Ranking the 10 Best Lineups in MLB Thus Far in 2021August 9, 2021
Ranking the 10 Best Lineups in MLB Thus Far in 2021
If you had to pick one Major League Baseball starting lineup to carry into the postseason against the wide array of potential pitching rotations that could come your way, which one would you choose?
The premise initially seemed easy, but factoring in injuries, trades, recent slumps/hot streaks and frequently changing batting orders, it got convoluted in a hurry.
On the injuries front, we've opted to include the guys who have played for most of the season and who only seem to have minor injuries. In other words, if they've been a big part of the equation up until now and figure to reprise that role in September, we'll allow them.
As far as the other variables go, the past three weeks were given more weight than the prior three months in trying to put together a starting lineup and rank it against the other 29.
In general, though, the more sluggers and the fewer on-base percentage eyesores a team has among its primary batting order, the better.
Statistics are current through the start of play Sunday.
American League lineups include the designated hitter. National League lineups do not include the pitcher spot.
Atlanta Braves: Brought in Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler in hopes of making up for losing both Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcell Ozuna, and early returns from both Pederson and Soler have been quite promising. However, we're not yet sold on that outfield combo and the catcher spot has been a black hole for Atlanta all year.
Los Angeles Angels: Almost deserves a top-10 spot just because of Shohei Ohtani, but there's not enough here with Mike Trout out and Anthony Rendon scuffling through a brutal year.
Milwaukee Brewers: The midseason acquisitions of Willy Adames, Rowdy Tellez and Eduardo Escobar have all worked out beautifully. Save for Omar Narvaez, though, it has been a rough season for pretty much every hitter who started the season in Milwaukee.
Oakland A's: Grabbing Starling Marte just before the trade deadline certainly made Oakland a more intriguing top-10 candidate. But aside from Marte and Matt Olson, the A's don't have anyone with 15 home runs or a .260 batting average.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies have had a maddeningly inconsistent season, in part because they always seem to have at least one key bat on the IL. But at least they've been hot at the plate thus far in August, surging into first place in the NL East as a result.
10. New York Yankees
1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
2. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
3. Aaron Judge, RF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
5. Joey Gallo, LF
6. Gleyber Torres, SS
7. Rougned Odor, 3B
8. Gary Sanchez, C
9. Brett Gardner, CF
Injured: Gio Urshela, 3B; Miguel Andujar, UT; Luke Voit, 1B
The Yankees should have no worse than the second-best lineup in the majors.
DJ LeMahieu led the majors in batting average last season. Both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have eclipsed 50 home runs in a season. Joey Gallo has reached 40 multiple times. Anthony Rizzo, Rougned Odor, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez have each had at least one season with at least 32 home runs and 88 runs batted in. And if they were healthy, both Gio Urshela and Luke Voit would be expected to contribute at a high level.
Things simply have not gone according to plan.
But after adding both Rizzo and Gallo at the trade deadline, the Yankees might finally be turning a corner at the dish.
They scored 13 and 10 runs in back-to-back games this past week and scored at least five runs in four out of five games from August 3-7—after entering that five-game stretch with 11 consecutive games of four runs or fewer.
It's possible the Yankees go right back to their underachieving ways the rest of the season, but it seems more likely they're finally starting to live up to their potential. They still have a lot to prove to jump into the top five, but a spot in the top 10 is at least warranted.
9. Chicago White Sox
1. Tim Anderson, SS
2. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
3. Jose Abreu, 1B
4. Eloy Jimenez, DH
5. Yoan Moncada, 3B
6. Andrew Vaughn, LF
7. Brian Goodwin, CF
8. Leury Garcia, RF
9. Seby Zavala/Zack Collins, C
Other Key Reserves: Adam Engel, OF; Gavin Sheets, OF/DH
Injured: Luis Robert, CF; Yasmani Grandal, C; Billy Hamilton, OF; Jake Lamb, 1B/3B
White Sox batters have been uncommonly snake-bitten by injuries.
Eloy Jimenez made his season debut on July 26 after suffering a ruptured pectoral tendon in spring training. Luis Robert hasn't played since early May because of a torn hip flexor muscle. Nick Madrigal (since traded to the Cubs in the Craig Kimbrel deal) suffered a season-ending torn hamstring in mid-June. Jake Lamb is just now working his way back from a quad injury suffered in late June. Yasmani Grandal tore a tendon in his knee on a checked swing in early July. And now Billy Hamilton is out indefinitely with an oblique injury.
Can't catch a break.
Still racking up runs.
