MLB Power Rankings Week 18: Red-hot NL teams take top two spots

ByESPN via ESPN logo
Sunday, August 14, 2022
ESPN

Two-team races have emerged in both leagues as we enter Week 18 of the MLB season.

A month ago, it seemed like no American League team would be able to catch up to the Yankees. But New York has seen its lead in the AL dissipate after going just 13-20 since July 3 and is now tied with Houston.

Meanwhile, in the National League, the Dodgers have kept rolling -- with only five losses since the beginning of July -- while the Mets proved that they're the real deal by taking four of five games against the division-rival Braves this past weekend.

Which teams will prevail?

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, Joon Lee and Alden Gonzalez to weigh in with an observation for all 30 teams.

Week 17 | Second-half preview | Preseason rankings

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record:77-33

Previous ranking:1

It's hard to even fathom, but L.A. has found another gear. It's riding a 10-game winning streak that included a three-game sweep of a Padres team that had just traded for Juan Soto, Josh Hader and others. The Dodgers have won 30 of 35 games since the start of July, and their pitching has continued to dominate despite the absence of two of their best starters (Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler) and two of their best relievers (Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol). Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman continue to set the tone at the top of the lineup, but most encouraging of all is that Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger have been scorching hot this month. -- Alden Gonzalez

2. New York Mets

Record:73-39

Previous ranking:4

The Mets took four of five against the Braves over the weekend, including a doubleheader sweep on Saturday. They entered the series up 3.5 games on Atlanta and left up 6.5, increasing their odds of winning the division from 73.6% to 91.9% (according to FanGraphs). Jacob deGrom made his second start of the season on Sunday and retired the first 17 batters he faced before giving up a walk and a home run. Along the way, the Braves whiffed on the 18 sliders they swung at -- the first time in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008) that a team has swung and missed that many times in a row at one pitch. -- David Schoenfield

3. New York Yankees

Record:71-41

Previous ranking:2

New York has been playing sub-.500 baseball since the beginning of July, and its lead in the division is slowly shrinking as a result, down to single-digit games for the first time since June 15. The injuries are starting to pile on, too, as Matt Carpenter hit the injured list after fracturing his left foot amidst a resurgent 2022 campaign with the Yankees. While New York snapped a five-game losing streak on Monday against the Mariners, things are currently trending down for the team. -- Joon Lee

4. Houston Astros

Record:71-41

Previous ranking:3

After a long chase, the Astros finally caught the Yankees for the best record in the AL this week. Houston has the easier finishing schedule, both in terms of quality of opponent and in having more home games. Home advantage for a potential ALCS showdown between these two behemoths could be crucial. That's not necessarily because either team struggles on the road, as they've both played well away from home. However, the Yankees have gone 41-15 in the Bronx and supported that record with the run differential of a 117-win team, prorated for a 162-game season. That's easily the strongest home performance in the majors. Still, it might not matter. The biggest gap between the teams was nine games at the 65-game mark, when the Yankees were 49-16 on June 18. In less than two months, the Astros erased that advantage. -- Bradford Doolittle

5. Atlanta Braves

Record:66-46

Previous ranking:6

The series against the Mets was obviously a big disappointment and exposed a couple of current issues with the club. After giving up 11 baserunners in 4 2/3 innings against the Mets on Friday, Ian Anderson was optioned down to Triple-A (although he'll be called up as the 27th man to start in Saturday's doubleheader against the Marlins). Anderson has a 5.81 ERA over his past 14 starts. Meanwhile, Marcell Ozuna continues to struggle, going 0-for-5 on Tuesday and hitting.213/.264/.388 this year. He's been dropped to sixth or seventh in the lineup, and he's now hitting .214 with a .274 OBP over the past two seasons -- unacceptable for a DH. -- Schoenfield

6. St. Louis Cardinals

Record:61-49

Previous ranking:9

St. Louis vaulted into first place and made a statement this weekend by sweeping the Yankees, but that was quickly followed up with a dud in Colorado on Tuesday. They aren't the first team to allow a crooked number at Coors Field, so it shouldn't impact their mojo moving forward. The Cardinals have been the best team in the NL Central all season -- they just didn't show it until now. It's their division to lose. -- Jesse Rogers

7. Toronto Blue Jays

Record:60-50

Previous ranking:7

The Blue Jays' offense took a hit as George Springer went on the IL with elbow inflammation, but the team is seeing an upswing from first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is hitting.371/.429/.600 with 10 extra-base hits in 17 games since the All-Star break. Toronto does have some issues it needs to figure out in the rotation with Yusei Kikuchi andJose Berriosstruggling so far this season. The team hopes Mitch White -- whom it traded for at the deadline -- can help solve problems it's having with the pitching staff. -- Lee

