MLB Power Rankings: A Jumbled Middle Class Prevents a Sense of Clarity

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Not even three weeks through the season, and we’re already in a bit of a predicament as far as power rankings go. Teams are barely through 10% of their schedule and we know it’s too soon for concrete conclusions to be drawn. But it feels like we’ve already come to a fork in the road where we must decide how to weigh how good we think teams are against what we’ve actually seen on the field to this point.

There are teams we expected to be bad that have, well, been bad (apologies to fans of the Rockies, Tigers and Diamondbacks). There are also teams we held in our minds to be good that have looked downright awful so far, and a bunch of middling teams that have hovered around .500. What we're trying to say is we had a particularly difficult time ranking teams this week. In most cases, we leaned toward what we believe a team’s true talent level to be, even if that talent has produced subpar results thus far. The further we get into the season, the less reliable those beliefs will be.

A peak at the division standings shows some surprising leaders, with the exception of the Dodgers, who continue to steam roll everybody in their path. We don’t expect the Red Sox, Royals, Mariners, Reds and Mets to all win their divisions—but hey, it’s baseball, so you never know. A quick programming note: starting today, SI’s power rankings will run on Mondays, so you can start your week off on the right foot by skimming past all of this text to find your team’s blurb (just kidding—we appreciate all of you who read every word). Now let’s get to it.

Five Way-Too-Early Predictions for the 2021 Season

30. Colorado Rockies (Last Week: 28)

Colorado’s young rotation has actually performed quite well so far with four of five starters registering ERAs below 3.60. But the bullpen, with an NL-worst 5.80 ERA, has proven unreliable as the Rockies have lost an MLB-worst nine games by two runs or fewer. Trevor Story’s homer-less start also hasn’t helped.

29. Detroit Tigers (LW: 27)

The Tigers followed up a three-game sweep of Houston by losing four straight against the A’s. The offense managed just six runs against Oakland pitching, getting shut out twice. Matthew Boyd’s continued hot start to the season is a welcomed sight, however. The lefty pitched into the eighth inning on Sunday and has given up three runs or fewer in all four starts.

28. Arizona Diamondbacks (LW: 29)

Two-time Gold Glove winner Nick Ahmed’s defense is unquestionably valuable, but it can’t completely compensate for his utter incompetence on offense (3-for-29 with three singles this season). Of the 29 shortstops with at least 2,000 plate appearances since 2015, when he assumed Arizona’s starting shortstop job, his 76 wRC+ ranks only ahead of Alcides Escobar. As a result, his 5.6 fWAR ranks 26th in that group.

27. Pittsburgh Pirates (LW: 30)

Signs of life in Pittsburgh! The Pirates sandwiched series wins over the Cubs and Brewers around a four-game split against the Padres. JT Brubaker, a 27-year-old righty who barely maintained rookie status after joining the rotation last season, has a 1.76 ERA with a 10.6 K/9 rate after three starts.

26. Texas Rangers (LW: 26)

Offense was expected to be an issue for the Rangers this season, but managing just four runs in three games against Orioles pitching might be a new low. Texas has the second-highest strikeout rate (28.4%) in the majors this season, behind only Baltimore. Rangers hitters also rank second-to-last in isolated power (.125) and 27th in combined fWAR (0.5).

25. Baltimore Orioles (LW: 22)

The Orioles won a series for the first time since their season-opening sweep of the Red Sox, and their pitching was the key reason. John Means continues to throw the ball well, picking up 11 swinging strikes to contribute to nine punch-outs in a 1-0 loss on Sunday. On the offensive side, Cedric Mullins is a good story to keep track of. He’s hit safely in 13 out of 16 games so far and has been Baltimore’s most consistent bat in an otherwise lackluster lineup.

Kyle Hendricks leaves the mound after giving up four home runs against the Braves in the first inning.

24. Chicago Cubs (LW: 20)

The Cubs could’ve really used a win on Sunday Night Baseball to clinch a weekend series win against Atlanta. Instead, Kyle Hendricks became the first Cubs pitcher ever to serve up four home runs in the first inning of Chicago’s 13-4 loss, with his 35 pitches in the opening frame setting a career high. Chicago’s core seems to have prematurely aged out of its championship window; only the Tigers have a worse run differential than the Cubs.

23. Washington Nationals (LW: 13)

Washington takes the biggest tumble in this week’s rankings amid a concerning start for its Big Three starters. Stephen Strasburg is back on the IL with shoulder inflammation after his velocity suffered an alarming dip in his last start, which saw him walk five batters for the first time since the second start of his career in 2010.

