As we inch ever closer toward the midway point of the 2021 season, one thing that sticks out is the relatively close pennant races. No team holds more than a four-game lead atop its division. The club with the biggest lead? That’s right, it’s the New York Mets.
The NL East is a bit of a mystery these days. Four teams are within five games of first place, while the last-place Marlins have the second-highest run differential at plus-17—just two off the pace of the Mets—yet own the fourth-worst record in the NL. The NL West, meanwhile, features the three best records in the league. Playoff planning might feel premature, but it’s looking very likely that two of the Giants, Dodgers and Padres will face off in a win-or-go-home wild-card game—impartial fans everywhere, rejoice.
In the meantime, we’ve got 30 teams to sort through as June nears its end, so let’s get to it.
30. Arizona Diamondbacks (Last Week: 30)
Merrill Kelly was Arizona’s saving grace last week, earning the win last Monday in the game that snapped its franchise record 17-game losing streak and on Saturday in the game that snapped its MLB record 24-game road losing streak. As such, he’s the only Diamondbacks starter with a win since 27-year-old Matt Peacock beat the Cardinals on May 30.
29. Baltimore Orioles (LW: 29)
The Orioles continue to have a rough go of things, losing 16 of their last 18 games. John Means’s absence with a shoulder injury is not solely to blame for these hard times, but a lack of production from the rotation most certainly is. Means went at least six innings in eight of his 12 starts this year, including his last game, which he had to leave due to injury. In the 20 games since he’s gone on the injured list, Orioles starters have gone six innings just twice. Just so we don’t end things on such a dour note, top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez continues to shove since his promotion to Double-A, with a 1.82 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 24.2 innings.
28. Pittsburgh Pirates (LW: 28)
The Pirates split a series with the White Sox and took three of four from the Cardinals, which qualifies as a pretty good week for any team. Ke’Bryan Hayes capped it off Sunday with one of the best defensive plays you’ll ever see (even if it’s cheapened a tiny bit by the molasses speed of Yadier Molina).
27. Colorado Rockies (LW: 25)
Now that Arizona’s historic road losing streak is over, it’s time to turn our attention to the poor-traveling Rockies. Colorado is 6–31 (a .162 winning percentage) on the road after getting swept at Milwaukee over the weekend, a mark that has them on pace for the worst road record in modern MLB history. The current mark belongs to the 1935 Boston Braves (13–65, .167). The offense hasn’t been able to adjust to sea level after playing in the thin air of Coors Field, with a league-worst road OPS (.566) that’s 66 points behind 29th-placed Kansas City—a larger gap between the Royals (.632) and 11th-placed San Diego (.695).
26. Texas Rangers (LW: 27)
The Rangers’ sweep of the Royals over the weekend marked their first string of consecutive wins in over a month. Texas pitching was solid during that run, led by another strong outing by Kyle Gibson. Gibson, 33, is an intriguing trade candidate as we get closer to the July 30 deadline who should draw plenty of interest. He’s had an outstanding season so far, still generating a ton of ground balls while posting a career low home run rate (0.60 HR/9). Gibson’s barrel rate (4%) and expected ERA (3.26) are both career bests during the Statcast era (since 2015). He’s making $9 million this year and is due to make $7 million in 2022, the final year of his current contract.
25. Detroit Tigers (LW: 26)
The Tigers bullpen has had a few standout performers this season, but perhaps none more so than Gregory Soto. The left-hander was signed by Detroit as an international free agent in December 2012 at the age of 17. After seven minor league seasons, he debuted in 2019 and had a role in the bullpen in 2020 to mixed results. Soto’s been excellent this year, holding opponents to a .183 expected batting average and a 2.25 ERA in 34 games. He’s had some control issues, with a 14.1% walk rate and an MLB-leading eight wild pitches, but his stuff has been dominant. Opposing hitters are batting .089 against his slider, with a 46.3% whiff rate.
