Move over, Atlanta — Texas has entered the top three!
With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, we’re officially more than two months into the season, meaning teams have had time to play enough games to give credence to what we’re seeing in the MLB standings.
Yes, that means the Rangers and Orioles are for real — and not to mention the Rays, whose hot start, thought by some to be the result of an easy early schedule, has proven to be no fluke. Can these teams keep up this level of success? And will other preseason contenders be able to turn their struggles around?
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 Joon Lee to weigh in with an observation for all 30 teams.
Previous ranking: 1
It’s hard to understate the continued impact of Wander Franco in this Rays’ lineup. The superstar shortstop is far and away the best position player in baseball this year, posting a 3.5 bWAR, nearly a half win above the second-place position players, Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien and Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette. Franco already has 20 stolen bases this season and with seven homers in 55 games, a 20-20 season seems easily possible — perhaps a 30-30 season is even within grasp. — Lee
Previous ranking: 2
Freddie Freeman accumulated six hits in his last two games against the Nationals and is currently riding a 20-game hitting streak. The Dodgers’ first baseman is enjoying an MVP-caliber season thus far, slashing .346/.420/.588 while leading the National League in OPS. The Dodgers lost a lot of talent via free agency this offseason, but they boast the best record in the NL largely because their best players — Mookie Betts, Will Smith and especially Freeman — are performing up to expectations. Max Muncy and J.D. Martinez have also provided plenty of production, giving their lineup more length than what might have been anticipated heading into the year. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 4
Texas is on a roll, thanks, in part, to third baseman Josh Jung. He’s finally making fans forget about what the team lost when Adrian Beltre retired. Jung had a .917 OPS month of May, including a big final week where he hit .450 with four extra base hits. He’s in the top 15% of all hitters in average exit velocity while also in the bottom 15% in strikeout percentage. He’s been particularly good against fastballs, hitting .317 on the season off of them. The Rangers withstood a hard charge from the Astros last month but held firmly at the top of the division as the calendar turned to June. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 3
Great to see Michael Soroka — note that he’s no longer “Mike” — make his first major league start since 2020, though he allowed four runs in six innings while picking up the loss against the A’s on Monday. “Today was a big one,” he said, “a day like today and the people that believed in me. I always said I was going to be back here for the people that believed in me, not the ones that said I couldn’t.”
Soroka was 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA as a rookie in 2019 but then tore his Achilles in his third start of 2020 and tore it again while rehabbing in 2021. Still just 25, Soroka still has the 92-mph sinker he used as his primary pitch as a rookie, although he equally mixed in his other three pitches (four-seamer, slider, changeup) against Oakland. He had a 4.33 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A before his recall. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 7
The Yankees lost three straight games — two against the Orioles and one against the Padres — in the last week but then turned around and pulled out wins in their last four games against the Padres and Mariners. One potential point of concern for New York: Gerrit Cole has struggled in his last five appearances, posting a 5.67 ERA with just one quality start. The Yankees also placed Harrison Bader on the injured list with a right hamstring strain, making this the second time this year he’s landed on the bench with health issues. — Lee
Previous ranking: 5
The Orioles put together a strong road trip against American League East rivals, the Blue Jays and Yankees, with a 5-1 record. The biggest variable for Baltimore’s success this season will be the strength of the rotation. At the center of that is veteran pitcher Kyle Gibson, who put together a strong week, allowing three runs in 12⅔ innings across two starts. The 35-year old is putting together a solid season for Baltimore, posting a 3.89 ERA in 12 starts with 1.4 bWAR. — Lee
Previous ranking: 6
Remember when the Astros were 17-18 and seemed to be falling off the pace in the AL West? It actually wasn’t that long ago, and while you figured Houston would get going at some point, the Astros’ current 15-5 tear reminded everyone that they are, indeed, the champs.
