilloff over the past couple of seasons. While it's still early, now that he's healthy, he has been producing like the All-Star in the making that he was once ordained to be. After getting his feet wet with a few outings at Class A, Kirilloff advanced to Triple-A St. Paul, where he mashed a .316/.435/.605 line over 10 games. That propelled him back to the big league roster, and 10 games after that promotion, he put up pretty much the same line: .313/.450/.563.

Manager Rocco Baldelli is still limiting Kirilloff's exposure to lefties, and as long as that's the case, we can't declare him a finished product. But if he keeps mashing righties the way that he has, Baldelli might be forced to expand his role. It might be happening already: Kirilloff was in the lineup May 16 at Dodger Stadium when the Twins were going up against future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw. -- Doolittle

10. Milwaukee Brewers


Previous ranking:11

Milwaukee has quietly returned to the top of the NL Central after a series sweep of the Royals over the weekend. However, the Brewers' 18-1 drubbing at the hands of the Cardinals on Monday was a reminder that nothing comes easy in the mediocre NL Central, though they did follow that up with a solid win over the Cardinals on Tuesday. Milwaukee's top hitter (Rowdy Tellez) ranks just 39th in the majors in OPS while its top pitcher (Corbin Burnes) ranks 37th in ERA, but manager Craig Counsell's group is doing what it always does -- hanging around the top of the division. The Rays and Astros will be a big test over the next week. -- Rogers

11. Arizona Diamondbacks


Previous ranking:14

Brandon Pfaadt, the D-backs' highly touted pitching prospect, was charged with 13 runs in 9 innings during his first two starts but bounced back Sunday, pitching five innings of one-run ball against the Giants. D-backs manager Torey Lovullo had a talk with Pfaadt in the wake of those first two outings, essentially telling him he was capable of more and that something needed to be figured out. "He took that as a personal challenge," Lovullo said.

Pfaadt benefited from getting back some of the late life on his fastball, heeding the advice of assistant pitching coach Barry Enright to get his fingers on top of the baseball and throw it more downhill, according to The D-backs need someone to step up in their rotation beyond Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, and perhaps Pfaadt, 24, can be that guy. -- Gonzalez

12. Boston Red Sox


Previous ranking:10

Boston fell back down to earth after rattling off an eight-game winning streak, dropping six of eight against the Phillies, Braves, Cardinals and Mariners. The Red Sox face questions about who will fill out their rotation following the return of James Paxton from the IL. After Wednesday's victory over the Mariners, manager Alex Cora announced his decision to send a flounderingNick Pivettato the bullpen, where he'll work as a multi-inning reliever, while others like Corey Kluber have also struggled mightily this season. If Boston hopes to compete in the division, it will need more from its rotation. Every pitcher with at least three starts has an ERA above 4.45.-- Lee

13. Seattle Mariners


Previous ranking:16

George Kirby is pitching his way into the All-Star discussion -- and it would be in front of home fans, with the All-Star Game in Seattle this summer. After allowing one hit in 6 innings to beat the Red Sox on Monday, he ran his record to 5-2 with a 2.45 ERA.

Following an impressive rookie season in which he walked just 22 batters in 130 innings, Kirby continues to pound the strike zone like few starters have ever done. He has walked just four batters in 51 innings -- at 0.7 walks per nine, that's a better rate than Greg Maddux ever had (and would rank eighth best since 1901). His strikeout rate isn't anything special, but he's not allowing a ton of hard contact, with just two home runs and a hard-hit rate that ranks in the 79th percentile. It's a unique profile in today's game, but he's proving that the old adage of "get ahead of the batter" is still an effective way to pitch. -- Schoenfield

14. San Diego Padres


Previous ranking:8

The perception from the outside was that the NL West had flipped. The Padres defeated the Dodgers in last year's NL Division Series, then signed Xander Bogaerts -- leading up to Fernando Tatis Jr.'s return -- while the Dodgers mainly stood pat. But the Padres' regular-season struggles against the Dodgers continue. They lost a combined five of six games to their bitter rivals on back-to-back weekends and have now dropped 11 consecutive regular-season series against them dating to 2021. When this week began, the Padres' vaunted offense was amazingly batting just .198 with runners in scoring position, dead last in the majors. -- Gonzalez

15. Los Angeles Angels


Previous ranking:15

Shohei Ohtani is navigating through what is probably the worst pitching slump of his major league career, posting a 6.12 ERA over his past four starts. Ohtani allowed five runs in the first five innings in Baltimore on Monday -- but he still recorded 21 outs, unleashed a 456-foot home run, fell just shy of the cycle for the second time in less than three weeks and wound up as the winning pitcher. In typical Ohtani fashion, he managed to attain greatness amid struggle. He's helping to keep the Angels afloat within a hypercompetitive AL West. -- Gonzalez

16. Philadelphia Phillies


Previous ranking:17

Ranger Suarez finally returned to make his first start since getting injured in the World Baseball Classic, and while he allowed seven hits and three runs in four innings, it was in Colorado and he gave up a couple of cheap ones (and the Phillies won anyway).

