With the All-Star Game now in the rearview mirror, the 2022 MLB season has finally taken shape. We know who will be challenging for major awards, who will probably be on the move at the trade deadline, and which teams—i.e., the Yankees—could go on vacation for the next two months and return to find their playoff berth still intact.
Between the new 12-team playoff format and some exciting first-half unpredictability, MLB is enjoying a middle class so large that any politician would kill to campaign on it. At least 18 teams enter the second half with a good chance of making the playoffs, and three of the six division titles are still very much in play. With the standings so close this far into the season, an exciting stretch run surely awaits.
1. New York Yankees (64-28)
After an 8-7 start to July, it seems that the Yankees might not literally win 120 games, as was the joke as recently as a month ago. But six Yankees already have at least 10 home runs, including Aaron Judge (33) and Matt Carpenter (13 in just 97 plate appearances). All five of New York’s starters have an ERA below 4.00. And perhaps most impressively, the Yankees are not only scoring more runs per game than any other team, they’re allowing fewer runs per game than any other team. FanGraphs currently says the Yankees have a 98.7 percent chance to win the division, and I think that’s conservative.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (60-30)
Do you think the Dodgers ever get bored of winning? Seriously, they just win 100 games a year like clockwork. They’re consistently in the mix to land most big-name free agents. They produce enough young talent to trade for Mookie Betts and Max Scherzer. And they still have a credible package to try and trade for Juan Soto (and do cheeky tweets about him during the All-Star game; what gall).
There’s a really toxic idea ingrained in American culture that suffering is inherently redemptive. It gets used to explain away ingrained injustice or even trivial things that just don’t work for no good reason. But as I watch the Dodgers, on some level, I get why that idea is attractive. They make winning look so easy that it seems there has to be some sort of moral price to pay down the line. Otherwise, how would you look at yourself in the mirror if you were, say, a Tigers fan?
3. Houston Astros (59-32)
One underlying subplot of this week’s All-Star festivities has been the question of whether—and how ferociously—Dodgers fans would boo the Astros contingent. In addition to the five Houston players selected to the team, Astros manager Dusty Baker led the AL squad by virtue of being last year’s pennant-winning manager. (Do Dodgers fans have a grudge against the Astros? Has anyone been talking about this?) On Monday, Baker—a California native and former Dodger—mused about “the forgiveness of mankind” when asked about the situation. But sure enough, Dodgers fans pulled no punches when given the opportunity to make their feelings known.
I’m sure some of the public agita around the Astros stems from the missed opportunity to boo during the 2020 season and is amplified by the general cultural malaise in this country. Everyone’s pissed off, and Justin Verlander’s right here, I get it. But this might just never go away completely.
4. New York Mets (58-35)
Nothing is ever really straightforward with the Mets—and yet, it’s hard to dispute that the vibes have changed. Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom have made 11 starts combined over the first half; the Braves won 14 games in a row in early June while the Phillies won 15 of 17, and the Mets still have a relatively comfortable lead in the division. You’d take that as a Mets fan, wouldn’t you?
5. Atlanta Braves (56-38)
I’ll admit to being slightly mystified as to how this team ended the month of May four games under .500. Particularly because injuries don’t tell the story—Ronald Acuna Jr. had been back for a month by that point, while Ozzie Albies got hurt only after Atlanta started its June hot streak.
But since June 1, the Braves are first in the NL in wRC+ and ERA-. Austin Riley is hitting .318/.369/.659. Michael Harris II, who debuted on May 28, is hitting .283/.319/.497 with elite center-field defense and 10 steals in 10 attempts. William Contreras, who became an everyday starter as recently as mid-May, is an All-Star. The defending World Series champions are not only back, but they’re also adding pieces.
6. Seattle Mariners (51-42)
A brief note on the methodology (such as it is) of these power rankings: I usually start by comparing teams’ records and adjusting the order when necessary because of underlying numbers, injuries, schedule, etc. But at the All-Star break this year, 13 of the 30 MLB teams have a winning percentage between .500 and .554. I have no idea how to sort that many teams this close together—so if you think the Orioles should be higher or the Giants lower or whatever, you probably have a case.
