Nearly every team has surpassed the 60 games that were played in 2020. The contenders (and pretenders) are starting to reveal themselves.
These past seven days felt like something of a milestone week for the 2021 season. Not only did nearly every team (sorry, Mets) pass the 60-game threshold from last year’s truncated season, but we got to see stadiums throughout the league welcome large crowds. Per The Athletic’s tracker, 13 of 30 teams are now allowing full-capacity stadiums, with four more—the Dodgers, Cardinals, Padres and Angels—set to do the same this week.
As a result, we’ll have moments like this routinely over the next four months:
This week was also pretty rough on the bottom-dwelling teams in our power rankings, as teams in full-scale tank mode have settled into their ways. Up top, a trio of American League clubs is beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Now let’s jump right into things with a look at where things stand through Week 11.
30. Arizona Diamondbacks (Last Week: 30)
Since taking three of four from the Rockies between April 29 and May 2, the D-Backs have lost 11 of 12 series, with a split four-gamer against Miami last month providing the only respite. Don’t blame Eduardo Escobar, who’s rebounded nicely in the final season of his three-year, $21 million contract after a putrid 2020. He ranks fourth in the National League in home runs (15) and RBIs (43).
29. Baltimore Orioles (LW: 29)
The Orioles have the worst record in the American League, yet they also possess something every contender wants: a bevy of lockdown relief pitchers. Baltimore’s bullpen ranks ninth in fWAR and features a trio of strikeout artists in Paul Fry, Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser. Fry stands out above the rest with a .191 expected batting average; he’s also yet to allow a home run in 23.1 innings this season. A lockdown bullpen is not of much use to a team in the midst of a full-scale rebuild, so expect plenty of interest from contending teams as we draw closer to the trade deadline.
28. Pittsburgh Pirates (LW: 28)
The Pirates at least kept things close while getting swept last week by the Dodgers and Brewers, losing none of the six games by more than three runs. This week will be remembered by Buccos fans for Ke’Bryan Hayes’s Little League blunder, though—and that wasn’t even Pittsburgh’s ugliest play of the week.
27. Colorado Rockies (LW: 25)
Austin Gomber was the winning pitcher in Colorado’s only victory last week. He’s recorded a sparkling 1.58 ERA over his last six starts, and has walked just three batters during that span after handing out 19 free passes in his first five outings. Even more promisingly, the 27-year-old lefty has a 1.33 ERA in four starts at Coors Field against the Dodgers, Astros, Padres and Rangers.
26. Texas Rangers (LW: 27)
The Rangers have lost 23 of their last 30 games, settling comfortably into the basement of the AL West. With an eye to the future, the team has seen some encouraging results from Kolby Allard since his move to the rotation. In three starts, the former first-round pick has a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings, holding opposing hitters to a .200 batting average. He and Dane Dunning represent the future of the rotation, and each continues to show promise.
25. Detroit Tigers (LW: 26)
Here is where we could try to break down the week that was for the Tigers, who lost four out of six and have now dropped 13 of their last 21 games. Or, we could point you to this tidbit from Detroit’s 15–2 loss to the White Sox:
In a bit of brighter news, 24-year-old Tarik Skubal continues to progress in his second season. The lefthander is 3–1 with a 2.67 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 27 innings over his last five starts. Perhaps most importantly, he’s allowed just three home runs during that span after giving up 11 in his first 33 innings this season.
24. Minnesota Twins (LW: 24)
Seven years after being taken with the No. 5 pick in the 2014 draft, Nick Gordon has finally arrived on the big stage, and he’s hit the ground running. He’s hit .344/.364/.438 through his first 12 games while going a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts. After a rough go at the plate in May, third baseman Josh Donaldson has picked things up to start June. In 11 games, he’s batting .275/.383/.675 with five home runs after hitting just three home runs in May.
23. Seattle Mariners (LW: 22)
Through his first 10 games this season, Jake Fraley could do basically only one thing well: get on base. In 40 plate appearances, he put up a truly comical .167/.500/.375 slash line with 15 walks. Since then, his bat has come alive while his plate discipline remains strong. He’s now batting .245/.464/.531 on the season and has proven plenty capable with his glove as well.
22. Washington Nationals (LW: 21)
Manager Davey Martinez shifted Kyle Schwarber to the leadoff spot Sunday and it paid immediate dividends in the form of two Schwarbombs against the Giants. At the end of Schwarber’s press conference following the game, he said, “Remember, this is a good team—stay with us.” Was that a message to the front office? It likely won’t do anything to quiet trade speculation around Max Scherzer, but nabbing its first winning streak of five-plus games would. Scherzer, by the way, was seen playing catch this weekend and appears to have avoided a major injury scare after leaving Friday’s start early.
