I’m back. For the last few weeks, I’ve been away on vacation and actually going to baseball games and new ballparks. I saw Nolan Arenado return to Coors Field as a Cardinal, Clayton Kershaw start against the Nationals (before a long rain delay that led to this), a tour of Fenway Park, the White Sox dominate at Camden Yards, the Home Run Derby, and the All-Star Game. It’s been a busy few weeks with plenty of baseball for me, and now with the All-Star Game in the rearview mirror, the second half of the 2021 season is about to start.
The division and wild card races in both leagues are going to heat up as the calendar flips to August and September, as well as the awards race. If I were to pick the winners for the major awards, I would tab Shohei Ohtani and Jacob deGrom as the AL and NL MVPs, Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom for the AL and NL Cy Young Awards, Adolis García and Trevor Rogers for the AL and NL Rookie of the Year, and Alex Cora and Gabe Kapler as the AL and NL Manager of the Year. This week’s power rankings will focus on what has gone right for the clubs featured, and who their most valuable player has been for the first half of the season. With all that said, let’s get into the rankings!
March to World Series Glory: The five teams that have the best chance at lifting what Rob Manfred lovingly calls a “hunk of metal” at the end of the season (1. SFG, 2. CHW & HOU, 4. LAD, 5. TBR)
1. San Francisco Giants (58-34, +118 run differential, Last Time: 2)
Barring a major collapse, the Giants will likely win 90 games, with manager Gabe Kapler maximizing the offensive talent on the roster with his matchup-based lineups and have a 99.4% chance to make the postseason per Baseball-Reference. While many players have had resurgent seasons (Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Evan Longoria), the MVP for the Giants so far this year has been Kevin Gausman, with an ERA of 1.73 (second among qualified starters), FIP of 2.56 (fifth among qualified starters), and a strikeout rate of 30.5% (tenth among qualified starters). Not only has Gausman been the best pitcher for the Giants, but he has also had a Cy Young caliber season and has helped the Giants to the number one record in baseball.
2. Chicago White Sox (56-36, +124, Last Time: Not Ranked) & Houston Astros (56-38, +129, Last Time: 1)
Despite the number of injuries that the White Sox have faced (Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, Yasmani Grandal), they have been one of the top teams in the American League. Throughout the season, the Sox have been able to get contributions from all over the roster, ranging from stars José Abreu, Tim Anderson, and Yoan Moncada, to journeymen like Brian Goodwin and Jake Lamb, to rookies like Jake Burger, Yermin Mercedes, and Gavin Sheets. The most impressive part of the roster has been the pitching staff, bolstered by offseason acquisitions Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon. So far this season, Rodon and Lynn have combined to be two of the top pitchers in the American League, with both pitchers in the top 15 in ERA, FIP, and fWAR, which makes them co-MVPs for the White Sox so far this season.
Houston has come back with a vengeance, bouncing back from a down 2020 regular season to be atop the standings of the AL West once again, despite star third baseman Alex Bregman missing over 30 games already this season. The driving factor in Houston’s resurgence has been shortstop and 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa. This season, Correa has sported a slash line of .281/.378/.498, good for an OPS of 0.876 and an adjusted OPS of 140 (40% above league average). Among qualified shortstops, Correa ranks in the top five in wRC+, wOBA, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and OPS.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (58-36, +154, Last Time: 4)
While the Dodgers have the second-best record in baseball, they are still looking up at the San Francisco Giants, with many players either struggling or missing time like Cody Bellinger, Gavin Lux, Corey Seager, Mookie Betts, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Zach McKinstry, AJ Pollock, Trevor Bauer (for reasons best not mentioned here), and now Clayton Kershaw. Their best player has been Max Muncy, who has bounced back from a down 2020 season. This year, Muncy is fourth among qualified hitters in wRC+ at 170, and is walking nearly 18% of the time (17.9%), while striking out 17.6% of the time, and is in the 86th percentile for Outs Above Average.
5. Tampa Bay Rays (55-38, +79, Last Time: NR)
Normally, the Rays are a team that is better than the sum of their parts, for the first two months, that was not the case. The best player for Tampa Bay this season started out as Tyler Glasnow, but he is currently on the 60-day IL due to a partial UCL tear. After his tear, the best player on Tampa Bay became the utility man Joey Wendle. The 2021 All-Star is currently sporting the highest wRC+, slugging percentage, and ISO he has had during his Tampa Bay tenure, and continues to be a fixture in a Rays lineup that is in the middle of the pack offensively.
