For the measured baseball fan, the first week of the year is not a time to draw many significant conclusions. The day-in, day-out grind of a 162-game season is not structured for wild swings in fortune, yet that won’t prevent most die-hards from buying into the hype of a fast start—or conversely, bracing for six months of agony following a rough first week.
Normally, we’d use this space to caution against bold declarations after just seven-ish games, but not today. Instead, we’ll lean into the skid (or drink the Kool-Aid, depending on the team) and give a reason why each overreaction—positive or negative—makes sense for each club.
30. Pittsburgh Pirates (LW: 30)
The loss of Ke’Bryan Hayes to a strained left wrist has sent Pittsburgh spiraling into a black and gold abyss after an Opening Day win over the Cubs. Six straight losses. A mere 2.7 runs scored per game, worse than every team except Oakland. A 6.83 team ERA, also worse than every team except Oakland (the defending AL West champs had a rough first week). Unlike the A’s, however, the Pirates don’t seem to be playing too far away from their true talent level and are the overwhelming favorites to finish with MLB’s worst record for the second straight season.
29. Arizona Diamondbacks (LW: 25)
Madison Bumgarner (11.00 ERA in two starts) may surpass Yasmany Tomás as the worst free-agent signing in D-Backs history. His velocity is back up a tick from its all-time low last season, but it still isn’t near its prior peak. At least Ketel Marte was hitting like the All-Star he was in 2019—until he landed on the 10-day injured list on Thursday with a right hamstring strain.
28. Colorado Rockies (LW: 27)
Colorado’s promising yet erratic rotation was always going to have to live up to its collective potential to achieve any miraculous postseason charge. Count us skeptical. They’re still learning how to pitch deep into games consistently, as Rockies relievers have accounted for the most innings of any team. Austin Gomber, the highest-regarded prospect Colorado acquired in the Nolan Arenado trade, was the worst offender after issuing seven walks in his three-inning season debut.
27. Texas Rangers (LW: 29)
After hitting .217 as a team in 2020 and ranking dead last in combined batting fWAR (-0.2), will this year’s Rangers actually be able to hit? Nate Lowe and Joey Gallo have led the offensive charge through the first week, and it’s Gallo, in particular, who warrants more attention. He’s still hitting the ball hard, but so far his average launch angle has dropped dramatically, and he’s cut his strikeout rate to 22%, down from his career mark of 37.4%.
26. Miami Marlins (LW: 22)
Miami’s young starters have largely carried over their breakout success from last season, as evidenced by the rotation’s fourth-best ERA (2.36) in the majors. The bullpen, however, ranks 26th with a 6.43 ERA and has yet to convert a save. Closer Anthony Bass may not be in that role for very long after blowing his first two opportunities in spectacular fashion—even before Michael Conforto’s controversial walk-off hit by pitch, Bass had given up a game-tying home run to Jeff McNeil.
25. Detroit Tigers (LW: 26)
Akil Baddoo is your new MVP frontrunner. O.K., that might not hold over the course of the full season, but Baddoo’s banner first week as a big leaguer was truly something to behold. The Tigers are in full-on rebuilding mode, so expectations should be pretty tempered in Detroit. Aside from Baddoo, Matthew Boyd’s strong start is something to keep tabs on. He’s relied more on his offspeed pitches through two starts and the results have been promising.
24. Boston Red Sox (LW: 24)
Getting swept at home by the Orioles to open the season was less than ideal, but Boston bounced back to take three straight against the Rays. With the arrow suddenly pointing up and to the right, an overreaction would be that this pitching staff will remain among the league’s best. Red Sox pitchers rank second in fWAR (1.4), first in FIP (2.54) and didn’t allow a home run until Thursday’s win over Baltimore.
23. Oakland Athletics (LW: 14)
A lot of attention was paid to the poor showing by Oakland’s offense in the first week, but what about the pitching? The A’s rank last in pitching fWAR (-0.9) and ERA (7.13). Last year’s bullpen ranked among the league’s best but lost All-Star Liam Hendriks to free agency. This year’s group features several new faces and has already lost new closer Trevor Rosenthal for about 12 weeks. We’re squinting, but it’s hard to see a silver lining for the A’s at present.
22. Baltimore Orioles (LW: 28)
César Valdez is easily our favorite closer in the majors. The 36-year-old junkball righthander debuted with the Diamondbacks briefly in 2010, then pitched in Mexico and China over the next six years. He returned to MLB in 2017 with the Blue Jays and A’s, then bounced around the minors and international leagues for the next two years before landing in Baltimore in 2020. Now, he’s the Orioles’ closer, with two saves and three scoreless outings to his name so far in 2021.
