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MLB Power Rankings 2015: Examining League Hierarchy Before Opening Day

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistMarch 29, 2015

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 21:  Madison Bumgarner #40 and Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants talk during Game One of the 2014 World Series against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on October 21, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

This is the magical time of year when all 30 MLB teams stand on an even playing field, entering the new season with a fresh slate and an endless array of optimism.

Let's fix that.

Sure, anything is possible. After all, the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals clashed in the World Series with a combined plus-78 run differential during the regular season. The Seattle Mariners, who boasted MLB's sixth-best scoring margin at plus-80, missed the postseason.

Let's not, however, feed false hope to the Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks and other cellar-dwellers who won't play October baseball. As Opening Day nears, here's an early batch of power rankings to see where everyone stands:

MLB Power Rankings
RankTeam2014 Record
1Washington Nationals96-66
2Los Angeles Dodgers94-68
3Seattle Mariners87-75
4Los Angeles Angels98-64
5St. Louis Cardinals90-72
6Pittsburgh Pirates88-74
7Cleveland Indians85-77
8Boston Red Sox71-91
9Toronto Blue Jays83-79
10Detroit Tigers90-72
11Chicago Cubs73-89
12Chicago White Sox73-89
13San Diego Padres77-85
14Oakland Athletics88-74
15Miami Marlins77-85
16San Francisco Giants88-74
17New York Mets79-83
18Baltimore Orioles96-66
19New York Yankees84-78
20Tampa Bay Rays77-85
21Milwaukee Brewers82-80
22Kansas City Royals89-73
23Cincinnati Reds76-86
24Houston Astros70-92
25Texas Rangers67-95
26Colorado Rockies66-96
27Minnesota Twins70-92
28Arizona Diamondbacks64-98
29Atlanta Braves79-83
30Philadelphia Phillies73-89
Author's Rankings

A select few franchises used to winning need to temper their expectations this season. Despite rich histories and richer payrolls, their windows of opportunity will start shutting.

Their modest placement in the rankings will infuriate fans of the longstanding organizations who are not accustomed to losing.  

San Francisco Giants

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 29:  Buster Posey #28 and Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Royals to win Game Seven of the 2014 World Series by a score of 3-2 at Kauffman Stadium on October 29, 2014 in
Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

It's an odd year, and the Giants only show up on even years. OK, that's obviously not the reason they fall significantly short in their title defense, but don't be surprised when they follow a championship by missing the playoffs for the third time in five years.

For starters, they sneaked into the postseason at 88-74 despite ranking No. 18 in team on-base percentage (.311). A solid, yet unspectacular offense will now struggle to tread water without Pablo Sandoval, who cashed in his October exploits for a big contract with the Boston Red Sox.

Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

Every victory matters, and Sandoval averaged a 3.2 WAR per six full seasons with the Giants. While he netted a depreciated .735 OPS last season, he still provided above-average defense at third base. 

They'll also start the season without Hunter Pence, who broke his arm in early March. The early timetable ruled him out for six-to-eight weeks, meaning he could miss all of April, and there's no guarantee he returns at full strength.

He's not one to take it easy during the recovery process, as noted by the San Jose Mercury News' Carl Steward: 

Carl Steward @stewardsfolly

Can't keep Hunter Pence off the field. Even with broken arm, dressed out with teammates in outfield during workouts.

They'll have to hope Madison Bumgarner suffers no lingering effects from tossing 270 innings last year. Unless they give unsung hero Yusmeiro Petit his rightful spot in the rotation, the aging starting staff is trending downward. 

The Giants will have to again snatch one of two wild-card spots with the Los Angeles Dodgers controlling the National League West. That will prove much tougher this season with the Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and New York Mets all on the rise. 

Detroit Tigers

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 1: Miguel Cabrera #24 celebrates with Victor Martinez #41 of the Detroit Tigers after both scored on a home run hit by Martinez during the third inning against the Cleveland Indians a Progressive Field on September 1, 2014 in Cle
Jason Miller/Getty Images

One year soon, the bottom is going to fall out on the Detroit Tigers, a team stockpiled with pricey veterans who will gradually morph from stars to financial liabilities. They won't take the full plunge this season, but they'll slow down enough for strengthening American League Central cohorts to catch up.

Over the past three years, Max Scherzer collected 10.46 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), which only trails the injured Yu Darvish among starters. He's also third in WAR over that stretch:

SP WAR Leaders: 2012-14
RankPlayerWAR*
1Clayton Kershaw20.4
2Felix Hernandez18.0
3David Price15.7
4Adam Wainwright15.6
5Max Scherzer15.3
FanGraphs.com

So yeah, losing him to the Washington Nationals hurts. David Price slides into the ace role, but he's followed by a decaying Justin Verlander, oft-injured Anibal Sanchez and regression-bound Alfredo Simon.

Tigers fans may not want to hear it, but Shane Greene is the key to their rotation. Last year, the 26-year-old righty amassed 81 strikeouts through 78.2 innings while netting a 2.70 ERA away from Yankee Stadium.

Of course, it won't matter unless Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are at their best. Cabrera is recovering from a fractured left ankle, and Martinez needed knee surgery during the offseason. Cabrera, 31, expressed confidence in himself and his 36-year-old teammate being ready for Opening Day.

"I'm positive we're going to be there," Cabrera told the Detroit Free Press' Anthony Fenech. "I'm positive Victor, me is going to be there. Hopefully we're going to be 100 percent, hopefully we can be on the team the first game of the season."

After hitting 46 homers from 2010-2013, Martinez crushed 32 last year. Healthy or not, don't count on him replicating that success. Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox stocked up while the Cleveland Indians are loaded with pitching talent. Detroit's four-year streak of AL Central titles is in grave jeopardy.

New York Yankees

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 12:  Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees pitches during the first inning of a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves on March 12, 2015 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Ge
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Listen to anyone map out the New York Yankees playoff blueprint, and every sentence begins with "If."

If Masahiro Tanaka's arm is right. If CC Sabathia bounces back to provide quality innings. If Michael Pineda pitches over 100 innings for the first time since 2011. If someone successfully builds a time machine for Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez.

Well, what if the rotation once again erodes? What if a lineup consisting of only one player under 30—shortstop Didi Gregorius—regresses rather than rebounds? What if their luck runs out after posting two winning seasons with negative run differentials?

The American League East title is up for grabs, but so is last place. Anyone could easily finish first or fifth, with the Boston Red Sox expected to again ascend from worst to first.

If everything goes the Bronx Bombers' way, they can snap a two-year playoff drought. Suffering their first sub-.500 record since 1995, however, is more feasible than earning a playoff berth.

Note: Advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.

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