The quartet of Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada and Andrew Vaughn has done a more-than-fine job leading the way, but it's the effectiveness of the "band-aid solutions" that has been most impressive for the ChiSox.
Utility man Leury Garcia has been indispensable, making multiple starts at each of 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF and RF with a serviceable bat. With so many outfielders banged up, Brian Goodwin has been one heck of a Plan D with a .788 OPS in his sporadic playing time. Adam Engel, Gavin Sheets and Seby Zavala are each slugging around .500, which is pretty ridiculous for a trio of midseason call-ups.
Relying heavily on guys who weren't expected to be key contributors when the season began, the White Sox have averaged just under 5.0 runs per game in the process of opening up a lead in the AL Central that appears insurmountable. And with Jimenez back and Robert nearing a return, perhaps they'll finally get healthy and hit their stride heading into the postseason.
8. San Diego Padres
1. Tommy Pham, LF
2. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS
3. Manny Machado, 3B
4. Jake Cronenworth, 2B
5. Eric Hosmer, 1B
6. Wil Myers, RF
7. Trent Grisham, CF
8. Victor Caratini, C
Other Key Reserves: Adam Frazier, UT, Ha-Seong Kim, IF, Jake Marisnick, OF
Fernando Tatis Jr. is currently on the IL for the third time this season with a shoulder injury, but he spent the minimum 10 days out the previous two times and recent reports suggest he's progressing very well. Thus, we're including the frontrunner for National League MVP in spite of his latest ailment.
Tatis is obviously the brightest star, but San Diego is pretty solid throughout the lineup. Five-time All-Star Manny Machado is having another great season, on pace for roughly 30 home runs. Jake Cronenworth is somewhat quietly hitting .273 with 15 home runs. And the outfield trio of Wil Myers, Trent Grisham and Tommy Pham are all hitting around .250 with a dozen home runs, 15 doubles and a decent amount of stolen bases.
In hopes of further improving Tatis' supporting cast, the Padres went out and got Adam Frazier and Jake Marisnick before the trade deadline, though neither has amounted to much yet. If Frazier can resume hitting .324 with frequent doubles like he did through his first 98 games with Pittsburgh, San Diego may need to consider moving Eric Hosmer to a reserve/platoon role, even though he's batting .275 and making a boatload of money.
That's a testament to how many above-average options the Padres have at their disposal.
That said, when they inevitably face either the Dodgers or the Giants in the NL Wild Card Game, the Padres are going to have the inferior lineup.
7. Tampa Bay Rays
1. Brandon Lowe, 2B
2. Ji-Man Choi, 1B
3. Nelson Cruz, DH
4. Austin Meadows, LF
5. Randy Arozarena, RF
6. Yandy Diaz, 3B
7. Wander Franco, SS
8. Mike Zunino, C
9. Brett Phillips, CF
Other Key Reserves: Manuel Margot, OF; Kevin Kiermaier, OF; Joey Wendle, IF
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash is still trying to figure out what configuration works best now that he has a slugger with more than 400 career home runs in the heart of the order. Since acquiring Nelson Cruz on July 22, the Rays have yet to use the same lineup twice.
It's not for lack of quality options, though.
Brandon Lowe has made the highest percentage of his starts from the leadoff spot, and he is leading the Rays with 24 home runs. Mike Zunino generally has been somewhere in the bottom third of the order, but the catcher has 21 four-baggers on the year. Neither one has a good batting average and they both strike out a lot, but that's an impressive amount of power for guys in those spots in the lineup.
And now at the heart of the order, they have a rock solid right-left-right combo of Cruz, Austin Meadows and Randy Arozarena, who boast a combined total of 59 home runs.
In particular, Arozarena has been red hot as of late. In 13 games from July 19 through August 3, he hit six home runs and had nine multi-hit games, finally re-capturing the MVP form he displayed last postseason. Though, we'll have to see whether his COVID-19-related absence from the lineup cools him off.
If he can continue hitting at anywhere near that level, Tampa Bay has five legitimate sluggers, plus a couple of team leaders in OBP (Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Diaz) who can help turn those blasts into multi-run efforts.
6. San Francisco Giants
1. Mike Yastrzemski, RF
2. Kris Bryant, LF
3. Brandon Crawford, SS
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Brandon Belt*, 1B
6. Evan Longoria*, 3B
7. Steven Duggar, CF
8. Donovan Solano, 2B
Other Key Reserves: Wilmer Flores, UT; LaMonte Wade Jr., OF; Austin Slater, OF, Darin Ruf, 1B; Alex Dickerson, OF
*Currently on the IL
There's no such thing as a "normal" lineup for the Giants, who have only had two players (Brandon Crawford at shortstop and Mike Yastrzemski in right field) make at least 70 starts at one position. They also have not had anyone bat in the same spot in the order even 50 times this season.