8. San Diego Padres

Record:63-51

Previous ranking:5

The Padres got a major boost last week, trading for Soto, Hader, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury -- and then they were humbled. The Dodgers swept them in a weekend series in L.A. that saw the Padres muster only four runs. San Diego is 2-8 against the Dodgers this season and has lost 17 of its last 19 games against them. But it'll see L.A. nine more times in September, and chances are the Padres will be a different team by then. Their new stars should be settled in, and Fernando Tatis Jr., navigating through a rehab assignment, should be back. The Padres probably won't catch the Dodgers in the NL West, but they plan to make a serious run at the top wild-card spot, which would allow them to host the entirety of a first-round three-game series. -- Gonzalez

9. Philadelphia Phillies

Record:62-48

Previous ranking:11

Wait ... is that the Phillies who are 41-19 since June 1? Why, yes, it is the Phillies. That's the third-best record in that span behind the Dodgers (44-17) and Braves (43-19). Some more stats from that span: They rank in the top 10 in ERA, lowest average allowed, runs and slugging. They've outhomered their opponent 92 to 58 and outscored them by 76 runs. Kyle Schwarber has 23 home runs and 46 RBIs, Rhys Hoskins has 16 and 34, J.T. Realmuto has 10 and 39 and Alec Bohm has hit over .300. Zack Wheeler has led the pitching, going 8-2 with a 2.27 ERA while Aaron Nola is 6-4 with a 2.89 ERA. Good test upcoming: seven games against the Mets over the next two weekends. -- Schoenfield

10. Tampa Bay Rays

Record:58-52

Previous ranking:12

Shane McClanahan started off the season in All-Star fashion but has allowed nine earned runs in the past 10 2/3 innings he has pitched. New arrivals David Peralta and Jose Siri have also been off to slow starts. The Rays still find themselves sitting in the second wild-card spot in the AL East, but the team will need to continue managing injuries, with Wander Franco still recovering from wrist surgery. -- Lee

11. Milwaukee Brewers

Record:60-50

Previous ranking:8

Did the Hader trade have an impact on Milwaukee? Conventional thinking would say yes, but there's no way to measure it. The Brewers did admit there was an adjustment period that might still be going on. There's no excuse to get swept by Pittsburgh and drop a series to Cincinnati, but at least a win on Tuesday against Tampa Bay helped right the ship. Rowdy Tellez has proven to be a solid, below-radar pick-up as he hit his 22nd home run on Friday, surpassing his career high set with Toronto in 2019. -- Rogers

12. Seattle Mariners

Record:61-52

Previous ranking:10

Tuesday's win over the Yankees has to go down as one of the games of the year for the entire league. Scoreless through 12 innings after Luis Castillo and Gerrit Cole were locked up in a classic duel (Castillo went eight innings), it was the longest scoreless game since 2019 (pre-ghost runner rule) and tied the longest game of the season at 13 innings. Thanks to some Yankees baserunning blunders that led to two double plays, the Yankees had just two plate appearances in the 11th and 12th innings. Luis Torrens finally delivered the walk-off single, making the Mariners 7-2 in walk-off games (best percentage in the majors) and 7-4 in extra-inning games. Matt Brash pitched the final two innings as the Seattle bullpen didn't allow a hit over a combined five innings. -- Schoenfield

13. Minnesota Twins

Record:57-53

Previous ranking:13

Not long after the Twins failed and/or decided to focus their deadline additions entirely on the pitching staff, which made sense, Minnesota found out that left fielderAlex Kirilloffwas lost for the season with a wrist injury that required surgery. For now, manager Rocco Baldelli has been juggling Nick Gordon and Jake Cave in left field. Kyle Garlick should be back soon from a rib injury.Trevor Larnach is expected back in September after having surgery for a core muscle injury, and Gilberto Celestino should figure in as well. The Twins may not be able to give Byron Buxton as much rest as they like, though. They have decent options, but with their hold in the AL Central lead loosening, it'll be on Baldelli to pull the right strings down the stretch. -- Doolittle

14. Baltimore Orioles

Record:58-52

Previous ranking:17

Even after trading Trey Mancini and closer Jorge Lopez, Baltimore finds itself in the wild-card race, just 1.5 games behind the Mariners, and now five games ahead of the last place Red Sox in the division. GM Mike Elias recently told the Baltimore Sun that the team is ready to enter a decade-long window of winning, marking a tonal change around the conversation about the team. -- Lee

15. Cleveland Guardians

Record:58-52

Previous ranking:14

So much for hoping the demotion of Franmil Reyes to the minors would help spark a turnaround for the massive slugger in time for him to come back to aid the Guardians' during the stretch run. Instead, Cleveland set Reyes adrift via the DFA process, and now he's a member of the Cubs. On one hand, cutting ties to Reyes is understandable, as his back-slide at the plates this season has been maddening to watch. On the other hand, Cleveland is very much in the race for both a division title or wild-card slot, and they need to put up some runs to win one of those races.

