Power Rankings: Surprise club jumps up 12 spots

April 15th, 2024

One of the most famous, if amusing, images in baseball history is George Brett sprinting out of the Yankee Stadium dugout screaming at anyone resembling an umpire after they called him out for having too much pine tar on his bat in 1983. (Imagine if that happened today. The GIFs alone!) But a commonly forgotten context to that is that Brett surely hated the Yankees then. After all, Brett’s Royals had one of the fiercest rivalries in baseball with New York at the time, with Kansas City losing three straight postseason series to the club from 1976-78. Brett would finally get his World Series win two years later, in 1985, but he didn’t know that at the time: He just knew the Bronx Bombers forever had his goat. And now they were taking a home run away from him.

We couldn’t help but think of Brett, the Pine Tar incident and that old rivalry this week because, well, there may not be two hotter teams in baseball right now than the Yankees and … the Royals. New York has the best record in baseball -- it turns out losing Gerrit Cole did not, in fact, derail its entire season -- and Kansas City has been the happiest surprise in the sport, scorching out to a 10-6 start.

The Royals have only made the playoffs twice since Brett played, and the Yankees didn’t appear in the AL Division Series either season, so the rivalry has never been renewed. Maybe it happens this year? If so, Brett, when he comes out to throw the ceremonial first pitch before a game at Kaufman Stadium, better sprint to the mound in a rage. That would be great.

The Yankees and Royals, unsurprisingly, both made big steps up in the Power Rankings this week. The rankings themselves are compiled from rankings from MLB.com contributors whose names you can find at the bottom of this (and every) piece, but the words are mine. If you dislike the rankings, yell at all of us. But if you dislike the words, feel free to yell at me.

1. Dodgers (previously: 1)
This week, MLB.com writers will release their votes for the early Cy Young favorites in both leagues, and don’t be surprised if you see Tyler Glasnow atop the list in the National League. Glasnow leads the NL in multiple categories, from wins to strikeouts to hits allowed per nine, but his most impressive figure might be the fact that he leads the NL in innings pitched. The rap on Glasnow has always been that he’s great when he pitches, but that “when he pitches” has to do a lot of heavy lifting. He has never thrown more than 120 innings in a season, and he's already at 24. If the Dodgers have figured out how to keep him on the mound, their ceiling is even higher than we thought.

2. Yankees (previously: 3)
One of the frustrations New York fans have had with their team the past few seasons -- other than the incessant injuries -- has been the general sense that the Yankees have lost that psychological edge they once had over their opponents, the idea that no matter what happened, the Yanks would somehow, in the end, find a way to win. This was most glaring last year, when they went 17-23 in one-run games, and 6-9 in extras.

Well, for all the things the Yankees are doing right this year, perhaps the most important one is winning those close ones: Of their 12 wins this year, six have been by one run: They’re 6-1 on the year in such contests, with their only loss coming Sunday. The bullpen has a lot to do with that: Clay Holmes has been fantastic (he hasn’t given up a run yet), but he has been flanked by an equally terrific Nick Burdi, Jonathan Loáisiga, Caleb Ferguson, Ian Hamilton and Victor González. New York's stars are playing like stars, but the team is, at last, doing the little things right.

3. Braves (previously: 2)
Marcell Ozuna’s tenure in Atlanta -- and, really, everywhere since he left Miami -- has been a tumultuous one, but there may be no hotter hitter in the sport right now. His thrilling down-to-his-last-strike homer to finish off a wild Braves comeback win Sunday was his seventh of the season, tied with former Cardinals outfield mate Tyler O’Neill for most in the majors. The Braves have a $16 million option on him this offseason; it would have seemed unimaginable two years ago that they’d pick it up, and now it seems like a bargain.

4. Orioles (previously: 5)
The Orioles' fourth-longest-in-baseball-history streak of avoiding sweeps -- now at 96 straight series -- was kept alive in large part by Jackson Holliday ending the 0-for-13 start to his career with a hit that sparked the winning rally. You know how whenever a star phenom gets off to a slow start, everyone mentions that Mike Trout hit .220 in his first 40 games? I wonder if in five years that will become “don’t fret, Jackson Holliday started his career 0-for-13.”

