1 Word to Describe Your MLB Team Right Now, August Edition
We are less than two months away from the start of the MLB postseason. While there's still a lot to be sorted out between now and then, we have a good feel for how the season has unfolded for all 30 teams.
Have contenders fallen short of expectations or played up to their potential? Who have been the biggest surprises and disappointments? Do some teams have reasons for optimism even if this season won't end in a trip to the playoffs?
Here, we've attempted to encapsulate each team's 2021 performance into a single word. This is meant to be a fun change of pace from the stat-heavy content I typically produce, so take it for what it is and enjoy!
Drop your own one-word season takes for your favorite team in the comments.
Baltimore Orioles: Waiting
Poised for their third 100-loss season in the last four years, the Orioles have shown little indication that they are ready to turn the corner from rebuilding to contending. However, with Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez knocking on the door and Cedric Mullins emerging as a star, there finally seems to be an end in sight to years of rebuilding.
Boston Red Sox: Spiraling
The Red Sox had a half-game lead in the AL East standings on July 30, which was the same day that the front office decided to settle for Kyle Schwarber and a pair of middle relievers as the only notable trade deadline additions. That lead had evaporated into a 6.5-game deficit following a three-game sweep at the hands of the rival New York Yankees earlier this week, and a trip to the postseason is no longer a foregone conclusion.
New York Yankees: Reinvigorated
While the Red Sox shied away from big moves at the trade deadline, the Yankees were as aggressive as any team in baseball, adding sluggers Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo and starter Andrew Heaney. The front office's belief that this team could contend has seemingly breathed new life into a group that had underperformed for much of the year. The Yankees have posted the best record in the American League in August.
Tampa Bay Rays: Unconventional
With Charlie Morton and Blake Snell gone and Tyler Glasnow on the injured list, the Rays are without a conventional workhorse starter in their rotation. Ryan Yarbrough is the only pitcher on the staff who has eclipsed 100 innings, and the team's starters rank 28th in the majors in innings pitched. It's all part of their unique approach to building a staff, and they once again rank in the top 10 in the majors in team ERA.
Toronto Blue Jays: Close
The Blue Jays snuck into the expanded postseason field in 2020 with a 32-28 record after three straight losing seasons. They are relevant once again thanks to a dynamic young core headlined by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette and an upstart pitching staff led by bargain signing Robbie Ray, but they may still be a year away from bona fide contention.
Chicago White Sox: Cruising
With an 11.5-game lead over a second-place Cleveland team that has a losing record, the White Sox are running away with the AL Central title. The return of Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert has solidified the starting lineup, the bullpen remains a dangerous weapon, and the starting rotation is deep enough to handle Carlos Rodon missing time with shoulder fatigue. They might win the division by 20 games.
A run of eight straight seasons with a winning record is in jeopardy for a Cleveland squad that traded away face of the franchise Francisco Lindor at the deadline. The front office's tight-fisted approach makes it difficult for the team to contend, and with injuries up and down the pitching staff, they opted to sell at the deadline rather than trying to stay alive in the AL wild-card race. Winning doesn't seem to be the priority in Cleveland right now.
Detroit Tigers: Rising
After an ugly 114-loss season in 2019 and another last-place finish in the AL Central standings last year, little was expected of the Tigers in 2021. They made a few nice under-the-radar offseason moves in signing Robbie Grossman, re-signing Jonathan Schoop and selecting Akil Baddoo in the Rule 5 draft, and the contributions of those players along with a continued influx of young prospect talent has made them one of baseball's biggest surprises. With Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene knocking on the door and the young pitching staff finding its footing, they could make some real noise next year.
Kansas City Royals: Punchless
The Royals rank last in home runs (119) and third from the bottom in OPS (.688) among American League teams, and most of that damage has come from Salvador Perez, who has a 118 OPS+ and 30 home runs. They were a team built on speed, defense and pitching at the height of their success last decade, but their lack of middle-of-the-order thump has become a glaring weakness.
Minnesota Twins: Crossroads
A 101-win team in 2019 and AL Central champs once again last year, the Twins have been arguably the most disappointing team in baseball relative to preseason expectations. After trading away controllable starter Jose Berrios at the deadline, they now come to a crossroads. Do they continue trying to build around the current core, or should they start dismantling the roster by trading away guys like Josh Donaldson, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and others?