22. Miami Marlins (LW: 26)

Jazz Chisholm Jr. has been even better than advertised, with a slash line of .325/.451/.675 to go along with three stolen bases, a slick glove and that incredible blue hair. The Bahamian’s relationship with Jesus Aguilar is also a treat.

21. Oakland Athletics (LW: 23)

What are we to make of these A’s? They haven’t lost since we ranked them 23rd last week, with a resurgent offense leading the hot streak. Most of the damage has been done against the Tigers and Diamondbacks, though Oakland also took two out of three at Houston. We’re not sold yet, but a lineup anchored by 37-year-old No. 3 hitter Jed Lowrie is very much something we can get behind.

20. San Francisco Giants (LW: 20)

San Francisco’s reclamation rotation projects, Anthony DeSclafani (1.06 ERA) and Aaron Sanchez (2.45 ERA), have worked out swimmingly so far alongside rejuvenated veterans Kevin Gausman (3.20 ERA) and Johnny Cueto (1.80 ERA). But the offense (3.3 runs per game) has only outscored the Mets, as last year’s surprising standouts have regressed.

19. Seattle Mariners (LW: 21)

The Cardiac M’s? The Never-Say-Die Seamen? We’ll keep workshopping nicknames, but this Seattle team has made opponents work for all 27 outs. The Mariners have mounted several dramatic come-from-behind victories this season and are a perfect 3-0 in extra innings. While rallies are great fun, they’re not the most sustainable mode of winning, and Seattle's pitching currently ranks 24th in fWAR (0.6). The next slate of games against the Dodgers, Red Sox, Astros and Angels will be revealing.

18. St. Louis Cardinals (LW: 10)

St. Louis starters have combined for an MLB-worst 6.46 ERA. No team has enough offense to overcome that sort of production, especially the light-hitting Redbirds. If John Gant still has the best ERA of any Cardinals starter at the end of the season, it would be shocking to see St. Louis in the playoffs.

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola (27) celebrates with catcher J.T. Realmuto (10) after throwing a complete game shutout against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park.

17. Philadelphia Phillies (LW: 12)

Aaron Nola’s first career shutout (which doubled as his first complete game) featuring zero walks and 10 Cardinals strikeouts was the highlight of the week in Philadelphia, where center field continues to be a problem spot in the lineup. Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley have gone a combined 5-for-44 with 14 strikeouts, three walks, and zero homers.

16. Milwaukee Brewers (LW: 16)

Corbin Burnes’s historic start has gotten most of the headlines so far, but Freddy Peralta has registered 31 strikeouts and allowed just eight hits in 18 innings of work. If his control improves (12 walks), watch out. Those two, plus Milwaukee’s rotation boast an MLB-best 2.07 ERA.

15. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 15)

The Rays should petition MLB to only play games against the Yankees. They’re 5-1 against the Bronx Bombers and 3-7 against everyone else. Tampa Bay has the second-highest difference between its ERA (4.39) and FIP (3.54), so some positive regression could be in store there. Offensively, the Rays rank toward the back of the pack, and are still waiting for postseason hero Randy Arozarena to find his stride. He’s actually hitting the ball slightly harder on average than last season but has struggled to lift the ball in the air and is striking out more often (30.2%).

14. Kansas City Royals (LW: 17)

Along with the Dodgers, the Royals are one of two teams that have not lost a series all season. They most recently took two out of three against the Angels and Blue Jays, and among the biggest reasons why is the top of the rotation. Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis and Brady Singer have combined for a 2.11 ERA over 38.1 innings, picking up the slack for the struggling Mike Minor and Brad Keller.

13. Cleveland (LW: 18)

Shane Bieber is ridiculous, picking up right where he left off after last season’s unanimous Cy Young Award win. But the arm turning heads for Cleveland so far has been flame-throwing reliever Emmanuel Clase. Clase averages 100.3 mph on his cutter—yes, his cutter—and has saved four games without allowing a run. Between Clase and James Karinchak, it seems like no fun to bat against Cleveland in the late innings.

12. Toronto Blue Jays (LW: 14)

The Vladimir Guerrero Jr. breakout season appears well underway, which is certainly something to celebrate. But who predicted the Steven Matz bounce-back year? Matz posted an ERA just under 10 in 30.2 innings for the Mets last season, but so far he’s been lights out in 2021, going 3-0 with a 1.87 ERA through his first three starts. It’s hard to pinpoint what has led to such a stark turnaround—his pitch velocities, spin rate, usage rate and movement haven’t changed dramatically compared to last season. Whatever the changes are, they’re working for Matz, and Toronto has benefited.

