MLB Power Rankings 2019: Where Each Team Stands Ahead of Opening DayMarch 19, 2019
As much as MLB likes to pretend the American League and National League are two unique entities, modern philosophies and scheduling have merged in most regards beyond the designated hitter.
They nevertheless enter 2019 with two entirely different landscapes.
The AL presents the same competitors jousting at the top. Don't be surprised when the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros all return to the playoffs for the third consecutive year. FanGraphs projects those four squads to finish atop MLB's standings in 2019, but no other AL team is expected to reach 85 victories.
Only one question remains: Who will face the Red Sox or Yankees in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game?
The NL, on the other hand, features a handful of contenders bunched together. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projects seven teams to win 85-89 games this season behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (94). That doesn't include the Chicago Cubs, who are shockingly forecasted to finish last in the NL Central at 79-83.
It also leaves out two intriguing squads on the rise. Although projected to flirt with a .500 mark, these clubs made impact additions in an attempt to reverse years of misfortune.
Before the season officially begins on Wednesday, let's take an early look at MLB's pecking order before identifying three interesting teams on the rise as sneaky playoff candidates.
2019 MLB Power Rankings
1. Houston Astros
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Boston Red Sox
4. New York Yankees
5. Cleveland Indians
6. Philadelphia Phillies
7. Washington Nationals
8. Milwaukee Brewers
9. Chicago Cubs
10. St. Louis Cardinals
11. New York Mets
12. Tampa Bay Rays
13. Oakland Athletics
14. Colorado Rockies
15. Atlanta Braves
16. Cincinnati Reds
17. Los Angeles Angels
18. Minnesota Twins
19. San Diego Padres
20. Toronto Blue Jays
21. Arizona Diamondbacks
22. Pittsburgh Pirates
23. Seattle Mariners
24. San Francisco Giants
25. Texas Rangers
26. Chicago White Sox
27. Kansas City Royals
28. Detroit Tigers
29. Miami Marlins
30. Baltimore Orioles
Tampa Bay Rays
A top-heavy AL leaves one playoff spot up for grabs after the four titans. The Oakland Athletics stepped up to the plate last year, but they're far from a lock to reclaim the wild-card spot behind a treacherous rotation.
Not expected to accomplish much in 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays went 90-72 behind a Cy Young Award campaign from Blake Snell. No other starting pitcher reached 100 innings, but it hardly mattered because they unveiled the "opener" strategy to immediate success.
They may not need it as often in 2019. They augmented the rotation by signing Charlie Morton, who revitalized his career with a 3.36 ERA over the last two seasons in Houston. He nevertheless struggled mightily (5.87) the third time through the batting order, so look for the innovative Rays to avoid exposure to such situations.
The 35-year-old may actually be the perfect pitcher to work after an opener.
Last year's haul for Chris Archer could put Tampa Bay over the hump in 2019. Tyler Glasnow showed flashes of brilliance after moving from the Pittsburgh Pirates last summer. Like Snell, he's a high-strikeout hurler who could tap into an ace ceiling by improving his command.
Following the trade, Austin Meadows smacked 10 homers in 27 games from Tampa Bay's Triple-A affiliate. The 23-year-old should finally get an extended chance at a big league gig after holding his own (.287/.325/.461) in brief spurts last year.
Another midseason addition, Tommy Pham makes Tampa Bay a legitimate playoff threat. Despite batting .306/.411/.520 with 6.1 fWAR in a sensational 2017, the St. Louis Cardinals sent him packing after a mediocre 98 games. He proceeded to hit .343/.448/.622 in 39 contests with his new squad.
While adept at finding players like Joey Wendle and Ji-Man Choi to produce under the radar, the Rays need more major dividends from Pham and their pitching staff. On the bright side, they could actually drop a few games and still land the AL's second wild-card bid.
The Cincinnati Reds are apparently sick of the cellar.
After finishing last in the NL Central for the fourth straight season, the club surprisingly reloaded by acquiring several veteran contributors on short contracts. Although still not a favorite to win a highly competitive division, they'll at least break the 70-win mark for the first time since 2014.
