The All-Star Game is now in the rearview mirror, and that means teams have all played more than half of their games. As a result, we’ve learned a lot about where teams are, and where they want to be. We’ve got five Very Good Teams, and something like eight teams clearly looking towards the future, and in the center, a wide and varied middle class of teams in various positions with varied chances.
So, MLB.com’s Mike Petriello and Will Leitch took the 18 teams with a reasonable shot, and drafted them from top to bottom, based entirely on this question: Who’s going to win the World series? (Yes, 18. That’s 17 teams to whom FanGraphs gives playoff odds of 20% or higher, plus the Orioles – the Orioles! – because they’re a game under .500 and just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot. Yes, that means the team Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani play on will not be included here. What a sport.)
Will got to go first, based on the scientific method of “Mike rushing to catch a plane home from the All-Star Game.” You’ll be shocked to know that Will started by choosing …
No. 1: New York Yankees
Leitch: When in doubt: Pick the team with the best record, particularly when it has the best offense, the best pitching, and much improved defense. I suspect the second half of the season will not be quite as glorious as the first half; the starting pitching can’t be that good again, and the bottom half of that lineup still looks a little wonky to me, at least in a “challenge the all-time wins record sort of way.” But it’s all set up for them. They’re a cinch for a first-round bye, they’ve got some flexibility to make additions they need and who knows, maybe another Matt Carpenter will fall from the sky. I was very, very wrong about this team in the preseason. I’m not making that mistake again.
No. 2: Los Angeles Dodgers
Petriello: It feels like the Dodgers haven’t really had all cylinders firing at the same time yet, right? Consider that Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, and Justin Turner (combined OPS: .684) have been various levels of disappointing or injured; consider that Walker Buehler is hurt, and Blake Treinen has barely pitched, and Craig Kimbrel has been badly inconsistent, and Daniel Hudson is out for the year, and their most reliable reliever might actually be Evan Phillips, who was cut loose by the Orioles just 11 months ago? There’s of course a lot that’s gone right – the usual stardom from Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, unexpectedly great first halves from Tyler Anderson and Tony Gonsolin – but this hasn’t felt like the fully functional Dodger destruction machine we’ve become used to.
Anyway, the Dodgers are still on pace to win 108 games, quietly, if it's possible to do such a thing quietly. They have the highest World Series win odds, per FanGraphs. They'll almost certainly get a nice boost at the Deadline, too. Even a slightly off-kilter baseball machine is still a machine.
No. 3: New York Mets
Leitch: This is a risky pick for many reasons, the most obvious of which is the fact that I’m not even sure the Mets are going to win their division: The Braves not only look like they’re going to catch them, they look considerably better than they did last year, a year in which I am reliably informed that they won the World Series. But I’m still picking them this high, for the same reason everyone was so excited about them in the first place: They have Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. We’ll see how deGrom looks in his first start, assuming his sore shoulder is merely a minor setback, but if he can stay healthy for the next 2 1/2 months, this is the most terrifying 1-2 punch since the 2001 Unit-Schilling D-backs. (I actually think they’re better.)
No. 4: Houston Astros
Petriello: Yes, I do know that the Mariners have been one of baseball's hottest teams, and maybe Julio Rodríguez and the boys are gearing up for a spectacular second half. I also know that they’re in the midst of a historic run, and all it’s done is get them within … 13 games of Houston after three losses to them this weekend. That’s how good the Astros are, have been, seemingly will always be, even as the cast of characters changes each year. Consider this: Houston has a top-3 offense, top-3 pitching, and elite defense.
No. 5: Atlanta Braves
Leitch: I’m gonna go ahead and hedge with the NL East here, especially since whoever wins that division is essentially a lock for the No. 2 seed – valuable real estate. And as already established, I think the Braves are terrific, better than the Joc Pearls edition. They could use another bullpen arm, like the rest of earth, and they don’t have the top-shelf one-two punch that the Mets do. (Also like the rest of earth.) But they’ve got enough to win it all.
No. 6: Toronto Blue Jays
Petriello: We’re not strictly drafting by what the odds say, but also the odds are a pretty decent reflection of reality, and so before I actually get into the Jays, let’s just stop to realize what a cliff we’re about to go off of here.
Right. There’s The Big Five, and there’s everyone else. So: Why, you might ask, am I picking a third-place team that fired its manager just one week ago? In part because every team from here on out is flawed in some way, and in part because .. I still believe. I believe that the just-OK offense is still so talented that they’ll go on an insane run. I believe that José Berríos has stopped mucking with his release point and will be a whole lot better than the 5.22 ERA we’ve seen, making for a fantastic top three with Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah. I believe Alejandro Kirk is the best catcher in baseball right now. There’s not a single team I trust more behind them.
