MLB Power Rankings Week 3: Braves, Dodgers battle for top spot

Thursday, April 18, 2024

In what could be a season-long battle, the Braves and Dodgers were once again vying for our top spot in this week's Power Rankings, with Atlanta just barely edging out Los Angeles.

Another team might soon be in that mix, as the Yankees have the most wins in the majors at 13.

The Astros -- New York's storied American League foe and fellow powerhouse -- are struggling to start the campaign, falling out of our top 10 and all the way to No. 17 as they sit in last place in the AL West. How concerned should Houston be?

And what should we make of some of these early-season trends we've seen across the league?

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

Week 2 | Preseason rankings

1. Atlanta Braves


Previous ranking:2

Ozzie Albies will be sidelined for at least a couple of weeks after fracturing his right big toe when hit by a pitch. He had been off to a nice start with a .317 average and ranked second on the team behind Marcell Ozuna with 14 RBIs. Meanwhile, after getting off to a slow start in the power department and going homerless in the team's first 16 games,Ronald Acuna Jr.hit a home run in Wednesday's extra-inning win over the Astros. His longest homerless streak last year was 14 games. If there's a reason to be slightly worried he isn't going to match his MVP numbers of 2023, it is that his strikeout rate has spiked back up to around 24%, where it was in 2022, after it dropped to 11.4% last season. That's something to watch. -- Schoenfield

2. Los Angeles Dodgers


Previous ranking:1

It turns out the Dodgers aren't immune to the industrywide frailty of starting pitching. Bobby Miller, their promising young flamethrower, is on the injured list with shoulder inflammation. And though the Dodgers don't currently believe it's serious, shoulder ailments are always a cause for concern. Emmet Sheehan, meanwhile, has been battling forearm inflammation since the early part of spring training, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said recently it is "a longer-term situation." Given the injury histories of others such as Tyler Glasnow, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and James Paxton, there's certainly some anxiety about the season-long health of the Dodgers' starting rotation. Or, at least, there should be. -- Gonzalez

3. New York Yankees


Previous ranking:3

The Yankees jumped out to a sterling 12-3 record, winning close games late, despiteAaron Judge's sluggish start. Then they lost three games in a row, and the focus on Judge's productivity intensified. The all-world slugger is hitting .183 with 22 strikeouts in 19 games. The AL-leading 16 walks are encouraging, but Judge hasn't done his usual damage to pitches in the zone. An abdominal issue hindered him in March, limiting him to 22 spring training at-bats, but he insisted this week that wasn't a factor. History suggests it's only a matter of time before Judge, who will turn 32 years old later this month, starts smashing baseballs on the regular. The sooner he does, the likelier the Yankees can continue their promising start without ace Gerrit Cole. -- Castillo

4. Baltimore Orioles


Previous ranking:4

Two years ago, the hype in Baltimore was centered on Adley Rutschman. Last season wasGunnar Henderson's turn as the hotshot rookie. Jackson Holliday has snatched the spotlight in 2024. And all for good reason, as the three are on superstar tracks. But the Orioles' promising young position-player core doesn't stop at them. Jordan Westburg and Colton Cowser would've garnered more attention atop other organizations' prospect rankings. Instead, they slid under the radar through the Orioles' system, and they now are shining in Baltimore. Westburg, the club's 25-year-old starting third baseman, has a .317 average with four home runs and a .979 OPS. Cowser, its 24-year-old outfielder, is batting .400 with four home runs and a 1.229 OPS. Such complimentary players make the Orioles legitimate World Series contenders. -- Castillo

5. Texas Rangers


Previous ranking:5

Even in a season with early storylines dominated by widespread injuries, especially to pitchers, Texas has stood out with its ever-lengthening IL. Cody Bradford is the latest addition after turning up with a sore back. He won all three of his first starts, posting a 1.40 ERA with 17 strikeouts and just two walks over 19 innings. As a result, the Rangers will summon Jack Leiter from Triple-A to make his MLB debut. Leiter, the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft out of Vanderbilt, has struggled with control even as he has gradually climbed the ladder in Texas' system.

