The Houston Astros sit atop the first MLB Power Rankings as June begins to unfold on the weekend following Memorial Day.
The Houston Astros are the best team in Major League Baseball. At least that is the club’s earned status on the MLB Power Rankings after the first two months of the 2017 season.
Back at the start of February, I released a pre-spring training power ranking. That list had Houston in the #5 position. Their play on the field has elevated the Astros to the top.
HOUSTON POINTING TOWARD OCTOBER
That’s what it’s really all about – October. Leading a June Power Ranking is nice. But playing in the Fall, under the increased pressure and glare of playoff lights. That is what the Astros are really shooting for now.
Houston has visited the postseason just once in the last dozen years. The franchise is still searching for its first World Series victory. They were swept in four straight games in their only appearance in the Fall Classic back in 2005.
The Astros need to just stay healthy and keep doing what they’ve been doing. As baseball moves through the summer, the 12.5 game lead that they have built up in the AL West Division should remain stable. They will need to take that good health and solid play into Fall ball in order to reach their ultimate goal of a championship.
With Houston at the top of the list, let’s take a look at how the rest of Major League Baseball stacks up in my June 2017 Power Ranking:
JUNE 2017 MLB POWER RANKING: 30-21
30. Philadelphia Phillies
29. Oakland Athletics
28. San Francisco Giants
27. San Diego Padres
26. Atlanta Braves
25. New York Mets
24. Miami Marlins
23. Los Angeles Angels
22. Chicago White Sox
21. Kansas City Royals
This marks a fifth consecutive season that the Phillies have been one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball. Fans in the City of Brotherly Love are getting frustrated at the rebuilding mantra.
Thankfully, it appears that a number of the quality prospects are nearly ready to begin pushing out their placeholder players such as Cameron Rupp, Freddy Galvis, and newcomers Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick.
How far and fast the once mighty Royals have fallen. Hard to believe that Kansas City won a second consecutive AL pennant and the World Series just two seasons ago.
Weren’t the Mets and Giants supposed to contend? Injuries have damaged the chances for both clubs this season.
JUNE 2017 MLB POWER RANKING: 20-11
20. Pittsburgh Pirates
19. Cincinnati Reds
18. Texas Rangers
17. Seattle Mariners
16. Tampa Bay Rays
15. Detroit Tigers
14. Saint Louis Cardinals
13. Milwaukee Brewers
12. Toronto Blue Jays
11. Minnesota Twins
Credit where it’s due – the Twins have been a revelation thus far in the 2017 season. Losses in five of six games last week had many feeling that manager Paul Molitor‘s squad was about to collapse.
However, Minnesota has rebounded to win three of the last four, and they lead the AL Central by a game. I still believe the Cleveland Indians are better, and will overtake them soon. And the Detroit Tigers are beginning to heat up. But for now, the Twins deserve respect.
Somebody from this group is going to make a run. The Blue Jays, Tigers, and Cardinals are my personal favorites to do so.
After slow starts, the Jays and Tigers have gotten back into the postseason race. The Cards had done the same. But losses in 13 of their last 18 once again have Saint Louis floundering a bit. Of note – four of the five NL Central clubs are in this tier.
A year ago, Terry Francona‘s Tribe captured their first AL Central Division crown in nearly a decade. Then the Indians captured the AL pennant, and pushed the Cubs to the distance in the World Series.
I had Cleveland ranked at #7 back at the start of spring training. But then after winning their first three games this season, Cleveland proceeded to drop seven of their next nine.
They have mostly been treading water ever since. The club has not pushed more than four games over the .500 mark to this point. But they have also had a winning record since April 20.
Shortstop Francisco Lindor was my preseason pick for the American League Most Valuable Player award. Thus far he is hitting just .268 with a .333 on-base percentage.
With a dozen homers, Lindor leads the squad. He hit just 12 in 438 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015, and 15 a year ago, so the power is way up. If he regains a bit more consistency it would help the offense overall.
On the mound, ace Corey Kluber spent nearly the entire month of May on the Disabled List. Activated on June 1, Kluber struck out 10 in gaining the win over Oakland. He allowed just two hits over six innings while walking just one batter.
Kluber is a true stopper, and his return to the rotation should provide the boost needed for the Indians to push back to the top of the division.
The Cubbies are the defending World Series champions, and I put them on top of my pre-spring training Power Ranking back in early February.
After starting off 5-2, the Cubs suddenly hit the skids. Joe Maddon‘s team went just 13-17 over the next month. The club then responded, winning seven of nine.
But just as the shipped seemed to be righting itself on the North Side, the Cubs dropped six in a row. That was something that they didn’t experience all of last season in running away with the NL Central Division.
But wait – now the Cubs have won three straight! What is going on in Chicago? This looks like a classic World Series hangover. In many of these situations, talent will out. I look for that to happen once again.
Though their power stroke is still present, neither Kris Bryant (.268) or Anthony Rizzo (.236) have really heated up yet. The starting rotation has been somewhat inconsistent, ranking just 22nd in baseball in Quality Starts.