No. 7: San Diego Padres
Leitch: Pretty impressive, when you take a step back from it, that the Padres are where they are without their franchise-foundational superstar, especially when you consider that neither one of their supposed Cy Young contending starters they added a couple of years ago (Blake Snell or Yu Darvish) are anything resembling Cy Young winners. (It’s the other guy they added -- Joe Musgrove -- who is that guy.) Manny Machado still might win an MVP, but the key to keeping this offense afloat has been the surprising contributors, from Jorge Alfaro to Nomar Mazara (finally!) to Jurickson Profar. They’ve done just enough to keep the ship afloat for Tatis, who reportedly is “swinging a bat with intent” this week. (This is also how I swing a bat!) We’ve been premature on the Padres the last couple of years. Maybe this was the time after all.
No. 8: Milwaukee Brewers
Petriello: Did you know the Brewers have the fourth-most homers in baseball? It’s not a good offense; it’s never a good offense. But homers play well in October, and elite top-end pitching plays well in October – which the Brewers have plenty of, and potentially more if Freddy Peralta can return later this summer – and they have a pretty clear path to the playoffs, which is to win the division they’re currently atop of.
No. 9: Chicago White Sox
Leitch: Yep. Yep! I’m still a believer. They were my No. 2 pick this preseason after all, a nod more to their division than their overwhelming top-to-bottom talent. That division is still wide open, and the White Sox – who have the easiest schedule in the American League moving forward – have somehow weathered all the injuries, underperformance and the, uh, interesting dugout decisions to still be within only three games of the Twins at the break.
No. 10: Minnesota Twins
Petriello: An October run for the White Sox? To where, Bulls preseason games? I say that having picked the Twins, a team that I don’t entirely trust here, but if you’re giving me a division leader at No. 10, then I will happily take it. At this point in our draft, I really am looking for paths to October, and the Twins, who have led the AL Central for nearly the entire season, have one. If and when they get there, well, a lineup top three of Luis Arráez, Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton is pretty close to the best top three in the game. Over the last two months, the best hitting rookie in baseball hasn’t been Julio Rodriguez; it’s been Jose Miranda. Alex Kirilloff has an .808 OPS since returning from the minors a month ago. This team can hit. And surely you can make a run to glory without ever naming one single pitcher on the roster, right? Right?
No. 11: St. Louis Cardinals
Leitch: I know, I know, I know. I’m pretty impressed I waited this long. But I do think you can make a case for them. The cons are well-established: The rotation is a total mess (the loss of Jack Flaherty imploded just about every rotation plan this team had, which is its own indictment), the lineup is inconsistent and it sure feels like they’re going to sit out another Trade Deadline. But the Brewers have all sorts of problems too, and I’d argue the best-case version of this Cardinals team (with a healthy and raking outfield of Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader, some rotation help and the return of a rested and reinvigorated Yadi) has more paths to winning than the relatively one-dimensional Brewers.
But let’s not overcomplicate this: The Cardinals are going to win this division because despite all their troubles, they’re only a half-game back at the break and they have the easiest schedule in all of baseball in the second half. Check this out: They have an incredible 38 of their final 68 games against the Cubs, Pirates, Reds and Nationals.
No. 12: Tampa Bay Rays
Petriello: You know, way up top, I half-jokingly pointed out the things that had gone wrong for a Dodger team that’s still dominating everyone, but things have really gone sideways for the Rays, who have just been destroyed by injuries, most recently to Harold Ramirez, Wander Franco, Shane Baz, and Kevin Kiermaier. (They’ve also just played sloppy baseball; no team has made more outs on the bases.)
Yet, somehow, they’re 52-43. They’re nine games over .500. They’re the second Wild Card if the season ended today, in part because the holy quartet of Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Díaz, Isaac Paredes, and Ramirez – all liberated from other clubs over the last few years in completely unnoticed moves – are somehow hitting .287/.375/.440, which is 27% above league average. Shane McClanahan is a legitimate ace now, and the side effect of having so many injured players is that sometimes injured players come back.