21. Kansas City Royals (LW: 17)
The Royals have lost eight of their last nine games and are the biggest fallers in this week’s rankings. The offense has gone cold, with Kansas City scoring three runs or fewer seven times during that span. One hitter that’s finding his groove though is Andrew Benintendi. The 26-year-old scuffled in April but has hit .317/.358/.496 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs in 38 games since May 1.
20. Miami Marlins (LW: 20)
In an era of many, many whiffs, Jesús Aguilar is the only hitter to decrease his strikeout rate (16.3%) in each of the last four seasons. The National League leader in RBIs is on a nine-game hitting streak during which he’s 14-for-34 (.412) with nine RBIs and just five strikeouts.
19. Los Angeles Angels (LW: 23)
Who needs Mike Trout, anyway? The Angels are 15–10 since Trout was placed on the injured list with a calf strain, and are tied for the biggest rise of this week’s rankings following a six-game winning streak. A big reason the Halos have thrived in Trout’s absence (aside from a fairly lax schedule) is left fielder Justin Upton catching fire. He hit out of the leadoff spot May 23 for the first time in his career, and in the 18 games since is batting .333/.474/.682 with six homers.
18. St. Louis Cardinals (LW: 15)
Paul DeJong returned from his fractured rib Friday and homered against the Cubs on Saturday after a monthlong absence, which could help spark a Cardinals offense that’s averaged 3.5 runs per game in June. DeJong wasn’t exactly lighting it up before his injury, but his primary replacements (Jose Rendon and Edmundo Sosa) went just 12-for-60 (.200) with one homer and three RBIs in his stead.
17. Atlanta Braves (LW: 16)
The Braves are one of just three teams, along with the Marlins and Rangers, to not scrape above .500 at any point this year. They’ve blown six chances to do so, including last Wednesday’s stunning walk-off loss to Luke Williams and the Phillies. After deflating series defeats to division rivals Philadelphia and Miami last week, Atlanta’s playoff odds stand at 14.1%, per Fangraphs.
16. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 19)
Nick Castellanos may be swinging himself out of Cincinnati. The slugger’s four-year, $64 million contract signed before the 2020 season has an opt-out after this year that he’ll certainly exercise if he continues to lead the majors in batting average (.361, with a .424 average over the last 30 days).
15. New York Yankees (LW: 12)
The Yankees’ woes continue with another subpar week. New York is 5–13 in its last 18 games, as Yankees starters have a 5.59 ERA over that span. However, the rotation is not the only cause for concern. Despite not allowing an earned run and striking out 36 of 65 hitters faced with an opponents’ batting average of .089 through his first 18 games, closer Aroldis Chapman has given up three home runs with just seven strikeouts and four walks in his last 27 batters faced. Opposing hitters have performed like early-2000s Barry Bonds in that time, posting a .318/.423/.773 slash line.
14. Philadelphia Phillies (LW: 18)
Jacob deGrom is the obvious NL Cy Young favorite, but in another year, former teammate Zack Wheeler may be seen as the top contender. Philadelphia’s workhorse leads the NL with 90.1 innings pitched (32 more than deGrom) and strikeouts (112) and is only behind deGrom in fWAR (3.2). Brandon Woodruff or Kevin Gausman may finish higher if voters decided today, but Wheeler has a damn good case and hasn’t been helped by the Phillies’ lackluster defense.
13. Cleveland (LW: 14)
Cleveland has had a difficult time finding a groove lately, going 13–14 since May 13 and never winning more than two games in a row in that span. The primary reason has been a thin rotation. Only Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale have managed to consistently pitch deep into games, taxing a bullpen that’s faltered a bit as of late. Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill and Jean Carlos Mejía will need to start racking up more innings in order for Cleveland to have a chance at keeping pace in the AL Central.
12. New York Mets (LW: 10)
Watch out; the Mets are finally starting to hit. Luis Rojas’s men have averaged 4.7 runs per game, led by a (finally) hot Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso (fresh off airing his controversial conspiracy theory) and new acquisition Billy McKinney, who has a team-best 1.106 OPS since coming over from Milwaukee.
11. Milwaukee Brewers (LW: 13)
Milwaukee hasn’t lost a series in almost a month and finally seems to be finding its groove on offense, having scored 5.6 runs per game in June. Before Brewers fans get too excited, though, it’s worth noting those games have come against Detroit, Arizona, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, so some of that is likely due to facing lesser pitching staffs.