For now, Cleveland appears to be going with in-house options, as it often does, with rookie Oscar Gonzalez getting everyday plate appearances since returning from an abdominal injury. More than anything, Reyes' departure is another example of the Guardians morphing from a team that once emphasized a three-true-outcomes approach into one that values contact and athleticism. -- Doolittle

16. San Francisco Giants

Record:54-57

Previous ranking:15

The Giants went from an improbable 107-win season that dethroned the Dodgers atop the NL West to a floundering 2022 that is trending toward a losing record. One of the biggest reasons for their descent has been their bullpen. San Francisco's relief corps was especially deep and versatile last year; this year it is noticeably lacking in reliable high-leverage arms, evidenced by the team's late loss to the Padres on Tuesday night. Giants relievers have the fifth-highest ERA in the majors this season and the second-highest dating back to the start of July, behind only the Red Sox. Outside of their young closer, Camilo Doval, it's hard to know who to trust in their pen at the moment. -- Gonzalez

17. Chicago White Sox

Record:56-55

Previous ranking:16

The White Sox have been playing pretty well for a month now, and while they haven't quite caught fire, they have managed to hang near the top of the AL Central. Last week's activation of Luis Robert from the IL finally put Chicago's planned everyday lineup on the field. With a soft schedule ahead, things were looking up on the South Side. Then earlier this week, the news dropped that All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson would miss four-to-six weeks with torn ligaments in his left hand. Chicago now has to manage yet another key injury while trying to catch and pass the Twins and Guardians. Initially, the plan appears to be to mix and match in the middle of the infield with Josh Harrison at second base, paired with some mix of Leury Garcia and rookie Lenyn Sosa. Some additional creativity may be needed. -- Doolittle

18. Boston Red Sox

Record:54-58

Previous ranking:18

Boston hopped out of the trade deadline by taking two of three games in a strong series against the Astros, followed by losing three of four to the Royals. Meanwhile, Chris Sale broke his wrist on a bike and is out for the season, knocking out a player that the team expected to depend on heading into the postseason. All of this while questions are emerging out of the front office about the direction and vision for the future of the team after Boston sentChristian Vazquez to the Astros while acquiring Tommy Pham and Reese McGuire. -- Lee

19. Texas Rangers

Record:49-61

Previous ranking:19

After over four months of baseball, it's safe to say Texas has underachieved -- especially considering its winter spending spree. The way the AL has evolved, the Rangers should be in the wild-card hunt or at least closer to .500. They just can't compete with the better teams in the league, compiling a 23-41 record against plus-.500 squads going into games on Wednesday. This, despite solid campaigns by Martin Perez and Jon Gray. It's been a learning year for pitchers like Dane Dunning andGlenn Otto. The former hurler produced a solid effort against the White Sox over the weekend, but there haven't been enough of those moments on the mound for Texas this season. -- Rogers

20. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record:50-60

Previous ranking:21

The D-backs won't make the playoffs this year, but they also won't lose 100 games. And some of their biggest signs of encouragement have come in their rotation, where Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly -- both locked in through as late as 2025 at the moment -- have combined for a 2.98 ERA in 250 2/3 innings. Kelly has allowed just nine runs (eight earned) in 48 1/3 innings since the start of July. Gallen is coming off seven masterful innings against the Pirates on Monday. -- Gonzalez

21. Miami Marlins

Record:49-61

Previous ranking:20

Remember that Opening Day outfield? Jorge Soler, Jesus Sanchez and Avisail Garcia? Hard to say which one has been most disappointing (answer: all three). With Soler and Garcia on the injured list and Sanchez back in Triple-A, it's an opportunity for JJ Bleday and Peyton Burdick to get regular playing time. Bleday, the fourth overall pick in 2019, was a three true outcomes slugger in Triple-A (.229/.365/.470, 99 K's in 85 games). The hope is he'll at least draw some walks to post a decent OBP despite the low average. Burdick, a third-round pick in 2019, has a similar profile after hitting .224 in Double-A in 2021 and .229 in Triple-A in 2022. -- Schoenfield

22. Los Angeles Angels

Record:49-63

Previous ranking:22

Mike Trout is still trying to return from a back injury, and Shohei Ohtani stands as the only true reason to tune in to Angels games these days. But it's a great reason. His Tuesday performance against the A's was a perfect example. He pitched six scoreless innings to notch his 10th win, joining Babe Ruth as the only players with 10 wins and 10 home runs in the same season. And he belted his 25th home run. Ohtani is the only player ever to hit at least 25 home runs and strike out at least 150 batters in the same season -- and he has done it two years in a row. -- Gonzalez