The Mariners top this group for two reasons: First, if you win 14 games in a row, you deserve to be rewarded. Second, they’ve been trending this way for a while now, even if nobody could’ve expected they would go an entire Tour de France between losses. Finally, the young stars-in-waiting—Logan Gilbert, Julio Rodríguez—have turned into stars of now, and a credible supporting cast has convalesced around those players. The salary dump pickup of Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez from Cincinnati looks like a masterstroke; Robbie Ray has cut about a run from his ERA in the past month; and Ty France woke up one morning and decided he was Jeff Bagwell. It’s easy to forget how many injuries and developmental snafus Seattle has suffered en route to a playoff position.
So enjoy it. I expect Seattle to remain in the wild-card hunt even after the Mariners start losing the odd game, but nobody knows better than Seattle how fleeting success can be.
7. Tampa Bay Rays (51-41)
Wander Franco’s broken hamate bone is a truly annoying injury, not just because it robs us of such a special talent for as much as two months, but because this kind of injury can sap grip strength for up to a year after the player returns to action. Still, the Rays keep finding guys to fill in whatever gaps inevitably emerge. I’m looking forward to an ALDS in which Tampa takes it to some big-market team while everyone tries to figure out when Isaac Paredes got traded there and who the hell Harold Ramírez is.
8. Toronto Blue Jays (50-43)
Count me among the multitude of observers who find this edition of the Blue Jays to be disappointing. There are plenty of reasons for that—José Berríos, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have been somewhat less good than expected. And so far, Toronto hasn’t dined out on opponents who have rosters depleted by Canada’s vaccine requirement for international travel. The Jays are tied for the ninth-best record in MLB and have the sixth-best home record. (Turns out that quite a few of baseball’s anti-vaxxers will get the jab when there’s a pennant race on the line, even if Whit Merrifield was the first to put it in those terms.)
But the Blue Jays aren’t doing that badly. They’re on an 89-win pace and sit in a playoff spot at the break. Toronto’s situation looks worse than it is because half the American League ate its spinach a couple weeks ago. Of the 13 teams currently in this slightly-above-average crab bucket situation, I have the most confidence in Toronto to hang onto a playoff spot until the end of the season.
9. San Diego Padres (52-42)
There’s a lot to like about the Padres’ first half, from Manny Machado’s MVP campaign to Joe Musgrove’s continued dominance to Jorge Alfaro’s new haircut. But the most important news is this: Fernando Tatis Jr. is swinging a bat. (If you want to skip around singing “Tatis is swinging a bat” to the tune of “The Prince Is Giving a Ball” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, I certainly won’t stop you.)
10. Philadelphia Phillies (49-43)
The Phillies look like a different team after firing Joe Girardi in early June and are all of a sudden in the thick of the NL wild-card race. They’ll need to find another gear if they want to chase down the Mets and Braves, but right now, survival is the name of the game. The Phillies need enough offense from the likes of Matt Vierling and Darick Hall to keep them above water until Bryce Harper and Jean Segura come back from the IL. And they have to hope that Kyle Schwarber doesn’t face a suspension for taking a dive during the heavily wagered-up Home Run Derby. (This is when I begin screaming, “The fix was in! This goes all the way to the top!” while being dragged away by MLB security.)
11. San Francisco Giants (48-43)
Gabe Kapler’s Cavalcade of Geriatric Millennials took a step back this year, but they’re still producing solid big league regulars as if from thin air. The cream of this year’s crop: Luis González, who was selected off waivers from the White Sox last August. Gonzalez has hit .282/.343/.414 in 56 games and already moved into second place all-time among Luis Gonzalezes in career bWAR. Catching the leader—the former Diamondbacks and Astros outfielder with more than 2,500 career hits—will take some doing. But this version is only 26, so he’s got time.
12. St. Louis Cardinals (50-44)
There’s a razor-thin margin between the Brewers and Cardinals—just half a game in the NL Central standings—and even though Jack Flaherty is nowhere near returning, I think the Cardinals are the better team. St. Louis has more than earned its reputation for scouting and player development; certainly the Cards wouldn’t be where they are without the contributions of Tommy Edman and Miles Mikolas. But there’s something to be said for just going out and getting a superstar when he’s available. If not for Nolan Arenado (.293/.359/.526) and Paul Goldschmidt (.330/.414/.590), this team would be in a race for third place, not first.
13. Milwaukee Brewers (50-43)
I’ve been a big fan of the Brewers’ team construction the past few years, but the way they’re currently built leaves little room for error. Without an offensive cornerstone like Arenado or Goldschmidt (or 2018 Christian Yelich), Milwaukee is left with a lineup made up of more or less average hitters (the team ranks just 12th in MLB in runs per game).
