We’re now just two weeks away from the end of the 2022 MLB regular season, and many races are still up in the air.
Four of our top five teams have now secured a postseason berth, with the Yankees, Cardinals and Guardians the three division leaders left still battling for a playoff spot.
While we have a good idea of which contenders will likely be in the wild card, the positioning is still up in the air — with the Mariners, Blue Jays and Rays, specifically, going back and forth in the American League seeding. The Phillies and Padres, with the Brewers on the outside looking in, are the National league squads that still have much to fight for in the wild-card race.
Where do our experts rank all of these clubs?
Our panel has combined to rank every team in baseball based on a combination of what we’ve seen so far and what we already knew going into the 162-game marathon that is a full baseball season. We also asked ESPN MLB experts Buster Olney, Bradford Doolittle, Jesse Rogers and Alden Gonzalez to weigh in with an observation for all 30 teams.
Previous ranking: 1
The regular season is nearing its conclusion, the stakes have all but been eliminated, and yet the Dodgers’ success remains remarkable. They’ve had very little to play for in September, and yet they’ve won 13 of 20 games. They’ve won 73% of the time since the start of July and have secured triple-digit wins for the third consecutive full season (not counting the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, though they were on pace for more than 100 wins that year, too).
By the end of the week, they could secure a franchise record for victories with 107. A lot of outsiders keep bringing up pitching concerns when it comes to the Dodgers in the postseason, but this team continually finds ways to win, often convincingly. And there are no signs of that letting up. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 2
The Astros have clinched the AL West, have a hammerlock on the league’s top seed in the postseason bracket and, depending on how the playoffs go, are positioned for consideration as the best Houston club in franchise history. They are the team to beat in the AL and the favorite to return to the World Series for the fourth time in six seasons.
Still, their catchers can’t hit. It’s a minor quibble but perhaps worth noting since this is otherwise so close to a perfect roster. Midseason pickup Christian Vazquez was supposed to help at the plate but after putting up a 110 OPS+ in Boston, that figure has been 51 in Houston. Overall, Astros catchers have hit .183/.247/.305 for a MLB-worst .551 OPS through Tuesday. Obviously Houston favors defense and the handling of pitchers when choosing its catchers, but that’s still pretty bad. Apparently, no team is perfect. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 4
If the Mets don’t play deep into October, it’s inevitable that any mistakes will be picked apart on talk radio, and the refrain that the front office should’ve done more at the trade deadline will be repeated over and over. But with the Mets locked into a postseason berth and flirting with 100 wins, this season really should be viewed as a success — the first significant manifestation of owner Steve Cohen’s commitment to winning. — Olney
Previous ranking: 3
In 2021, the Braves decided that Kyle Wright needed an extended period of development in the minors, and as a result, he made just two appearances in the major leagues in the regular season. But after Wright pitched in with two strong World Series appearances, the Atlanta staff thought he might soar this year — and in fact, he has a chance to be the majors’ only 20-game winner in 2022. Wright’s victory Monday was his 19th. –– Olney
Previous ranking: 5
Aaron Judge has generated a zillion statistics this season that will be devoured and digested for many years to come, while building history. Here’s a simple set of numbers that underscores just how he has been the barometer of success for a team loaded with established stars: In games the Yankees have won, Judge has a slash line of .350/.438/.832; in games they’ve lost, he has gone .256/.388/.482. — Olney
Previous ranking: 6
It’s no longer if Albert Pujols will reach 700 home runs, it’s just a matter of when. His 698th, achieved Friday against Cincinnati, was yet another clutch long ball. It might be what’s most impressive about Pujols — he’s not hitting home runs in garbage time against the other team’s worst pitchers. St. Louis will clinch the NL Central in short order, and the big lead in the division is what’s allowing manager Oliver Marmol to play his slugger against both righties and lefties. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 9
Obviously, the Blue Jays would like to keep winning and secure the fourth seed in the AL bracket. That much goes without saying. Still, if Toronto were to slip down to the fifth or even the sixth slot, their landing might be a soft one. That’s because the Blue Jays have actually been much better on the road this season than at Rogers Centre. The win-loss records are similar, but at home Toronto’s run differential (through Tuesday) translates to that of a 79-win team over 162 games.