21. Seattle Mariners (LW: 23)
It was a rough first week for a trio of Seattle’s young hitters. J.P. Crawford, Evan White and Taylor Trammell hit a combined .148 with 22 strikeouts in 67 plate appearances. White won a Gold Glove as a rookie last year but is now hitting .171/.243/.332 through his first 60 career games, while Trammell has struck out in over half of his plate appearances. Those three hitters represent a good chunk of the franchise’s future, and they need to turn it on quickly for the forecast to brighten.
20. San Francisco Giants (LW: 21)
Mike Yastrzemski, San Francisco’s breakout player last year, has 10 strikeouts in 22 at bats. Seven of the 10 Giants with at least 12 at bats have logged OPS marks below .600. That won’t come close to cutting it in the top-heavy NL West. Kevin Gausman figures to be this club’s most attractive trade bait by midseason.
19. Chicago Cubs (LW: 18)
Despite playing four of their first seven games against the lowly Pirates, the Cubs rank 26th in wRC+ (72) and fWAR (0.0), and boast just one player (Kris Bryant) with an OPS above .720. Bryant, Javier Báez and Anthony Rizzo all homered in the same game Thursday for the first time since Aug. 14, 2017, so maybe the long-awaited offensive turnaround from Chicago’s remaining core hitters is around the corner. If not, it may be time to break up the band.
18. Cleveland (LW: 15)
Saying Shane Bieber is excellent is far from an overreaction—he’s on a record strikeout pace—but can this Cleveland team hit? Aside from the excellent José Ramírez, the answer has been a hard no as Cleveland is hitting a collective .215. The team’s .227 BABIP is sure to improve so perhaps brighter days are ahead.
17. Kansas City Royals (LW: 20)
Michael A. Taylor is the steal of the offseason. A career fourth outfielder with Washington, Taylor signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Royals in November, and enjoyed a scorching hot first week in the starting lineup. He had hits in Kansas City’s first five games and has been crushing the ball, with an average exit velocity of 96.9 mph and a hard-hit rate of 52.9%.
16. Milwaukee Brewers (LW: 16)
Milwaukee has performed like the worst offense in baseball by almost every statistic available, partially because the Brewers have caught a teamwide case of the whiffs. Christian Yelich (12 Ks in 29 PAs), Jackie Bradley Jr. (9 Ks in 19 PAs) and Keston Hiura (11 Ks in 23 PAs) have been the main culprits, with the latter two failing to draw a walk so far. That trio should shake out of it eventually, but this lineup doesn’t have the look of a true contender.
15. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 11)
The decisions to part ways with Blake Snell and Charlie Morton have already doomed the reigning American League champions. Michael Wacha, Ryan Yarbrough and Rich Hill have all struggled in their early starts, though at least Tyler Glasnow has looked quite sharp. Perhaps even more surprising: Tampa Bay’s vaunted bullpen ranks dead last with a collective 8.18 ERA.
14. Toronto Blue Jays (LW: 12)
After a somewhat underwhelming first two big league seasons, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ready to break out. Guerrero made plenty of hard contact in 2019 and 2020 but wasn’t lifting the ball off the ground enough. Not the case so far in 2021, as he’s upped his average launch angle to 21.3 degrees. The results have been a torrid .348/.483/.652 slash line through seven games with an improved walk rate to boot.
13. Washington Nationals (LW: 9)
It’s hard to glean much from three games and a team missing 10 players due to COVID-19 protocols, but Max Scherzer giving up four home runs on Tuesday for the first time since 2011 was not a welcome sight. On the bright side, Trea Turner swatting two homers against Atlanta reinforced the notion that he’s a legitimate 30–30 threat in his age-28 season.
12. Philadelphia Phillies (LW: 17)
Bullpen ERA tends to fluctuate from year to year, which should be music to the ears of Phillies fans. After Philly’s bullpen posted the worst collective ERA by any team since the 1930 Phillies last season, it was the last relief corps to allow an earned run this year and currently sits in the middle of the pack. With the way Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin have pitched and the lineup has hit while taking five of six from the Braves and the Mets to start the season, that could be enough to let the Fightin’ Phils snap the NL’s longest postseason drought.
11. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 19)
After ranking 27th in runs scored last year, the Reds own MLB’s highest-scoring offense (9.5 runs/game) and the best OPS (1.002) by wide margins after six games. Four Reds hitters (Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, Jonathan India, Nick Senzel) rank in the top 25 of the OPS leaderboard. They’ve played three games against Pittsburgh so take those numbers with a grain of salt. But this lineup has the talent to be a top-five offense in the NL, and it’ll likely have to be for Cincinnati to win the division.