10. Toronto Blue Jays (LW: 9)
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s assault on AL pitching showed no signs of slowing down this week. He’s homered in three straight games and leads the league in nearly every major category. Guerrero’s 204 wRC+ is easily the best in the AL, and the gap between him and the second-highest mark (Matt Olson, 169) is as big as the gap between Olson and the No. 19 hitter (Yoán Moncada, 134). In a tough division, Toronto will need better production from its pitching staff. Hyun Jin Ryu, Steven Matz and Robbie Ray are the only starters who have been remotely consistent, and the group ranks 26th in combined fWAR (2.1).
9. Chicago Cubs (LW: 11)
Kyle Hendricks has reverted to his normal self after an ugly, worrisome April. He’s earned the win in his last six starts, the longest streak in the majors, and sports a 3.12 ERA in eight starts since the beginning of May.
8. Boston Red Sox (LW: 6)
After a surprisingly hot start to the season, Boston’s rotation is starting to show some cracks. The group has put up a 6.52 ERA over the last two weeks, though the Sox have managed to go 7–7 during that stretch. Boston has been fortunate healthwise, with all but two games started by the team’s top-five starting pitchers. This is a contender that could definitely use rotation reinforcements by the trade deadline, beyond whatever Chris Sale is able to contribute when he makes his return.
7. Oakland A’s (LW: 8)
The A’s rolled through a soft part of their schedule, going 9–3 against the Mariners, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Royals. In his last 162 games, first baseman Matt Olson has been one of the best hitters in baseball, batting .257/.353/.540 with 45 home runs and 128 RBIs. He has five homers and 14 RBIs this month, with a 1.389 OPS. On the mound, lefthander Sean Manaea has a 1.38 ERA in 32.2 innings over his last five starts, allowing just four extra base hits to 129 batters.
6. San Diego Padres (LW: 5)
The Padres’ offense has really struggled lately, averaging just 2.8 runs per game in June. Sunday’s win over the Mets may be what Slam Diego needs to get on track, though; Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a go-ahead grand slam, his NL-leading 19th home run of the season, to key the 7–3 win. Also of note: Tommy Pham has been a much-needed sparkplug after a slow start. His .966 OPS over the last month has been topped by only Tatis among Padres, and his eight stolen bases over that span are the most in the majors.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers (LW: 7)
Max Muncy (oblique) and Cody Bellinger (hamstring tightness) left Friday’s victory over Texas, and Muncy was placed on the injured list the next day. It’s certainly not ideal, but team officials are optimistic his absence won’t stretch as long as the six weeks Zach McKinstry missed this season with the same injury. Some time off may help Bellinger, who hadn’t hit the ground running in his return from the hairline fracture in his fibula. He slashed .233/.340/.302 with one homer and 14 strikeouts in those 12 games.
4. San Francisco Giants (LW: 3)
The Giants somehow earned a weekend split in Washington despite scoring just three runs in four games. Mike Tauchman hasn’t hit much since joining San Francisco, registering a .592 OPS in 40 games. But after coming up with his second home run robbery in as many weeks on Friday, we doubt Giants fans are complaining too much.
3. Houston Astros (LW: 4)
The Astros are 10–4 in their last 14 games as their offense has caught fire. Houston has averaged 6.6 runs per game in that stretch, getting production throughout the entire lineup. The rotation has also received a boost with the return of lefthander Framber Valdez. In four starts, Valdéz is 3–0 with a 1.42 ERA, striking out 24 batters in 25.1 innings.
2. Chicago White Sox (LW: 2)
For as much praise as the White Sox rotation gets, the bullpen has performed perhaps even better. Chicago’s relief pitchers lead the majors in combined fWAR (3.2) and FIP (3.37) while ranking seventh in ERA (3.58). The group’s K-BB% of 20% is also tops in the league. Yasmani Grandal still owns the quirkiest slash line of all, yet his bat has been locked in to start June. He’s hitting .250/.447/.679 in nine games this month, with four home runs in 38 plate appearances. The White Sox will face their toughest test this week with seven games against the Rays and Astros.
1. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 1)
The Rays beat the Orioles, 7–1, on Sunday, completing their seventh sweep of the season. Once again, Tampa Bay boasts enviable depth in all parts of its roster. It’s a team that thrives with the collective, making it difficult to single out top performers. But we’ll highlight Collin McHugh as being emblematic of the organization’s larger strategy. Signed for just $1.8 million this winter after sitting out the 2020 season, the 33-year-old McHugh has a 2.70 ERA in 23.1 innings this season, ranking in the 90th percentile or better in hard hit rate (30.2%), strikeout rate (37.1%) and xwOBA (.255). The Rays always find advantages on the margins, and McHugh is just one of the latest examples. A three-game road series this week against the White Sox is appointment TV.
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