While the Astros ramp up towards a summer-long battle with in-state rival Texas in the AL West, they also figure to have high-ranking entrants in the major award races. Yordan Alvarez looks poised to again put up MVP-like numbers, Framber Valdez is one of a cluster of early AL Cy Young favorites and rookie righty Hunter Brown is well positioned in the AL Rookie of the Year derby. The Rangers (Semien, Nathan Eovaldi, Jung) also have strong contenders in each of those races, which makes all of this that much more fun. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 9
A lot is going right for the D-backs, who came off Memorial Day weekend with a 31-23 record and a plus-13 run-differential that put them only 1½ games behind the Dodgers within a highly competitive NL West. But their top pitching prospect needs to get right. Brandon Pfaadt, 24, posted an 8.37 ERA through his first five major league starts, allowing eight home runs in a stretch of 23⅔ innings. The D-backs optioned Pfaadt back to the minor leagues on Saturday. They’re hopeful this was just a rough start to what will blossom into a great career, but they need him to get on track pretty quickly. They’re still looking for starting-pitching depth beyond Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 8
A huge potential positive for the Blue Jays is that Jose Berrios again looks like the pitcher they traded for at the 2021 deadline. Over the course of his last five starts, Berrios has a 2.30 ERA in 31⅓ innings, a stark departure from the 4.56 ERA he’s posted in 55 starts for Toronto. While the Blue Jays currently sit behind the Rays, Orioles and Yankees in the division race and 3.5 games out of the final wild-card spot, a rejuvenated Berrios would go a long way for their playoff hopes. — Lee
Previous ranking: 15
Mariners fans have been waiting all season for Julio Rodriguez to get going and he finally did, earning AL Player of the Week honors after hitting .467/.484/.800 with two home runs and four doubles in seven games against the A’s and Pirates, raising his average from .204 to .242. He then followed that up with two hits and a home run against the Yankees on Monday. His overall numbers remain well below last season as he still needs to improve his swing decisions. His chase rate is still around 35% — slightly higher than it was his rookie season. You want to see a young player improving in that area, not stagnating or getting worse. Until that happens, he’s going to continue to go through these hot and cold streaks. But the hot streaks sure are fun. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 10
The Red Sox took two of three games against the Diamondbacks, but the offense has been struggling a bit over the last week or so. While Boston’s offense ranks fourth in baseball in runs scored, its run differential is just +9, and the pitching staff has allowed the sixth-most runs in the major leagues. Someone to watch will be lefty James Paxton, who is pitching for the first time since the 2021 season and has allowed eight runs in 14 innings pitched across three starts so far this season. — Lee
Previous ranking: 11
The Twins mostly treaded water during the month of May, holding on to the AL Central lead while continuing a pattern of winning their share of blowouts but losing more than their share of close games. So while they still have many of the markers of a team that is good enough to win in the low- to mid-90s, their actual record remains perilously close to .500.
Royce Lewis is back after his long recovery from a torn ACL. In his first game back, Lewis clubbed a three-run homer and added an RBI single. Meanwhile, unsung outfielder Matt Wallner suddenly became one of baseball’s hottest hitters by getting hits in six straight at-bats on May 27 and 28. It’ll be awhile before we can buy into Wallner’s numbers, but Lewis has long been a top prospect whose lift off has too often been slowed by injuries. He figures to get a long look at third base for a club that needs offensive impact. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 12
Kodai Senga‘s first season with the Mets has been a little inconsistent, but he had his best outing so far with seven scoreless, one-hit innings against the Phillies on Tuesday. It was his first start going more than six innings, and he recorded nine K’s with no walks (which has been a problem), inducing a season-high 22 swings and misses. He’s already simplified his repertoire, basically ditching the sweeper that he was throwing 20% of the time early on and sticking with three pitches: four-seamer, forkball and cutter. Next up: Perhaps his first start on four days of rest on Sunday against Toronto. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 13
Milwaukee is barely hanging on to first place in the NL Central but that’s mostly because the division is so weak. After winning a series against the Astros last week, the Brewers got hammered at home by the Giants, scoring a total of two runs in the first three games of the series before avoiding a sweep by winning the finale on Sunday.