10. St. Louis Cardinals (LW: 10)
Nolan Arenado hasn’t looked bothered by the move away from Coors Field. He hit the go-ahead homer in St. Louis’s home opener against Milwaukee on Thursday, instantly endearing himself to the Redbird faithful and adding an exclamation point to his first week in red and white. Top prospect Dylan Carlson hasn’t been as consistent, but he leads the Cards with three homers. Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright both shook off their debut starts with strong follow-ups, and things are looking up for the NL Central favorites after dropping their first series to the Reds.
9. New York Mets (LW: 7)
Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker both recorded quality starts in their season debuts to help alleviate the sour taste of wasting another Jacob deGrom gem on New York’s belated Opening Day. Neither starter struck out more than four hitters, but an improved defense led by Francisco Lindor should help the Mets convert more outs from balls in play than in recent years.
8. Los Angeles Angels (LW: 13)
There’s only one thing worthy of overreaction for the Angels’ first week, and that’s Shohei Ohtani being a two-way menace for the full season. Ohtani’s ridiculous pitching and hitting display against the White Sox on Sunday was a sight to behold, and future outings are appointment television. If he somehow maintains double duty for six months, he could win the MVP award.
7. Chicago White Sox (LW: 6)
The White Sox had a sneaky good bullpen in 2020 and then added Liam Hendriks this offseason, so the substandard showing from their relievers in the first week was quite a surprise. Chicago’s bullpen ERA of 5.33 ranks 21st in the majors, with three blown saves in their first seven games. A leaky bullpen has been the Achilles’ heel of many talented teams, and the White Sox have to improve on that front quickly in what should be a tight AL Central race.
6. Atlanta Braves (LW: 3)
Only the Orioles have a higher team strikeout rate than the Braves, whose offense has slumped out of the gates and been saved by the pinch-hit heroics of Pablo Sandoval (two HRs in five PAs) and overall excellence of Ronald Acuña Jr., the only regular with an OPS over .600. Max Fried getting tagged by the Nationals in his second start was also concerning, though his 3.29 xFIP indicates he still has what it takes to lead Atlanta’s rotation.
5. San Diego Padres (LW: 2)
The Padres appear to have dodged a bullet with Fernando Tatis Jr.’s shoulder injury, but that bears watching after it was revealed he’s frequently endured minor dislocations. San Diego’s starter acquisitions got all the press in the offseason, but the bullpen is sporting an MLB-best 0.91 ERA through Thursday’s games, as Craig Stammen is the only one of nine Padres relievers to allow an earned run thus far.
4. Minnesota Twins (LW: 5)
Is this the year that Byron Buxton finally puts it all together? The über-talented center fielder looks the part of a superstar, and has been absolutely destroying baseballs to the tune of a career-best 95.9 mph average exit velocity. Also, is it too late to sign Nelson Cruz to a lifetime contract?
3. Houston Astros (LW: 8)
Opposing fans, do away with your boo birds and trash can banging—the Astros are feeding off all the hate and preparing for a season-long heel tour. Houston hit an AL-best 12 home runs heading into Thursday’s games, and also led the league with a 151 wRC+. Through two starts, Zack Greinke has looked every bit of an ace despite pitching in his 18th big league season.
2. New York Yankees (LW: 4)
Is this the best bullpen in baseball? In similar fashion to San Diego, the Yankees have used eight relievers to date, and only one of them—Lucas Luetge—has given up an earned run. The relief corps boasts a sparkling MLB-best 1.96 FIP, thanks to an AL-best 32% strikeout rate. The offense has yet to hit its stride, but it won’t need to if New York keeps pitching like this. Wednesday’s loss to the Orioles marked the first time in six games an opponent has scored more than three runs against New York—and they needed 11 innings to do it.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (LW: 1)
The Dodgers have mostly looked like the reigning champions they are. Zach McKinstry seems to be filling the role of the utility player who comes out of nowhere to fit in across the diamond. Will Smith continues to resemble the best offensive catcher in Dodger blue—and perhaps the entire league—since Mike Piazza. The only weakness is the 'pen, where former starters David Price and Jimmy Nelson have not adapted well to their new roles and Kenley Jansen isn’t missing as many bats as he used to. But they’re working off a small sample size and that’s the easiest part of a team to upgrade. Bet against this well-oiled machine at your own peril.