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.
Last week, I wrote that – at least in many divisions – teams seemed to have begun sorting themselves appropriately after the unavoidable chaos of opening week. Knock on wood, but I haven’t had to eat my words yet. The AL East is very competitive, the AL Central is not, the Reds are off to a historically bad start, and, for the fourth straight week, the Dodgers reign at #1.
Of course, the young season has not been without surprises. Although they didn’t rise enough to make the cut below, the Miami Marlins deserve an honorable mention after reeling off a six-game win streak, including a sweep of division rival Atlanta. The team’s excellent rotation – Pablo López leads qualified pitchers with a 0.39 ERA – coupled with an unexpectedly league-average lineup has been enough to land the Marlins at 11-8 and second place in the deep NL East. Fundamentally, the lineup is too weak and the sample size too small to slot them higher than teams like Atlanta and Boston, but if the pitching staff can keep dominating, expect them to fly up these rankings.
New York Yankees (+5):
The Yankees have played an impressive week-plus of baseball, going 9-1 and upping their run differential to +36, second best in the Majors. Taking advantage of an easy schedule (BAL, CLE, DET), they overtook Toronto to claim the top spot in the AL East.
With ace Gerrit Cole struggling (4.00 ERA), New York has had to rely on the remainder of its rotation. Nestor Cortes, Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino, and Jameson Taillon have been more than sufficient, producing a cumulative 2.62 ERA with 9.0 K/9.
But as is often the case with the Yankees, the real story of their success is at the plate and in the bullpen. Led by Anthony Rizzo’s MLB-best nine home runs (including a three-homer game vs. the Orioles), the team leads the league with 29 and is second in SLG. Perennial sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have respectively contributed six and four of their own
Anchoring the bullpen, veteran Aroldis Chapman has been a perfect four for four in save opportunities and has yet to allow a run (despite some concerning command issues). Perhaps their most important weapon has been Michael King, who has thrown 19 innings with a minuscule 0.69 ERA. Grant Washburn broke down his rise to dominance in an article a few days ago, which you can find here. Clay Holmes also boasts a sub-one ERA along with two saves.
New York can’t lose a step if they hope to remain atop the East – they head to Toronto for a three-game set starting Monday.
Los Angeles Angels (+4):
So often betrayed by poor pitching, the Angels have finally managed to put together a rotation capable of supporting their dominant lineup. The result? 14-7 record, first place in the AL West, and the second best run differential in the American League at +24.
To be clear, the pitching staff hasn’t been particularly good – the team’s 3.8 runs allowed per game is just slightly above league average. Shohei Ohtani has yet to find his 2021 dominance, posting a 4.19 ERA despite an impressive 14.0 K/9. However, offseason acquisition Noah Syndegaard has been impressive (2.12 ERA) and Patrick Sandoval has been exceptional, starting the year with 15 straight scoreless innings.
On the other side of the ball, Los Angeles has been an offensive powerhouse. Their five runs scored per game is tied for the best in baseball and their team OPS of .776 is the best. Leading the way, as expected, is Mike Trout. After missing most of 2021 with a nagging calf injury, Trout has opened the year on fire. His 1.213 OPS leads all hitters, and remarkably, his expected stats based on quality of contact are largely in line with the actual results.
Less expected has been the source of Trout’s offensive support: Taylor Ward. Never having played more than 65 games in a season, Ward has found another gear to open the year. His .404 AVG and 1.347 OPS actually best Trout’s, though he has not yet reached the qualifier minimum. Brandon Marsh also deserves recognition, hitting .308 with three stolen bases.
Ward is certainly not going to continue hitting like Ted Williams, and even Trout is due for some regression. But Los Angeles is a talented group, and Ohtani is beginning to heat up after a slow start – this is a team capable of finally breaking through the Angels’ woes.
Houston Astros (-5):
Tied for second place in the AL West with an 11-9 record, the Astros are clearly a good team. So why did they fall five spots while amid a four-game win streak? Their placement this week is more due to the successes of their division rivals than their own failings.
That’s not to say that Houston hasn’t been somewhat underwhelming. Now 20 games into the season, their run differential sits at a paltry -2, far below the Angels’ +24 and Mariners’ +18. They’ve faced a tough schedule, but we’d expect a team of this caliber to withstand that. A recent stretch included consecutive series versus the Angels, Mariners, and Blue Jays – they went just 3-6 in that span.
Their typically-dominant offense is scoring just four runs a game, equivalent to the Oakland A’s. After leading the majors in team OBP in both 2019 and 2021, the Astros’ are currently 23rd. Notably, there are some big names missing: Carlos Correa left in free agency, and Jose Altuve is currently on the IL with a hamstring issue.
The biggest impediment to Houston’s offensive production has been bad luck. Per Baseball Savant, the Astros have the second-largest deficit between their wOBA and xwOBA of any team at -0.039. Star outfielder Kyle Tucker has been the most severely affected. His .329 expected batting average is tied for 16th in all of baseball, yet he’s batting just .208. Fortunately for Astros fans, that won’t last for long.
Cleveland Guardians (-5):
The Guardians have fallen back to Earth after their early-season success. After beating up on the Reds and Royals (including a run-differential-juicing 17-4 win), they’ve struggled against tougher competition. Before beating the A’s last night, they were mired in a seven-game skid as a result of successive sweeps at the hands of the Yankees and Angels. Despite being 8-10 overall, the Guardians are just 1-10 vs. teams over .500.
There’s not a clear place to point fingers given the team’s low expectations entering the season. Losing Owen Miller’s hot bat to the COVID list didn’t help, although he’s managed to keep his batting average over .400 since returning. Similarly, José Ramírez has shown no signs of letting up as his 1.190 OPS is second among qualified hitters. Despite their efforts, the Guardians have scored three or more runs just three times in their past eight games.
While their 4.5 runs allowed per game is eighth-worst in baseball, Cleveland has actually seen some productive pitching out of their rotati0n. Ace Shane Bieber leads the team with a 2.82 ERA, while Cal Quantrill (3.27) and Zach Plesac (3.28) have been more than serviceable as well.
An interesting plotline to keep an eye on: despite their recent slide, the Guardians still have the best OPS vs. RHP in the majors at .794. When facing lefties, that drops to .570.
Note: The White Sox also fell this week (-5) this week for many of the same reasons as I detailed in last week’s article.
Week Three Power Rankings:
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)