We are now eight weeks into the 2019 MLB season, and the Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates are all inside the top 10 in our weekly power rankings.
Few, if any, would have predicted that when the season started. That's the beauty of baseball, though. Even when there seems to be a more clear divide than ever between contenders and non-contenders, there is still plenty of room for parity.
It's important to remember this is a fluid process. Teams will rise and fall based on where they were ranked the previous week. If a team keeps winning, it will keep climbing—it's as simple as that.
Here are the rankings:
Teams That Impressed
The Minnesota Twins (5-2) continue to impress, moving into the top five for the first time this season after series wins over the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners.
With a high-powered offense that ranks second with 87 home runs and a pitching staff that has exceeded expectations with a 3.90 ERA that is good for ninth in the majors, the Twins have posted a plus-74 run differential, which trails only the Houston Astros (plus-92).
Starter Martin Perez (53.0 IP, 2.89 ERA) and closer Blake Parker (7/7 SV, 1.17 ERA) have been two of the best under-the-radar additions of the offseason. They will earn a combined $5.8 million in 2019.
The Atlanta Braves (4-2) move back into the top 10 after a strong week against the NL Central, picking up series wins over the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers.
First baseman Freddie Freeman homered in four straight, while top prospect Austin Riley has debuted with a bang, going 8-for-19 with two home runs in his first five games.
The Texas Rangers (4-2) pulled away from a pack of teams clustered in the middle of the rankings with series wins over the Kansas City Royals and Cardinals, and they are now threatening for a spot in the upper half.
The fact that they are just two games under .500 is impressive considering their pitching staff has posted a 5.16 ERA that ranks 28th in the majors. With their next six series all against sub-.500 teams, the Rangers have a chance to make a nice little push if the pitching staff can do its part.
The Los Angeles Dodgers (4-1), Houston Astros (5-1) and New York Yankees (4-1) were the other teams to come out on top in both of their series last week, and they now find themselves occupying the top three spots in the rankings as a result.
A tip of the cap to the Philadelphia Phillies (4-3), Oakland Athletics (3-2) and Miami Marlins (3-2) on three-game sweeps over the weekend. There's no better way to build momentum heading into a new week, so keep an eye on those three clubs in the days ahead.
Teams That Disappointed
The San Diego Padres (1-5) came unraveled a bit last week, dropping two games to the Dodgers before losing a weekend series to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
They posted a minus-13 run differential for the week and now stand at minus-24 on the year. This is still a team on the rise, but the Padres may have been playing over their heads a bit during their early jump into the top 10 in the rankings.
The St. Louis Cardinals (2-4) were the only other team to drop both series after starting the week in the top half of the rankings. They lost two of three to the Braves and Rangers and now sit fourth in the NL Central standings, 4.5 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs.
The return of Carlos Martinez should provide a boost to the pitching staff. The offense needs to start producing on a more consistent basis, though, to take some pressure off the pitchers.
The New York Mets (1-5) suffered the biggest slide of the week, dropping six spots after a series loss to the Washington Nationals and a sweep at the hands of a Marlins team that entered that series with a 10-31 record.
That said, there's little doubt the Detroit Tigers (0-6) had the worst week of any team. They were swept twice and outscored by a staggering 52-13 margin in the process, bringing their season run differential to minus-91. Only the Baltimore Orioles (minus-95) have been worse.
Players of the Week
AL Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
Stats: 7-for-21, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 5 R
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his first big league home run in the first inning of Tuesday's game against the San Francisco Giants.
Five innings later, he homered again, and it would appear that game has opened the floodgates.
After a lackluster 9-for-47 (.191 BA) start to his rookie season, Guerrero is now hitting .235 with a respectable .766 OPS, and his stock is trending up.
"You’re hoping the guy in front gets on because he has a chance to do something every time he comes to the plate," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo told reporters. "It’s fun to have a guy like that in the lineup."
After hitting .381/.437/.636 in the minors as a teenager last season, it was only a matter of time before Guerrero caught fire at the plate. Sit back and enjoy the show, folks.
AL Pitcher: Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians
Stats: 2 GS, W, L, 15.1 IP, 12 H, 5 ER, 0 BB, 21 K
Shane Bieber actually started last week with a clunker, serving up four home runs while allowing seven hits and five earned runs in 6.1 innings against the Chicago White Sox for his second loss of the season.