No. 13: Boston Red Sox
Leitch: A month into the season it looked like the Red Sox might be the seller at the deadline and now they are a legitimate contender. Well, a Wild Card contender, anyway. I feel like the Red Sox would have gone considerably higher if Chris Sale hadn’t broken his finger, but that may have been too optimistic anyway, especially considering a very disappointing home sweep at the hands of Toronto. There might not be a contender that needs rotation help more. Even if they get some, they’re going to have to bash themselves to most of their wins, which might just be enough to sneak them into the tournament.
No. 14: Seattle Mariners
Petriello: The recent win streak is obviously wildly impressive, and you don’t play winning baseball for two straight weeks by accident; it’s indicative of a team on the rise. It’s also not predictive of terribly much, either; just ask Cleveland in 2017 (22 straight wins) or the 2021 Cardinals (17 straight wins) or Yankees (14 straight wins) how things ended up for them. And, really, look at the last two decades. You won't go broke assuming Seattle will find a way to miss the playoffs.
What are they right now? They’re a talented young team clearly headed in the right direction. They have a superstar-ascension-in-progress in Rodríguez, who is doing a great job of obscuring how well Logan Gilbert is pitching. They have the best and most dominant bullpen full of guys most people don’t know, which is really what’s been fueling this run. They have Ty France hitting like, I don't know, off-brand Paul Goldschmidt? If it sounds like I’m filled with regrets I didn’t pick them above the Twins, well, I am, because they’re better than the Twins. I’d pick them over the Twins in a head-to-head matchup. They’re just not going to catch Houston to win the division, which makes the odds of getting to October in the first place slightly trickier.
No. 15: Cleveland Guardians
Leitch: I’d have taken this team several picks ago if I had any faith that they’d make a major add, but that just has not been their M.O. It's too bad, because there are clear holes here that wouldn’t be that difficult to fill: I’d say the shopping list includes a couple of outfielders, a couple of starting pitchers, and a catcher. If they do make some notable upgrades in these areas, I might regret not taking them higher.
No. 16: Philadelphia Phillies
Petriello: If the season ended today, they’d be tied with the Cardinals for the third Wild Card spot. Even if this is a team I don’t fully believe in that is missing its best player (Bryce Harper), to get a team with a pretty obvious path to October all the way down here at 16 is something I can live with. While they’re currently being held afloat by the heroics of Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, you also don’t really expect them to sit still, do you? President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski is not here to sit on his hands and watch this without taking action. Now: Is that going to fix the leaky defense? Will that help them fill the three-to-four lineup spots that are black holes at any given time? Will any of it matter if Nick Castellanos doesn’t turn around the worst season of his career? Where were we? Oh, yes. If they can hang on, Harper might be back. There’s a glimmer of hope here.
No. 17: San Francisco Giants
Leitch: Do Giants fans consider this season a disappointment? They’re a game over .500 after a 107-win season, so they might, but I hope not. This is a team that had everything go right last year and, understandably, has had more issues this year. The Giants sure look like a team that would be a perfect fit for Juan Soto: A well-run team of solid, complementary players who need a superstar to revolve around. Until that happens – or another superstar comes – they’ll keep surprising people with a roster that never quite seems like it should pull off what it’s pulling off. Get them in the playoffs, though, and Carlos Rodón and Logan Webb will cause somebody some real problems. Also, it must be said: With these last two teams left, this was a pretty easy pick.
No. 18: Baltimore Orioles
Petriello: ORIOLES MAGIC, BABY. No, they’re not going to win the World Series, they’re probably not going to make the playoffs, they’re honestly probably not likely to end up even close, and yet I can confirm that it absolutely does not matter. As I’ve said a few times before, while criticism of the, uh, “underwhelming” Major League roster they’ve put out over the last few years is pretty warranted, we often underrate how the current front office essentially took over an expansion franchise upon their arrival in 2019, given that the 2018 club had gone 47-115, had traded their stars for nothing of value, and had all but ignored international scouting for years. They were starting with a great ballpark, cool uniform colors and almost literally nothing else.
It’s taken a while. Too long, really, and it didn’t need to be this painful. But if you’re going to do all that, it better work. Being a game under .500 halfway through a season is not evidence that it will. But the fruits of the system are arriving. Adley Rutschman looks like the real deal. No. 1 overall pick Jackson Holliday joins an absolutely loaded farm system that boasts two of MLB Pipeline’s Top 5 prospects. They look like a team that knows how to make relievers out of nothing, given that Jorge López, Dillon Tate, Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez and Bryan Baker are making up baseball’s least likely good bullpen.
The 2022 Orioles aren’t winning it all this year. But they might be the 2014 Cubs, the team before the team before the team. Jump on that bandwagon.