Houston Astros: Sustainable
It looked like the window of contention might be slamming shut for the Astros. Gerrit Cole and George Springer departed in free agency, Carlos Correa was poised to potentially do the same this winter, Justin Verlander was a non-factor, and several key hitters were coming off down years. Now they once again look like a legitimate title contender, and a sustainable one thanks to the development of young guys like Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier and Chas McCormick.
Los Angeles Angels: Stalled
Until the Angels get some legitimate frontline pitching, they'll be stuck in neutral. It doesn't matter that Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon missed significant time this year. Even if they had been healthy all year, a 4.73 ERA from the starting staff won't cut it. Shohei Ohtani is dealing and the development of Patrick Sandoval is promising, but they are still multiple quality arms away from being an October threat.
Oakland Athletics: Unheralded
Where would the Oakland pitching staff be without the contributions of Cole Irvin (24 GS, 3.57 ERA, 141.1 IP), James Kaprielian (15 GS, 3.33 ERA, 83.2 IP) and Lou Trivino (54 G, 20/22 SV, 1.75 ERA) this year? Meanwhile, established starters Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea continue to generate little attention on a national level. It's an unheralded group, but they've played a major role in pitching the Athletics to a 3.69 ERA that ranks seventh in the majors.
Seattle Mariners: Hungry
The obvious rebuttal here is that every team is hungry to win, but no other team has a postseason drought that stretches all the way back to 2001. The Mariners are currently on pace for 87 wins with two teams to pass to move into the second wild-card spot, including the division rival Oakland Athletics. It's an uphill battle, but this is just the start for an exciting young core with more elite prospect talent on the way.
Texas Rangers: Anonymous
For fans outside of the Arlington area, naming three players on the Rangers roster has become increasingly difficult. They traded Elvis Andrus and Lance Lynn during the offseason, and they moved Joey Gallo and Kyle Gibson at the deadline. Journeyman utility man Charlie Culberson ranks fourth among players on the active roster with 1.2 WAR, behind glove-first shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, 28-year-old rookie Adolis Garcia and right-hander Dane Dunning. Household names are nowhere to be found.
Atlanta Braves: Reinforced
Rather than throwing in the towel when Ronald Acuna Jr. suffered a season-ending ACL tear just before the All-Star break, the Braves saw a wide-open NL East race and went for it. They acquired Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, Richard Rodriguez and Eddie Rosario ahead of the deadline to reinforce the roster, and they have been the hottest team in the National League in August.
Miami Marlins: Pesky
The Marlins have failed to build off last season's surprise trip to the postseason from a win-loss standpoint, but they remain a young team on the rise that's capable of being a thorn in the side of contenders. They are a respectable 22-26 against the rest of the NL East, including 6-3 against the Mets. In a wide-open division race, they are poised to play the role of spoiler thanks to a strong starting rotation and a red-hot Lewis Brinson in the middle of the lineup.
New York Mets: Disappointing
Is there any other word for it? The Mets entered the season with lofty expectations after a busy offseason under new owner Steve Cohen headlined by the addition of Francisco Lindor. Fast-forward to August, and Cohen is taking shots at the team's lack of productivity, Lindor is having the worst season of his career, and the Mets have plummeted from first to third in the NL East standings amid an August tailspin.
Philadelphia Phillies: Average
The Phillies were 80-82 in 2018, 81-81 in 2019, 28-32 in 2020 and they are once again hovering around the .500 mark this season. They have some legitimate superstar talent with Bryce Harper posting MVP-caliber numbers and Zack Wheeler making a strong case for NL Cy Young honors, but they remain the very definition of an average team. It looked like that might be enough to win the NL East for much of the year, but now the Braves are off and running.
Washington Nationals: Stuck
The Nationals mashed the reset button at the trade deadline, moving Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and a plethora of other veteran pieces in a full-scale roster teardown. However, they still owe Patrick Corbin (three years, $83.2 million) and Stephen Strasburg (five years, $175 million) a ton of money. With Corbin struggling to a 6.04 ERA in 23 starts and Strasburg recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, moving them will be extremely difficult. It's a less-than-ideal situation at the start of a rebuild.
