MLB Power Rankings Week 7: AL, NL Central teams roll into top 10

Thursday, May 16, 2024

While some of the usual players dominate our list, five of our top teams this week are in two unexpected divisions -- the AL and NL Central.

Coming into the 2024 season, expectations of success were high for the perennial postseason contenders but not so much for some of the clubs in the Central divisions. However, through seven weeks, the Guardians are tied with the Braves for the fifth best run differential in MLB, the Royals' offense has put more than 200 runs on the board and the Brewers have scored the third-most runs in the majors.

Can these squads stay on a roll as we get deeper into the season?

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 6 | Preseason rankings

1. Los Angeles Dodgers


Previous ranking:1

Shohei Ohtaninearly produced a "Splash Hit" at Oracle Park in a 10-2 victory over the division rival Giants on Tuesday, the Dodgers' fifth consecutive win against them this season. It traveled 446 feet. "Barry territory," as Dodgers manager and former Barry Bonds teammate Dave Roberts put it. By the end of the night, Ohtani's slash line stood at .361/.427/.680, his 1.108 OPS leading the major leagues but just barely ahead of teammateMookie Betts'. The top half of the Dodgers' lineup has been an absolute force, but lately it's their pitching that has been arguably most impressive. The Dodgers have held opponents to four runs or less in every game this month. -- Gonzalez

2. Philadelphia Phillies


Previous ranking:2

The Phillies have soared to the best record in the majors thanks to a 15-3 stretch that saw them outscore opponents by 59 runs. At 30-13 heading into Wednesday's game, it ranks as the second-best record through 43 games in franchise history -- the 1976 Phillies started 32-11 on their way to 101 wins and an NL East title. Those Phillies had Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, two Hall of Famers. These Phillies have Ranger Suarez and Alec Bohm filling the roles of ace lefty and hard-hitting third baseman. Suarez continues to baffle opposing hitters with a 8-0 record and 1.37 ERA in eight starts while Bohm is hitting .331 with 35 RBIs in 43 games. -- Schoenfield

3. Atlanta Braves


Previous ranking:4

The Braves bounced back from a sweep by the Dodgers with a two-game sweep of the Red Sox and then series wins against the Mets and Cubs. Through Tuesday, the pitching staff had a seven-game stretch in which it allowed just nine runs with a 1.16 ERA -- and a 19-game stretch where it had a 2.25 ERA and allowed more than four runs just once. Chris Sale has led the way with wins in five straight starts, including consecutive scoreless outings against the Red Sox and Cubs with 19 strikeouts and one walk over 13 innings. So far, the Sale trade looks like one of the best transactions of the offseason. -- Schoenfield

4. Baltimore Orioles


Previous ranking:3

The four-game series between the Orioles and Yankees at the turn of the month was framed as the season's first AL East showdownbetween arguably the two best teams in the American League. And Baltimore's 7-2 win on May 2 closed an emphatic early statement as the Orioles took three of four from the Yankees at Camden Yards to seize first place in the division. Their places in the standings have since flipped again Tuesday, and it probably won't be the last time. These teams have nine more regular-season meetings -- and maybe a few more in October. -- Castillo

5. New York Yankees


Previous ranking:5

Rarely this season has the Yankees' bullpen -- one of the best in baseball by most indicators -- combusted and required a bailout from the offense. But it happened, led by one of their struggling veterans, in a 10-6 win over the Rays on Sunday. Tampa Bay, down 6-0, scored five runs off left-handers Caleb Ferguson and Nick Burdi in the seventh inning to pull within one. The Yankees offense, as streaky as any, responded with a four-spot in the eighth inning to put the Rays away. Gleyber Torres, off to an alarmingly poor start heading into free agency, led the counter with a three-run home run. The second baseman then went 2-for-5 when the Yankees beat the Twins on Tuesday, raising his OPS to .569. Getting Torres on track should raise New York's run-scoring ceiling in support of one of the top pitching staffs in the game. -- Castillo