5. Rangers (previously: 4)
Heading into the seventh inning of Saturday’s game against the Astros, the Rangers looked like they might be about to bury their beleaguered intrastate rivals. They’d scored 12 runs in Game 1 and had their bullpen lined up in a 2-2 tie in front of an increasingly antsy Minute Maid Park crowd. Then Houston erupted for seven runs and didn’t stop on Sunday, blasting Texas, 8-5, behind two Jose Altuve homers. For all the Astros’ early struggles, they’re only 2 1/2 games behind the Rangers right now. One wonders if the reigning champs will regret not putting a foot on the Astros’ necks when they had the chance.

6. Royals (previously: 18)
After all the George Brett love above, we’ll pump the brakes a little here. The good vibes in Kansas City to start the year are undeniable, but if things take a turn -- as you might expect from a team that lost 106 games last year, no matter what they did in the offseason -- you can probably point to Sunday as the moment when the wave crested. Cole Ragans threw six terrific innings, but the Mets scratched out two runs in the eighth, which were enough to clinch the series. It’s not yet known the extent of Salvador Perez’s injury, but all that happiness from Salvy’s 250th homer and the Royals being in first place halted rather quickly. Let’s see if this is Kansas City's high-water mark in the Power Rankings this year.

7. Brewers (previously: 12)
It would have been wild to see the Brewers, of all teams, be the ones to end the Orioles’ streak of series without being swept, but Sunday’s loss doesn’t make Milwaukee's series win on the road against one of the best teams in baseball any less impressive. The Crew, a team that has relied on its pitching for years, are doing everything right offensively: They’re leading all of baseball, averaging 6 1/2 runs a game.

8. Phillies (previously: 6)
Bryce Harper is such a notoriously hot starter -- his .987 career OPS in March-April is easily the best mark for any month in his career -- that it’s downright disorienting to see him with a .190 average early. He has also walked only seven times; his three homers are the only thing currently keeping him afloat.

9. Pirates (previously: 11)
How much excitement is there around Paul Skenes right now? Despite the Pirates’ scorching start -- they’ve got the third-best record in baseball! -- all anyone could talk about after Sunday’s game was the fact that Marco Gonzales had hit the IL. Does that mean Skenes is coming? When is Skenes coming? The Bucs have the most juice at this exact second than they’ve had in nearly a decade.

10. Guardians (previously: 10)
Can you believe the Guardians -- the ones holding down punch-and-judy baseball for the last half-decade -- are in the top half of the Majors in homers? They’ve got 16 and counting, and their team leader is Josh Naylor, who is slugging .673 so far.

11. Cubs (previously: 9)
The Cubs have won one Cy Young Award (Jake Arrieta in 2015) since Greg Maddux came up with the team, but many thought Justin Steele could make a run this year. But Shota Imanaga has been electrifying so far; he hasn’t given up a single earned run in any of his three starts.

12. Reds (previously: 15)
Sure, everybody’s stomping all over the White Sox right now, but you have to credit the Reds for taking full advantage. For all the fun they had on the South Side this weekend, the most encouraging news might have been the performance of Nick Lodolo, who struck out 10 and gave up just one hit in 5 2/3 innings on Saturday. Cincinnati has been waiting on Lodolo for quite a long time. This is what it’s been waiting for.

13. Tigers (previously: 7)
Parker Meadows earned some preseason notices as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate, but he has continued the Tigers’ tradition of getting slow starts from phenoms: He’s 2-for-33 with 16 strikeouts so far. (Colt Keith is only doing a little bit better at .208.)

14. Diamondbacks (previously: 13)
In his rookie year in 2015, Joc Pederson hit 26 homers but struck out a whopping 170 times, the first of five seasons in which he has struck out more than 100 times. But here’s something amazing about the start to his 2024 season: In 35 plate appearances, he hasn’t struck out once. He also hasn’t homered … but he’s hitting .346.

15. Rays (previously: 17)
Junior Caminero returned to Triple-A Durham faster from his quad strain quicker than many thought he would, and the sputtering Rays offense may want to turn to him soon.

16. Astros (previously: 8)
When the Astros end up back in the thick of a playoff chase -- and they will, they’re the Astros, they’re obviously not going anywhere -- they may well look back at Saturday’s and Sunday’s wins over the Rangers as the big turning point. Jose Altuve has put this team on his back -- again.

