MLB Power Rankings Week 5: Is your team soaring or falling?

Thursday, May 2, 2024

As we enter May, it's time to start taking what we've seen -- for better or worse -- a little more seriously as the sample size continues to grow.

Our top five have remained the same for the second week in a row, meaning it's a pretty safe assumption that those dominant squads are the real deal. But perhaps the concerns surrounding teams such as Tampa Bay and Houston should be ramped up as they continue to fall.

While the Astros sputter at the bottom of the American League West, the Mariners and Rangers are duking it out atop the division, with Seattle surging up our rankings into the top 10 this week. How do we make sense of all these first-month performances?

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 4 | Preseason rankings

1. Atlanta Braves


Previous ranking:1

Max Fried began the season with two shaky starts, getting only two outs against the Phillies after throwing 43 pitches and then allowing 10 hits and eight runs against the Diamondbacks (including six runs in the first inning). But he has looked back to form in his past two outings, tossing a 92-pitch three-hit shutout against the Marlins and then throwing six hitless innings against the Mariners. Unfortunately, Seattle's Bryce Miller matched Fried with six hitless innings and the Mariners won the game with a walk-off home run. Fried's ERA is 1.51 over his past 29 innings, and in the two scoreless starts, he recorded 27 ground-ball outs to just 11 fly ball/line-drive outs. -- Schoenfield

2. Baltimore Orioles


Previous ranking:2

Gunnar Henderson for AL MVP? While there's still plenty of season left -- and several expected candidates -- the 22-year-old shortstop is the best player on a projected World Series contender. And that formula produces MVP votes. Henderson, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, led off the Orioles' series opener against the Yankees on Monday with his 10th home run, becoming the youngest player to ever reach double-digit homers before May. The blast was the difference in the game -- a fitting start to a heavily anticipated season series between the AL East favorites. -- Castillo

3. Los Angeles Dodgers


Previous ranking:3

The top half of the Dodgers' lineup remains overwhelming, but the bottom half remains somewhat vulnerable. And nobody represents that better than Chris Taylor, who finished the month of April with a .061/.190/.061 slash line and was pinch hit for with runners in scoring position Tuesday night. Taylor, 33, is 4-for-51 with 24 strikeouts to begin the season and is owed at least another $17 million after this year. With Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith, Max Muncy and Teoscar Hernandez all off to good-to-great starts, the Dodgers don't need much from the bottom of their lineup. But they will eventually. -- Gonzalez

4. New York Yankees


Previous ranking:4

Here's a head-scratching fact: The Yankees have already been shut out five times in 32 games but lead the AL in on-base percentage and are third in runs scored. When they score, they score plenty. Yet, inconsistency has been the issue. One reason: They have grounded into more double plays (36) than any other team. Aaron Judge tops the majors in that category, grounding into 10 double plays (Bryce Harper is second with seven).He's on pace to obliterate his career high of 16. Jim Rice holds the record with 36 in 1984. -- Castillo

5. Philadelphia Phillies


Previous ranking:5

Alec Bohm won National League Player of the Week honors last week after going 17-for-30 (.567) with 8 doubles, 8 RBIs and 6 multihit games. He continued raking with three RBIs on Monday and another two-hit game Tuesday, and he now has a .362 average with 30 RBIs in his first 32 games. Bohm's overall swing and in-play metrics don't look much different than last season, but he's improved two things: He's cut down his chase rate from 30% to 23% and his overall whiff rate has dropped five percentage points. Basically, he's swinging at more hittable pitches. His expected batting average is .322, so maybe he's been a little lucky, but better swing decisions are leading to more hits. -- Schoenfield

6. Cleveland Guardians


Previous ranking:6

Cleveland have played four straight extra-inning games -- tying the franchise record -- and lost two of the four. The Guardians won on Wednesday, however, with Steven Kwan making a diving catch to end the game. They'll go for five in a row Thursday night against the Astros. They are 5-2 in extra-inning games and have played the most in the majors. Sunday's loss was a tough one as they were caught stealing twice in the 10th inning, with Steven Kwan caught stealing third and Jose Ramirez caught trying for second -- two of four times Cleveland was caught stealing on the night. After the game, manager Stephen Vogt stressed the team will continue to be aggressive. "It's what we're going to do," he said. -- Schoenfield

7. Seattle Mariners


Previous ranking:14

The Mariners rank in the bottom third of the AL in runs per game, which holds up even after you account for park factors. And yet they have wondrously found themselves atop the AL West at the end of April. Obviously when you aren't scoring but are still winning, the pitching is going to be pretty good, and that's where the credit lies in Seattle. Only Boston has a higher pitching Baseball Reference WAR this season across MLB. The Mariners rank in the top 10 in both starting and relief pitching by bWAR, and the fielders stand in the top five in defensive efficiency. The Seattle rotation was expected to feature a dynamic big three, but instead it's been a big four, with Bryce Miller performing at the same elite level as Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby. -- Doolittle