The comparable figure for road games is 100 wins. Only the White Sox and A’s have a greater disparity in favor of road games. Also, given the strength of the Astros as the AL’s likely top seed, it’s possible that the circuit’s six seed will be better positioned than the fifth seed to make a deep run. Regardless, the Blue Jays want to keep winning. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 7
There were a couple of notable developments concerning the Rays’ starting rotation coming out of reports from Tampa Bay last week. One isn’t so good: While Shane Baz has recovered enough from his elbow trouble to resume throwing, it is not considered likely that he’ll return to game action this season.
On the other hand, Tyler Glasnow has now made three rehab appearances for Triple-A Durham. His workload has been limited but so far, hitters are 1-for-14 against Glasnow and he has struck out eight of the 17 hitters he has faced. Glasnow is now likely to rejoin the Rays’ rotation before the end of the season and give them an elite pitcher heading into October, albeit in a limited role. Still, if Glasnow is nothing more than a glorified opener during the playoffs, facing six to nine batters, that’s a huge boost to the Rays’ ceiling entering the playoffs. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 8
The start of the playoffs presents an annual opportunity for a reset for any struggling player, and the Mariners could really use a late-season bounce-back from Jesse Winker, who has had a disappointing first season in Seattle. He’s hitting .218 with 13 homers, his average in September is .147 and his last homer was Aug. 17. With Eugenio Suarez now out with a broken finger — even if he does come back at season’s end, it’s the sort of injury that could affect him the rest of this year — Winker’s production is even more important. — Olney
Previous ranking: 10
There have been times when it appeared the Phillies could represent an interesting threat to the NL powers — the Dodgers, Mets and Braves. But the rough series in Atlanta over the weekend, in which Philadelphia mustered just seven runs in three days, was a reminder of the team’s flaws, including its relief pitching. The Phillies rank 23rd among 30 teams in bullpen ERA, despite the fact that Philadelphia’s relievers amassed the second-fewest innings in the majors. — Olney
Previous ranking: 12
Why are the Guardians closing in on the AL Central crown? Pitching and defense. Since the All-Star break, Cleveland ranks in the top three in the majors in ERA and BABIP. The starters’ ERA ranks in the top 10 among rotations since the break after ranking just 17th during the first half. But the story of the season for the Guardians and their biggest hope for a long playoff run continues to be the bullpen.
The relievers ranked 12th in bullpen before the break but since then, the group has coalesced into perhaps the best in the majors. The bullpen ranks in the top three during the second half in all of the following: ERA, batting average allowed, strikeout percentage, walk rate and rate of homers allowed. If Cleveland is to survive a rugged AL playoff field, manager Terry Francona’s lights-out bullpen is likely to be the primary reason. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 11
Don’t forget that one of the Padres’ biggest reasons for optimism heading into this season stemmed from their acquisition of Bob Melvin, an experienced, celebrated manager who always seems to strike the right tone in the clubhouse. That was on display recently. The Padres looked lethargic and uninspired while getting shut out by the D-backs last Thursday, and Melvin responded by doing something he rarely does — firmly criticizing his players publicly.
A players-only meeting was held the following day, and the Padres responded by reeling off five consecutive wins, during which their staff has pitched to a 0.80 ERA. During that stretch, their starting pitchers performed well, their offense flowed, and Juan Soto started to get going. And it might have all stemmed from Melvin picking the perfect time and place to lose his cool. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 13
Milwaukee’s playoff hopes are on life support, but every time it looks like their season is over, the Brewers pull out a couple of wins and keep pace with the teams ahead of them in the wild-card hunt. A sweep of the Yankees over the weekend would have gone a long way to closing the gap some more, but Milwaukee blew a lead at home on Sunday and settled for a series win. And that was followed by a loss to the Mets, so the gap continues to be several games in the NL wild-card race in which the Brewers lose tiebreakers to both San Diego and Philadelphia. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 15
Baltimore’s playoff hopes might be slipping away, but an 82-win season — or more — is certainly in the cards. Rookie Adley Rutschman continues a fine first season in the big leagues, compiling a .935 OPS and his 11th home run last week. Baltimore will probably need to overhaul its pitching staff, as the numbers have finally begun to dip. The Orioles gave up 27 runs over a four-day stretch from Sept. 16 to Sept. 19, dashing their playoff hopes, which are now on life support. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 14
For Chicago, the inability to take advantage of weak competition in the division has been a constant theme — not that the Guardians can be looked at as weak competition at this point. The White Sox have taken 12 of 16 against last-place Detroit, as you’d expect. But they are under .500 against the other three clubs in the division, which includes a 9-10 mark against Kansas City. Compounding the high-leverage loss was that it overshadowed what could have been another important data point for Dylan Cease in his run at the AL Cy Young Award. Cease allowed just one run over six innings despite not having dominant stuff. But the White Sox allowed nine runs after he departed. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 16
The Twins’ discouraging second-half flop is all but complete, as the most recent playoff odds show that Minnesota’s chances have dwindled down to mathematical zero. Injuries are part of that outcome, but as the page starts to turn to planning for the 2023 season, one bright spot continues to be righty Joe Ryan.