24. Kansas City Royals (LW: 23)
The Royals are sort of falling apart at the seams lately, losing 17 of their last 21 games. A bright spot amid the team-wide slump has been the hot bat of Nicky Lopez. The light-hitting middle infielder has hit .345/.433/.362 this month with more walks (nine) than strikeouts (seven). Lopez has just one extra-base hit during that span (a double) and possesses virtually no power. That, coupled with his high contact right, makes him something of a left-handed hitting David Fletcher. The Royals could do a lot worse.
23. Miami Marlins (LW: 22)
A pitching staff led by Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers and Pablo Lopez has kept the Marlins afloat this season, with Miami’s rotation ranking as a top-five unit in ERA (3.25) and even the bullpen ranking seventh (3.53). But an offense long on cheap veterans and short on elite talent has sunk this squad to the bottom of the NL East with little hope of moving up. Miami has scored one or zero runs in six of its last 11 games.
22. St. Louis Cardinals (LW: 18)
June has not been kind to the Cardinals, who have lost 17 of 24 games this month with a lone series win. The offense has averaged 2.9 runs per game with a .604 OPS, both marks being the worst in the majors, and the pitching staff has registered a 5.14 ERA, better than only Colorado and Arizona among NL squads. Yadier Molina is looking his age and carrying a .172/.274/.203 June slash line after his stellar start, while Paul DeJong and Edmundo Sosa have been equally awful at the plate while splitting shortstop duties as of late. St. Louis needs to take advantage of the Diamondbacks coming to town this week, but that’s no sure thing after losing three of four to the Pirates at home over the weekend.
21. Minnesota Twins (LW: 24)
The Twins have been among the most disappointing clubs of the season, but lately they’ve started to turn a corner. Minnesota has won seven of its last nine games, and pitching—which has been such an issue thus far—has picked up the pace a bit. Among the key names to keep an eye on is rookie Bailey Ober, if only because he’s hard to miss. At 6’ 9” and 260 pounds, he doesn’t throw particularly hard but has been solid to start his career, with a 4.64 ERA through his first five starts. Ober struck out 244 batters in less than 200 minor league innings, and was excellent at suppressing home runs in the minors and in college. His development is key for the Twins moving forward, whether they turn the season around or enter into more of a retooling phase.
20. Los Angeles Angels (LW: 20)
The Angels must be breathing a sigh of relief that they’ve faced the Rays for the final time this season. They snuck out of the Trop with a win on Sunday to avoid getting swept in the seven-game season series. The Angels have struggled mightily against the good clubs so far, with a 19–33 record against teams .500 or better. They’re 17–7 against losing teams. Sunday was yet another episode in the Shohei Ohtani show. The two-way star joined Mike Trout as the only players in team history with a double, triple, home run and stolen base in the same game.
19. Seattle Mariners (LW: 21)
The Mariners have rattled off 10 wins in their last 13 games, six of them either by one run or in extra innings. That’s been emblematic of the way Seattle has gone this year: The Mariners are an astonishing 17–7 in one-run games—easily the best mark in the league—and remain above .500 despite a minus-43 run differential. Seattle has the third-best wRC+ (123) with runners in scoring position and leads the majors in that category during high leverage situations (135).
18. Philadelphia Phillies (LW: 15)
Philadelphia’s bullpen issues from last year have resurfaced with a vengeance, as the team managed to lose four one-run games last week. Hector Neris lost the closer’s job on Friday to Jose Alvarado, who promptly served up a game-tying run in the first game of a doubleheader that day. Archie Bradley did the same in the nightcap … in which Neris eventually earned the save in extras. Neftali Feliz, who last appeared in the majors in 2017, was added to the roster Friday. At this point, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get a shot in the ninth inning.
17. Atlanta Braves (LW: 17)
Mike Soroka re-tore his Achilles tendon simply by walking around in the Braves clubhouse, an awfully discouraging development for the 2019 All-Star. Rookie Kyle Muller provided some encouraging news for the rotation Sunday in his second career start by shutting out Cincinnati’s high-powered offense over five innings, striking out nine Reds in the process. The Braves haven’t produced more than four runs in their last 10 games, but they’ve managed to go 5–5 in that stretch.
