Every week, the PL team publishes an update to our power rankings, reviewing the biggest risers and fallers of the past seven days. As always, the full rankings can be found at the bottom of this article…but where’s the fun in that.
In these final rankings of the season, we’re going to deviate from our normally scheduled programming of examining the top risers and fallers of the past week. Instead, with just a few games left, I’d like to spend a few moments with each of the playoff hopefuls, seeing how they got to this point and how they’re playing as they make their final pushes towards October. These are Pitcher List’s Playoff-Ready Power Rankings:
Tier 1: The Favorites
Los Angeles Dodgers – #1 (105-47):
The Dodgers remain the top dog, as they have for much of the season, and they show absolutely no sign of slowing down. In fact, they’re on pace for a historic finish. With 19 games left, they have a good shot at surpassing the 2018 Red Sox (108-54) for the best record of the past 20 years.
Even more outlandish is that Los Angeles has gotten a bit unlucky to have “only” won 105 games thus far – their +319 run differential would project them at 110 wins. Regardless of how they finish, that run differential will blow past Boston’s 2018 mark of +229. To be fair, that +319 deserves a lot more attention than it is currently getting. If the season ended today, it would be one of the largest totals of all time. The last time a team bested +300 was the 1998 Yankees. And it’s been almost a hundred years since a team topped +320 when the 1939 Yankees set the modern record at +411. If you remove a number of 19th-century seasons, this 2022 campaign ranks as the fourth-best ever by run differential.
Of course, none of that matters when you get to October – the Dodgers know that better than anyone with some of their recent earlier-than-expected exits. But with that said – I wouldn’t want to face them.
Houston Astros – #2 (100-53):
Don’t let the ridiculousness of the Dodgers season obscure how good Houston is. They’ve all but locked up the first-round bye in the American League and refuse to take their foot off the pedal, going 7-3 in their last 10 games..
While the Astros’ lineup is certainly fearsome, the team is led by a pitching staff that has allowed the second-fewest runs in baseball. Leading the pack is Justin Verlander and his 1.79 ERA. Although the rest of the rotation isn’t in the Cy Young conversation, they’ve been on fire lately. Over the 30 days, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, and Cristian Javier have ERAs of 2.35, 1.82, and 2.22. If the team needs another arm in October, we could see more of rookie Hunter Brown who dominated over his two starts while Verlander was injured.
Tier 2: The October Locks
New York Mets – #3 (96-57):
New York has continued to play great baseball, allowing them to retain the slimmest of leads despite Atlanta’s continued hot stretch. However, they certainly looked beatable at times, like when they were swept by the Cubs at home.
The most significant question mark on the team right now is the health of Max Scherzer, whose perfect 6-inning return from the IL was scintillating. The IL stint was still somewhat concerning given that it’s the same muscle that caused a two-month absence earlier in the year.
The Mets have a slightly easier schedule than Atlanta the rest of the way, but the teams’ paths run through each other – New York will travel down south for a three-game set starting on September 30. If the rotation stays as is, Chris Bassitt, deGrom, and Scherzer will line up to make the starts in Atlanta that could determine the division.
Atlanta – #4 (94-58):
Speaking of teams that refuse to slow down, we turn to Atlanta. The club is 37-20 since the All-Star Break, good for 6th in MLB. While they’re currently 1.5 games back of the Mets, Atlanta has the better run differential of the two, +165 to +148.
The team’s lineup, which has produced the third-most runs in baseball this season, got an additional boost with the long-awaited return of Ozzie Albies, who had been on the IL since June 13 with a broken foot. Albies immediately made his return felt, hitting a two-run double as part of Atlanta’s 7-2 win over the Phillies.
Something to watch over this final stretch: Ronald Acuña Jr.’s knee – it’s been giving him trouble throughout this season, but he’d been playing at right field after a number of starts at DH. If Acuña can keep playing in the field, it frees up the DH slot for William Contreras; giving them the most potent lineup possible in the postseason.
