Every week, the Pitcher List 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?
Welcome to baseball’s Christmas Eve, the day before each of the 30 MLB teams embarks on a 162-game marathon that will have its many ups and downs, twists and turns, and surprises.
Thursday’s Opening Day is special for many reasons. Fans are able to gather at the ballpark to watch their favorite team play a game that counts in the standings for the first time in 2023. But it is also special for the optimism that every team and its fanbase have. For one day — and one day only — all 30 teams begin the day with the exact same record: 0-0. Where it goes from here, who knows?
Some teams have more reasons to be optimistic and that is where Pitcher List’s Power Rankings come into play. Our team of rankers has come up with a list of best to worst levels of excitement going into Opening Day. No one is moving up or skidding yet, those sections will begin next week. In their place, we take a look at the top five teams in our Power Rankings:
2022 record: 101-61
2022 final rank: 4
Is there a clear-cut No. 1 in this poll? Most definitely not. Our panel split votes between Atlanta, the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees, but the five-time defending National League East Division champs were the only one to be in the top four of all ballots. There wasn’t a significant roster shakeup going into 2023, but one familiar face is gone (shortstop Dansby Swanson) and a new one takes over behind the plate (catcher Sean Murphy).
Surprisingly, Orlando Arcia got the nod over Vaughn Grissom to replace the dependable Swanson at shortstop. Arcia will do just fine defensively, but has a career slash line of .243/.295/.369 in eight seasons, the first five-plus as the Milwaukee Brewers‘ starter while being a utility man since joining Atlanta via trade early in 2021. Murphy replaces All-Star William Contreras, who was dealt by Atlanta to the Brewers in a three-way trade with the Oakland A’s for their new catcher.
There is talent all around the diamond, led by right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. and second baseman Ozzie Albies. That Atlanta won 101 games with Acuña battling nagging injuries and Albies limited to 64 games says a lot about its depth, which was bolstered by the out-of-nowhere emergence of NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II.
Pitching will continue to be a staple. Left-hander Max Fried has proven himself as an ace, with veteran Charlie Morton right behind him. Right-hander Spencer Strider was a big surprise in 2022 and finished second to Harris in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Raisel Iglesias, acquired from the Los Angeles Angels at the trade deadline, leads the bullpen, but he opens the season on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation.
There are no major questions about Atlanta going into the season, it will just depend on how the key players produce and manager Brian Snitker’s ability to navigate the inevitable potholes in the road to another postseason appearance.
2022 record: 106-56
2022 final rank: 2
The defending World Series champs were dominant during the postseason, giving Dusty Baker his first championship as a manager. Pitching depth was the key to that run and that will be tested in 2023 after Justin Verlander won the AL Cy Young Award at age 39, then signed a free-agent deal with the New York Mets. Rookie Hunter Brown takes over his rotation spot as Framber Valdez, José Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier move up.
Injuries have already hit the Astros. Most notably, All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve sustained a broken right thumb when he was hit by a pitch during the World Baseball Classic. The spark plug leadoff hitter is expected to be out until late May or early June. Also, right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. has a muscle strain in his pitching arm and only recently began tossing off flat ground. McCullers could be back in late April.
Still, there is plenty to fuel the Astros, who should easily win the American League West, with a slight challenge from the Seattle Mariners. That is thanks to an offense with slugger Yordan Alvarez and shortstop Jeremy Peña, who emerged as a force at the plate during the postseason, winning the AL Championship Series and World Series MVP awards as a rookie. Right fielder Kyle Tucker could be a 30-homer, 30-steals guy this season. Former Chicago White Sox first baseman José Abreu signed with the champs in the offseason and should pick up any slack in the offense.
The Astros’ rotation is young but has a ton of postseason experience. Nothing should rattle that group during the regular season. Ryan Pressly anchors the relief corps, which at the moment is all right-handed.
How the Astros navigate the early months of the season without Altuve will be key, but they also have plenty of room for error in the AL West.
2022 record: 89-73
2022 final rank: 12
The Padres are everyone’s chic pick this season after taking out the NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series in 2022. A mid-market team, the Padres continued to spend big this offseason, signing shortstop Xander Bogaerts (11 years, $280 million) and finalizing extensions with current third baseman Manny Machado (11 years, $350 million) and right-hander Yu Darvish (six years, $108 million).
Last season was certainly a rollercoaster ride for the Padres, mostly centered around Fernando Tatis Jr. First, Tatis reported to spring training following the lockout and immediately had to undergo left wrist surgery due to an offseason motorcycle accident. Then, as he was about to return from that surgery, Tatis was slapped with an 80-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug. That will spill over and force him to miss the first 20 games of 2023. He had a second surgery on the left wrist, as well as shoulder surgery following the suspension. Also, questions about his maturity continue. How Tatis responds to that adversity — and adjusts to his new position of right field — will be a major question for the Padres.