16. Washington Nationals (LW: 19)
Kyle Schwarber is on the tear of a lifetime, having launched 13 home runs in his last 16 games to carry the Nationals up into second place in the NL East and briefly tie for the NL home run lead (before Fernando Tatis Jr. retook it with a three-homer barrage Friday). Get this man back to his second Home Run Derby, if not his first All-Star Game.
15. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 16)
Luis Castillo, who by some measures was uncharacteristically the worst starter in baseball through the first third of the season, is finally back on track. His seven shutout innings of Atlanta on Saturday continued a streak of six starts in which he’s lowered his ERA from its peak of 7.61 to 5.14, and it should be more than a run lower according to FIP. The 28-year-old has recorded 1.71 ERA in five June starts with 32 strikeouts and just one homer allowed in 31.2 innings. One crucial element has been the return of the Dominican’s signature changeup, which is generating more whiffs after a concerning dip that coincided with his struggles.
14. New York Yankees (LW: 11)
Just when the Yankees look to be rolling, they get swept once again by the Red Sox. Sunday’s loss was particularly brutal, with ace Gerrit Cole getting roughed up to the tune of six runs and three homers in five innings. Left-hander Jordan Montgomery is the only starter pitching well at the moment. He has a 3.35 ERA with 39 strikeouts in his last seven starts, holding opponents to a mere .351 slugging percentage. Opponents are hitting just .167 against his curveball with a 41.7% whiff rate.
13. Cleveland (LW: 12)
Cleveland has not scored more than four runs in any of its last three wins. Given the injuries to the starting rotation and an offense that’s lagged all season long, low-scoring affairs seem to be the team’s best formula for success. That’s especially true given the sharp backend of the bullpen. The lineup is not a particularly deep cast, but a hot stretch from Harold Ramirez has certainly helped the cause. Ramirez is hitting .323/.348/.565 this month with four home runs, hitting safely in 14 out of 18 games.
12. Toronto Blue Jays (LW: 14)
In the interest of variety, we don’t use this space to exclusively rave about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. But this week, we’ll have to make an exception. The 22-year-old phenom is batting an absurd .382/.471/.787 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs this month. His onslaught on opposing pitchers—combined with the improved performances from starters Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling—gives Toronto hope to keep pace in a competitive AL East.
11. Chicago Cubs (LW: 10)
No-hitting the Dodgers is a nice accomplishment for a team whose strategy of stocking up on soft-tossing starters hasn’t really worked out (4.60 rotation ERA, 13th in NL). It was fitting for the trio of Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Craig Kimbrel to finish the job for the softest of those soft tossers, Zach Davies. Those three have anchored the best bullpen in baseball (2.67 ERA). Davies also deserves credit for coming on strong lately after a bumpy beginning to his Cubs tenure. The 28-year-old with an average sinker velocity in the high 80s has allowed zero runs in four of his last seven starts.
10. Milwaukee Brewers (LW: 13)
When the Brewers acquired Willy Adames on May 21, both he and the man he replaced as Milwaukee’s shortstop were mired in season-long slumps. Since then, however, both Adames (.281/.356/.496) and the displaced Luis Urias (.267/.346/.440) have rebounded, with Urias essentially still functioning as a regular starter at third and second for Travis Shaw and Kolten Wong, who have both spent time on the IL.
9. New York Mets (LW: 9)
For as much star power the Mets boast these days, it was telling to see zero of their position players listed as finalists to start in the All-Star Game. The firing of hitting coaches Chili Davis and Tom Slater in early May for Hugh Quattlebaum (and Donnie Stevenson?) appears to have fixed little. After a brief scoring binge to start the month, New York’s offense has cooled off once again, producing 29 runs over the last 13 games, eight of which the Mets lost. They’ve allowed only 33 runs over that span, though, illustrating the dominance of the pitching staff. That unit could use some reinforcements, too, however, after the loss of Joey Lucchesi to Tommy John surgery.
8. Oakland A’s (LW: 6)
Oakland’s depth will be tested with leadoff hitter Mark Canha on the injured list with tendinitis in his left hip. Canha has been the A’s second-best hitter after first baseman Matt Olson, so his absence will be felt. No one player can replace his production, but catcher Sean Murphy getting hot would help considerably. Murphy’s hitting .227/.354/.530 since the start of June, with 10 extra-base hits in 19 games. He hasn’t been a high-contact guy since reaching the majors but has always had big power.