6. Cleveland Guardians

Record: 27-17

Previous ranking: 6

The Guardians are third in the AL in runs scored despite ranking 10th in batting average, sixth in OBP and eighth in slugging percentage. Their best numbers, however, have come with runners in scoring position: .290/.382/.470. Their .852 OPS with RISP is the third-highest in the majors behind the Brewers and Rangers. Andres Gimenez is hitting .447 with RISP while Gimenez, David Fry, Estevan Florial, Bo Naylor, Josh Naylor and Will Brennan each have an OPS over .900. It's working so far, but the Guardians are unlikely to remain as hot all season in those situations.-- Schoenfield

7. Milwaukee Brewers


Previous ranking:10

Unlike some teams in the NL Central, Milwaukee has had a streak of great victories recently. Was it the come-from-behind, ninth-inning win over Kansas City on May 7? Or perhaps it was one of the three drubbings of the Cardinals a few days later. The Brewers continue to score runs at a surprising rate as they totaled 37 in five wins over the past week. Their 11-2 blowout of St. Louis on May 10 stands out simply because they scored double digits without the aid of a home run. MVP candidate William Contreras scored three times while shortstop Willy Adames hit three doubles. Milwaukee is looking more and more like it has staying power. -- Rogers

8. Chicago Cubs


Previous ranking:8

While rookie Shota Imanaga is garnering all the headlines, you would be hard-pressed to find another lesser-known starter having a better year than righty Javier Assad. Any of his outings could be considered among the best of late -- or even the season. His six shutout innings against the first-place Brewers on May 5 was a thing of beauty as he only struck out four hitters, allowing his defense to do its thing. Assad is old-school, relying on a sinker as much as any other pitch. He throws three different pitches about the same number of times -- also an old-school trait. The 5-0 win that day secured the series victory and moved the Cubs into a virtual tie for first place at the time. It also lowered Assad's ERA to a nifty 1.66. -- Rogers

9. Minnesota Twins


Previous ranking:9

The Twins' 3-1 win over the Red Sox on May 4 was, in a vacuum, a ho-hum result. But zoom out and a season-changing stretch appears: That victory was Minnesota's 12th straight, vaulting the club from 7-13 to 19-13 in less than two weeks. The Twins launched the invigorating run with 10 consecutive wins over the White Sox and Angels, two of the league's bottom feeders. But a 12-game winning streak against anybody at this level is a significant feat. For the Twins, it erased a rocky start -- and perhaps kept their hopes for another AL Central title alive. -- Castillo

10. Kansas City Royals


Previous ranking:12

The Royals' propensity for dialing up their offense in the late innings was on full display on May 10 in Anaheim, at an hour when many of their fans back in the Midwest had retired for the evening. And you couldn't blame them since the KC offense showed little life against Griffin Canning and three relievers, who turned over a 1-0 lead to closer Carlos Estevez in the ninth. Estevez retired Michael Massey, butMJ Melendezsingled. Then Adam Frazier yanked a 2-0 fastball just inside the right-field foul pole for his first homer as a Royal. The Royals held on for the win. They rank in the middle of the pack in most key offensive categories, including runs. However, after the seventh inning, they are tied for second in runs, third in homers and have the highest team OPS with runners in scoring position. -- Doolittle

11. Seattle Mariners


Previous ranking:11

Here are three facts that, before the season, you would not think could be true for Seattle at the same time. First, Julio Rodriguez has played in every game. Second, he has two home runs. Third, the Mariners have been in, or close to, first place in the AL West for the past month. Rodriguez went homerless over his first 22 games before going deep on April 23. Rather than the start of a trend, he then went homerless in his next 17 games. Finally, on May 12, he hit a two-run jack to dead center off Oakland lefty Alex Wood to end the drought. A trend this time? Maybe. The blast came amid a string of six straight balls Rodriguez hit into play that topped 100 mph in exit velocity. If fact No. 3 for Seattle (first place) is to continue, you have to believe that fact No. 2 (very few J-Rod dingers) can't continue. -- Doolittle

12. Texas Rangers


Previous ranking:7

May has been a struggle for Rangers pitching, recalling the late-summer fade by the staff in 2023 that threatened to sink their breakout season. It worked out, obviously, but it wasn't a pattern they necessarily want to replicate. What is concerning is that the problem hasn't been the Rangers' injury-riddled rotation but a bullpen that has fallen into disarray despite a depth chart long on proven options.