This is a legitimate Central Division, NL pennant, and World Series contender once again. The talent is still here to once again run away with the division. I continue to believe it will happen. Talent gets them this place on the Power Ranking. But they need to start producing and winning at a more consistent rate.
I only had the Orioles ranked at #11 as spring training camps were opening. So their first in-season ranking place here is a positive sign.
But all is not rosy in Baltimore, as manager Buck Showalter‘s squad has faltered over the last few weeks. The Orioles were 22-10 on May 9, and were still in first place in the AL East as late as May 20.
Since the high-water mark at a dozen games over .500, Baltimore has lost 16 of their last 23 games.
Much as with the superstars of the Cubs and Indians behind them on this ranking, the Orioles studs still have their power strokes. But Manny Machado (.219) and Chris Davis (.232), who each have a dozen homers, and Adam Jones (.252) who has 10 have all be inconsistent otherwise.
The supposed staff ace, Chris Tillman, has made just a half-dozen starts. He missed the entire first month of the season. Since his return in early May, Tillman has pitched poorly.
The rotation has been propped up thus far by Dylan Bundy and Wade Miley. The former is a once-touted phenom experiencing his first stretch of health and success. The latter is a journeyman of whom not much was expected.
For the Orioles to stay in the division and playoff races, Showalter is going to have to get more consistency from those All-Star caliber bats. He is also going to need better pitching performances from both Tillman and Kevin Gausman.
Here’s a big surprise to me, as I had the D-Backs at #23 in my pre-spring training MLB Power Ranking. Torey Lovullo, getting his first shot as a big league skipper, has done an outstanding job.
Arizona won six of their first seven, and hasn’t looked back. The Diamondbacks have not lost more than three straight this season. They didn’t even lose that many in succession for most of the first two months.
However, after pushing their record out to a season-best 31-19 on May 26, the club has lost three in a row twice in the week and a half since.
Paul Goldschmidt is producing his typical MVP caliber season. The first baseman is hitting for a .306/.429/.569 slash line with 13 home runs, 45 RBI, 48 runs scored, and a dozen steals.
A big reason for the Arizona success has been across the diamond, where third baseman Jake Lamb is having an All-Star caliber campaign. Lamb is hitting .280/.368/.559 and leads the club with 14 homers and 46 RBI.
A.J. Pollock, who missed most of last season, has come back strong. The 2015 NL All-Star is hitting .299 with 11 stolen bases.
On the mound, Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray have given Arizona one of the top 1-2 pitching combos in the game. Lovullo needs to find more consistency behind those two, both in the rotation and the bullpen.
In my pre-spring training MLB Power Ranking, I had the Rox ranked in the #13 position. I thought that it might have been a bit of a reach at the time. But the Rockies looked to me like they had the talent to surprise.
Flash forward a few months, and there they are, at the top of the NL West Division standings. Manager Bud Black had his club at 14 games above the .500 mark twice thus far. After winning three of their last four games, Colorado is approaching that mark once again.
The offense is usually a given at Coors Field, and this season is no exception. First baseman Mark Reynolds, nearly an afterthought signing, has been a particular revelation.
But the real reason that Colorado is in first place is pitching. Always the bane of the franchise’s attempts to contend, young homegrown arms are thriving this season.
Closer Greg Holland, signed as a roll of the dice free agent after missing all of last season, has been lights out in the bullpen. He has allowed 10 hits over 21.2 innings with a 30/7 K:BB ratio.
And the Rockies may be able to improve. Perennial NL All-Star contender Carlos Gonzalez, in the final year of a big seven-year contract, has not yet begun to heat up. If he starts to hit up to his normal production levels, Colorado might stay in the race all year long.
Coming into the season, the BoSox were my pick to win the American League East Division and capture the AL pennant. They took the #3 spot in my pre-spring training MLB Power Ranking.
Much as with a number of anticipated 2017 contenders, the Red Sox struggled over much of the first two months. The club fell to .500 at 21-21 as recently as May 20.
But since that point, Boston has won 10 of 14 games to move with two games of the division lead. John Farrell is finally getting this potential juggernaut to play to their potential.
Big trade acquisition Chris Sale has proven a Cy Young contender in his first season after switching his Sox from the White to the Red variety. Boston envisioned a premier rotation, with Sale joining lefty ace David Price and 2016 Cy Young Award-winner right-hander Rick Porcello.
But Price started the season on the DL, finally making his debut last week. And Porcello has reverted to the inconsistency that plagued his career prior to last season.
While Boston doesn’t have the big power in the middle of their order that some other AL contenders possess, they do have an enviable array of offensive talent. Three of the best, outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi and shortstop Xander Bogaerts, are 24 years of age or younger.
If Price stays healthy and pitches to his career norms, and Porcello just improves a little, the Red Sox could run away with the division. I still see them as the AL’s top overall ball club by the time all is said and done.