The Twins’ unlikely Opening Day starter has indeed proved to be the Twins’ best of the 13 performers in this year’s revolving-door rotation. Ryan has been outstanding in his past two outings, throwing 14 2/3 scoreless innings with just three hits allowed. His 10 quality starts is the most on the Twins, as is his average game score of 55.4. Ryan has now made 30 career starts during which he’s gone 14-9 with a 3.68 ERA and 106 ERA+. An ace? Probably not, but Ryan has cemented himself as a long-term solution for the Twins. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 18
Remember last year, when the Giants won 107 games to finally overtake the Dodgers in the NL West, then played them down to the wire in a thrilling five-game NL Division Series? Well, that is certainly not the case in 2022. The Giants clearly are not the same team, and that is perhaps captured most efficiently in how they have fared against their bitter division rivals. In 2021, the two teams split their 24 head-to-head matchups if you count the postseason. In 2022, the Giants lost 15 of 19 games to the Dodgers, including all three at home over the weekend. The Dodgers have outscored them 99-55. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 17
Boston will have to look no further than its record against its own division to understand why it’s at the bottom of the AL East. After dropping two more to the Yankees last week, the Red Sox fell to 6-9 against them this season. Add that to a 4-12 record against Tampa Bay and a 3-13 mark versus Toronto, and you start to see Boston’s season in a nutshell. The Red Sox also have a losing record against Baltimore, so there’s really nothing about the team to like in 2022. Having said that, Xander Bogaerts might win the batting title. He’s hitting .377 this month, putting him in a great position. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 19
Merrill Kelly‘s 2022 ERA against the Dodgers: 8.25. Merrill Kelly’s 2022 ERA against everybody else: 2.38. The 33-year-old right-hander has put together a fine season overall (12-7, 3.15 ERA in 182 2/3 innings), but he’d be a Cy Young contender if not for his struggles against the best team in baseball. That was evidenced once again on Monday, when Kelly gave up five runs in six innings while taking the loss at Dodger Stadium. He described his relationship with the Dodgers thusly: “It’s like having a big brother you keep wrestling. And every time, he taps you out.” — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 20
There’s been decent growth in catcher Jonah Heim‘s game this season. He had a two-homer week, giving him 15 on the season to go along with 20 doubles. His .406 slugging percentage is at least something to work with for Texas. The Rangers have decent power and stolen-base threats in their lineup, making them potentially formidable at the plate in 2023. Heim should be a bigger part of that offense next year. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 21
One of the few bright spots in the Angels’ disappointing season has been that they might have actually tapped into some organizational starting pitching, the element that has long plagued them. Reid Detmers and Jose Suarez have shown some promise, but Patrick Sandoval is the one who has really stood out. The 25-year-old left-hander limited the Rangers to two runs in five innings on Tuesday and has allowed just seven runs in his past 22 1/3 innings, putting his ERA at 3.01 as he nears the end of his second full season in the major leagues. The Angels need plenty more of these contributions from their farm system if they hope to contend in the near future. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 22
Kris Bryant hasn’t been officially shut down by the Rockies just yet, but his return before season’s end is becoming increasingly unlikely. The former MVP hasn’t played since July 31 and has tallied only 42 games in the first season of a seven-year, $182 million contract. Bryant hasn’t necessarily performed poorly, slashing .306/.376/.475, but he has required three separate stints on the injured list to deal with plantar fasciitis and a strained lower back. He’ll be 31 next year, and the Rockies, with relatively scant resources to begin with, can only hope this was merely an outlier season. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 23
