How much can really change in one week of a 162-game MLB season?
Exactly one week since the excitement of Opening Day had fans of, well, almost every MLB team thinking positive thoughts about the possibilities to come in 2021, our first regular-season rankings of the young season offer something of a reality check for some and reason for hope that this could be the year for others.
Is your favorite team off to a fast start that might — or might not — last, or are you rooting for your squad to pick it up after faltering out of the gate?
Either way, our eight-voter panel has combined for an initial order 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, Joon Lee, Jesse Rogers and Alden Gonzalez to weigh in with one early observation for all 30 teams.
Previous ranking: 1
Corey Seager remains red hot, and Mookie Betts, Max Muncy, Justin Turner and Will Smith are already swinging it well. But the big difference so far has been Gavin Lux, who looks a lot more comfortable both defensively and offensively. He’s 23, profiles as a star, and he might theoretically end up becoming just as big of an addition as Trevor Bauer. — Alden Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 2
The pitching staff entered the season as a bigger question mark than the offense, but the bullpen especially showed up in the opening series with the Blue Jays. The Bronx Bombers’ pen allowed just one run in 15⅔ innings against Toronto. — Joon Lee
Previous ranking: 3
Padres fans were able to exhale late Tuesday, when general manager A.J. Preller reported that his star shortstop, Fernando Tatis Jr., received relatively positive MRI results on his tender left shoulder and is hopeful of returning to the lineup soon after his IL stint is up. But that shoulder, which has intermittently popped in and out of place for the entirety of Tatis’ professional career, will be worth monitoring throughout the summer. Another subluxation could lead to surgery, prompting extended playing time for Ha-seong Kim, who has struggled to adapt to major league velocity so far in his debut season. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 6
So far, so good: The Twins have averaged more than six runs per game. The best thing about it is that through Tuesday, only 39% of their runs had come via the long ball, down from 49% last season and 51% the season before. With Byron Buxton breaking out and contact hitters Luis Arraez, Willians Astudillo and Andrelton Simmons all off to fast starts, this is a more balanced Twins attack. Oh, and Nelson Cruz just doesn’t age. This should not be possible, but his bat looks as quick as ever. Upper 90s, up in the zone? No problem. Cruz has a 3.500 OPS on those so far. He’s almost 41 years old! — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 9
The Astros’ lineup goes seven deep with elite hitters and has been rolling so far, though we have to sort out how much of that has been because of Houston and how much of it has been the absolute stupor the stumbling Oakland A’s have been in to start the season. Dusty Baker has really spread out the work with his pitching staff thus far, while letting Zack Greinke work deep and give most of the bullpen a respite on his start day. It’s been a great opening road trip for the Astros against two division opponents whose fans seemed thrilled to welcome them to town. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 5
In typical Mets fashion, they blew another Jacob deGrom lead in their first game and the bullpen was also shaky in their second game, so Mets fans are already thinking dark thoughts. DeGrom was terrific, however, and came out throwing 24 consecutive fastballs. The Mets have now recorded 30 blown saves in deGrom’s career (tied for the most among starting pitchers since he joined the league). Here’s another angle: DeGrom has a 2.24 career ERA in his 63 no-decisions. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 4
They scored just eight runs in losing their first four games as the offense — second best in the majors last season behind the Dodgers at 5.80 runs per game — got off to a slow start before breaking out against the Nats on Wednesday. The Atlanta offense was an obvious regression candidate given the big seasons from Marcell Ozuna (1.067 OPS) and Travis d’Arnaud (.919 OPS) in 2020, and even Freddie Freeman will be hard-pressed to match his 2020 numbers. — David Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 8
Tyler Glasnow has looked every bit like an ace at the top of the rotation in his first two starts (15Ks in 12 innings and a 0.75 ERA). With the losses of Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, the question of whether or not this team can repeat its American League pennant run likely will center on the success of the back end of its rotation. — Lee
Previous ranking: 10
The Blue Jays are this year’s version of the 2020 White Sox, a young team with an immense amount of potential that could surprise some folks by making a strong run at the playoffs. Taking two of three games against the Yankees during the first series of the season certainly set a strong tone. — Lee
Previous ranking: 15
Shohei Ohtani looks like he might finally become a breakout two-way player this season, and that could change everything for the Angels. They possess a solid lineup and a sound defense, a collection of starters who can absorb innings and an intriguing bullpen, given the emergence of 22-year-old right-hander Chris Rodriguez. If Ohtani can remain healthy enough to provide, say, 140 innings as a starter and 450 plate appearances in front of Mike Trout, the Angels might just have a shot at this division. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 16