This trend might have reached its apex on May 13. After seven shutout, one-hit innings from Michael Lorenzen, the Rangers lost 7-0 to the Guardians, who scored all of their runs in the eighth and ninth against the Texas bullpen. That brought the Rangers' bullpen ERA in May to an eye-jabbing 9.16. It's too early to panic, but some kind of stable pecking order needs to be found or else it might not matter when their recovering rotation stars begin to return to active duty. -- Doolittle

13. Boston Red Sox


Previous ranking:13

The Red Sox have overcome a cascade of injuries to remain above water behind their unexpectedly elite starting rotation. On Saturday, that group received a boost when Brayan Bello came off the injured list to pitch five innings in Boston's 3-2 win over the Nationals. The right-hander held Washington to two runs on four hits in his first start after missing nearly a month with lat tightness. Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford have shined atop Boston's rotation. The 24-year-old Bello should help. -- Castillo

14. San Diego Padres


Previous ranking:14

Luis Arraez compiled four hits in his Padres debut on May 4, but he took it a step further in his home debut on Friday -- delivering the walk-off hit against the hated Dodgers in a 2-1 victory. It was the start of a weekend in which the Padres took two of three from the Dodgers and set a Petco Park attendance record for a three-game series. That, however, was followed by a three-game sweep to the lowly Rockies, a reminder that these Padres are still not clicking on all cylinders. Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado and Ha-Seong Kim in particular have struggled, but the starting rotation has been better and Joe Musgrove is expected to rejoin them in Atlanta over the weekend. -- Gonzalez

15. Arizona Diamondbacks


Previous ranking:19

The magic that carried Arizona through a thrilling October has been elusive this season, but a flicker of it arrived on Monday night. Down a run in the bottom of the ninth, with the bases loaded against All-Star closer Edwin Diaz, Kevin Newman reached out his hands and dropped a base hit into a vacant right field for a walk-off victory. It was the Diamondbacks' sixth win in a stretch of eight games, a sign that perhaps they might be starting to turn the corner. But they can't fully do so until Corbin Carroll gets going. And he continues to struggle, his slash line sitting at .193/.284/.255. -- Gonzalez

16. Detroit Tigers


Previous ranking:15

Reese Olson pitched eight scoreless innings against the lowly Marlins on Tuesday, but the Tigers lost 1-0. Olson's ERA is down to 2.06, and yet somehow the 24-year-old right-hander has an 0-4 record. The Tigers are averaging just 2.13 runs in his starts, making Olson last in the majors in run support. He embodies a larger scale problem for his team, which boasts one of the sport's best pitching staffs but also one of its worst offenses. It won't get much better unless Spencer Torkelson and Colt Keithfinds a way to get going. Add those two and the perpetually struggling Javier Baez and you get a combined .188/.244/.261 slash line from three critical infielders. -- Gonzalez

17. Tampa Bay Rays


Previous ranking:16

A week after getting swept by the bumbling White Sox, the Rays walked off the Mets in a 10-inning comeback victory to complete their first sweep of the season. Down to their final out in the ninth inning, the Rays had Randy Arozarena, scuffling badly to begin the season, deliver an improbable game-tying solo home run off Mets closer Edwin Díaz. The Mets scored on an error in the 10th inning, putting the Rays on the ropes again, before Jonny DeLuca, in his third game of the season, walked it off with a two-run triple. The Rays are .500 despite a minus-30 run differential thanks to being 7-4 in one-run games and 3-2 in extra-inning games. -- Castillo