Last season, opponents crushed Cincinnati's starting staff to a 5.02 ERA. The solution? General manager Nick Krall revamped an inexperienced unit by acquiring Tanner Roark, Alex Wood and Sonny Gray.
Having made 30 starts in each of the last three seasons, Roark offers durability at above-replacement value. The Dodgers never required a hefty workload from Wood, but the 28-year-old southpaw sports a career 3.29 ERA and 3.36 fielding independent pitching (FIP).
Gray, who garnered a 3.17 ERA away from Yankee Stadium during an otherwise tumultuous season, reunites with former Vanderbilt pitching coach Derek Johnson.
"I don't think there was any real question about his stuff," Johnson said of Gray to Jonah Keri of CBS Sports. "It hadn't backed up, it was still the same. A pitcher struggles, he begins to reach for things, he struggles to know what to do next. I've known Sonny for a long time, I believe in him as a person, a pitcher, a teammate. I believe we can get him back to being who he was."
Gray could bounce back as a front-line starter alongside Luis Castillo, who recovered from a rocky start to register a 2.44 ERA after the All-Star break.
Although the offense placed just 18th in runs scored, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp could help steer them into an upper-echelon lineup. Joey Votto rediscovering his lost power would certainly help, but some young blood could ease the first baseman's regression.
Touting a .299/.397/.460 slash line through 471 big league plate appearances, Jesse Winker warrants a full season of playing time, even if it's at Kemp's expense. Currently blocked by a deep lineup, top prospect Nick Senzel is also ready to shine.
FanGraphs and PECOTA each peg the Reds for an 81-81 finish. That's progress, but perhaps not enough so with Puig, Kemp, Roark, Wood and late bloomer Scooter Gennett all set to hit free agency next offseason.
San Diego Padres
After going 72-90 for their fourth straight losing campaign in 2017, the Atlanta Braves reversed their record and returned to the postseason behind a burgeoning young cast kast season. With Manny Machado leading the way, the San Diego Padres could feasibly carve the same path.
Don't purchase those playoff tickets just yet. Even after signing the superstar infielder, San Diego is projected to win 79 games by both FanGraphs and PECOTA. Although not the seismic leap antsy supporters will want after a major free-agent splash, it would represent their best season since 2010.
Like the Braves, the Padres have a swarm of young talent waiting to take the sport by storm. Led by 20-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who could arrive and make a late splash a la Ronald Acuna Jr. last season, the NL West club surpassed the Braves for MLB's best farm system in the eyes of Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter.
After respectively recording slugging percentages of .504 and .498 last season, corner outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes should supply plenty of power to a lineup with tremendous defenders (Ian Kinsler, Luis Urias and Manuel Margot) up the middle. Yet in order for them to become this year's version of the Braves instead of the Philadelphia Phillies—who improved to 80-82 before loading up this winter—the Padres need some of their young pitchers to shine.
The rotation's outlook doesn't feel as desolate as it did before spring training. After posting a 2.05 ERA mostly from the bullpen last year, a bulked-up Matt Strahm looks ready to make an impact as a starter. He certainly has the arsenal to handle the role, as both his curveball and changeup ceded a weighted on-base average (wOBA) below .200 in 2018.
Chris Paddack, however, is the biggest X-factor. In a magnificent return from Tommy John surgery, the 6'4" righty stockpiled 120 strikeouts to just eight walks in 90 minor league frames last season. He has carried that momentum into spring, collecting 20 strikeouts in 12.2 innings while yielding just three earned runs and two free passes.
Per MLB.com's AJ Cassavell, the 23-year-old has set a lofty goal of not only making the big league roster, but toeing the rubber on Opening Day.
"We have a lot of great guys, a lot of studs in this organization," Paddack said. "Like I said, I have no control over that. But I'm going to show them I'm ready and give them the hardest decision of their lives to make."
If not Paddack, Logan Allen, Adrian Morejon and/or Michael Baez could bolster the starting staff at some point this season. The Padres are probably still another year away from making a playoff push, but they're loaded enough to expedite that timeline.
Note: All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. PECOTA projections attained from Baseball Prospectus.