So in order to win, the Brewers have to pitch. Corbin Burnes, Eric Lauer, Devin Williams, and Hoby Milner—yes, that Hoby Milner—have been outstanding so far. But Freddy Peralta is on the IL, and Josh Hader, out of absolutely nowhere, has gone to pieces. Hader didn’t allow a run until June 7, but in his past six appearances, he’s allowed five home runs and 12 total runs in just 4 1/3 innings, for an ERA of 24.92. If that’s a blip, that’s a hell of a blip. Something more serious, like an injury or mechanical fault, could sink the Brewers entirely.
14. Boston Red Sox (48-45)
Poor Chris Sale. He managed to avoid injury during an impromptu mid-game remodeling of the Worcester Red Sox home clubhouse earlier this month, but less than an inning into his second MLB start, he took a batted ball off his left hand, leading to a broken bone and surgery that could keep him out up to two months. (Anyone who’s seen Bull Durham knows you’re supposed to punch a comebacker with your non-throwing hand.) Sale will have company on the IL, as Trevor Story is also recovering from a (less serious) hand injury. That sort of sums up the one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature of Boston’s season. Or maybe it’s one step forward, one step back, since the Red Sox are still over .500 and in the thick of the wild-card race.
The Red Sox need to take this season seriously, as Rafael Devers will be a free agent after 2023, and J.D. Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Christian Vázquez will be at the end of this year. Competing in the AL East isn’t as easy as flipping a switch, of course, but things won’t get any easier for the Red Sox if they miss the playoffs this year.
15. Minnesota Twins (50-44)
The least bad of the top three AL Central teams, the Twins are in dire need of a pitching upgrade at the deadline. Shout-out to Luis Arraez for joining the AL’s All-Star team despite having only five home runs in 348 plate appearances. I love a dinger as much as the next guy, but there’s an art to producing runs the hard way, and Arraez is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
16. Baltimore Orioles (46-46)
The Orioles are 46-46. Adley Rutschman has played 46 games, and when he’s in the lineup, the Orioles are 27-19, which is a 95-win pace. When he’s not, though, they’re 19-27, which is a 95-loss pace. So while the hot streak that brought Baltimore back to .500 is one of the stories of the season, I’m trying really hard not to dwell on the fact that the Orioles are still in last place at the break, and that they could’ve been within a game or two of a playoff spot if they’d started Rutschman on opening day. Trying and failing, clearly. Things haven’t been this good for the Orioles since 2016, and here I am killing the vibe.
17. Cleveland Guardians (46-44)
Turns out it is possible to strike Steven Kwan out, but Cleveland’s lineup has been surprisingly good on balance, thanks to Andrés Giménez
(.296/.357/.478), Josh Naylor (.274/.328/.507), and some short guy named José Ramírez. The playoffs are very much a possibility, given how unreliable the Twins and White Sox have looked this year. But with Myles Straw and Triston “Dr. Sticks” McKenzie on the roster, the Guardians had better hope they don’t face the Big Bad Wolf in the first round. They wouldn’t fare as well as the Yankees, who have Clay Holmes.
18. Chicago White Sox (46-46)
Oodles of talent, zero vibes, .500 record. The Sox seem like a prime candidate for a managerial change to shake up the clubhouse. Unfortunately, in order for that to happen, Jerry Reinsdorf, the most spiteful man in baseball, would need to admit he made a mistake.
Speaking of dyspeptic men, Liam Hendriks revealed during his All-Star media availability that he eats a Philly cheesesteak with hot sauce and fries before every home game. A cheesesteak with hot sauce. Before playing baseball. How has this man not died of the meat sweats yet?
19. Miami Marlins (43-48)
If you drew up a baseball player to pander to my personal biases, you’d end up with someone like Max Meyer: a short power right-hander with a big breaking ball who in a previous life was a two-way player and a hockey player. I’ve been foaming at the mouth to see him in the majors for years, and the Marlins finally obliged the Meyerheads last Saturday. His first outing went … OK.