Meanwhile, the Phillies demoted Bailey Falter, which is not a surprise given he's 0-7 in eight starts with a 5.13 ERA. It's just hard for a lefty with a low strikeout rate to survive in today's game, and Falter has allowed a .301 average and .825 OPS. Still, he'll probably be back at some point, which leads us to this factoid: The record for most losses in a season without a win in Phillies history belongs to Russ Miller, who went 0-12 in 1928. You might remember Brad Lidge went 0-8 in 2009 as the closer -- despite the Phillies advancing to the World Series (where he would lose a game, although he did get a win in the NLCS). -- Schoenfield

17. New York Mets


Previous ranking:13

Is it time to start panicking? Maybe not, after the Mets' walk-off win over the Rays on Wednesday night, but New York still went a disastrous 4-9 in a stretch against the Tigers, Rockies, Reds and Nationals -- probably the easiest four-series stretch it'll have all season. Then on Tuesday against the Rays, Justin Verlander made his first home start for the Mets and allowed six runs and eight hits in five innings, serving up two home runs toIsaac Paredes, one with two runners on and one with a runner on. Verlander is hardly the biggest problem, as David Peterson got shelled again Sunday to fall to 1-5 with an 8.08 ERA and was optioned to Triple-A. Carlos Carrasco looks ready to return from the IL and take Peterson's place in the rotation. -- Schoenfield

18. Cleveland Guardians


Previous ranking:20

The Guardians' quest to generate some semblance of a contention-worthy offense is ongoing. They did get some good news on that front, though. Josh Naylor remarkably hit eighth-inning, go-ahead homers in three straight games over the weekend against the Angels, and he did so with nary a reprise of the baby-rocking celebration he unleashed on us all during last season's playoffs. Cleveland's offensive issues have been widespread, but Naylor has certainly been a part of the problem, with an OPS+ of just 84 despite the recent surge. Naylor and Josh Bell, who has struggled just as much, have occupied the 4- and 5-spots in the batting order for most of the season. The Guardians rank in the bottom third of the majors in OPS at those slots. -- Doolittle

19. Pittsburgh Pirates


Previous ranking:18

There's a reason the Pirates were never that highly rated in our power rankings, as their place in the standings was bound to take a hit. It's just hard to see their pitching staff, outside of Mitch Keller, performing at a high level over 162 games. Having said all that, Keller is a current Cy Young candidate who might be in the midst of a magical season. He followed up a complete-game shutout over the Rockies with a seven-inning, 13-strikeout scoreless performance over the vaunted Orioles. It was one of the better pitching performances of the season. Keller's fastball has been electric, which makes his cutter just as dangerous. He's a fun watch on the mound. -- Rogers

20. St. Louis Cardinals


Previous ranking:23

The long-awaited turnaround for St. Louis has begun. Was the very public benching of Willson Contreras the catalyst? Maybe. Maybe not. But it certainly got the attention of the whole team, as the Cardinals had to answer for their own issues as they came to Contreras' defense.

Slowly but surely the rotation is performing better -- a notion that probably has little to do with Contreras. Miles Mikolas has found some mojo after a brutal start to his season. He has given up five runs in his past 16 innings in three May starts. With a potent offense behind him -- Nolan Arenado is on fire -- that kind of production from St. Louis' pitching might be all the team needs to get back in the race. The Cardinals are not completely back, but their sweep of the Red Sox last week in Boston was as good a sign as any that they're headed in the right direction. -- Rogers

21. Chicago Cubs


Previous ranking:19

A brutal three-city road trip combined with key injuries has led to a poor May for Chicago. The Cubs are a decent team, but they have holes in every part of their game right now. One bright spot is Christopher Morel. He hit three 400-plus-foot home runs in the span of four days last week. One went for 461 feet, one of the longest in baseball this season. Teams should begin to pitch him inside as his power comes from extension. And fans have a right to question why he didn't make the team out of spring training after he hit 16 home runs in a limited time span last season. -- Rogers

22. Miami Marlins


Previous ranking:21

The Marlins finally lost a one-run game on Saturday, when the Reds scored three runs in the eighth to take a 6-4 lead. Miami rallied with a run in the bottom of the ninth and had the bases loaded with two outs, but Alexis Diaz fanned Yuli Gurriel to close out the game. But the Marlins improved to 13-1 in one-run games on Tuesday (and then 14-1 on Wednesday) with a dramatic three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Nationals 5-4. Garrett Cooper doubled with two outs, Luis Arraez singled him home and then Jorge Soler hit a walk-off home run.

