We’re just one series into the season’s second half, and already it feels like the landscape of the league has shifted. With the trade deadline right around the corner, just about every time in the Majors is under the magnifying glass — every game a referendum, the difference between going for it and playing it safe (or selling entirely). Who should be buying? Who should be selling? Let’s break down the state of the league do it the only way we know how: with a power ranking of all 30 Major League teams. Here’s our attempt at sifting through the chaos.
For the second straight week, the Braves occupy a tier of their own, despite a disappointing start to the second half over the weekend. Rotation depth is a question mark, and we still don’t fully trust the back end of the bullpen, but, well, those are issues basically the entire league is facing right now. Atlanta has the deepest lineup in the sport, and Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton and Bryce Elder is still a very nice top three to build on. Max Fried is on track to return from the IL soon, and no one is better positioned to shore up their weaknesses at the deadline than the Braves.
For the first time since the start of the season, the Rays occupy a spot outside the top two of our rankings — that’s what happens when you struggle to take two of three against the Kansas City Royals. Really, though, this has been some time coming: Tampa’s pitching depth has obviously taken a beating due to a variety of injuries, but even more concerning is that this has been a bottom-five offense in the league by wRC+ since the start of July. Breakout performers who helped carry the Rays to their historic start have fallen back to Earth, and that’s given the Baltimore the opportunity to catch them in our rankings — and nearly in the AL East standings as well.
The O’s are overflowing with position players, so much so that it’s almost hard to worry about their sketchy pitching behind Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells. Grayson Rodriguez is about to take another crack at the Majors, but even if he struggles again, Baltimore can just dip into its well of prospects to acquire an arm (or two, or three). In the end, we just have a bit more confidence in their depth compared to the Rangers and Dodgers — their rotations are in similar spots (someone like Lucas Giolito would do wonders) and we trust their lineups a smidge less.
After that top five, things get very muddled very quickly. The D-backs looked like legitimate contenders for much of the first half, but their offense has regressed — and that’s exposed a total lack of rotation depth behind Zac Gallen. They’re now not even second in their own division, as the Giants continue to make it work with an all-hands-on-deck approach at the plate and on the mound; they simply have more MLB-quality players right now.
In the midst of all this chaos, why not the Red Sox? Seven wins in eight games has them out of the AL East cellar, and in spite of everything, the Brayan Bello/James Paxton/Kutter Crawford/Nick Pivetta rotation has actually worked out okay. Rafael Devers is primed for a huge second half, and you can make the argument that Boston has the fewest question marks of any of the teams in this tier. Can Toronto ever find lineup depth, and what happens if Kevin Gausman is forced to miss time with his side injury? Saturday’s 13-12 loss to the Angels in extra innings shows the tightrope Houston is walking right now, with not too many relievers they can trust and a lineup decimated by injuries.
This is a tier of nominal contenders who nonetheless have reasons for real concern ahead of the deadline. The Reds’ offense has taken a nosedive of late, which they cannot afford given how many rotation injuries they’re dealing with right now. The Marlins have a negative run differential on the year, and they were exposed a bit this weekend in Baltimore — do they believe in their magical first half enough to be real buyers, or will they keep their powder dry and hope their close-game luck continues? The Phillies looked to be turning a corner, but this lineup remains frustratingly stuck in neutral, while the Yankees are simply a mediocre roster right now.
Ah, the great blob in the middle. Really, all seven of these teams have been stricken by an inability to get out of their own way this season. The Twins remain unable to score runs consistently, squandering the league’s best pitching staff and letting the Guardians hang around in the AL Central. Cleveland has plenty of pitching depth of their own to pull from with Shane Bieber on the IL, but this team feels like it has a hard cap on its ceiling with a punchless offense and three rookies in the rotation.
And then we come to the Great Underachievers, with the Padres, Angels, Cubs and Mets all needing a hot start out of the break to position themselves as buyers rather than sellers — and none of them getting it. San Diego feels the closest to a breakthrough, but the bullpen remains a thorn in their side, and now Fernando Tatis Jr. may be banged up. The Cubs have too many holes on the roster — any pitching depth behind Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele or consistency from the middle of their order — while we’ve yet to see the Mets’ stars all play well for an extended period of time. The Angels, meanwhile, feel like they’re just about dead in the water unless Mike Trout can make a miraculous recovery.
We’ve now exited the zone of potential buyers and entered the cellar. (At least the Pirates have called up Endy Rodriguez, which will keep Pittsburgh somewhat entertained during a long stretch run.) Cardinals GM John Mozeliak promised that players will be traded at the deadline, and it feels hard to believe that they’ll be buying rather than positioning themselves for 2024 — they simply don’t have the pitching to string wins together like they’d need to. The White Sox represent maybe baseball’s most interesting sellers, with a ton of pieces — Giolito, Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, a bevy of relievers — potentially on the block. The Nats and Rockies don’t even have much to offer contenders (apologies to Lane Thomas) while the Tigers are just trying to figure out how much of their young rotation they can build on moving forward.
The less said about this tier, the better. Our money’s still on the A’s to occupy the bottom spot at season’s end, but K.C.’s offense keeps trying to prove us wrong on that. JP Sears and Paul Blackburn at least give the A’s a couple of decent starters, which is more than the Royals can say right now.