The best early sign: The bullpen has been solid, other than one awful outing from Vince Velasquez. The pen was historically awful in 2020 (7.06 ERA), so there’s nowhere to go but up, but Dave Dombrowski did add some power arms. If they throw strikes, it could be a solid group. Zack Wheeler was dominant in his debut with seven one-hit innings, and it’s not an overreaction to suggest he’s a sleeper Cy Young candidate. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 7
Starting out on a Western swing, the White Sox are holding their own despite some late-inning issues from the bullpen and a few too many defensive lapses. The avatar for the week probably is Luis Robert, who thrilled with both the long ball and some mad dashes on the bases, but also misplayed a pop fly that ended up plunking him on the noggin. The best news has been the early performance of Zack Collins. If Collins has a breakout season, he can go a long way toward filling the production void opened up by Eloy Jimenez‘s injury. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 14
The Cardinals haven’t done anything to distinguish themselves in the early going. They’ve been average at the plate and average on the mound, but there are some individual signs that bode well. Dylan Carlson has displayed some early power, while newcomer Nolan Arenado had eight hits in his first 20 at-bats. Both players could benefit from fast starts as each tries to establish an identity with the Cardinals. Finally, getting Carlos Martinez going would be huge for St. Louis, but after just an OK spring, he had a rough first start to the season. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 17
The Cubs can pitch, but the offense is spotty once again. The newcomers have been impressive on the mound with Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies and Trevor Williams leading the team to its first three wins. One major bright spot is closer Craig Kimbrel, who has been fantastic so far. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 11
The Nats are going to rely on organizational depth the first week here, as the COVID-19 outbreak led to 10 players being put on the IL, including starters Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester, new sluggers Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, and closer Brad Hand. Also of concern: Max Scherzer allowed four home runs in his opener, the third time he has allowed four home runs in a game — but the first since 2011. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 13
Milwaukee has plenty of pitching but an up-and-down offense. Having said that, Devin Williams had a surprisingly rough first outing out of the bullpen. The Brewers will need him and every good arm they can find, because their team OPS is at the bottom of the majors so far. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 18
Cleveland has the look of a club that is going to struggle scoring runs all season. We kind of knew that and figured that any chance at contention hinged on fielding an elite pitching staff. While the overall run prevention has been fine so far, an MLB-worst walk rate has undermined the efforts for a team that doesn’t have much of a margin for error. Terry Francona had better hope the free passes are just a byproduct of chilly early weather. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 12
The A’s have so many questions that will factor into whether they can legitimately contend for a playoff spot. Can Elvis Andrus adequately replace Marcus Semien? Will they find a pitcher to be a consistent ace at the top of the rotation? Maybe the biggest will be whether both Matt Olson and Matt Chapman can have bounce-back seasons after down years in 2020. — Lee
Tyler Naquin, Nick Castellanos, Tyler Stephenson and Aristides Aquino all hit solo home runs in the Reds’ win over the Pirates.
Previous ranking: 20
The Reds might be the biggest early surprise in all of baseball. They looked awful in spring training, but their offense has come alive this month. It’s a year later than many predicted, as they’re being led by a couple of newer players in right fielder Nick Castellanos (second year with the team) and left fielder Tyler Naquin (first year). Naquin has already reached his 2020 home run total, hitting four in the team’s first six games. The Reds might not have staying power on the mound, but right now they are the cream of the NL Central. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 22
Kansas City’s hitters and relievers have carried the team to a fast start. Whit Merrifield looks better than ever at the plate while retaining the kind of versatility that allowed him to make a late-spring switch from the outfield back to the bullpen. Michael A. Taylor has starred on both sides of the ball during his first few games with the Royals. Kansas City’s rotation hasn’t kept up, but after Danny Duffy put up a gem in Cleveland on Monday, maybe that group is ready to join the party. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 19
The opening-series sweep by the Orioles sent mild panic through the Boston fan base, with the team looking a lot like it did during its dreadful 2020 campaign, hitting .160 and scoring just five runs in the three losses. The team will need a lot of dominoes to fall its way if it hopes to make a serious dent within the playoff picture this season. — Lee
Previous ranking: 21
Sandy Alcantara looks great out of the gate, with just three runs (two earned), six hits and 17 strikeouts in 12 innings. Alcantara’s swing-and-miss rate of 36.6% is way above his career average of 24.3%. It could be an early sign that he’s taking his game to the next level. Unfortunately, he’s 0-1, as he got a no-decision in a 1-0 loss on Opening Day. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 23