The Race to the Bottom: The five teams that have the best chance at drafting Elijah Green, the best prospect since Bryce Harper came out of the College of Southern Nevada (30. BAL, 28. ARI & KC, 27. TEX, 26. PIT)
26. Pittsburgh Pirates (36-57, -118, Last Time: 28)
The Pittsburgh Pirates have not had the most successful season this year, yet have seen massive progress from some of their younger players. In the All-Star Game, the Pirates not only had multiple representatives, but multiple players starting with Bryan Reynolds in center field (replacing the injured Ronald Acuña Jr.) and Adam Frazier at second base. This season, Frazier has 27 doubles, trailing only Nick Castellanos, and has an adjusted OPS of 134. Meanwhile, Reynolds has slashed .302/.391/.525 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs, giving Pittsburgh two potential pieces for their future lineup or good trade bait.
27. Texas Rangers (35-58, -82, Last Time: 27)
The Rangers this season have also not had the most successful season this year, as they are currently at the bottom of a stacked AL West division right now. However, like the Pirates, the Rangers had multiple All-Stars this season with outfielders Joey Gallo and Adolis García and starting pitcher Kyle Gibson traveling to Denver for the Midsummer Classic. Gibson has especially had a great season on the mound for the Rangers, as he has the lowest walk-rate, ERA, FIP, and barrel percentage. With a year left of control (and two postseason runs), Gibson should be able to net the Rangers a decent return at the trade deadline.
28. Arizona Diamondbacks (27-68, -154, Last Time: 30) & Kansas City Royals (37-55, -101, Last Time: 26)
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been the most disappointing team in the majors this season. While they were not expected to be a playoff team, Arizona was expected to be competitive in the top-heavy NL West. Instead, the bottom fell out and they lost a record 24 consecutive road games and a franchise-record 17 straight games. As a result, the Diamondbacks only had one All-Star who was primarily in Colorado because Arizona needed a representative in Eduardo Escobar. While Ketel Marte has had great numbers, he has only played in 37 games, making Escobar the de facto MVP. However, Escobar has at best been an above-average bat who would come off the bench of a contender, should Arizona trade the upcoming free agent.
Kansas City was a sleeper team to maybe make some noise with their busy offseason, acquiring former All-Stars such as Mike Minor and Carlos Santana, and the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up in Andrew Benintendi and was even in first place in the AL Central with the best record in baseball at 16-9 on May 1. Since then, the Royals have gone 21-46 since then (which over a 162 season is on pace for 51 wins) and have dropped in the standings. However, their star catcher Salvador Perez has continued his renaissance and would start the All-Star Game for the American League, slashing .281/.307/.503 and a 116 wRC+, along with participating in the Home Run Derby.
30. Baltimore Orioles (30-62, -136, Last Time: 29)
The Orioles are bad and have had to deal with plenty of losing (especially on the road after John Mean’s no-hitter in Seattle). However, a pleasant surprise has been the return of Trey Mancini after a battle with stage 3 colon cancer. Mancini has returned to playing baseball and is posting a 116 wRC+ after missing a year, along with a slash line of .255/.329/.459, and was the runner-up in the Home Run Derby. The MVP for the Orioles, though, has been Cedric Mullins, who has broken out this season with a slash line of .318/.384/.546, 16 home runs, and a wRC+ of 154, and started in the All-Star Game to replace Mike Trout.
I have developed a primitive ranking system via Google Sheets using a team’s record, record from their last 10 games, and run differential. It’s not necessarily bad to not see your favorite team here every week, it just means that they are closer to an average team instead of a great one or a terrible one. Also, I don’t play favorites and I don’t hate your team (at least I don’t hate them enough to rank them lower). These rankings are derived straight from the numbers. Feel free to argue with me about this on Twitter. My username is @jwdblue42, and I will talk about my rankings with anyone who disagrees in a respectful manner only.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and BaseballSavant, player numbers are accurate as of 7/17/2021, team records and run differentials are accurate as of 7/18/2021
Featured Photo Courtesy of Myself