Not that the Marlins are hard up for pitching: If the All-Star Game were anywhere but Dodger Stadium, there’s a good chance that Sandy Alcantara would’ve started for the NL, and Pablo López is a pretty good no. 2. The Marlins are just dangling off the back of the NL playoff race, with the Phillies, Cardinals, and Giants virtually tied for the last playoff spot and Miami five games behind San Francisco. But there’s something romantic about a Marlins team that’s loaded with exciting young pitchers and bound to finish fourth. It takes me back to the mid-2000s, the days of Dontrelle Willis and A.J. Burnett. Or the early 2010s, with Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. Great run prevention and a 79-83 record is this franchise’s identity.
20. Texas Rangers (41-49)
Here’s the section of the power rankings when we stop talking about the playoff race and start talking about the draft. The Rangers found themselves in an unusual position this week, with the no. 3 overall pick and then, thanks to their recent free-agent bonanza, bupkis until the fourth round. Texas spent that early pick on Kumar Rocker, who could’ve gone that high last year but slid to the Mets at 10. (New York found fault with his medicals and failed to sign him; Rocker played part of a season in indy ball and was expected to go in the late teens.)
It’s common for teams to reach for a player, sign him to an under-slot deal, and reallocate part of their bonus pool to a talented high schooler. This is famously what the Astros did in 2012, going under-slot with Carlos Correa, which allowed them to sign Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz. But you’ll also notice that this class from 10 years ago is still the go-to example of the strategy working, because it doesn’t work all that often. It’s hard enough to float a high school prospect 30 or 40 picks with the promise of a big bonus; who could the Rangers get to wait around for more than 100 picks?
The answer: Brock Porter, a right-handed high school pitcher and Clemson commit who both MLB.com and Baseball America rated as a top-15 pick in the draft. Not only did the Rangers parlay an awkward draft position into two huge power arms, they reunited Rocker with his Vanderbilt teammate Jack Leiter, whom they picked second overall last year. Maybe not the best draft class, but definitely the most fun.
21. Colorado Rockies (43-50)
Also participating in the NL West: the Colorado Rockies! Not good enough to challenge for a playoff spot, but not bad enough to tear the whole thing down. Same as it ever was.
22. Los Angeles Angels (39-53)
Shohei Ohtani has a 2.38 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 87 innings pitched, while simultaneously hitting .258/.348/.486 in 382 plate appearances. I think this might be the year the BBWAA starts coming up with creative reasons not to elect Ohtani MVP, because it’d be boring if he just wins every year.
Oh, and speaking of the draft: The Angels made an extremely on-brand pick in the third round. Not satisfied with chaining Ohtani and Mike Trout to a train that goes 74-88 every year, the Angels took University of Tennessee reliever Ben Joyce, who might be the hardest-throwing pitcher who ever lived. Joyce—nicknamed “the Volunteer Fireman”—hit 105.5 miles per hour in an outing against Auburn in May.
So whatever else, the Angels are still stocking up on players with unique talents.
23. Arizona Diamondbacks (40-52)
As much as I liked the Rangers’ draft, the Diamondbacks did even better. They spent the second overall pick on Druw Jones, a five-tool center fielder from outside of Atlanta. And if you saw that name in concert with “Atlanta” and “center fielder,” well, yes, Druw is in fact Andruw Jones’s son. (He went one pick after Matt Holliday’s son and 15 picks before Carl Crawford’s. And because the Nationals didn’t pick Georgia Tech pitcher Marquis Grissom Jr. until Day 3, Jones will end up being the highest-drafted son of a mid-’90s Braves center fielder in this class.)
In Balance Round A, Arizona snagged Mississippi State righty Landon Sims, who could easily have been a top-15 pick had he not torn his UCL this March. And in the second round, the Diamondbacks added more pop in the form of University of Texas first baseman Ivan Melendez, who had one of the best nicknames in the country (the Hispanic Titanic) and won the Golden Spikes Award as the most outstanding amateur player in the U.S.
This March, I feared that the Diamondbacks were en route for a brutal multiyear teardown. But between this draft class, the development of young players like Daulton Varsho and Josh Rojas, and a big league team that’s merely bad and not terrible, things are trending in the right direction.
24. Pittsburgh Pirates (39-54)
Basketball has gone through a revolution in the past 10 years as players have expanded the physical horizons of the sport. Think of Steph Curry chucking 10 3-pointers a game and Giannis Antetokounmpo taking guys off the dribble with his 9-foot-long arms; bigger players are getting more skilled, and all players are just more willing to try stuff and see if it works.