All was forgotten after Sunday's game when he tossed a five-hit shutout against the Baltimore Orioles, walking none while striking out a career-high 15 batters.
"I just thought we got completely dominated," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde told reporters. "That was masterful. He worked ahead. He had really good stuff. He had a great breaking ball that we just continued to swing at underneath the zone. We didn’t make any adjustments during the game. And he was just really, really good. We didn’t adjust at all and make it tough on him."
According to Mandy Bell of MLB.com, Bieber is the fourth-youngest pitcher since 1908 to record at least 15 strikeouts with no walks in a shutout:
- Dwight Gooden, 1984 (19 years, 301 days old)
- Kerry Wood: 1998 (20 years, 324 days old)
- Vince Velasquez: 2016 (23 years, 312 days)
- Shane Bieber: 2019 (23 years, 323 days)
The right-hander now has a 3.22 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 69 strikeouts in 58.2 innings as he continues his rise as one of the best young starters in baseball.
NL Hitter: Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
Stats: 11-for-27, 2B, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 6 R
One of the biggest question marks surrounding Josh Bell as he rose the ranks of the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system was whether he would ever fully tap into his plus raw power.
He hit 26 home runs as a rookie in 2017 but followed that up with just 12 long balls in 583 plate appearances last season.
In 395 fewer trips to the plate so far this season, he has already hit 14 homers, including four more last week. Aside from his impressive home run total, he is also tied with Cody Bellinger for the MLB lead with 44 RBI.
A closer look at his batted-ball data, per Baseball Savant, further illustrates the dramatic step forward he has taken this season:
- 2018: 7.0 barrel%, 90.0 mph exit velocity, 39.0 hard-hit percentage
- 2019: 18.7 barrel%, 95.6 mph exit velocity, 57.7 hard-hit percentage
The 26-year-old is fully realizing the potential that made him an intriguing enough prospect for the Pirates to shell out a $5 million signing bonus to lure him away from a strong commitment to the University of Texas as a second-round pick in 2011.
NL Pitcher: Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins
Stats: 1 GS, W, 9.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K
For the rebuilding Miami Marlins, the 2019 season is about identifying players who can be long-term pieces of the puzzle.
The hope is that right-hander Sandy Alcantara can be one of those guys.
The 23-year-old joined the Marlins in the deal that sent Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time of the trade, he was an intriguing prospect with a big fastball and some very real questions whether he had the secondary stuff or the command to stick in the starting rotation.
Many of those questions still remain here in 2019. He entered his most recent start with a 5.11 ERA, 1.64 WHIP and 4.7 BB/9 in 44 innings.
When everything is clicking, though, he's capable of dominating opposing hitters, and that's exactly what he did Sunday when he needed just 89 pitches to twirl a two-hit shutout against the New York Mets.
Glenn Sattell of MLB.com offered up the following interesting tidbits on his performance:
"It was the second-fewest pitches in a complete game of nine innings in club history, ranking just behind an 88-pitch performance by Henderson Alvarez on June 3, 2014, against Tampa Bay. The 1-hour, 59-minute game was also just seven minutes longer than the shortest game in Marlins history (1:52) on Sept. 20, 2010, against St. Louis."
The tools are there for Alcantara to be a quality big league starter. He just needs to find some level of consistency.
Must-See Upcoming Matchup
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Tampa Bay Rays (Tuesday-Wednesday)
If you're a fan of quality pitching, you won't want to miss the quick two-game series between the Dodgers and Rays this week.
The Rays lead all of baseball with a 2.98 ERA, while the Dodgers are not far behind in second with a 3.38 team ERA. Both clubs also rank among the top three in WHIP and opponents' batting average, with impressive arms up and down both rosters.
It was the Dodgers who initially knocked the Rays out of the No. 1 spot in these rankings a few weeks ago. Tampa Bay can make a strong push back toward the top with an impressive showing in this series, while the Dodgers can solidify their standing as the No. 1 team in baseball.
Lefties Clayton Kershaw (39.2 IP, 3.40 ERA) and Rich Hill (21.0 IP, 3.00 ERA) will take the ball for Los Angeles, while the Rays have yet to announce their starters. Blake Snell pitched Saturday and Charlie Morton pitched Sunday, so there's a good chance it will be Yonny Chirinos (47.0 IP, 3.26 ERA) for one of the games and an opener for the other.
Pitching wins championships, and these two teams have their sights set on legitimate title contention this season thanks in large part to the strength of their respective pitching staffs.