Meanwhile, the Padres will have All-Star Juan Soto, who shifts from right field to left, and All-Star closer Josh Hader for a full season after splashy deals at the trade deadline. Starting pitching depth after Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Blake Snell isn’t as strong as others at the top of the Power Rankings, but the bullpen appears strong.
Will the NL West turn into a battle royale with the Dodgers? Does Tatis return to his MVP-caliber form after missing the entire 2022 season? The answers to these questions could shoot them up or down these rankings.
2022 record: 101-61
2022 final rank: 3
Owner Steve Cohen’s big, fat wallet gave the Mets everything they wanted except for Carlos Correa — and that was only because team doctors didn’t like what they saw in the shortstop’s medical records. The Mets have a projected Opening Day payroll of $328.5 million, easily blasting past luxury-tax thresholds and a clear $50 million ahead of the crosstown Yankees.
Added since last season were Verlander (two years, $86.7 million), Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga (five years, $75 million) and left-hander José Quintana (two years, $46 million; more on him later), all part of a new-look rotation around right-hander Max Scherzer. Verlander and Scherzer, teammates as young aces with the Detroit Tigers, are formidable at the top of the rotation, the only question with them is age. Verlander enters the season at age 40, while Scherzer turns 39 in July. Verlander’s 2022 AL Cy Young and standout postseason came after missing all of 2021 due to Tommy John surgery.
The starters in the position player group are essentially what they were at the end of the season, with the exception of Omar Narváez taking over at catcher after being signed as a free agent from the Brewers. Shortstop Francisco Lindor and first baseman Pete Alonso hold the keys offensively. How will third baseman Eduardo Escobar respond after possibly being on the way out if Correa had been signed and moved over to the hot corner?
Injuries have already hit the Mets, with closer Edwin Diaz blowing out a knee while celebrating a save during the World Baseball Classic and Quintana needing a bone graft surgery on a rib to remove a lesion. Diaz could return late in the season if everything goes faster than expected, while Quintana will be out until at least July, if not later.
The NL East is one of the tougher divisions in baseball, with last year’s third-place team, the Philadelphia Phillies, getting hot in the playoffs and losing to the Astros in the World Series. Manager Buck Showalter will need to be at his best to get the most out of the Mets.
2022 record: 111-51
2022 final rank: 1
It almost feels blasphemous to put the only team in the majors to win at least 100 games in four of the last five 162-game seasons at this spot in the Power Rankings, but for once, there are a few significant questions about the Dodgers.
As with the Astros in this group of five elite teams, the Dodgers don’t have a dominant ace, although left-hander Julio Urías is deserving of the Opening Day nod this season following a couple of strong seasons. Lefty Clayton Kershaw just turned 35, but feels like he is closer to 40 with as long as we have been watching him. Kershaw’s back, as always, will be something to watch. He will land on the injured list at some point, but the key will be in limiting how long he is away from the team.
Right-hander Dustin May, who came back late in 2022 from Tommy John surgery, will be counted on to pitch well, especially with All-Star starter Tony Gonsolin expected to miss some time at the start of the season due to a sprained ankle sustained on March 6. Right-hander Noah Syndergaard, no longer the fearful Thor he was with the Mets, resurrected his career last season with the Los Angeles Angels and Phillies and is being depended upon. Rookie right-hander Ryan Pepiot could be the next big thing out of the Dodgers’ minor-league system.
The lineup will look different with shortstop Trea Turner now with the Phillies, center fielder Cody Bellinger going to the Chicago Cubs and third baseman Justin Turner joining the Boston Red Sox. Another blow was losing Gavin Lux to a season-ending knee injury while running the bases in spring training. Lux was to be the primary replacement for Turner. Now, that will go to Miguel Rojas, originally a Dodgers prospect reacquired from the Miami Marlins. Max Muncy slides over to third base, with rookie Miguel Vargas taking over at second. All-Star right fielder Mookie Betts could also see time at second. Trayce Thompson replaces Bellinger in center.
For the first time in a while, the Dodgers don’t have a clear-cut closer, like a Kenley Jansen. This figures to be more of a matchup opportunity, with left-hander Alex Vesia and righty Evan Phillips getting most of the opportunities until right-hander Daniel Hudson returns from his knee surgery, which might not be until the end of May or early June.
All the changes could take some time to come together for the Dodgers, so a slow start wouldn’t be out of the question. Manager Dave Roberts will need to trust his young players and hope the veterans don’t get frustrated by the ups and downs.
Opening Day Power Rankings