The Oneil Cruz–to-Giannis comparison is by no means novel, but it’s hard to express how jarring it is to be told your entire life that shortstops don’t get bigger than Cal Ripken Jr. and then see the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Cruz just blow up that paradigm.
Cruz isn’t the most fluid or mobile shortstop in the game, but he’s comfortable there. And it’s not like ballplayers are just getting bigger—players of all shapes and sizes are doing things that their bodies don’t look capable of doing. Just on Sunday, Pittsburgh spent the fourth overall pick on infielder Termarr Johnson, who despite his 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame, projects as an above-average power hitter. (He doesn’t lack confidence either; just after stepping off the stage, Johnson told Jeff Passan that he intended to keep playing shortstop, insinuating he’d move Cruz off the position.) It’s just fun to see unusual players become the norm.
25. Chicago Cubs (35-57)
What a weird team. The Cubs have six starting position players with an OPS+ of 110 or better, but two of their three weakest offensive positions (by OPS) are DH and first base. Their pitching hasn’t been awful (though Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks have disappointed, and Hendricks is currently battling shoulder problems). And yet they’re already more than 20 games under .500. There’s not not talent here, but after dumping the entire core at the deadline last year, it seems like the franchise is just killing time before a Willson Contreras trade finishes off the teardown.
26. Detroit Tigers (37-55)
Back in April, I singled out the Tigers as a potential playoff team and predicted that Spencer Torkelson would challenge Pete Alonso’s rookie home run record of 53. Well, the Tigers are currently 37-55 and in fourth place in a division in which two pitchers and a smile gets you over .500. And Torkelson is back in the minor leagues after hitting .197 and—much more concerningly—slugging just .295 (with five homers). Make enough predictions and you’re bound to miss from time to time. And sometimes you miss quite badly.
27. Kansas City Royals (36-56)
It could be worse. At least the Tigers didn’t have to leave 10—count ’em, 10—unvaccinated players home from a road trip to Toronto, forcing the team’s Twitter account to scramble to cover for and/or subtweet a third of the roster. Things got more uncomfortable when veteran infielder Nicky Lopez called the Royals’ 3-1 victory in Toronto an “unselfish win,” then had to explain to reporters the next day that he wasn’t taking a dig at his unvaccinated teammates.
28. Cincinnati Reds (34-57)
If you take out April and June, the Reds would actually be a game over .500 right now. But unfortunately, nobody except the Pope and the National Convention of the French First Republic gets to rewrite the calendar like that. Perhaps the Reds will have better luck in Thermidor. Now Cincinnati is in a particularly ungratifying position in which it’s hard to take joy from a player performing well, because all that performance does is increase said player’s trade value. The Reds are like a dying wildebeest, and about 15 other clubs are hovering around like vultures, waiting for Luis Castillo or Brandon Drury to shake loose.
29. Oakland Athletics (32-61)
Oakland’s sole All-Star is right-handed pitcher Paul Blackburn, a 28-year-old who has bounced up and down from the minor leagues for parts of five seasons before sticking this year, in part because the A’s got rid of Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt and needed someone to eat innings. Blackburn has a 102 ERA+ this season, and when it came time to send him to the All-Star Game, he caught a ride on the Astros’ charter flight because Oakland booked him to fly commercial—presumably not for anti-Kylie Jenner-related reasons. You’d think the A’s would want to run away from the image of players in Moneyball having to pay to drink out of the clubhouse soda machine, but once again, the franchise identity is strong.
30. Washington Nationals (31-63)
We could be here all day hashing out the particulars of the Juan Soto situation, but generally speaking, what we’re witnessing is not a new phenomenon. The Nationals are like a handful of other MLB teams that competed for decades under the ownership of someone who bought the team for tens or low hundreds of millions of dollars and watched it grow into a billion-dollar enterprise. Those owners all had their idiosyncrasies, but for the most part, they were interested in winning. Their children, not so much.
Ted Lerner oversaw Washington’s transition into a contender in the 2010s, and at age 96 no longer has anything to do with the day-to-day operation of the franchise. To new CEO Mark Lerner, the Nats appear to be just another line on a ledger. And just like the Guardians, Tigers, Orioles, and even the Yankees to a certain extent, the Nationals are undergoing a metamorphosis. It’s regrettable that Soto will be a casualty—but this was not unforeseeable.