8. Chicago Cubs


Previous ranking:8

Injuries have hit the Cubs hard. As of Wednesday, they had $82 million worth of players on the injured list -- the most currently in MLB. That's about a third of their payroll. But the team has survived those ailments thanks to a highly rated farm system coming through for them in April. Pitchers Ben Brown and Hayden Wesneski lead the list of players who have stepped up. As Justin Steele, Seiya Suzuki and Cody Bellinger heal up, the Cubs could have a big month ahead of them. -- Rogers

9. Texas Rangers


Previous ranking:9

The defending champs ended April a couple of games over .500, an appropriate mark for a team right in the middle of the pack in most key hitting and pitching metrics. The defense has been strong, with the Rangers ranking near the top of the majors in defensive efficiency and runs saved. They certainly aren't in a bad spot, though, given the number of players on the IL and the star power in that group. Max Scherzer is likely to be the first of the ailing stars to return, but thanks to the surprisingly tepid state of the AL West, neither he nor anyone else is going to have to be rushed back. Texas hasn't sparkled so far, but the story of its title defense remains in its opening chapters. -- Doolittle

10. Milwaukee Brewers


Previous ranking:7

What exactly are the Brewers this season? The team that got off to a torrid start or the one that gave up 30 runs in the span of two games to the Yankees this past weekend? Even the computers aren't sure. Earlier this week, Fangraphs gave Milwaukee a 47% chance of making the postseason while Baseball Reference had it at 96%. The latter figure doesn't add up as the Brewers' toughest games on the schedule -- including multiple West Coast trips -- are ahead of them, not behind. -- Rogers

11. Boston Red Sox


Previous ranking:15

Where would this Red Sox club, besieged by injuries over the season's first month, be without its starting rotation? The assumption heading into the regular season was that Boston's starting pitching was lacking. The doubt made sense. That group posted a collective 4.68 ERA last season, good for 22nd in the majors. The only major offseason rotation addition that the Red Sox made, Lucas Giolito, was lost for the season during spring training. The consensus was they would need to mash to win games. So their 2.03 rotation ERA this season, the best in the majors by nearly a half run, makes for one of the bigger surprises. Tanner Houck (1.60 ERA) and Kutter Crawford (1.56 ERA) have led the charge through six starts each. -- Castillo

12. Cincinnati Reds


Previous ranking:12

Remember Nick Martini? He carried Cincinnati over the first 10 days of the season, blasting three home runs while driving in 12. Since then, he has just five hits -- all singles -- to go with 11 strikeouts. That streak highlights a current deficiency for the Reds, as they rank last in the NL in batting average. Their line drive and hard hit percentage are league average or above, perhaps indicating some bad luck. Despite all of that, the offense has produced, ranking in the top 10 of the majors in runs per game. -- Rogers

13. Kansas City Royals


Previous ranking:13

For all the deserved plaudits that have gone to emergent Royals superstar Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City's first-month MVP may well have been franchise stalwart Salvador Perez. In fact, you could argue that Perez has been so good that he, along with Witt, give the Royals two of the top way-too-early AL MVP candidates. Perez, who turns 34 this month, is off to the best start of his career. He's never hit the end of April with better percentages (.355/.415/.598) or more homers (seven) or RBIs (26). Most intriguing: Last season, he struck out 23.3% of the time and sported a meager 3.3% walk rate. This season, he has a 10.7% strikeout rate and an 8.2% walk rate.-- Doolittle

14. Minnesota Twins


Previous ranking:23

What a difference a week in April against floundering competition -- and a rally sausage -- makes. The Twins are riding a 10-game win streak against the White Sox, Angels and White Sox again to reverse a discouraging start to the season. Getting healthier has also helped, as Minnesota activated Max Kepler, Carlos Correa and Jhoan Duran from the IL during the streak. So has, according to team superstition, a pre-cooked summer sausage wrapped in plastic sitting in the dugout that players touch for good luck before hitting. The preseason favorites to win the NL Central again have responded well from early setbacks, but stiffer competition awaits. -- Castillo

15. Toronto Blue Jays


Previous ranking:10

Justin Turner and Daulton Varsho have fueled the Blue Jays' otherwise feeble offense, which ranks in the bottom five in runs scored across the majors. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.683 OPS), Bo Bichette (.557) and George Springer (.617) are not pulling their weight. Toronto needs more offensive production but got some good news on the pitching front Tuesday: Former All-Star Alek Manoah, who had been struggling mightily in the minors, recorded 12 strikeouts over six innings in a Triple-A rehab outing. -- Castillo