23. Colorado Rockies

Record:49-64

Previous ranking:23

Flawed as you might find the approach to be -- and many do -- the Rockies are clearly eyeing contention next year, evidenced by their stunning inactivity before the trade deadline. And if that is indeed the case, then they need to figure out a way to get German Marquez right. Marquez, who will make $15 million next year and carries a $16 million club option for 2024, was supposed to be the ace of their staff. But he has performed to a 5.18 ERA,one of the-highest marks among qualified starting pitchers, and his strikeout rate is down by nearly five percentage points. He has been better lately, at least. -- Gonzalez

24. Chicago Cubs

Record:45-65

Previous ranking:24

Chicago is in the hunt for the No.1 draft pick, jockeying with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh for a top lottery draw. Manager David Ross is using the rest of the season to test players in different situations -- sometimes at the expense of making the right move in a game. He'll also testReyes at the plate. The Cubs picked him up off waivers from Cleveland and will give him a chance to find his game in the box again. He contributed in a late-inning rally in his first game on Tuesday, driving in a run with an opposite-field hit. The Cubs need power and are hopeful it returns for Reyes. -- Rogers

25. Cincinnati Reds

Record:44-66

Previous ranking:25

The Reds actually had a series win post-trade deadline over the Brewers before dropping one against the Mets. Youngster Graham Ashcraft continues to impress, with a one-run performance in one of their wins against Milwaukee. Cincinnati will give plenty of playing time to younger players the rest of the season while also being in the hunt for the No.1 draft pick next summer. The course for this season was set before the Reds even took the field, when they traded Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez and others right after the lockout. Then came the trade deadline unloading process. Prospects from those trades should start to make their way to the majors next spring. -- Rogers

26. Kansas City Royals

Record:46-66

Previous ranking:28

The Royals have been running out lineups recently with as many as seven rookies penciled in, which is what you like to see for a team playing out the string of a non-contending season. All those rookie hitters have done enough to merit the opportunity to get their feet wet in the majors, which is another positive sign for the Royals' rebuild. But perhaps the biggest developmental success this season isn't a hitter at all, or even a rookie, but third-year righty Brady Singer. Singer was bumped from the Royals' rotation during spring training, moved to the bullpen, then sent to the minors in an effort to stretch him out for more rotation work. Since Singer returned to the Royals in mid-May, he's pitched like the frontline starter K.C. hoped he'd become. As a starter in 2022, Singer is now 5-4 with 3.31 over 15 outings and a team-best average game score of 56.8. -- Doolittle

27. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record:45-66

Previous ranking:26

There's been something scrappy about the Pirates this season, as they continue to play spoiler while taking strides with a slew of young players. Their sweep of Milwaukee last week was huge considering it came right after the trade deadline, when Pittsburgh usually unloads. Yes, they traded a few pieces away, but they didn't rip apart the heart and soul of the team like they may have one year earlier in moving Tyler Anderson, Richard Rodriguez and all-star Adam Frazier, among others. Pittsburgh is clearly building around players like Ke'Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz. Could 2023 be a .500 or better year? It's not out of the realm of possibility. -- Rogers

28. Detroit Tigers

Record:43-69

Previous ranking:27

Miguel Cabrera was hitting .300 as recently as July 9, but as his chronic knee problems have begun to flare up yet again, he's been hard to watch over the last month. He recently suggested to reporters that he might not be back for the last year of his contract in 2023. Then he quickly walked those comments back, saying he would indeed play out his pact.

For the Tigers, the question becomes what to do with Miggy as he plays out the end of a Hall of Fame career. More load management would seem to be imperative, as Cabrera ranks third on the Tigers in plate appearances even as he's struggled to stay healthy. One option could be to use Cabrera primarily against lefties, against whom he's hit over .300 and slugged over .400 since the start of the 2019 season. Such a plan could not only keep his percentages strong, but it might help space out his playing time enough to keep his knee as strong as possible. -- Doolittle

29. Oakland Athletics

Record:41-71

Previous ranking:29

With Frankie Montas no longer on the team, this Oakland roster lacks significant star power. Catcher Sean Murphy leads the A's with a 3.3 bWAR and is slashing.245/.320/.430, while starter Cole Irvin is atop the pitching staff with a 3.1 bWAR, as well as a 2.92 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Seth Brown has been hitting well since the All-Star Break, smashing seven homers since then. -- Lee

30. Washington Nationals

Record:37-76

Previous ranking:30

Keibert Ruiz's first full season in the majors comes with mixed reviews. As expected, the contact ability has been excellent, with a strikeout rate that ranks in the top 10 among qualified hitters. He's hitting just .247, thanks to a low average on balls in play -- but that's in part because he's in the bottom 10% of all hitters in hard-hit rate. He had a two-homer game on Tuesday, and the Nationals would love to see more hard contact like that in the future. The defense also remains a work in progress, with below-average (although not completely terrible) framing metrics and a sub-standard pop time to second base. -- Schoenfield

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