7. Boston Red Sox (LW: 7)
Red Sox fans are dancing after their team swept the Yankees over the weekend, improving to 6–0 against their bitter rivals. Sunday’s win must have been particularly satisfying for Eduardo Rodríguez, who won for the first time since May 7. Among pitchers with at least 70 innings, Rodríguez has by far the largest gap between his ERA (5.83) and his FIP (3.57), so some positive regression might be looming. He had a 32.3% called strike-whiff rate on Sunday with no walks in what was arguably his best outing of the season.
6. Chicago White Sox (LW: 4)
The White Sox have dropped seven of their last nine games as the offense has gone cold. Several regulars are slumping, though perhaps none more than José Abreu. The reigning MVP was hitting .179/.233/.274 this month before leaving Sunday’s game after getting hit by a pitch on the knee. Thankfully, X-rays were negative and he’s considered day-to-day with a bone bruise, but his absence will still hurt for a team struggling to score runs right now.
5. San Diego Padres (LW: 8)
The Padres lost Saturday to gift Arizona its first road win in two months, but that marked San Diego’s only defeat in a 10-game homestand that featured sweeps over the Reds and Dodgers. The only real blemish of the homestand was Dinelson Lamet going back on the IL with another forearm ailment. He’d been slowly working his way back up to full strength since a similar injury ended his 2020 campaign and sidelined him for 10 days in April.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (LW: 3)
Five Dodgers were named Sunday as finalists to start the All-Star Game, a number only Houston’s seven could top. Los Angeles could nearly lay claim to six, but the injured Corey Seager was edged out by Brandon Crawford on the final day of voting by 22,000 votes, the thinnest margin for a spot to qualify for phase two. Of greater importance, Dave Roberts revealed Sunday that Seager’s broken hand is “taking a little bit longer” to heal than expected, which makes the previously estimated return of early July seem too optimistic.
3. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 5)
The Rays bounced back from their seven-game losing streak to rattle off four straight wins this week. Tampa Bay’s pitching staff has been outstanding this season, flexing strength in numbers rather than relying on a few standouts. That depth will be even more critical with Tyler Glasnow’s lengthy absence. Former first-round pick Shane McClanahan has been particularly sharp lately. His wipeout slider has been nearly untouchable, with opposing hitters batting .176 against it with a 46.0% whiff rate. Lately, Kevin Cash has given the rookie a longer leash. He’s gone through six innings in each of his last two starts and topped 85 pitches in his last three after hitting neither of those checkpoints in his first eight outings.
2. San Francisco Giants (LW: 2)
After coming out on top in the Bay Bridge series this weekend, San Francisco has either won or split its last 10 series, tied with the Yankees for the longest such streak this year. The Giants became the first team to reach 50 wins in style on Saturday, beating Oakland on a walk-off double by backup catcher Curt Casali, who was starting for a scratched Buster Posey (back tightness). That followed an earlier home run by LaMonte Wade Jr., who didn’t make much of a mark with the Twins over the last two seasons but has an .844 OPS with improved underlying metrics this season and is starting at first base for the injured Brandon Belt. This is starting to feel like the #EvenYearMagic years of the 2010s; perhaps it’ll be #OddYearMagic for the Giants in the 2020s?
1. Houston Astros (LW: 1)
It appears the only thing that can slow down the Astros’ offense is … the Tigers pitching? Houston scored just five runs in three games on Saturday and Sunday, but remains atop of the power rankings due to an ascendant month. The Astros have won 21 of their last 27 games, and have scored 46 more runs on the season than any other team. Among the club’s top eight hitters in terms of plate appearances, seven have a wRC+ above 120. Four of those hitters are topping the 150 mark: Yordan Álvarez (151), Yuli Gurriel (153), Michael Brantley (154) and Carlos Correa (160). It might be the year of the pitcher, but Houston doesn’t appear to have gotten the memo.
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