18. Toronto Blue Jays


Previous ranking:20

It's mid-May, but the Blue Jays need every win to stay within striking distance of a postseason spot. On Monday, they secured an impressive one in 10 innings against the Orioles in Baltimore behind Daulton Varsho. With Toronto down one in the eighth inning, Varsho delivered a tying home run off Yennier Cano. Two innings later, Varsho's RBI groundout gave the Blue Jays their first lead and, eventually, the win to move to three games under .500 and five games out of the third wild-card spot. The Blue Jays showed some life. They need plenty more to avoid disappointment -- and, maybe, a fire sale. -- Castillo

19. New York Mets


Previous ranking:18

It feels a little bit like a dangerous time for the Mets as they've hit another rough patch and fallen way behind the Phillies and Braves in the division race. The offense continues to scuffle as only Brandon Nimmo, DJ Stewart and J.D. Martinez have an OBP over .325. Brett Baty hasn't hit for much power, Jeff McNeil and Harrison Bader have just one home run each, Starling Marte is running a .300 OBP, Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso are below their career norms and the catchers haven't produced anything since Francisco Alvarez went on the IL. The pitching has arguably been better than expected, and Christian Scott looks like a nice addition to the rotation, but the lineup needs to get going. -- Schoenfield

20. Washington Nationals


Previous ranking:21

Yes, that's the Nationals sitting 14th in the majors with a 3.97 rotation ERA -- a huge improvement so far over last season, when they ranked 25th with a 5.02 ERA. The key has been home run suppression. Last year, only Rockies starters allowed more home runs. This year, Nationals starters have allowed 17, the fewest in the majors. Trevor Williams has allowed one in 41 innings, MacKenzie Gore three in 40 innings and Jake Irvin four in 45 innings. Even Patrick Corbin has allowed just four (although he has otherwise been hit hard). On offense, Eddie Rosario, struggling all season, broke out with a .467 average and three home runs last week to win NL Player of the Week honors. -- Schoenfield

21. Houston Astros


Previous ranking:22

Houston has shown signs of halting an early-season downfall that threatened to turn into the kind of avalanche that would put an end to its AL West domination. But for the Astros to end up back where we are accustomed to finding them -- in some late-October postseason series -- they need their longtime stars to prove that their talents haven't started to dim. No one exemplifies that need more than Alex Bregman, who through May 12 was hitting .201/.270/.264 with one homer in 159 plate appearances. We pick that cutoff date because of what Houston's venerable third baseman did on May 13, going 3-for-3 with two homers, a double and a walk in a 9-2 thrashing of Oakland. In one fell sweep, Bregman raised his OPS from .534 to .615. The Astros need to see a lot more of that. -- Doolittle

22. Cincinnati Reds


Previous ranking:17

Signature wins have been tough to come by for the Reds this month, but they got one recently in Arizona when Hunter Greene threw seven solid innings while giving up just five hits and one walk in a 6-2 win. It's what the doctor ordered considering all the injuries Cincinnati has endured. Greene really needs to be the man for the Reds if they have any chance to recover from the hole they've dug. He lowered his ERA to 3.27 after that outing to help stop the bleeding for his team, currently mired near the cellar in the division. -- Rogers

23. Pittsburgh Pirates


Previous ranking:23

The most exciting game of perhaps the season for the Pirates has to be the debut of Paul Skenes, last year's No. 1 pick in the draft. Skenes went four innings, giving up three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out seven Cubs hitters. He looked great but his bullpen looked anything but as it walked eight batters including six with the bases loaded. The Pirates recovered from a seven-run fifth inning to win, thanks to five home runs by five different players. A signature win, indeed. -- Rogers

24. San Francisco Giants


Previous ranking:25

The Giants walked off the Reds and clinched a series victory on Sunday, but grim news came with it: Jung Hoo Lee, their center fielder and leadoff hitter, crashed into the wall while chasing a Jeimer Candelario drive in the first inning anddislocated his left shoulder. He was placed on the IL the following day alongside fellow outfielders Michael Conforto, Austin Slater and Jorge Soler. An MRI then revealed that he suffered structural damage in the shoulder, and he'll get a second opinion on Thursday. That's four outfielders hurt, plus both catchers (Patrick Bailey and Tom Murphy) and an everyday shortstop (Nick Ahmed). The Giants don't have the position-player depth to sustain this type of attrition. To be fair, few teams would. -- Gonzalez