11. Boston Red Sox (LW: 24)

Does anybody remember the Red Sox getting swept at home by the Orioles to start the season? Us neither. Boston ripped off nine straight wins immediately following that face-plant, then lost three of four over the weekend. Nevertheless, the Red Sox have the highest run differential (+21) and have scored the most runs (85) in the American League. The pitching has been strong as well, ranking fifth in combined fWAR (2.4). However, expect some home run regression on the horizon—Boston's staff has allowed a 6.9% home run-to-fly ball ratio, easily the lowest in the majors.

10. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 11)

The Reds still boast the Majors’ highest-scoring offense thanks to their early-season onslaught of the Cardinals and Pirates, and it's promising they’ve held onto the NL Central lead despite enduring an uncharacteristic start from Luis Castillo (7.04 ERA) and a back injury to Sonny Gray, who made his season debut Saturday in a win over Cleveland.

9. New York Yankees (LW: 2)

Where to begin with these guys? The Yankees’ 5-10 start is their worst since 1997, though they rallied to a 96-66 finish that year. New York has only won a single series so far, and that came against the hapless Orioles (no offense, Baltimore). Their ranking in the top 10 is purely a reflection of the talent on the roster, which we believe is underperforming to an extreme degree, particularly on the offensive side. The Bombers have yet to light their fuse yet, hitting .210/.296/.346 as a team. The Yankees’ playoff odds have dipped from 91.3% to start the year to 73.9% now, per FanGraphs, though that’s still tops in the American League.

Shohei Ohtani

8. Los Angeles Angels (LW: 8)

Shohei Ohtani’s much-anticipated second pitching start was delayed due to a blister, but thankfully that hasn’t slowed him down in the batter’s box at all. He’s been crushing the ball all year and turning the game into a track meet every time he runs the bases. The Angels’ years-long quest to stabilize their pitching staff continues, but the early results have been promising: the team ranks third in the American League in FIP (3.51) and fourth in strikeout rate (26.9%).

7. Minnesota Twins (LW: 4)

The Twins are currently on pause due to positive COVID-19 tests within the organization. Prior to their stoppage, the team had been scuffling, losing six of their last seven games. What gives hope for sustained success, though, is the starting pitching, as Minnesota’s rotation ranks second in the AL in ERA (2.86).

6. Atlanta Braves (LW: 6)

Despite GM Alex Anthopolous’s efforts to upgrade Atlanta’s rotation in the offseason, Braves starters rank 28th with a collective 5.74 ERA. Max Fried, Drew Smyly and Mike Soroka are injured, as is Ronald Acuña Jr., who left Sunday’s game with lower abdominal discomfort that seemed to originate from a head-first slide on a pickoff throw. He then dove head first to score despite the throw home being cut off, and was promptly removed before the next inning. Ban head-first slides!

5. Houston Astros (LW: 3)

It’s hard to make sense of this Astros team. They appeared poised to be a buzzsaw out of the gates to start the year, then promptly lost seven of their last eight games against the A’s, Tigers and Mariners. Houston has the highest run differential in the AL West (+6, not exactly dominant), and its lineup has done its job so far. Astros hitters have struck out just 18.5% of the time, lowest among all teams and well below the league average of 24.6%.

4. New York Mets (LW: 9)

The Mets, curiously, are leading the NL East despite scoring an MLB-worst 2.8 runs per game. Brandon Nimmo is the only regular with an OPS above .800. But Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman rank in the top five of the ERA leaderboard despite their vastly different approaches, and you have to figure the offensive talent will start to shine through soon.

3. Chicago White Sox (LW: 7)

The White Sox have yet to lose a series since dropping three out of four against the Angels to open the season, and swept a doubleheader in Boston on Sunday. For as talented as Chicago’s young group of hitters is, the White Sox might have the best pitching in the American League. Chicago starters lead the AL in fWAR (2.6) and ERA (2.68), headlined by Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Carlos Rodón and Dylan Cease. The bullpen’s 4.32 ERA looks lackluster, but the group ranks fourth in fWAR (0.9) and has a 3.22 FIP, suggesting some regression to the mean is in store.

2. San Diego Padres (LW: 5)

The Padres gave the Dodgers their toughest test yet this past weekend in the best series of the young season. San Diego has to be encouraged that it has played well despite Fernando Tatís Jr. mostly being injured or ineffective (4-for-31, 13 strikeouts).

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (LW: 1)

The Dodgers have appeared peerless, with the possible exception of San Diego, through the first two and a half weeks of the season. They already have a three-game lead on the entire league, and are the only preseason division favorite to live up to expectations (unless you favored the Mets in the NL East). Trevor Bauer, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Dustin May have ERAs below 2.50. The offense will likely overtake the Reds as the league’s top-scoring unit in the coming days. Life is good in the City of Angels for the reigning champs.

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