Making things even more convoluted, the Giants made one of the biggest splashes of the trade deadline, adding 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant just in the nick of time. They are also optimistic that both Brandon Belt (knee) and Evan Longoria (shoulder) will be able to return soon from injuries that have kept two of their costliest assets sidelined since June.
So even though this isn't the lineup San Francisco is throwing out there, it's our best guess at what it will look like in October.
And while it isn't quite as formidable as what the Dodgers have at their disposal, it's one heck of a second fiddle among National League West clubs.
As a testament to how many options the Giants have, Darin Ruf, LaMonte Wade Jr., Alex Dickerson and Wilmer Flores have each hit at least 11 home runs this season, but they are likely to serve in pinch-hitting roles for the postseason. Heck, Ruf and Wade are both slugging north of .530 in nearly 400 combined plate appearances, and even that might not be enough to secure a starting gig if and when everyone is healthy.
Even if Buster Posey's power doesn't come back (12 home runs in his first 47 games; one home run in his past 26 games), the addition of Bryant and the presumed re-additions of Belt and Longoria will give the Giants a great chance to slug their way to what would be their fourth World Series title in 12 years.
5. Boston Red Sox
1. Enrique Hernandez, CF
2. Alex Verdugo, LF
3. J.D. Martinez, DH
4. Xander Bogaerts, SS
5. Rafael Devers, 3B
6. Hunter Renfroe, RF
7. Christian Vazquez, C
8. Marwin Gonzalez, 2B
9. Bobby Dalbec, 1B
Other Key Reserves: Franchy Cordero, OF
Injured: Kyle Schwarber, OF, Christian Arroyo, 2B
There's no question Boston's heart of the order is one of the best in baseball. J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are all going to be among the top candidates for American League Silver Slugger awards. (Martinez won't win because of Shohei Ohtani, but Boston's designated hitter is easily a top-five DH.)
Other than Toronto's Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., good luck finding a better trio of bats right now.
The guys just outside of that heart aren't too shabby, either. Hunter Renfroe is on pace for his fourth 26-homer season in the past five years, and both Enrique Hernandez and Alex Verdugo are batting over .250 with double-digit home runs.
But that 8-9 punch of Marwin Gonzalez and Bobby Dalbec leaves a lot to be desired and keeps Boston from really having a case for the top spot on this list.
In fairness, the Red Sox are hoping that won't be the bottom of the order by the time the postseason begins. They went out and got slugger Kyle Schwarber just before the trade deadline, and Christian Arroyo was batting .271 with a .792 OPS when he hurt his hamstring a few weeks ago. Get Arroyo back to play 1B, move Rodriguez from CF to 2B and Verdugo from LF to CF to make room for Schwarber in left and that's a starting nine with a real argument for best in the bigs.
4. Cincinnati Reds
1. Jonathan India, 2B
2. Jesse Winker, LF
3. Nick Castellanos, RF
4. Joey Votto, 1B
5. Eugenio Suarez, 3B
6. Kyle Farmer, SS
7. Tyler Naquin, CF
8. Tucker Barnhart, C
Other Key Reserves: Mike Moustakas, 3B; Tyler Stephenson, C; Shogo Akiyama, OF
Three weeks ago—after Nick Castellanos landed on the IL and before Joey Votto started mashing home runs on a nightly basis—it felt like Cincinnati's dream of reaching the postseason was finished. In that state, it also would have felt a little ridiculous to declare the Reds a top-five lineup in baseball.
From July 23 through August 7, though, the Reds scored at least five runs in 14 out of 15 games, averaging 6.7 runs per contest. They also won 11 of those games, vaulting back into playoff contention.
And why not?
There's not a single weak link in the lineup.
If we combine Tucker Barnhart and Tyler Stephenson—each of whom is batting above .260 with six home runs on the year—into one "starting unit" at catcher, all eight of the Reds' starters have double-digit home runs, and six of them are hitting better than .260. Even lesser-used Mike Moustakas (due to injury) and Aristides Aquino both have an OPS north of .800, giving them legitimate options off the bench, too.
One could argue Eugenio Suarez is a weak link because of his .177 batting average. However, Suarez has more home runs (120) since the beginning of 2018 than any other player, so, you know, good luck calling his high K rate an unforgivable liability.