The latest version of the Bronx Bombers is proving thus far to be a little ahead of where I thought they would be at this point. I had the Yanks ranked at #16 on my pre-spring training list.
The Yankees dropped four of their first five games right out of the shoot. But then Joe Girardi‘s charges went on a run. They won eight in a row to being a stretch of 20 victories in 25 games.
Since that hot stretch, New York has leveled off, playing to an 11-12 record. But the overall results have them in first place in early June, two games ahead of the arch-rival Boston Red Sox.
Castro is hitting .315 with nine homers, 31 RBI, and 38 runs scored. The rookie Judge is hitting for a ..324/.429/.681 slash line with 18 home runs, 41 RBI, 44 runs scored, and five steals. Both players are performing at an All-Star pace.
A big breakout surprise has been outfielder Aaron Hicks. In 170 plate appearances, Hicks is hitting for a .321/.432/.577 slash line with eight homer, 31 RBI, 30 runs scored, and seven stolen bases.
The Yankees pitching has really been a difference maker thus far. 23-year old Luis Severino, 24-year old Jordan Montgomery, and 28-year old Michael Pineda are having nice seasons. And 36-year old C.C. Sabathia, while no longer an ace, has also been effective.
The bullpen lost closer Aroldis Chapman, who was having another strong season. No problem. Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Tyler Clippard, and Jonathan Holder have been outstanding. Ditto Chasen Shreve and Chad Green in lesser exposure.
The Yankees could use a true RBI force at first base. If GM Brian Cashman can add such a bat to the lineup, this team could stay in the division race all year long.
At the start of spring training, I had the Dodgers as the #3 team in the National League. I also thought that they would be in for a battle in the NL West Division this season.
So far, that last statement has proven correct. Los Angeles is in second place in the division, just a half-game out. But where I thought they would be fighting their historic arch-rivals, the San Francisco Giants, instead it is the Colorado Rockies with whom LA is doing battle.
The Dodgers were playing well at 27-20, then went on a six-game win streak at the end of May to take the divisional lead. Since then they’ve gone back and forth with the Rockies and Diamondbacks.
Clayton Kershaw is once again not only the ace of the staff, but is proving himself the best pitcher on the planet. The lefty is 7-2 over a dozen starts. He has allowed just 64 hits in 83 innings, with a 92/11 K:BB ratio.
As good as Kershaw is in the Dodgers rotation, Kenley Jansen is just as good at the back of the bullpen. The closer has a 3-0 record with nine Saves over his 22 appearances. He has allowed just 15 hits in 23 innings, with a 40/0 K:BB ratio. That is not a typo. Jansen has yet to walk a single batter this season.
The Dodgers offensive attack is a bit erratic. 23-year old shortstop Corey Seager remains one of the top young players in the game today.
Meanwhile, 26-year old right fielder Yasiel Puig is second on the club with nine homers, leads the team with 31 RBI, and yet is as maddeningly inconsistent as ever. Some days he looks like an NL MVP candidate. Other days, he looks lost and hopeless.
21-year old rookie Cody Bellinger has stepped into the lineup with an injection of real power. The first baseman-turned-outfielder has delivered a dozen homers to lead the ball club, and his 31 RBI are tied with Puig for the team lead. Those power figures are in 55 fewer plate appearances than Puig.
The Nationals were ranked as the top team in the National League by me back at the start of spring training. Here they are, more than two months into the season, still the NL’s top club.
Where do you want to begin when evaluating the ways in which Washington can beat you? Dusty Baker writes out a lineup every night that includes Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Matt Wieters, and Jayson Werth.
The lineup lost big acquisition Adam Eaton for the season after just 23 games, and is still one of the best in the game.
On the mound, it doesn’t get much better or deeper than the Nats quartet of starting pitchers Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, and Gio Gonzalez. If they can get 24-year old Joe Ross untracked, they could really take off.
The Achilles heel thus far has been the bullpen, especially at the back. The closer spot has been a merry-go-round, with a handful of arms taking a shot but failing to hold down the role. It is hoped that the big arm of 24-year old Koda Glover can take the job and run with it.
If the Nationals can sort out their bullpen, they could run away with the overall National League standings, and make themselves a World Series favorite. They can win the NL East without answering that question, but the postseason is going to prove a different situation.
With a record of 42-16, manager A.J. Hinch has his team playing at a .724 pace. That leaves them five games clear of the next closest team in the big leagues.
As you might imagine judging by that record, Houston is strong in every facet of the game. Their 305 runs scored is tops in all of MLB. Their OPS mark of .811 is second in the game.
On the mound, the Astros pitchers have a collective .228 Batting Average Against. That mark is tops in Major League Baseball. The 565 strikeouts that the staff has accumulated also leads all of baseball.
Even though the club has committed 36 errors, middle of the pack by MLB standards, they are not a weak defensive team. They are simply not an elite defensive ball club. But the Astros defense is not bad to the point that it is likely to become a detriment come October.
Check back next week for our updated MLB Power Rankings!
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