This year, however, he has looked like a new pitcher. After flashing better stuff and a command that had improved by leaps and bounds during the spring, Leiter followed that with 25 strikeouts and just three walks over 14 innings to start his Triple-A season, though he has been a bit long-ball-prone. Still, if he can translate the improvement to Globe Life Field, the injury spate will have generated at least one silver lining for the reigning champs. -- Doolittle

6. Philadelphia Phillies


Previous ranking:6

Ranger Suarez threw his second career complete game and shutout against the Rockies on Tuesday to improve to 3-0 with a 1.73 ERA through his first four starts. The only other complete game in the majors this season has beenRonel Blanco's no-hitter. It also was just the fourth shutout since the 2018 season in which a starter allowed at least seven hits; to put that in perspective and show how much the game has changed, in 1972, there were 60 such shutouts. Suarez is throwing his sinker more -- up from 28% last season to 38.5% -- even though he isn't throwing it as hard (averaging just 90.9 mph). But batters are hitting only .174 against it and are a combined 0-for-24 against his four-seamer and changeup. -- Schoenfield

7. Chicago Cubs


Previous ranking:8

It has been the Michael Busch show so far in Chicago, as the rookie first baseman tied an MLB record by hitting a home run in five straight games (no rookie has hit six). Busch, acquired from the Dodgers over the winter, has mastered the strike zone at a very young age, rarely chasing while showing the power that kept the Cubs afloat during a long West Coast trip to start the season. That combination of plate discipline and home run ability is a nod to a former Cubs All-Star, Anthony Rizzo. Busch might finally be his replacement. -- Rogers

8. Cleveland Guardians


Previous ranking:10

A key to the team's hot start has been the bullpen, which has one of the lowest ERAs in the majors. Leading the way has been Hunter Gaddis with 8 scoreless innings. The former starter bounced between the majors and Triple-A last season, but he always has been homer-prone as a starter. In relief, his fastball velocity has jumped 3 mph to 96.5 mph while he has relied mostly on just a two-pitch fastball/slider repertoire. Rookie Cade Smith, who fanned 95 in 62 innings in the minors in 2023, also looks like an impact reliever, using a 95 to 96 mph fastball to set up a wipeout splitter. -- Schoenfield

9. Milwaukee Brewers


Previous ranking:11

Christian Yelich has been here before. Another back ailment has him sidelined for the foreseeable future, meaning Milwaukee will be missing its best hitter. It might already be having an impact, as the Brewers won the first full game Yelich missed then lost the next three, scoring a total of eight runs. The good news is that Yelich isn't expected to miss a lot of time, but back injuries are tricky -- and can linger. Milwaukee will need others to provide offense, though it will be hard to replace his 217 OPS+ to start the season. -- Rogers

10. Arizona Diamondbacks


Previous ranking:14

The Diamondbacks caught the attention of the entire industry with a splashy offseason. But early on, it has been their mainstays who have mostly been carrying them. Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, who have long fortified the top of their rotation, have combined for a 1.93 ERA through each of their first four turns in the rotation. Ketel Marte and Christian Walker, meanwhile, entered Wednesday slashing a combined .291/.385/.500 with eight home runs, including Marte's ninth-inning, game-tying homer against the Cubs on Tuesday that gave the D-backs their fifth win in seven games. -- Gonzalez

11. San Diego Padres


Previous ranking:16

The Padres certainly aren't as talented as they were a year ago; it's tough to expect that when you remove Juan Soto, Blake Snell and Josh Hader from a roster. But the sense from those who have watched them closely this year is that they might be a better team. That they fight a little harder. That they seem more capable of overcoming deficits. Some of that scrappiness was on display over the weekend, when they took two of three from the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The Padres enter an off day with five wins in their past seven games. And while Fernando Tatis Jr.has been leading the way, they've been getting meaningful contributions throughout their roster. -- Gonzalez

