Memorial Day MLB standings check: Surprises, letdowns, more

Monday, May 27, 2024

It's Memorial Day, so you know what that means, MLB fans -- you are officially free to look at the MLB standings!

Among baseball fans, the saying goes that you should avoid checking the standings until Memorial Day, which gives teams time to play enough games through two months to add meaning to what we're seeing happen in every division.

While your team's position in the standings today might not guarantee it will end the season there, there is some truth to the concept: According to Elias Sports Bureau data, 58% of teams (94 of 161) that were in sole possession of first place on the morning of June 1 have gone on to win their division in the wild-card era (since 1995 and excluding 2020).

We asked ESPN MLB experts Jorge Castillo, Bradford Doolittle, Buster Olney and David Schoenfield to take a look at the standings and weigh in on what stands out most to them so far.

What's the first thing that jumps out to you when you look at the standings?

Castillo: The Houston Astros sitting in third place in the American League West with a record under .500. Yes, they're playing significantly better in May after a dreadful April. But these are the Astros, ALCS participants in each of the past seven seasons. Seeing them in third place this late in the calendar produces a double take every time. It's strange. Lucky for them, the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers haven't played well enough to bury them after their poor start. They're getting older and their farm system isn't as abundant with potential reinforcements, but the Astros are too talented -- and have been given too much life -- to stay in third place for long.

Doolittle: There are a whole lot of teams clustered around the .500 mark who are vying for playoff positioning. The Mariners lead the AL West at just two games over .500. Right now in the National League, getting one or two games over .500 gets you the fifth seed. There is a whole lot of mediocrity in the majors right now, and some of it is going to be rewarded with berths in the October bracket. This very well might be the season we get a sub-.500 playoff team. Given what we saw last year, that losing team could maybe go deep in the postseason. None of this strikes me as particularly exciting.

Olney: This Memorial Day, the team with the best record in the AL is not the Baltimore Orioles, who had the league's best record last year. Not the Rangers, the defending champions. Not the AL East-leadingNew York Yankees. Not the Astros. Not the Boston Red Sox or Tampa Bay Rays or Toronto Blue Jays. It's the Cleveland Guardians. And right behind the Guardians, Yankees and Orioles with the fourth-best record: theKansas City Royals. Before this season, a lot of projections had the Royals winning 70-74 games, or about a 15-win improvement over last year. Instead, Kansas City is on trajectory to flirt with 100 wins and has a top-three MVP finisher in Bobby Witt Jr.

Schoenfield: The AL Central, with the Guardians and Royals off to terrific starts and the Minnesota Twins over .500 as well. Not including 2020, the AL Central hasn't had two teams make the playoffs since 2017 (when Cleveland and Minnesota made it), hasn't had two teams finish over .500 since 2019 and hasn't seen three teams finish over .500 since 2014. It's not just that it has three winning teams, but it's how impressive Cleveland and Kansas City have been. The Guardians have scored more runs than expected with a lockdown bullpen to close out leads, and the Royals have ridden a red-hot rotation with Seth Lugo dominating (plus Witt and Salvador Perez).

Which team is the biggest disappointment?

Castillo: The Miami Marlins were never expected to contend for a championship this season. A second consecutive postseason berth -- after their first playoff appearance in a full season since 2003 -- would've been a victory. But they were, at least, projected to be in the summer mix. Instead, injuries decimated their pitching staff over the first month of the season, digging a hole so deep that the organization punted on 2024 four days into May by trading Luis Arraez, the team's best hitter, for four minor leaguers. The Marlins now reside in the run-differential company of dumpster fires in the Chicago White Sox and Colorado Rockies.

Maybe we should've seen this coming. Sandy Alcantara, the 2022 NL Cy Young Award winner, was shelved for 2024 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October. Miami's biggest offseason addition was Tim Anderson, who was coming off the worst season of his career. And things got ugly in the front office when general manager Kim Ng chose to leave after a de facto demotion. But it was never supposed to be this ugly this soon in Miami again.

Doolittle: I'm not ready to write off the Rangers or Astros just yet, so I'll go with a team that I don't see turning things around: Toronto. There was so much young offensive talent there and rather than last year's backslide on offense regressing to the mean in a positive sense, things have gotten worse. Only the White Sox have a worse park-adjusted scoring rate than the Blue Jays.

Olney: There are lots of candidates here -- the Marlins, after making the playoffs in 2023, and of course, the Rangers and Astros. But nobody has taken control yet of the AL West and it's reasonable to expect a surge from both Texas and Houston (the Astros have already been playing better). On the other hand, the New York Mets -- a team that won 100 games two years ago -- are already 15 games out of first place in the NL East and nine games behind the second-place Atlanta Braves. It seemed like that they would at least hang in there and contend for a wild-card spot this year, but over the last month or so, they've lost 22 of 32 games -- playing at a 111-loss pace during that stretch. That is nuts, and it'll free up president of baseball operations David Stearns to be aggressive swapping for prospects at the trade deadline.

Schoenfield: Everyone expected the defending champion Rangers to be better in the second half, when they will hopefully be adding Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Tyler Mahle to the rotation, but the rotation hasn't been their biggest problem. Bullpen depth is a big issue. Kirby Yates and David Robertson have been fine at the back end, but the middle relievers are coughing up runs in the middle of games. The offense hasn't been as high-powered as we saw last season as Josh Jung has been injured, rookies Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford haven't hit like projected and Corey Seager only recently found his power stroke. Luckily for the Rangers, the Mariners haven't hit and the Astros haven't pitched, so the AL West remains wide open.

How many teams will win 100 games this season -- and who will finish with the most wins?

Castillo: I'll roll with three, in this order: Los Angeles Dodgers (104 wins), Philadelphia Phillies (103), and New York Yankees (102). The Dodgers are on a 97-win pace despite having three holes in their lineup and being without several important pitchers for at least part of the season thus far. I see them improving their roster -- with internal and external options -- this summer and overwhelming clubs over the second half en route to 104 wins.

Doolittle: I think the Yankees, Phillies and Dodgers will get there, with the Yankees taking the overall MLB flag with, let's say, 104 wins. It's a very well-balanced team in New York, one that has displayed stifling run prevention even though Gerrit Cole's season hasn't yet started. The Braves have enough issues on the pitching side that I think they'll come up just short -- and they lostRonald Acuna Jr.for the season on Sunday -- but they remain a prime title contender.

Olney: Despite their win pace, the funny thing is that the Dodgers haven't really gotten hot yet -- they have only recently got their pitching sorted out, and eventually, it seems inevitable that they'll get more production from the bottom five spots in their lineup. Look at where their No. 6 to 9 hitters rank in wRC+:

No. 6: 79 wRC+ (20th)

No. 7: 54 (26th)

No. 8: 55 (29th)

No. 9: 75 (15th)

That's going to get better -- so the Dodgers' offense will get better. They'll wind up with the best record and go into the postseason under enormous pressure, which is what happens with any star-laden team. The Yankees, Phillies and Braves will also finish with 100 wins.

Schoenfield: I'm going to go with four: the Yankees, Phillies, Braves and Dodgers, with the Orioles falling just short at 98. The Braves haven't played like a 100-win team, but I'm betting on that offense clicking at some point, kicking the Braves into a 20-4 run or something that will have them back challenging the Phillies for the division title. Most wins? The Yankees have a great rotation (Luis Gil!) even without Cole, a great bullpen and maybe the two best hitters in the AL in Juan Soto and Aaron Judge. Put them down for 106 wins -- their most since the historic 1998 team.

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