Chicago Cubs: Reset
It's hard to call what the Cubs are doing a retool since they have little in the way of long-term pieces to build around on the current roster. However, it also might not be accurate to call it a full-blown rebuild considering they have a deep farm system and significant payroll flexibility as a major-market club. So for now, let's say that they have pushed reset, turning over a significant portion of the roster and paving the way for the next chapter.
Cincinnati Reds: Precarious
The Reds lead the NL and rank third in the majors with a .768 OPS, and the starting rotation has also been rock solid with a 3.98 ERA that ranks 11th in the big leagues. If they had an even halfway decent bullpen, they would be a serious threat for an October run. Instead, their relief corps ranks 27th in MLB with a 5.17 ERA and has 23 blown saves in 56 opportunities. Late-inning leads are precarious, to say the least.
Milwaukee Brewers: Destined
There are some seasons where everything just seems to break right. That's how 2021 is going for the Brewers. Freddy Peralta has developed into a third bona fide ace alongside Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. An already deep bullpen has gotten even deeper thanks to Brad Boxberger, Miguel Sanchez and Jake Cousins. And the in-season additions of Willy Adames, Rowdy Tellez and Eduardo Escobar have completely transformed the offense. This team seems destined to succeed.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Abysmal
The Pirates won 12 games in April, but they've won only 30 more in the three-and-a-half months since that unexpectedly competitive start. After trading away Adam Frazier, Tyler Anderson and Richard Rodriguez at the deadline, the Pirates have hit rock bottom, and they have a 2-15 record and minus-52 run differential in August. Outside of Bryan Reynolds and Ke'Bryan Hayes, this team is unwatchable.
St. Louis Cardinals: Lurking
A non-factor in the playoff race for most of the year, the Cardinals are suddenly four games over .500 and only 3.5 back in the NL wild-card race with two teams to leapfrog to move into the No. 2 spot. With a 9-3 record in their last 12 games, they seem to be hitting their stride at the right time, and it would be unwise to write them off down the stretch.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Dismal
Shortly after stumbling through a 13-game losing streak in May, the D-backs lost 17 games in a row in June. They were a bit more competitive in July with an 11-12 record, this has been a brutal season for a team that looked like it might be a fringe contender if a few things broke right. They don't have much in the way of trade chips and most of their top prospect talent is still in the lower levels, so the near future is bleak.
Colorado Rockies: Inept
The Rockies are going nowhere this year, and that was abundantly clear from the moment the umpire said "Play ball!" on Opening Day. So how in the world did they manage to let the trade deadline come and go without finding a taker for Trevor Story? It's just another example of ineptitude from a front office that so badly botched the handling of superstar Nolan Arenado that he was traded for pennies on the dollar a year after signing a long-term extension. Who's ready for them to massively overpay Jon Gray?
Los Angeles Dodgers: Challenged
The reigning World Series champions looked like a juggernaut heading into the season, and a 13-2 start only fueled the fire. However, for all the superstar talent up and down the roster and the splashy trade deadline additions, this team has not sniffed first place in the NL West standings since late April. The Dodgers are still on pace for 100 wins and are still built to succeed in October, but they have not been the runaway freight train many expected.
San Diego Padres: Shorthanded
With Chris Paddack (strained oblique) and Yu Darvish (back tightness) recently joining Dinelson Lamet on the injured list, to go along with Mike Clevinger and Adrian Morejon already being out for the year, the Padres have been stretched thin in the starting rotation. Thin enough, in fact, that they plucked Jake Arrieta from the scrapheap after the Chicago Cubs released him with a 6.88 ERA in 20 starts.
San Francisco Giants: Legit
Early in the season, we did a reader mailbag article of general questions, and one of the most frequent submissions was "Are the Giants legit?" after they jumped out to a 16-10 start in April. Four months later, the answer is unequivocally yes, as they have the best record in baseball and have shown zero sign of wobbling. The roster has seemingly struck the perfect balance between veterans, rising youngsters and scrapheap finds exceeding expectations.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and accurate through Thursday's games.