17. Red Sox (previously: 16)
The Red Sox got out to a hotter start than perhaps most people expected, going 7-3 on their season-opening West Coast road trip. They've cooled off since then but managed to grind out a series win against the Angels, with Kenley Jansen picking up career save No. 424 on a strikeout of Mike Trout.

18. Padres (previously: 19)
One should never root for fights in baseball. They should be running, throwing, swinging and laughing -- this is sports, this should be fun! All that said, after watching how listless the 2023 Padres seemed all season, seeing them clear the benches against the rival Dodgers on Saturday had to be somewhat encouraging for Friars Faithful: This team clearly has upgraded in feistiness from last year.

19. Blue Jays (previously: 14)
The AL East is a division in which finishing .500 may only get you last place, which is where the Jays are heading into a fascinating series against the Yankees. Then Toronto is headed out on a seven-game road trip before playing three against the Dodgers at home, so the Jays may need to make a statement earlier than they may have initially intended.

20. Twins (previously: 20)
The Twins reacted to the deeply unfortunate Carlos Correa injury news with a doubleheader sweep, but a loss on Sunday may signal troubles ahead: Three games coming up in Baltimore is a little scary for a team already spinning its wheels in fourth place.

21. Mariners (previously: 21)
The Mariners host the Reds for three games this week, and fittingly they’re giving away Ken Griffey Jr. bobbleheads all three nights. This is a team that actually could use a little nostalgia right now: They’ve lost their first five series of the season.

22. Cardinals (previously: 22)
After a slow start in 2023 that got him sent back down to Triple-A, Jordan Walker recovered to put together a solid stat line down the stretch and was expected to be a linchpin of the Cardinals offense this year. Instead, he’s off to a dreadful start, batting .178 with no homers. With the offense struggling everywhere and Lars Nootbaar back from injuries, one wonders how long the Cards will put Walker in the lineup every day. It’s noteworthy that he sat for Nootbaar on Sunday.

23. Giants (previously: 23)
We all knew it would take Blake Snell a while to work himself into form, but the Giants must be tapping their watch a little impatiently; he has been drilled in both of his first two starts, and only the Rockies are keeping the Giants out of being comfortably in last place.

24. Mets (previously: 23)
All the turnover with the Mets has, briefly, put Pete Alonso’s pending free agency on the back burner, but if you haven’t noticed, he’s smoking the baseball right now, with six homers and a .271 average through 15 games.

25. Angels (previously: 24)
The Angels almost came back at Fenway Park on Sunday, and it’s a shame they didn’t. If they had, we’d be talking about the first-place Los Angeles Angels right now.

26. Nationals (previously: 26)
This is the MacKenzie Gore the Nationals (and, previously, the Padres) were promised. The third overall pick in the 2017 Draft has dealt with constant injuries since shortly after San Diego picked him up, but he has been the best pitcher on the Nats so far, going 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA in three starts.

27. A’s (previously: 30)
Look who’s out of last place! It has been a while since the A’s weren’t the consensus No. 30 team in the rankings, but they’ve now won three series in a row, beating the Tigers and Rangers on the road and the Nats in Oakland. They’re only a game out of first place!

28. Rockies (previously: 29)
Many, including many with the Rockies, were predicting a Nolan Jones breakout this year, but it hasn’t happened yet: He has only one homer and is hitting .190.

29. Marlins (previously: 27)
The Marlins have found all sorts of crazy ways to lose ballgames this year. Sunday’s loss, in which they had the Braves down to their final strike, might have been the roughest one yet. It’s not just bad luck, though; they have the second-worst run differential in baseball ...

30. White Sox (previously: 28)
But here is the team that has the worst. The White Sox are last in the Majors in runs, OPS and homers, and they’re 25th in ERA. It may be a long summer for the Sox. It has already been a long spring.

Voters: David Adler, Nathalie Alonso, Anthony Castrovince, Mark Feinsand, Alyson Footer, Doug Gausepohl, Sarah Langs, Will Leitch, Travis Miller, Arturo Pardavila, Mike Petriello, Andrew Simon, David Venn