25. Oakland Athletics


Previous ranking:24

Depending on which advanced metric you look at, ninth-inning sensation Mason Miller has ranked as Oakland's best player. When a short reliever leads a team in a value metric, it might say as much about the team as the player -- but there is no doubting that Miller has been sensational. His work, along with some of his high-leverage cohorts, is the biggest reason why the A's have spent much of the season playing a lot more respectable baseball than anticipated. On May 8, Miller threw two shutout innings against Texas in a 9-4 win. Though it wasn't a save situation, it was a dominant, multi-inning outing that further bolstered the résumé of a pitcher who might emerge as the most tantalizing target as the trade deadline approaches in July. -- Doolittle

26. St. Louis Cardinals


Previous ranking:26

An eight-run seventh inning against the Angels on Monday propelled St. Louis to its sweetest win in quite some time. Down 4-0 at the time, the Cardinals went on a tear, compiling seven hits in the inning to go along with three walks and a hit batter. Everything came together for them at the plate, something that hasn't happened often for their offense this season. Perhaps it carried over to the next night when the Cardinals tallied seven more runs in another victory. Considering they rank near the bottom of MLB in OPS this year, any confidence boost could be huge. -- Rogers

27. Los Angeles Angels


Previous ranking:27

In baseball, most instances of bad news come with a silver lining. For the Angels, the primary beneficiary of Mike Trout's injury has been veteran Kevin Pillar. Pillar began the season with the wretched White Sox, a team so bereft of power bats that they used Pillar as a cleanup hitter five times. Prior to this season, he had started a game in the four-spot just five times during a big league career that began in 2013.

After Pillar rejected an outright assignment by Chicago and became a free agent, he latched on with an Angels squad desperate for bodies. Since then, Pillar has not just hit like a cleanup hitter, he's kind of hit like Trout. In fact, manager Ron Washington has also used Pillar in the cleanup slot, including on May 13 when he hit a two-run homer against St. Louis. In 10 games as an Angel, he has hit .455 with three homers and 14 RBIs. Very Trout-like. -- Doolittle

28. Colorado Rockies


Previous ranking:29

The Rockies went winless through their first 12 series during which they never once notched back-to-back victories. Then they won a series finale against the Giants, swept the defending champion Rangers and claimedclaimed three consecutive victories in another sweep over the Padres, the last of which was an 8-0 win from Petco Park on Wednesday. It was, improbably, their seventh consecutive win, giving the Rockies their longest winning streak since 2019. The Rockies became the second team in major league history to win seven straight games after previously not winning even two straight all season (minimum 30 games played prior to the streak). The other, according to ESPN Stats & Information: The 1889 Indianapolis Hoosiers.-- Gonzalez

29. Chicago White Sox


Previous ranking:30

Any one of three wins against the Guardians earlier this month could be considered Chicago's best of the season considering each team's record coming into the series. The Guardians were 23-14 while the White Sox were 9-28 before they took the first three games of a four-game series. In doing so, they gave up a total of six runs thanks to great production from their rotation and bullpen. Among the best performances wasGarrett Crochet's 11 strikeouts over six innings in a 6-3 win. It propelled Crochet to the top of the AL in strikeouts while helping Chicago continue a win streak that stretched to four by Sunday. Alas, the sweep wasn't in the cards as Cleveland salvaged the series finale 7-0. -- Rogers

30. Miami Marlins


Previous ranking:28

Before Tuesday's 1-0 win in 10 innings over the Tigers, in which Ryan Weathers took a perfect game into the sixth and pitched eight scoreless innings for his best start, the Marlins had gone 2-8 over their previous 10 games with 71 runs allowed, including seven games where they allowed at least six runs.A.J. Pukis back from shoulder fatigue, but he'll return to the bullpen after struggling to throw strikes in four starts to open the season as the Marlins tried to transition him to the rotation. Meanwhile, Marlins catchers are hitting .126/.163/.178. -- Schoenfield

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