Catcher William Contreras was the only player to hit a home run (he had two) over the course of five games last week, while the rest of the infield contributed to the poor offensive showing. It didn’t help that shortstop Willy Adames was placed on the seven-day concussion IL after getting hit by a foul ball on Friday. At least Milwaukee continues to be the best team in a bad division. There’s some solace in that. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 14
The Angels began their most recent home stand by winning five of six against the Twins and Red Sox. Then they got swept by the Marlins over the weekend and won two of three to the White Sox in Chicago. In the process, they might have found another playmaker for their bullpen. Ben Joyce, a third-round pick in the 2022 draft, made his major league debut on Monday and turned in a scoreless inning. He threw 12 pitches, and 11 of them were clocked at 100-plus mph, including one that reached 102.2. In Joyce, Sam Bachman, Chase Silseth and Reid Detmers, the Angels are currently rostering four pitchers who were drafted since 2020. All except Detmers are being used out of the bullpen. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 20
The Giants have gone 17-12 this month and have been red-hot of late, winning 11 of their last 16 games despite navigating a pretty tough portion of their schedule. Their bullpen in particular has been lights out during that stretch, allowing only eight earned runs in 72⅓ innings while striking out 92 batters. The Giants’ back-end combo of Camilo Doval and Tyler Rogers have combined for a 2.05 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP for the season. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 16
One of the hallmarks of Manny Machado‘s career has been his availability, but the Padres’ star third baseman has missed the last two-plus weeks with a fracture in his left hand. During that time, the Padres — who were already struggling mightily beforehand — have gone 5-8 while combining for a .688 OPS that ranks 24th in the major leagues. Machado is expected back during the Padres’ upcoming homestand, which will undoubtedly be a major lift for a high-profile offense that has fallen well short of expectations. But Machado needs to turn it around himself. He was slashing only .231/.282/.372 before landing on the IL for the first time in nearly nine years. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 18
Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the Mets dropped the Phillies to 10-15 in May with a minus-36 run differential. In other words, it’s been an ugly month. The Phillies ranked in the bottom five in the majors in OPS and ERA in May. They did manage to split four games over the weekend with the Braves, including Zack Wheeler‘s gem on Saturday: 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 SO, 22 swings and misses. Via the game score method, it was the fifth-best start for the Phillies over the past three seasons. Craig Kimbrel also recorded his 400th (and 401st) career save, just the eighth pitcher to reach that mark. His Hall of Fame case remains a little unsure, however. He had that dominant run from 2011 to 2018 but has been up and down since and barely has 700 career innings. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 17
St. Louis is treading water after a nice run that got them back in the NL Central race. An offense that kept them afloat most of the season dried up last week, as the Cardinals scored just 15 runs over the course of seven games. Their .524 OPS was second worst in baseball over that timeframe. Nolan Gorman followed up his player of the week honors by hitting just .095, while no Cardinal drove in more than two runs for the entire seven days. The good news is that Miles Mikolas has seemingly turned his season around. He won both his starts last week while giving up just eight hits in 15 innings — a huge accomplishment for a pitcher that led the league in hits given up until recently. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 23
Luis Arraez continues to rake, hitting .376 through Tuesday. Obviously, .400 is off the books, but let’s put .376 in perspective — assuming he can stay there over the final four months. The last player to hit .370 was Ichiro Suzuki, who hit .372 the year he set the all-time record with 262 hits. The last player to hit higher than .376 was Larry Walker in 1999 at .379. The last player to hit higher than that, who didn’t play at Coors Field, was Tony Gwynn at .394 in the shortened 1994 season.
But the hitting climate in 1994 is much different than 2023: The NL hit .267 that year, compared to .250 so far in 2023. If we use the neutralized batting tool at Baseball Reference and put Arraez, Ichiro and Gwynn all in a 2023-era neutral park, we get .380 for Arraez, .370 for Ichiro and … .397 for Gwynn. OK, Tony Gwynn was pretty good. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 19
The slide many predicted for the Pirates arrived in May, as they went 12-19 on the month. Pitching has become a concern, with Pittsburgh plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness. The team’s staff compiled a 6.18 ERA last week, ahead of only Colorado in all of baseball. Mitch Keller finally gave up some runs as the Mariners got to him for six last Friday. Rich Hill also got hit hard, giving up six on nine hits in six innings. On offense, second-year player Jack Suwinski caught fire, hitting four home runs while producing a whopping 1.056 slugging percentage in the week ending on Wednesday. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 21
May marked the Guardians’ second-straight losing month. This past week did not feature many signs that the flailing offense is finding itself, but Cleveland does have some good pitching news as the new month dawns. Aaron Civale is slated to pitch against Minnesota on Friday after missing several weeks with an oblique injury. Meanwhile, Triston McKenzie (shoulder) is on a rehab assignment in the minors and may not be far away from a return to the big-league rotation. Besides the injuries, the Guardians’ rotation has dealt with subpar campaigns from Cal Quantrill and Zach Plesac. Rookies have helped plug the holes and now it looks like the youngsters will be getting some veteran assistance. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 22
A volatile homestand was salvaged with a series win over the Rays, but that came after getting swept by the Reds. Cincinnati pounded Cubs pitching by scoring 25 runs in three games, but then came the turnaround — Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks held Tampa Bay to a single run over two games. Hendricks is starting to look like his vintage self after just his first two starts in 11 months. His changeup and sinker are moving away from lefties as they always have. His return could be a big boost to a team that has probably played better than their record shows. A 10-game, West Coast road trip will be critical in keeping their march back to .500 alive. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 24
The Tigers have been one of baseball’s more pleasant surprises thus far, posting a winning May while hovering near the top of the division in the AL Central, though that may be damning Detroit with faint praise. Either way, now things are really about to get tough. The Tigers are entering a fairly difficult stretch of their 2023 schedule, and they’ll have to navigate it without arguably their best position player (Riley Greene) and pitcher (Eduardo Rodriguez).