New York Yankees– #5 (93-58):
For the first time in weeks, the Yankees move up in our power rankings thanks to a good 10-game stretch in which they’ve gone 8-2. The bats especially seem to have woken up, the lineup has scored over 8 runs per game in the past week.
At the center of everything, as he has been all year, is Aaron Judge. He hit three more home runs this past week, bringing his season total to 60. He’s been doing everything in his power to drag this team to the finish line; he’s batting .449 this month with a 1.504 OPS.
However, with continued struggles from the rotation, the Yankees will need more than Judge’s bat to play competitive October baseball. Gleyber Torres has hit well recently, but Giancarlo Stanton has been a non-factor, hitting .167 with a 37% strikeout rate in September.
Also worth noting – the AL East might not be wrapped up yet. New York leads the division by 8.0 games over the Blue Jays and 10.0 games over the Rays. The Yankees will head to Toronto for a three-game set at the end of the month but have no more games against the Rays. Fortunately for New York, their two division rivals will face off against each other for a four-game set.
St. Louis Cardinals – #6 (89-64):
Other than the Dodgers and Astros, the Cardinals have the best record in baseball since the All-Star Break. They’ve slowed down a touch since their torrid August, but they’ve got a solid hold on the NL Central.
Beyond the playoff race, this team has several great stories. Just this Friday, Albert Pujols hit his 700th home run, becoming only the fourth person to do so in MLB history. This postseason will also be the final chapter of Yadier Molina’s tremendous career, which added a new record when he and Adam Wainwright made their 325th start as a battery, the most in baseball history.
There are good vibes in St. Louis, and it looks all but certain we will get to see this storied Cardinals trio together for one last run.
Tier 3: The Pack
Tampa Bay Rays – #7 (84-69):
As we’ve written many times, a driving narrative of the Rays’ season has been their continued struggle with injuries. Fortunately, they seem to be getting healthy at the right time. Wander Franco is back and hitting well, posting a .391 AVG over the past week. Outside of Franco and OBP-machine Yandy Díaz, questions pervade the offense: They’ve scored only 4.2 runs per game, 20th in MLB. Those questions will continue in October – recently the Rays were swept by the Astros while scoring only two runs over the three games.
In a unique way, today’s game is unusually important for a club whose spot in the postseason is all but guaranteed. The Rays take on Blue Jays, and while the two teams are vying for the top Wild Card spot, all eyes will be on Shane McClanahan. He left his last start after only four innings while giving up five runs, citing neck tightness. McClanahan recently got back from the IL with a shoulder issue, so his durability in this start will be a good indicator of his health entering the postseason.
The Rays have a tough schedule, facing the Guardians, Astros, and Red Sox to round out the year.
Cleveland Guardians – #8 (85-67):
The Guardians are absolutely on fire right now. They’ve won six in a row and nine of their last 10. Despite playing in the weakest division in baseball, I think this team is equipped to make some surprising noise in October.
While the lineup is certainly not the team’s strong point, they’ve been raking as of late. Cleveland boasts four players batting over .300 right now – Steven Kwan, Amed Rosario, Myles Straw, and Andrés Giménez – and that’s not even counting José Ramírez, who’s been in a bit of a slump. The Guardians won’t outhomer the Yankees or Blue Jays, but they’ll still find a way to score.
Their pitching staff is set up well for the postseason, where their bullpen – which boasts the 4th best fWAR in baseball this season – will shine. Emmanuel Clase has been one of the more consistently dominant closers this season, and the supporting cast has some elite arms as well. While Cleveland’s rotation is not particularly deep, Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie make for a more than serviceable top-2.
The Guardians have one more series against the Rays before coasting to the finish line with six straight games against the Royals.
Toronto Blue Jays – #9 (85-67):
The Jays have been playing up and down recently, going 5-5 over their last 10. Throughout that stretch, though, Toronto has continued to rake, scoring more runs than any other team in the month of September. Since September 1, Blue Jays hitters have posted 5.6 fWAR, best in the majors.
