It might have taken a bit longer than expected, but the MLB teams supposed to contend are now playing as such on a consistent game-to-game basis. So much, in fact, that many a club is streaking.
As you will quickly see in this ranking installment, the field is starting to shuffle to where projections might have placed these clubs at this juncture of the season. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s find out by diving into the ninth installment of Rich 10 MLB Power Rankings, 2021 edition.
Just a bit outside: Chicago Cubs (24-22)
Previous ranking: N/A
Record over past week: 5-2
Winning three out of four against the Washington Nationals and two out of three against the St. Louis Cardinals over the past week was just enough to vault the North Siders into this ranking installment. With a boom-or-bust offense and a pitching unit that has its fair share of inconsistencies, the Cubs will be a tricky team to get a read on as the summer months begin. As of right now, the majority of the team’s moving parts are clicking coherently. Should the Cubs continue to wave the winning flag, they will need to capitalize on teams showing vulnerability. Luckily for them, they have the opportunity to do so this week, as they will play the Pittsburgh Pirates during the week (three games) before battling with the Cincinnati Reds over the upcoming weekend (three games).
10. St. Louis Cardinals (26-20)
Previous ranking: +1
Record over past week: 3-2
Sometimes, it is best to sit back in awe at what veteran players do. No one expected 39-year-old Adam Wainwright to be one of the anchors atop the Cardinal rotation this season. Yet here we are. After his masterful eight innings of work against the Cubs on May 23, Wainwright now possesses a 3.95 ERA in 54.2 innings of work. Not exactly the Wainwright vintage he was used to doing a decade ago, but still valuable nonetheless. St. Louis will start up a 10-game road trip this week when they tackle the Chicago White Sox (three games), Arizona Diamondbacks (four games) and Los Angeles Dodgers (three games).
9. San Francisco Giants (28-19)
Previous ranking: 6
Record over past week: 4-3
A four-game super-sweep delivered to the Reds last week was quickly diminished when the Giants were swept by the Dodgers over the weekend. Suddenly, San Francisco is behind both Los Angeles and San Diego in the National League West standings. San Francisco’s method to win has become clearer by the week – pitching, pitching and more pitching. While San Francisco’s hitting is not bottom-of-the-barrel, it does not have the firepower to bail the pitching out game in and game out. Should the Giants hope to change their fortunes for the better, they will have to hit more and continue pitch at a high level.
8. Chicago White Sox (26-19)
Previous ranking: 1
Record over past week: 2-4
Getting swept by the New York Yankees over the weekend was not the biggest story coming from the South Side. After Yermin Mercedes jacked a 47.1 mph “pitch” off position player Willians Astudillo for a home run, Chicago manager Tony La Russa had some choice words for his player. So did Minnesota, even though those words came in the form of pitching behind him. And La Russa was fine with it. Whether or not you abide by the “unwritten rules” is up to you, but one has to think – did this create a rift in the clubhouse? It certainly makes you wonder.
7. Oakland Athletics (28-20)
Previous ranking: 4
Record over past week: 3-3
The batting average and on-base percentage certainly is not there, but the power is. While Seth Brown is not a household name, his sheer strength has helped put him on the map. His .522 Slugging Percentage (SLG) ranks second among 11 Oakland batters with a minimum of 30 games played. The only player ahead of him? Matt Olson (.562 SLG). In fact, Brown is currently on a three-game home run streak. As it turns out, pitching up and in might not be a wise idea when facing the left-hander. Dylan Bundy certainly figured that out on Sunday.
6. Houston Astros (26-21)
Previous ranking: 3
Record over past week: 2-4
Houston has hit a bit of a funk. Getting swept to their in-state rival Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field would certainly illustrate that on its own, but so would a collective 4.43 ERA from the Houston bullpen dating back to May 17. The offensive pieces are certainly there, and while the starting rotation might not be what it was several seasons ago, it is still good enough to get the job done. The youth is certainly prevalent, but even still, Houston’s collective relief unit will need to find a way to have better days on the mound. And sooner the better, as the Astros will begin a nine-game stretch where they play the Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox.
5. Boston Red Sox (29-19)
Previous ranking: 7
Record over past week: 4-2
Getting blanked 8-0 against the Toronto Blue Jays to start off last week did not faze the Red Sox in the slightest, as they then went on to win their next two to win the series. Then, over the weekend, they took two out of three again, this time against the Philadelphia Phillies. This ranking might seem low, considering they are atop the American League East, but this just goes to show how tough their division almost always turns out to be. Boston will continue their interleague stretch when they host the Atlanta Braves for a pair (May 25-26) and Miami Marlins for a three-game set (May 28-30).
4. New York Yankees (28-19)
Previous ranking: 9
Record over past week: 6-1
With Aaron Judge’s bases-loaded walk Sunday afternoon against the White Sox, the 29-year-old outfielder not only picked up his first career walk-off (no pun intended) but helped keep New York’s winning streak intact. With their streak now up to six games, New York might be starting to take off. A scary thought, considering the fact that Giancarlo Stanton (quad) and Aaron Hicks (wrist) are both on the Injured List (IL). How long New York’s winning streak goes is anyone’s guess, but they will have to do it without the latter, who might miss the rest of the season (surgery).
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (29-18)
Previous ranking: 5
Record over past week: 7-0
Word to the wise – never, ever write off the Dodgers. Although their rough patch earlier in the season might have made a few folks antsy, it is a long season, and injury issues or not, Los Angeles will still pick up a ton of wins. How so? Max Muncy is still launching bombs, Julio Urias is showing his top-of-the-rotation (and middle-of-the-order?) potential and Gavin Lux might be tapping into a touch of some power. This team will only get better as they get healthier. The National League should still be on high alert.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (29-19)
Previous ranking: 10
Record over past week: 6-0
It might not be beautiful, but then again, it probably does not matter. At least, not to the Rays. Why should it? After all, Tampa Bay’s 10-game winning streak is the best among all MLB teams heading into May 24 action. Should Tampa Bay win two more games, they’d match their 12-game win streak they were able to string off during the 2004 season. Should Tampa Bay win three more games in a row, they will have a brand-new franchise record to hang their caps on. One game at a time, right? Right. The Rays will conclude their four-game series against the Blue Jays on May 24 before heading back to Tropicana Field to begin a brief five-game homestand (three games against Kansas City and two against Philadelphia).
1. San Diego Padres (30-17)
Previous ranking: 2
Record over past week: 6-0
Everyone knew the Friars would go on a significant tear at least once this season. But their current nine-game winning streak dating back to May 14 just hits a little bit different. This is not your typical stretch where all the stars align and the team wins because of it. Instead, it has been quite the opposite for San Diego. Looking at the context only illustrates this – a slew of their stars, including that of Manny Machado (shoulder), Trent Grisham (heel) and Wil Myers (COVID-19) have all missed time during the stretch. In other words, San Diego had to dig up some old-fashioned tenacity to get the job done. Whether or not these players missed one game or 10 is not the point. The point, you may ask? San Diego still found a way. This is why they take the top spot in this ranking installment. Then again, so does this.