12. Toronto Blue Jays


Previous ranking:15

Justin Turner was the oldest position player on an Opening Day roster this season -- but he isn't playing like it. The 39-year-old is slashing .333/.424/.519 as the Blue Jays' primary designated hitter after signing a one-year deal for the second consecutive offseason. The production has been crucial for a Toronto club otherwise light on offense with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.and Bo Bichette not producing at their usual levels. At this rate, Turner will have a job after his 40th birthday -- wherever that might be. -- Castillo

13. Kansas City Royals


Previous ranking:21

After some early upheaval in the Royals' bullpen, it looks like James McArthur has moved to the top of the leverage index hierarchy. McArthur's pro career has been a slow burn. A 12th-round pick by the Phillies in 2018, he was developed primarily as a starter, but after struggling in his first exposure to Triple-A early last season, Philadelphia designated him for assignment to free up a 40-man roster slot. The Royals leaped at the opportunity, acquiring him in a trade, and his trajectory has been one of rapid ascension ever since. Not a traditional-style closer, McArthur mixes a sinker/slider combo with a quality curveball and leans heavily on the command he improved after joining Kansas City. As a minor leaguer, he walked four batters per nine innings; as a Royal, he has issued just 0.8 walks per nine innings. -- Doolittle

14. Pittsburgh Pirates


Previous ranking:12

Pittsburgh was counting on the back end of its bullpen to help carry it this year, but the team ranks in the lower half of the majors in ERA while both David Bednar and Aroldis Chapman have struggled. Chapman has a 1.41 WHIP, walking six in 5 innings, while Bednar and his then 10.13 ERA (which has now risen to 13.50) got booed at home. Bednar has given up nine runs in six innings. If either or both sharpen up, the Pirates might have some lasting power in their division, as they've performed well in other aspects of their game. -- Rogers

15. Tampa Bay Rays


Previous ranking:13

To compete for another AL East title, the Rays will need much more from Yandy Diaz and Randy Arozarena--and soon. Diaz was one of the premier hitters in the sport last season, winning the AL batting crown with a .330 average. His 158 OPS+ was tied for seventh in the majors. He currently is hitting .211, while Arozarena, an October performer, has been even worse with a .174 batting average. The Rays managed a 10-9 start without their expected production, going 3-0 in one-run games, but they will need the pair to get going in order to remain in the division race. -- Castillo

16. Cincinnati Reds


Previous ranking:18

Nick Lodolo's return to the mound went spectacularly after he shut out the White Sox over the weekend, pitching 5 innings while striking out 10. His one-hit, one-walk performance was reminiscent of his first year in the big leagues, in 2022, when he finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting. Lodolo missed most of last season with a left tibia injury, but he is fully healthy now and should be a big part of the Reds' quest for the playoffs. -- Rogers

17. Houston Astros


Previous ranking:7

As Astros fans sweat out the team's slow start, one gleaming bright spot has been the vintage production by longtime Houston stalwart Jose Altuve. With five early homers, he has continued to produce plenty of the kind of power that has marked the second half of a career that should eventually land him in Cooperstown. Suddenly, Altuve is back to mixing that punch with the kind of elite average that made him a three-time batting champion by age 27. So far, he has hit everything hard and in the air, adding eight doubles to his home run count, a combination that gave him the early National League lead in total bases. Altuve's line drive rate over the opening weeks of the season was just over 30%, a rate he has reached over a full season only once in his career. At age 34, he has never looked better at the dish. -- Doolittle

18. Boston Red Sox


Previous ranking:9

Another week, another round of injuries for the Red Sox. Already without Lucas Giolito and Trevor Story for the season -- andNick Pivetta for an extended period --Rafael Devers and Garrett Whitlock both exited Tuesday's loss with ailments. Whitlock was pulled from his start after four innings with oblique tightness. Devers, the franchise's cornerstone third baseman, left in the eighth inning with left knee discomfort. Devers already has missed four games this season with a sore shoulder. His latest setback came a day after he collided with Tyler O'Neill in the field, which resulted in O'Neill needing eight stitches above his eye. Tuesday's loss dropped the Red Sox to last place in the competitive AL East after a torrid start. Not much is going right in Boston at the moment. -- Castillo