The other big news was the MLB debut for 20-year-old right-hander Eury Perez, regarded by many as the top pitching prospect in the game. He allowed two runs in 4 innings against the Reds with seven K's, although those two runs were both homers. He averaged 97 mph with his fastball and got three strikeouts apiece with his slider and curveball. With 16 swinging strikes in just 18 pitches, his stuff was as good as advertised and he looks ready to contribute. -- Schoenfield

23. San Francisco Giants


Previous ranking:22

Perhaps Michael Conforto is finally beginning to heat up. After a dreadful first six weeks of the season, Conforto has accumulated10 hits -- including three home runs -- over his past 24 at-bats, adding 117 points of OPS in the process. The All-Star outfielder spent all of last season recovering from shoulder surgery. A slow start was to be expected. But if Conforto can get back to his production from as recently as 2020, it will serve as a major boost for a lineup that is also experiencing a resurgence from center fielder Mike Yastrzemski. -- Gonzalez

24. Cincinnati Reds


Previous ranking:25

Cincinnati is very quietly hanging around the edges of the NL Central race. Of course, every team in the division has a chance right now, as no one is running away with it. But considering their place in their rebuilding cycle, the Reds might be the most surprising team in the division. They won series against the Mets and Marlins over the past week -- with the latter coming on the road. Perhaps it will all crater, though, as Cincinnati ranks in the bottom third in hitting and pitching -- and the Reds are under .500 after all. But, catching the Cubs for third place earlier this week is a nice May feather in their baseball cap. -- Rogers

25. Detroit Tigers


Previous ranking:24

Detroit's run prevention has continued to trend in the right direction. Its park-adjusted runs allowed per game reached league average over the past month, a remarkable turnaround from the early weeks of the season. Through April 15, the Tigers were on pace to give up an unsightly 1,007 runs. Say what you will about early-season paces, but that's not good. Detroit was giving up 6 runs per game at that point.

Since then, the Tigers have given up just 3.6 runs per game and are on pace to allow 741 runs on the season through Tuesday. And while that is indeed just average once you adjust for Comerica Park, being average in something as a member of the AL Central is good enough to flirt with second place and be in a position where one short winning streak can vault you into the division lead. -- Doolittle

26. Washington Nationals


Previous ranking:28

The Nationals have played .500 baseball since their 4-11 start and CJ Abrams continues to show improvement at the plate. He's up to four home runs after homering twice in the Mets series, has his OPS just below .700 and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, his hard-hit rate sits in the 45th percentile after he showed little pop as a rookie. The chase rate is still way too high at 41.4% and his defense at shortstop also remains a work in progress as he has made eight errors and ranks at the bottom of Statcast's outs above average metric. Abrams is still just 22 and played just 114 games in the minors, so he's a young and inexperienced player whose career could still go in any number of directions. -- Schoenfield

27. Colorado Rockies


Previous ranking:27

The Rockies suffered a close loss to the Reds on Tuesday, but Chase Anderson, claimed off waivers to make that start, allowed only two baserunners over the course of five scoreless innings. The Rockies' rotation is exceedingly short-handed at the moment, with German Marquez (Tommy John surgery), Ryan Feltner (skull fracture suffered on a comebacker) and Antonio Senzatela (ulnar collateral ligament sprain) all either out for the year or facing lengthy absences. The Rockies are enjoying a much better month of May, in all phases, but they'll need more performances like Anderson's if they hope to remain relevant. -- Gonzalez

28. Chicago White Sox


Previous ranking:26

The White Sox are getting healthier, but it certainly has not been a linear process. Jake Burger returned to the lineup from an oblique strain and has seemingly picked up his power stroke where he left it. Yoan Moncada is back in the fold as well after mostly recovering from back trouble that kept him out of the lineup for over a month. Eloy Jimenez is still recovering from an appendectomy but is at least back with the team. Reliever Garrett Crochet rejoined the big league roster after completing the long road back from Tommy John surgery, and Liam Hendriks could be back in the big league bullpen any day now.

On the other hand, starting second baseman Elvis Andrus is now on the shelf with an oblique injury. The White Sox have not been whole all season and it might be a while before we see the full version of their roster. If Chicago doesn't start playing better with some consistency, there might not be much left to play for by the time everyone is back, even in baseball's worst division. -- Doolittle

29. Kansas City Royals


Previous ranking:29

Salvador Perez's recent surge at the plate has lifted all of his numbers to better-than-career-norm levels. He very much looks like an experienced backstop with plenty of productive years left ahead of him, as he turned 33 last week, and is still remarkable to watch at the plate. He'll swing at almost anything, with a chase rate that ranks in the last percentile of the majors. But his exit velocities are outstanding and he's in the 87th percentile in hard-hit rate. This season, somehow, he has even cut down on strikeouts despite a swing percentage that is the highest in baseball. In more ways than one, Perez remains one of a kind. -- Doolittle

30. Oakland Athletics


Previous ranking:30

Most of the news around the Athletics centers around their looming move to Las Vegas, but don't discount the performance by left fielder and designated hitter Brent Rooker. He has put together a strong start to the season, hitting .295/.498/.605 with 11 homers through 38 games this season, placing him among the 15 most valuable position players in the game by Baseball Reference WAR (bWAR). This comes, though, as the A's came to a binding agreement for $1.5 billion to develop a potential stadium on the Las Vegas Strip at the site of the Tropicana Hotel. Whether Rooker or anyone on this current roster is on that team is a whole other question. -- Lee

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