Evan Longoria homered three times and had an OPS of 1.345 through the first four games, which was, at least, fun. This is a weird roster, composed of veterans far enough removed from varying degrees of stardom — Longoria, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Johnny Cueto — and not at all the type that you would picture as part of a rebuild. You won’t find a lot of hope for the future with this group, but it could produce the occasional reminders of prior awesomeness, which might be satisfying in a different way. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 25
Just 24 pitches into his return to Seattle, James Paxton left with elbow discomfort, a huge blow if he misses much time. The Mariners were counting on Paxton for two reasons: (1) If they were to be surprise contenders, he would need to have a healthy, big season; (2) Even if they are out of the race at the trade deadline, if Paxton were pitching well, he could bring something back in a trade. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 24
The bad news: Nick Ahmed, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner at shortstop, is on the IL with a balky knee. The fun news: Geraldo Perdomo, a 21-year-old who’s listed as the 31st-best prospect by ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, is up. It’s a surprisingly early call-up, an indication of the D-backs’ lack of depth at shortstop. Perdomo will take his lumps, but he’s a disciplined hitter for his age. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 29
John Means looked sharp during his Opening Day start against Boston, allowing just one hit and no walks in seven innings, keeping Boston’s lineup off balance by playing off a nasty changeup. Cedric Mullins also provided a bright spot, hitting .588/.611/.765 during his first 18 plate appearances. — Lee
Previous ranking: 27
Not saying this has anything to do with Akil Baddoo, but the only players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season are Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki. Jim Brown did it in the NFL, while Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld did it in the NBA. Again, I’m not saying that any of that has anything to do with Akil Baddoo (pronounced ah-KEEL bah-DOO; you should remember that), even though everything he has done has been spectacular and he’s already a cult hero in Detroit. These are just random facts that I’m spouting. Baddoo has been the best player on the Tigers, who have overachieved a bit despite some ugly early pitching metrics. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 26
Texas doesn’t have much going on the mound, as evidenced by the whopping 38 runs given up in the first five games of the season. The Rangers have been slightly better at the plate, but they’re not good enough to outslug teams — which is exactly what they’ll need to do to win games. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 28
The Rockies’ faint hopes of competing in a top-heavy NL West without Nolan Arenado rested on the promise of a solid starting rotation. Then Kyle Freeland strained his left shoulder before the season opener, and German Marquez lasted only four innings in his debut, and Austin Gomber — an important part of the Arenado deal — issued seven walks in three innings. They were facing the Dodgers, but still. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 30
With Ke’Bryan Hayes in the lineup, Pittsburgh could play spoiler at times. But after their top young hitter went down with a hand injury, the Pirates look that much worse. On the mound, only two teams had a higher ERA through their first five games of the season. The rebuild is going to take some time. — Rogers
Tampa Bay Rays deal reliever Hunter Strickland to Los Angeles Angels
Strickland, 32, has appeared in 13 games for the Rays this season, registering a 1.69 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 16 innings pitched.
He made the Rays roster in spring training as a non-roster invitee.
The eight-year veteran has a 16-16 career record with 21 saves and a 3.14 ERA and 249 strikeouts. He also has pitched for the Giants, Mariners, Nationals and Mets during his career.
Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ ‘good’ after being activated from IL
“They’re good,” Happ said Saturday morning. “I feel great. It’s not like anything I’ve ever had before. Working out the last three to four days, being able to throw, hit, run and do everything it takes to play in a major league baseball game.”
Happ, 26, was injured in a collision with second baseman Nico Hoerner as both players converged on a pop up in the outfield earlier this month. Hoerner also spent time on the injured list with a forearm injury. He was activated on Friday.
Los Angeles Dodgers’ AJ Pollock (hamstring) likely headed to IL, Dave Roberts says
Pollock was making his first start since straining his left hamstring last week in a 9-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
In the second inning Friday, Pollock singled in the game’s first run but aggravated his hamstring injury when he took third base on Austin Barnes‘ RBI double. Pollock was removed for a pinch-runner.
“He felt it grab, so kind of right now, with where we’re at, I assume it’s gonna be an IL and we’ll probably have a move tomorrow,” Roberts said.
Pollock is batting .277 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 32 games.
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