3. Houston Astros
1. Jose Altuve, 2B
2. Michael Brantley, LF
3. Yuli Gurriel, 1B
4. Yordan Alvarez, DH
5. Carlos Correa, SS
6. Kyle Tucker, RF
7. Aledmys Diaz, 3B
8. Chas McCormack, CF
9. Martin Maldonado, C
Injured: Alex Bregman, 3B
Alex Bregman hasn't played since mid-June because of a left quad injury, and he recently hurt his right hamstring while on a rehab assignment. Tough to say when the Astros will be getting their two-time All-Star third baseman back in the lineup.
Even without him, though, they're practically lapping the American League field with an average of 5.5 runs scored per game this season.
Leadoff hitter Jose Altuve is leading the team with 25 home runs. Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker aren't far behind him with 22 and 21 dingers, respectively. Michael Brantley (.329) and Yuli Gurriel (.324) both rank top 10 in the majors in batting average among players who have made at least 200 plate appearances.
All five of those guys have an OPS well north of .800, as do Aledmys Diaz (.805) and Carlos Correa (.835).
Granted, no member of that septet is above .880 or anywhere close to the MLB leaders in OPS. But how the heck can any pitcher be expected to navigate a minefield in which seven consecutive batters have an OPS in the .800-.880 range?
That seven-game stretch from July 8-18 in which the Astros were shut out three times and held to a single run in two other games was one heck of an outlier. The 42 runs scored in the final five games of July was much more indicative of what Houston is bringing to the dish on a nightly basis.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
1. George Springer, CF
2. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
3. Marcus Semien, 2B
4. Bo Bichette, SS
5. Teoscar Hernandez, LF
6. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., DH
7. Randal Grichuk, RF
8. Santiago Espinal, 3B
9. Reese McGuire, C
Other Key Reserves: Cavan Biggio, 3B
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is having an MVP-caliber season with 34 home runs and a FanGraphs WAR more than 10 percent better than the next-closest batter.
And he's just the tip of the iceberg in Toronto.
Because George Springer spent the majority of the first three months of the season on the IL, it wasn't until recently that we finally got to see this Toronto lineup in all its glory. Now that he's back and looking every bit the three-time All-Star Toronto signed to a six-year, $150 million deal this past January, the Blue Jays have been a wrecking ball at the dish.
Toronto played 25 games from June 26 through July 29. It scored at least 10 runs in seven of those games and was held to two or fewer runs only six times.
All five guys at the top of this lineup have an OPS north of .820, and things don't taper off much from there. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk are both hitting better than .250 and have combined for 31 home runs. Santiago Espinal is hitting .301 and Reese McGuire (.278) isn't far behind. And when Cavan Biggio (back tightness) gets healthy enough to reclaim the spot Espinal is holding, his career .759 OPS figures to be a welcome re-addition near the bottom of the order.
It's not difficult to understand why the Blue Jays made it a point to improve their pitching staff at the trade deadline. All they need to do is hold opponents to five runs per game and they'll win more often than not.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
1. Mookie Betts, RF
2. Trea Turner, SS
3. Justin Turner, 3B
4. Will Smith, C
5. Max Muncy, 1B
6. Chris Taylor, 2B
7. Cody Bellinger, CF
8. AJ Pollock, LF
Other Key Reserves: Corey Seager, SS; Albert Pujols, DH
Injured: Gavin Lux, 2B
We're still getting a sense of what the Dodgers lineup will look like with Trea Turner in the mix, as the former Washington Nationals star is just now making his way back from a stint on the COVID-19 IL.
To put it lightly, though, there's no shortage of star power or raw power here.
With the exception of Cody Bellinger, every member of this starting lineup is batting at least .260 with at least 13 home runs and 40 runs batted in. And let's not pretend Bellinger is an easy out. He has struggled mightily this season after suffering a fractured fibula in early April, but the man hit 47 home runs two years ago in the process of winning NL MVP.
He's liable to turn a corner any day now and make this lineup more than formidable from top to bottom.
Even with Bellinger hitting well below the Mendoza Line and even without Trea Turner for the first four months of the season, the Dodgers are still leading the National League in runs scored by a wide margin.
It's scary to think this lineup should be even better the rest of the way. But considering their team payroll is almost $62 million more than the next-closest club, at least the Dodgers are getting what they're paying for.
It is worth noting that Justin Turner left Sunday's game against the Angels with groin discomfort. But even if he has to miss an extended period of time, what a luxury it is to still have the option of either putting Chris Taylor at third and Corey Seager at second or moving Max Muncy from first to third to give more ABs to a guy (Albert Pujols) with 675 career home runs.