Bo Bichette has led the way recently – his 2.2 fWAR in the month is the only figure even in the ballpark of Aaron Judge’s 2.4 – they sit almost a full win better than the next closest player. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been consistent as well, although he’s remained far from the dominance he displayed last year. Danny Jansen has also been productive lately, but he can’t make up for the gap left by George Springer and Teoscar Hernández both hitting sub .230 on the month.
On the mound, Alek Manoah continued his tremendous campaign yesterday with a tremendous start over the Rays – his season will absolutely merit Cy Young votes. Unfortunately, his rotation mates have slumped in the second half. Kevin Gausman has posted a 3.91 ERA since the break, a far cry from his status as a Cy Young favorite at the start of the year. Meanwhile, José Berríos has sadly never quite figured things out – his 5.34 second-half ERA is only slightly worse than his 5.27 on the year. Ross Stripling has been on a good run until a recent blowup against the Phillies, and he’ll presumably be the team’s 4th starter in October. It’s unclear who might follow him if they need another – Mitch White, Yusei Kikuchi, and Trevor Richards all have ERAs north of six in the second half.
Toronto takes on the AL East to round out its season, with series against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles.
Seattle Mariners – #10 (83-68):
Speaking of up and down: the Seattle Mariners. The Ms took three out of five from Atlanta and San Diego before dropping six of nine to…the Angels, Athletics, and Royals? Weirdly, the pattern (somewhat) holds up all year. Seattle has the 5th-best winning percentage in baseball against teams over .500, but just the 11th-best against teams under .500. I suppose that’s better than the alternative for a playoff-bound team, but still, a bit worrying.
What’s also worrying is Seattle’s injury report. Eugenio Suárez landed on the IL with a broken finger about 10 days ago and has just begun to take swings. Suarez has been Seattle’s second-best position player this year, putting up a respectable 4.3 fWAR with 31 home runs and an .805 OPS. Of course, the Mariners’ best player has been Rookie of the Year favorite Julio Rodríguez, but he has landed on the IL as well with a lower back strain. Rodriguez had experienced a similar issue earlier in the month but avoided the IL then. Seattle is 9-12 this season when Rodriguez is out of the lineup.
The Mariners finish up their season with a light schedule, facing the Rangers, Athletics, and Tigers.
Philadelphia Phillies – #11 (83-68):
The Phillies have not been playing their best baseball of late, getting swept by Atlanta and dropping an 18-11 game to Toronto before taking two of the first three from the Braves in their current four-game set.
While Philadelphia’s strength was always expected to be their lineup, their pitching has been atrocious lately. In September, their arms have allowed a 4.79 ERA, fourth-worst in baseball. Fortunately, reinforcements have arrived: Zack Wheeler returned from a month-long stint on the IL and shut down the Blue Jays for four innings in his return. Of course, that doesn’t do much to fix the issues in their bullpen – the group ranks among MLB’s worst in ERA.
The Phillies take on the Cubs, Nationals, and Astros to end the season.
San Diego Padres – #12 (84-68):
The Padres finally seemed to find their mojo amid an uninspiring stretch last week when they reeled off five straight wins, allowing only four runs across the games. Most importantly, Juan Soto seems to have gotten hot: Over his last eight games, he’s posted a 1.172 OPS. In the 63 plate appearances prior, he’d collected only three hits.
Jurickson Profar has also contributed lately, and Manny Machado hasn’t slowed his offensive pace either. But Soto’s compatriot in the Nationals’ trade, Josh Bell, has hit just .118 in the last two weeks.
On the bump, the starting rotation looks playoff-ready. Over their past three starts, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove have ERAs of 0.90 and 2.76, while Blake Snell sits at 0.64 over his last two starts. While the struggles of Josh Hader are well-documented, he’s allowed only two base runners and zero runs over his last six appearances.
The Padres will play the Dodgers, the White Sox, and the Giants in their final series.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)