The Cubs’ offense has gone quiet but injuries have contributed to that, as catcher Willson Contreras, shortstop Nico Hoerner and second baseman Nick Madrigal have all been out. They represent a lot of hits for Chicago, so it’s no surprise the team batted just .204 last week. Rookie Christopher Morel broke out of a slump with a home run on Monday against the Marlins but hit just .059 from Sept. 12 to Sept. 19. The Cubs will be searching for more power this winter. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 24
The 1972 Phillies managed 59 wins, and Steve Carlton was the winning pitcher in 27 of them, in a season in which he had a 1.97 ERA, struck out 310 batters and had an adjusted ERA+ of 182. What Sandy Alcantara has done with the Marlins in a year in which Miami is terrible isn’t quite up to the Carlton standard, but it’s close — a 2.37 ERA, an MLB-high 212⅔ innings and an adjusted ERA+ of 172. — Olney
Previous ranking: 26
The Royals don’t figure to make much noise in the postseason awards races. One exception could be center fielder Michael A. Taylor, who might be positioned for a second straight Gold Glove. Taylor leads AL center fielders in defensive runs saved, just ahead of Cleveland’s Myles Straw. But Straw and others have better metrics in other systems.
According to the current SABR Defensive Index (SDI) ratings, a composite score of metrics that is a component of the Gold Glove selection process, Taylor ranks second to Straw with two weeks to go in the season. Last season, Taylor led the AL in SDI by a comfortable margin, with Straw coming in a distant second. The Royals’ overall defensive metrics mark them as an average fielding club. At least by SDI, Taylor appears to be KC’s only viable Gold Glove hopeful. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 25
Despite giving up a couple of home runs in his latest start, lefty Nick Lodolo might be the best storyline for Cincinnati in the second half. His strikeout totals in September, alone, jump off the page. He followed a nine-strikeout outing against Colorado with 11 in each of his next two starts against Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. He added seven more on Tuesday against Boston, giving him the second-most K’s in the NL this month. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 27
The focus in Detroit remains squarely on the future, especially now that the club has hired former Cubs and Giants exec Scott Harris to head up the baseball operations department. On the field, one glimmer in that possible future has been the rise this season of lefty Joey Wentz. The 24-year-old’s slow climb through the minors has been, to put it kindly, non-linear. Last season, Wentz topped out at Double-A and went 0-7 with a 4.50 ERA across two levels. This season, despite tepid expectations, Wentz performed well at Triple-A and earned a pair of big league promotions. Since being recalled for a start on Sept. 9, Wentz has posted a sterling 1.69 ERA over three outings and put himself in the conversation for a spot in Detroit’s 2023 rotation. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 28
The Pirates are getting the good and the bad from Oneil Cruz, who hit three home runs last week but struck out 14 times in 21 at-bats. In doing so, he hit just .191 from Sept. 14 to Sept. 18 as he continues to confound scouts. Some have their doubts about his long-term viability, though no one doubts the talent. Cruz has just 21 walks to 118 strikeouts on the season. It’s way too early to draw conclusions, but progress has to come in plate discipline first and foremost. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 29
One of the sport’s hottest hitters this month is none other than Tony Kemp. The diminutive second baseman and left fielder — with a career .698 OPS — is slashing .322/.394/.559 this month, one of a few bright spots on a rebuilding A’s team that has lost 29 of 45 games since the start of August. Kemp’s three-run homer off Mariners ace Luis Castillo on Tuesday propelled the team to victory. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 30
It’s fair to wonder if we are seeing the last days in the career of the highly respected Nelson Cruz, the 42-year-old DH who is hitting .234 with 10 homers. Cruz has 439 homers in his career, but this year, his slugging percentage is .337 with an OPS of .631 — the lowest for him in any season since 2006. Cruz has built a reputation for bearing a strong clubhouse presence, so when no contender made a move for him at the deadline, that was a clue about how rival evaluators feel about his performance. — Olney