19. Detroit Tigers


Previous ranking:17

The season is still in its infancy stage, but perhaps we already know two things about the 2024 Tigers: They don't hit for much power, but they're really good defensively. They have a .326 slugging percentage and 14 home runs, both of which ranked below the output of every team except the lowly White Sox. But the Tigers have been one of only five teams with at least six outs above average, a primary reason -- alongside the dominance of Tarik Skubal -- they won 10 of their first 18 games. A full season of Parker Meadows in center field, which shifts Riley Greene to a corner spot, has been a major factor. -- Gonzalez

20. New York Mets


Previous ranking:25

Everyone wanted to immediately write off the Mets after that 0-5 start, but since then, they've won consecutive series against the Reds, Braves, Royals and Pirates -- all teams with winning records. The Mets have gone 10-3 following that winless stretch, and the pitching staff has allowed just one run in six games. Jose Butto had an impressive start against the Royals, allowing two hits with nine strikeouts over six scoreless innings while the bullpen has been among the best in the majors in strikeouts and strikeout rate. The surprise there has been 31-year-old Reed Garrett, who had 31 career major league appearances heading into 2024 with a 7.11 ERA but who now hasn't allowed a run while fanning 17 in 8 innings. -- Schoenfield

21. Seattle Mariners


Previous ranking:19

What in the world is going on with Julio Rodriguez? The Mariners' franchise player earned plenty of deserved MVP support in each of his first two seasons. Still only 23 years old -- he won't turn 24 until Dec. 29 -- his power bat has gone walkabout early in his 2024 campaign. Rodriguez hit just .219 over Seattle's first 19 games, and that's actually the bright spot in his slash line. Only one of his first 14 hits went for extra bases -- before he doubled twice on Wednesday -- and he has walked just four times against 27 strikeouts. The sample is very small, and he already has put up enough of a track record to earn the benefit of the doubt. The Mariners certainly aren't about to yank J-Rod out of the lineup. Nevertheless, Seattle fans will be heartened when he resumes his superstar trajectory. -- Doolittle

22. St. Louis Cardinals


Previous ranking:23

Free-agent-to-be Paul Goldschmidt is off to a slow start, compiling a miniscule OPS+ through the first couple of weeks. The 36-year-old has the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio since his rookie season. Odds are those numbers will start to normalize. But combined with his lack of power -- he has just one home run -- some might doubt if he can still be the type of dangerous hitter that has defined his career. Another month of at-bats should help paint a clearer picture. -- Rogers

23. Minnesota Twins


Previous ranking:20

Already without Royce Lewis, the Twins placed Carlos Correa on the IL on Saturday. The good news is that while he was originally diagnosed with an oblique strain, that was changed to a "mild" intercostal strain. The bad news, however, is that Correa and Lewis are the Twins' two best hitters, and scoring runs has been a huge issue in Minnesota so far in 2024. The Twins have tallied just 58 runs in 17 games. Only the A's and White Sox have scored fewer. But those teams were expected to finish in last place; the Twins have division title aspirations. Strong pitching can only take them so far -- even in the AL Central. -- Castillo

24. Los Angeles Angels


Previous ranking:24

Early in the season, we noted Nolan Schanuel's first-week home run as a positive sign for an on-base machine who needs to develop a modicum of power in order to be a first-division regular as a big league first baseman. Alas, that was not a harbinger of things to come. Since that dinger on April 1, he had added just two singles over his next 10 games before knocking three hits, all singles, on Wednesday. The 11th pick in last year's draft,Schanuel rocketed to the majors by the end of his first professional season. The Angels might soon have to make a decision on whether he will be able to finish off his rapid-fire development plan at the big league level. -- Doolittle