16. Detroit Tigers


Previous ranking:18

The elusive old form of Jack Flaherty was on display for the Tigers on Tuesday, fittingly enough against the Cardinals team he last pitched like a frontline ace for in -- what, 2019? He struck out the first seven batters he faced, tying an AL record, and finished with a career-high 14. Flaherty has a 4.00 ERA through his first six starts this season, but he has struck out 50 batters and issued only five walks in 36 innings. If he can continue to display that kind of stuff, the Tigers -- who are already seeing Tarik Skubal emerge as an ace -- could keep things interesting in the AL Central all summer long. -- Gonzalez

17. Arizona Diamondbacks


Previous ranking:11

Topps issued a new trading card of a man named Matt Hilton on Wednesday. Don't recognize him? He's the bee specialist who took care of a swarm of bees that had migrated to a nest behind home plate, which allowed Tuesday night's game to take place -- after it was delayed nearly two hours. Hilton was then trotted around the ballpark like a conquering hero, soaking in every second of his newfound glory. He threw out the first pitch. And the D-backs went on to defeat the rival Dodgers on an extra-inning walk-off home run by Christian Walker. The D-backs are still hovering below .500, but the vibes remain great in the desert. -- Gonzalez

18. New York Mets


Previous ranking:17

After posting a 6.65 ERA with the Yankees last season and serving up 23 home runs in just 89 innings, Luis Severino was certainly a gamble for the Mets, even on a one-year deal. Against the Cubs on Monday, he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, eventually allowing one hit and one run in eight innings while picking up a no-decision in a game the Mets lost in the ninth. The early key to his success has been fastball location. Last season, batters hit .355 and slugged .692 against his four-seamer; so far this season, it's .189 and .226. He's also throwing a two-seamer much more often (17% versus just 3% last year) and the two pitches seem to be working well together. -- Schoenfield

19. San Diego Padres


Previous ranking:16

The Padres had lost five in a row entering play Tuesday. But then Yu Darvish -- who has been out since April 14 with a bout of neck tightness -- came off the IL and provided exactly what they needed, allowing just three singles and zero runs through five innings against the Reds. The following afternoon, Joe Musgrove provided a much-needed bounce-back performance, pitching six innings of two-run ball against those same Reds to seal a series win. If the Padres are going to shake off another slow start and vault into contention, it's going to have to start with those two. -- Gonzalez

20. San Francisco Giants


Previous ranking:21

Blake Snell has an 11.57 ERA through his first three starts and remains on the IL, but luckily for the Giants, others have stepped up in the rotation to keep them afloat -- namely Logan Webb, Jordan Hicks and Keaton Winn, the latter two qualifying as much-needed surprises. Winn in particular pitched six innings of one-run ball against the Pirates on Sunday and has a 1.96 ERA over his past four starts. He was looked upon as the odd-man out once Snell and Alex Cobb got healthy, but Winn -- under the radar for his entire career -- has proved he deserves to stay. -- Gonzalez

21. Tampa Bay Rays


Previous ranking:19

Five of the Rays' seven qualified hitters have a wRC+ under 95. Randy Arozarena's 39 is the worst of the bunch, tied for the fourth-lowest mark in the majors. The former postseason hero is slashing .139/.220/.235 so far. Yandy Diaz, the defending AL batting champion, is batting .211 with a .556 OPS. As a result, the Rays offense has sputtered, ranking 20th in the majors in runs scored. That, combined with a slew of pitcher injuries, is a recipe for last place in the division. At least their City Connect uniform reveal was received better than most. -- Castillo

22. Houston Astros


Previous ranking:22

Former AL MVP Jose Abreu was optioned to the minors this week, something he had to agree to as a 10-year veteran. Something had to be done, as his 6-for-77 (.099) start and one extra-base hit (a double) gives him lower percentages than the average pitcher of any season in the pre-universal DH era. He will report to Houston's facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, where there is a small pond near the ballpark. Unless that pond is the fountain of youth that Ponce de Leon once searched for in Florida, it's possible Abreu's career may have reached an irreversible tipping point. According to Statcast, his 54 balls in play this season have failed to yield a single barrel. Keep your fingers crossed for the ex-All-Star. -- Doolittle

23. St. Louis Cardinals


Previous ranking:24

The demotion of Jordan Walker is a reminder that progress isn't linear in baseball. A promising rookie last season, he was sent down this season after hitting just .125 on fastballs. Last year, he hit .291 off those pitches. The Cardinals haven't really developed their next level of star players lately, but it's too early to declare Walker anything but a young talent who needs some work. Still, fans are restless as St. Louis continues to be stuck in neutral. Walker's start to the season didn't help. -- Rogers