Greene suffered a stress fracture in his left fibula and went on the IL (he’s out indefinitely) just as he was riding the wave of a hot streak. Meanwhile, the resurgent E-Rod, who has been one of the AL’s top hurlers over the last couple of months, will be out for an extended period with “a ruptured pulley in his left index finger.” Raise your hand if you were heretofore unaware that “pulleys” were part of the human anatomy. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 26
Are the Reds coming together or just having a nice run? The former question is a legit one because it’s not aging veterans that helped them to a weekend road sweep of the Cubs — it was their farm system finally producing. Cincinnati compiled the second highest OPS in baseball last week thanks to players like Jonathan India, Jose Barrero and Spencer Steer. The latter player hit .409 with a 1.144 OPS last week, giving him some rookie of the year buzz. In fact, that OPS was the highest among all NL rookies over the past seven days. For the season, he’s one of three qualified rookies with an OPS over .800. Cincinnati is making noise in a mediocre NL Central. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 25
The White Sox are coming off a week of mixed news to close out what was largely a solid rebound month for the club. The good news was really good, with Eloy Jimenez returning from the IL and Liam Hendriks making an inspirational return after missing the first part of the season in treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. On the field however, the White Sox suffered a dip, losing four of five just when things seemed to be lining up for them. All in all though, Chicago followed its horrific 7-20 April with a winning month, keeping hopes alive that it can salvage the season. However, it has to happen over the next few weeks because if it doesn’t, the White Sox will have some hard thinking to do in advance of the trade deadline. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 27
Let’s check in on some of the Nationals top prospects, with Kiley McDaniel’s preseason ranking in parenthesis.
James Wood (No. 13): He hit .293/.392/.580 with eight home runs at High-A and just got promoted to Double-A at age 20. The K’s are a little high, but he’s one of the top prospects in the game.
Robert Hassell III (No. 57): He broke his hamate bone in the Arizona Fall League and has struggled with just one home run in 143 at-bats. He’s drawing walks (32 in 38 games) and has hit .267 in 23 games at Double-A, but may no longer be on a fast track to the majors.
Cade Cavalli (No. 69): He underwent Tommy John surgery in spring training.
Jarlin Susana (No. 85): He’s being handled very slowly in A-ball with 23 innings in seven starts. He has 30 K’s — but 19 walks.
Brady House (just missed): He’s hitting .304/.385/.518 as he repeats Single-A after playing just 45 games last season but has moved to third base and could get promoted to High-A.
Previous ranking: 28
The Rockies have dropped eight of their last 13 games, and Kris Bryant, their high-priced free-agent signing from two offseasons ago, hasn’t been helping them turn their season around. Bryant is mired in a 4-for-35 skid and has been slugging just .256 over his last 20 games. He continues to fight his mechanics in the batter’s box. “I’m kind of on the train track, and then I’m kind of off the train track,” he told MLB.com recently. “And sometimes, you can’t even see the train tracks.” — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 29
The Royals perhaps made some progress during May, posting a run differential not far below break even after putting up one in April that was reminiscent of the pre-Walter Matthau “Bad News Bears.” Make no mistake though, Kansas City looks very much like a team likely to off-load veteran talent at the deadline and the weeks leading up to it.
Aroldis Chapman has already become a hot name on the whisper mill, but for the Royals’ front office, the question becomes: Who else? Zack Greinke has been good and could help a contender but his one-year deal has full no-trade protection, per Cot’s Contracts, and he seems intent to fulfill his plan to finish up his Hall of Fame career where it began. Salvador Perez has been very good, but he has 10-and-5 rights, and it seems exceedingly unlikely that neither he nor the team will be pushing for a trade. So, who else? It’s a good question. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 30
Oakland snapped an 11-game losing streak by winning two games against the Braves, but the team already made MLB history by becoming the team with the most losses before June 1. In the latest chapter of the proposed move to Las Vegas, the team is receiving pushback on public funding for the new stadium. In a vote of public opinion on Tuesday morning, the bill received a 78% opposition. Local lawmakers have also pointed out that while the A’s hope to receive public funding, the NHL’s Golden Knights did not ask for any taxpayer money when they launched as an expansion franchise in Vegas. — Lee
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