25. San Francisco Giants


Previous ranking:22

There was some surprise when the Giants signed Jordan Hicks and revealed he was transitioning into a starter after pitching out of the bullpen for the entirety of his major league career. That could not be going any better thus far. The 27-year-old right-hander has fashioned a 1.57 ERA through his first four starts, striking out 18 batters and issuing six walks in 23 innings. "He's talented," Giants manager Bob Melvin said, "but what's impressed me most is the mix of pitches he uses now. It was mostly fastball/slider; now he's got a sweeper, a split. His velocity will go anywhere from 92 to 100 mph, which is very tough for a hitter to keep track of." -- Gonzalez

26. Washington Nationals


Previous ranking:26

With Victor Robles sidelined due to a hamstring strain, Jacob Young has seen regular duty in center field over the past two weeks -- and he is kind of an intriguing player, with his elite speed and ability to put the ball in play. A seventh-round pick out of Florida in 2021, Young played 33 games last season and hit .252/.322/.336 while going 13-for-13 stealing bases (and he already is 6-for-6 in 2024). His lack of power might limit him to fourth outfielder status in the long run, but if he can slap the ball around and learn to draw a few more walks, maybe he can post a high enough OBP to remain a regular. Time is simply running out on Robles, who was a valuable part of the 2019 World Series championship team but hasn't hit enough since. -- Schoenfield

27. Oakland Athletics


Previous ranking:28

Last week, we made some observations about Oakland's usage of Mason Miller as its closer, specifically how such a role might inhibit his possible long-term development as a starting pitcher. While those concerns are real, we probably need to balance that analysis with this: The spectacle of Miller closing out a win has become one of baseball's must-see events. The list of this season's fastest pitches is dominated by his four-seamer, which has averaged over 100 mph and gets up near 104 when he really airs it out. While he only complements the heater with a slider, he has commanded that pitch well so that when he mixes it in after one or two of those four-seamers with their exceptional carry, he has at times made big league hitters look like little leaguers. If you notice the A's nursing a late-inning lead, do yourself a favor and tune in. -- Doolittle

28. Miami Marlins


Previous ranking:27

OK, we actually have a couple of pieces of positive news here. Edward Cabrera made his first start and looked impressive against the Giants, striking out 10 batters while allowing one run in six innings. He averaged 96.2 mph with his fastball and, most importantly, pounded the strike zone and walked just one batter. Cabrera's stuff has never been an issue; throwing strikes has (he averaged 6.2 walks per nine innings last season). Meanwhile, Ryan Weathers reeled off consecutive wins, tossing five shutout innings against the Yankees then fanning a career-high 10 in six innings against the Giants. Weathers didn't have much success when he was with the Padres, but this is a young player who was rushed to the majors and is still just 24 years old. His sweeper and changeup have, so far, been inducing much more swing-and-misses. -- Schoenfield

29. Colorado Rockies


Previous ranking:29

Kris Bryant, the Rockies' high-priced outfielder, crashed into the right-field wall while making a catch Saturday and landed on the IL with a back strain on Wednesday. The Rockies don't expect his latest ailment to be serious, but injuries continue to be a problem for Bryant. He appeared in just 122 games in the first two seasons of his seven-year, $182 million contract while dealing with plantar fasciitis, a heel bruise, a fractured index finger and, in 2022, a lower-back issue. He was slashing just .149/.273/.255 through his first 13 games this season. -- Gonzalez

30. Chicago White Sox


Previous ranking:30

A ray of hope amid the organization's early-season struggles might come in the form of young arms acquired in July when the team began its trade deadline overhaul. Righty Nick Nastrini looked solid in his MLB debut on Monday night against the Royals, giving up two runs over five innings while striking out five. Meanwhile, reliever Jordan Leasure hasn't yielded a run over six appearances. Both players came via a trade with the Dodgers for Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly -- two pitchers who might be winding down their careers just as Nastrini and Leasure are starting theirs. -- Rogers

Related Video