24. Pittsburgh Pirates


Previous ranking:20

The difference in Mitch Keller's fastball from last season to this one is striking. Last year, batters hit .176 in at-bats ending on his four-seam fastball, whereas this year, they're hitting .367. He's down about 1 mph on it -- it just hasn't been a put away pitch for him. His two-seamer isn't much better, as batters are hitting .351 off of that, including three long balls. His offspeed/breaking stuff has had more success, so an increase in usage on those might be in order. -- Rogers

25. Washington Nationals


Previous ranking:25

Manager Dave Martinez has ramped up the aggressiveness on the bases as the Nationals rank second in the majors in stolen bases -- just two behind the Reds, with both teams well ahead of No. 3 Milwaukee. In Martinez's first two seasons as manager, 2018 and 2019, the Nationals ranked second and then first in steals (with Trea Turner leading the way) in the NL, but they ranked no higher than eighth in the NL the past three seasons. Jacob Young and Lane Thomas lead the way with 23 steals in 24 attempts, although Thomas just landed on the IL with a knee sprain, which he suffered on a steal attempt Tuesday. Still, the rate of 1.77 steals per game would shatter the franchise record of 146 total stolen bases in 1980, when Ron LeFlore (97 steals), Rodney Scott (63) and Andre Dawson (34) led the way for the then-Expos. -- Schoenfield

26. Los Angeles Angels


Previous ranking:26

Even before the news dropped this week about Mike Trout's latest injury -- he needs knee surgery for a torn meniscus -- his encouraging early-season start had already been in freefall over the past couple of weeks. Over the last 13 games before hitting the IL, Trout hit .128/.281/.319, dropping his season average to just .220 and his OBP to .325. Trout's 10 homers are tied for the most in the AL but six of those dingers came in low-leverage spots and eight of the 10 were solo shots. Overall, Trout has a .979 OPS in low-leverage situations but just .374 in 23 high-leverage plate appearances. It's almost certain these different indicators would have rebalanced over the course of the season, but now that Trout is once again on the shelf, we may not find out for some time. -- Doolittle

27. Oakland Athletics


Previous ranking:27

The Oakland bullpen isn't just Mason Miller anymore. The Athletics have an MLB-worst team batting average (.207) and a rotation ERA (4.82) that ranks 25th yet have managed to keep within sight of .500 thanks to what has arguably been baseball's best bullpen. Miller has become must-see viewing as the closer but he alone doesn't account for their MLB-leading 3.07 win probability added from relievers, per the Fangraphs model. Miller leads all AL pitchers (including starters) in individual WPA but don't overlook Lucas Erceg, who has a 1.42 ERA as Miller's primary set-up, Dany Jimenez and Austin Adams. The quartet of Miller, Erceg, Jimenez and Adams rank as Oakland's top four by average leverage index. -- Doolittle

28. Miami Marlins


Previous ranking:28

The Marlins snapped a seven-game losing streak in dramatic fashion Tuesday, scoring five runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the Rockies and then scoring twice in the bottom of the 10th to pull out the 7-6 win. Dane Myers, who replaced Jazz Chisholm Jr. in center field in the top of the eighth after Chisholm had been ejected arguing balls and strikes, was the big hero. He hit a two-run single with the bases loaded in the ninth and then delivered the walk-off base hit in the 10th. Rockies starter Ryan Feltner had entered the ninth looking to complete a shutout, but the first seven Marlins batters reached base against him and reliever Justin Lawrence -- including two hit batters. The Marlins will take a win any way they can get it these days. -- Schoenfield

29. Colorado Rockies


Previous ranking:29

Rockies: The Rockies traveled to Mexico City this weekend to face an Astros team that was off to one of its worst starts in franchise history and proceeded to get outscored by a combined 14 runs in two games. They have yet to win a single series all year. And while they've received encouraging signs from the likes of Ryan McMahon, Brenton Doyle and Ezequiel Tovar, three other key players -- Kris Bryant, Nolan Jones and Brendan Rodgers -- are struggling, hurt or both. The Rockies lost a franchise-record 103 games last season, and there's little reason to believe this year will be much better. -- Gonzalez

30. Chicago White Sox


Previous ranking:30

A bright spot for the White Sox in the midst of a gloomy first month was starter Erick Fedde. He's given up more than two runs in only one of his six starts this season. All signs point towards him keeping on this track, too -- he's throwing four types of pitches with equal success after developing a sweeper while playing in Korea last season. His best pitch right now might be his split finger, which has struck out eight of 26 hitters with only four reaching base off that pitch -- all on singles. -- Rogers

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